U.S. Military Completes Planning for Syria - Barbara Starr (CNN)
The U.S. military has completed its own planning for how American troops would conduct a variety of operations against Syria, or to assist neighboring countries in the event action was ordered, officials tell CNN.
The military planning includes a scenario for a no-fly zone as well as protecting chemical and biological sites.
The U.S. Navy is maintaining a presence of three surface combat vessels and a submarine in the eastern Mediterranean to conduct electronic surveillance and reconnaissance on the Syrian regime, a senior Pentagon official said.
U.S. satellites are monitoring Syrian chemical and biological weapons sites around the clock.
Report: Turkish IHH Gave Money to Al-Qaeda (Ynet News)
Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) director Bulent Yildirim is reportedly being investigated by Turkish authorities for transferring funds to al-Qaeda through his organization, the Hurriyet Daily reported Friday.
The probe accuses Yildirim of "providing financial aid to al-Qaeda via his foundation with absolute secrecy."
The IHH largely funded the 2010 Gaza-bound flotilla.
China Takes the Pressure Off Iran - Ilan Berman (The Diplomat-Japan)
So much for Chinese cooperation on Iran, it would seem. In April, China's imports of Iranian crude nearly doubled, surging some 48% to reach 1.6 metric tons.
China's shippers have capitalized on the lack of market competition to do a thriving business carrying Iranian oil. Chinese insurers, meanwhile, increasingly have supplanted Western underwriters and guaranteed Iran's foreign crude export shipments.
Iran has long served as a key supplier of energy to China, providing nearly 12% of China's total annual foreign crude.
The writer is vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington.
A Second Afghanistan in Mali? - Jacques Neriah (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
Mali, like other sub-Saharan countries, has been facing growing attacks from al-Qaeda's North African branch - Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Al-Qaeda militants and other Islamist combatants share ground in Northern Mali with the Tuareg, a minority of perhaps 1 million of Mali's 15 million people and about a third of the population of Northern Mali.
In March 2012, soldiers toppled the president, leaving a power vacuum that enabled rebels led by Tuareg nomads to take control of the northern part of Mali, approximately two-thirds of the country.
The Tuareg offensive occurred after the return of Tuareg fighters to Mali following the fall of their historical patron, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, in neighboring Libya. Most probably their rebellion would not have taken place had Gaddafi remained in power.
As has been the case in Tunisia, Egypt, and to a lesser extent in Syria lately, the Tuaregs' struggle for an independent homeland has been hijacked by better-organized and armed Islamists from Mali and abroad, creating a safe haven for militants in the Sahara - a west African Afghanistan. The implications of such a development could become a new nightmare for the West.
Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah was formerly Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Deputy Head for Assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence.
Saudi Arabia to Lead UN Counter Terrorism Initiative - Brooke Goldstein and Zack Kousnetz (American Thinker)
The UN Center for Counter Terrorism (UNCCT) was formed in September 2010 with the purpose of executing the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, adopted by the General Assembly in 2006.
In a move more befitting Alice in Wonderland than the UN, Saudi Arabia was named chair of the organization.
WikiLeaks exposed a trove of diplomatic cables in which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote, "Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT, and other terrorist groups, including Hamas."
U.S. Sees Dramatic Surge in Oil and Gas Production (AFP)
The U.S. is seeing a dramatic surge in oil and gas production and could overtake the world's biggest producers, Russia and Saudi Arabia, in another decade, Daniel Sullivan, commissioner in Alaska's department of natural resources, told the International Economic Forum of the Americas in Montreal on Tuesday.
Since 2008, the U.S. added 1.6 million barrels of additional oil, and in 2011, the U.S. registered the largest increase in oil production of any country outside of OPEC.
In Alaska alone, the potential off the coast is viewed as about 40 billion barrels in conventional oil, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Israel Produces Top-Quality Caviar - Alexander Marquardt (ABC News)
Kibbutz Dan in northern Israel, whose fish ponds hold 70,000 Osetra sturgeon, is now taking business away from Iranian caviar producers.
Farm manager Yigal Ben-Tzvi explains that in 1992, he brought back fertilized sturgeon eggs from Russia, hoping to raise sturgeon to sell their meat to the growing Russian-Jewish population in Israel.
A decade later, with a leap in the price of caviar, he decided to let the sturgeon get older so they could produce eggs. This year they hope to produce four tons of premium caviar.
"The Israeli caviar is the best there is today on the market," says Eric Ribert, chef and owner of New York's Le Bernardin restaurant.
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- Egyptian Military Dissolves Parliament after Court Ruling - David Schenker and Eric Trager
On June 14, Egypt's Constitutional Court made two key rulings, confirming that former prime minister and air force chief Ahmed Shafiq is allowed to run in this weekend's presidential runoff and invalidating one-third of the seats in the Islamist-controlled legislature. In the decision to nullify election results for 166 legislators, the court ruled that party-affiliated candidates had won seats allocated to "independents."
In the wake of the ruling, the military has announced that it is dissolving the legislature and assuming law-making powers in its place. The biggest loser in these decisions is the Muslim Brotherhood, which controlled 47% of the parliament.
(Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
See also In Egypt, a Sense of Dread - David Ignatius (Washington Post)
- Tehran Demands that West Acknowledge Its Right to Enrich Uranium - Ariel Zirulnick
Heading into Iran nuclear talks next week, Tehran's top demand is that Western powers acknowledge its right to uranium enrichment, reports the Tehran Times. On Wednesday, Ali Larijani, formerly Iran's top nuclear negotiator and now speaker of the Iranian parliament, said, "The nuclear negotiating team has no right to show leniency in regard to the Iranian nation's rights....In relation to the degree of enrichment, Iran can determine the degree as it wishes." (Christian Science Monitor)
- UN Monitors Find Vast Devastation in Syrian Village - Rick Gladstone
UN monitors in Syria reported fiery devastation, the smell of death, vacated homes, looted stores and vestiges of heavy weapons on Thursday during a visit to Al Heffa in northwestern Syria, a Sunni-populated village besieged for days by Syrian forces and pro-government militiamen.
Anti-Assad activists reported the extensive use of Russian-made helicopter gunships in the siege of Al Heffa and attacks in the nearby port of Latakia, a possible reflection of rebel success in damaging Assad's fleet of Russian-made tanks. "The town appeared deserted," reported Sausan Ghosheh, spokeswoman for the UN monitor mission in Syria.
(New York Times)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Abrams: Israel Bombed Syrian Nuclear Facility Despite U.S. Diplomacy - Herb Keinon
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert decided in September 2007 to bomb the al-Kabir nuclear facility in Syria after then-president George W. Bush told him the U.S. had opted for the diplomatic route and was trying to get the International Atomic Energy Agency to close the site, Elliott Abrams, who at the time was deputy national security advisor in the White House, told the Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Abrams said Bush was provided with impeccable options, policy papers and intelligence.
"We took it all to the president - covert options, military options, diplomatic options - and he chose the wrong option," said Abrams.
He said that his preferred option was for Israel to take out the facility in order for Jerusalem to rebuild its deterrence following the Second Lebanon War a year earlier. He added that then-vice president Dick Cheney argued for the U.S. to bomb the facility itself to rebuild America's deterrence and demonstrate America's seriousness concerning nonproliferation.
When Bush informed Olmert of the U.S. decision in July 2007, Abrams recalled, Olmert said the strategy was unacceptable to Israel. It was clear that from this point on there would be no sharing of plans and that "Israel would let us know afterward," he said.
- UNESCO Opposes PA Bid for Bethlehem Church - Tovah Lazaroff
The secretariat of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee has come out against a bid by the Palestinian Authority to use an emergency procedure to register Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity under the country of "Palestine" as a World Heritage site. The PA had asked the World Heritage Committee to add the church to its list through a procedure reserved for endangered sites.
Israel has opposed registering the site under Palestine, until such time as it becomes a state as a result of a negotiated end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel does support registering the church as a World Heritage site, and would have wanted to present it to the committee together with the Palestinians as a joint endeavor.
- More Palestinian Shooting across Gaza-Israel Border - Yaakov Katz and Herb Keinon
After a Palestinian sniper fired at a tractor in Kibbutz Nir Oz close to the Gaza border fence on Thursday and IDF soldiers evacuated the driver to safety,
Palestinians operating from within a school then detonated a bomb near the soldiers, the IDF Spokesman's Office said.
Terrorists also fired a mortar shell at the force.
In a separate incident, while Israeli civilian firefighters were extinguishing a fire adjacent to the Gaza security fence, terrorists opened fire at soldiers present.
The soldiers returned tank fire, wounding two Palestinians, according to the Palestinian Ma'an news agency.
- Expert Views Egyptian Election - Herb Keinon
Janice Gross Stein, director of the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, is in Israel this week to receive an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for her work in conflict resolution and Middle East studies. She said that huge demonstrations should be expected if "old guard" member Ahmed Shafiq wins the Egyptian presidential election. She said that such an outcome would be widely interpreted as the reinstatement of the army and the old inner circle. Even if the election was not rigged, she said, it would be viewed as if it was.
If Mohamed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, is elected, she predicted that the street would react more quietly and an arrangement would likely be worked out whereby the military would withdraw to the barracks in return for a commitment that the government would not threaten the military's status and economic interests.
The issue of Egyptian-Israeli relations is only a marginal part of the electoral campaign and is very low on the domestic political agenda, which is focused on the country's huge economic problems. Gross Stein said that regardless of who wins, she did not see anyone backing off from the Camp David accords, at least for the next five years.
While she did not think the Muslim Brotherhood would talk to Israel if Mursi were to win, she anticipated that ties would remain what they are now, with the interlocutor on the Egyptian side being the military, not the government.
See also Egypt's So-Called Transition - Marc Lynch
Weeks before the Egyptian military's scheduled handover of power, Egypt now finds itself with no parliament, no constitution (or even a process for drafting one), and a divisive presidential election with no hope of producing a legitimate, consensus-elected leadership.
- When Muslim Countries Restore Freedom of Expression - Harold Rhode
The exercise of critical thinking and independent judgment - or Ijtihad - was an important way to address questions in the early centuries of Islam, but after 400 years, the leaders of the Sunni Muslim world closed the "Gates of Ijtihad," seeing questioning as politically dangerous to their ability to rule.
What followed the closing of the Gates of Ijtihad in the Muslim world were centuries of intellectual and political decline.
Why can Muslims who emigrate to the West - especially to the U.S. and Canada - invent and innovate in the fields of science and technology, but not in their native lands? It seems that those who live in Muslim communities are subjected to intellectual oppression: they are not allowed to question. When young Muslims do ask questions, their elders usually humiliate them - often publicly - a sure-fire way to discourage intellectual development and curiosity. If Muslims repeat what is proscribed, they are praised; if they question, they are chastised.
Is there a chance that the Muslims could reopen the Gates of Ijtihad? For the foreseeable future, the answer seems to be a resounding no. The mislabeled "Arab Spring" has turned into an "Arab Winter" dominated by forces who want to recreate an imagined, glorious past society modeled after what they believe their prophet established. Add to that the huge amounts of money Wahhabi "allies" of the U.S. are spending throughout the Muslim world, to propagate their militant version of Islam, and things do not look promising. Only if the forces which want to bring back seventh-century Islamic society were to suffer a massive defeat, could there be much hope. The writer served from 1994 until 2010 in the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment.
- Empowering Iran's Opposition - Raymond Tanter
To facilitate regime change from within Iran requires a dissident organization with the same sort of leadership skills that helped create a coalition to overthrow the shah of Iran. Only one viable group that rejects clerical rule in Iran remains - the Iraq-based Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), the largest group within the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) (the Paris-based parliament-in-exile). In a 2006 study, the Center for Strategic and International Studies found that NCRI's exposure of Iran's secret nuclear program was the trigger for getting the IAEA into Iran.
In my research, I have interviewed most of the MEK's leaders, in both Iraq and France, as well as analyzed their foundational statements and documents, and found their positions to be consistent with democratic principles. I found that leaders and rank-and-file of the MEK support a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem and Israel's right to exist.
Since 1997, the MEK has been on the list of foreign terror organizations compiled by the State Department. The roots of this ongoing aberration go back to a period when a "moderate" cleric, Mohammad Khatami, was elected as Iran's new president. The Clinton administration saw inclusion of the MEK on the terrorist list as a goodwill gesture to the new regime, with which it was hoping to open a dialogue.
To facilitate regime change from within Iran, it is critical to remove the terrorist designation from the MEK. The writer served on the senior staff of the National Security Council in the Reagan administration, and has been a visiting professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
- Gaza Five Years On: Hamas Settles In - Nathan J. Brown
As political upheavals spread over much of the Middle East, in both the West Bank and Gaza, a soft authoritarianism that has provoked uprisings elsewhere has only been further entrenching itself.
Civil society in Gaza continues to function, but in a context that places limits on political activity and opposition. Hamas' Islamizing agenda has been put on hold for now, but the political system is completely bereft of any mechanisms of accountability. The media and domestic NGOs are carefully controlled. Opposition parties remain restricted in what they can do openly or publicly.
Since elections are very difficult to imagine at present, Gazans - and all Palestinians - remain voiceless in their own affairs.
(Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)
- Fabricating Palestinian History - Alexander H. Joffe
Mahmoud Abbas' personal representative told a 2011 "Nakba Day" event in Gaza: When Netanyahu "claims that they [Jews] have a historical right dating back to 3000 years BCE - we say that the nation of Palestine upon the land of Canaan had a 7,000-year history BCE." In fact, archaeologists have only the dimmest notion of prevailing ethnic concepts in 7000 BCE. Writing would not be invented for almost another 4,000 years and would only reach the Levant a thousand years after that.
The Plst - a Mediterranean group known to the Egyptians as one of the "Sea Peoples" and who gave their name to the biblical Philistines - arrived around 1200 BCE. Arabs are known in Mesopotamian texts as residents of the Arabian Peninsula from around 900 BCE. The concept of a "nation" emerged with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and their neighbors sometime after 900 BCE.
For Abbas, as it was for PLO leader Yasser Arafat before him, there is a reflex that simply cannot accept the antiquity of Jews. Arafat famously told then-U.S. president Bill Clinton that there was no Jewish temple in Jerusalem, causing the usually unflappable Clinton to nearly explode.
(Middle East Quarterly)
- Terrorism Is an Acquired Taste - Yigal Walt
For years, commentators and academicians have sought to explain the origins of global terrorism.
According to one school of thought, terrorism is the weapon of the poor. But as noted by Dan Schueftan in his book Disengagement: Israel and the Palestinian Entity, the various "Intifadas" and Arab uprisings against Israel tend to take place in periods of economic prosperity.
The simple and sad truth is that terrorism is an "acquired taste" and affinity for terror is a value that one must nurture and impart. Some prefer to encourage their sons and daughters to choose the path of murder and terror. Indeed, after long years of such "education," in kindergartens, schools, on television and in prayer houses, there is no wonder that many members of these peoples take the path of terror and turn this murderousness into a way of life.
At a year-end party at a Gaza kindergarten, young children wearing army fatigues and waving toy guns chanted anti-Israel slogans, expressing their desire to attack the Jewish state with missiles, blow up in buses, and die as martyrs.
What would happen if, instead of toying with contacts with Hamas and handing over "aid money" that ends up in the hands of terrorists, the world would impose grave sanctions on every organization and person involved in terror, incitement to terror, or terror education?
- Israeli Settlements, American Pressure, and Peace - Steven J. Rosen
Mahmoud Abbas participated in 18 years of direct negotiations with seven Israeli governments, all without the settlements freeze that he now insists is an absolute precondition to begin even low-level talks.
President Obama's failure to distinguish construction in east Jerusalem from settlement activity in the West Bank put him at odds with the Israeli consensus. No major party in Israel, and no significant part of the Jewish public, is willing to count the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem as "settlements" to be "frozen."
The Sharon government reached an understanding with the Bush administration to ban outward geographic expansion of established settlements, while reserving the right to continue expansion inside the "construction line" of existing houses. Almost all the construction that the Netanyahu administration has allowed is either in Jerusalem or in the settlement blocs, the two categories that Israel had thought were protected by understandings with the Americans.
Israelis were bitterly disappointed by the Obama administration's refusal to acknowledge agreements with a prior U.S. government that the Israelis considered vital and binding. Sharon aide Dov Weissglas said, "If decision-makers in Israel...discover, heaven forbid, that an American pledge is only valid as long as the president in question is in office, nobody will want such pledges."
Stalled peace negotiations in the Obama years cannot be blamed on Netanyahu's policies of accelerating settlement construction. He has in fact slowed it down. What has undermined peace negotiations, rather, is Obama's policy on the settlements - and the unrealistic expectations that policy has nourished.
The writer is Director of the Washington Project of the Middle East Forum and served for 23 years with AIPAC.
(Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
- Women: Beware of Egypt - Michael J. Totten
AP reported: "A mob of hundreds of men assaulted women holding a march demanding an end to sexual harassment Friday, with the attackers overwhelming the male guardians and groping and molesting several of the female marchers in Cairo's Tahrir Square. From the ferocity of the assault, some of the victims said it appeared to have been an organized attempt to drive women out of demonstrations and trample on the pro-democracy protest movement."
I have no idea why this is such a huge problem in Egypt. It's not because Egypt is Arab or Muslim or Middle Eastern. Lebanon isn't like this. My wife has been to Morocco, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Libya. She experienced minor sexual harassment in Tunisia and Libya, but it was the sort that was annoying rather than horrifying. The stories I've heard from women in Egypt, however, involve harassment that is aggressive, physical, and sometimes terrifying. I will never take my wife to Egypt.
- New Center Focuses on Israeli-Arab Employment and Development - Judy Lash Balint
The new one-stop employment center in the Israeli Arab town of Tira in central Israel seeks to help reduce unemployment and under-employment among Israeli Arabs. "While Arabs constitute 20% of the population, they only account for 8% of the Gross National Product," notes Ibrahim Habib, director of regional development for the Authority for Economic Development in the Arab Sector.
"The government estimates the loss from these people being absent from the workforce at around 31 billion shekels every year."
There's a particular emphasis on providing opportunities for Arab women to enter the work force, since traditional opposition to Arab women working outside the home is dissipating.
One program identifies 500 promising Arab female high school students and provides them with counseling and tutoring to encourage them to go on to higher education. In 2001, only 5% of Arab women were college graduates. In 2010 that number had risen to 12%.
(Jointmedia News Service)
See also Israeli Government Campaign Encourages Employment of Arab Academics - Tomer Avital (Calcalist-Ynet News)
Who Has Legal Right to Jerusalem? - Yonah Bob (Jerusalem Post)
- Dr. Jacques Gauthier, a Canadian lawyer who specializes in international law, said Wednesday that only Israel possesses the exclusive title to Jerusalem.
- Gauthier, who is Christian, points to the San Remo Conference of April 24-25, 1920, held by the victors of World War I, where both the Jews and the Arabs submitted claims to obtain independence and control of various territories.
- The Jewish claim was for the Jews' standing to be recognized as a people under the law of nations; the recognition of the Jewish historical connection to the area then known as "Palestine"; and the right to "reconstitute" Jewish historical rights in Palestine.
- The Arabs also made substantial claims to Ottoman territory, but not specifically to Palestine or Jerusalem.
- At San Remo, military and political leaders agreed to all of the Jewish representatives' requests. The British were given a mandate over Palestine only until the Jews would be ready to take over running a country, which is confirmed, Gauthier says, by Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations.
- This gave the Jewish people "title" to Jerusalem under international law.
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