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October 4, 2010

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In-Depth Issues:

The Latest Al-Qaeda Alarms - Bruce Riedel (Daily Beast)
    Al-Qaeda planned a Mumbai-style, mass-casualty suicide attack in Denmark last year, the brainchild of Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri, one of al-Qaeda's most dangerous operators.
    His accomplice in the Copenhagen plot was an American of Pakistani descent, David Headley, who did the reconnaissance for the Mumbai attack.
    He had done the same in Denmark in 2009, visiting the target - the office of the newspaper that published the famous cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad - and photographed it and its surroundings, then delivering the videos to Kashmiri in Pakistan, who told Headley "the elders of al-Qaeda" were overseeing his mission.
    Kashmiri also said al-Qaeda already had its hit team in Europe, and Headley met with them. They planned to storm the offices, execute all the Danes inside, and then fight to the death with the police.
    We can derive from the Danish plot that al-Qaeda is indeed determined to replicate the Mumbai horror somewhere in Europe.
    The writer, a former CIA officer, is a senior fellow in the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution.

Iran, Egypt to Resume Direct Flights after 30-Year Break - Borzou Daragahi and Amro Hassan (Los Angeles Times)
    Iran and Egypt made a surprise agreement Sunday to resume direct flights for the first time since 1979.
    The pronouncement baffled observers. The two countries back opposing political camps in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, lack full diplomatic ties, and continually snipe at each other.
    Iran's pro-government Fars news agency described the deal and a visit by an Iranian trade delegation to Cairo as "a prelude to the resumption of ties between the two countries."

Persian "Blogfather" Sentenced to 19 Years - Meris Lutz (Los Angeles Times)
    Hossein Derakhshan, who started one of the first Persian-language blogs, has been sentenced to 19 1/2 years in prison on charges related to his writing and his visit to Israel, according to the Iranian website Mashreq News.
    Derakhshan was arrested two years ago when he returned to Iran after receiving assurances from the High Council of Iranian Affairs Abroad that he would not face any penalties apart from questioning.
    In 2006, Derakhshan blogged about traveling to Israel using his Canadian passport.

Israeli "Aid Ship" Sends Zoo Animals to Turkey - Melanie Lidman (Jerusalem Post)
    Israel is sending a ship to Turkey on Monday with three elephants, zebras, a hippo and a handful of lemurs, courtesy of the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem and the Ramat Gan Safari.
    The destination: the Gaziantep Zoo in southeastern Anatolia, Turkey's largest zoo, which has no elephants.

Two IDF Soldiers Convicted of Overstepping Authority (Jerusalem Post)
    Two IDF sergeants on Sunday were convicted of overstepping authority and inappropriate behavior during the Gaza operation in 2009 when they ordered a Palestinian boy to open bags suspected of being booby-trapped.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • U.S. Issues Travel Alert for Americans in Europe as Al-Qaeda Terrorism Threat Grows - Glenn Kessler and Edward Cody
    The State Department issued a "travel alert" Sunday, cautioning American travelers of potential dangers in Europe after what U.S. officials said was an assessment of information that al-Qaeda appeared to be plotting attacks on cities there. Britain raised its threat level for Germany and France to "high." The threat level for England had been raised earlier to "severe." In addition, thousands of U.S. troops based in Germany were placed under a curfew Friday night and were told not to wear their uniforms off base. (Washington Post)
        See also Text of U.S. Warning
    The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to the potential for terrorist attacks in Europe. Current information suggests that al-Qaeda and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks. U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. (AP-Washington Post)
        See also Dozens of Europeans in Terror Training in Pakistan - Kathy Gannon
    Dozens of Muslim militants with European citizenship are believed to be hiding out in the lawless tribal area of northwestern Pakistan, Pakistani and Western intelligence officials say, training for missions that could include terror attacks in European capitals. Al-Qaeda would likely turn to such extremists for a European plot because they can move freely in and out of Western cities. (AP-Washington Post)
  • Ahmadinejad Calls for U.S. Leaders to Be "Buried" - Ali Akbar Dareini
    In response to U.S. statements that the military option against Iran is still on the table, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sunday: "May the undertaker bury you, your table and your body, which has soiled the world," using language in Iran reserved for hated enemies. Ahmadinejad also questioned once more who was behind the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S. and said they gave Washington a pretext for seeking to dominate the region and plunder its oil wealth. (AP)
  • Syria's Assad Rebuffs Washington by Courting Iran - Robin Pomeroy
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad assured his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Saturday during a visit to Tehran that their ties were solid - a view unlikely to please Washington which is working to isolate the Islamic state. Ahmadinejad awarded Assad Iran's highest medal of honor in recognition of his resistance to "global arrogance" - a term which usually refers to the U.S. and its allies. (Reuters)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israel Weighs Response to U.S. Offer - Gil Hoffman
    Prime Minister Netanyahu began efforts to persuade cabinet members to support a deal with the U.S. in which Israel would limit construction in settlements for 60 days in return for American promises, including upgrading the IDF, letting the army remain in the Jordan Valley following an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, and a promise not to ask Israel for a further moratorium. However, after a number of ministers publicly expressed opposition to restarting the construction freeze, Netanyahu has little to no chance of passing such a proposal in the cabinet.
        A strong majority of Israelis support continuing West Bank construction, a Dahaf Institute poll broadcast on Channel 2 on Sunday found. 54% said the government should be building in the West Bank and only 39% support a further moratorium. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Poll: Half of Israel Cabinet Opposes Settlement Curbs
    Half of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's government opposes the extension of a settlement moratorium, a poll in Yediot Ahronot showed on Monday. According to the poll, 15 of the 30 ministers in the cabinet are opposed to any extension of the partial freeze. 8 said they would back such a move, with the remaining 7 undecided. The survey also showed that 8 of the 15 members of the security cabinet were against any move to halt West Bank construction, with 4 in favor and 3 undecided. And among members of the inner cabinet, the Forum of Seven, 4 were against and 3 in favor. (AFP)
  • Mitchell: Neither Side Wants to Stop Direct Talks - Herb Keinon
    One Israeli government source said Netanyahu is not actively lobbying ministers yet to support a two-month extension of the settlement freeze in exchange for various U.S. security and diplomatic commitments because there is no concrete proposal yet on the table.
        U.S. envoy George Mitchell said that both Israel and the PA "have asked us to continue these discussions in an effort to establish the conditions under which they can continue direct negotiations....They both want to continue these negotiations, they do not want to stop the talks."  (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Too Early to Discuss New Freeze - Jonathan Lis
    "The pressure is directed at Israel at the moment, and it's heavy pressure," a senior political source said Sunday. "The Americans keep talking to Netanyahu, trying to persuade him to adopt a compromise that would allow for a return to negotiations with the Palestinians. But it's clear to us the pressure will shift to the Arab states by the weekend, to have the Arab League order the Palestinian Authority to resume negotiations with Israel."  (Ha'aretz)
  • Netanyahu Calls on Palestinians to Continue Peace Talks - Attila Somfalvi
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday: "The way to achieve an historic peace agreement between our two peoples is to sit around the negotiating table, seriously and continuously, and not to leave it, because it is the place to resolve the disputes between us.  Just one month ago, the Palestinians entered into direct peace talks, without preconditions, after my government carried out a series of unilateral gestures in order to advance these talks.  In the previous 17-year period, the Palestinians held direct talks with Israeli governments while construction was being carried out in Judea and Samaria, including in the last year of the previous government.  I hope that they will not now turn their backs on peace, and will continue the talks in order to reach a framework agreement within one year."  (Prime Minister's Office)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Myths about Middle East Peace - Aaron David Miller
    Even if the settlement issue were resolved today, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations would still confront another galactic challenge: a crisis within the Palestinian national movement, with two authorities governing two discreet areas with two different security services, two different patrons and two different visions of the Palestinian future. The upshot of the battle between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority is that without a monopoly over the forces of violence in Palestinian society - without one authority to silence the guns and rockets - no agreement can be implemented.
        The idea that the U.S. can pummel a close ally, Israel, into accepting a deal that undermines its security or political interests is flat-out wrong. The Middle East is littered with the failed schemes of great powers that tried to impose their will on small tribes. The writer has advised several U.S. secretaries of state on the Middle East peace process. (Washington Post)
        See also Obama Administration Faces Steep Price to Save Talks - Lachlan Carmichael
    The Obama administration may have to pay a steep price to rescue the fledgling Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East peace negotiator, said the administration "hyped, I think probably unnecessarily, the relaunch of the negotiation in Washington. They now need to pay or are considering paying both parties for simply sitting down at the table....If the price is this steep this early on, you can only imagine what will be required when they truly run into an impasse on the substance."  (AFP)
  • As the Worm Turns - David Kay
    A computer worm may be bringing Iran's nuclear program to an at-least-temporary standstill, something that repeated "red line" declarations from Washington, four sanction resolutions from the UN Security Council, and IAEA inspections and safeguards have failed to do. As one digs into the likely origins and motivations behind the "Stuxnet" computer worm, at the top of the list of obvious suspects would be the U.S. and Israel. But they are not the only suspects.
        The Russians have shown increasing unease at the prospects of an Iran that would really have nuclear weapons. The Chinese have well north of $100 billion invested in Iranian oil and gas, and an attack by the U.S. and/or Israel on Iran and the chaos likely to ensue could well render these investments worthless and be a serious brake on the Chinese economy.
        For the first time Iran must confront the logic of asymmetrical warfare against itself. If the Stuxnet worm can be inserted by stealth into the prized jewels of Iran's nuclear program, who can assure the Iranian leadership that the son of Stuxnet is not quietly sitting in the guidance- and flight-control systems of Iran's missile-delivery capability? The good news is that someone has shown a way other than sending in the bombers to give pause and buy time in confronting Iran's nuclear challenge. (National Interest)
        See also Iran Arrests "Nuclear Spies" Accused of Cyber Attacks (BBC News)
  • Observations:

    U.S. Assurances and the Settlement Freeze - Barry Rubin (Jerusalem Post)

    • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu couldn't continue the freeze because there isn't enough support in his coalition for doing so. Minor U.S. offers won't change that fact. Moreover, the main underlying problem is lack of confidence that the Palestinian Authority wants peace, is willing to compromise or will implement future commitments.
    • Consider: Why ask for a two-month extension on the freeze? Why not three or four? What is happening within two months? The U.S. election.
    • According to the draft letter, the U.S. agrees to support measures to prevent the smuggling of weapons and terrorists into Israel after a Palestinian state is established. This is interpreted as allowing Israeli forces to stay in the Jordan Valley for several years. But Israel knows that the PA would never agree. Moreover, this would set up a situation in which an isolated Israeli force would be subject to attack by terrorists, and international condemnation when it had to intercept or kill them.
    • The letter promises the U.S. government would veto any UN Security Council resolution against Israel for the next year. This is insulting and signals to Israeli leaders that the current administration isn't exactly reliable. It suggests that after the year is over Washington will not veto such resolutions.
    • Finally, the U.S. pledges to sell more weapons to Israel after a peace agreement and the creation of a Palestinian state. Suggesting that this would happen if construction is frozen for two months simultaneously suggests that it won't happen otherwise, withdrawing something Israel was previously expecting.
    • According to the media, Netanyahu politely pointed out that when the U.S. originally demanded the freeze, it promised that it would secure concessions from Arab states. This didn't happen. It also promised that the Palestinians would be responsive and fulfill their commitments. That didn't happen either.

      The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies.

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