Assad: "I Will Win Even If Damascus Is Destroyed" - Elhanan Miller (Times of Israel)
Quoting French sources, Asharq Al-Awsat quotes an exchange between Syrian President Bashar Assad and the international envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi.
According to the report, Brahimi told Assad that he could not remain in power and that the opposition could defeat him, but the cost may be the complete destruction of Damascus.
To that, Assad reportedly answered: "I will win the war, even if Damascus is destroyed."
Economic Denial in Egypt - Spengler (Asia Times-Hong Kong)
As Egypt's foreign exchange reserves dipped below what the central bank called a critical minimum, the country cut imports of essentials such as oil earlier this month.
15 Egyptian power stations, representing more than a tenth of the country's installed capacity, had stopped generating power, the daily al-Ahram reported Dec. 28.
Egypt has been negotiating for a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, which is supposed to open the door for $6.7 billion in "loans and grants" from the European Community.
As part of the loan package, the IMF wants Egypt to cut its budget deficit to 8.5% from 15%, almost entirely by reducing energy and food subsidies.
That would impose extreme hardships on the half of Egypt's population living on less than $2 a day.
Instead of acceding to IMF conditions, Morsi has adopted currency devaluation and exchange controls. Egypt's pound has lost about 10% of its value during the past month, which will be reflected in higher prices for essentials during the next several weeks.
Israel Isn't Isolated - Gabriel Scheinmann (National Interest)
Israel is far from the isolated state it is made out to be. On the contrary, Israel is actually at the height of its global integration, increasingly enmeshed across diplomatic, economic and cultural fronts.
Since 1989, Israel has established full diplomatic relations with nearly 70 countries.
In the past year alone, Israel has conducted military exercises with Greece, Poland, and Italy in addition to the largest joint military exercise in Israel's history with the U.S.
In 2010, Israel was admitted into the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development).
Trade with China and India grow annually at double-digit rates, and 2012 was a record year for tourists flocking to Israel.
By any measure, the last several years have been a high-point of Israeli integration into the international community.
Hamas Arrests Fatah Journalists in Gaza - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
Hamas security officers raided the homes of four journalists mostly affiliated with Fatah early Tuesday and took them into custody.
Two other reporters were arrested after being summoned for interrogation.
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
- Israel Election: Benjamin Netanyahu Is Back, with Warning to Iran - Sanchez Manning
Benjamin Netanyahu said preventing a nuclear-armed Iran would be the primary challenge of his new government as he celebrated being returned as Israeli prime minister on Tuesday, albeit with a reduced majority.
Netanyahu said: "The first challenge was and remains preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons." (Express-UK)
For more Israeli election results, see below News Resources - Israel
- As Elections Near, Protesters in Jordan Increasingly Turn Anger Toward the King - Kareem Fahim
For two years, protests in Jordan demanding reform have seethed, fueled by complaints about corruption, incompetent governing and the slow pace of change. The protests have also started to broaden, to include bolder expressions of dissatisfaction with King Abdullah II. To quiet his critics, the king is relying on a new round of parliamentary elections scheduled for Wednesday to "breathe life into our democracy." The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and the protest network Hirak are boycotting the vote.
(New York Times)
See also Missed Opportunities for Reform in Jordan - Editorial
The Jordanian parliamentary election scheduled for Wednesday represents another missed opportunity for the regime of King Abdullah II.
The electoral system is engineered to block the two political forces most threatening to the regime: the Muslim Brotherhood and Palestinians, who outnumber Jordan's native population. Gerrymandered districts that leave Palestinian areas underrepresented, and a limitation of party lists to 27 of the parliament's 150 seats, ensure that local tribal leaders will once again predominate in the assembly.
The idea that autocracy can survive in a country that borders Israel and Iraq as well as Syria is a delusion. If change in Jordan does not soon come from the palace, it will come from the street. (Washington Post)
- Syrians Struggle with Shortages as Economy Buckles - Bassem Mroue
Syria's economy is buckling under the strains of violence and sanctions that have sapped the government's finances, devastated the nation's cities and left its industry and infrastructure in ruins.
Grappling with severe fuel shortages and winter temperatures that drop below freezing, Syrians are spending hours in line every day for gasoline or a few loaves of bread at soaring prices.
Dubai-based Syrian economist Samir Seifan said that despite the ravaged economy, the regime is surviving due to assistance from Iran, which has provided billions of dollars since the crisis began in March 2011.
See also Syrian Refugees Overwhelm Lebanon, Region - Liz Sly (Washington Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- 2013 Knesset Election Results
According to a tally of 99.5% of the votes, the resulting division of Israel's 120-seat Knesset is:
Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu (Benjamin Netanyahu): 31
Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid): 19
Labor (Shelly Yacimovich): 15
Shas (Haredi Sephardi): 11
Habayit Hayehudi (Naftali Bennett): 11
United Torah Judaism (Haredi Ashkenazi): 7
Hatnua (Tzipi Livni): 6
Meretz (Zahava Gal-On): 6
United Arab List-Taal: 5
Hadash (Arab): 4
Balad (Arab): 3
Kadima (Shaul Mofaz): 2
See also How Israelis Voted - Stuart Winer (Times of Israel)
- Malaysian PM Visits Gaza, Drawing Fire from Abbas - Khaled Abu Toameh
Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak visited Gaza on Tuesday for what he described as a humanitarian visit. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the visit harmed the status of the PA as the legitimate leadership of the Palestinians. His office said in a statement: "The Palestinian presidency rejects and denounces the visit....It enhances division and does not serve Palestinian interests."
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki plans to visit Gaza next month. (Jerusalem Post)
- Israel's Election Outcome - Benny Avni
Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud-Beiteinu party is still by far the largest and is likely to head the next Israeli government. The rise of former columnist and TV star Yair Lapid was emblematic of the entire Israeli campaign - which ignored the top national-security issues the country faces. Security is still Topic A. But most Israelis pretty much agree with the way Netanyahu's government has handled those issues: Awaken the world to the threat Iran poses, but don't stray too far from America. Keep a low profile on the "Arab Spring," but remain vigilant on things like the Syrian chemical weapon threat.
With that sort of (near) national consensus on security, socio-economic issues dominated the campaign, such as the gap between rich and poor and the widening secular-religious rift, while security and diplomatic issues remained in the background.
(New York Post)
- Don't Expect an Obama-Netanyahu Blowup - Aaron David Miller
The notion that a second-term president freed from the constraints of re-election will now hammer an Israeli prime minister with a big peace initiative just doesn't add up.
First, there's no precedent for such a thing in American policy toward the Arab-Israeli negotiations. Bill Clinton's push at Camp David in July 2000 - the precedent most often cited - came not from Clinton, but at then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak's urging.
Second, it's the presence of opportunity, not the absence of political constraints, that leads a U.S. president to act.
Any sentient human being would see that a grand deal between Israelis and Palestinians isn't possible now.
The focus of Yair Lapid's centrist party, which became the second largest party in the Knesset, was on economic issues and national service, not on negotiations with the Palestinians.
The writer is a vice president and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
- Operation Pillar of Defense: Objectives and Implications - Brig.-Gen. (res.) Michael Herzog
Both in the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead and in the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel's government focused its objective on enhancing deterrence - opting for hitting the terrorists hard enough to give them an interest in a ceasefire for as long as possible - rather than dismantling Gaza's terror infrastructure or toppling the Hamas government. The government was right to determine more limited objectives, and successful in achieving them without resorting to a ground operation.
Hamas still receives weapons from Iran, which now publicly and proudly takes credit for it; Iran wants it known that it does more than the Sunni states to aid Hamas' anti-Israel struggle. For the time being, there is unprecedented quiet along the Israel-Gaza border. To sustain the ceasefire, however, it is essential to get Egypt to effectively stop the smuggling of weapons through its territory into Gaza.
The writer served as chief of staff and military secretary to four Israeli defense ministers and as head of the IDF Strategic Planning Division.
(Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
The Israeli Election: A Vote for Internal Change - Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)
The Israeli electorate went to the polls Tuesday and sent their leaders an unmistakable message: Change.
Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, political novices, are the country's poster boys for change - and they did astonishingly well. The old guard took it on the chin.
- However, the results show that the change the country is looking for is not necessarily a change in external policy, but changes within. A vote for a dramatic change in the country's diplomatic/security direction would have meant a torrent of voters for Livni, or Meretz, or even Kadima, all of which championed a different diplomatic position.
- Lapid, Shelly Yacimovich and Bennett ran primarily on domestic matters: a more equitable distribution of the army and tax burdens, the cost-of-living issue, and inculcating Jewish and Zionist values. Voter turnout was over 66%, compared to 57.5% in the recent U.S. elections.
- This engaged and concerned electorate is supremely aware of the external challenges it faces: from Iran, which calls for the country's destruction, to an Egypt with a president who calls Jews the descendants of apes and pigs, to an imploding Syria, to a Palestinian Authority that has done nothing to show it is interested in an end-of-conflict agreement.
- But Israelis do not feel they can necessarily impact those issues. They realize that there are actors on the other side whom they are not going to be able to influence. The results bespeak a nation that has accepted the things it cannot change, and is now focusing on what it believes it can.
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