Syrian Army Desertions Surge - Emre Peker and Donna Abu-Nasr (Bloomberg)
About 20,000 Syrian soldiers have deserted since Feb. 20, swelling the number of deserters to about 60,000, according to a Turkish Foreign Ministry official.
See also Seventh Syrian General Defects to Turkey (Reuters)
A Syrian general was among some 1,000 refugees who fled to Turkey in the last 24 hours, bringing the number of Syrian generals now in Turkey to seven, a Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Thursday.
Syrian Security Forces Warn Local Palestinians (Ma'an-PA)
Sources in Damascus say Syrian security forces threatened to raid the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus, the largest in Syria, due to Fatah's alleged support of demonstrations against Syrian leader Bashar Assad.
"Yarmouk is not more precious than (Homs neighborhood) Baba Amro, and it will be raided if the demonstrations which the Fatah movement organizes" continue, a security agent was quoted as saying.
Call Details of Bangkok Bombers Led India's Cops to Israel Embassy Attacker - Vijaita Singh (Indian Express)
The Delhi Police figured out the conspiracy behind the recent attack on an Israeli Embassy car by studying call details of the Bangkok bombers, who reportedly belong to the same Iranian module that planned assaults on Israeli targets in New Delhi, Georgia and Bangkok last month.
Police sources said Houshang Afshar Irani, one of the Iranian suspects against whom warrants have been issued by a Delhi court, was in touch with one of the suspects arrested in Bangkok.
Israel: Fire UN Official Over False Gaza Photo - Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)
Israel's Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor called Wednesday for the dismissal of Kuhlood Badawi, an information and media coordinator at the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who earlier this week tweeted a picture of a Palestinian child covered in blood and falsely claimed she was killed by an IDF strike.
The 2006 picture, published by Reuters, was of a Palestinian girl who died in an accident unrelated to Israel.
"It is intolerable that UN money pays for this," Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Thursday.
Oil and Gas Discovered Off Tel Aviv Coast - Ilan Ben Zion (Times of Israel)
Large quantities of oil and natural gas were discovered off the coast of Tel Aviv, Modiin Energy and Adira Energy Corporation announced on Tuesday.
The find, called the Gabriella field, is 24 km. offshore in shallow water.
Surveys say the area could yield as much as 232 million barrels of oil and 1.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Egyptian Gas Disruptions Have Cost Israel $4 Billion (Platts)
The cut-off of Egyptian gas supplies and the faster-than-expected depletion of the Mary B field have cost the Israeli economy $4 billion, Finance Ministry director general Doron Cohen said Wednesday.
Most of the cost was for more expensive alternative fuels, primarily oil, to run electric power plants that had been using natural gas.
Muslim Gangs Terrorize Denmark - Soeren Kern (Stonegate Institute)
More than 140 Muslim gang members were arrested in Denmark after they tried to raid a courthouse where two fellow Muslims are being tried for attempted murder.
The Muslims - all members of criminal street gangs that have taken over large parts of Danish towns and cities - were wearing masks and bullet-proof vests and throwing rocks and bottles as they tried to force their way into the district courthouse in Glostrup, a heavily Islamized suburb of Copenhagen, on March 6.
Kenyan Wins 2nd Jerusalem Marathon (AP)
David Toniok of Kenya won the second Jerusalem marathon on Friday, on a route that took runners through the walled Old City, alongside the president's residence and up Mount Scopus to circle the campus of Hebrew University.
The 26.2-mile race and a slate of shorter events drew about 15,000 runners, with about 1,500 coming from overseas.
Israel Passes U.S., Europe in Bottle Recycling - Sharon Udasin (Jerusalem Post)
Israelis recycled 50% of the country's plastic bottles in 2011, overtaking Europe and the U.S., with figures of 48% and 29%, respectively, the ELA recycling company reported.
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- Iranian Banks Cut Off from World Payment System - Don Melvin
Iran was largely cut off from global commerce Thursday after the company that handles worldwide financial transactions said it was severing ties with many Iranian banks to back EU sanctions against Tehran.
The action by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, aims to enforce EU sanctions discouraging Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.
The company said the EU decision to impose sanctions "prohibits companies such as SWIFT to continue to provide specialized financial messaging services to EU-sanctioned banks" and "forces SWIFT to take action." (AP-Boston Globe)
See also Iran Stockpiling Food Ahead of Sanctions - Jonathan Saul and Michael Hogan
Vessels carrying at least 396,832 tons of grain are lined up to unload in Iran, Reuters shipping data showed on Thursday, a sign that Tehran is succeeding in stockpiling food to blunt the impact of tougher Western sanctions. Iran has been shopping for wheat at a frantic pace, ordering a large part of its expected yearly requirement in a little over one month and paying a premium to work around toughened Western sanctions.
Food shipments are not targeted under Western sanctions, but financial measures have frozen Iranian firms out of much of the global banking system. "They are trying to get as much (wheat) as they can in the country to blunt the effect of any further escalation in international sanctions," Rabobank commodities analyst Nick Higgins said. Iran is close to self-sufficient in wheat most years, but needs to import when the harvest is weak, as it is expected to be this year.
- Iran's Stealth Financial Partners in Latin America - Otto Reich and Ezequiel Vazquez Ger
To bypass economic sanctions, Iran may be using a parallel financial system operated by members of ALBA countries - the Cuba-Venezuela-Bolivia-Ecuador-Nicaragua axis - to engage in money-laundering.
According to confidential bank reports, in November 2008 the Central Bank of Ecuador authorized the establishment of "a mechanism for deposits and payments to facilitate foreign trade" with Iran. (Miami Herald)
- Navy to Double Mine-Sweepers in Persian Gulf - Tony Capaccio
The U.S. Navy will double the number of counter-mine ships in the Persian Gulf to eight, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, said Thursday.
The Navy will also send four more MH-60 mine-sweeping helicopters to the Gulf. (Bloomberg)
- U.S. to Resume Military Aid to Egypt - Steven Lee Myers
The Obama administration plans to resume military aid to Egypt, American officials said on Thursday, despite a still-uncertain transition to democracy. To restart the aid, the administration plans on sidestepping a new Congressional requirement that directly links military assistance to the protection of basic freedoms.
The threat that the military aid might end was a critical factor in the release by the Egyptian government of seven Americans employed by four American-financed international organizations that were involved in community organizing activities. President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton explicitly warned Egypt's military leaders that the aid this year was at risk because of the prosecution of the American-financed organizations.
(New York Times)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Iran Promises Support During Hamas Leader's Visit
Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar was in Iran Thursday, where he met with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi who expressed his full support for the Palestinian cause, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. "We are quite confident that the Palestinians will win the struggle," Salehi said.
Zahar praised and thanked Iran for its support.
See also Nasrallah Meets Hamas Delegation in Beirut
Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah met on Monday with a Hamas delegation headed by Musa Abu Marzouk, Arab media reported Wednesday. The Lebanese daily As-Safir said the two sides agreed to cooperate to improve Iran's relations with Arab states, "based on trust, especially with the Muslim Brotherhood." (Jerusalem Post)
- Palestinian Rocket Fire Continues - Gili Cohen and Yanir Yagna
Palestinians in Gaza fired three more rockets at Israel Thursday. Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted a Grad-type Katyusha rocket fired toward the city of Ashdod. Two more rockets hit open fields in the Eshkol and Ashkelon regions. Despite an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire on Tuesday, Palestinians continued to fire rockets sporadically into Israel on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Five cities in southern Israel - Beersheba, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Kiryat Malachi and Gan Yavne - canceled school on Thursday.
- Palestinian Terrorist Stabs Female Soldier in Jerusalem - Melanie Lidman
A Palestinian stabbed a 19-year-old female soldier on the light rail in Jerusalem Thursday, seriously wounding the woman before fleeing. A suspect, who admitted carrying out the attack, was caught at the Kalandiya crossing trying to return to Palestinian-controlled territory.
- Panel: Jerusalem of Incidental Importance in Islam - Oren Kessler
Jerusalem is of incidental significance to Islam, according to a panel of scholars who met Wednesday at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center.
Daniel Pipes, director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum, noted that Jerusalem is mentioned in the Bible more than 800 times as well as in prayer services, daily blessings and wedding services.
However, in Islam, Pipes said, "It is not prayed to, not mentioned once in the Koran; there are no events in Muhammad's life directly connected to it."
"Jerusalem became important to Islam when someone else wanted it," said Moshe Sharon, an Islamic history scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
"Jerusalem is not on any major trade routes. Only independent or semi-independent states with biblical cultures have made it a capital: The Jews, Crusaders and British," Sharon said.
"Jerusalem was never a capital under Islam. When the Muslims came here, they created a new capital - Ramle, not Jerusalem." (Jerusalem Post)
- Iran: Change of Behavior or Regime Change? - Amir Taheri
Successive U.S. administrations have failed in their analyses of the Iranian regime. They've hoped the regime would change its behavior on issues including sponsoring international terrorism and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. But the problem with the Khomeinist regime is not its behavior but its nature.
At times, when feeling the pinch from particular sanctions or even military action against it, the regime temporarily modifies its behavior to weather the storm. Once the storm passes, it reverts to its natural behavior.
Thirty years ago, the regime didn't have a nuclear program but was, nonetheless, a threat to regional peace. It sponsored terror, kidnapped Americans and Europeans, assassinated dissidents in Washington and London and oppressed the people of Iran. Every time it saw itself as threatened, it organized a tactical retreat but ended up returning to mischief-making on a grander scale.
As always since 1979, the real question about Iran is: change of behavior or regime change?
Behavior change is fool's gold.
By promising "reforms," the regime spent that gold whenever it was in a tight spot at home. Today, Iranians have learned that the regime can't be reformed or behave contrary to its political DNA. It's programmed to oppress the Iranian people and export terror.
Sanctions can be effective only as tools of a policy aimed at regime change. (New York Post)
- The Global March to Jerusalem: Part of the International Campaign to Delegitimize Israel - Ehud Rosen
In January 2012, the European Preparatory Committee for the Global March to Jerusalem announced marches to Jerusalem "or the nearest point to it" on March 30, to coincide with the annual Palestinian "Land Day." Marches are planned in Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria.
The European Preparatory Committee is comprised of members of UK Muslim Brotherhood circles and a member of the Free Gaza movement (founded by the International Solidarity Movement, ISM), this time joined by the anti-imperialist camp. National committees in Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, and Iran have begun preparations, while more than twenty Palestinian organizations have endorsed the march.
It is hard to predict the results of these preparations. However, the participation of Sunni-Islamist circles is increasing, encouraged by their rise due to the Arab Spring. Fatah, the PLO, and the PA are becoming more involved as well, as are more Islamist jihadi forces and far-right European elements.
(Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
See also Global March to Jerusalem Factsheet - Adam Levick (CiF Watch)
See also Iranian Athletes Support Global March to Jerusalem (Fars-Iran)
See also Lebanese Protesters to March to Israel Border (Daily Star-Lebanon)
- The Beneficial Netanyahu-Obama Partnership - Jeffrey Goldberg
For Obama, Netanyahu's stalwart and straightforward argument that, for Israel, a nuclear Iran presents an Auschwitz-sized event, helps concentrate the minds of other leaders who may be less-than-willing to join the now-crippling sanctions regime imposed on Tehran by Washington. For Netanyahu, Obama's fear of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East means that he's willing to spend enormous political capital to wage economic war against Israel's main regional adversary. (Atlantic Monthly)
- Palestinians Forgotten amid Iran War of Words - Noah Browning
A monumental wooden chair erected in Ramallah to symbolize the Palestinians' sought-after UN seat collapsed this week after months of wind and rain. Bulldozers quietly took away the shattered remains by night. Its collapse and stealthy removal could well serve as an emblem of Palestinian hopes for statehood.
Riven by internal quarrels, the Palestinians are struggling to make their voice heard. World attention has shifted to the U.S. presidential elections, the escalating violence in Syria and Iran's nuclear program. Palestinians have suggested reviving a 2011 campaign to petition the UN for statehood recognition. But a growing number of Palestinian commentators have criticized such a strategy as aimless. Full statehood status can only come from the UN Security Council and the U.S. has made clear on numerous occasions that it will veto any such move.
- Israel Is a Refuge under Siege - Nicky Larkin
I used to hate Israel. Not any more. Now I loathe Palestinian terrorists. After Israel's incursion into Gaza in December 2008 I applied for funding from the Irish Arts Council to make a film in Israel and Palestine and spent seven weeks in the area.
Posters of martyrs followed us throughout the West Bank. They watched from lamp-posts and walls wherever we went. But the more I felt the martyrs watching me, the more confused I became. After all, the Palestinian mantra was one of "non-violent resistance." Yet when I interviewed Hind Khoury, a former Palestinian government member, she refused to condemn the actions of the suicide bombers. She was all aggression.
Back in Tel Aviv in the summer of 2011, I began to listen more closely to the Israeli side. I remember one conversation in Shenkin Street - Tel Aviv's most fashionable quarter, where everybody looks as if they went to art college. I was outside a cafe interviewing a former soldier.
He talked slowly about his time in Gaza. He spoke about Arab teenagers sent running towards the base he'd patrolled. Each strapped with a bomb and carrying a hand-held detonator.
Conversations like this are normal in Tel Aviv. I began to experience the sense of isolation Israelis feel. An isolation that began in the ghettos of Europe and ended in Auschwitz. Israel is a refuge - but a refuge under siege, a refuge where rockets rain death from the skies. My film is called "Forty Shades of Grey." But only one side was wanted back in Dublin. My peers expected me to come back with an attack on Israel. No grey areas were acceptable.
Why have Irish artists surrendered to group-think on Israel? I would urge every one of those 216 Irish artists who pledged to boycott the Israeli state to spend some time in Israel and Palestine. Maybe when you come home you will bin your PLO scarf. I did.
From Pre-emption to Prevention and Back - Dore Gold (Israel Hayom)
- During his March 4 AIPAC speech, President Barack Obama came closer than ever before to declaring that should sanctions fail, he was prepared to use military force to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He repeated, "I will take not options off the table," adding, "and I mean what I say." But there was no explicit guarantee that the U.S. would attack if Tehran reached the point of assembling a weapon.
- Did this mean that the Obama administration was indeed prepared to launch a preventive strike at Iran's nuclear facilities in the future? If that was the case, this would represent a sharp break from the position of many of the critics of the 2003 Iraq war who rejected the legal right of the U.S. undertake such attacks.
These critics were mostly found in American academia and a number of leading law schools, Obama's milieu before he entered politics.
- In the shadow of 9/11, it was the 2002 Bush Doctrine that asserted the U.S. right to engage in preventive attacks most forcefully, when it spoke about "taking the battle to the enemy...to confront the worst threats before they emerge."
- International legal scholars, for the most part, recognized a right of pre-emption as far back as the 19th century, when Secretary of State Daniel Webster detailed the pre-conditions for pre-emptive strikes after the British attacked an American steamer, the Caroline, along the U.S.-Canadian border. Israel's attack in the 1967 Six-Day War demonstrated again the legitimacy of pre-emption when it appeared that war was about to break out.
- Bush took this a step further, from pre-emption to prevention, by saying that America was not going to wait to the last minute before acting, but rather would neutralize threats well before they became imminent. But should pre-emption and prevention be treated so differently considering that the real difference between them is how far away the threat they are addressing appears on a timeline?
- Today, moreover, there is a growing problem of waiting to the last minute for an imminent threat. In the conventional battlefield, imminent threats are visible. There are classic signs intelligence services can pick up weeks before a war, like reserve mobilization, or the movement of forces and ammunition stocks from their regular bases to forward positions.
But in the push-button era of missiles, it is much harder to know that an enemy is preparing an imminent attack, in which case a pre-emptive strike might be considered.
- At this time, Obama is not prepared to take preventive action against Iran precisely because he believes he has plenty of time. He told The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg in a recent interview: "Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon and is not yet in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon without us having a pretty long lead time in which we will know that they are making that attempt."
- Two years ago, then Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was discussing the Iranian nuclear program and asked: "If their policy is to go to the threshold but not assemble a nuclear weapon, how do you tell that they have not assembled? I don't actually know how you would verify that.?"
The writer, a former Israeli UN ambassador, is president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
See also What Is Happening to the Iranian Nuclear Program? - Dore Gold (Jerusalem Center)
From the eBook - Iran: From Regional Challenge to Global Threat
- Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira (ed.) (Amazon Kindle)
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