Jerusalem Sees Greatest Snowfall in Twenty Years - Melanie Lidman (Jerusalem Post)
The Jerusalem Municipality closed schools on Thursday as the area had overnight received 10 to 15 cm. (4 to 6 inches) of snow - its greatest snowfall since 1992.
See also As Snow Blankets Jerusalem, Main Road to Tel Aviv Closed (Times of Israel)
See also Sea of Galilee Rises 69 Cm. - Stuart Winer (Times of Israel)
The heavy rain that poured down on Israel this week added 69 cm. to the level of the Sea of Galilee, Israel's largest source of fresh water, the Israel Water Authority said on Thursday.
The lake will continue to rise by dozens of cm. due to melting snow after parts of the Golan Heights and the Galilee received over a meter of snow in the last several days.
See also Gaza Tunnels Flooded, Collapsed (Ma'an News-PA)
After three days of intense rainfall, many of the tunnels under Gaza's border with Egypt are flooded or collapsed, halting the underground trade, a security official in Egyptian Rafah told Ma'an.
See also Palestinians Attack Israeli Drivers Stranded in the Snow - Itamar Fleishman (Ynet News)
IDF troops used crowd-control measures to disperse Palestinians hurling stones at Israeli cars stranded in the snow between Gush Etzion and Hebron on Thursday. One man sustained light injuries.
Photos: Snow in Jerusalem - Judy Lash Balint (Flickr)
See also Photo Gallery: The White Album (Times of Israel)
See also Scenes of Snow-Covered Jerusalem in the Early 20th Century - Lenny Ben-David (Israel Daily Picture)
UBS Investment Bank Raises Israel's Offshore Gas Valuations (Globes)
UBS analyst Roni Biron says the production platform for Israel's Tamar natural gas field "reached its destination last week and is on track to commence supply in April. Phase-1 capacity is over-subscribed with the latest domestic contracts and phase-2 will be needed to accommodate future demand."
"We therefore see limited development and commercial risks alongside attractive cash flow in the coming decades and raise our project valuation to $10.4 billion."
As for Leviathan field, Biron says, "Given its critical mass and geographical location, we see a strong case for Leviathan, as Asian and European off-takers look to diversify and secure supply."
Egypt's Christians Worried by Islamists' Rise - Abigail Hauslohner (Washington Post)
Egypt's Christians were worried about their safety on Monday as they marked the first Christmas under Islamist rule, with some complaining that their lives had gone from bad to worse since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.
Christians make up 10% of Egypt's 85 million people. Although Copts had complained of marginalization and discrimination under Mubarak, many accuse President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies of hijacking the country and seeking to exclude Christians entirely.
Rising Islamism has spurred tense exchanges and sporadic violence in mixed communities across Egypt in recent months.
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- Prisoner Swap Shows Tehran's Sway over Assad Regime - Farnaz Fassihi and Nour Malas
Syria agreed to release more than 2,000 prisoners in exchange for 48 Iranians held by Syrian rebels, in a deal that highlighted Iran's sustained influence over the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. "The fact that Assad at this moment would agree to this exchange shows how indebted and deeply dependent he is on Iran's support," said Nader Hashemi, an Iran expert and director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver.
Iran celebrated the hostage release as a diplomatic victory. Iranian media carried live footage of the men arriving at a hotel in Damascus where they were greeted by a delegation from the Iranian Embassy. They then broke into a loud chant praising Islam's prophet Mohammad.
(Wall Street Journal)
- A Defector's Tale: Assad's Reluctant Army - Olga Khazan
About 80% of Syrian troops are conscripts from the country's Sunni Muslim minority. (Many of the officers, however, are Alawite, the same sect as Assad.) Many Sunnis support the rebels, so it's not uncommon for some Syrian soldiers to feel disdain for their own cause.
The Syria Deeply news service spoke to a 20-year-old man who defected from the Syrian Army and joined the rebels earlier this week. The soldier said he and other troops were assigned minders from the shabiha, a loyalist government militia, to ensure they don't defect. "The soldiers, they're scared of the FSA (Free Syrian Army). A lot of them would like to defect, but the shabiha, they stay with us, they watch us like security so we don't go."
He never wanted to shoot to kill the rebels he secretly supported. "I'd shoot into the air, shoot everything but the fighters. A lot of people do that." (Washington Post)
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- Russia Working with Assad Regime to Safeguard Syria's Chemical Weapons - Zvi Bar'el
Russia is coordinating the supervision of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal with President Assad. According to a report in the Syrian Damas Post, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov agreed last month in Dublin that the U.S. would not support foreign military intervention in Syria in exchange for Russian assurances that the Assad regime would not unleash its chemical weapons. Russia has said that chemical weapons stored at sites that could have been overrun by rebel forces have been moved to more secure locations.
- Egyptian Minister Said Sacked for Opposing Iranian Influence - Adiv Sterman
The ouster of Egypt's interior minister Ahmed Gamal El-Din this week was due to his opposition to a secret meeting between an adviser to President Mohammed Morsi, Essam al-Haddad, and Qasem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reported Wednesday.
The Quds Force conducts special operations outside Iran and is responsible for terror attacks against Israelis in India, Thailand and Georgia.
Suleimani reportedly advised Egyptian officials on building a military system that isn't dependent on foreign intelligence.
(Times of Israel)
- IDF Nabs Two Palestinian Terror Cells Linked to West Bank Attacks - Yaakov Lappin
Security forces uncovered two terror cells behind a series of attacks in the West Bank in recent weeks, the Israel Security Agency said on Wednesday.
The first series of arrests targeted suspects from Husan and the Bethlehem area who hurled rocks at an Israeli vehicle on Route 375, seriously injuring an Israeli woman, Ziyona Kala. She was in intensive care for weeks after the attack, before regaining consciousness last month. Abd Aluhab Hamamra, 22, threw the rock that caused the injury. Four additional suspects will be charged for taking part in the attack.
Another group of Palestinians from Kafr Bita, near Nablus, are under arrest for throwing rocks from a moving vehicle and for attempting to carry out shooting attacks. Hamza Abd Salah Khader, 22, a member of the Fatah Tanzim, confessed to being head of the cell and to opening fire on Israeli targets.
- Two Arab-Israelis Convicted for Terror Plot - Israel Moskovitz
Two Arab-Israelis, residents of a village in the lower Galilee, were given prison sentences after they were convicted for planning to carry out terrorist attacks in Israel, Yediot Ahronot reported Wednesday. A judge sentenced the main suspect to five years in prison and the other for a year and a half.
- Shimon Peres on Obama, Iran and the Path to Peace - Ronen Bergman
In discussions over the past five months, Israeli President Shimon Peres told me:
"America knows how to throw a punch when it has to, in order to keep the world balanced. But the punches follow a set procedure. They don't begin by shooting. They try all the other means first - economic sanctions, political pressure, negotiations, everything possible.
But in the end, if none of this works, then President Obama will use military power against Iran. I am sure of it."
"If there is no diplomatic decision, the Palestinians will go back to terror. Knives, mines, suicide attacks. The silence that Israel has been enjoying over the last few years will not continue, because even if the local inhabitants do not want to resume the violence, they will be under the pressure of the Arab world. Money will be transferred to them, and weapons will be smuggled to them, and there will be no one who will stop this flow."
"Assad knows that using chemical weapons will immediately invite an attack by outside elements. The whole world would mobilize against him....No less important, Assad is liable to transfer the chemical weapons to Hizbullah, which from our point of view will constitute crossing a red line. It is incumbent upon Israel to prevent such a thing from happening, and it will take firm military action to do so."
Peres expressed strong support for the recent Israeli operation in Gaza. "This wasn't a war or a military operation, but rather an educational lesson for Hamas. We acted in order to explain to Hamas that it has to decide on one or the other. You want to build houses? No problem. You want to build missile bases inside those houses? Then we'll relate to those houses as targets for our aircraft." (New York Times)
- Using Cold War Tactics to Confront Iran - Daniel Pipes
Abraham D. Sofaer, a former U.S. district judge and legal adviser to the State Department, now a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, argues in Taking On Iran: Strength, Diplomacy and the Iranian Threat that since the fall of the shah during the Carter administration, Washington "has responded to Iranian aggression with ineffective sanctions and empty warnings and condemnations."
Roughly 125,000-strong, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (RGC) has played a lead role in attacking Americans, their allies and their interests.
IRGC attacks have caused the deaths of more than 1,000 American soldiers, and many more members of other armed forces and noncombatants. The U.S. government has condemned the IRGC as a state sponsor of terrorism and designated it a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction.
Sofaer advocates a two-pronged approach to Tehran: "Confront IRGC aggression directly and negotiate with Iran."
Sofaer argues that U.S. forces have the right to and should target factories and storage facilities for arms, facilities associated with the IRGC (bases, ports, trucks, planes and ships), arms shipments about to be exported, and IRGC units. The goal is not just to curb IRGC violence, but also to "undermine IRGC credibility and influence, and help convince Iran to negotiate in earnest" over its nuclear weapons program.
Confronting and negotiating in tandem, Sofaer expects, will put great pressure on Tehran to improve its behavior generally (e.g., regarding terrorism) and possibly lead it to shut down the nuclear program, while leaving a pre-emptive strike on the table "if all else fails."
Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, in his foreword to Taking on Iran, calls Sofaer's idea "an alternative that should have been implemented long ago."
The writer is president of the Middle East Forum. (Washington Times)
A Historic Shift toward Palestinian Unity? - Aaron David Miller (Foreign Policy)
- Tens of thousands of Palestinians rally in Hamas-controlled Gaza to celebrate the anniversary of Fatah's founding. Thousands more in the Fatah-controlled West Bank cheer on Hamas.
Could we be witnessing a historic shift toward Palestinian unity? Not likely.
- Beginning with the 2000 intifada, Fatah began to split and smaller offshoots like the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and Islamists began to run their own operations.
Arafat's death in 2004, the corruption in Fatah, and the rising power of Hamas made a mockery of the idea of a unified Palestinian national movement.
- Since Hamas' 2007 takeover of Gaza, there have been at least four unsuccessful efforts to restore Palestinian unity, but neither Hamas nor Fatah is really serious about doing so - even while all Palestinians say they desperately want them to succeed. Neither side has any real desire to pay the price for what a real merger would entail.
- Hamas isn't going to give up the gun and recognize Israel - and Abbas knows that his international support will evaporate if he signs on to a hard-line program. There is no real consensus, and given Hamas' own timeline, no urgency to produce one. And now with friendly Islamists rising in the Arab world, there's less of a rush.
- Bringing Hamas into the PLO or a unity government with its current positions intact will compel the U.S. to cut aid to the PA, make it impossible to get negotiations with Israel launched.
- John Kerry, who really does believe in diplomacy, will want to do something serious on the Israeli-Palestinian issue because he believes it's important, because others will urge him to, and because that's what secretaries of state are supposed to do. He won't open up a dialogue with Hamas, but he'll likely start talking to the Turks, Egyptians, and Qataris (all led by Islamists with influence in Gaza) about ways to influence Hamas.
The writer is a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
See also Hamas, Fatah Leaders Meet in Cairo, No Progress Made - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
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