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Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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  DAILY ALERT Thursday,
December 27, 2012

In-Depth Issues:

Poll: Americans Continue to Sympathize with Israel over Palestinians (Pew Research Center)
    For decades, the American public has sympathized with Israel over the Palestinians and that remains the case today.
    In a poll conducted on Dec. 5-9, 50% say they sympathize more with Israel, compared with just 10% who say they sympathize more with the Palestinians.
    Attitudes on this question have been stable over the past six years.

The Syrian Islamist Militia Jabhat al-Nusra - Rania Abouzeid (TIME)
    The U.S. designated Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization on Dec. 11, saying the Syrian Islamist militia was part of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Yet the group is one of the most effective fighting forces against President Assad.
    Abu Adnan, an official in Jabhat al-Nusra's leadership in the Aleppo area, responded that the group does not differ ideologically from other Syrian Salafi Islamist groups like Ahrar al-Sham and Liwa al-Tawhid.
    Jabhat al-Nusra is headed by Abu Mohammad al-Golani. The U.S. Treasury Department has slapped financial sanctions against two men it believes are senior leaders in the militia group: Maysar Ali Musa Abdallah al-Juburi and Anas Hasan Khattab.
    Recent media reports also mention Mustafa Abdel-Latif, also known as Abu Anas al-Sahaba, as the new "emir" or leader of Jabhat al-Nusra.
    A Jordanian national, al-Sahaba is the brother-in-law of the late al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi.
    Jabhat al-Nusra was one of several groups that rejected the freshly anointed Western-backed Syrian National Coalition in November.

Archaeologists Find Ancient Temple and Sacred Vessels Near Jerusalem (Israel Antiquities Authority)
    A temple and a cache of sacred vessels some 2,750 years old, dating back to the early days of the Kingdom of Judah, have been discovered at Tel Motza, west of Jerusalem.
    The excavation has revealed part of a large structure from the early days of the monarchic period. The walls of the structure are massive, said the archaeologists.
    The finds provide rare archaeological evidence for the existence of temples prior to the religious reforms at the time of Hezekiah and Isaiah which abolished all ritual sites, concentrating ritual practices solely at the Temple in Jerusalem.
    See also Davidic-Era Temple Unearthed Near Jerusalem - Adiv Sterman (Times of Israel)

Useful Reference:

Hamas Terrorists Killed in Operation Pillar of Defense (Nov. 2012) (Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center)
    Report in English.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Syrian General Whose Task Was Halting Defections Flees - Kareem Fahim and Rick Gladstone
    Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, the chief of the Syrian military police and the top general responsible for preventing defections within the military, made a daring four-hour sprint by motorcycle across the border into Turkey, insurgents said Wednesday.
        In a video broadcast by Al Arabiya, the general said the Syrian military had deviated from its mission to protect the country, and had transformed into "a gang for killing and destruction."  (New York Times)
  • Israel Builds New Fence along Syria Border
    Israel is building a new and better fence along its border with Syria to prepare for likely instability after the expected fall of President Bashar al-Assad, IDF Major Arye Shalicar said. The new obstacle aims to strengthen an existing barrier along the 90-km. armistice line in the Golan Heights, and will include cameras and trenches.
        Construction on the new fence began about a year ago after hundreds of Syrians and Palestinians stormed the border during protests in May and June 2011. The work is now being expedited with the goal of completing it within months. "The reality in Syria is no longer what it was five or 10 years ago," said the IDF spokesman, describing the project as a "preemptive measure."  (AAP-The Australian)
  • Northern Lebanon Another Frontline in Syria's War - Nicholas Blanford
    Pockets of north Lebanon are becoming either bastions of support for the Syrian regime or de facto safe havens for the armed Syrian opposition. Nourat al-Tahta, like other Sunni-populated villages along the border in the northern Akkar province, is deeply supportive of the Syrian revolution and shelters refugees and Free Syrian Army militants alike. The villages in the area have been subjected to Syrian artillery shelling on a near nightly basis since May.
        Further east along the border lies the Shiite-populated northern Bekaa Valley, an area of strong support for Hizbullah, an ally of the Assad regime. Some 25 small villages populated by Lebanese Shiites have been the focus of repeated clashes pitting the FSA against Syrian troops backed by Hizbullah. (Christian Science Monitor)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu Met with Jordan King Abdullah for Talks on Syria Chemical Weapons
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a secret meeting in Jordan with King Abdullah II, Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported Tuesday. Senior Israeli officials confirmed on Wednesday that the meeting focused on Syrian President Assad's possible use of chemical weapons against rebels.
        In addition, senior Jordanian officials warned last week that Syria may devolve into a "black hole that sucks Jihadists from around the world." Salafist and Jihadist organizations are gradually taking over the rebellion against the Assad regime. (Ha'aretz)
  • Israel to Boost Gaza Imports under Truce Deal - Yaakov Lappin
    Israel will begin allowing 20 trucks a day filled with construction materials for the private sector to enter Gaza starting next week, defense officials said Thursday. Previously, only construction materials earmarked for internationally-funded building projects were allowed entry. Entry permits for 60 trucks per day carrying other goods were also approved. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Four Palestinians Arrested for Throwing Firebombs
    Four Palestinians were arrested Wednesday for throwing firebombs from a moving vehicle at an Israeli army position south of Nablus in the West Bank, Army Radio reported. (Jerusalem Post)
  • UNRWA Closes West Bank Offices Amid Protests
    UNRWA is closing three of its West Bank offices because protests are threatening the safety of its staff, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said Wednesday. The protests were over UNRWA's decision not to renew the contracts of 114 employees due to budget cuts. UNRWA asked the Palestinian Authority to put an end to the protests. (Ma'an News-PA)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Iran Is in Social and Economic Meltdown - Wahied Wahdat-Hagh
    Workers' strikes and protests are gathering pace in Iran. Vast numbers live below the poverty line. Non-payment of wages for months at a time is a fact of life for millions. Inflation is soaring. Beggars in veils line the streets. This is not merely a product of sanctions. Gross mismanagement by the Ahmadinejad government is doing terrible damage to the social fabric all on its own.
        Steve Hanke, Professor of Applied Economics at Johns Hopkins University, reckons that following the collapse of the Iranian currency earlier this year, inflation rates may be running at 70%. The writer is a Senior Fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy. (Commentator)
  • Egypt: A Minority Constitution for a Minority of Extremists - Zvi Mazel
    The Muslim Brotherhood declared itself the victor in the referendum on a constitution solidly grounded in Shari'a and Islamic values. The constitution was drafted in a matter of days by order of President Mohamed Morsi, after six months of endless bickering in the constitutional assembly composed mainly of the Brotherhood and Salafists. Most non-Islamist members and delegates of the Coptic minority had resigned in protest.
        A mere 32% of the electorate took part in the referendum, with 64% approving the constitution - amounting to only 20% of the electorate. This is a far cry from the wide consensus needed to launch the country on its post-revolutionary path.
        But the fight is far from over. Elections to parliament have to be held two months after the constitution has been approved. The writer, a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Morsi Admits "Mistakes" in Drafting Egypt's Constitution - David Kirkpatrick (New York Times)
  • Arab Democracy Looks Different - Zvi Bar'el
    It would be more accurate to define the current revolutions in the Arab world as a transitional stage from alienation to citizens' identification with their countries; not wars of independence being fought against colonial occupation, but rather an effort to assume ownership over the countries left by colonialists and their successors, and by dictators that were later deposed.
        The concept of "people's representation" has increasingly entered the lexicon of public discourse. In addition to a feeling that every vote has real significance this time - which illustrates the difference between the past two years and the previous 60 - there is the feeling of belonging and state identification that has germinated and bloomed in those two years.
        The West is beginning to recognize that alliances between its governments and Arab rulers will henceforth have to rely on public opinion. (Ha'aretz)

Syria: Has the Assad Regime Reached the Terminal Phase? - Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

  • Before burying the Assad regime and prophesizing that it is only a matter of days or weeks before Assad disappears, it is essential to understand the reasons for his survival until now.
  • Forty years of Alawite dominance in Syrian politics have created strong bonds and coalitions between the Alawite ruling elite and political forces which see their fate linked to the demise of Assad, such as the Christian, Druze, and Assyrian minorities as well as some Sunnite elites.
  • President Bashar Assad's inner circle, led by his brother, Maher, commander of the Syrian Army's Fourth Division, along with some of the Alawite elites, strongly believe that the regime should keep on fighting. Among the senior Alawite officers there is an understanding that if Assad goes, there will be a bloodbath against the Alawites. This group is pressing Assad to fight on.  
  • Working in favor of the regime's survival are the divisions within the opposition. As much as two-thirds of the forces of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are considered to be Islamic jihadists who are striving to establish an Islamic state in Syria. The FSA behaves as a guerilla force. Most of its brigades number no more than 300 combatants, which is the largest field formation they have succeeded in deploying on the ground.
  • Since the beginning of the conflict, support of the Assad regime by Russia and China has served as an active shield against all attempts by the West to force a political solution on Syria through a decision by the UN Security Council, similar to the ones in Kosovo, Libya, and Afghanistan.
  • Iran and Hizbullah have been providing the Syrian regime with assistance to quell the rebellion. Iran has mainly provided intelligence tools and equipment, while Hizbullah has sent its troops into Syrian territory in the Homs area, opposite northeastern Lebanon. These two allies understand that the Tehran-Syria-Hizbullah axis is at stake, and they are doing everything in their power to maintain Assad's position.

    The writer was formerly Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Deputy Head for Assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence.

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