Iran Oil Exports Rise to Highest Level Since EU Sanctions - Emma Farge (Reuters)
Iran's crude oil exports rose to 1.4 million barrels per day in December, their highest level since EU sanctions took effect last July, due to strong demand from China, India and Japan, as well as Iran's purchase of new tankers from China.
However, a fresh round of U.S. sanctions coming into force on Feb. 6 could cap Iran's exports in the coming months.
Hamas Denies Accepting Two-State Solution (Ma'an News-PA)
Hamas on Wednesday denied a report that the party had changed its position to accept the State of Israel.
The Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq reported that Hamas politburo chief Khalid Mashaal asked Jordan's King Abdullah to inform U.S. President Obama that Hamas accepted the two-state solution.
Hamas said the report was baseless and that Mashaal did not address the two-state solution in his meeting with the Jordanian king in Amman on Monday.
PA Pays Monthly Salary to Veteran Ex-Prisoners for Life - Nasouh Nazzal (Gulf News-Dubai)
Three released Palestinian prisoners who had been imprisoned in Israeli jails for less than five years are protesting at the entrance of the Tulkarem branch of the Ministry of Detainees' Affairs. The men are demanding monthly salaries along with medical insurance.
According to the Palestinian prisoners' law, only those who serve more than five years imprisonment receive monthly salaries for their lifetimes.
Once a Palestinian is arrested by Israeli military forces, the PA starts paying him 1,400 shekels a month; the prisoner's salary increases to 2,000 shekels after two years, 4,000 shekels after five years, and jumps to 6,000 shekels after ten years.
According to a new proposed law, released prisoners who served less than five years will be eligible for monthly salaries for half the time served in jail.
Turkish Naval Commander Resigns in Protest over Jailings - Jonathon Burch (Reuters)
Admiral Nusret Guner, the operational commander of the Turkish navy, has resigned in protest over the "shameful" jailing of hundreds of colleagues on coup plot charges.
Prime Minister Erdogan's government has detained several hundred serving and retired officers over the past few years on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government almost a decade ago.
More than 300 officers were handed lengthy prison sentences in September, while hundreds more are still on trial.
Around 100 journalists are also in jail, as well as thousands of activists, lawyers, and politicians.
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
- Report: Israel Hits Weapons Convoy on Syria-Lebanon Border - Babak Dehghanpisheh and Joel Greenberg
Israeli aircraft fired at a truck convoy along the Lebanon-Syria border on Wednesday, a Western official said. A former Lebanese official said a missile from an unmanned aircraft struck a truck carrying weapons on the Syrian side of the border heading toward Lebanon. AP said Israel had been making plans in recent days to hit a shipment of anti-aircraft missiles from Syria to Hizbullah in Lebanon that included sophisticated, Russian-made SA-17 missiles.
Giora Eiland, a former head of Israel's national security council, said the transfer to Hizbullah of weapons considered to be game-changers, such as the Russian anti-aircraft missiles or long-range Scud missiles, would be viewed with equal gravity.
"These are no less troubling than chemical weapons," Eiland said. "They are more widespread and not as tightly controlled by the regime, so they can fall into the hands of Hizbullah."
"We do not comment on reports of this kind," a spokeswoman for the Israeli army said Wednesday.
Keeping silent about a military strike against such weapons had the advantage of not goading the other side to respond, Eiland said. "When you publicly announce that you attacked, you force the other side to react because it can't bear the humiliation." (Washington Post)
See also U.S.: Israel Notified America about Attack - Isabel Kershner and Michael R. Gordon (New York Times)
See also Syria Denies Israeli Planes Attacked Arms Convoy - Zvi Bar'el
Syria television reported that Israeli planes had attacked a research center in the Damascus area, but denied that Israeli planes had attacked an arms convoy moving from Syria to Lebanon. The website of the Syrian opposition reported that the attack was on a missile convoy on its way from the Yafour complex near the border with Lebanon, near a base of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. According to reports from Lebanon, the Syrians didn't even fire at the Israeli planes.
- Iran Plans to Install Modern Machinery to Speed Up Nuclear Program
Iran is poised for a major technological update of its uranium enrichment program, allowing it to vastly increase production, diplomats told AP Thursday. Iran last week told the International Atomic Energy Agency that it wants to install thousands of high-technology IR-2m centrifuges at its main enriching site at Natanz which are able to enrich five times faster than the present equipment. Defying UN Security Council demands that it halt enrichment, Iran has instead expanded it.
Tehran now has more than 10,000 centrifuges enriching uranium to 4% at Natanz. Its Fordo facility has close to 3,000 centrifuges producing material enriched to 20%. Tehran already has enough enriched material for several nuclear weapons.
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- The Advanced Syrian Weapons that Concern Israel - Gili Cohen
Syria has a number of Russian-made SA-17 antiaircraft missile launchers, which have a relatively long range and a sophisticated tracking system. Ha'aretz reported last year that Syria has trained Hizbullah to use such anti-aircraft missiles. Other advanced weapons in Syrian hands are Yakhont SSN-26 anti-ship missiles and surface-to-surface ballistic missiles such as the Scud-D - in addition to chemical weapons.
- Quiet Intifada: Abbas' Statehood Plan - Ron Ben-Yishai
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has begun implementing a plan to win international recognition for a state within the 1967 borders without obligating the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, give up the right of return, or agree to an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River.
In the first stage of Abbas' plan, the UN Security Council would recognize a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders. He then plans to return to the negotiation table with the sweeping support of the international community.
If Israel insists on its demands, the international community would impose economic sanctions such as those imposed on the apartheid regime in South Africa.
The PA has begun to initiate dozens of provocations that involve a minimal level of violence such as building "outposts" in Area C, holding demonstrations, and throwing rocks and firebombs. Foreign news teams are invited to the scene in advance, so these incidents become victories in the Palestinian "awareness" campaign. (Ynet News)
- Israel's Strike on Syrian Target Sends a Warning - Patrick Martin
Israel's reported air strike on a convoy in Syria believed to be carrying Russian-made surface-to-air missiles to Hizbullah was aimed to take out sophisticated weaponry and to warn the Damascus regime that it mustn't try such a thing again, said Mark Heller, principal research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. The message to Syria was clear, Heller said,
"We're watching. Don't try sending anything to Hizbullah."
While some suggest Syria might be shipping these weapons to Hizbullah for safekeeping, more likely the order to move them would have come from either Russia or Iran, said Heller.
In fact, the message of the attack "may have been intended for Tehran," he said.
The message: "We [Israelis] have heard your threats about using Hizbullah against us, and we're not impressed." (Globe and Mail-Canada)
- Countering al-Qaeda 2.0 - David Ignatius
The Obama administration is working with its allies to combat "al-Qaeda 2.0," an evolving terrorist threat that is causing growing trouble in chaotic, poorly governed areas such as Libya, Yemen, Syria and Mali. The CIA seeks to build up the security services of regional allies that can help penetrate and disrupt the terrorists in ways that would be impossible for the U.S. acting alone. However, some key liaison partners, such as Libya, Egypt and Yemen, are no longer as helpful because of the changes brought by the Arab Spring.
The most dangerous new al-Qaeda threat may be the al-Nusra Front in Syria. Though it emerged as an affiliate of al-Qaeda in Iraq, it's now seen by U.S. analysts as independent, in terms of funding and personnel, and increasingly able to consider attacks on targets in Europe. Furthermore, as the local cells adapt and spread, al-Qaeda 2.0 will almost certainly move through the global bloodstream toward targets in the U.S.
- Hamas' Talibanization of Gaza - Khaled Abu Toameh
Al-Aqsa University in Gaza has decided to force female students to dress in accordance with Islamic teachings.
All female students are required to wear the hijab or niqab which cover their heads and faces.
This latest measure is part of a Hamas campaign aimed at "inculcating [Islamic] values and virtues," Hamas officials explained.
Hamas also announced a ban on low-waist trousers, Western-style haircuts and tight gowns.
In recent years Hamas has banned women from smoking a waterpipe in public places, forced female lawyers to wear the hijab during court appearances, and prohibited boutiques from using female model mannequins. Hamas is well aware that its campaign enjoys the support and sympathy of most Palestinians, not only in Gaza but also in the West Bank. Just last week, arsonists torched three restaurants in the West Bank town of Bir Zeit, a secular stronghold, after accusing the owners of selling alcohol and allowing young men and women to sit together.
What is happening in Gaza is one of the by-products of the Arab Spring, which has seen the rise of Islamists to power. Foreign activists who continue to arrive in Gaza to voice solidarity with Hamas need to know that they are complicit in the effort to establish a repressive and brutal entity that has no respect for freedoms and despises Western culture and values.
Hizbullah and the Qods Force in Iran's Shadow War with the West - Matthew Levitt (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
More than 20 terror attacks
by Hizbullah or Iran's Qods Force were thwarted
between May 2011 and
- In July 2012, National Counterterrorism
Center (NCTC) director Matthew Olsen warned that while Iran and Hizbullah had
not yet hit targets in the U.S., U.S. officials
worry that could soon change. "We're seeing a general uptick in the level of activity around the world....Both Hizbullah and the Qods
Force have demonstrated an ability to operate essentially globally."
- In fact, the Hizbullah-Qods Force
threat has sometimes eclipsed that of al-Qaeda. Olsen
noted: "There are times when we are briefing the
White House [and] at the top of the
list are Hizbullah or Iran."
- Iranian leaders appear committed to a policy of targeting Western interests, not only in places where countermeasures may be comparatively underdeveloped
(e.g., Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, India, Georgia, Thailand)
but, if opportunities present themselves, even in world
capitals like Washington, D.C.
The writer is director of The Washington Institute's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.
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