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Hamas-Appointed Court Fines Gaza Banks - Fares Akram and Ethan Bronner (New York Times)
In what could be the first of many such decisions, a Hamas-appointed court this week ordered two major banks in Gaza to pay tens of millions of dollars in back fees and fines for refusing to accept the taxing power of the Hamas government, rather than its West-Bank-based rival, the Palestinian Authority.
Bank officials, who boycotted the judicial hearings, said the decision might force them to shut down, further reducing access to money in Gaza.
The ruling comes just before a planned meeting on a unity government between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Meshal, the political leader of Hamas.
There are nine banks in Gaza, and all of them, along with companies that import fuel and electricity and operate cellphones, may face similar rulings.
Poll: Islamist Parties Fair Best in Egypt Elections (Jerusalem Post)
Islamist parties will win the most seats in parliamentary elections in Egypt were they to take place today, according to an Arabic-language poll conducted on Facebook.
According to the unofficial poll, 38% of Egyptians would choose the Freedom and Justice Party, with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
An additional 12% would vote for the Al-Nour party, a Salafi Islamist party.
The most popular secular party, Al-Masreen Al-Ahrar, received only 2% of votes.
Muslim Brotherhood Goes Public in Libya - Francois Murphy (Reuters)
The Muslim Brotherhood held its first public conference on Libyan soil on Thursday after being banned for decades.
Many observers believe that in the next elections, the better-organized Islamists such as the Brotherhood having a tactical advantage.
U.S. Military Goes Online to Rebut Extremists' Messages - Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt (New York Times)
At MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., Ardashir Safavi - born in Iran and educated in the U.S. - was patrolling two dozen Persian-language web sites, hunting militant adversaries in cyberspace.
His mission was to scan news reports, blogs, social media and online essays to identify those he viewed as "containing lies, misinformation or just misperceptions" about American military operations and Pentagon policy across the Middle East.
Safavi is part of the Digital Engagement Team, established in 2008 by the military's Central Command to "counter extremist ideology, promote cultural awareness and explain U.S. interests."
The team includes 20 native speakers of Arabic, Dari, Persian, Pashto, Urdu and Russian, a shared language in the Muslim countries of the former Soviet states of Central Asia.
To counter the adversary's use of the Internet, American cyberwarriors have hacked into extremist chat rooms to sow confusion, or to inject poisonous code to take down militant web sites.
Sometimes, they choose not to act, but silently track the online movements of jihadists to learn their plans.
Video: Lebanese Politicians Brawl on TV over Syria's Assad - Roee Nahmias (Ynet News)
A former Lebanese parliament member caused a storm Monday when he called Syrian President Bashar Assad a liar live on Lebanese television and was then attacked by Dr. Faez Shakor of the Ba'ath party.
Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israelism in Western Schools - Manfred Gerstenfeld (Institute for Global Jewish Affairs)
Anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism in schools or places related to them are significant problems in a number of Western countries.
Programs to combat anti-Semitism in schools have been developed in the Netherlands and Canada.
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- IAEA Resolution to Sharply Criticize Iran for Nuclear Efforts - Joby Warrick
World powers meeting at the UN's nuclear agency have agreed on a draft resolution sharply criticizing Iran for its nuclear activities while deferring any discussion of new UN sanctions until the spring, two Western diplomats said Thursday.
The resolution, which is expected to gain formal approval of the IAEA on Friday, is a partial victory for Western powers seeking a unified message of rebuke to Iran over its nuclear policies. But the omission of any specific penalties was a concession to Russia and China, which have steadfastly opposed new sanctions against Iran.
The draft resolution expresses "deep and increasing concern about the unresolved issues" in Iran's nuclear program, particularly allegations that Iran has sought sensitive technology used in making nuclear warheads, said a senior U.S. official.
See also IAEA Seeks to Send Mission to Iran to Investigate Its Nuclear Intentions - Alan Cowell (New York Times)
- U.S. Air Force Acquires Giant Bunker-Busting Bombs - W.J. Hennigan
Boeing has delivered the first batch of 30,000-pound bombs, each nearly five tons heavier than anything else in the military's arsenal, to the U.S. Air Force to pulverize underground enemy hide-outs. The weapon's explosive power is 10 times greater than its bunker-buster predecessors.
The military disclosed delivery of the new bombs less than a week after a UN agency warned that Iran was secretly working to develop a nuclear weapon in hidden nuclear complexes buried under mountains. (Los Angeles Times)
- Armed Groups Are on Rise in Syria, as Are Civil War Fears - Nada Bakri
For the second day in a row, deserters from the Syrian Army carried out attacks on symbols of the Assad government's centers of power, targeting the youth offices of the ruling Baath Party on Thursday after firing rocket-propelled grenades on a military intelligence base on Wednesday, activists said. The attacks may have been more symbolic than effective, but could mark the increased ability of a growing number of defectors to publicize their exploits.
(New York Times)
- Conflicting Priorities Imperil Effort to Gather Up Gaddafi's Discarded Arms - Vivienne Walt
Gaddafi spent billions on refurbishing a huge arsenal, making Libya a prized client for Western defense contractors. The regime's collapse has seen huge quantities of arms looted from abandoned warehouses, and smuggled across Libya's borders. Shortly after Gaddafi's death, Human Rights Watch uncovered 70 bunkers south of Sirte containing thousands of guided and unguided surface-to-air weapons, artillery and mortar rounds. Libya's interim government has done little to secure those large stockpiles since then.
On Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Libyan authorities had found two stores of chemical weapons, previously unknown to Western governments. The U.S. State Dept. has contracted the security company DynCorp International to help track missing surface-to-air missiles, which Washington fears could enable terror attacks on civilian aviation. Gaddafi is believed to have acquired about 20,000 Russian-made SAMs. (TIME)
- Israel Finds Common Ground with Africans in Fight Against Islamic Extremists
Israel has identified Christian-led eastern African nations as an important strategic interest and is stepping up ties in a joint effort to control the spread of Islamic extremists, officials said Thursday.
Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, hosted the leaders of Uganda and Kenya earlier this week, following a meeting at the UN in September with the president of newly liberated South Sudan. Uganda and Kenya have been battling al-Shabab, a Somalia-based group linked to al-Qaeda. (AP-Washington Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Israel: It's Possible to Stop Iran's Nuclear Project - Herb Keinon
Tehran's fingerprints can be seen in every area of conflict in the region, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon told the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University on Thursday. "The significance of an Iran with nuclear weapons capability is that it could create nuclear chaos in the Middle East, and lead to the use of the nuclear umbrella to encourage terrorism and irredentism, and the transfer of a dirty bomb to Manhattan and Europe," he said.
"One way or another Iran has to be prevented from acquiring a military nuclear capability," he said. "The challenge is not only on our doorstep, it is before the whole free world, led by the U.S."
"Our assessment is that it is possible to stop the military nuclear project in Iran if all will cooperate and the Iranians will be faced with the following dilemma: nuclear weapons or survival." (Jerusalem Post)
See also Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister: Military Option Must Be Believable for Iran
A military strike on Iran must be a believable option, Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon said Thursday.
Israel must be ready to stop a nuclear Iran on its own, Ya'alon said, but said that a military option "is the last one and only comes after all other options have been used."
- Israel: Hamas-Fatah Unity Would Harm Diplomatic Process - Herb Keinon and Khaled Abu Toameh
PA President Mahmoud Abbas cannot have both peace with Israel and reconciliation with Hamas, officials in Jerusalem said on Thursday as Fatah announced significant progress toward forming a unity government with Hamas.
"We have said before that Abbas can choose peace with us or Hamas, but they don't go together," one official said. Washington is also sending messages to Abbas not to sign off on a deal with Hamas, warning that the PA could face a cutoff of U.S. funds if it did so without Hamas first recognizing Israel, forswearing terrorism, and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
One Israeli official characterized Abbas' behavior over the past few months as "problematic," citing his moves at the UN, his public praise for the kidnapping of soldier Gilad Shalit, and his refusal to condemn last month's missile fire from Gaza into Israel.
- More Israeli Earthquake Aid Arrives in Turkey - Yaakov Katz
An Israeli cargo ship unloaded humanitarian aid in Turkey on Friday for victims of deadly earthquakes.
The ship, organized by the Defense Ministry, was carrying mobile homes sufficient to house 1,000 people.
- Palestinian Right of Return? Not in My Backyard - Marcus Sheff
The Israel Project has been conducting polling and focus groups in Gaza and the West Bank for two years as part of the Arabic People to People Program.
A recent Palestinian focus group session in Nablus in the West Bank demonstrated that, just as in America and elsewhere, the top issue for Palestinians is the economy and jobs. While their leadership continues to insist on a Palestinian "right of return," Palestinians in the West Bank are less than enthusiastic about their return to a future state of Palestine.
Today, after having waged a bloody intifada, Palestinians enjoy the fruits of economic peace generated by several years of quiet cooperation between the Israeli government and the PA and by large sums of U.S. and European aid. Life is beginning to look good, and residents don't want their new-found prosperity threatened by the sudden influx of refugees, many of them intentionally kept impoverished, from camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
We need to listen to the Palestinians more closely.
The writer is executive director of The Israel Project's Israel office.
- The Syria Game of Thrones: Turkey vs. Iran vs. the Saudis in Battle to Shape a Rebellion's Outcome - Tony Karon
Assad casts himself as the protector of Allawites and Christians. The region has divided on that basis, with Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen - countries with significant Shi'ite populations, and in the case of Iraq, substantial Iranian influence - having declined to back the Arab League suspension of Syria. Also, many key leaders of Christian communities in other Arab countries have come out in support of Assad.
Assad can also count on solid backing from Russia, because Syria provides the Russian navy's only Mediterranean port, and also from Iran, for which Syria has been the key Arab ally.
But other regional players are raising their pressure on Damascus.
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, who once counted Assad as a personal friend, is now sending a message that the Syrian leader can't be trusted.
"No one any longer expects [Assad's regime] to meet the expectations of the people and of the international community," he said Tuesday.
Despite their common interest in tackling Assad, many Arab regimes don't like the idea of Turkish influence spreading in the region much more than they like the idea of Iranian influence. (TIME)
See also Russia Stands by Assad as Pressure Mounts on Syria - Khaled Yacoub Oweis (Reuters)
- Tradition and Modernity in the "Arab Spring" - Asher Susser
The "Arab Spring" has in many ways become a launching pad for
Islamist political ascendance.
With the Islamists so well placed in the countries that are en route to more
pluralist political systems, the question arises if Islamism and democracy are
necessarily mutually exclusive.
The answer is no, provided that the Islamists
prove to be willing to accept four key interrelated principles: the nonapplication of the Shari'a as the legal system and the acceptance of its
secondary status to the legislation of a democratically-elected legislature; the
full and unhindered equality of all religious minorities; the complete and
uninhibited equality of women; and the unequivocal acceptance of the
principles of freedom of speech, freedom of thought and the freedom of, and
from, religious belief. The writer
is a senior research fellow and former director of the
Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies.
(Dayan Center-Tel Aviv University)
- Sinai Beduin Join Al-Qaeda Out of Bitterness, Not Ideology - Arieh O'Sullivan
Angered for being marginalized and impoverished by Egypt's rulers, the Bedouin in Sinai have embraced the Islamist extremist al-Qaeda terror network out of bitterness about their economic circumstances rather than religious ideology, experts say.
Since the revolution in Cairo which ousted President Mubarak, lawlessness and lethal attacks by Bedouin have increased against the Egyptian establishment.
Avner Goren, an expert on the Sinai Bedouin who served as chief archaeologist for Sinai when it was under Israeli control from 1967 until 1982, explained:
"They are motivated out of jealously and anger, not ideology. While they don't have any conflict of interests with the Egyptians, they don't identify themselves as Egyptians."
During the years of Israeli rule, the Bedouin made up about 99% of the peninsula's population. But since Israel handed it over in 1982, Egypt has moved in tens of thousands of its citizens, who have taken control over the prime tourism spots and filled the most desirable jobs.
"The Egyptians have started to disperse populations. They brought water from the Nile under the Suez Canal into the northern Sinai so there is no longer a problem of water. You can settle people and even do agriculture," Goren said.
"It's getting crowded and more and more Egyptians are coming in at the expense of the Bedouin."
Goren, who lived among the Bedouin in Sinai, said that while al-Qaeda is supporting tribes with money, its ideology has not penetrated deeply. The Islam of the local Bedouin is relatively easy going. Bedouin have never practiced an extreme or puritanical form of Islam, he said. Traditionally, the Bedouin cherish loyalty to their tribe more than to faith.
(Media Line-Jerusalem Post)
- If Settlements Are Only 1.1 Percent of West Bank, How Are They an Obstacle to Peace? - Evelyn Gordon
In an interview with the Arabic radio station As-Shams two weeks ago, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that, based on an aerial photograph provided by European sources, the settlements cover only 1.1% of the West Bank. If that is so, why are they deemed the main obstacle to peace? (Commentary)
- Long Lost Cousins Unite in Israel Thanks to Online Holocaust Database
For five long years during World War II, Nahum Korenblum never left the side of his younger brother Yaakov as the two fled the Nazi invasion of Poland, escaped forced labor camps across Europe and ultimately joined the Soviet Red Army. There, they were separated and dispatched abroad, never to meet again.
On Thursday, more than a decade after they died, their children were united at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial thanks to a recently uploaded family photo discovered on its comprehensive online database of Holocaust victims.
In 1958, shortly after Yaakov moved to Israel, he filled out a page of testimony at Yad Vashem. Nahum had meanwhile settled in Ukraine. For the rest of their lives, the brothers searched for each other in vain.
In 2006, Yaakov's daughter, Bracha Fleishman-Korenblum, updated the online entry, attaching an old black-and-white photo of her grandparents and four of their children - including Nahum and Yaakov.
Two months ago, one of Nahum's American grandchildren stumbled upon the entry and was shocked to recognize his grandfather in the picture. He reached out to the Korenblum clan in Israel and a reunion was put into motion.
A Credible Military Threat to Iran - Eli Lake
As Iran methodically built its nuclear program, Israel has been assembling a multibillion-dollar array of high-tech weapons that would allow it to jam, blind, and deafen Tehran's defenses in the case of a pre-emptive aerial strike.
- A U.S. intelligence assessment this summer concluded that any Israeli attack on hardened nuclear sites in Iran would likely include electronic warfare against Iran's electric grid, Internet, cellphone network, and emergency frequencies for firemen and police officers.
Israel has developed a weapon capable of mimicking a maintenance cellphone signal that commands a cell network to "sleep," effectively stopping transmissions.
In a 2007 attack on a Syrian nuclear site, Israeli planes "spoofed" the country's air-defense radars, at first making it appear that no jets were in the sky and then in an instant making the radar believe the sky was filled with hundreds of planes.
Israel also likely would exploit a vulnerability that U.S. officials detected two years ago in Iran's big-city electric grids, which are connected to the Internet and therefore vulnerable to a Stuxnet-style cyberattack, officials say.
The likely delivery method for the electronic elements of this attack would be an unmanned aerial vehicle.
- A senior Israeli official said this month that one important objective of Israel's political strategy on Iran was to persuade Iranian decision-makers that a military strike against their nuclear infrastructure was a very real possibility. "The only known way to stop a nuclear program is to have smashing sanctions with a credible military threat. Libya is the best example of this," this official said.
- If past practice is any guide, the Israelis would not likely strike at the same moment that their officials are discussing the prospect in the press. In other words, if Israel is openly discussing a military strike, it is unlikely to be imminent.
But if Israel goes radio silent - like it did when it attacked a nuclear site in Iraq in 1981 - that may be an early warning sign that a strike is nearing.
- In 2007, the Israelis presented what they considered to be rock-solid evidence that Syria was building a covert nuclear facility at al-Kibar. They asked President Bush to bomb the facility, according to the new memoir from Condoleezza Rice.
"The president decided against a strike and suggested a diplomatic course to the Israeli prime minister," she wrote. "Ehud Olmert thanked us for our input but rejected our advice, and the Israelis then expertly did the job themselves."
- One American close to the current prime minister said, "When Netanyahu came into office, the understanding was they will not make the same mistake that Olmert made and ask for something the president might say no to. Better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission."
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