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by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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August 20, 2012

In-Depth Issues:

Report: Germany Helping Syria Rebels with Spy Ship Intelligence (Reuters)
    Germany is helping Syrian rebels with information gathered by a German navy vessel off the coast of Syria, Germany's Bild am Sonntag said on Sunday.
    The boat had spying equipment from the German intelligence service, enabling it to observe Syrian troop movements up to 600 km. inland.
    Information on the military operations of President Assad's troops is passed on to U.S. and British secret services, who give it to the Free Syrian Army.
    Bild also said German intelligence agents stationed at a NATO base in the Turkish city of Adana were intercepting telephone calls and radio communications from Syria.
    They are also maintaining informal contact with sources close to Assad's government.

In Syria, Group Suspected of Al-Qaeda Links Gaining Prominence - Justin Vela and Liz Sly (Washington Post)
    A shadowy jihadist organization suspected of affiliations to al-Qaeda that first surfaced on the Internet to assert responsibility for suicide bombings in Aleppo and Damascus has stepped onto the front lines.
    In Aleppo, the al-Nusra Front for the Protection of the People of the Levant, widely known as the Jabhat al-Nusra, is fielding scores of fighters, some of them foreigners.
    Jabhat al-Nusra's growing visibility highlights one of the reasons the U.S. has been reluctant to arm Syrian rebels. Fears are widespread among Western governments that weapons sent to the rebels could wind up in the hands of extremists and be turned against their benefactors.
    "This is the premier jihadi organization in Syria right now," said Aaron Y. Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Libyan Fighters Join Syrian Revolt Against Assad - Mariam Karouny (Reuters)
    Veteran fighters of last year's civil war in Libya have come to the front-line in Syria, helping to train and organize rebels.
    Hussam Najjar hails from Dublin, has a Libyan father and Irish mother and goes by the name of Sam. A trained sniper, he was part of the rebel unit that stormed Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli, led by Mahdi al-Harati, a powerful militia chief.
    Harati now leads a unit in Syria that includes 20 members of his own Libyan rebel unit. The Libyans include specialists in communications, logistics, humanitarian issues and heavy weapons. They operate training bases, teaching fitness and battlefield tactics.
    Najjar said in the months since he arrived, the rebel arsenal had become "five times more powerful." Fighters had obtained large caliber anti-aircraft guns and sniper rifles.

Egypt to Settle a Million Citizens in Sinai - Elhanan Miller (Times of Israel)
    Egyptian Agriculture Minister Salah Abdul Momen told Al-Ahram Sunday that his ministry has developed a detailed five-year plan to turn 1 million acres of arid desert in central Sinai into farmland, at a rate of 200,000 acres per year. The plan includes settling some 1 million Egyptians in the new agricultural regions.
    He said implementing the project would help solve Egypt's security concerns in Sinai.
    Irrigation Minister Muhammad Bahaa A-Din told the daily that a new underground water reservoir was discovered in the northern part of the Sinai's western desert, which will supply enough water to irrigate 70,000 acres during the project's initial stage.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Top U.S. General: Israel, U.S. Differ on Urgency of Iran Threat
    The U.S. and Israel have different interpretations of the same intelligence reports on Iran's nuclear program, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday. Dempsey said Israel viewed the threat posed by Tehran's atomic ambitions with more urgency, as a nuclear-armed Iran could endanger Israel's very existence. "You can take two countries and interpret the same intelligence and come out with two different conclusions," he said.
        Dempsey said he conferred with his Israeli counterpart Benny Gantz on a "bi-weekly" basis. "We compare intelligence, we discuss regional implications. And we've admitted to each other that our clocks are turning at different rates," he said. "They are living with an existential concern that we are not living with."  (AFP)
  • UN Chief Condemns Iran Leaders' Anti-Israel Remarks
    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sharply criticized Iran's supreme leader and president on Friday, describing their latest verbal attacks on Israel as "offensive and inflammatory." "The Secretary-General is dismayed by the remarks threatening Israel's existence attributed over the last two days to the Supreme Leader and the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran," the UN press office said. "In accordance with the United Nations Charter, all members must refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state."
        Many thousands of Iranians shouted "Death to America, death to Israel" during state-organized protests on Friday and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told them there was no place for the Jewish state in a future Middle East. (Reuters)
  • Egypt's New Leaders Target Judges' Power - Matt Bradley
    Egypt's new Muslim Brotherhood-backed government plans to cut powers of the country's judicial system, in a move that would limit a major check on the Islamist organization's growing political power. The government is considering restricting courts' authority and culling anti-Islamist judges appointed by the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak, officials say.
        Egypt's courts have remained the sole political authority not dominated by the Brotherhood. Egypt's new minister of justice, Ahmed Mekki, said purging courts of Mubarak-era jurists marks another step in Egypt's revolution. (Wall Street Journal)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israeli Attack on Iran Won't Create a Rift with the U.S. - Shlomo Cesana and Yoni Hirsch
    "There is no crisis with the United States" regarding the necessity and timing of possible military action against Iran's nuclear program, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren told Israel Hayom on Saturday. "The Americans hear the threats made by Iran's leaders, who want to destroy Israel. It is clear to me that the Americans are asking themselves, 'What would we do in their place?'" he said.
        "If Israel ultimately decides to take action against Iran, we will receive extremely widespread support from the American people and Congress, and President [Barack] Obama will continue to recognize our right to defend ourselves on our own. It won't create a rift with the United States."
        According to Oren, the only question is "the responsibility for the security of Israel, which lies with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the government. It is a responsibility that no sovereign country would cast on another country, even if that country is its best friend in the world, like the U.S. is to Israel."
        Former Israel Air Force Chief Maj. Gen. (ret.) Herzl Bodinger told Israel's Channel 1 TV: "If you ask me, I think we should have bombed the [Iranian] installations in 2005, when there was only one site, and then we wouldn't be faced with all these questions." "I am almost certain that the world won't be able to prevent Iran's nuclear militarization through sanctions, and when they have a bomb we will be in a completely different situation....We are very appreciative of American help and their support, but at the end of the day you stand by yourself, with your own fate. If we attack, missiles will fall here, but they will also fall here if the Americans attack."
        "The Chairman of the [U.S.] Joint Chiefs of Staff said this week that in his opinion Israel will not be able to destroy Iran's nuclear installations, but I think he isn't totally in the know about what the Israeli forces are capable of. The Americans don't know everything about us."  (Israel Hayom)
  • Israel Should Understand Who Is Commanding Egypt's Forces in Sinai - Avi Issacharoff
    Security coordination between Egypt and Israel will continue. However, there are some causes for concern. President Morsi is a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which still refuses to use the word "Israel." In addition, there is a general atmosphere of enmity toward Israel that prevails among the Egyptian public. The new generals understand that in the era of the Arab Spring, the public is a full partner to decision-making and they feel the public's hate of Israel.
        The Egyptian army's operation in Sinai is shaping up as its most extensive activity since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Egyptian forces have killed or arrested a number of wanted individuals identified with global jihad and also extremists among the local Bedouin population. Egyptian authorities have also reached agreements with tribal leaders about the need to take action against extremists.
        However, the Egyptians have focused on northeastern Sinai and have not yet launched a campaign to uproot the armed militants in central Sinai and to act against the tunnels from Sinai into Gaza. (Ha'aretz)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Israel Debates a Strike on Iran - Michael Herzog
    Most Israelis believe that Iran is bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. They also regard a nuclear-armed Iran as a mortal threat to their country's future and are highly skeptical that international sanctions and diplomacy will curtail Tehran's aims. Therefore, the debate in Israel focuses on the cost-effectiveness of a unilateral Israeli strike, as well as its timing and potential impact on U.S.-Israeli relations.
        Implicit in the position of Israeli decision-makers is deep skepticism regarding whether Washington will ultimately deliver on its commitment to keep Iran from going nuclear. They frequently cite the failure to curtail Pakistan and North Korea's nuclear ambitions despite U.S. commitments to do so. At the same time, Israelis are well aware of the fact that they will depend on Washington's support the day after a preemptive strike, particularly in leading the crucial international campaign to prevent Iran from reconstituting its nuclear capabilities.
        The intensifying public debate in Israel is, first and foremost, a testimony to the fact that the country is nearing a decision on Iran, probably in the coming weeks. If Washington wants to influence Israeli decision-making, it must reach out to its ally at the highest level both publicly and privately, presenting a clearer roadmap that seriously addresses Israel's concerns. Such a dialogue cannot wait until after the U.S. election. Brig. Gen. (ret.) Michael Herzog is a Washington Institute international fellow. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Egypt's New Leaders Must Accept Reality - Dennis Ross
    A new, alternative reality is shaping up in Egypt. President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood appear firmly in control. Morsi seized on the killing of 16 Egyptian soldiers in Sinai to remove the most senior military leaders from office. He also unilaterally amended the March 2011 constitution declaration and gave his office executive and legislative powers. Morsi has appointed a new minister of information, Salah Abdul Maqsud; he, too, comes from the Muslim Brotherhood and actively supports the move to replace 50 leading editors and journalists.
        The Brotherhood is wedded to its ideology, but the U.S. and others should not accommodate the Brotherhood's alternative reality. Egypt's president and people should know we are prepared to mobilize the international community to help Egypt - but only if Egypt's government is prepared to play by a set of rules grounded in reality and key principles. They must respect the rights of minorities and women; accept political pluralism and open political competition; and respect their international obligations, including Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.
        News reports suggest that more than 100,000 Coptic Christians have left Egypt; there have been new efforts to intimidate the media, and Morsi has moved armored forces into the Sinai without first notifying the Israelis - a requirement of the peace treaty. If this behavior continues, U.S. support will not be forthcoming. The writer, a special assistant to President Obama for the Middle East and South Asia from 2009 to 2011, is a counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Washington Post)
        See also Israel Radio: Egypt Introduces Anti-Aircraft Missiles into Sinai
    Israel Radio Arab Affairs analyst Eran Zinger reported on August 17 that Egypt has deployed anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles in Sinai without Israel's permission. (Israel Radio-IMRA)

Five Steps Obama Can Take to Avert an Israeli Strike on Iran - Amos Yadlin (Washington Post)

  • The U.S. should take five immediate steps to convince allies and adversaries alike that military action is real, imminent and doable - which are key to making it less likely.
    1. Obama should notify the U.S. Congress in writing that he reserves the right to use military force to prevent Iran's acquisition of a military nuclear capability.
    2. Washington should signal its intentions via a heightened U.S. military presence in the gulf, military exercises with Middle East allies and missile defense deployment in the region. Media coverage of these actions should be encouraged.
    3. Washington should provide advanced military technology and intelligence to strengthen Israel's military capabilities and extend the window in which Israel can mortally wound Iran's program.
    4. U.S. officials should speak publicly about the dangers of possible Iranian nuclear reconstitution in the wake of a military strike. If Iran sees military action by Israel or the West as an absolute end to its nuclear ambitions, it will be more reluctant to risk things.
    5. Obama should publicly commit to the security of U.S. allies in the gulf. This would credibly anchor the U.S. last-resort military option to three powerful interests: U.S. national security, Israeli security and the security of allied states.
  • Israel cannot afford to outsource its security to another country. But if the U.S. wants Israel to give sanctions and diplomacy more time, Israelis must know that they will not be left high and dry if these options fail.
  • Ironically, the best assurance the U.S. president can give Israel is a commitment to, if all else fails, resort to military action to protect critical U.S. interests. But time is running out to make this commitment credible to the people of the U.S., Israel and Iran. As the adage goes, if you want peace, prepare (credibly) for war.

    The writer, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence, is director of Israel's Institute for National Security Studies.

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