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  DAILY ALERT Thursday,
December 29, 2011

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Weapons Sales to Iraq Move Ahead Despite U.S. Worries - Michael S. Schmidt and Eric Schmitt (New York Times)
    The Obama administration is moving ahead with the sale of nearly $11 billion worth of arms and training for the Iraqi military despite concerns that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is seeking to consolidate authority, create a one-party Shiite-dominated state and abandon the American-backed power-sharing government.
    The military aid, including advanced fighter jets and battle tanks, is meant to help the Iraqi government protect its borders and rebuild a military that before the 1991 Persian Gulf war was one of the largest in the world.
    While the U.S. is eager to beef up Iraq's military, at least in part as a hedge against Iranian influence, there are also fears that the move could backfire if the Baghdad government ultimately aligns more closely with the Shiite theocracy in Tehran than with Washington.

Libyan Rebel Commander: I Was on the Mavi Marmara - John Rosenthal (National Review)
    According to the Spanish daily ABC, Mahdi al-Harati, a Libyan rebel commander who played a key role in overthrowing the rule of Muammar Gaddafi, previously participated in the May 2010 attempt to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza aboard the Turkish-owned vessel the Mavi Marmara.

What Would a Hamas-Fatah Agreement Mean? - Elliott Abrams (Council on Foreign Relations)
    One immediate effect of a unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah would be a new PA cabinet in which Salam Fayyad would no longer be prime minister.
    Fayyad's presence has meant, first, transparency and a struggle against corruption. His departure almost guarantees that the integrity of the PA's books and finances will decline.
    But Fayyad also oversees the security forces. With Fayyad gone, it is predictable that the PA services, including the American-trained police, will become more corrupt and more political.
    At a deeper level, a unity agreement would bring Hamas into the PLO and thereby compromise the PA's and PLO's commitment to fight terrorism and seek a Palestinian state without violence.

U.S. to Sell $30 Billion Worth of F-15 Fighter Jets to Saudi Arabia (AP-Washington Post)
    U.S. officials say the Obama administration is poised to announce the sale of nearly $30 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia. The deal will send 84 new fighter jets and upgrades for 70 more.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Iran Unlikely to Block Oil Shipments through Strait of Hormuz, Analysts Say - Thomas Erdbrink
    Despite Iranian threats to block the vital Strait of Hormuz if Western nations tighten sanctions on Iran by imposing an oil embargo, the Islamic republic needs the strait at least as much as its adversaries do, Iranian and foreign analysts said. Iran relies on the Hormuz Strait as the departure gate for its biggest client: China. "We would be committing economic suicide by closing off the Hormuz Strait," said an Iranian Oil Ministry official. "Oil money is our only income, so we would be spectacularly shooting ourselves in the foot by doing that."  (Washington Post)
  • U.S. Preparing Options for Aiding Syrian Opposition - Josh Rogin
    The U.S. National Security Council has begun an informal interagency process to create and collect options for aiding the Syrian opposition, including gaming out the unlikely option of setting up a no-fly zone in Syria, two administration officials confirmed. Other options under consideration include establishing a humanitarian corridor or safe zone for civilians in Syria along the Turkish border, extending humanitarian aid to the Syrian rebels, and engaging more with the external and internal opposition.
        Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that the administration was caught off-guard by how the opposition became militarized so quickly. "We assumed, incorrectly, that the civil resistance strategies used in Egypt and Tunisia were being adopted by the Syrian opposition, but that didn't happen."  (Foreign Policy)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • IDF Preparing for Future Gaza Military Action - Yanir Yagna and Gili Cohen
    Four rockets were fired Wednesday from Gaza into Israel. The Israel Air Force killed three Palestinian terrorists in Gaza and wounded another nine on Tuesday. Three years after Israel's Gaza military operation, the IDF is preparing for another possible large-scale incursion. "We are preparing and in fact are ready for another campaign, which will be varied and different, to renew our deterrence, if we are called on to restore full quiet to the communities [in the south]," said Brig. Gen. Tal Hermoni, the head of the Gaza division's southern brigade.
        Under a plan overseen by Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, the next Gaza operation would be shorter than the previous one, but would employ far greater firepower. (Ha'aretz)
  • Gaza: A Boiling Pot Waiting to Explode - Yaakov Katz
    The amount of weaponry the IDF believes has been smuggled into Gaza in 2011 has increased 15-20% in comparison to the previous year, as a result of the revolutions in Egypt and Libya. The IDF is primarily concerned about sophisticated, Russian-made antitank missiles, such as the laser-guided Kornet, and shoulder-to-air missiles, like those that have gone missing from Libyan warehouses.
        During the past year along the Gaza border, the IDF says 100 Palestinian combatants were killed in military operations, as well as 9 civilians. This is nearly a 1:10 civilian-to-combatant ratio that is unprecedented in any other conflict in the world. The UN estimates an average 3:1 ratio of civilian-to-combatant deaths in conflicts worldwide. That is three civilians for every combatant killed. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Syrian Exiles' Message to Israelis - Orly Azoulay
    Rahim and Amar made their way to the U.S. earlier this year after having been imprisoned by the Syrian regime. Under Syrian law, meeting with Israelis constitutes treason. "If authorities find out that I spoke to you, they will butcher my family," Rahim tells this Yediot Ahronot reporter. Amar says: "We have no ideological hatred for Israel or for Jews....It's true that for years they taught us to hate Israel and fight it, but many Syrians already realized that they are being taught to hate Israel to divert attention away from the oppression in the country."
        "The alliance between Syria and Iran that threatens the Middle East will come to an end after Assad is gone. Most Syrians despise Iran," he adds. Both Rahim and Amar tell of Iranian-speaking snipers who do not speak Arabic being deployed across Damascus and helping in repressing the protests. (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Iran's Hormuz Threat - Editorial
    So now we know the kind of sanctions that hit Iran's regime where it really hurts. The U.S. and Europe are at last mustering the gumption to target Iran's multibillion-dollar oil industry, and almost immediately Tehran is threatening to bring Persian Gulf tankers to a halt. If it struck first, Iran could sink a few ships and do some damage. But Iran is no military match for the U.S. and its allies in the Persian Gulf.
        The Hormuz threat is another opportunity to set boundaries on Iran's rogue behavior. Washington, along with London, Paris and Riyadh, should say plainly that any attempt to close or disrupt traffic through the strait would be considered an act of war that would be met with a military response. That response would be robust and immediate, and it would target Iran's military and nuclear assets, perhaps even its regime. Iran's mullahs need to understand that an act of aggression would jeopardize their own survival.
        The Hormuz flap should also underscore the strategic damage that would result if Iran does get the bomb. Fortified by a nuclear threat, the mullahs would be more willing to blackmail their neighbors and press for regional dominance. Would the U.S. dare resist Iranian aggression if it meant putting American forces at risk of a nuclear reprisal? Better to act now to stop Iran before we have to answer that terrible question. (Wall Street Journal)
        See also The Mullahs Are Playing with Fire in Strait of Hormuz - Editorial
    Iran's threat makes no economic sense. Closing the strait would shut off Iran's main source of income and deny its people necessary imports such as gasoline, food and consumer goods. The hardships of a closure would fall mainly on the Islamic regime as the rest of the world adjusted to the temporary and relatively minor oil shortage.
        Closing the strait makes even less military sense. Iran would assume the role of the aggressor. There are significant legal ramifications for initiating the use of overt military force in an international waterway.
        Iran's navy - comprising eight light surface warships, two dozen nonnuclear submarines and numerous small attack boats - would quickly be destroyed. Any air assets in the theater would be eliminated. Land-based anti-ship missile batteries would be hunted down and bombed. If the Islamic Republic wants to commit suicide, then by all means, close the Strait of Hormuz right away. (Washington Times)
  • Arab Spring: The Revolution Has Only Just Begun - Shashank Joshi
    The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt will eventually use their new mandate to squeeze out the army, resulting in another wave of violence. Ballooning debt, dangerously thin foreign exchange reserves, and stagnating growth will produce a fresh crisis.
        All through the beginning of next year, swathes of Syrian territory will slip out of government hands. The Free Syrian Army, a collection of defectors hosted by Turkey, will mount increasingly spectacular attacks at the heart of the regime. The Syrian economy, hit by oil embargoes and drained of tourism, will contract drastically. Smuggling networks will mushroom across the Lebanese and Jordanian borders, and Syria will become awash with weaponry. Iran, which sees the Assad regime as its anchor in the Arab world, will funnel in arms, intelligence and advisers.
        Within Iran, as the problem of succession looms closer, Supreme Leader Khamenei will begin empowering his son Mojtaba - a hardline cleric who may have overseen the assault on the British embassy. The writer is an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London. (Telegraph-UK)

Arab League Needs to Tell the Truth about Syria - Editorial (Washington Post)

  • The hopes of Syrians for an end to the criminal repression by the regime of Bashar al-Assad now depend on the Arab League and the observer force it dispatched to the country this week. It is a very thin reed.
  • Their chief, Gen. Mustafa al-Dabi, is a former intelligence director for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who himself is under international indictment for crimes against humanity.
  • Dabi, who has been linked to the genocide in Darfur, told Reuters on Wednesday: "The situation seemed reassuring so far."
  • Dabi and his observers, and the Arab League as a whole, eventually must either report the truth about the regime's continuing crimes or pretend they are not occurring.

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