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March 28, 2011

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Gunmen Target Egypt-Israel Gas Pipeline - Ashraf Sweilam (AP)
    Gunmen have targeted a pipeline carrying natural gas from Egypt to Israel and Jordan for the second time in under two months.
    A security official said six men overpowered a lone guard Sunday at a gas terminal in El-Sabil, west of El-Arish in Sinai, planted explosive at the facility and fled. But the timer failed to detonate the explosives and soldiers were able to defuse the device.
    See also Egyptian Gas Supply to Israel Remains Intact (Al Ahram-Egypt)

Report: Iran, Hizbullah Assisting in Syria Protest Suppression (Jerusalem Post)
    According to an Israeli Foreign Ministry official in Jerusalem, protesters in Syria have said that some of the security guards that are dispersing the protests have been speaking in Persian.
    "Syria is an Iranian acquisition, and it is clear that Iran is afraid that its investments will go down the drain. So it has allowed for greater involvement than in other Arab countries," Israel Army Radio reported Foreign Ministry officials as saying.

Canada Condemns Rocket Fire on Israel (AFP)
    "Canada vigorously condemns the rocket attacks on Israel launched from the Gaza Strip. These terrorist attacks, which indiscriminately target civilian areas, are abhorrent and criminal. Israel has a right to defend itself against such terrorist acts," Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said Friday in a statement.
    "Terrorism is never justified. We call on all parties in Gaza to cease these criminal attacks. Those responsible should be brought to justice." 

Video: What Israel Should Be Saying to the World - Melanie Phillips (Israel Television, 26Mar11)
    The British media is failing to report the attacks on Israel, and only reporting Israeli responses, thus creating the entirely false impression that Israel is the aggressor, thus, in turn, creating the kind of hatred of Israel in the world which is leading to mass murder.
    By ignoring attacks on Israel the West is rewarding Arab aggression.

Iran: Shipwrecked in Asia - Luke Hunt (Diplomat-Japan)
    The Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) boasts the biggest fleet in the Middle East, with about 170 vessels, but is struggling as banks foreclose on mortgaged vessels, and as insurers refuse to underwrite the company's operations.
    IRISL ships were once a common sight in Asian ports, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and in the Malaccan Straits dividing Malaysia and Indonesia. Its ships were among the biggest and newest to ply the waterways, and mostly transported goods supplied by Chinese companies.
    U.S. officials say IRISL uses an array of deceptive practices to try to evade sanctions through a network of front companies, false shipping documents, changing names and nominal ownership of vessels and re-painting ships.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Syria Regime Rocked by Protests - Farnaz Fassihi and Jay Solomon
    Thousands of protesters demanding political liberalization marched in cities across Syria on Friday, an unprecedented display of public dissent that prompted violent clashes with security forces and left dozens dead and injured. Across Syria, security forces battled the crowds with batons and sticks, in some instances firing at the public and arresting dozens of people.
        In Damascus, a vast pro-Assad rally took place. Hundreds of cars plastered with pictures of the president descended on the central Umayyad Square. Some U.S., European and Israeli officials saw the potential weakening of Assad's government - a close ally of Iran - as an important opening to significantly undermine Tehran's role in the region. (Wall Street Journal)
        See also U.S. Won't Back New Intervention in Syria - Jay Solomon
    U.S. officials are virtually ruling out an international intervention to stop political violence in Syria, despite a widening crackdown against dissidents there. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington still held out hopes that Assad could be peeled away from Iran and pushed toward embracing political and economic change. "Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he's a reformer," Clinton told CBS's "Face the Nation."
        Earlier this month, as protests starting gripping Syria, Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who has held nearly a half-dozen meetings with Assad in recent years, said he thought Syria's president was an agent for change. However, the State Department and French government intervened last month to block a scheduled meeting between the two men in Damascus. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Libyan Rebel Commander Admits His Fighters Have Al-Qaeda Links - Praveen Swami, Nick Squires and Duncan Gardham
    Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, the Libyan rebel leader, has said jihadists who fought against allied troops in Iraq are on the front lines of the battle against Muammar Gaddafi's regime. In an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, al-Hasidi admitted that he had recruited "around 25" men from eastern Libya to fight against coalition troops in Iraq. Some of them, he said, "today are on the front lines in Adjabiya."  (Telegraph-UK)
        See also "Al-Qaeda Snatched Missiles" in Libya
    Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al-Qaeda's offshoot in North Africa, has snatched surface-to-air missiles from an arsenal in Libya during the civil strife there, Chad's President says. Idriss Deby Itno told the African weekly Jeune Afrique: "The Islamists of al-Qaeda took advantage of the pillaging of arsenals in the rebel zone to acquire arms, including surface-to-air missiles, which were then smuggled into their sanctuaries in Tenere," a desert region of the Sahara in Niger and Chad. "AQIM is becoming a genuine army, the best equipped in the region."  (AFP)
        See also What Happens If the Libyan Rebels Actually Win? - James Traub (Foreign Policy)
  • Europeans Pressing New Proposal on Mideast Peace - Edith M. Lederer
    Britain, France and Germany want the UN and the EU to propose the outlines of a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state, UN diplomats said. The three countries are pressing for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the EU to propose a settlement text at a meeting in mid-April of the Quartet of Mideast mediators. Putting the job in the hands of the EU and the UN would sideline the U.S. (AP)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Pro-Reform Sit-In in Jordan Ends in Violence - Thameen Kheetan
    On Friday evening, a group of pro-government supporters arrived at Interior Ministry Circle in Amman and started attacking pro-reform activists. Police intervened and dispersed both parties with water cannons, leaving one man dead and scores injured. The March 24 Youth Movement, grouping leftist, Islamist and independent youths, had started an open-ended sit-in at the circle on Thursday to call for constitutional amendments, political reforms and combating corruption. (Jordan Times)
  • 50 Israeli Doctors, Aid Sent to Japan - Ronen Medzini
    An Israeli medical aid team of 50 doctors left for Japan on Saturday night. Two planes also carried 62 tons of medical supplies and 18 tons of humanitarian supplies, which included 10,000 coats, 6,000 blankets, 8,000 gloves and 150 portable toilets. Medical aid supplies included instruments, fuel, oxygen, medication, food, water, hospital beds and other equipment necessary for the establishment of a clinic in the city of Kurihara in Miyagi Prefecture. (Ynet News)
        The clinic will be set up in a rural town that was almost completely destroyed by the tsunami and whose residents were left without roofs over their heads, without vehicles or fuel and without access to medical assistance. The closest hospital is located an hour and a half away. (Israel Defense Forces)
        See also Video: IDF's Medical Delegation to Japan Prepares for Departure (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Two Islamic Jihad Terrorists Killed in Israeli Strike on Gaza - Avi Issacharoff
    A spokeswoman for the Israel Defense Forces confirmed that an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at a group of militants in northern Gaza on Sunday. According to Israel Radio and witnesses, they had been trying to launch a rocket at Israel. Palestinian media reported that two Palestinians were killed and three more were wounded, while Islamic Jihad claimed the casualties as its members.
        IDF Southern Command head Maj. Gen. Tal Russo on Saturday described the situation in Gaza as "anarchic," both within Hamas and with the smaller armed factions. The fact that many more Grad rockets were smuggled into Gaza in recent weeks and distributed among the factions also makes the situation more difficult to control. (Ha'aretz)
  • Israel Waits for Argentina Reply on Bomb Investigation - Herb Keinon and Gil Shefler
    Israel's envoy to Buenos Aires has asked Argentinean authorities for a response to a report Saturday that Iran suggested that Argentina "forget" about the two bombings there in the early 1990s in return for improved financial relations, Israeli diplomatic officials said Sunday. According to the Argentinean tabloid Perfil, Iran asked Argentina to drop the ongoing investigation into the bombings, believed to have been carried out by Hizbullah and Iran. The 1992 and 1994 bombings of the Israeli Embassy and Jewish center in Buenos Aires killed 114 people and wounded hundreds. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Unrest in Syria and Jordan Poses New Test for U.S. Policy - Mark Landler
    U.S. officials said the uprising in Syria appeared to be widespread, involving different religious groups in the southern and coastal regions, including Sunni Muslims usually loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. The new American ambassador in Damascus, Robert Ford, has been quietly reaching out to Assad to urge him to stop firing on his people. With 61 people confirmed killed by security forces, the country's status as an island of stability amid the Middle East storm seemed irretrievably lost.
        For two years, the U.S. has tried to coax Damascus into negotiating a peace deal with Israel and to moving away from Iran - a fruitless effort that has left President Obama open to criticism on Capitol Hill that he is bolstering one of the most repressive regimes in the Arab world. Indeed, the crackdown calls into question the entire American engagement with Syria. Administration officials concede that Assad has been an endless source of frustration - deepening ties with Iran and Hizbullah; undermining the government of Saad Hariri in Lebanon; pursuing a nuclear program; and failing to deliver on promises of reform. (New York Times)
  • Ridding Syria of a Despot - Elliott Abrams
    The ingredients that brought down Ben Ali in Tunisia were replicated in Egypt and Libya: repression, vast corruption and family rule. All are starkly present in Syria. Every Arab "republic" has been a republic of fear, but only Saddam Hussein's Iraq surpassed the Assads' Syria in number of victims. The regime may cling to power for a while by shooting protesting citizens, but its ultimate demise is certain.
        The demise of this murderous clan is in America's interest. The Assad regime made Syria the pathway for jihadists from around the world to enter Iraq to fight and kill Americans. Long a haven for terrorists, Syria still allows the Hamas leadership, among other Palestinian terrorist groups, to live and work in Damascus. Moreover, a government dominated by Syria's Sunni majority - the Assad clan is from the tiny Alawite minority - would never have the close relations with Hizbullah and Iran that Assad maintains. Iran will lose its close Arab ally, and its land bridge to Hizbullah, when Assad falls. The writer, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, was a deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush. (Washington Post)
  • Syria's Assad No Longer in Vogue - Tony Badran
    The Arab revolutionary wave of 2011 has reached Syria. Its arrival has forced a reassessment of the Bashar al-Assad regime's domestic legitimacy and prospects for survival. Assad was supposed to be immune to this kind of popular movement. His anti-American policies and enmity toward Israel were thought to boost his legitimacy in the eyes of his people.
        Assad could not have pursued real reform even if he had wanted to, as this would have meant taking on the corruption of his immediate family. Assad's cousin, the billionaire Makhlouf, is widely considered to be the second-most powerful man in the country, using his business empire to co-opt the Sunni merchant class. (Makhlouf, Assad, and most of the ruling elite and high-ranking officers are Alawites, a minority sect.) To democratize is to take the Alawite hand off the tiller. The writer is a Research Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. (Foreign Affairs)

In Obama's Push for Mideast Peace, Whose Side Is He On? - Jackson Diehl (Washington Post)

  • So far what some are calling the Arab Spring has brought Israel the first terrorist bombing in Jerusalem in seven years and the first significant missile attacks from Gaza in two years. But the Obama administration's renewed calls for "bold action" to revive negotiations on Palestinian statehood may be for Netanyahu the biggest short-term challenge emerging from the Middle East's upheaval.
  • A reasonable person might conclude from the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria et al., that the Middle East's deepest problems have nothing to do with Israel and that the Obama administration's almost obsessive focus on trying to broker an Israeli-Palestinian settlement in its first two years was misplaced. But Obama seems to have concluded that the ideal segue from the latest Arab crisis is a new attempt to pressure Israel into accepting a quick march to Palestinian statehood.
  • Netanyahu's problem is twofold. First, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has no interest in negotiating with him, and never has. Abbas, 76, has repeatedly shrunk from committing himself to the painful concessions he knows would be needed for Palestinian statehood. Rather than bargain with Israel, Abbas seeks a UN declaration of Palestinian statehood at the next General Assembly in September.
  • At the same time, Obama continues to believe that Israel's government, and not the Palestinians, is the primary obstacle to peace. In a meeting with American Jewish leaders at the White House this month, Obama insisted that Abbas was ready to establish a Palestinian state. The problem was that Israel had not made a serious territorial offer.

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