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Ya'alon: All of Iran's Nuclear Faculties Are Vulnerable to a Military Strike - Barak Ravid (Ha'aretz)
All of Iran's nuclear facilities are vulnerable to a military strike, Israeli Vice Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon said Thursday.
"Any facility protected by humans can be infiltrated by humans. It's possible to strike all Iran's facilities, and I say that out of my experience as IDF chief of staff."
Ya'alon added: "If Iran obtains nuclear weapons, it would be a nightmare for the free world, a nightmare for Arab states...and of course a threat to the State of Israel."
"We'll see a more intense undermining of regional regimes and the acceleration of terror attacks against those regimes, as well as against Israel and Western states, with the United States at the forefront."
U.S. Group Calls to Provide More Arms to Israel (Sydney Morning Herald-Australia)
A policy group in the U.S. has called for providing Israel with 200 additional bunker-buster bombs and aerial refueling tankers to increase the credibility of a military strike aimed at thwarting Iran's nuclear program.
The proposal is part of a report issued by the Bipartisan Policy Center's National Security Project, led by former Democratic senator Charles Robb and retired General Charles Wald.
''While we do not advocate an Israeli military strike, we believe a more credible Israeli threat can only increase the pressure on Iran to negotiate,'' Wald said.
Israel's New Allies - Benny Morris (National Interest)
The increasing aggressiveness of Iran; the increasing power and militancy of Islamist Turkey; and the empowerment of Islamist parties in the surrounding Arab world have all combined to push Israel to reconfigure its "peripheral policy," conceived by Israel's founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion back in the 1950s.
Ben-Gurion sought to forge alliances with Israel's enemy's enemies - the non-Arab countries and minorities around and inside the neighboring Arab states.
Today's realities have prompted Israel to expand its concept of the "periphery" to include Azerbaijan, India, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, (Greek) Cyprus, and Southern Sudan.
The writer is a professor of history in the Middle East Studies Department of Ben-Gurion University.
Israel Natural Gas Revenues Not Expected Before 2020 - Nadav Shemer and Sharon Udasin (Jerusalem Post)
British energy expert Nick Butler, a former BP Group vice president of strategy, told the Herzliya Conference on Wednesday that even in a best-case scenario, Israel will not see revenues from its off-shore natural gas discoveries until 2020 at the earliest.
Butler said it would be unwise to build a major liquefied natural gas exportation facility before more is known about how much natural gas the Levant Basin actually contains. It would take at least five years and cost $6-8 billion to build such a facility.
Facebook Photo of IDF Soldier Was Faked (Ha'aretz)
A photograph on Facebook that became an Internet sensation - allegedly showing an IDF soldier pointing a weapon at a young Palestinian girl - was faked.
The soldier in the photo is carrying an AK-47 rifle, which is not used by the IDF.
Blind Terror Victim Volunteers for the IDF (Israel Defense Forces)
Oren Almog lost five members of his family as well as his eyesight in the 2003 Maxim Restaurant suicide bombing in Haifa, where 21 people were killed and 51 were wounded. Yet he insisted over the years on being treated just like his friends and he enlisted in the IDF on Jan. 26.
"As someone who was hit pretty hard by terrorism I am proud to serve an organization that aims to protect the security of Israel, to prevent terrorism, and to protect its residents," he said. He has been accepted into an intelligence unit.
Arab Town on Green Line Becomes Shopping Mecca - Tali Heruti-Sover (Ha'aretz)
The Arab village of Bartaa, divided by the Green Line between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, is experiencing a remarkable economic boom.
Since the construction of the separation fence in 2003, a kind of unplanned free trade zone has developed on the Palestinian side of Bartaa.
Some 20,000 cars enter the village every day.
The fact that eastern Bartaa is totally accessible to both Palestinians and Israelis has turned it into a glittering business opportunity for West Bank merchants.
Prices are 20-30% below other places in Israel. It is estimated that 80% of Israeli shoppers are Arab and 20% are Jewish.
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- UN Tentatively Backs a Plan for Syria - Neil MacFarquhar
Security Council ambassadors reached a wobbly consensus on Thursday backing an Arab League plan for political change in Syria, after they dropped a specific reference to President Bashar al-Assad's ceding of power. Western and Arab ambassadors also jettisoned calls for a voluntary arms embargo and sanctions. It was unclear whether the changes would be enough to persuade Russia, Syria's ally and its major weapons supplier, to back the resolution.
(New York Times)
- Panetta Believes Israel Could Strike Iran This Spring - Barbara Starr
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has come to the conclusion there is a growing likelihood Israel could attack Iran sometime this spring in an effort to destroy its suspected nuclear weapons program, according to a senior administration official.
Panetta's views were first reported by the Washington Post's David Ignatius, who wrote Panetta "believes there is strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June - before Iran enters what Israelis described as a 'zone of immunity' to commence building a nuclear bomb." A "confluence" of intelligence has led Panetta to this conclusion, the official told CNN. (CNN)
U.S. Fears Iran's Links to Al-Qaeda - Siobhan Gorman
U.S. officials say they believe Iran recently gave new freedoms to as many as five top al-Qaeda operatives who have been under house arrest, including the option to leave the country, and may have provided some material aid to the terrorist group.
The men, who were detained in Iran in 2003, make up al-Qaeda's so-called management council.
U.S. officials believe that officials in the Iranian government have provided al-Qaeda operatives in Iran with logistical help, money and cars.
(Wall Street Journal)
- Iran Says It Launched Satellite - Thomas Erdbrink
Iran said Friday it launched a microsatellite weighing 110 pounds into space carried by a homemade rocket.
Western nations fear the rockets in Iran's space program can be fitted with a nuclear warhead and be used for regional attacks.
See also The Global Range of Iran's Ballistic Missile Program - Uzi Rubin
A space launcher that can orbit a satellite weighing 300 kg. can be altered into an ICBM that could drop more than 300 kg. on Washington.
(ICA-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2006)
- Effort to Rebrand Arab Spring Backfires in Iran - Robert F. Worth
More than a thousand young Islamic activists were flown to Tehran earlier this week (at government expense) for a conference on "the Islamic Awakening," Tehran's effort to rebrand the popular Arab uprisings of the past year. But no one was invited from Syria, a crucial Iranian ally.
As the conference began, a young man in the audience held up a sign with the word "SYRIA?" written in English. Applause burst out in the crowd, followed by boos. Audience members began chanting the slogan of the Syrian protesters: "God, freedom and Syria!" But they were drowned out by others chanting pro-Assad slogans.
Soon afterward, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, took the stage and said: "We must be vigilant: the West is trying to foment sectarian conflict in our societies, as part of their goal of keeping Israel alive." "Today Syria, tomorrow your country."
Islamist parties are coming to power in Tunisia and Egypt and Morocco, and they may well do so in Libya, Syria and Yemen.
But Iran's system of rule by clerics seems very unlikely to prevail in those countries. Iran's Shiite faith is also a serious obstacle. The Iranian effort to hold up the struggle against Israel as a crucible of Islamic unity comes across to many Arabs as doctrinaire and shopworn, no matter how strongly they sympathize with the Palestinian cause.
(New York Times)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Israel Security Agency: Iran Trying to Hit Israeli Targets - Barak Ravid
The head of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), Yoram Cohen, said Thursday that Iran believes Israel is behind the attacks on its nuclear experts. "It doesn't matter if it's true or not that Israel took out the nuclear scientists," Cohen said. "A major, serious country like Iran cannot let this go on. They want to deter Israel and extract a price so that decision-makers in Israel think twice before they order an attack on an Iranian scientist."
Cohen said Iran was working very hard abroad through the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to hit Israeli targets.
"Over the past year three serious attacks were thwarted that were on the verge of being carried out...in Turkey against the general consul in Istanbul; in Baku, Azerbaijan; and two weeks ago in Thailand."
Cohen added that missile experts from abroad were now in Gaza helping Hamas and Islamic Jihad increase the range of their missiles to reach the greater Tel Aviv area, as well as their precision and the size of their warheads.
With regard to the Palestinians, Cohen said Palestinian President Abbas did not want to negotiate with Israel because Abbas believes the current government will offer no more than what he had received from previous Israeli governments. "They know the maximum this government will offer will not reach their minimum." (Ha'aretz)
- Abbas Rejects Incentive Package to Restart Peace Talks - Elior Levy
Wassel Abu-Youssef, a Palestinian representative to the exploratory talks with Israel in Jordan, said Thursday that the Quartet put together an incentives package that would build trust between the sides and jumpstart the stalled peace process. Quartet envoy Tony Blair relayed an outline of the package to Mahmoud Abbas this week, but the Palestinian president said he opposed it.
The outline calls on Israel to allow a public Palestinian police presence in Area B in the West Bank, which is under Israeli security control and Palestinian administrative control. In addition, Israel will ease restrictions on Palestinian traffic in the West Bank, issue more permits to Palestinians to work in Israel, and allow the export of goods from Gaza to the West Bank.
During the second phase of the Quartet's plan, Israel will release Palestinian prisoners, the Palestinian Authority will be authorized to develop gas reserves off Gaza's coastline, IDF activity in Area A will be reduced, and Israel will permit the launching of international projects in Area C.
In return, the Palestinians were asked to come back to the negotiations without preconditions.
See also Blair, Netanyahu Working to Enable Continued PLO Talks - Herb Keinon
Quartet envoy Tony Blair is involved in intensive talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about economic gestures to keep the Palestinians directly engaged with Israel in low-level talks in Jordan.
Blair has met at least five times with Netanyahu over the past two weeks. "A package is being worked on," one official in the Prime Minister's Office confirmed. "The idea is not for Israeli unilateral confidence-building measures. Rather, we are ready [to act] within the framework of a peace process that is working for mutual confidence measures." (Jerusalem Post)
- Israel Joins UN Development Program Executive Board - Gil Shefler
Israel took a seat on the executive board of the UN Development Program for the first time Thursday. "This is a milestone in Israel's integration into the global agenda of the UN," Israel's Deputy Permanent Representative Haim Waxman said. "Furthermore, this is the expression of a journey that we have taken from being a developing nation born in adversity to becoming a developed nation, a member of the OECD and now a full member of the UNDP as a representative of the West." (Jerusalem Post)
- Syria's Outcome Has High Stakes for the Entire Mideast - Jackson Diehl
The central drama in Syria is now a sectarian showdown between Sunnis and Shiites, and between Turkey and Iran.
The Persian Gulf states - led by Qatar - have been pushing hardest for Arab League and Security Council action against the Assad regime. The emirates say their goal is Syrian democracy - but their motives are purely sectarian. Their target is not Assad but Iran, the Persian Shiite enemy of the Arab Sunni monarchies.
The Arab emirates' best ally against Iran is not the U.S. but the Turkish government, which is openly backing the Free Syrian Army.
Erdogan, as a Sunni Islamist, perceives a strategic opportunity for Turkey to replace Iran as the preeminent outside influence in the former eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Inside Syria, Turkey is pushing the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood; in neighboring Iraq, Turkey's support for Sunni parties, and for the autonomous region of Kurdistan, is increasingly conspicuous.
Iran is fighting back. It has dispatched weapons and advisers to Syria, and it is pressing Nouri al-Maliki, the Shiite prime minister of Iraq,
to open a corridor across Iraq to facilitate more material support.
The Palestinian Hamas movement, ruler of Gaza, is having its own Syrian crisis. The shift of regional power has all but ruptured its supply link to Iran and forced its external leadership to flee Damascus. (Washington Post)
- Why Russia Won't Back Down on Support for Syria - Maksim Yusin
Russian experts explained why Russia is not likely to give in on a UN resolution on Syria:
If Moscow abandons its ally Damascus in this critical moment, then the message it will be sending to allies around the world is that one cannot rely on the Kremlin.
Damascus is one of Moscow's most important trading partners, with military contracts signed in past years worth $4 billion.
Moscow is not convinced that the opposition in Syria would continue this partnership if it comes into power.
Russia's only military base located outside of the former Soviet Union is in the Syrian port city of Tartus.
Russia is wary of the Syrian opposition. Its leaders are oriented towards the Persian Gulf monarchs, Turkey and the West, but not in the least towards Moscow.
Russian internal politics also plays a major role in this affair. A month before the presidential elections, Vladimir Putin does not want to appear weak to either voters or his opponents.
- Israel Does Not Mistreat Detained Palestinian Children - Amir Ofek
A Guardian special report by Harriet Sherwood on Jan. 22 looks at allegations that Israel's military justice system mistreats Palestinian children who have been arrested. But you omit the horrific nature of the atrocities that minors can be arrested for.
Hakim Awad, 17, is a minor. Last March he and his 18-year-old cousin, Amjad, brutally murdered the Fogel family while they slept. No mercy was shown to three-month-old Hadas, her two brothers (aged four and 11) and their parents. The duo proudly confessed to their killings, and they have shown no subsequent remorse.
Between 2000 and 2004, 292 minors took part in terrorist activities. Shocking images of Palestinian infants dressed in explosive vests are only the tip of the hate industry that Palestinian children are exposed to. Ismail Tsabaj, 12, Azi Mostafa, 13, and Yousuf Basam, 14, were sent by Hamas on a mission chillingly similar to the one involving the Fogels, aiming to penetrate a Jewish home at night and slaughter a family in their beds. In this case, the IDF fortunately stopped them in time.
Of the detainees, you report dismissively that "most are accused of throwing stones at soldiers or settlers," showing a bewildering disregard for this crime. Judah Shoham never reached the age of many of these minors, as he was killed by Palestinians throwing stones, aged just five months. Similarly, Jonathan Palmer never reached his second birthday; he was killed with his father when stones were hurled at their car last October.
Israel's efforts to maintain and even increase legal protections for minors are impressive. A special juvenile court has been established to guarantee professional care for minors in detention.
In the few days since the article was published, two minors (aged 16 and 17) shot at passing Israeli cars. These two had previously used firebombs as a weapon against Israelis.
It would be our wish that no minor would ever find themselves in Israeli custody. Unfortunately, we have to deal with the reality, not our dreams.
The writer is the press attache for the Embassy of Israel in London.
- How "Evil Israeli Soldiers" Saved an Anti-Israel Filmmaker's Life - Evelyn Gordon
Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat's anti-Israel film "Five Broken Cameras" garnered a glowing write-up in the New York Times. But at the end of the Times piece is another angle to his story:
"In late 2008, he accidentally drove a truck into the separation barrier and was badly injured. A Palestinian ambulance arrived at the same time as Israeli soldiers, who saw what bad shape he was in and took him to an Israeli hospital.
'If I had been taken to a Palestinian hospital,' Burnat said, 'I probably wouldn't have survived.' He was unconscious for 20 days. Three months later he was back filming."
In short, Burnat is alive today to win prizes for a film about evil Israeli soldiers because those same soldiers saved his life four years earlier.
- Israeli-Made Armor Saves U.S. Soldiers' Lives - Itamar Eichner
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro said Wednesday: "I just recently visited Kibbutz Sasa, the home of [the] Plasan [armor factory]. "Plasan met the call to help protect American soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan when they were able to surge the production of up-armor kits for Humvees and for mine-resistant vehicles. These armor kits were critical in saving the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen when they faced the threat of IEDs and RPG attacks."
During his visit, the ambassador reviewed many thank-you letters sent to Plasan officials by American parents who said it was thanks to the Israeli armor that their sons' lives were saved.
"Israel is a strategic asset and partner to the United States. What makes us allies is the unique combination of common values and common interests. We don't have any better partner in the Middle East, a strategically critical and unstable part of the world," Shapiro said.
Former Pentagon Analyst: Regime Change in Iran Is the Only Answer - Oren Kessler (Jerusalem Post)
Harold Rhode, who served for decades as an analyst of the Islamic world's culture and politics in the office of the U.S. secretary of defense, knows all of the Middle East's four major languages: Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Hebrew. A university student in Iran in 1978 on the eve of the Islamic Revolution that ousted the Shah the following year, Rhode has obvious affection for Iran's culture and people, but pulls no punches in denouncing the tyrants who now run its government.
- "I believe regime change is the only answer," he said in an interview. Any successor regime would be preferable to the current theocracy. "One can't think of anything more extreme." Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, he continued, "hated the people who are now in power. He kept them away from government because he feared they would lead Iran to its destruction."
- He said there was no reason to publicize the West's next move by talking about it unnecessarily. "You don't want to show your cards to the Iranians; you want to use your cards to win."
- According to Rhode, Iran's current leaders "believe that if they provoke a conflagration, their hidden imam, the mahdi, will return to save them. So Mutually Assured Destruction - MAD - that we used effectively with the Soviets is an incentive and an inducement, not a deterrent."
- "There's unfortunately no such thing as a win-win situation in the Middle East. Confidence-building measures are interpreted as weakness. You talk after you've won; if you do so beforehand, it is seen as weakness." "In the languages of the Middle East, the concept for compromise doesn't exist - at least not as we understand it....Instead, one who compromises is said to have brought 'aib, or shame, on himself. That's why the Middle East is always in a state of tension," he explained.
- When former prime minister David Ben-Gurion dealt with the Arabs, he said, "he always started by saying the following: 'We are coming home. This is our homeland. We were thrown out of here 2,000 years ago. We're not coming here - we are returning home. We realize there are other people here, and in a modern, democratic society they're going to have equal rights. But this is ours – all of this is ours.'"
Ben-Gurion was "willing to compromise on that, but he understood intuitively who and what he was, and he wasn't ashamed to say so to the Arabs," Rhode concluded.
See also The Sources of Iranian Negotiating Behavior - Harold Rhode (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
See also Ex-CIA Spy in Iran: History of Failed Negotiations Shows Iran Won't Deal - Reza Khalili (Christian Science Monitor)
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