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Report: Iran Shot Down Unmanned U.S. Spy Plane over Fordo Nuclear Enrichment Site (AP-Washington Post)
Iranian lawmaker Ali Aghazadeh Dafsari said the Revolutionary Guard shot down an unmanned U.S. spy plane flying over the Fordo uranium enrichment site near Qom in central Iran, a state-owned news site reported Wednesday. The report did not say when the plane was shot down.
Earlier this month, Iranian military officials showed Russian experts several U.S. drones they said were shot down in recent years.
Israel Alerts UN of Increasing Rocket Fire - Yitzhak Benhorin (Ynet News)
Israel's Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor sent an urgent letter to UN Secretary-General Ben Ki-moon and the Security Council alerting them about the increase in rocket fire from Gaza at Israel in the past month.
"These attacks are deliberately targeted at Israeli civilians - and continue to represent a serious danger to the population," he wrote.
"Israel holds Hamas fully responsible for all attacks emanating from the area that it controls. In response to these attacks, Israel has exercised and will continue to exercise its right to self-defense."
Prosor stressed that "the attacks constitute a clear violation of international law."
Turkey Pressures Assad to Step Down - Amir Taheri (New York Post)
The Turks, who are hosting thousands of Syrian refugees, are hoping to exert enough pressure on Assad to persuade him to step down and stop the bloodshed. Turkey sees a prolonged crisis in Syria as a threat to itself.
Syria's second-most-populous city, Aleppo, is just 22 miles from the Turkish border. There, Turkish companies have invested some $20 billion in factories and workshops producing goods for sale in Europe and the Middle East.
American leadership could help shorten the crisis in Syria, by persuading Assad that, isolated and weakened as he is, his best option is to step aside.
New Zealand Prime Minister: No Reason to Think Israeli Earthquake Victims Were Spies (AP-Washington Post)
A group of young Israelis caught up in the deadly Christchurch earthquake were investigated for possible links to Israeli intelligence, but no connection was found, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said Wednesday.
Three Israelis died in the Feb. 22 quake. There was "no evidence that the people were anything other than backpackers," Key said.
A story written by the Southland Times and carried Wednesday by several large New Zealand newspapers pointed to a number of suspicious circumstances surrounding the Israelis.
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- "Everything on the Table" in Peace Talks, Israel's Netanyahu Tells Arab World
Israel is willing to hold peace talks with the Palestinians immediately, in Jerusalem or even Ramallah, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Arabic television station Al-Arabiya in an interview released Wednesday. "Everything is on the table," he said. "But we need to get to the table."
Netanyahu also denied that Israel wanted to see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remain in power.
Netanyahu said it was impossible to seek peace with any group that does not recognize Israel's right to exist.
"If people say no, the State of Israel shouldn't exist, it should be wiped off the face of the earth, the way Iran or Hizbullah or Hamas say, there's not much place to go." (AFP)
- Crossing the Red Sea:
Egypt Approves Massive Bridge to Saudi Arabia - Volkhard Windfuhr
Egypt's Ministry of Transportation has approved the construction of a giant bridge between
Egypt and Saudi Arabia spanning the Gulf of Aqaba for road and rail traffic. Plans call for the 32-km (20-mile) bridge to cross the Strait of Tiran near the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to Ras Hamid in northwestern Saudi Arabia. Parts of the bridge would be suspended. Planners believe that tolls paid by millions of Muslim pilgrims on their way to holy sites in Saudi Arabia could make up for the roughly $5 billion the bridge is expected to cost. (Der Spiegel-Germany)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- PLO Official: PA Should Delay UN Statehood Bid - Khaled Abu Toameh and Herb Keinon
The Palestinian Authority leadership has climbed a very high tree with its plan to ask the UN to recognize a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines in September, Nabil Amr, member of the PLO Central Council and a former PA minister, said on Tuesday. He advised the PA to delay statehood by another year. Several other senior officials in the West Bank are also believed to oppose the move.
He said the PA was taking a risk by going to the UN "despite the opposition of major parties in the international arena."
The PA leadership has failed to correctly assess the reactions of these major parties to the statehood plan, he said. He added that he was opposed to "creating a state of confrontation between the Palestinians and the U.S. over the UN application."
One Israeli government official responded to Amr's statement saying that "anyone who knows the reality, understands the UN path is a dead end, and the only way to peace and Palestinian statehood is through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations."
At the same time, no one in Israel assumes that the PA is going to pull back from its UN bid at the last minute.
- EU Statement on Middle East Reflects Lowest Common Denominator - Herb Keinon
At their meeting in Brussels on Monday, the 27 EU foreign ministers issued a brief and rather anemic statement on the Middle East "peace process" that bore witness to divisions inside Europe regarding the process. While EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, according to Israeli sources, would be happy just with the Obama 1967 lines comments, others - the Germans, Czechs, Danes, Dutch, Italians, Romanians and Poles - want to see language that is also amenable to Israel, language addressing the Jewish state and security issues.
Ashton's position is, according to Israeli sources, supported by Spain, Portugal, Britain, Ireland, Belgium, Slovenia, Austria and Luxembourg, with France leaning in that direction.
Similar divisions exist on the Palestinian state issue at the UN, with a vote in the General Assembly on the matter likely to result in some EU countries voting for Israel, more voting for the Palestinians, and the majority abstaining.
- Israel Learned How to Block Gaza Flotillas - Anshel Pfeffer
What was originally meant to be a flotilla of 20 ships carrying thousands of pro-Palestinian activists to Gaza dwindled Tuesday to a single 16-passenger yacht.
Miraculously, the Turkish organization IHH, who had dispatched the most violent activists on the previous Gaza flotilla, announced last month that they intended to stay on dry land.
Pro-Palestinian organizations found it hard to purchase ships, and found it difficult to secure insurance and the rest of the necessary permits needed to sail. Some of the ships encountered various mysterious technical and bureaucratic problems, which repeatedly delayed their departure. The lethal blow to the flotilla was when two ships tried to depart for Gaza, defying Greek government orders, and were stopped by the coast guard.
For once, the IDF was not only controlling the battlefield but the media as well. The moment the Israel Navy contacted the yacht on Tuesday morning, the IDF activated a full electronic takeover, stopping both the activists and the Al Jazeera crew from publishing a single image, video, or even Tweet. Simultaneously, the IDF Spokesperson supplied media outlets with real-time updates on every stage of the negotiations between the navy and the French yacht, released the IDF chief's orders to intercept the vessel, and, after 10 minutes, put out a statement on the IDF interception, which had been carried out quickly and smoothly. Pictures and videos taken by IDF ships were also immediately circulated.
- America's Intelligence Denial on Iran - Fred Fleitz
Mounting evidence over the last few years has convinced most experts that Iran has an active program to develop and construct nuclear weapons. Amazingly, however, these experts do not include the leaders of the U.S. intelligence community. They are unwilling to conduct a proper assessment of the Iranian nuclear issue. As of today, Iran has over 4,000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium - enough, according to the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, for four nuclear weapons if enriched to weapons grade.
Iran has accelerated its production of low-enriched uranium in defiance of UN and IAEA resolutions. It has also announced plans to install advanced centrifuge machines in a facility built deep inside a mountain near Qom. According to several U.S. diplomats and experts, the facility is too small to be part of a peaceful nuclear program and appears specially constructed to enrich uranium to weapons grade.
To top this off, an item recently posted to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps website mused about the day after an Iranian nuclear test. That message marked the first time any official Iranian comment suggested the country's nuclear program is not entirely peaceful.
It is unacceptable that Iran is on the brink of testing a nuclear weapon while our intelligence analysts continue to deny that an Iranian nuclear weapons program exists. The writer retired this year after a 25-year career at the CIA, DIA, State Department and House Intelligence Committee staff.
(Wall Street Journal)
- Targeting Syria's Energy Sector - Andrew Tabler
Cash-strapped Iran does not have the resources to indefinitely bail out Assad if the U.S. organizes a Western effort to hit Syria in its Achilles' heel - namely, its energy revenues. To help end the bloodshed and bring about a quicker demise of the Assad regime, Washington should now be more ruthless with the Assad regime.
According to IMF and U.S. government estimates, oil sales account for around one-third of Syrian state revenue.
The Obama administration could prod the chief buyers of Syrian oil - companies in Germany, Italy, France, and the Netherlands - to stop purchasing the regime's oil. The U.S., together with the EU, could pressure multinational energy companies involved in Syrian energy - namely, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, Croatia's INA Nafta, and Petro-Canada - to divest their operations. The U.S. could also seek to interrupt oil-tanker payment mechanisms and sanction tankers hauling Syrian oil. The writer is the Next Generation fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
How Iran Is Helping Assad Suppress Syria's "Arab Spring" - Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
- Since the beginning of the protest wave against Bashar Assad's regime in Syria, Iran has backed Damascus and assisted it in both the security and propaganda aspects of its violent repression of the protests. Tehran charges that Syria is the victim of an attempt by the West, led by the U.S., to overthrow the Assad regime, under cover of the "Arab Spring."
- At the same time, Iran sees the "Arab Spring" or, as it calls it, the "Islamic awakening" as a golden opportunity to export Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic Revolution to the changing Arab world.
- Yet with the turmoil in Syria, Iran now finds itself confronting a real possibility of losing one of its most important allies. The fall of the Assad regime would likely undermine the resistance camp and break the continuity of the "Shiite crescent" stretching from Iran through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
- Reports have emerged about elements of the Iranian IRGC's Al-Quds Force (responsible for subversion and special operations outside of Iran), advisers from Iran's domestic Law Enforcement Services, as well as Hizbullah men working throughout Syria to help Assad repress the popular protests. Iran also apparently provided Syria with advanced eavesdropping equipment which enables the identification of activists who converse by phone or use social networks on the Internet.
- Damascus occupies a pivotal point between the old Middle Eastern order and the new order that Iran is seeking to shape in keeping with its worldview. Syria's special status in opposing a Pax Americana (a minority position among the Arab states) and having good relations with the two past superpowers of the Middle East - (Ottoman) Turkey and (Persian) Iran - is what gives it a key role in the region and perhaps explains (in part) the West's reluctance to take a clear position, instead preferring a wait-and-see attitude toward the ongoing violent repression in Syria.
- The departure of Assad, the last of the brave Arab leaders who defy the West, and coming on the heels of Saddam Hussein's downfall, would likely herald the end of the era of Arab nationalism and facilitate the formation of a new Arab and/or Islamic identity. In the shadow of the growing assertiveness of (Shiite) Iran and (Sunni) Turkey, both of which seek a great-power role, the Arab world finds itself divided and lacking any guiding paradigm as the old order falls apart.
IDF Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael (Mickey) Segall, an expert on strategic issues with a focus on Iran, terrorism, and the Middle East, is a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
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