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Assad's Alawite Army - Robert Baer (Financial Times-UK)
The Syrian army is a palace guard, meant to keep the ruling Alawite sect in power.
When I was working in Syria in the 1980s, President Hafiz al-Assad instituted an unwritten rule that every large combat unit would be under the command of an Alawite officer.
There would still be Sunni commanders, but in name only. They were not permitted to put a single aircraft into the air or drive a tank out of the base without the authority of the ranking Alawite officer. Assad's son Bashar has left his father's military system in place.
If Assad and the Alawites are forced from power, Syria, unlike Egypt, will not have an army to fill the vacuum.
The writer is a former CIA operative in the Middle East.
Libyan Rebels at Risk of Failure on Battlefield - Robert Burns (AP-Washington Post)
Fresh battlefield setbacks by Libyan rebels seeking to oust Gaddafi are hardening a U.S. view that the poorly equipped opposition is probably incapable of prevailing without decisive Western intervention - either an all-out U.S.-led military assault on regime forces or a decision to arm the rebels.
Gaddafi has adopted new, unconventional tactics to counter the effects of coalition airstrikes, and apparently is convinced he can retain power, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Wednesday.
Gaddafi's land forces still outmatch the opposition by a wide margin and are not close to being forced to stop threatening the civilian resistance, the official said.
See also Battle Shows Libyan Rebels' Weaknesses - Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy)
At Bin Jawwad, hundreds of rebels along the road found themselves trapped between pro-Gaddafi snipers and fellow fighters further up the road who fired back with weapons they barely knew how to use.
The inexperience is evident: Many, if not most, rebels flee when actual fighting begins.
Gaddafi forces don't need aircraft. Instead, they shower the rebels with a barrage of artillery fire, followed by small arms fire, a ground offensive and strikes from houses inside the village.
See also Gaddafi's Forces Using Civilian Vehicles to Become Tougher Airstrike Targets (AP-Washington Post)
Israel's Radical Goodness - Giulio Meotti (Ynet News)
Israel was the first country in the world to send aid to Haiti after the earthquake. Israel was among the most generous countries after the tsunami in Asia. And now, when disaster struck in Japan, Israel was the first to dispatch a field hospital to assist in the recovery effort.
The Israelis also ran a pediatric field hospital in Rwanda during the Tutsi genocide, assisted the Albanians during the Kosovo war and helped Turkey following the 1999 earthquake.
However, Israel's amazing altruism never had its legitimate space in the global media, because this radical goodness doesn't fit in with the Zionist stereotype of the colonialist, fascist and apartheid occupier.
The writer, a journalist with Il Foglio, is the author of A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel's Victims of Terrorism.
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- Syria's Assad Blames Protests on "Conspiracy" - Edward Cody
In a televised speech, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared that protesters were dupes of unnamed enemies. "We are all reformers....But people were duped into taking to the streets." The Syrian leader seemed to be betting that his feared security services will be able to put down the protest movement, even at the cost of more bloodshed. Pro-democracy activists were particularly disappointed that Assad did not announce an end to the emergency rule that for the past 48 years has suffocated civil liberties and guaranteed a monopoly on political life by the ruling Baath Party. (Washington Post)
See also Text of Assad's Speech (SANA-Syria)
- CIA Agents in Libya Aid Airstrikes - Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt
Small groups of CIA operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks to gather intelligence for military airstrikes and to contact and vet the rebels battling Gaddafi's forces, according to American officials. British officials said that dozens of British special forces and MI6 intelligence officers are also working inside Libya.
(New York Times)
See also Obama Authorizes Secret Help for Libya Rebels - Mark Hosenball
President Obama has signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, government officials said Wednesday. (Reuters)
See also Libyan Foreign Minister Defects to Britain - Thomas Harding, and Robert Winnett
Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa flew into Britain Wednesday and told officials he was "no longer willing" to serve the regime.
See also The Defection of Moussa Koussa - Elliott Abrams
Koussa was for 15 years Libya's spy master. As Gaddafi's intelligence chief, Koussa had plenty of blood to answer for. He was probably responsible for the Lockerbie bombing, the act of terrorism that brought down Pan Am 103 in 1988.
(Council on Foreign Relations)
- Rights Group: Palestinian Militants Put Gazans in Danger - Fares Akram and Ethan Bronner
The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights this week condemned the building and storage of anti-Israel rockets in densely populated areas, a practice that has led to injuries and deaths of civilians.
The group said that locally produced rockets had fallen on homes in Gaza or exploded in factories where they were made or stored. It warned that "members of the Palestinian resistance continue to store explosives...in locations close to populated areas....This poses a major threat to the lives of the Palestinian civilians." (New York Times)
- U.S. Court Backs Iran in Dispute over Assets
A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday backed Iran in a dispute with Americans who demand that Persian antiquities in two Chicago museums be used to pay damages for victims of a 1997 suicide bombing in Israel.
The decision by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals overturns a lower court ruling allowing the U.S. plaintiffs to search for any and all Iranian assets in the U.S. to pay a $71.5 million judgment against Iran.
The case grew out of a September 1997 triple suicide bombing at a Jerusalem pedestrian mall that killed five people and injured 200. Two members of the Islamist group Hamas were convicted.
The lawsuit filed by five groups of Americans who were either seriously wounded or relatives of the injured argued Iran bore responsibility because it provided training and support to Hamas for attacks.
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Israeli Military Maps Hizbullah Bunkers in Lebanon - Natasha Mozgovaya
Israeli military officials Wednesday released a map detailing nearly 1,000 sites and facilities monitored by Hizbullah in southern Lebanon. Israel believes that 550 underground bunkers have been stocked with weapons transferred from Syria since the 2006 Second Lebanon War. The map also details 300 surveillance sites and 100 other facilities belonging to Hizbullah.
View the Map (Washington Post)
- Former IDF Intelligence Head Doesn't See Conflict with Syria - Hilary Leila Krieger
Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, who finished a five-year term as head of IDF intelligence at the end of 2010, told The Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Wednesday that even if the current unrest in Syria brings a more radical regime to power, he didn't foresee conflict between Syria and Israel in the near term. He predicted that any new authority would first have to spend significant time consolidating its grip on the levers of government before taking action against a neighbor.
Yadlin also noted that there might be a change for the better in Syria, as well as other Arab countries whose dictators are being pushed out, and urged Israelis to be mindful of the positive opportunities the current turmoil offered. "A democratic Middle East is good for Israel. Two democracies hardly go to war," he argued. (Jerusalem Post)
- Egypt Likely to Face More Difficult Relations with Israel, U.S. - Edward Cody
Egypt's relations with Israel and the U.S. are likely to become more difficult in the months ahead with an infusion of Arab nationalism and skepticism about Egypt's landmark peace treaty with Israel. Many of those who helped oust President Mubarak, including secular democracy activists and Muslim Brotherhood leaders, say the 32-year-old treaty should be respected for now. But they add that when stability is restored, the pact should be submitted to the Egyptian people for approval, through a new parliament scheduled to be elected in September and then perhaps in a public referendum.
"There was no real end to the war with Israel, just a truce," said Shadi Mohammed, 26, a leader of the movement that helped promote the Tahrir Square demonstrations. Mohammed Maher, a Muslim Brotherhood activist, said that if his group gains influence through the elections, Egypt is likely to pursue closer ties with Gaza, opening border crossings and promoting trade as a way to undermine the Israeli blockade.
- Shock Waves in Arab World Unconnected to Israel - Lee Smith
The fact that a wave of revolutions has shaken the foundations of Arab politics without the slightest apparent connection to popular outrage against Israel's treatment of the Palestinians should be surprising to most experts and politicians in the West. For over four decades, the driving idea behind the West's approach to the Middle East has been the supposed centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to Arab popular anger at the West.
This idea was a convenient point of agreement between Washington policymakers and Arab regimes. For Washington, the peace process was a good source of photo ops and a chance to show concern for human rights in the region without interfering with the propensity of America's Arab allies to torture and murder their political opponents.
- Time for Regime Change in the Palestinian Authority - Mitchell Bard
It is ironic that Arabs are fighting for freedom across the region, but the Palestinians continue to tolerate a leadership that denies them freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and the press and denies rights to women and gays. Rather than demanding that these leaders negotiate peace with an Israeli government that has repeatedly called for talks without preconditions, the Palestinian people support hapless figureheads who still believe they can bomb Israel out of existence or who think they can win independence by asking the international community to recognize a non-existent state in lieu of negotiations.
It is time for the United States to demand that the Palestinians implement democratic reforms and put an end to the culture of incitement that leads to the horrific murder of Jewish children and their parents in their beds, attacks on public buses and rocket attacks on playgrounds and kindergartens.
The president should declare that the obstacle to peace is a Palestinian leadership that is undemocratic and represses its people, that refuses to compromise or negotiate, that is unwilling to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish democratic state and that engages in incitement and terror that is perpetuating the conflict.
Why Palestinians Should Learn about the Holocaust - Mohammed Dajani Daoudi and Robert Satloff (International Herald Tribune)
We - a Muslim-Palestinian social scientist, and a Jewish-American historian - believe there are many reasons why it's important, even essential, that Arabs learn about the Holocaust.
Entire chapters of history have been expunged from the curricula that Arab governments teach their students. This is particularly true of the Holocaust.
- So methodical, so vicious and so exhaustive was the Nazi effort
to exterminate the Jewish people that a new word was coined to describe it - "genocide." All genocides before and since are judged against the Holocaust. Without discussing the Holocaust, discussing genocide is meaningless.
- But what little Palestinians, and Arabs more generally, know about the Holocaust is often skewed by the perverted prism of Arab popular culture. If Arabs knew more about the Holocaust in particular and genocide in general, perhaps Arab voices would be more forceful in trying to stop similar atrocities.
- We urge Palestinians to learn about the Holocaust so they can be armed with knowledge to reject the comparison between the Holocaust and the Palestinian Nakba.
- With all the suffering Palestinians have endured, their struggle with Israel is still, at its core, a political conflict, one that can end through diplomacy and agreements. The Holocaust was not a political conflict: the very idea of a "Nazi-Jewish peace process" is absurd.
Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi is the founder of the Wasatia movement, which promotes moderation in Islam, and the director of the American Studies department at Al-Quds University. Robert Satloff is executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
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