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July 4, 2011

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Iran Funnels New Weapons to Iraq and Afghanistan - Jay Solomon (Wall Street Journal)
    Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has transferred rocket-assisted exploding projectiles to its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent months, according to senior U.S. officials, in a bid to accelerate the U.S. withdrawals from these countries.
    Over the past six months, Kata'ib Hizbullah has employed IRAMs (improvised rocket-assisted munitions), propane tanks packed with hundreds of pounds of explosives and powered by rockets launched from flatbed trucks.
    Iran has also given long-range rockets to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
    U.S. defense officials are also increasingly concerned that Iran's stepped-up military activities in the Persian Gulf could inadvertently trigger a clash, after a number of near misses involving Iranian and allied ships and planes in recent months.
    See also Al-Manar (Hizbullah) TV Reports Attacks on U.S. Forces in Iraq by Hizbullah-Iraq (MEMRI)

Court Documents Cement Flotilla Organizer's Connections to Terror (Israel Defense Forces)
    On June 30, the Dutch daily newspaper De Telegraaf cited Amin Abou Rashed as the "brain" behind the latest flotilla.
    During the 2007 trial of the Holy Land Foundation, banned by the U.S. and EU for providing direct financial and material support to Hamas, a letter was shown written by Abou Rashed to Akram Mishaal, a director of the Holy Land Foundation and a cousin of Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal.
    In it Abou Rashed lists the names, addresses, and bank numbers of "charitable organizations working for Palestine in Europe," which were also later declared by the U.S. to be supporters of terrorist organizations, specifically Hamas, and consequently their assets were frozen.
    Abou Rashed's position as leader of the current flotilla to Gaza raises deeper questions regarding the intentions of the flotilla organizers and their connections to Hamas.

Gaddafi Threatens Attacks in Europe - Adam Schreck (AP)
    A defiant Moammar Gaddafi threatened Friday to carry out attacks in Europe against "homes, offices, families," unless NATO halts its campaign of airstrikes against his regime in Libya.
    "If we decide to, we are able to move to Europe like locusts, like bees. We advise you to retreat before you are dealt a disaster."

Weizmann Institute Rated Best Academic Workplace Outside U.S. - Judy Siegel Itzkovitch (Jerusalem Post)
    Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot has again been named in The Scientist magazine's annual survey as the "best place to work in academia" outside the U.S.

Useful Reference:

Photographs of the Holy Land - Lenny Ben-David (U.S. Library of Congress)
    Digitalized photographs of the Holy Land, many over 100 years old, from the Library of Congress.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Greece Puts Halt to Gaza Flotilla in a Win for Israel - Dan Murphy
    A boat carrying 50 U.S. activists seeking to join a flotilla of protesters against Israel's blockade of Gaza was turned back by Greek commandos about 30 miles out of Athens on Friday, in a major blow to the group. Earlier Friday, the Greek government announced a ban on all boat traffic from Greece to Gaza.
        Israeli officials maintain that the flotilla amounts to aiding terrorism since Gaza is run by Hamas, which is designated a terrorist group by the U.S., Israel, and the EU. For now, this year's effort is looking likely to peter out, though a few ships originating in countries other than Greece may still make the trip. (Christian Science Monitor)
        See also Greece Offers to Transfer Aid from Detained Flotilla to Gaza (Bloomberg-San Francisco Chronicle)
        See also Turkish Authorities Say No Sabotage to Irish Ship to Gaza - Sevil Kucukkosum
    The Irish boat planning to participate in this year's Gaza-bound aid flotilla was damaged before it entered Turkish waters, according to Turkish authorities who investigated claims that the ship had been sabotaged while in port in Gocek. According to initial findings of the inspection, the breakdown of the ship might not be a result of sabotage, a Turkish diplomat told Hurriyet on Friday. (Hurriyet-Turkey)
        See also Middle East Quartet Discourages More Gaza Flotillas
    The Middle East Quartet (U.S., UN, EU and Russia) released a statement in New York Saturday saying: "The Quartet recognizes that Israel has legitimate security concerns that must continue to be safeguarded. Members of the Quartet are committed to working with Israel, Egypt and the international community to prevent the illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition into Gaza."
        "The Quartet strongly urges all those wishing to deliver goods to the people of Gaza to do so through established channels so that their cargo can be inspected and transferred via established land crossings. The Quartet...calls on all governments concerned to use their influence to discourage additional flotillas."  (U.S. State Department)
        See also Organizers: Gaza Flotilla Era May Be Over - Mya Guarnieri
    A Greek decision to block ships from sailing to Gaza has prompted some organizers to rethink the flotilla movement that challenged Israel's blockade. Flotilla organizers said that this year's embattled effort to sail to Gaza likely spelled the end of the Freedom Flotilla movement. The act of sailing to Gaza is "a tactic," one of them said. "Maybe it's run its course."  (Maan News-PA)
  • Syrian Regime Rattled by Huge Protests - Diaa Hadid
    An estimated 300,000 people gathered to denounce President Bashar Assad in the city of Hama on Friday. Assad on Saturday dismissed the Hama governor, Ahmed Abdul-Aziz. Bassam Jaara, a Syrian opposition writer based in London, believes Abdul-Aziz was fired for not calling in security forces to deal harshly with demonstrators.
        Syrian forces have pursued a patchwork approach to the crackdown recently, leaving some areas to demonstrate freely while harshly attacking in other places. The tactic suggests that Assad's forces are under growing strain as they confront multiple protest hotbeds. (AP)
        See also Syrian Forces Surround Rebellious City of Hama - Roula Hajjar
    Syrian tanks and troops surrounded the rebellious city of Hama on Sunday, apparently poised for an assault. Assad's regime had deployed as many as 100 tanks around the city of 700,000, establishing checkpoints and blocking roads. "Tanks have closed off the main entrances to the city and phone networks have been cut," said one resident who managed to leave Sunday. In the last few months Syrian authorities have often cut phone lines to areas before full-blown offensives. Security forces also opened fire on protesters Sunday in the Hajar Aswad district of Damascus, killing two people and injuring dozens. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Hizbullah Leader Vows Not to Surrender Hariri Assassination Suspects - Bassem Mroue
    Hizbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah vowed Saturday never to turn over four members of his Shiite militant group who have been indicted in the 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, saying that "even in 300 years" authorities will not be able to touch them. (AP)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Saboteurs Blow Up Egyptian Gas Pipeline to Israel Again - Avi Bar-Eli
    Saboteurs blew up a pipeline carrying gas from Egypt to Israel and Jordan on Monday, forcing a shutdown in the flow of gas, Egyptian security sources said. It was the third attack since February. (Ha'aretz)
  • Israel Satisfied with Flotilla Delays - Omri Efraim
    Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday expressed satisfaction with efforts to stop the Gaza-bound flotilla. "The governments of Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey are working to curtail this thing....It's obvious to all that Gaza is ultimately open to all civilian goods and it is also obvious that the flotilla is a provocation which elements such as Hamas are exploiting," Barak said. "I think it's possible that the outcome will take the sting out of this flotilla. But of course we must still prepare for the possibility that some ships will come."  (Ynet News)
  • Israel to Hand Over Bodies of 84 Palestinian Terrorists to PA - Elior Levy
    Palestinian Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh said Monday that the Palestinian Authority had agreed with Israel that 84 bodies of Palestinians who were involved in terrorist activity against the Jewish state since 1967 will be handed over to the PA. (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • International Law and the Flotilla II - Robert P. Barnidge Jr.
    In the coming days, a flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists is set to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza in what many see as a publicity stunt wrapped in a humanitarian veneer. Whatever the motives of the flotilla, international law permits Israel to respond rather robustly, just as the Israel Defense Forces ended up having to do when it confronted the chaos of the Mavi Marmara flotilla in May 2010. From an international law perspective, Israel is in an armed conflict with Hamas, the de facto governing authority of Gaza. Hamas has fired thousands of rockets into southern Israel in recent years as part of its concerted plan, to quote from its 1988 covenant, "to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine."
        If the upcoming flotilla attempts to break the naval blockade and ignores radio warnings and refuses to stop its journey, the IDF should exercise maximum restraint. At the same time, however, Israel should be careful not to make the same naive assumptions about the flotilla's passengers that it made in 2010, namely that all of the passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara were committed practitioners of nonviolent civil disobedience along the lines of Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. This would be both folly and a dereliction of its rights under international law. The writer is a lecturer at the School of Law at the University of Reading in England. (Chicago Tribune)
  • The Flotilla Is Already Behind Us - Shlomo Cesana
    A few months back, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to dinner at Moscow's Pushkin Restaurant where, at the next table, by chance, sat Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou. He turned to Netanyahu and said, "My country is in trouble. Our economic crisis is not improving, to put it lightly. Your reputation as finance minister precedes you. I would appreciate it if you could offer some suggestions." Since that night, the friendship between the two leaders has blossomed.
        On the diplomatic level, the flotilla is already behind us. Through diplomacy, this flotilla was stopped before its ships ever raised anchor. Condemnation of the flotilla and calls not to participate were heard from leaders around the world: the UN, the U.S. government, important European countries, Canada and Australia. Some governments, like Turkey's, would not even allow the flotilla to leave their territory, while Greece collected ships in its ports. It turns out that Greece preempted the IDF on Saturday. We were also witness to a series of mysterious mishaps. But it was Greek commandos who stopped the flotilla, in the name of protecting their country's vital interests. (Israel Hayom)
  • How the Syrian Regime Is Ensuring Its Demise - Peter Harling and Robert Malley
    Desperate to survive at all costs, Bashar al-Assad's regime instead appears intent on digging its own grave. It didn't have to be this way. The protest movement is strong and getting stronger but has yet to reach critical mass. Many Syrians dread the prospect of chaos and their nation's fragmentation. But the regime is behaving like its own worst enemy, cutting itself off from key pillars of support: its social base among the poor, Syria's silent majority and possibly even its security forces. Peter Harling is the International Crisis Group's project director for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Robert Malley is program director of the ICG's Middle East and North Africa program. (Washington Post)

Hizbullah: A Contract Killer - Yoram Schweitzer and Gilad Stern (Jerusalem Post)

  • Now that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon's final conclusions prove publicly that Hizbullah is culpable for former prime minister Hariri's assassination, Hizbullah leader Nasrallah is bound to receive a mark of Cain for undermining Lebanese national interests.
  • Anyone knowledgeable about Hizbullah's relationship with Syria and Iran could affirm that the leadership of both would not only have been well informed about the assassination, but also would have approved it.
  • Such a grand-scale operation, targeting a political leader with international prestige, could not have occurred without prior intense dialogue between Hizbullah and its patrons: an operational approval from the highest-ranking officials in Assad's regime, along with the explicit consent of Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei.
  • Furthermore, there should be no doubt that Nasrallah himself approved the operation, and that his military commander, Imad Mughniyeh (killed a year later in Damascus), planned and personally supervised the execution.

    Yoram Schweitzer is director of the Low-Intensity Conflict and Terror Project at the Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University. Gilad Stern is an intern at the INSS.
    See also Why Hizbullah Had a Really Bad Week - David Schenker (New Republic)
  • The formal announcement of the indictments will likely serve as an exclamation point to a longer process of depreciation in Hizbullah's reputation that started in 2008, when the organization invaded and occupied Beirut, turning the weapons of "the resistance" on the Lebanese people.
  • That depreciation continued through 2009, when the organization's chief financier was arrested in a Bernie Madoff-like Ponzi scheme. More recently, Hizbullah has emerged as the strongest regional backer of Syria's murderous Assad regime. Nasrallah himself has now given two speeches vouching for Assad's pro-reform bona fides.
  • For an organization that has long described itself as "the Resistance" to Israel, the revelation that Hizbullah also specializes in killing Sunni Muslims will be problematic. Few in the largely Sunni Muslim Middle East will question the court's accusation that the militia played a central role in the murder of Hariri, the leader of Lebanon's Sunni community.
  • Hizbullah will remain firmly in control of Lebanon, both politically and militarily. But the organization's stature in the wider Muslim world will be irrevocably diminished and its change in status will likewise further undermine the position of Iran and Syria in the region.

    The writer is director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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