Syria Upgrading Military Capabilities - Yaakov Katz (Jerusalem Post)
Syria recently declared two new Russian-made SA-17 surface-to-air missile batteries operational and deployed them along Syria's border with Lebanon. The truck-mounted mobile SA-17 has a range of 30 km.
Syria has also tested the Yakhnot anti-ship missile in recent maneuvers, a sophisticated missile with a range of 300 km.
The Israeli Navy is concerned about the possibility that it will also be transferred to Hizbullah.
In recent months, Hizbullah is believed to have obtained several dozen more M-600 long-range missiles, as well as additional 302 mm. Khaibar-1 rockets, which have a range of about 100 km.
Hizbullah already has a significant arsenal of M600s, which are manufactured in Syria as a clone of Iran's Fateh-110, and have a range of 300 km.
Short Supply, Not Middle East Tensions, Push Up Oil Prices - David P. Goldman (Gatestone Institute)
On April 3, Vice-President Biden blamed higher oil prices on "talk about war with Iran"; fear that Iran might "take out the Saudi oil fields and Bahraini oil fields"; the Arab Spring movement; "war in Libya"; the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood; and a potential for unforeseen political unrest, such as "chaos in Russia."
Oil prices are going up because the world economy is consuming more oil and supply has not increased to meet the demand.
One might argue that the market should price strategic risk into the oil price, but the fact is that markets are not especially good at assigning prices to possible events whose probability can't be measured.
The price of oil tracks economic growth expectations. It is statistically absurd to seek another reason.
The problem is not risk, but supply. The only way to reduce gas prices is to drill for more oil.
Report: Hundreds of Hizbullah Sympathizers Live in New York - Mark Hosenball
Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, warned last month that an investigation by his staff had determined that "hundreds" of "Iranian and Hizbullah terrorists" were in the U.S.
Iranian diplomats and possible Hizbullah operatives have been seen conducting apparent surveillance missions at sensitive targets such as New York subways and bridges, and at nuclear power plants and tunnels elsewhere in the U.S. in the past 10 years.
A law enforcement official said that the New York Police Department believes that between 200 and 300 Hizbullah sympathizers live in New York City. Between 10 and 20 are relatives of Hizbullah leaders or fighters who were killed in action.
At least a handful of people in New York connected with Hizbullah have also undergone military training in Lebanon, the official said.
Jordan Prince Visits Jerusalem's Aqsa Mosque (AFP)
Prince Hashem, half brother of Jordan's King Abdullah II, paid a visit on Wednesday to Jerusalem, where he prayed at Al-Aqsa Mosque, palace officials said.
Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
During various talks in pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, negotiators have overlooked the uprooting of 850,000 Jews living in Arab nations, the loss of their assets and property, and the difficulties they underwent upon migrating to Israel and their absorption.
A true solution to the issue of refugees will only be possible when the Arab League takes historic responsibility for its role in creating the Jewish and Palestinian refugee problems.
Palestinian refugees should be rehabilitated in their place of residence just as the Jewish refugees were rehabilitated in Israel.
Israel Museum Showcased in Google Art Project - Aron Heller (AP)
The Israel Museum has made 520 objects available for viewing in partnership with the Google Art Project, an online compilation of high-resolution images of artwork from galleries worldwide.
The Israel Museum was among 151 museums in 40 countries taking part in the second wave of the project on Tuesday.
The project follows last year's collaboration with Google to make the museum's famed Dead Sea Scrolls accessible to all online.
Google has also teamed up with Israel's Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, to make its photographs and documents interactive and searchable on the Internet.
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- Doubts Intensify on Resumption of Iran Nuclear Talks - Rick Gladstone
Prospects for the scheduled resumption of talks on Iran's contentious nuclear energy program next week appeared to recede further Thursday, when the Iranians issued new objections to Turkey as the formerly agreed location for the talks and revealed they had rejected alternate proposals to hold them in at least three European countries. The prime minister of Turkey criticized Iran for reneging on his country as the host and for what he described as the specious Iranian proposal of Syria and Iraq as alternate sites, knowing they would be rejected.
(New York Times)
- Top Salafi Candidate Disqualified in Egyptian Presidential Race, Seen as Boost for Muslim Brotherhood - Maggie Michael
Egypt's election commission confirmed Thursday that the mother of popular Salafi Islamist presidential hopeful Hazem Abu Ismail, 50, was an American citizen, effectively disqualifying him from the race and likely boosting the chances of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Khairat al-Shater.
The law stipulates that a candidate may not have any other citizenship than Egyptian - and that the candidate's spouse and parents cannot have other citizenships as well. While Abu Ismail is likely to fight for a way to stay in the race, his disqualification would remove the Brotherhood's main competitor for the powerful Islamist vote. (AP)
See also Challenging Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood from the Inside - Zvi Bar'el
Hazem Abu Ismail, a religious leader, senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, lawyer and former Member of Parliament, in the past few months has been promoting a radical religious agenda which includes the banning of "promiscuous beach tourism," the banning of alcohol, and the rehabilitation of the religious school system. In response, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate al-Shater announced this week that he intendeds to establish an organization dedicated to the supervision of morality.
- New Clashes Fuel UN Skepticism of Promises by Syria - Anne Barnard and Rick Gladstone
Spasms of fighting convulsed parts of Syria on Thursday, with clashes reported only miles from the capital. The leader of the UN said the conflict was getting worse - contradicting the Syrian government's assurances to a special envoy that it was complying with the cease-fire plan.
(New York Times)
See also Syria Sends Helicopters Against Rebels - David Enders
In the last two days, President Assad's troops have increased their use of helicopter gunships in rebel areas near Aleppo and outside Idlib.
See also UN Security Council to Syria: End Attacks - Colum Lynch
The UN Security Council called upon Syria on Thursday to "urgently and visibly" halt its attacks on opposition targets.
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Israel Proposes Goals for Iran-West Talks - Yaakov Katz
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday that he has held discussions with American and European officials in recent weeks to convince them to set clear goals for the planned talks with Iran. Israel's goals for the talks are: 1) transfer of all uranium enriched to 20% - approximately 120 kg. - out of Iran to a third-party country; 2) transfer of the majority of the 5 tons of uranium enriched to 3.5% out of Iran, leaving just enough needed for energy purposes; 3) closure of the Fordow enrichment facility, buried under a mountain near the city of Qom; 4) transfer of fuel rods from a third-party country to Iran for the purpose of activating the Tehran Research Reactor.
See also Confrontation with Iran May Be Delayed to 2013 - Yaakov Katz
A possible military confrontation with Iran may be postponed until 2013, senior defense officials said in recent weeks amid growing signs that the West's economic crackdown on Iran is bearing fruit.
While skeptical, the defense establishment is waiting to see what the outcome will be of the talks between Iran and the international P5+1 group.
"It could happen this year, but also 2013 is a possibility," a senior official said recently.
"We will need to wait to see the effect sanctions and diplomacy have on Iran and what the regime decides to do."
- Israel Presents New Deterrence Policy, Will Retaliate Against Hamas for All Gaza Rocket Attacks - Shahar Chai
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz on Thursday declared a change in army policy whereby any firing at Israel's south will be met with an attack on Hamas, regardless of the group behind the fire. Similarly, any firing from Lebanon will result in an attack on Hizbullah, and any terror attack by Iran's emissaries overseas will prompt a response against Tehran.
Alluding to recent terror attacks in India, Thailand and Georgia, the IDF chief said, "We know the source of these attacks and those behind them must know that Israel's long arm will ultimately reach anyone who seeks to harm Israeli civilians and the Jewish people, whether in Gaza, Lebanon or anywhere else." (Ynet News)
- Netanyahu: Sinai Turning into Terror Hotbed - Gilad Morag
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, referring to Wednesday night's rocket fire on Eilat, said Thursday that the defense establishment is "well aware of the fact that Sinai is turning into a rocket launching pad for terrorists."
IDF Foiled More than Ten Terror Plots in Sinai - Gili Cohen
Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, chief of Israeli Military Intelligence, said Thursday that the Israel Defense Forces has foiled more than ten terror plots in Sinai over the last two months. The rocket fired at Eilat shows that "terror organizations are strengthening their hold on the Sinai Peninsula," he said. The Middle East is "the place where the pace of armament is already the fastest in the world" and "in the short term, the dangers are increasing." (Ha'aretz)
See also IDF Boosts Deployment on Southern Border - Yoav Zitun
Defense intelligence indicating an imminent threat of terror from Sinai has prompted the IDF to bolster deployment along Israel's southern border.
As the construction of the Israel-Egypt border fence continues, the IDF's Gaza Division has deployed military Hummers at strategic point along the border fence.
The Hummers are armed with the special Israeli-made RCWS - Remote-Controlled Weapon Station. For the first time, the IDF has also deployed Namer ("Leopard") APCs - advanced armored personnel carriers based on the Merkava tank's chassis.
- Obama's Signal to Iran - David Ignatius
President Obama has signaled Iran that the U.S. would accept an Iranian civilian nuclear program if Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei can back up his recent public claim that his nation "will never pursue nuclear weapons."
This verbal message was sent through Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, who visited Khamenei last week.
But the diplomatic path still seems blocked, judging by recent haggling over the meeting place for negotiations. U.S. officials see this foot-dragging as a sign that the Iranian leadership is still struggling to frame its negotiating position.
As Iran's leadership debates its negotiating stance, the squeeze of Western sanctions is becoming tighter. Nat Kern, the editor of Foreign Reports, a leading oil newsletter, forecasts that Iran will lose about a third of its oil exports by mid-summer. It may get even worse if China and the EU follow through on recent warnings that they might stop insuring tankers carrying Iranian crude.
- Where's the Outcry over Palestinian Censorship? - David Keyes
A university lecturer and single mother of two, Ismat Abdul-Khaleq, was arrested in the West Bank last week for criticizing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Facebook.
Under Abbas, slander of high-ranking officials is punishable by up to two years in prison.
George Canawati, director of Radio Bethlehem 2000, was arrested in September over a Facebook post that criticized Bethlehem's health department.
Journalist Rami Samara was held in February after criticizing Palestinian leaders on Facebook. And Palestinian journalist Youssef al-Shayeb was jailed last month for defaming public officials after he reported on corruption among Palestinian diplomats.
In recent months, Hamas has arrested journalists, banned a social media conference and jailed several bloggers.
Meanwhile, the world's silence is deafening - and revealing. The writer is executive director of the New York-based organization Advancing Human Rights and co-founder of CyberDissidents.org.
- Does Obama Have Israel's Back? - Gary Rosenblatt
A steady drumbeat of reports has appeared these last few weeks in the mainstream press (and especially the New York Times) characterizing Israel unfairly in the delicate diplomatic dance of Jerusalem, Washington and Tehran.
These media reports downplay, or don't even mention, that Israel's possible military actions are based on the fact that the leadership of Iran consistently and passionately describes Israel as an evil, immoral country that should be erased from the planet.
Perhaps we've become numb to the threats because Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been calling for Israel's destruction for so long, while neither the UN nor any world leader outside of Jerusalem responds in any meaningful way.
Second, the message and tone of these articles is that Israel is trigger-happy and planning to drag the U.S. into yet another war with an Islamic country.
The overall impression I come away with
is that the administration is more worried about preventing its only democratic ally in the Mideast from taking military action than preventing a sworn and powerful enemy, Iran, from having a nuclear bomb that threatens not only the region but the U.S. and the free world. (New York Jewish Week)
- UN-Sponsored Meeting Equates Israelis with Nazis - Anne Bayefsky
On April 3-4, 2012, at the behest of Arab nations, the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People convened a meeting in Geneva on Palestinian "political" prisoners held in Israeli prisons. The committee was created by the UN General Assembly back in 1975 to implement the infamous "Zionism is racism" resolution. While the resolution was rescinded 16 years later, the committee marches on.
The "keynote" address was delivered by Issa Qaraqe, the PA Minister for Prisoners' Affairs, who
asserted that "there was a call at the highest level of the Israeli state for concentration camps to be set up for the rounding up and extermination of Palestinian people." Shawqi Al Issa, director of the Ensan Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Bethlehem, stated: "There are confessions by Israel that there are medical experiments done on prisoners."
When the UN experts, diplomats, and NGO participants had finished analogizing Israelis to Nazis and Palestinians to Holocaust victims, claiming Jews have no historical ties to the Land of Israel, and declaring open season on Israeli men, women, and children in the name of self-determination, Riyad Mansour, the Palestinians' lead UN representative, thanked the UN "for organizing this very important conference."
- A Quiet Transformation in China's Approach to Israel - Carice Witte
In the minds of the Chinese, Jews retain a highly respected status as a people who have survived over the millennia against all odds and have attained achievements that belie their miniscule numbers. The Chinese take great pride in Shanghai's status as one of the only cities in the world that accepted Jewish refugees during World War II.
In the 12th Five-Year Plan, published in 2011, China's leadership announced a national intention to raise the country from being the world's factory to becoming a leading innovator. This new focus led the Chinese to seek the potential contribution of Israel - the "Start-Up Nation."
Interactions between China and Israel had risen significantly over the years but had remained largely "off the record," due to the Arab nations' strong influence on the PRC leadership's public approach to Israel.
In 2011 this began to change. Five formally acknowledged Israel Studies programs were established across China, and in September, China's most powerful political body - the Communist Party - expressed a formal interest in Israel's political echelons in a public fashion by participating in the first-ever China-Israel Strategy and Security Symposium at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
The writer is founder and executive director of SIGNAL, Sino-Israel Global Network & Academic Leadership.
(Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
See also Cabinet Ratifies Economic Agreement with China - Yoni Dayan
The Israeli cabinet on Sunday ratified an agreement to expand bilateral research and development projects between Israel and China. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that "in June, I will travel to China to promote this issue. Israel and China together is a winning combination because we are two peoples with magnificent traditions but that have also adopted the fundamentals of modernity."
Trade and Labor Ministry Chief Scientist Avi Hasson said that "Israeli exports to China have increased by more than 30% since last year." (Jerusalem Post)
- Jerusalem Mayor Sees Vast Potential in Tourism
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat believes he can turn his city into one of the world's leading tourist destinations, on par with New York, Paris and London, and confidently predicts he can nearly triple the number of visitors over the next decade.
"There are very few cities like Jerusalem that have such potential, with over 3.5 billion people on Earth who would like to come visit Jerusalem at least once in their lifetime," he said in an interview. "The brand Jerusalem is one of the most powerful brands in the world."
Jerusalem is the country's leading tourist destination, attracting 80% of all those who visit Israel, according to the Tourism Ministry. (AP-Washington Post)
- Female Arab Singer Captures Israeli Hearts Performing Jewish Songs in TV Contest - Diaa Hadid
A young Arab woman, Nissren Kader, 25, recently won first place in a popular Israeli music competition for the best performer of Mizrahi songs, the musical tradition of Middle Eastern Jews. By singing beautifully in Hebrew, she charmed her audience. "I am so proud: I'm the first Arab to win a Hebrew singing program," said Kader, who is from Haifa. Moshe Alfassi, an Israeli of Moroccan descent, said he found it strange to see an Arab woman singing Mizrahi music, but like many other Israelis, was quickly won over by her voice.
Her victory is part of a small but growing trend of Arab artists and entertainers rising to prominence.
One of the country's most popular sitcoms is a comedic satire about an Israeli-Arab journalist trying to fit into Jewish society whose attempts frequently backfire, written by Sayed Kashua, an Arab writer.
All but one of Israel's soccer league teams have Arab players, including the season's top scorer, Ahmed Saba. (AP)
Palestinians Admire Israeli Democracy - Michael Oren (Foreign Policy)
Israel has forged the Middle East's first genuinely functional democracy.
At 64, Israel is older than more than half of the democracies in the world and belongs to a tiny group of countries never to have suffered intervals of non-democratic governance.
Israeli democracy, according to pollster Khalil Shikaki, topped the U.S. as the most admired government in the world - by the Palestinians.
- Criticism of Israeli democracy derives from the situation in the West Bank, captured by Israel in a defensive war with Jordan in 1967. The fact that the Israelis and Palestinians living in those territories exercise different rights is certainly anomalous.
- The existence of partially democratic enclaves within a democratic system does not necessarily discredit it. Residents of Washington, D.C., are taxed without representation, while those in the U.S. territories - Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands - cannot vote in presidential elections. Anomalies exist in every democracy. But because of its commitment to remaining a Jewish and democratic state, Israel is striving to end that aberration and resolve the century-long conflict with the Palestinians.
- The solution is two states - the Jewish state of Israel and the Palestinian state of Palestine - living side by side in mutual recognition, security, and peace. Israel proffered offers for such an arrangement in 2000 and 2008, and withdrew both its military and civilian citizens from Gaza to enable the Palestinians to create a peaceful prototype state.
- The Palestinians have rejected Israel's multiple offers of independence. During their last elections, the majority of the Palestinian people voted for Hamas, a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel's destruction which has transformed Gaza into a terrorist mini-state. In recent years, Palestinian Authority leaders have balked at direct negotiations with Israel, preferring instead to seek independence unilaterally without making peace and pursue reconciliation with Hamas.
- As impediments to peace, settlements pale beside those posed by Palestinian support for terror and the rejection of Israel's right to exist as a secure and legitimate Jewish state.
The writer is the Israeli ambassador to the U.S.
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