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Syrian Rebels Make Inroads with Help of Armed Fighters - Kareem Fahim (New York Times)
At a funeral on Friday in Saqba, Syria, at the doorstep of Damascus,
fighters from the opposition Free Syrian Army stood at the edge of a square, carrying assault rifles and grenade launchers.
Thousands of demonstrators marched behind the coffin beneath the banner of the opposition - not the Syrian government's flag.
Suspected state security agents were grabbed by the crowd.
See also Syrian Troops Seize Damascus Suburbs after Two Days of Bloodshed (Telegraph-UK)
Arab League Suspends Syria Mission as Violence Rages - Ayman Samir and Erika Solomon (Reuters)
The Arab League suspended its monitoring mission in Syria on Saturday because of worsening violence, after calling, unsuccessfully, for Assad to step down and make way for a government of national unity.
It will take an Arab peace plan to the UN Security Council this week.
See also Assad Has Nothing to Fear at the UN - Zvi Bar'el (Ha'aretz)
Bashar Assad isn't going anywhere yet. On Friday, Russia made it clear that any resolution at the UN that included the demand to oust Assad would be vetoed.
Hamas Leader Abandons Longtime Base in Damascus - Fares Akram (New York Times)
Khaled Meshal, the leader of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, has effectively abandoned his longtime base in Syria and has no plans to return, Hamas sources in Gaza said Friday.
"The situation there does not allow the leadership to be present," a Hamas official in Gaza said. "There are no more Hamas leaders in Damascus."
U.S. Sends Commando "Mothership" to Middle East - Craig Whitlock (Washington Post)
The Pentagon is rushing to send a large floating base for commando teams to the Middle East by early summer as tensions rise with Iran, al-Qaeda in Yemen and Somali pirates, among other threats.
The Navy is converting the USS Ponce, an amphibious transport docking ship it had planned to decommission, into a makeshift staging base.
Unofficially dubbed a "mothership," the floating base could accommodate smaller high-speed boats and helicopters commonly used by Navy SEALs.
U.S. Jewish Leaders Visit Pollard in Prison, Call for Speedy Release - Jonathan Lis (Ha'aretz)
Richard Stone and Malcolm Hoenlein, the chairman and the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, recently visited Jonathan Pollard at Butner prison in North Carolina.
"We've returned with a renewed commitment to work for Pollard's release," the two wrote in a statement after the visit.
Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1986 after being convicted of spying for Israel. Recently, calls for his release have increased among current and former U.S. officials as well as leaders of the American Jewish community.
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- U.S.: Iran One Year Away from Nuclear Weapons - Interview with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in an interview:
"The United States - and the president's made this clear - does not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. That's a red line for us. And it's a red line obviously for the Israelis so we share a common goal here. If we have to do it, we will do it." "If they proceed and we get intelligence that they're proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon then we will take whatever steps are necessary to stop it."
Q: Including military steps?
Panetta: "There are no options that are off the table." "The consensus is that, if they decided to do it, it would probably take them about a year to be able to produce a bomb and then possibly another one to two years in order to put it on a deliverable vehicle of some sort in order to deliver that weapon."
See also Pentagon Seeks Mightier Bomb vs. Iran - Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes
Pentagon war planners have concluded that their largest conventional bomb isn't yet capable of destroying Iran's most heavily fortified underground facilities, and are stepping up efforts to make it more powerful, according to U.S. officials.
Initial tests indicated that the 30,000-pound "bunker-buster" bomb, the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, wouldn't be capable of destroying some of Iran's facilities.
The Pentagon was particularly concerned about its ability to destroy bunkers built under mountains, such as Iran's Fordow site near Qom, according to a former senior U.S. official, and that a tactical nuclear weapon may be the only military option to destroy the facility.
(Wall Street Journal)
- Syrian Regime "Importing Snipers" for Protests - Nate Wright and James Hider
Syria is deploying large numbers of Hizbullah and Iranian snipers as "military consultants" to murder anti-regime protesters, a senior government defector has told The Times.
The salaries of the marksmen are paid through a slush fund replenished with U.S. dollars flown in from Iran, according to Mahmoud Haj Hamad, who was the treasury's top auditor at the Defense Ministry until he fled Syria last month.
Hamad said: "At the beginning there were hundreds, then when things started to get worse they started to bring in more outsiders. The numbers were huge - in the thousands."
The foreign reinforcements are prized by the regime for their street-fighting abilities, having crushed dissent in Iran and Lebanon.
Ministry colleagues told him that two Iranian warships that passed through the Suez Canal during the Egyptian uprising were loaded with weapons for use against dissidents, and offloaded at the seaport of Latakia. (Times-UK)
See also Free Syrian Army Captures Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Homs - Caroline Akoum
Free Syrian Army (FSA) Deputy Commander Col. Malik al-Kurdi informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the al-Farouq Brigade of the FSA captured 7 Iranians involved in the suppression of Syrian citizens in the city of Homs last week. He revealed that five of the Iranians are "military specialists belonging to the Iranian Republic Guard," while the other two are civilians.
In the short video, one of the captives, speaking Farsi, reportedly confesses: "I am Sajjad Amirian, a member of the Revolutionary Guards of the Iranian armed forces. I am a member of the team in charge of cracking down on protesters in Syria, and we received our orders directly from the security division of the Syrian Air Force in Homs." (Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Netanyahu: Palestinians Unwilling to Discuss Israel's Security - Barak Ravid
After exploratory Israeli-Palestinian talks in Amman aimed at relaunching negotiations ended in deadlock, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet Sunday:
"As things stand now, according to what happened over the past few days - when the Palestinians refused even to discuss Israel's security needs with us - the signs are not particularly good." (Ha'aretz)
- Palestinian TV Airs Show Praising Fogel Family Murderer - Avi Issacharoff
Palestinian television aired an interview with the relatives of the Fogel family murderers earlier this month, praising the two cousins convicted of the brutal attack as "heroes." The show featured the aunt and mother of Hakim Awad, who along with his cousin Amjad was convicted of brutally stabbing to death Ehud and Ruth Fogel, along with three of their young children, Yoav, 11, Elad, 4, and Hadas, 3 months old. (Ha'aretz)
See also Video and Transcript - On PA TV: Glorification of Fogel Family Murderers (Palestinian Media Watch)
See also Netanyahu: "PA Incitement Is Confidence-Destroying Measure" - Herb Keinon
During a meeting with visiting Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore on Sunday, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that while many ask Israel to take confidence-building measures toward the Palestinians, the type of incitement being aired in the PA was destroying Israel's confidence. (Jerusalem Post)
- Peres Blasts Turkey for Funding Terrorist Hamas - Yori Yalon, Shlomo Cesana and Daniel Siryoti
At the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan verbally assaulted Israeli
President Shimon Peres, calling him hard of hearing and accusing him of killing Palestinians before storming off the stage. This year, however, President Peres was on the offensive against Turkey, accusing Ankara of funding terrorist activity in Gaza.
"Turkey has transferred resources to fund the infrastructure of Hamas, an organization controlled by Iran that has won astronomical donations - nearly $900 million a year. $300 million comes from Iran, $200 million from Qatar and hundreds of millions from Turkey. The Turkish support has strengthened terrorist networks in the region," Peres said.
Asked about Iran, Peres said: "Iran today is the most corrupt country on Earth, they hang people without trial, they send out arms and money to terrorist organizations. I would tell the Iranian people, save your own country, it is in your hands." (Israel Hayom)
See also Is Turkey Purchasing Hamas from Iran? - Elliott Abrams
(Council on Foreign Relations)
- The Palestinians Are Doing Their Best to Derail Peace Talks with Israel - Con Coughlin
I am told by Western diplomats close to the Palestinian-Israeli exploratory talks in Jordan that the reason they are running into difficulty is because the Palestinian delegation, led by Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, is refusing to take the talks seriously.
A Western diplomat said that when the Israeli delegation arrived for a meeting last weekend in Amman to present their latest security proposals, Erekat simply refused to enter the room.
The diplomat said he was surprised at Erekat's behavior, especially as the topic was supposed to be one of the main topics on the agenda.
Erekat's refusal to enter the negotiating room and hear what the Israelis had to say does not bode well for attempts to get the two sides to resume full negotiations, and raises questions about just how serious the Palestinians are about getting a peace deal. (Telegraph-UK)
- Egypt's Assault on Civil Society - Editorial
The last thing post-Mubarak Egypt needs is to pick a fight with the U.S. Yet the military rulers have done just that, demonstrating contempt for civil society and an old ally. On Dec. 29, security forces raided as many as seven nongovernmental groups in Cairo, including three American-financed democracy-building groups - the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House. On Thursday, the Egyptian government confirmed that it had barred at least six Americans - including I.R.I.'s Egypt director, Sam LaHood, the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood - from leaving the country.
Egypt's military receives $1.3 billion in annual aid from Washington. It is beyond us why the generals would keep pressing this destructive dispute. They must let Mr. LaHood and the others go immediately.
(New York Times)
See also Egypt's Heavy-Handed Military - Editorial (Los Angeles Times)
See also American Workers for Pro-Democracy Organizations in Cairo Take Shelter at U.S. Embassy - Ernesto Londono and William Wan (Washington Post)
A Nuclear Iran and the Ramifications of a
Poly-Nuclear Middle East - Shmuel Bar (Institute for Policy and Strategy-IDC Herzliya)
- The classic European thesis which has now been adopted in Washington is that there is some - yet
undiscovered - enticement that can be offered to Iran which would hold greater value than becoming a
nuclear power. A cursory examination of what Iran believes it can achieve with even the image of being a
threshold state will show that nothing the West can offer Iran (short of total hegemony over the Gulf and
parts of Central Asia) can give Iran more. Furthermore, the basic Iranian perception of the conspiratorial
West is that such offers are no more than a ruse to disarm Iran of the only
capability that can protect it from Western subterfuge.
- Even if we accept that Iran is tending to a democratic
counter-revolution, the timeline for the transformation makes this irrelevant to the nuclear crisis. Even
the optimists do not see democratic change happening within the next year or two, the time most experts
believe Iran needs to cross the threshold of a military nuclear capability. And because even the
public that seeks democratic change will congratulate the regime for its achievement, acquisition of a
nuclear bomb will only lengthen the road to democracy in Iran.
- What would a nuclear Middle East look like? Certainly not a re-run of the Cold War. We should expect
that a nuclear Iran will move to assert its dominance in the Persian
Gulf and to gain hegemony over the Gulf, including dictating oil production levels. Iran will also
assert itself in the heart of the Middle East by using terror with impunity. These and the very potential of
a nuclear confrontation in the region should bring the Western world to the conclusion that the best
option remains prevention at all costs.
Dr. Shmuel Bar, Director of Studies at the Institute of Policy and Strategy in Herzliya,
Israel, served for thirty years in the Israeli intelligence community.
See also Can Cold War Deterrence Apply to a Nuclear Iran? - Shmuel Bar (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
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