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May 10, 2010

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In-Depth Issues:

Volcanic Ash from Iceland Heading for Israel - Yoav Zitun (Ynet News)
    Israel's Meteorological Service predicts ash from Iceland's volcano will arrive in Israel on Monday evening.
    The Civil Aviation Authority called an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss possible scenarios and their effect on takeoffs and landings in Israel.

U.S. Backs Israeli Munitions Upgrades - Barbara Opall-Rome (Defense News)
    The Israel Air Force is finalizing extensive upgrades to its precision strike arsenal, part of discreet and ever-expanding bilateral security ties unharmed by the political rift between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government.
    Both sides prefer to keep most aspects of security cooperation under wraps, but privately, sources cited several initiatives now nearing completion, and others in the offing - all aimed at improving Israel's offensive as well as defensive capabilities.

Poll: Israelis Blame Obama for U.S.-Israel Crisis (Ynet News)
    According to a War and Peace Index survey conducted by the B. I. Cohen Institute of Tel Aviv University on 3-4 May, 56% of Israelis give Prime Minister Netanyahu a good or very good grade for managing U.S.-Israeli relations, while 33% give him a poor or very poor grade.
    President Obama gets a good or very good grade from only 43% of respondents, while 48% give him a poor or very poor grade on managing relations with Israel.
    73% of the Israeli public say that no matter what Israel does or how far it goes toward resolving the conflict with the Palestinians, the world will keep being very critical of it.
    At the same time, 64% think it is very urgent or urgent for Israel to resume talks with the Palestinians.

New Israeli Technology Makes Tanks Disappear - Gur Salomon and Han Jingjing (Xinhua-China)
    Eltics Ltd., an Israeli start-up that develops electronic warfare systems, says it has developed a system that can make tanks, armored personnel carriers, helicopter gunships and even naval vessels invisible to night vision systems and heat-seeking missiles.
    The Black Fox Active Adaptive IR Stealth System, revealed for the first time on Sunday by Israeli TV Channel 10, photographs the surroundings, analyzes the area's thermal signature, and then screens the exact same signature, enabling the weapons platforms to disappear.

Whale Spotted Off Israel's Coast - Zafrir Rinat (Ha'aretz)
    A gray whale, over 15 meters long, was spotted off the Herzliya coast on Saturday - the first time this species has been seen in Israel, according to Israel's Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center.
    Gray whales usually live in the Pacific Ocean.
    View Video (Ynet-Hebrew)

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Nuclear Agency to Focus on Israel - George Jahn
    The provisional agenda of the June 7 board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency lists "Israeli nuclear capabilities" as the eighth item - the first time that the agency's decision-making body is being asked to deal with the issue. A senior diplomat from a board member nation said the item, included on Arab request, could be struck if the U.S. and other Israeli allies mount strong opposition. However, its inclusion in a May 7 draft is significant, reflecting the success of Islamic nations in giving concerns about Israel's unacknowledged nuclear arsenal increased prominence. (AP)
        See also U.S. Support for Israel's Nuke Policy Eroding - Herb Keinon
    Cracks are appearing in the nearly half-century U.S. policy of upholding Israel's right to maintain its "nuclear ambiguity," as Israeli nuclear capabilities are, for the first time, scheduled to be on the IAEA agenda. One diplomatic official said that the U.S. has relayed messages to Israel that it will not let its nuclear position be harmed, but in the past the U.S. killed such discussions in international forums, while this time it failed to do so.
        Emily Landau, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University and director of its arms control and regional security program, said the U.S. was not assuming its role as the shield of Israel's nuclear capabilities to the degree it had in the past. Obama, according to Landau, has embraced the agenda of nuclear disarmament, as well as the norm of "equality" that is embedded in the NPT, meaning that all countries should be treated equally on the nuclear issue. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also below Observations: New U.S. "Nuke-Free" Strategy a Dangerous Initiative - Eytan Gilboa (Ynet News)
  • State Department: First Round of Mideast Talks Serious - Joshua Mitnick
    The State Department said Sunday that special Mideast envoy George Mitchell was on his way home "after completing the first round of proximity talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The talks were serious and wide-ranging." In a statement, Washington laid out publicly what commitments it has won from both sides to continue the talks. Israel has agreed not to build in Ramat Shlomo for two years, while Abbas has said he will work against "incitement of any sort" against Israel. "As both parties know, if either takes significant actions during the proximity talks that we judge would seriously undermine trust, we will respond to hold them accountable and ensure that negotiations continue," the statement said. (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Statement on Special Envoy George Mitchell's Trip (State Department)
        See also Israel: No Commitment to Building Freeze in Jerusalem
    According to sources close to Netanyahu, the prime minister announced during Vice President Joe Biden's visit in March that the planning process for Ramat Shlomo would continue for another year, and actual construction would only begin in a number of years. That statement, according to the sources, served as the basis for Sunday's State Department statement about Ramat Shlomo. Netanyahu's spokesmen had said repeatedly that he made no commitment to a construction freeze in Jerusalem. (Jerusalem Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israel Accepted into OECD - Barak Ravid
    The 31-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on Monday unanimously voted in favor of accepting Israel as a member of the group, a senior Jerusalem source said. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Palestinian Authority Campaigns to Block Israeli Membership in OECD - Barak Ravid
    The Palestinian Authority waged a campaign to undermine Israel's bid for membership in the OECD. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki sent a letter to all the foreign ministers of the OECD countries calling for the vote to be delayed because Israel infringes on Palestinians' human rights. Palestinian Prime Minister Salem Fayyad called many of the leaders of OECD countries over the past day to argue against Israel's acceptance.
        "Fayyad's efforts to thwart Israel's participation in the organization are extremely grave, and even more so during a time when Israel wants to begin proximity talks in order to reach an agreement and a reconciliation between the nations," said Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. Switzerland, Ireland and Norway have expressed reservations about Israel's membership. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Israel Set to Be Accepted into OECD - Sharon Wrobel
    Membership in the OECD, which includes the major players in the global economy, will enhance Israel's ability to conduct an ongoing dialogue with representatives of these economies; force an upgrade in Israel's public administration; improve Israel's corporate management, and reduce Israel's risk premium and help attract investment. (Jerusalem Post)
  • U.S. Pushing for Direct Israeli-Palestinian Talks - Natasha Mozgovaya, Barak Ravid and Jack Khoury
    After Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat announced on Saturday that "the proximity talks have begun," sources close to Prime Minister Netanyahu said Israel promised the U.S. to discuss all the core issues and to take confidence-building steps toward the Palestinians. On the other hand, sources said, the U.S. has promised Israel that the core issues would be resolved only after proximity talks progress to direct talks. Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday: "It is impossible to make peace at a distance." No one should expect that "we will arrive at decisions and agreements on matters that are critical...without sitting together in the same room."
        Senior U.S. officials have told the Palestinians that Washington also believes direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians must begin as soon as possible. The Obama administration has informed Abbas that it will not unveil mediation proposals or a Middle East peace plan before the start of direct, substantive talks between the two sides on final-status issues, a high-level Israeli official said. (Ha'aretz)
        See also PA Complains to U.S., Accuses Israel of Breaching Negotiation Terms
    The Palestinian Authority has reported to the U.S. what it termed Israel's first violation of negotiation terms for the proximity talks, a senior Palestinian official said. Yasser Abed Rabbo said the construction of 14 housing units in an east Jerusalem neighborhood, as reported by the Israeli Peace Now pressure group, "is the first violation and first breach of the terms to start the indirect negotiations." A senior Israeli official said that 14 homes in the Ras el-Amud neighborhood were being built privately and that the government had no authority in the matter. (Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Weary Cast Back to Produce Middle East Peace - Tobias Buck
    The stage is set, the actors are primed, the American director is busy giving last-minute instructions. Any moment now, the curtain will rise to reveal the latest production of a long-running, but often sadly disappointing, favorite: the Middle East peace process. The audience is right to be skeptical. True, the U.S. administration has finally managed to cajole the Palestinians into accepting a new round of peace negotiations with Israel, putting an end to more than 15 months of diplomatic stalemate. However, mistrust between the two sides is now so deep that Palestinian and Israeli negotiators will not even talk to each other face-to-face.
        Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have been talking to each other for almost two decades. Indeed, some members of the Palestinian cast have been on stage virtually without interruption since the Madrid peace conference in 1991. However, one of the few tenets on which both sides can agree today is that the latest U.S.-sponsored peace effort is an exercise in futility. The Palestinians want to keep the U.S. as closely involved as possible, in the hope that a frustrated Obama administration will eventually table its own peace plan. Israel, in contrast, regards the talks as a preamble to face-to-face negotiations that would see the U.S. take more of a backseat role. (Financial Times-UK)
  • Turkey: Between Ataturk's Secularism and Fundamentalist Islam - Harold Rhode
    Today there is an internal battle among Turkish Muslims between forces that want to be part of the Western world and those that want to return Turkey's political identity to be based primarily on Islamic solidarity. But it isn't Ottoman Islam that these Islamist Turks seek to revive. Their Islam is more in tune with the fanatically anti-Western principles of Saudi Wahhabi Islam. If a moderate form of Turkish Islam is to be revived, it must stand up to the onslaught of Wahhabism and the temptations of Islamism. Dr. Harold Rhode, now a Senior Advisor at the Hudson Institute-New York, served in the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment from 1994 until his recent retirement. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Observations:

    New U.S. "Nuke-Free" Strategy a Dangerous Initiative - Eytan Gilboa (Ynet News)

    • America preferred to ignore Israel's nuclear weapons because their development was justified in light of the Holocaust, the military power of Arab states, and their constant threats to destroy the Jewish state. However, Obama's new nuclear policy may change America's traditional stance on Israel's nukes.
    • Secretary of State Clinton already expressed her support for the Egyptian initiative to realize the notion of a nuke-free Middle East. For years now, Egypt has been trying to place Israel's nukes on the global agenda in an effort to reveal Israel's stockpiles, monitor them, limit them, and dismantle them. The U.S. curbed these efforts so far, yet it appears that America is willing to accept the Egyptian position and possibly work towards realizing it.
    • However, Obama's nuclear strategy is dangerous and problematic, premised on a certain degree of naivete and unfounded idealism. The U.S. position completely ignores the weakness of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, under which states such as Iraq and Libya developed infrastructure for the production of nuclear weapons. In recent years, Iran has been doing the same.
    • The new American strategy also blurs the distinction between the nature of the governments. The problem is not the U.S., Britain, France, India, or Israel. The main issue has to do with radical, authoritarian and violent regimes such as Iran, which threatens to destroy Israel and turn all Mideastern regimes into radical Islamic ones.
    • A discussion of a nuke-free Middle East means exclusive preoccupation with Israel's nuclear program. Iran won't cease its effort to acquire nukes, and the preoccupation with Israel will merely serve Tehran's aims by diverting attention. Moreover, the focus on nuclear weapons ignores other weapons of mass destruction such as chemical and biological means, which are held by some of Israel's foes.
    • The vision of a nuke-free Middle East is appropriate and worthwhile, yet it could only be realized after all of Israel's close and distant neighbors, including Iran, secure stable peace treaties with it, cut back their armies, and eliminate their WMD arsenals. The issue of nuclear weapons cannot be separated from the other major issues of war and peace in the Mideast.

      Professor Gilboa is a political science and communication lecturer and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.

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