Syrian Rebels Say Hostages Are Iranian Guards - Damien Cave and Hwaida Saad (New York Times)
Syrian rebels took responsibility on Sunday for kidnapping 48 Iranians in Damascus a day earlier, but insisted their captives were members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, not religious pilgrims as Iran claimed.
See also Report: Iran Sending Thousands of Fighters to Syria - Yoel Goldman (Times of Israel)
Col. Abdul-Jabbar Mohammed Aqidi, commander of rebel forces in Aleppo province in Syria, was quoted in Al Arabiya on Saturday saying that 3,000 Iranians had already passed through Damascus International Airport in the last week to help the Bashar Assad regime.
See also The Role of Iranian Security Forces in Syria - Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
Syria Prime Minister Defects to Jordan (BBC News)
Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab has defected from President Bashar al-Assad's government, to join "the revolution," his spokesman says.
Syria's First Astronaut Defects to Turkey (Los Angeles Times)
Gen. Mohammed Ahmed Fares, who as part of a joint program with Russia was the first Syrian to travel into space in 1987, has fled to Turkey after defecting from the Syrian army, according to the Turkish Anatolia news agency.
See also Report: Senior Syrian Intelligence Officer Defects to Jordan - Yoel Goldman (Times of Israel)
Muslim Brotherhood Establishes Militia Inside Syria - Ruth Sherlock and Richard Spencer (Telegraph-UK)
The Muslim Brotherhood has established its own militia inside Syria calling itself the "Armed Men of the Muslim Brotherhood."
Hossam Abu Habel, whose late father was in Syria's Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s, said that he raised $40-50,000 a month to supply Islamist militias in Homs province with weapons and other aid. The militias he funded were not affiliated to the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
"Our mission is to build a civil country but with an Islamic base," he said. "We are trying to raise awareness for Islam and for jihad."
Obama Baseball Bat Photo Sparks Outrage in Turkey - Mark Hughes (Telegraph-UK)
A photograph of Barack Obama holding a baseball bat while on the telephone to the Turkish prime minister - supposed to illustrate the close relationship between the pair - has sparked outrage in Turkey.
Turkish politicians said the picture was an implicit insult to Turkey and its citizens.
Syrians in Jordan Fear Hunt from Assad Agents - Jamal Halaby (AP)
Last month in Irbid, Jordan, two men grabbed Sultan, 42, a Syrian anti-regime activist, and dragged him into a waiting car where they stabbed him, slashing his neck and head.
Sultan says he recognized the car's driver: a Syrian intelligence officer from the Damascus prison where for three months this year Sultan was jailed and tortured.
When the car got stuck in traffic, passers-by and police intervened and rescued him, arresting the four Syrian men in the car.
The attack was the latest in a string of similar incidents in recent months, leading refugees and Jordanian officials to believe Syrian regime agents are operating in the kingdom.
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- 15 Egyptian Police Killed in Sinai Border Attack
Gunmen killed at least 15 Egyptian policemen and wounded 7 in an assault on a police station at the border between Egypt and Israel on Sunday, before seizing two military vehicles and attempting to storm the border with Israel. Israel said its aircraft had fired on one of the commandeered vehicles and that the other had exploded at the border crossing. No Israelis were hurt.
See also IDF Foils Assault on Southern Border after Terrorists Kill 15 Egyptian Soldiers - Ilan Ben Zion
Israel had advance intelligence on plans for an attack, IDF Spokesman Yoav Mordechai said. An Egyptian border official said the Rafah border terminal between Egypt and Gaza had been closed indefinitely. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's office issued a statement saying, "Those who carried out this crime will pay dearly....There is no room for appeasing this treason, this aggression and criminality....The troops will totally control Sinai." (Times of Israel)
See also Sinai Attack Proves Islamist Terrorists Are Targeting Egypt as Well - Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff
The group that carried out Sunday's attack wanted first and foremost to cause mass casualties among Egyptian soldiers, apparently to deter soldiers from serving in the area. Striking Israel was apparently a secondary goal. Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, may have no choice but to join forces with the Egyptian military leadership in order to take on the terror groups in Sinai. It seems that Egyptian public opinion will demand action. (Ha'aretz)
See also Egypt Hunts Sinai Terrorists; "We'll Strike Gaza If Needed" - Roi Kais
One Egyptian military analyst said:
"If we will be forced to strike Gaza, as Israel has, we will do it - if it is proven that those who committed the attack came from Gaza." (Ynet News)
See also Has Time Come for Egypt to Retake Sinai? - Yaakov Katz
Israel is facing a reality along its border with Egypt that is becoming similar to its border with Gaza - a number of groups all trying simultaneously and independently to attack Israel. Egypt will probably ask to deploy additional army battalions in Sinai to crack down on the growing terrorist threat. If Israel says yes, it is actively allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to station more soldiers in a demilitarized zone. (Jerusalem Post)
- Israel Sees UN Majority for Palestine Status Upgrade - Dan Williams
The Palestinians' bid to upgrade their status at the UN would find majority support there but would not bring them closer to statehood and peace with Israel, Israel's UN envoy said on Sunday.
Ron Prosor, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, accused the Palestinians of trying to recapture international attention that has shifted to crises in Iran, Egypt and Syria.
"The path to peace really is through the negotiating table with Israel," Prosor told Israel Radio.
After failing to gain Security Council approval for full UN membership last year, the Palestinians plan to ask the UN General Assembly next month for non-member observer status.
Prosor said the Palestinians have a "guaranteed majority" in the General Assembly. (Reuters)
- Rumsfeld: Sanctions Have Not Stopped Progress toward Iran Nuke - Greta Van Susteren
Former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in an interview Thursday:
Q: Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, says that the sanctions have had an effect on the economy in Iran, but not on their desire or progress towards a nuclear weapon.
Rumsfeld: "I think the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, is probably correct. Their intelligence on Iran is excellent....I think any prime minister of Israel who gets up every morning and reads in the newspaper that the leadership of Iran says that the Israeli state should be annihilated, eradicated, incinerated, has to know that it's that prime minister's responsibility to see that that doesn't happen."
"I don't think that Israel has to destroy all of Iran's nuclear capability....All the Israelis need to do is delay them." (Fox News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Netanyahu: Israel Won't Be Spared Even If U.S. Attacks Iran - Itamar Eichner
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in closed talks that a U.S. strike on Iran will not necessarily minimize the chances of a missile attack on Israel, Yediot Ahronot reported Sunday.
"I would prefer that the U.S. attack Iran, but the likelihood of that is small," he said. "In any case - even if the U.S. attacks, missiles will be fired at Israel."
"Even if missiles fall, it's still preferable to an atom bomb over our heads. If Iran obtains an atom bomb it'll be over Israel's head, not anyone else's." Netanyahu estimated that Iran is a few months away from becoming nuclear.
See also Israeli Officials Slam U.S.' Iran "Red Line" - Attila Somfalvi
Senior Israeli officials on Sunday said, "The Americans are de facto allowing the Iranians to continue to enrich uranium and become a country at the brink. We are not prepared to allow that."
As reported in Yediot Ahronot last week, the U.S. would only be prepared to carry out a strike against Iran in 18 months.
- Abbas Cancels Statehood Parley over Travel Ban - Khaled Abu Toameh and Herb Keinon
The PA decided on Sunday to cancel a meeting in Ramallah of members of the Non-Aligned Movement after Israel denied entry to five foreign cabinet ministers from countries which do not have diplomatic ties with Israel: Bangladesh, Cuba, Indonesia, Malaysia and Algeria. The conference was to support PA President Abbas' renewed effort to unilaterally seek UN recognition of a Palestinian state.
Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor explained, "If you systematically turn your back on Israel and pretend it does not exist...if you do not even bother to have relations with Israel, you cannot be a player here." (Jerusalem Post)
- Recommendations for Israeli Policy on Syria - Udi Dekel
In Syria, the helplessness of the international community in general, and
the U.S. and other Western countries in particular, is particularly striking. NATO
members, led by the U.S., are tired of military conflicts in the Middle East.
From Israel's point of view, there is concern about the Golan Heights becoming a
frontier region, where hostile elements challenge Israel, and leakage of strategic weapons and
chemical weapons to Hizbullah and other extremist elements. In addition, Israel is
worried that attention is diverted from the Iranian issue. However, this situation also presents a number of opportunities
because of the weakening of the radical axis, including a change in the Lebanese balance
of power and the potential dismantling of Hizbullah's strategic capabilities.
Israel should assume that the Assad regime in its current form
will not survive. Although Israel has limited levers of influence, it must take the initiative,
in low signature activity to weaken support for the Assad regime and Hizbullah;
preventing leakage of strategic weapons and chemical weapons to extremist elements;
deterring Assad from using chemical weapons; establishing channels for dialogue with
opposition elements or an alternative leadership; addressing the Syrian public through new
and traditional media; and establishing centers for humanitarian aid in case the flow of
refugees spills over into the Golan Heights.
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Udi Dekel headed the IDF Strategic Planning Division. (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)
- How the U.S. Should Deal with the Issue of Jerusalem as Israel's Capital - Barry Rubin
The U.S. embassy, like others, is located in Tel Aviv. When diplomats need to meet with Israeli officials they drive up to Jerusalem. Presidents have repeatedly promised to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, but have never made the tiniest move toward doing so because that would make Muslims and Arabs angry.
In 1947, the UN partitioned the British mandate of Palestine into three parts: a Jewish state; an Arab state; and an international zone to control all of Jerusalem. The official position of the U.S. is still stuck in 1947 - that Jerusalem should be under international control. There is absolutely nothing to prevent the U.S. from accepting pre-1967 west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, while maintaining that the status of east Jerusalem is to be determined by future negotiations.
Keep in mind that the PA/Fatah position has been, for almost twenty years, that they are claiming all of east Jerusalem but not west Jerusalem. Thus, moving the embassy to west Jerusalem would not conflict with Palestinian demands. There is no question that Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The only real issue is its precise boundaries. (PJ Media)
Kurdistan: The Next Flashpoint Between Turkey, Iraq, and the Syrian Revolt - Jacques Neriah (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
- Kurdistan stretches across an area of Southwest Asia that includes Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. The Kurdish population in the region is estimated at 26 to 34 million, with another one or two million living in the diaspora. Today the Kurds are the largest national grouping without a state of their own. Current political developments in the Middle East have set the stage for the Kurds realizing their right of self-determination.
- For nearly two decades, Iraq has been the focal point of Kurdish efforts, yet now Syria is a new candidate for Kurdish political activity. After largely sitting on the sidelines of the Syrian revolution, political groups from Syria's Kurdish minority in the northeastern region appear to have moved decisively to claim control of Kurdish-populated towns along the Syrian-Turkish border.
- The Free Kurdish Army was formed from the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a group with historical links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK, which is regarded by both Turkey and the U.S. as a terrorist organization fighting the Turkish government for Kurdish autonomy. Turkish leaders have issued threats against the Syrian Kurds, should their area become a safe haven for the PKK.
- Kurdistan is a potential land bridge for many of the conflicts erupting in this part of the region. It provides a ground route for Iraqi Kurdistan to supply the Syrian Kurds as they seek greater autonomy from Damascus. But its use will depend on which power dominates the tri-border area between Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, for this area could equally provide Iran with a corridor for moving supplies to its Syrian surrogates and even to Hizbullah in Lebanon.
- Given this geo-strategic situation, there have been rising military tensions between the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) of Northern Iraq and the Iraqi central government in Baghdad. For example, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is backed by Iran, decided to deploy Iraqi Army units in the area connecting Iraqi Kurdistan to the Kurdish areas of Syria, thereby giving Baghdad the ability to choke off KRG supplies to the Syrian Kurdish revolt. KRG President Massoud Barzani protested against al-Maliki's move and held this strategic area with his Kurdish Peshmerga units instead.
- Israel will need to treat the changing Kurdish situation carefully, distinguishing between the situations of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. The establishment of a viable, independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq could be a geopolitically positive development for Israel. Historical justice would dictate that, with 22 Arab states in the Middle East, the 35 million Kurds deserve at least one sovereign state of their own.
Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah was formerly foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and deputy head for assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence.
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