Enclave Reaching to Turkish Border Supports Syrian Rebels in Aleppo - Charles Levinson (Wall Street Journal)
Opposition fighters locked in battle for Syria's largest city, Aleppo, now control a swath of territory to their north seized from the government in the past few weeks, including two border crossings with Turkey.
The enclave has made it easier for rebels to bring fighters, weapons, food, and fuel to Aleppo. Supply shipments can make the run from the Turkish border to Aleppo in about 90 minutes.
Except for a lone air base where loyalist soldiers are hunkered down and mostly surrounded by rebel fighters, the countryside stretching from Aleppo to the Turkish border about 30 miles away has been cleared of government forces.
On Wednesday, Turkey allowed cargo trucks to cross the border with shipments of rice, flour and gasoline to rebel-controlled northern Syria, according to local officials.
Little Sign of Battle in Egypt's Sinai - Tamim Elyan (Reuters)
Egypt poured troops into North Sinai on Thursday in an offensive meant to tackle militants in the Israeli border region, but residents were skeptical, saying they had seen no sign of anyone being killed.
Armored vehicles, some equipped with machineguns, could be seen driving out of al-Arish towards Sheikh Zuwaid - which had been targeted by aircraft on Wednesday - as troops flashed victory signs or filmed their departure with video cameras.
But residents interviewed later in Shaikh Zuwaid and surrounding villages said they had seen no sign of fighting.
Egypt Demands Hamas Surrender Top Salafi Operatives - Elior Levy and Roi Kais (Ynet News)
Cairo has demanded that Hamas extradite three top operatives with the Salafi terror group Army of Islam, who authorities say have been implicated in Sunday's deadly terror attack, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported Friday.
Egypt is seeking the arrest of AOI leader Mumtaz Durmush as well as two of his deputies.
Egypt on Thursday demanded that Hamas turn over three senior members of its Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
Sources said that Gaza's rulers are unlikely to meet the demands.
In an unprecedented military sweep of Sinai by Cairo's military, thus far, Egyptian media reported that 60 gunmen have been killed and that government forces are hunting over 2,000 terrorists.
Oil Overproduction Reported - Ayesha Daya (Bloomberg)
OPEC pumped 2.1 million barrels a day more than projected demand in April through June, the biggest overproduction for any quarter since 1998, the International Energy Agency estimates, fanning expectations for Brent crude to drop below $100 a barrel.
Priced today at $112, Brent will fall to $93 by September and $83 by year-end, according to the Center for Global Energy Studies.
Shuttered oil output is poised to resume after South Sudan this week agreed on a transit fee with its northern neighbor and Yemen fixed its main crude pipeline. Those two countries will add about 500,000 barrels a day.
See also Iraq Oil Tops 3 Million Barrels for First Time Since 2002 - Ayesha Daya (Bloomberg)
Iraq pumped 3.08 million barrels a day in July, 115,000 barrels more than the previous month, OPEC said Thursday in its Monthly Oil Market Report.
Iran's output dropped by 173,000 barrels to 2.82 million.
Iraqi production is increasing as overseas investors such as Exxon Mobil and BP develop new fields and rework older deposits.
See also After Standoff, Kurds Resume Pumping Oil (AP-New York Times)
Cairo Hit by Blackouts - Sarah El Deeb (AP)
A massive blackout hit many parts of the Egyptian capital on Thursday.
Egypt has been beset by frequent power outages since the summer began.
The blackouts, together with water cuts, have enraged Egyptians, sending many to the streets to protest.
Mahmoud Balbaa, the new electricity minister, told the daily newspaper of the Muslim Brotherhood on Thursday that thieves have been stealing high voltage cables coming from the Aswan Dam, aggravating the electricity shortage.
Egyptian Cleric: People Worldwide "Thirst for the Blood of the Jews" (MEMRI TV)
Egyptian cleric Sallah Sultan, the founder of the Ohio-based American Center for Islamic Research, said in Friday sermons aired on Hamas' Al-Aqsa TV on July 27 and August 3:
"I travel all over the world, and I met supporters of Al-Aqsa, of the prisoners, of Jerusalem, and of Palestine - people who thirst for the blood of the Jews, and who are eager for the promised war against the sons of Zion, until Palestine is liberated in its entirety."
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- U.S. Still Believes Iran Not on Verge of Nuclear Weapon
The U.S. still believes that Iran is not on the verge of having a nuclear weapon and that Tehran has not made a decision to pursue one, U.S. officials said on Thursday.
A White House National Security Council spokesman disputed Israeli reports, saying the U.S. intelligence assessment of Iran's nuclear activities had not changed since intelligence officials delivered testimony to Congress on the issue earlier this year.
See also Report: Iran Approaching Immunity Zone - Ronen Bergman
According to a Friday report by Yediot Ahronot, top U.S. officials said that Tehran is rapidly approaching the "immunity zone" - the critical point in time after which Iran's nuclear program will no longer be vulnerable to a military strike.
The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report, recently submitted to the White House, indicates "significant progress" in Iran's "arms group" - the people and facilities focused on manufacturing a nuclear warhead.
The NIE report said that Iran has recently installed 5,000 "twin centrifuges" in the underground nuclear facility in Fordo, near Qom.
According to the report, while the U.S. and Israel may disagree on the timeframe of a possible attack, they are in complete agreement over the intelligence. "There is nothing that we know that you don't know," a top American official said. "The opposite is true as well - your intelligence shares everything with us." (Ynet News)
- U.S. and Gulf Allies Pursue a Missile Shield Against Iranian Attack - Thom Shanker
The U.S. and its Arab allies are knitting together a regional missile defense system across the Persian Gulf to protect cities, oil refineries, pipelines and military bases from an Iranian attack.
The Pentagon late last year announced a contract for the sale of two advanced missile defense radars to the United Arab Emirates. And early this year, officials disclosed that a similar high-resolution, X-band missile defense radar would be located in Qatar. The objective in the gulf is shared by a more widely publicized missile defense shield being installed in Europe to deter and, if required, to blunt the effect of any Iranian attack.
The next challenge is coaxing gulf nations to put aside their rivalries and share early warning radar data, and then integrate the capabilities of their unilateral missile interceptor systems to extend defenses over the entire region. While all six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council share concerns over Iran, all have resisted multilateral security initiatives.
(New York Times)
- Syrian Rebels Describe Dramatic Defection of PM to Jordan - Karin Brulliard and Babak Dehghanpisheh
Syrian Prime Minister Riyad al-Hijab's defection began when he deceived his minders Sunday evening, telling them he was at dinner at his brother's house in Damascus. He hid in Syrian border town safe houses as artillery pounded outside, while leading the world and the regime to believe that he had already escaped.
Two days after Syrian rebels and Hijab's spokesman issued headline-grabbing reports that he had defected to neighboring Jordan, the Jordanian government announced Wednesday afternoon that he and his extended family had, in fact, slipped across the border that morning. "Because of the announcement of the defection, the shelling decreased, and so did the Syrians' alertness," said spokesman Mohammad Otari.
Lt. Col. Yasser al Aboud, a Free Syrian Army commander who said he played a key role in the operation, said that more than 400 rebel fighters from Damascus and southern Syria were involved in the plan to get Hijab out but that only 20 knew the real identity of their passenger.
- Turkey's Erdogan Slams Assad, Iran - Mohammad Noureddine
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
strongly criticized Iran on August 7, saying: "We stood by Iran when no one was at its side. Is it consistent with our beliefs to defend a regime that has killed 25,000 people? The Iranian leadership must first take responsibility for its actions."
He added: "250,000 Syrians have left the country [Syria]. Is this not the responsibility of Iran? Yet, before Iran takes responsibility for the situation in Syria, it must first hold itself accountable." Erdogan also criticized Assad, asking: "Can we even say that he is a Muslim?" (Al-Monitor)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Israel OKs Egypt Attack Helicopters in Sinai - Herb Keinon
Israel's security cabinet on Thursday approved a request from Defense Minister Ehud Barak to allow Egypt to deploy five attack helicopters in Sinai.
The approval was necessary because under the Camp David Accords there are strict limits on the type of weaponry that can be brought into the peninsula. Barak told Israel Radio that Egypt was acting "to an extent and with a determination that I cannot previously recall....Whether this ends with regained control of Sinai and allows us not to worry as much as we have in the past few months, this I do not know." (Jerusalem Post)
See also In Sinai, Israel Sees a Double-Edged Sword - Dan Margalit
The current Egyptian military's operations in Sinai are welcome, but they also set a precedent in the erosion of Egypt's commitment to keeping Sinai demilitarized of large forces.
See also Sinai Buildup Shifts Tenet of Egypt-Israel Peace - Amy Teibel and Hamza Hendawi
Egyptian troops, light tanks, armored vehicles and attack helicopters are pouring into the Sinai desert to root out increasingly aggressive Islamic militants in the most significant easing to date of a key provision in the landmark 1979 peace treaty with Israel: The demilitarization of the peninsula. Israel is willing to bend troop limits. But it is tepid to formal amendments for fear of enshrining too much firepower on its border, especially when Egypt's post-Mubarak future remains unclear.
Last year, the lawlessness in Sinai after Mubarak's ouster prompted the Israelis to allow the deployment of some 3,500 troops with armored vehicles in the border zone. Some estimates by Israel say Egypt deployed no more than 40-50% of the 3,500 troops. After intensive contacts between Egyptian and Israeli officials, Egypt early in the week sent 20 armored vehicles laden with troops and counterterrorism policemen to the border zone. On Thursday, 60 more vehicles, including 40 light tanks, headed to the border region.
- Two Ramallah Lynch Perpetrators Arrested - Yoav Zitun
Nearly 12 years after the brutal lynching of IDF reservists Vadim Norzich and Yossi Avrahami in Ramallah on October 12, 2000, Israeli security forces arrested
Marwan Ibrahim Tawfik Maadi, 51, and Yasser Ibrahim Mohammed Khatab, 40, who confessed to being actively involved in the act, according to indictments filed with the Judea Military Court on Sunday.
The lynch occurred at the start of the Second Intifada and the images of the brutal murders sent shockwaves across Israel.
- IDF Chief: Egypt Border Attack Shows Need for Preparedness
The Chief of the IDF General Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, said Wednesday, referring to the recent terrorist attack from Sinai:
"The terrorist attack at the Israel-Egypt border this week once again reminded us of the dangers posed by the instability in the Middle East. This attempt, similarly to previous attempted attacks, was thwarted by IDF soldiers quickly and effectively. The IDF relies on specific intelligence as well as highly prepared and trained operational forces. Terror organizations continue to carry out attempts to harm Israeli civilians and Israel's sovereignty. Thus, the IDF must remain powerful and prepared, and respond to every incident at every front." (Israel Defense Forces)
- IDF Buying 2,000 Hummers from U.S. Iraq War Stockpile - Yaakov Katz
The IDF plans to buy 2,000 used Hummer vehicles from the U.S. military following the completion of its withdrawal from Iraq. The vehicles are currently stored in U.S. bases throughout the region and are being sold to Israel at a fraction of the cost of a new Hummer. A senior IDF officer explained, "They do not want to pay to ship all of the equipment back to the U.S. and prefer to sell it at a lower price which is an opportunity for Israel." (Jerusalem Post)
- Iran Hosts a Summit on the Syrian Crisis - after Months of Helping Assad Shoot Protesters - David Blair
Iran brought together 29 countries in Tehran on Thursday for a special summit on Syria's crisis. Iran has supplied Assad's regime with weapons, funding and expertise since the onset of the Syrian uprising. Every stage of this conflict's escalation has been underwritten by Iran. So it is pretty brazen for Iran to start playing the peacemaker.
Ali Akbar Salehi, the Iranian foreign minister, has an op-ed in the Washington Post which might serve as a textbook case of the doublethink that repressive regimes so often exhibit. Salehi writes: "We have witnessed the emergence of civic movements demanding freedom, democracy, dignity and self-determination. We in Tehran have watched these developments with delight."
Iran's leaders had an odd way of showing their delight when ordinary Syrians began marching in vast numbers for freedom and dignity last year. Tehran helped Assad's security forces to shoot these brave people in the streets.
- Iran and Turkey Rattle Sabers over Syria - Walter Russell Mead
The Iranians know that their regional influence is tied to Assad, and that they must either do damage control or lend even more forward military support to the embattled Syrian regime if they don't want to see their sphere of influence shrink considerably. Turkey, in addition to having genuine counterterrorism motives, is also beginning to enjoy flexing its muscles as the presumptive new hegemon in the region.
With both sides casting the other as a supporter of "terrorism," the gates are wide open for even hotter rhetoric - and possibly actions to back it up.
- Egypt's Scapegoat for the Sinai Attack - David Ignatius
In firing Egypt's chief of intelligence for his alleged failings in Sinai, President Mohamed Morsi sacked a general who has won high marks from U.S., Israeli and European intelligence officials - and who, ironically, has been one of the Egyptians pushing for a crackdown on the growing militant presence in Sinai. Morsi and the military appear to have concluded that Gen. Murad Muwafi was a convenient scapegoat.
Muwafi had also been Egypt's main interlocutor with the Palestinians, working to broker a unity pact between Hamas and Fatah. The new Egyptian intelligence chief will be Gen. Mohammed Shehata, described as an experienced officer who "knows the Palestinian file well."
The border incident shows that the situation in Sinai is dangerous and getting worse. U.S. intelligence believes that scores of jihadists have migrated into Sinai in recent months - some from the tribal areas of Pakistan, some from Libya and some from Egyptian prisons. Among them are people a U.S. official describes as "al-Qaeda wannabes." (Washington Post)
- Israel, the Arab World's All-Purpose Enemy - George Jonas
Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, the Arab/Muslim appetite to harm the Jewish state and its inhabitants has grown, while the capacity to do so has diminished. The centrality of hatred to the culture is remarkable. In such an ambiance, nothing is handier than an all-purpose enemy, just out of reach.
The Arab Spring is an attempt to return the region to its roots. It's not to Westernize the Middle East and make it more democratic; it's to Easternize it and make it more Islamic.
- Chasing after the Palestinians for Peace - Jonathan S. Tobin
Why should Israel seek to appease Palestinians who have demonstrated no interest in peace by making more concessions in the absence of a sea change in their political culture that might make peace possible? The overwhelming majority of Israelis, most of whom once enthusiastically backed the peace process, have lost interest in chasing after the Palestinians and begging them to accept a two-state solution.
Having turned down three offers of an independent state in 2000, 2001 and 2008, and having refused even to negotiate since then, the Palestinian Authority has proven it is unwilling to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. The status quo is not ideal for either side, but when compared to the danger of a withdrawal from the West Bank that might replicate the terrorist state in Gaza, it's understandable that standing pat rather than inviting such a disaster seems to be the consensus opinion.
- Palestine's Biggest Obstacle - Lee Smith
Palestinians in the diaspora are thriving, so what exactly is preventing success in the West Bank and Gaza?
Instead of building a bustling economy, the Palestinians have devoted their energies to waging war against Israel for more than 60 years. The absence of a Palestinian state is proof that this war has been unsuccessful, wasting almost three generations of Palestinian talent.
See also Is a Palestinian State Today Economically Viable? - Michael Curtis
The Palestinian private sector is overwhelmingly dominated by small family-owned businesses. The high cost of doing business lowers competitiveness. Relatively high wages, compared to other countries such as Turkey and India, high transportation costs, and low levels of innovation also reduce competitiveness.
Even with significant growth, it is unlikely that the PA can support an administration of its current size. Above all, the fundamental requisite for economic and political progress is to end the violence.
- Israel Marks Reservists' Appreciation Day
August 9 marked IDF Reservists' Appreciation Day, a day of gratitude for those who continue to contribute to Israel's security. The IDF salutes its reserve forces for their sacrifice and spirit of volunteerism, perpetually serving and protecting Israel's citizens. 14% of reservists today are women; 72% have pursued post-secondary education.
Based on past experience, it is estimated that in case of national emergency, the rate of reporting for duty will reach 110% as many former reservists voluntarily report for duty.
(Israel Defense Forces)
Iranian Defiance - Ephraim Halevy (Ynet News)
- Tuesday's visit by Iranian Supreme National Security Council head Saeed Jalili to Damascus marked a sharp escalation in Iran's involvement in Syria's fate. He declared that Iran would not allow Assad's regime to fall.
- The campaign Iran has been conducting over the past few decades includes: a global terror campaign, both covert and overt, against Jewish, Israeli and other interests; and training non-state actors, such as Hizbullah to Israel's north, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the south. In addition, Iran has launched an intense and cruel intelligence war - most of it secret - in different locations around the world.
- Iran's increased involvement in Syria is not only indicative of its growing audacity, but also of how crucial the fight for Syria's future is to Iran's status in the region - and perhaps to the survival of the regime in Tehran. This is Iran's Achilles' heel.
- Jalili's visit to Syria was also aimed at telling Israel - we are here, on your northern border, not by way of our proxy (Hizbullah) or another non-state actor (Gaza), but with our own units and policies. We are here, in broad daylight, and we plan on staying.
- Iran's increased involvement in the region poses an immediate threat to Israel, but it also offers a rare opportunity which, if handled wisely, can turn Jalili's maneuvering in Damascus into a strategic mistake which can severely weaken the regime in Tehran - similar to the mistake Iraq made when it invaded Kuwait.
The writer is a former director of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency.
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