Is the End Near in Damascus? - Jeffrey White (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
The Syrian rebels have significantly improved their combat capabilities, allowing them to reduce the regime's presence throughout the country and capture checkpoints, barriers, and police stations.
They have acquired more arms, ammunition, and combat experience while eroding Assad's ability to control the population.
Currently, rebel forces control lines of communication in Idlib, Aleppo, and Raqqa and frequently isolate and harass regime airfields.
The rebels are now self-sustaining and appear to replace lost personnel with relative ease. They do not need much if any outside armament.
Attrition of regime forces is rapid, with an estimated 1,000 men killed and 4,000 wounded per month for the past five to six months. By contrast, the rebels have lost about 850 men per month.
Gulf Cooperation Council to Form Unified Military Command Amid Iran "Threats" - Wael Mahdi (Bloomberg)
The Gulf Cooperation Council said it will form a unified military command structure at a time when Iran poses a "very serious" security threat to the Middle East.
The six-member group will coordinate air, land, and marine forces under one structure, Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa said Tuesday.
The GCC has accused Shiite-led Iran of intervening in the internal affairs of Arab countries in the Persian Gulf.
See also Between Nuclear Iran and the Arab Street: The GCC Summit in Bahrain - Simon Henderson (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
How Iran Arms Its Allies - Lee Smith (Weekly Standard)
With Hizbullah's overland supply route through Syria choked off by the uprising against Assad, and Israel virtually in total control of the maritime route, Hizbullah's weapons stockpile is being systematically degraded.
Yet the arsenal of Iran's other regional proxy, Hamas, is growing, says IDF military intelligence
Major (res.) Aviv Oreg.
Iranian ships "come through the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea...docking in Port Sudan." Occasionally the Iranians will dock in Eritrea.
Sudanese smugglers, mostly from the Rashaida tribe, transport the weapons to the Egyptian border, all the way through Egypt's Eastern Desert along the Red Sea, and through the Suez Canal deep into the Sinai Peninsula.
Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, 2012 - Judy Lash Balint (Times of Israel)
In Bethlehem this year, the most striking thing was the massive presence of Palestinian police. Two uniformed men are stationed on every corner, at every intersection, and every 50 yards along the narrow streets leading to Manger Square.
Dozens of police cars, army vehicles, jeeps, and cars with flashing lights are dotted all over town.
Missing from previous years are pictures of Yasser Arafat or Mahmoud Abbas.
And the ubiquitous martyr pictures of recent years? There are a few, but there are far more posters for upcoming concerts.
See also Christmas in
Bethlehem, 1875 - Lenny Ben-David
(Israel Daily Picture)
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- Diplomat: Assad Is "Totally Aware" that He Must Leave - Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad
A Damascus-based diplomat said Monday that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, despite official denials, was "totally aware" that he must leave and was "looking for a way out." "More importantly, powerful people in the upper circle of the ruling elite in Damascus are feeling that an exit must be found."
Yet Assad believes he is "defending his country, his people, and his regime and himself" against Islamic extremism and Western interference, said Joseph Abu Fadel, a Lebanese political analyst who supports Assad.
Even if Assad wanted to flee, it is unclear if the top generals would let him out alive, Russian analysts say, since they believe that if they lay down arms they - and their disproportionately Alawite families - will die in vengeance killings, and need him to rally troops.
(New York Times)
- EU Condemns Israel over Housing Plans - Don Melvin and Slobodan Lekic
EU foreign ministers said Monday they were "deeply dismayed" by Israeli plans to build thousands of new homes in Jerusalem and the West Bank,
and warned Israel of unspecified consequences if it goes through with the plans. "The EU will closely monitor the situation and its broader implications and act accordingly," the ministers said.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said:
"Facts and history both prove that Jewish settlement never constituted an obstacle to peace. Therefore, the EU's focus on this issue is mistaken."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also decried what he saw as a double-standard.
"We cannot accept that when Jews build homes in their ancient capital, Jerusalem, the international community has no problem finding its voice, but when Palestinian leaders openly call for the destruction of Israel, the one and only Jewish state, the world is silent," Netanyahu said Monday.
- EU Court Throws Out NGO Funding Case Brought by Israel-Based Group - Marcy Oster
The European Court of Justice threw out a lawsuit filed in January 2010 by the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor that would have required the EU to release details of its funding of NGOs.
The lawsuit charged that the European Commission had failed to fulfill EU transparency obligations after the group had tried for 13 months to secure documents detailing nongovernmental agency funding by the EC. The EC cited "public security," "privacy" and "commercial interests" in denying the request.
NGO Monitor researchers identified $48 million provided by the EC from 2005 until 2010 to NGOs active in Israel and the PA. Many of these are active in efforts that seek to isolate Israel by legal means and through boycott campaigns.
Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, said Monday:
"For over a decade, the EU has acted with impunity in funding political advocacy NGOs with near total secrecy."
"In addition to violating basic principles of transparency in government, this secret funding for Israeli NGOs grossly infringes on and seeks to manipulate the Israeli democratic process." (JTA)
See also European Court of Justice Rules on NGO Monitor Petition (NGO Monitor)
See also below Commentary: How Anti-Israel NGOs Are Abusing Christmas - Ariella Kimmel (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Senior Hamas Leader Calls to Renew Suicide Bombings Against Israel - Khaled Abu Toameh
Ahmed Halabiyeh, director of the Jerusalem Department in Hamas, called on Tuesday for the resumption of suicide bombings against Israel. The Palestinians, he said, should resort to "martyrdom operations in the heart of Israel."
He urged Palestinians to "ignite a third intifada to save the Aksa Mosque and Jerusalem." He also accused Israel of working to undermine the foundations of the Aksa Mosque to bring about its collapse.
See also The "Al-Aksa Is in Danger" Libel:
The History of a Lie - Nadav Shragai (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
- West Bank Terror Cell Sought to Kidnap Israelis - Yoav Zitun
Israel has uncovered a burgeoning terror infrastructure established by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the Ramallah area. Ashraf Abu Aram and Muhammad Zeitoun have confessed to plotting to kidnap Israelis for the purpose of negotiating the release of PFLP leader Ahmad Saadat, who is serving a 30-year sentence for his part in the murder of Israeli Minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001. The probe also led to the arrests of eight other operatives who admitted to acting on behalf of the PFLP. The Israel Security Agency said that the cell's existence points to high motivation on the part of terror groups to kidnap Israelis.
See also Rock Attacks Terrorize Israeli Drivers in the West Bank - Itamar Fleishman
There has been a recent surge of violence in the West Bank, with Israeli drivers and passengers reporting being attacked by Palestinians throwing rocks and firebombs on a daily basis.
- How Anti-Israel NGOs Are Abusing Christmas - Ariella Kimmel
Instead of spreading messages of peace, European-funded NGOs are using the Christmas season to advance their politicized anti-Israel campaigns. For example, Christian Aid, which largely operates on a budget from the public pockets of Britain and Ireland, used its Christmas materials for attacks against Israel, describing travel restrictions imposed on Palestinians while completely removing the context of Palestinian mass terror which necessitates these security measures.
Sabeel, which is funded by the Swedish government via Diakonia, in its annual Christmas message this year makes use of an anti-Semitic analogy equating the Palestinians with Jesus and Israel with the evil Roman Empire.
Kairos Palestine published a 32-page "Christmas Alert" blaming Israel for a "severe water crisis" in villages near Bethlehem, ignoring the Palestinian Authority's full responsibility through mismanaging water distribution in Palestinian areas.
(Times of Israel)
- Feeling the Pain in Tehran - Nazila Fathi
Iran's Ministry of Intelligence published a report on its website calling for direct talks with the U.S., signaling an intriguing shift in the Iranian political landscape.
The man who runs the Ministry of Intelligence, Heydar Moslehi, is a confidant of the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
European countries that used to buy 20% of Iran's oil have suspended their imports since July. Other countries, such as China and India, have sharply reduced their imports under pressure from the international community. An embargo on the Iranian financial sector blocks its banking system from transferring money. American and European firms, fearing hefty fines, refuse to do business with Iran. Inflation is galloping at 25%, according to the International Monetary Fund. The rial has lost 300% of its value over the past year. The writer is a fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
- The Jewish Lobby? - Aaron David Miller
There's simply no way 5.5 million American Jews can account for the support Israel receives. It is the image of Israel in the mind of America - as a democratic, humanistic, pro-Western state worthy of support - that drives the special relationship.
The fact is, the pro-Israel community in America does have a powerful voice, particularly in Congress, but it doesn't have a veto over U.S. policy. Willful presidents with smart strategies trump domestic lobbies every time, whether it's on arms sales or peace initiatives.
Indeed, I've long believed that the real Jewish lobby is the Jewish lobby of one - the effect that an Israeli prime minister can have on a U.S. president. When they can find a way to work together and respect one another's interests, good stuff happens for both America and Israel - and usually for the Arabs, too.
The writer is a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Israel Remains an Island of Stability among Hostile Islamist Movements - Amos Harel (Ha'aretz)
- At first, the awakening of the Arab nations - in an attempt to topple dictatorial regimes that had ruled for decades - was met with justified enthusiasm in the West.
But one cannot ignore the instability, economic crises and disturbing rise of Islamic movements - all of which place a huge question mark over the hopes for dramatic changes in the Arab world.
- For Israel, it will now be harder to attempt to reach peace agreements with Islamic regimes that derive their support from local public opinion (which is largely extremely hostile toward Israel).
- On the other hand, Israel has certain advantages in the new situation that has been created during the Arab awakening. The conventional threat posed by the Syrian army and the potential of a similar threat from the Egyptian army (should there be a serious escalation in tensions between Jerusalem and Cairo) have almost completely vanished.
- Hamas deliberately escalated its confrontation with Israel on the eve of Operation Pillar of Defense in November, with the assumption that it would be supported by the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Cairo. However, that support was not forthcoming. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood leader, Khairat al-Shater, even warned that his country would not allow Hamas to drag it into a war with Israel.
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