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U.S. Boosts Military Presence in Persian Gulf - David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times)
The Pentagon quietly shifted combat troops and warships to the Middle East after Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, who heads U.S. Central Command, warned that he needed additional forces to deal with Iran and other potential threats, U.S. officials said.
The White House approved the deployments late last year after talks with the government in Baghdad broke down over keeping U.S. troops in Iraq, but the extent of the Pentagon moves is only now becoming clear.
Officials said Thursday that the deployments are intended as a quick-reaction and contingency force in case a military crisis erupts in the standoff with Tehran.
The Pentagon has stationed nearly 15,000 troops in Kuwait and has decided to keep two aircraft carriers and their strike groups in the region.
Obama, Netanyahu Discuss Mideast, Iran - Dan Robinson (VOA News)
President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have conferred by telephone about Mideast peace efforts, including recent Israel-Palestinian talks in Jordan. They also discussed Iran, according to an official White House statement.
See also President Obama's Call with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel (White House)
Russian Arms Ship Docks in Syria (Hurriyet-Turkey)
The Chariot, a Russian vessel laden with ammunition, docked at the Syrian port of Tartus Jan. 12 after the owners of the ship, which made an unscheduled stop in Greek Cyprus, told Cypriot officials on Jan. 10 the ship would change its destination from Syria to Turkey.
Esmail Qaani: The Next Revolutionary Guards Quds Force Commander? - Ali Alfoneh (American Enterprise Institute)
Should Maj.-Gen. Qassem Suleimani, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force (IRGC QF) commander, pursue a political career ahead of Iran's 2013 presidential election, he may be replaced by Brig.-Gen. Esmail Qaani, IRGC QF deputy, who is believed to be directing the IRGC QF's activities in Afghanistan.
Qaani's operational battlefield experience, network within the IRGC, and long acquaintance with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei qualify him for such an appointment.
Iran's Unlovable Opposition - Jackson Diehl (Washington Post)
Ataollah Mohajerani, who has been a spokesman in Europe for presidential candidate-turned-dissident Mehdi Karroubi, came to Washington to address the annual conference of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The mostly pro-Israel crowd was primed to cheer what they expected would be a harsh condemnation of Ahmadinejad and his bellicose rhetoric, and a promise of change by the green coalition.
What they heard, instead, was a speech that started with a rehashing of U.S. involvement in the 1953 coup in Tehran and went on to echo much of Ahmadinejad's rhetoric about the U.S. and the nuclear program.
Palestinian Social Media Face PA, Hamas Surveillance - Shatha Yaish (AFP)
The emerging role of social media in Palestinian society has not gone unnoticed by Gaza's Hamas rulers or by the PA in the West Bank.
Jillian York, director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a U.S.-based Internet rights watchdog, says Palestinian social media face both surveillance and self-censorship.
In 2010, Walid Hassayen from the West Bank town of Kalkilya was arrested on charges of blasphemy and sentenced to three years after he allegedly poked fun at the Koran on his Facebook page.
Radio journalist George Cannawati criticized the government-run health authority in a posting on Facebook and was sued by the Bethlehem governor Abdel Fatah Hamayel for libel, slander and defamation.
In Gaza, users face an array of restrictions, including blocked pages.
In April 2010, Assad al-Saftawi, 22, was arrested by Gaza's Hamas rulers and charged with "slander" and "promoting lies inciting against the government" after he criticized them in a Facebook posting picked up by Al-Ayyam newspaper.
Palestinian Terrorist Refused Parole in UK - Marcus Dysch
In 1986, Nezar Hindawi planned to blow up an El Al plane carrying 370 people by planting a bomb in the luggage of his pregnant fiancee. Irish citizen Anne-Marie Murphy, who later gave birth to Hindawi's daughter, knew nothing of the plot.
The Parole Board on Friday rejected his latest appeal for parole, ruling that it was not yet safe to release him.
It is widely believed that Syria instigated the attempted bombing on the Heathrow to Tel Aviv flight. The device was discovered by El Al security who stopped Murphy.
The Variety of Memories of Jews and the Holocaust in Postcommunist Poland - Joanna Beata Michlic (Institute for Global Jewish Affairs)
The memory of Jews and the Holocaust in postcommunist Poland has persistently occupied a central stage in public debate since 1989 and shows no sign of declining.
This does not, however, mean that a broad public consensus has been reached on how to remember the Jews.
The writer is a social and cultural historian and director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute Project on Families, Children, and the Holocaust at Brandeis University.
Israel in Figures 2011 (Israel Central Bureau of Statistics)
The Israel Central Bureau of Statistics has published an updated booklet on "Israel in Figures" which includes data on topics related to Israeli demography, society, and economy.
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- U.S. Warns Top Iranian Leader Not to Shut Strait of Hormuz - Elisabeth Bumiller, Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker
The Obama administration is relying on a secret channel of communication to warn Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that closing the Strait of Hormuz is a "red line" that would provoke an American response, according to U.S. government officials. The secret communications channel was chosen to underscore privately to Iran the depth of American concern. American naval officials fear that an overzealous Revolutionary Guards naval captain could do something provocative on his own, setting off a larger crisis.
Administration officials and Iran analysts said they continued to believe that Iran's threats to close the strait were bluster and an attempt to drive up the price of oil. Blocking the route for the vast majority of Iran's petroleum exports - and for its food and consumer imports - would amount to economic suicide.
(New York Times)
- Former UN Nuclear Inspector: Iran Will Have Enough Enriched Uranium for 4-5 Nukes by End of 2012 - Olli Heinonen
On Jan. 9, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran had begun producing 20% enriched uranium at Fordow, a fuel enrichment plant buried deep underground. Since Feb. 2010, Iran has been producing 20% enriched uranium at Natanz. Iran continues to produce 20% enriched uranium despite the fact that this exceeds its civilian needs and, as President Ahmadinejad acknowledged in September, does not make economic sense. Increasing stockpiles of enriched uranium, together with studies related to an advanced nuclear weapon design, are building blocks for attaining a virtual nuclear weapon capability.
At current production rates, Iran can expect to have a stock of 20%-enriched uranium of around 250 kg. UF6 by the end of 2012, as well as more than 4 tons of 3.5%-enriched UF6. If Iran decides to produce weapons-grade uranium from 20%-enriched uranium, it has already technically undertaken 90% of the enrichment effort required. Growing the stockpile of 3.5% and 20%-enriched uranium, as Iran is now doing, provides the basic material needed to produce four to five nuclear weapons. The writer is a former deputy director general of the IAEA, where he headed its Department of Safeguards.
- U.S. Announces New Sanctions on Companies Supplying Iran
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday imposed sanctions on three companies for conducting business with Iran's energy sector: Zhuhai Zhenrong of China, Kuo Oil of Singapore, and FAL Oil of the UAE. Zhenrong is the largest supplier of refined petroleum products to Iran, having brokered the delivery of over $500 million in gasoline between July 2010 and January 2011. Kuo provided over $25 million in refined petroleum to Iran between late 2010 and early 2011. FAL provided over $70 million in refined petroleum to Iran in late 2010.
(U.S. State Department)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Israel Tightening Security Overseas after Iran Scientist Killed - Yaakov Katz
Israel is tightening security for its delegations overseas out of concern that Iran will seek to avenge the assassination on Wednesday of a senior nuclear scientist.
On Thursday, the Iranian newspaper Keyhan, with links to the country's top authority, called for retaliatory measures against Israel for the killing of scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan in Tehran. (Jerusalem Post)
- Critical EU Paper Draws Fire from Israeli Officials - Herb Keinon
Israeli diplomatic sources on Thursday slammed another EU report highly critical of Israeli policies, saying it will make the Europeans "feel good about themselves" but have no effect on the ground.
The document, titled "Area C and Palestinian State Building," concludes that Israeli actions in Area C of the West Bank "continuously undermined" the Palestinian population. Area C is mostly rural and includes only 6% of the Palestinian population.
"At a certain point, the Europeans are going to have to engage Israel, and not only the Palestinians, when they write these reports," one Israeli source said. "It's as if Israel does not exist, does not have its own version of events, reality, reasons, policy, or policy-making process."
He said the report consisted of the EU and the Palestinians talking to themselves and then coming to conclusions that were belied by the situation on the ground.
Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem pointed out that the document did not represent EU policy.
- Netanyahu to Birthright Group: Go Back and Tell the Truth about Israel
On Jan. 4, Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed a Birthright Israel group:
"This is your homeland, literally. This is where we all sprang up from. This is where the Jewish people forged their identity. This is where we lived for thousands of years until we were kicked out for thousands of years. And then we did something no people has done in history. A lot of people were kicked out and a lot of people disappeared. We refused to disappear and we wanted to come back to our homeland and we did, against all odds."
"Go back to your respective countries and tell the truth about Israel. There's so much slander about Israel and the only way to fight a lie is to tell the truth. Tell them about a country where people are free: free to initiate, free to speak. It's a country where you can criticize the prime minister....This is a country in which Arabs have full rights, something they've been denied in all the vast lands around us. This is a country where a woman is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a woman is a general."
(Prime Minister's Office)
- Is It Moral to Kill Iran's Nuclear Scientists? - Michael Burleigh
The Israelis believe that anyone who knowingly participates in developing weapons of mass destruction or terrorism should be aware that these are not risk-free activities. Iranian scientists know full well that electronic switches are used in nuclear triggers, and that enriching uranium beyond a certain percentage is not for the production of medical isotopes. And they accept the considerable financial rewards involved. If there are questions about the morality of killing such men, there are questions about the morality of their work in the first place.
In 1943 and 1944 the RAF and USAF carried out repeated strikes on the German V-2 rocket launch site at Peenemunde. They were not unduly concerned whether scientists and engineers were killed too, provided the V-2s ceased raining down on London. Today's Iranian physicists work for a regime that has explicitly threatened Israel (and by implication many ambient Palestinians) with a nuclear weapon. I shall not shed any tears whenever one of these scientists encounters the unforgiving men on motorbikes.
- Killing Iranian Scientists Is Not Terrorism - Jonathan S. Tobin
You need a particular form of moral myopia not to see that heading off a potential second Holocaust in the form of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel or the nuclear blackmail of the rest of the Middle East is not a form of terrorism. Anyone who believes Iran should be allowed to proceed toward the building of a nuclear bomb has either lost their moral compass or is so steeped in the belief that American and Israeli interests are inherently unjustified they have reversed the moral equation in this case. Rather than the alleged U.S. and Israeli covert operators being called terrorists, it is the Iranian scientists who are the criminals. They must be stopped before they kill.
The argument that the U.S. must sit back and wait to see if the Iranians succeed in achieving their nuclear ambitions ignores the fact that Iran is a rogue state whose own support of international terrorism has placed it outside the law. Just as we commonly state that democracy is not a suicide pact, neither is international law. States can and must act, sometimes preemptively, to defend their interests as well as the lives of their citizens. (Commentary)
- Should the UN Admit Palestine as a Full Member State?
On Jan. 10, 2012, Intelligence Squared U.S. held a debate at NYU on the question: "Should the UN Admit Palestine as a Full Member State?" During the debate,
former U.S. Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller said:
"Just because negotiations are stuck...doesn't mean that in an effort to maintain hope, to diffuse desperation and to accommodate some measure of urgency, we need to pursue an idea [UN admission] that...you've, in my judgment, failed to demonstrate where the real upsides are. The downsides of this are very, very real. In July 2000, we decided to recommend to Bill Clinton to go to Camp David to try to create a conflict-ending solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Do you realize that a dozen years after that summit, we are still paying for the lack of wisdom and the recklessness of that decision? Israelis and Palestinians have not yet recovered from the trauma of those ten years, because we believed in an effort to do something in the face of a desperate situation that we could make it better."
Former Israeli UN ambassador Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, addressed Mustafa Barghouthi, asking: "Were you at the Dec. 22 meeting in Cairo of the Palestinian
leadership?" Barghouthi: "I was."
Gold: "The meeting included Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas; it included the heads of
Islamic jihad, and these are organizations that call for the obliteration of the State of
Israel, the destruction of the State of Israel. So how do you square the circle of invoking
to an American audience names like Martin Luther King and then going to an event in
Cairo with the leaders of the Islamic Jihad which is a wing of the Pasdaran of Iran, of
sitting with the Hamas leadership while they - after your meeting with them - are quoted
in Al-Hayat, in the Arabic press, still calling for armed struggle against the State of Israel?" (Intelligence Squared U.S.)
See also Whitewashing Hamas Is a Mistake - Ed Husain
I attended the Intelligence Squared Debate in New York.
The whitewashing of Hamas left me deeply disturbed. Mustafa
Barghouthi cited a recent statement from Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal that allegedly commits to nonviolence. Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, the Qassam Brigades, and other Hamas leadership figures clearly did not get the memo. They are yet to confirm that Hamas will adopt nonviolence.
Hamas is a terrorist organization. It remains so. It actively seeks Israel's destruction. These facts must be accepted, not ignored.
The writer is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at CFR. (Council on Foreign Relations)
- Expect No Breakthrough in Israel-PA Negotiations during U.S. Election Year - David Makovsky
After 16 months of no negotiations, Israeli and Palestinian officials met in Amman last week and again this week. All sides agree that there will be no territorial breakthrough during an American election year, and the debates are for policymakers since the publics remain skeptical of the other side's sincerity for peace.
Palestinians associated with Abbas' foreign policy negotiating team argue that the best way to insulate the PA from the wrath of the Arab Awakening is through continued defiance of Israel. They also believe that diplomatic defiance of Israel will help Fatah to compete with Hamas in the May elections, especially given the political boost that Hamas may get from the current Islamist electoral wave in the Arab world. The writer is Director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
- Arab League's Indecision Fueling Assad's Belligerence - Michael Young
When lost, continue walking around in circles. That is the motto of the Arab League in dealing with the crisis in Syria. The Syrian army has not withdrawn from cities, with some 400 people estimated to have been killed since Arab League monitors arrived last month.
The two traditional Arab powerhouses, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, remain deeply ambiguous on Syria. Other Arab states have also shown no enthusiasm for aggressively applying Arab decisions. Iraq, Algeria, Sudan, Morocco, Jordan and Lebanon have either been openly sympathetic to Assad or have gone with the flow. There is no Arab momentum to side with the Syrian population against their leaders. The writer is opinion editor of the Daily Star in Beirut.
(The National-Abu Dhabi)
- The Anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution - Zvi Mazel
In the elections for the lower chamber of the Egyptian parliament, the Majlis e-Sha'ab, the Islamist parties won with a huge majority, creating a most unpleasant surprise for the Egyptian elite, the middle class and the young revolutionaries who started the process of political change. Yet the writing had been on the wall. This is the result of Islamic education - or indoctrination - from a tender age, recklessly encouraged by the Mubarak regime, of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists throughout the country.
The new head of government is likely to be a member of the Brotherhood who has the support of most of the parliament. Can we realistically expect him to be respectful of human rights - freedom of speech, freedom of religion, equal rights for women and minorities, including the nearly 10 million Egyptian Copts?
Muhammad Badie, the supreme guide of the Brotherhood, declared to raised eyebrows last week that the movement was about to fulfill the lofty aspirations of its founder, Hassan al-Banna, to establish the caliphate throughout the world. The writer, a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.
- A Hizbullah Crack-Up? - Lee Smith
It is becoming increasingly unlikely that Hizbullah's patron in Damascus will survive the uprising. Some Lebanese observers are even wondering if the clerical regime in Iran, Hizbullah's main sponsor, will survive. If Hizbullah's regional partners are in trouble, its control over Lebanon's Shiite community seems to be unraveling. There's crime and social unrest in Shiite areas that the party is incapable of curtailing.
The party can't get a fix on how to package the revelations that Hizbullah has been infiltrated by foreign intelligence services. If they boast about uncovering CIA assets in their midst, they admit that the Americans were able to penetrate an organization whose prestige rests on a reputation for tight security and lockstep discipline.
- Strategic Realignment and Energy Security
in the Eastern Mediterranean - Alexander Murinson
An economic and security partnership
between the three non-Muslim countries in the eastern Mediterranean - Israel, Greece and Cyprus -
benefits all. The most urgent strategic issue that unites them is
their need for energy security. The recent discovery of substantial natural
gas fields in the Israeli and Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zones is seen as a challenge by Turkey, which threatens to deter and harass
Cypriot and Israeli exploration efforts. Greece, Israel and Cyprus should
increase their strategic cooperation in order to contain such Turkish
hostility. The writer holds a PhD from the School of
Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
(BESA Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)
- India's Delicate Balance - Editorial
On Monday, Israel and India celebrated the 20th anniversary of the establishment of official relations between the countries. In attendance was India's External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna, the highest-ranking Indian to come to Israel in an official capacity in over a decade.
Commercial ties have improved immensely since 1992, when the two countries formally established ties after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
About 40,000 Israelis, many of them post-army backpackers, visit India every year.
At the same time, India has pursued high-profile foreign relations with the Palestinian Authority including tens of millions of dollars in direct aid, frequent visits by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and public declarations by senior Indian officials supporting the creation of a Palestinian state. India prefers to avoid conflict with its significant Muslim minority that opposes ties.
Yet despite their country's decidedly pro-Palestinian policies, Indians are remarkably supportive of Israel. A 2009 survey sponsored by the Israel Foreign Ministry in 13 countries ranked India as the most "pro-Israel country" in the world. 58% of Indians had positive feelings about Israel, followed by the U.S. - 56%, and Russia and Mexico at 52% each.
India's foreign policy is proof that a strong pro-Palestinian stance is not an obstacle to robust and mutually advantageous relations with Israel. Indians understand the complexity of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that a majority of Israelis support a two-state solution in principle, provided it brings about a final resolution of the conflict. (Jerusalem Post)
See also India-Israel Relations: A Mutually Beneficial Relationship - Arvind Gupta
The writer is head of India's Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses.
- Does Israel Cause Arab Anti-Semitism? - Colin Rubenstein
Jews across the Middle East suffered violent hatred well before Israel and Zionism emerged on the agenda. In 1912, the Jewish quarter in Fez was almost destroyed in a mob attack. In the 1930s and 1940s pogroms and other attacks on the Jews were widespread in Iraq and Libya. Pro-Nazi Arabs slaughtered dozens of Jews in the "Farhoud" pogrom in Baghdad in 1941.
Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, probably the most popular Sunni cleric in the Arab world, has described the Holocaust as "divine punishment" for the Jews and expressed the hope that "Allah willing, the next time will be at the hands of the [Muslim] believers." He also stated he wants to die a martyr in the process of killing "Allah's enemies, the Jews."
To imagine this traditional anti-Semitism is going to evaporate if Israel signs a peace deal with the Palestinians is fantasy. The pervasiveness of Muslim and Arab anti-Semitism is a significant barrier to a lasting peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
(Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council)
- In Europe, Free Speech Ends Where Islam Begins - Clifford D. May
Last month, the European Foundation for Democracy (EFD) held an event in Amsterdam featuring two speakers who favor liberalizing Islam. More than 20 members of pro-Sharia groups pushed their way in shouting "Allahu Akhbar!" They demanded the event be stopped, called the speakers apostates, spat on them, threw eggs at them and threatened to kill them. Yet few Europeans have expressed outrage over this boot-stomping suppression of free speech.
In Europe, increasingly, free speech ends where Islamism begins. Two months ago, the Paris offices of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo were firebombed and its staff targeted with death threats after publication of an issue "edited" by the Prophet Mohammad. The writer is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
(Scripps Howard News)
- Japanese Must Tap Their "Inner Israeli" - Glenn Newman
Japan has been struggling to find a suitable vision, or model, for its future. A partial model for Japan could be Israel.
Temperamentally, Israelis and Japanese are near-polar opposites. Japanese abhor conflict and strive for harmony; Israelis relish a good argument at any time, for any reason. Japanese practice tatemae [facade]; Israelis are pure honne [true feelings or desires]. Japanese demand order; Israelis thrive on chaos. Japanese plan meticulously; Israelis prefer improvisation. Japanese are formal and reserved; Israelis are informal and familiar. Japanese find comfort in settled vertical relationships; Israelis have little use or respect for hierarchy.
Cultural traits aside, however, at a macro level Japan and Israel share a common core: Both nations possess few natural resources but their people. Both rose from deprivation to prosperity in, historically speaking, the blink of an eye. Japan and Israel both live or die on their wits alone.
Israel is now in the midst of an economic Golden Age, with healthy growth continuing despite the global financial slowdown and a perpetual state of conflict with their Mideast neighbors, amazing technological innovation at companies big and small, and the development of a wildly disproportionate number of world-beating startup companies.
Israel is punching far above its weight. (Japan Times)
A Covert Campaign Is the Only Way to Stop Iran's Nuclear Ambitions - Andrew Cummings (Guardian-UK)
- What many people fail to recognize is that a covert campaign, while rife with physical, diplomatic and legal risks, is the lesser of many evils.
- Some commentators warn that covert action will ruin chances of dialogue with Tehran while encouraging Iran to use its own covert operations. What this fails to recognize is that Iran has long been the master of covert operations.
- Through the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), Iran has been responsible for increasing the efficacy of insurgent improvised bombs in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It has helped to prop up Bashar al-Assad's murderous regime in Syria and has a track record of attempting to assassinate or imprison its enemies - both at home and abroad.
- Instead of damaging the chances of dialogue, covert action might actually do the opposite. Covert action, increasingly robust sanctions, along with a credible threat of military action remain one half of the E3+3's dual-track strategy of pressure and engagement that was recently restated by the British foreign secretary.
- Ultimately, covert action should be aimed at bringing enough pressure to bear on Iran's leaders so that they understand they will never reach their goal of being a nuclear power. It is only at that point diplomacy can have any hope of success.
The writer was formerly an adviser on the Middle East in the UK cabinet office national security staff.
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