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December 19, 2011

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Report: Hizbullah in Dire Financial Straits (Ynet News)
    According to the French daily Le Figaro, based on information obtained by French intelligence agencies, the uprising in Syria has significantly reduced the flow of money to the Lebanese terror group Hizbullah.
    Moreover, the report said, Iran has recently cut its financial aid to Hizbullah by 25% due in part to the international sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program.
    Hizbullah's financial woes are also the result of corruption. The report said Hizbullah's investment manager had embezzled close to $1.6 billion.
    Le Figaro also claimed that the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 was planned by top Hizbullah commander Imad Mughniyeh, without Nasrallah's knowledge.

U.S. Limits Intelligence Value of Drones - Douglas Birch (AP)
    A U.S. official says Iran will find it hard to exploit any data and technology aboard the captured CIA stealth drone because of measures taken to limit the intelligence value of drones operating over hostile territory.
    The official also said Saturday that the U.S. is convinced that the drone that came down near the Iranian city of Kashmar had malfunctioned. "The Iranians had nothing to do with it."
    Independent experts say the data and communications of the unmanned aircraft are heavily encrypted, making it difficult for Iran to harvest much intelligence from them.

Eilat Rail Link to Provide Alternative to Suez Canal - Nathan Jeffay (Jewish Chronicle-UK)
    China is poised to build a railway connecting Eilat to central Israel, and Israel's Ministry of Transportation is currently drafting a memorandum of understanding.
    It will take 2.5 hours to travel from Eilat to Tel Aviv by train.
    The most ambitious part of the rail plan involves promoting it as a rival trade route to the Suez Canal, which will avoid the canal's high fees.
    Israel wants shippers to dock in Eilat, load goods onto the train, and then ship them out of one of the country's Mediterranean ports.

Poll: 63% of Israeli Jews See Arab World Remaining Hostile after Treaty with Palestinians (Tel Aviv University and the Israel Democracy Institute)
    68% of Israeli Jews believe the changes occurring in the Arab world have worsened Israel's national security, according to the Peace Index survey conducted on Dec. 5-6.
    63% say the Arab world would remain hostile even if a peace treaty were to be signed between Israel and the Palestinians.

Blast Hits Egypt's Gas Pipeline to Jordan, Israel (Reuters)
    An Egyptian pipeline carrying gas to Israel and Jordan was bombed Sunday, the 10th such attack this year, but no fire erupted because the line was already disabled from an earlier attack.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Egypt's Islamists Claim Sweep of Second Round Vote - Marwa Awad and Tamim Elyan
    Egypt's two leading Islamist parties said on Sunday their separate party lists secured about three-quarters of votes cast in the second round of a parliamentary election, extending their lead. The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party said it expected to win about 40% percent of votes, while the ultra-conservative Salafi al-Nour Party said its list received about 35%, up from 24% in the first round. (Reuters)
        See also Egyptian Liberals Eye Muslim Brotherhood Success - Zvi Bar'el
    The results of the second round of parliamentary elections - in which the Muslim Brotherhood solidified its position as the largest party, with a 40% share - have aggravated fears among liberal, secular Egyptians. Yet these liberals are coming to regard the Muslim Brotherhood as a well-organized entity that can (together with the liberals ) restore the country to an orderly path - at least as long as the army allows this to happen. (Ha'aretz)
  • Escalating Crackdown Signals Shift in Egypt's Protests - Sarah El-Deeb and Maggie Michael
    Egypt's military took a dramatically heavier hand Saturday to crush protests against its rule in nearly 48 hours of continuous fighting in Egypt's capital that has left more than 300 injured and nine dead, many of them shot. The most sustained crackdown yet is likely a sign that the generals who took power after the February ouster of Hosni Mubarak are confident the Egyptian public is on their side. The generals appear to be betting that Egyptians engaged in elections have had enough of the multiple protests since Mubarak's fall and want quiet. (AP-Seattle Times)
        See also Muslim Brotherhood Criticizes Egypt's Military Crackdown on Protests - Leila Fadel (Washington Post)
  • Syria Threatens to Execute 21 Captured Defectors on Monday - Adrian Blomfield
    The Free Syrian Army, which has waged a rebellion against the government of President Bashar al-Assad since June, said it had received information that 21 captured defectors are to face a firing squad on Monday. (Telegraph-UK)
  • Israel Offers Natural Gas to India - Indrani Bagchi
    Israel has offered to export natural gas to India. The offer was made by Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz to the Indian government during his visit last week. According to sources, the two countries will be setting up committees to do a feasibility survey of the offer. India sources most of its natural gas from Qatar and Oman. Iran, which could have been a major supplier of LNG, cancelled a huge deal with India after it had been signed, following India's vote against its nuclear program in the IAEA.
        Huge quantities of natural gas were discovered off Israel's northern coast. Gas is expected to start flowing from the Tamar field in 2013 and from Leviathan in 2016. (Times of India)
        See also Revolutionary Shale Oil Project in Israel - Daniella Cheslow (AFP)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel, U.S. Discuss Iran Oil Embargo - Itamar Eichner
    Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon met with U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman on Sunday to discuss the Iranian nuclear threat and urged the U.S. to impose an oil embargo on Iran, Yediot Ahronot reported. Israeli officials presented Sherman with an economic model they believe would enable the U.S. to impose an oil embargo on Iran without causing a global price hike. According to the model, the world's biggest oil manufacturers, including Saudi Arabia, would be expected to increase production in order to reduce global dependency on Iranian oil.
        "Israel and the U.S., with the international community's cooperation, are determined to prevent - and will prevent - a nuclear Iran," Ayalon said on Sunday. (Ynet News)
  • 550 Palestinian Prisoners Released in Second Stage of Shalit Swap
    The second stage of an Israel-Hamas prisoner swap was completed Sunday, as Israel released 550 Palestinian prisoners to the Palestinian territories and Jordan. The vast majority of the prisoners were to be dropped off in Ramallah in the West Bank, while 41 went to Gaza, 2 to Jordan, and 2 to eastern Jerusalem. None of the prisoners released Sunday was serving a life term. Most are members of the armed wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement. Around half were scheduled to have been released in the first half of 2012. (DPA-Ha'aretz)
  • Fatah Declares War on Normalization with Israel - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction has declared war on all informal meetings between Israelis and Palestinians, Hatem Abdel Kader, a senior Fatah official, said over the weekend. Fatah's decision came following a series of meetings between Israeli and Palestinian peace activists and academics to promote peace and "normalization" between the two sides. "If all the meetings the Palestinian leadership has had with the Americans, Europeans and Quartet representatives haven't achieved anything, how can these informal meetings lead to any results?" the Fatah leader explained. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Keeping the Arab Spring Alive - Editorial
    Though the Islamists of Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and elsewhere say that they are democrats, they are not liberal - and their relations with the West are uneasy at best. The true liberals of the Arab world - those who plotted the uprisings on Facebook and brought the secular middle classes to the street - risk being marginalized. They lack the organization of mosque-based movements or the foreign funding supplied by conservative states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In Egypt, they also remain the prime target of a military establishment that hopes to preserve an outsize measure of power.
        The best cure for what ails the Middle East is what it has lacked: free debate and democracy. In the short term, that may lead to mistaken policies or greater friction with the West. But over time extremists and fundamentalists are more likely to be discredited. The Arab world's huge and rising young generation wants the freedom and prosperity it sees spreading in much of the rest of the world - and the rest of the world should be betting on that. (Washington Post)
        See also The West Should Bet on Freedom in Egypt - Natan Sharansky
    Nothing is instantaneous in politics. To think of elections as a panacea, let alone a sure road to real democracy, is to evince a failure of historical imagination. The proper role of the free world is not to encourage or to stop elections. Its role should be to formulate, and to stick by, a policy of incremental change based on creating the institutions that will lead ineluctably to pressure for more and more representative forms of government. The free world should place its bet on freedom and work toward a civil society defined by that value. The writer, a human rights activist and political prisoner in the former Soviet Union, is chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel. (Washington Post)
  • How Iran's Rulers Think about the Nuclear Program - Harold Rhode
    As the Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic revolution in Iran, said: The Muslim world is engaged in a war with the non-Muslim world, a war which will end only when the non-Muslim world converts to Islam. Possessing nuclear weapons addresses Islam's eternal battle with the non-Muslim world.
        A nuclear, anti-Western Iran would enable the Muslims to hold their heads high and force the West into retreat. This is what the acquisition of nuclear weapons means to the present Iranian regime, and why nothing the West does short of changing the current regime will stop the Iranians from acquiring these weapons. The writer has served in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense, as advisor on Islamic affairs on the Pentagon's policy planning staff, and in the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment. (Hudson Institute-New York)

Iran's Endgame Is Long Overdue - Joel Brinkley (San Francisco Chronicle)

  • European leaders are now debating whether to impose an oil embargo on Iran. The EU imports 450,000 barrels of Iranian oil each day, about 20% of Iran's output. At a meeting of EU foreign ministers this month, several states, including Britain, France and Germany, advocated an oil embargo, but others balked. Greece, for example, complained that while the state's economy is in crisis, it can't go prospecting to replace Iran's oil.
  • But now Saudi Arabia - Iran's hated enemy - is ramping up production, specifically to replace Europe's Iranian oil. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said he won a commitment from the Saudi ambassador in Washington to increase production. And in fact, every day now, Saudi Arabia is pumping 600,000 barrels above normal production - the highest output in decades.
  • What's more, Libya is increasing output now that the fighting there is over, and the International Energy Agency reported that during the third quarter of this year, Iraq produced 540,000 more barrels per day than it had a year earlier.
  • In other words, the world is awash in oil - even as weak economies are reducing demand worldwide. Europe can impose a total oil embargo on Iran and easily replace that oil from other producers.

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