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January 18, 2013

In-Depth Issues:

Iran Intensifying Cyberattacks Against American Banks - Siobhan Gorman and Danny Yadron (Wall Street Journal)
    Major U.S. banks are pressing for government action to block what Washington officials say is an intensifying Iranian campaign of cyberattacks against American financial institutions.
    Financial firms have spent millions of dollars responding to the attacks, according to bank officials, which have affected most of the top dozen U.S. banks.
    U.S. officials have been weighing options, including whether to retaliate against Iran, officials say.

U.S. Says Egyptian Statement on Jews, Israel a Good First Step But Not Enough to Ease Concerns (AP-Fox News)
    The Obama administration said Thursday that a statement issued by the Egyptian presidency is welcome but not enough to ease concerns about anti-Jewish and anti-Israel comments that Islamist president Mohammed Morsi made before he took office.
    State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland made clear that the U.S. needs to see more than the statement from his office to be convinced he no longer holds to the earlier views.

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Balata Palestinians in Standoff with PA - Nasouh Nazzal (Gulf News-Dubai)
    Nablus, the West Bank's largest city, has been the focus of a standoff between local residents and the Palestinian Authority this week. The two main entrances of the Balata refugee camp, east of the city, have been closed off with burning tires to deny access to PA security forces.
    On Tuesday night, a significant PA force raided the camp, conducting house-to-house searches in an operation that lasted till the morning.
    Tens of masked, armed members of Fatah came out in yet another march, firing in the air to send what they labeled a last warning to the Palestinian security forces to stay away, stop arrests, suspend weapon seizures, and return seized weapons - or face confrontation.
    Sources in Balata said the armed group enjoys significant support from local residents.
    See also Abbas Stresses PA Government Has Monopoly on Force (Ma'an News-PA)
    PA President Mahmoud Abbas held a meeting of security chiefs on Thursday after gunmen held protests in West Bank refugee camps over the past week.
    Abbas said that no one is above the law, stressing that the government has a monopoly on the use of force.
    See also Nablus Gunmen Turn Themselves In to PA Custody (Ma'an News-PA)
    Ten Palestinian gunmen turned themselves in to PA security forces in the West Bank on Thursday evening, according to the regional governor.
    The group, from Balata refugee camp in Nablus, is being held in Junaid prison and will face charges, Nablus governor Jibrin al-Bakri told Ma'an.
    He said there had been a deal with the group which led to their surrender.

Israeli Men Have Second-Highest Life Expectancy in the World - Zeev Klein (Israel Hayom)
    Israelis have among the highest life expectancies on the globe, with an overall life expectancy of 81.7 years, according to a study released by the Central Bureau for Statistics on Tuesday.
    Israeli men have the second-highest life expectancy in the world, after Swiss men.

How a Soapmaker Became Israel's Unlikeliest Feminist Pioneer - Rick Westhead (Toronto Star-Canada)
    Gamila, a Druze woman from Peki'in in the Galilee, has become her community's best-known and richest resident, launching a company that now does more than $50 million in annual sales.
    Using knowledge she learned from her father of herbs and roots, she began a business making an olive oil-based soap.
    With her son Fwad Hiar, Gamila opened a factory which produces 1 million bars a year under the brand name "Gamila Secret."
    Gamila's daughter was the first woman in the town to get her driver's license and her granddaughter is completing her doctorate in feminist studies at Haifa University.

Inflation Rate in Israel at 6-Year Low - Amnon Atad (Calcalist-Ynet News)
    Israel's annual inflation rate in 2012 reached its lowest level in six years, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported Tuesday.
    Inflation for 2012 totaled 1.6%, compared to 2.2% in 2011 and 2.7% in 2010.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Hostages Still Held in Algeria after Assault - Lamine Chikhi
    At least 22 foreign hostages remained unaccounted for on Friday after Algerian forces stormed a desert gas complex to free hundreds of captives taken by Islamist gunmen. 30 hostages, including several Westerners, were killed during the storming on Thursday, along with at least 11 of their captors, who said they had taken the site as retaliation for French intervention against Islamists in neighboring Mali. An Irish engineer who survived said he saw four jeeps full of hostages blown up by Algerian troops. (Reuters)
  • Iran: No Breakthrough in Nuclear Talks
    Investigators from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, ended two days of talks with Iranian officials on Thursday with no apparent breakthrough on their request to visit the Parchin military site to investigate allegations that Iran may have carried out tests on triggers for atomic weapons. The two sides agreed to hold more talks on Feb. 12. (AP-New York Times)
  • Assad Forces Kill More than 100 in Syrian Village - Bassem Mroue
    Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad swept through the small farming village of Haswiyeh outside the Syrian city of Homs on Tuesday, torching houses and shooting and stabbing residents in an attack that killed 106 people, including women and children, activists said Thursday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some of the dead were "burnt inside their homes while other were killed with knives."
        The pro-government daily al-Watan reported Thursday that Syrian troops were "cleansing the villages of Haswiyeh and Dweir as well as their fields" of gunmen. All of the dead in Haswiyeh were Sunni Muslims, while residents reported that many of the attackers came from the nearby Shiite village of Mazraa. (AP-Washington Post)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu Rules Out Dismantling Settlement Blocs - Herb Keinon and Steve Linde
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Jerusalem Post this week that a "real and fair" accord with the Palestinians cannot include driving masses of Jews from their homes in settlement blocs. "I think that there is recognition that ultimately there has to be a real and fair solution, and that certainly doesn't include driving out hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in the suburbs of Jerusalem, and in the suburbs of Tel Aviv, in the Ariel bloc," Netanyahu said. "I think that is unrealistic."
        Asked about an initiative by the Europeans to present a new peace plan, he said there would be "many initiatives," and "we'll have an important task in trying to tell the truth to the world." That truth, he explained, was that the settlement issue was not the core of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, nor was the Palestinian issue the core of instability in the Middle East. "The core of the conflict is the persistent refusal of the Palestinians to recognize the Jewish state in any boundary," he declared.
        "There is a common acceptance [in Israel] that the so-called settlement blocs will remain part of Israel in any settlement, and that's where the majority of construction is taking place," he noted. "I am confident that President Obama understands that only a sovereign Israeli government can determine what Israel's interests are," he added. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Bulgaria Briefs Israel on Burgas Bombing Probe
    Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov paid a surprise visit to Israel on Thursday to brief leaders on its probe into a bombing in the Black Sea resort of Burgas last July that the Israelis blamed on Lebanon's Hizbullah terrorists and Iran. Bulgaria has said the bombing was plotted outside the country and carried out by foreigners. (Reuters-Ynet News)
        See also Report: Bulgaria to Blame Hizbullah as Terror Act Mastermind
    Israel TV Channel 2 reported that a Bulgarian report about the July 18, 2012, terror act in Burgas blames Hizbullah. The bombing at Burgas airport killed 5 Israeli tourists, their Bulgarian bus driver and the perpetrator. Channel 2 said Europol has identified three of the four suspects in the attack.
        The conclusions of the report are expected to have a significant impact on whether the EU finally adds Hizbullah to its list of terrorist organizations, something the U.S. has already done and which Israel has been pushing for more than a decade. Such a move could lead to the freezing of Hizbullah's assets in Europe. (Sofia News Agency-Bulgaria)
        See also Bulgaria Has Not Given Israel Report on Terror Attack Investigation
    In response to news reports that Bulgaria had concluded that Hizbullah was responsible for the terrorist attack at Burgas Airport, the spokesperson of the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, Vesela Cherneva, said that the results of the investigation are not ready to be announced in public. (Focus-Bulgaria)
  • Hamas Military Wing Won't Disarm as Part of Unity Deal - Mohammed Mar'i
    The Hamas military wing announced that it will not disarm as part of any Egyptian-mediated Palestinian unity deal. Abu Obaida, spokesman of the Izz Ed-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, said that "dismantling the Al-Qassam brigades or integrating them into the security forces is not up for discussion and a fantasy that will never materialize."
        On Wednesday, Moussa Abu Marzouk, the Hamas Deputy Politburo Chief, said that Hamas will not agree to dismantle its military wing as part of a reconciliation deal with rival movement Fatah. According to Palestinian sources, Fatah is demanding that Hamas dismantle its armed wing as a condition for reconciliation. (Saudi Gazette)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):


  • The Message Hagel Carries on Iran - Robert Satloff
    Achieving success in nuclear negotiations requires the administration's full commitment to increasingly painful sanctions, a credible threat of military force and a reasonable diplomatic alternative. This approach may not be sufficient; Iran may be bent on achieving a nuclear weapon.
        The looming fight over former Sen. Chuck Hagel's confirmation has obscured the strategic repercussion of the nomination. That Obama chose a Pentagon nominee whose public record differs from his own on this critical issue says more about the president than it does about the nominee. Quite apart from the internal U.S. debate over Hagel's worthiness to run the Defense Department, foreign leaders will have serious questions about the credibility of the president's commitment to prevention. To the world, Obama has spoken loudly with his choice of a nominee who has never embraced the idea that Iran should be stopped at all costs from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The writer is executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Washington Post)
  • Are Iranians Really Feeling the Pinch of Sanctions? - Sune Engel Rasmussen
    If you listen to the talk in Western capitals, harsh international sanctions on Iran's energy and banking industries are well on their way to bringing the Islamic Republic to its knees. And there is no doubt that staggering levels of inflation, a heavily devalued currency, and soaring unemployment have taken a toll on general living standards. Despite the hardship, however, Iran is far from the breaking point.
        In the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, bread costs the same as it did six months ago. The government has ramped up grain imports, mainly from the EU. Energy prices have shot up, but are still low. The monthly energy bill for a small household in Tehran runs around $15 to $20. (Foreign Policy)

  • Other Issues

  • The Jihadist Eruption in Africa - Shiraz Maher
    The story of the hostage crisis in Algeria actually begins in Libya, where unintended consequences of the Arab Spring are now roiling North and West Africa. Gaddafi had long drawn mercenaries from among the Tuareg, a nomadic group spread across five countries. When the Arab Spring spread to Libya two years ago, and as his own regular forces began to defect, Gaddafi enlisted support from thousands of Tuareg fighters to suppress the rebellion.
        When Gaddafi was killed in October 2011, his armed and trained Tuareg forces retreated to redoubts in Mali, bringing with them caches of sophisticated arms, including heavy weaponry and antiaircraft missiles. The influx of disaffected fighters culminated in the creation of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), which last spring overran several towns in northern Mali and declared independence, tacitly joining forces with jihadists who operate in the region.
        The jihadists then unraveled their alliance with the MNLA and established a semiautonomous Islamic state. Jihadist forces last week were readying themselves to seize Mali's capital, Bamako, when the interim administration of President Dioncounda Traore called on the French to intervene. The writer is a senior fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization at King's College London. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Portrait of Palestinian Democracy - 2013 - Rick Richman
    This week Mahmoud Abbas began the ninth year of his four-year term of office, having originally taken office on January 15, 2005, after a quickie election held a few weeks after Yasser Arafat died in the ninth year of his own four-year term. Being elected Palestinian president means you never have to run again.
        Palestinian democracy has been a bit of a disappointment: each of the peace-partner presidents were offered a state on virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem, and each of them walked away. (Commentary)
  • Iraq's Government Once Again on the Brink - Danny Brode
    A year after America's withdrawal from Iraq, the country's struggle for stability persists. Sunni protests are continuing following a government raid against the home of Finance Minister Rafie al-Esawi, a member of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, and the reported arrest of many of his bodyguards and staff on Dec. 20. The protests are sectarian in nature, propagated mainly from Sunni Islamists, and aiming to reduce Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's influence and that of the Shiites over Iraq. Among the Sunni demands are reforms, releasing prisoners, regional secession, an end to corruption and Iranian influence, and the downfall of Maliki's Shiite-led government. Those demands are unlikely to be met.
        The Kurdish gains in northern Iraq and the Sunni revolt in Syria are likely giving many Iraqi Sunnis increased motivation to call for regional autonomy. On Dec. 27, one of Maliki's main Shiite political and religious rivals, Muqtata al-Sadr, called for more Sunni demonstrations. Like most states in the Middle East, Iraq's future as a unified political entity devoid of destabilizing sectarian and political conflicts appears grim. (Middle East Conflicts)

  • Weekend Features

  • Water Expert from Israel on a Mission to Save India's Noyyal River
    During a chance visit to Coimbatore two years ago, Israeli water expert Dr. Yoram Oren heard of the slow but steady death of the region's mighty rivers Noyyal and Bhavani due to large-scale discharge of toxic effluents by dyeing units along the river shores. Oren devoted time and effort toward the revival of the two rivers by participating in ongoing research to achieve zero discharge from dyeing units. The high court order closing down polluting dyeing units also prompted Oran to stay and help find a solution.
        After a year, Oren says, "I have completed more than half my research work. My team comprising water experts from leading institutions in South India find nano-filtration to be the most suitable option....It is also cost effective and the filtered water can be recycled or released into the river without causing any harm.''  (Times of India)
  • The Archaeological Archive of Israel - Online
    The archaeological archive of Israel, administered by the Israel Antiquities Authority, contains tens of thousands of documents, photographs, maps and plans from the years 1919-1948 from Akko (Acre) and Jerusalem. Dr. Uzi Dahari, Deputy Director of the IAA, notes: "In Israel there are approximately 30,000 known and declared antiquities sites that constitute our cultural heritage."  (Israel Antiquities Authority)
        View the Archive (Israel Antiquities Authority)
        See also Pictures Beneath the Temple Mount Now Online - Lenny Ben-David (Israel Daily Picture)
  • Israel's Emerged Market - Marc Lichtenfeld
    Israel's previously labeled "emerging market" is now the 17th most developed in the world. In 2013, its GDP is projected to grow 3.8%, versus 2.5% in the U.S., and it has an unemployment rate of 6.6%. It spends more on education as a percentage of its budget than the U.S.
        The nation avoided the mortgage meltdown that affected dozens of other countries. Its central bank has been called one of the best-run in the world. It's a hotbed of technological innovation. All this, despite a population of less than eight million - and being surrounded by enemies. (Seeking Alpha)
  • Video: A Bravery Fiercer than Death - The 35 Heroes of Gush Etzion
    65 years ago this week, in January 1948, 35 young Haganah soldiers - mostly students at the Hebrew University - set out from Jerusalem to bring much needed supplies to the kibbutzim in the besieged Etzion Bloc south of the city. The soldiers were ambushed en route, and, despite fighting valiantly, the entire company was killed prior to reaching their destination.  (Toldot Yisrael)

Don't Be Fooled: Iran Wants the Bomb - Ahmad Hashemi (Times of Israel)

  • As a former employee of the Iranian foreign ministry, I served as an interpreter for visiting dignitaries, diplomats and officials. I was also present at inner-circle conversations in which a number of high-profile Iranian officials made no secret of their intention to go atomic.
  • At a private meeting in April 2005 at the home of Mohsen Rezai, the Secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council and a former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Rezai strongly advocated the idea of acquiring nuclear bombs for "deterrent purposes." He referred to such a weapon as a "holy Islamic bomb" and noted that even Khomeini approved of acquiring an atomic bomb to safeguard the interests of Islam during the Iran-Iraq war. He argued that everything is allowed for the sake of Islam, including using WMDs and the mass killing of civilians.
  • In early 2012, I heard Ali Bagheri, the deputy secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, say that "we should expedite our efforts and diversify our secret [nuclear] facilities to achieve our goal before it is too late."
  • In early February 2012, I was present at a confidential meeting at which Iran's deputy head of the Islamic Revolution Mostazafan Foundation was negotiating with the North Korean ambassador in order to obtain nuclear technology for Iran in exchange for financial support.
  • I witnessed Iranian involvement in the mass production of chemical weapons at a variety of installations including Pakshooma, Arak Petrochemical Complex and in particular the Shahid Meisami Complex located in the city of Karaj, which were producing chemical weapons for the Defense Industries Organization, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Defense. I interpreted as the Iranian defense officials misinformed and deceived international chemical weapons inspectors.
  • All previous meetings between Iran and the 5+1 failed because Iran was never serious about curbing its nuclear programs. Using a well-known concept in Shiite jurisprudence known as the expedient or altruistic lie, Iranian officials are perfectly willing to lie when it comes to their intentions and programs.

    The writer, a former Iranian foreign ministry interpreter, is currently seeking political asylum in Turkey.
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