U.S. Navy: Iran Prepares Suicide Bomb Boats in Gulf - Warda Al-Jawahiry (Reuters)
Iran has prepared boats that could be used in suicide attacks in the Persian Gulf, but the U.S. Navy can prevent it from blocking the Strait of Hormuz, Vice Admiral Mark Fox, the commander of the U.S. Fifth Fleet in the region, said on Sunday.
"They have increased the number of submarines...they increased the number of fast attack craft.... Some of the small boats have been outfitted with a large warhead that could be used as a suicide explosive device. The Iranians have a large mine inventory," Fox said.
"We have watched with interest their development of long-range rockets and short-, medium- and long-range ballistic missiles and of course...the development of their nuclear program."
Arabs Support Palestinian Call for International Peace Conference (AFP)
Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on Sunday supported a Palestinian request for an international peace conference aimed at reaching a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel has urged the Palestinians to begin direct negotiations without preconditions.
Syrian Documents Show Iran Helping Assad to Sidestep Sanctions - Barak Ravid (Ha'aretz)
Iran has given the Syrian regime more than $1 billion to help it overcome the oil embargo and other moves including restrictions on flights and sanctions against the central bank, according to leaked documents from the Syrian president's office.
78 employees in President Bashar Assad's office had their e-mail hacked.
Germany Expels Four Syrian Diplomats (Der Spiegel-Germany)
Last week two Syrian government agents were arrested in Berlin on suspicion of spying on Syrian opposition members living in Germany.
Now the German government has expelled four Syrian diplomats, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle announced on Thursday. Westerwelle did not go into detail about the reasons for the expulsion, but did refer to Tuesday's arrests.
Egypt Army Says Anti-Aircraft Missiles Seized in Sinai (Maan News-PA)
Egyptian security forces seized a stash of weapons Saturday in the Sinai Peninsula suspected of being prepared for shipment to Gaza, officials said.
The weapons included a number of anti-aircraft missiles and several tons of TNT, security sources said.
See also Three Korean Tourists Kidnapped in Sinai (AP-Ynet News)
Maj. Gen. Mohammed Nagib, Egypt's security chief for Sinai, says armed Bedouin tribesmen stopped a tourist bus and kidnapped three Korean tourists and their Egyptian guide on Friday.
See also Al-Qaeda Grows in Sinai - Bruce Riedel (National Interest)
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- Hamas Premier Visits Iran in Sign of Strong Relations - Fares Akram and Isabel Kershner
Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, arrived in Iran on Friday for a visit that suggested that relations between Hamas and Iran remained good despite reports of tensions over Syria. The Iranian news media reported on the warm official welcoming ceremony, during which Haniyeh reviewed an honor guard.
News reports have said Hamas has resisted pressure from Iran to express support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
But analysts said the Iranian welcome for Haniyeh indicated that relations between Hamas and Iran remained positive.
"For anyone who had any illusions as to the extremist nature of Hamas, I would hope this would serve as a wake-up call," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. "The leadership of Iran and the leadership of Hamas share the same extremist goals. In many ways, Hamas is Iran's proxy." (New York Times)
See also Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei Warns Hamas Against Compromise with Israel
Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Iran on Sunday, warning the Palestinian movement leader against any potential compromise with Israel, according to AFP. Khamenei said that Haniyeh must "always be wary of infiltration by compromisers in a resistance organization, which will gradually weaken it." (Jerusalem Post)
- U.S. Posts Satellite Images of Syrian Army Attack on Homs
The U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, has posted declassified photographs on his Facebook site that the State Department said Friday shows an army attacking a civilian area in the city of Homs. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the "declassified U.S. national imagery" shows the destruction of Homs, which activists have said is being shelled relentlessly by the Syrian army.
Nuland described them as "very gruesome pictures showing lines of tanks, showing fires, showing the kind of thing that you really only see if you have a major military attacking in a civilian area." (AFP)
See also View Satellite Images of Syrian Artillery Deployed Against Cities
(U.S. State Department)
- Palestinian Unity Deal Faces Mounting Rebellion by Hamas Leaders in Gaza - Karin Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh
There is a mounting rebellion by Hamas leaders in Gaza against a power-sharing agreement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. On Saturday, the Hamas strongman in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, complained that Khaled Mashaal, Hamas' top leader in exile, did not consult with other leaders in the movement before signing the deal and that the decision-making Shura Council should meet to correct what he termed a mistake.
In the nearly five years it has ruled in Gaza, Hamas hired some 40,000 civil servants and security forces, while 62,000 troops and civil servants forced out by the 2007 takeover - many of them pro-Abbas - are waiting to return to their old government jobs.
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Report: PA Rejects Israeli Incentive Package - Elior Levy
The Palestinian Authority has recently rejected an Israeli "incentive package" meant to encourage the PA's return to the negotiating table.
A senior Palestinian official told Ynet on Friday that the deal would have seen Israel free 30 Palestinian prisoners, some of whom were arrested prior to the Oslo Accords, as well as extend Palestinian security forces' authority in Area B of the West Bank, which is under Palestinian civil control and shared Israeli-Palestinian security control. The incentives were offered via a Quartet envoy, but the PLO's Executive Committee, which met Thursday in Ramallah, decided to reject the gesture.
- Palestinian Rocket Lands Between Two Israeli Homes with No Warning, Family Was Inside - Yaakov Lappin
Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fired a rocket at southern Israel on Friday night that slammed into an area between two residential homes, sending shrapnel that penetrated one of the homes as family members sat in the living room. No injuries were reported. Civilians said the rocket siren failed to go off prior to the attack.
- U.S.-Israel Arrow Anti-Missile System Completes Successful Test
The Israel Missile Defense Organization and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency recently completed a successful test of the joint U.S.-Israel Arrow Weapon System (AWS) over the Mediterranean Sea.
This test was a target-only tracking exercise with radar tracking a Blue Sparrow 2 target missile representing a potential ballistic missile threat to Israel. The radar transferred information to the battle management controller which prepared a simulated intercept solution. Elements of the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense System successfully performed interoperability with the AWS.
This was the final test prior to delivery of the Block 4 Arrow Weapons System. It was a major milestone in the development of the system and provides confidence in Israeli operational capabilities to counter the developing ballistic missile threat.
(Israel Ministry of Defense)
- PA Arrest Campaign in Hebron: Israeli-PA Security Cooperation
Palestinian security forces arrested 55 Palestinians sheltering in the Israeli-controlled zone of Hebron at dawn on Friday, an area known as H2 which is off limits to Palestinian security forces under the 1997 Hebron agreement. Hundreds of PA security officers set out at 2 a.m. to specific targets. Residents told Ma'an they hoped the raid would end the use of the Israeli-controlled zone as a refuge by criminals.
A Palestinian security official said Israel granted access to PA forces in early January when they arrested eight Palestinians before a gun battle broke out which injured two residents. (Ma'an News-PA)
- Egypt's Unwise Course - Editorial
In Egypt, it's unlikely that any group receives more money from foreign sources than the military - roughly $1.3 billion in U.S. aid per year, more than $39 billion over the last three decades. Yet the generals who control the country have started a preposterous crusade against civil society groups that on average get far less per year from foreign sources. The generals portray themselves as defenders of the country's sovereignty against "foreign hands" out to destroy Egypt. The confrontation is poisoning relations with a key ally at a time when Egypt needs all the friends it can get.
(New York Times)
- Homs, Anvil of Syria - Michael Young
The regime of President Bashar al-Assad is working on two fronts simultaneously: endeavoring to re-impose its writ nationwide, while also contemplating a prospective communal fallback to the Alawite heartland in the coastal areas and mountains of northwestern Syria if it sensed that it was losing power in Damascus.
Today, that option is very much alive, and according to several independent sources it is being discussed freely within the Alawite community.
If the Alawites hope to make safe an eventual Alawite mini-state, they cannot allow Homs to be controlled by their foes. That explains what we are seeing today, as the Syrian army prepares to recapture Homs from the opposition. The Russians resupplied Assad with weapons several weeks ago, and when they vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have endorsed an Arab plan for his departure, he ordered the offensive on Homs.
If the Alawites seek true security, they must guarantee two things: that there is continuity between their geographic areas and majority-Shia districts in Lebanon's northern Bekaa Valley; and that they can isolate Sunnis in Syria's northwestern coastal areas from their brethren elsewhere in the country. Controlling Homs allows both. (NOW Lebanon)
- Rattling Sabers: Heading for War between the Two Sudans? - Jacques Neriah
Since South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July 2011, there have been numerous clashes along their common border. The South's secession left Khartoum with output of about 125,000 barrels of oil per day and South Sudan with production of 350,000 bpd. Landlocked South Sudan has to use a northern pipeline and Port Sudan to export its crude. Sudan has confiscated some of South Sudan's oil exports for what it called unpaid fees. Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah was formerly Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Deputy Head for Assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
Obama's Dangerous Game with Iran - Daniel Klaidman, Eli Lake and Dan Ephron (Newsweek)
In discussions with Israel about Iran's nuclear program, the U.S. administration is asking for "the time and the space for the sanctions to work," says a senior administration official. "Not only have we put in place the most robust economic sanctions ever, but we've just started to move on the energy sector."
- The head of Israel's Mossad was recently in Washington for meetings on Iran. According to an American official who was involved, Tamir Pardo wanted to take the pulse of the Obama administration and determine what the consequences would be if Israel bombed Iranian nuclear sites over American objections. Pardo raised many questions, according to this source: "What is our posture on Iran? Are we ready to bomb? Would we [do so later]? What does it mean if [Israel] does it anyway?"
- "The rhetoric from the United States today is different from what it was a year ago," says an Israeli in Netanyahu's inner circle. "Today, when you listen to Obama...you get the feeling the Americans are ready to attack if worse comes to worst."
- Israeli officials say that the U.S. thinks it can afford to wait until Iran is on the very verge of weaponizing, because U.S. forces have the capacity to carry out multiple bombing sorties and cripple the Iranian program at that point. Israel, however, would not be able to carry out such a sustained attack and would need to hit much sooner to be effective - before Iran could shelter much of its program deep underground.
- One former Israeli official tells Newsweek he heard this explanation directly from Defense Minister Ehud Barak: "If Israel will miss its last opportunity [to attack], then we will have to lean only on the United States, and if the United States decides not to attack, then we will face an Iran with a bomb."
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