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September 28, 2010

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In-Depth Issues:

Israel Navy Boards Latest Gaza Aid Boat - Amos Harel (Ha'aretz)
    Israeli naval commandos peacefully boarded a boat attempting to break a naval blockade on Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces said Tuesday: "IDF naval forces recently boarded the yacht 'Irene,' and it is currently being led to the Ashdod seaport along with its passengers."
    Before boarding, the navy transmitted two warnings to the boat, carrying Jewish activists, which refused to turn back and sailed further into the blockade area.
    Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Andy David called the activists' claim to be bringing aid to Gaza "ridiculous" and labeled the voyage "a politically motivated provocation."  (Jerusalem Post)
    The IDF said it regrets that it must divert the Israel Navy's attention from its regular operational activity defending Israel and its citizens because of acts of provocation such as this. (Israel Defense Forces)

Northern Cyprus vs. Israel - Emanuele Ottolenghi (Commentary)
    There is a certain irony in the fact that a boat full of Jews for Justice for Palestinians is setting sail for Gaza from Northern Cyprus.
    Northern Cyprus is an illegally occupied territory that belongs to EU-member Cyprus, seized by force in 1974 by the Turkish army. Its legal status as a fictionally independent state is only recognized by Turkey (the occupying power).
    Turkey forcibly removed hundreds of thousands of ethnic Greeks from that territory and settled its own population to permanently alter the ethnic balance of the area.

El Al Security Guards in Toronto Block Land Mines from Flight to Israel - Yossi Melman (Ha'aretz-Ynet News)
    El Al security guards refused to allow a consignment of land mines, bound for UN troops in Sinai, aboard a Tel Aviv-bound plane at Toronto's Pearson International Airport on Sunday.
    UN officials had apparently neglected to inform El Al about the consignment, and the weapons shipment sparked a high alert.

U.S., Israel Ink Deal on Short-Range Missile Defense (Reuters)
    The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency on Monday agreed to advance work on a weapons system that would help Israel defend against short-range ballistic missiles like those launched by Hizbullah during the Lebanon war of 2006.
    The "David's Sling" missile defense project will help Israel bolster its defenses against short-range and theater ballistic missiles, large-caliber rockets, and cruise missiles.
    The agreement includes continued development of the Stunner interceptor being developed by Israel's Rafael and America's Raytheon as part of Israel's layered missile defense system.

Israel Air Force Ups Defense Drills at Air Bases - Yaakov Katz (Jerusalem Post)
    Fearing unprecedented missile attacks directed at its bases, the Israel Air Force has doubled the number of emergency drills since the beginning of the year to prepare pilots and ground crews for continuing to operate in time of war.
    At one base, airmen have carried out 25 drills since the beginning of the year, compared to just 12 last year. The drills include scenarios that involve missile attacks on the base's runway, living quarters and plane storage facilities.
    Air force bases were targeted by rockets during the Gaza operation last year as well as during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • 87 Senators Urge Obama to Pressure Abbas - Josh Rogin
    87 U.S. senators have already signed on to a letter, initially circulated only three days ago, calling on President Obama to publicly pressure Palestinian President Abbas to continue with direct peace talks with Israel. The letter stated that "Neither side should make threats to leave just as the talks are getting started," a thinly veiled reference to Abbas' multiple statements that he would leave the talks if the settlement construction moratorium was not extended.
        Some pro-Israel groups in Washington, which have perceived Obama as willing to publicly pressure Netanyahu but not Abbas, are lending their support to the senators' message. "AIPAC strongly applauds this overwhelming, bipartisan statement supporting these important direct talks, and making crystal clear to President Abbas that staying at the table - without preconditions or threats - is the only path to peace," said AIPAC spokesman Josh Block. (Foreign Policy)
  • In Mideast Blame Game, Arrow Tilts to Abbas - Ben Smith
    A subtle shift in the political balance between the Israelis and Palestinians seems clear: Israel is now winning the blame game. Now that Israel's moratorium on new construction in settlements has expired, the Obama administration has completed a subtle tilt toward Israel's point of view. The problem is no longer Israel's actions: It's the Palestinian insistence that one issue - settlements - be resolved before talks can begin.
        If Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas fulfills his promise to withdraw from talks, he will bear the full blame for their collapse. "The onus is on the Palestinians not to walk away," said Hussein Ibish, a fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine. "The Palestinians can say a million times that they'll walk out - but they can't."
        Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. peace negotiator who is a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said the White House has profoundly shifted its orientation over the last year. "The administration bought into the logic that the Palestinians shouldn't insist" on the settlement issue, he said, and that "the only way to get an agreement was to return to the table."  (Politico)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • IDF Thwarts Attempt by Gaza Terror Squad to Launch Rockets into Israel
    In a joint IDF-Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) operation, the Israel Air Force targeted and identified hitting a number of terrorists preparing to fire rockets from the central Gaza Strip into Israel. More than 150 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israeli territory since the beginning of 2010. The IDF holds Hamas solely responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from Gaza. (Israel Defense Forces)
        See also Three Islamic Jihad Terrorists Killed in Gaza Airstrike - Ali Waked
    The three Palestinians killed in an IDF strike in Noserat were Muhammad Abu Id, Awani Abdel-Khadi and Ala Abu Zbeida - all confirmed members of the Islamic Jihad's al-Quds Brigades. (Ynet News)
  • IDF: "No Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza" - Yaakov Katz
    For Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot, coordinator of government activities in the territories, the International Monetary Fund report claiming that the economy in Gaza had grown by 16% is proof of what he has been telling international diplomats for the past year: there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Contrary to public thinking, the easing of the Gaza blockade started months before the flotilla incident in May. "The Palestinians in Gaza have for years been receiving the same amount of food which is sent in according to the amount they request," he says. "Even now, with our more liberal policy, they are still asking for the same amount, which means they were never really lacking."
        In August, Dangot testified that the so-called aid flotillas are nothing more than an attempt to strengthen Hamas. "The flotillas help Hamas' agenda. The Mavi Marmara did not have a single bag of food on it. Just weapons and anti-Israel propaganda....The medicine [it carried] had expired." The real humanitarian crisis in Gaza, he says, has to do with IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who is still in Hamas captivity four years after he was abducted.
        In the West Bank, Dangot refers to the lifting of 27 roadblocks over the past two years. At the same time, he does not feel that PA security forces are prepared to receive complete control, particularly in Area A cities like Ramallah and Nablus. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Obama Demands More than Israel Can Give - Richard Cohen
    The arena of the Obama administration's incompetence is the issue of West Bank settlements. This is something of a misnomer since some settlements are indistinguishable parts of Jerusalem. Even in the Middle East, common sense can play a role. The Jerusalem-area settlements are not going to be abandoned by Israel. Settlements are how Zionists settled Israel - and the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria are the heart of biblical Israel.
        Given the highly emotional nature of the settlement issue, it made no sense for the administration - actually, President Obama himself - to promote an absolute moratorium on construction as the prerequisite for peace talks. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu complied, under extreme pressure, but only to a 10-month moratorium. For Netanyahu, this was a major concession. He heads a coalition that takes settlements very seriously. Netanyahu had a choice: accede to Obama's terms and have his government collapse, or end the moratorium. On Sunday, with the 10 months up, he chose the latter.
        From the very start, the president has taken a very hard line against settlements, refusing to distinguish between an apartment in Jerusalem and a hilltop encampment deep in the West Bank. He also seems not to understand their religious, cultural or historical importance to some Jews. The Obama approach has been counterproductive. Obama has to husband his credibility. He foolishly demanded something Israel could not yet give. It was bad diplomacy. (Washington Post)
        See also Let Them Talk It Out - Michael Singh
    It was Washington's - not the Palestinians' - early preoccupation with settlements that metastasized into a precondition delaying peace talks in 2009 and early 2010. The American (re)emphasis on it now decreases the chance of a compromise which will allow the talks to continue unimpeded. It is the U.S. public insistence on an extension of a freeze that seems overly rigid. With both the Israelis and Palestinians apparently interested in continuing with the talks for now, behind-the-scenes efforts may pay off if Washington plays its cards right and defers its public statements. The writer, a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is former senior director for Middle East affairs at the U.S. National Security Council. (Foreign Policy)
  • Does Iran Feel Squeezed? - Dov S. Zakheim
    Will sanctions force a change in Iranian behavior sufficient to forestall an Israeli attack, or for that matter, one by the U.S.? President Obama certainly appears to think so. He has once again extended an offer to talk with Iran, and to mend relations, even as he presses for ever tougher sanctions that he seems to believe will force Iran to jettison its nuclear weapons program.
        President Ahmadinejad was his usual defiant self at the UN and did not sound like someone who felt cowed by the sanctions. But Ahmadinejad does not control foreign policy or national security; those portfolios remain in the hands of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. There is no evidence that Khamenei is prepared to do anything more than permit his diplomats to engage in yet another round of talks with the Western powers even as the nuclear program proceeds apace. Indeed, Khamenei may well view Obama's recurrent offers of both talks and improved relations as a sign of American weakness. The sanctions therefore might be affecting Iran's economy, but not necessarily its policies. The writer served as Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Planning and Resources during the Reagan administration and Undersecretary of Defense and Comptroller during the George W. Bush administration. (National Interest)
  • Observations:

    Israel: Settlement Freeze Issue "Just an Excuse" for Abbas - Yitzhak Benhorin (Ynet News)

    • Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Monday in New York that discussion of West Bank settlement construction "is just an excuse" for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to quit budding peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. "For nine months the Palestinians claimed that the [settlement construction] freeze is a ploy, and now they have turned it into a lynchpin," he said.
    • After Abbas announced he is awaiting the upcoming meeting of the Arab League on Oct. 4 to decide on whether to continue talks with Israel, Lieberman asserted, "If the Arab League is seeking challenges to deal with, there are many in the Arab world. Hundreds of people are killed each week in terrorist attacks, and poverty and despair cry out to the heavens....Instead of solving these problems, the leaders of the Arab League prefer to run away from them, and blame Israel for all their internal problems. Instead of dialogue, they prefer to incite the masses against the Jews."
        See also Meridor: PA Failure to Negotiate Delays Palestinian State - Nazir Majalli (Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
    • Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intelligence Dan Meridor said in an interview: "Ten months ago we froze the construction in the settlements for 10 months, but the Palestinians rejected this decision, and said that it did not include a real freeze; now they want to extend it. Why did they not accept it then? Why have they not exploited this period to launch the negotiations? Why have they wasted that time? What is the logic of their behavior?...We have been negotiating for more than 17 years. However, the Palestinians have never proposed freezing settlement construction activity as a condition for negotiations."
    • "These negotiations, as I pointed out, are too important to collapse because of the issue of the settlements. We are talking about negotiations over the establishment of a Palestinian state. The failure of the negotiations will delay the establishment of this state."
        See also Palestinian Preconditions for Peace Talks (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
    • The Palestinian Authority has preconditioned further peace talks on a halt to all Jewish building in the disputed territories. In Israel's view, preconditions of this kind are counterproductive to peacemaking. Peace talks should be used as an opportunity to solve differences, not to create new obstacles.
    • Both the U.S. and Israel made clear at the restart of the direct negotiations in Washington three weeks ago that Israeli-Palestinian talks would be conducted without preconditions. Palestinian preconditions had already delayed negotiations for 18 months.

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