Iran's Supreme Leader Expresses Little Hope for Upcoming Talks - Jason Rezaian (Washington Post)
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told air force commanders Thursday that direct talks between Iran and the U.S. will not solve the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.
"I'm not a diplomat, I'm a revolutionary," said Khamenei, according to Iran's Mehr News agency.
See also Iran's Supreme Leader Rejects Direct Nuclear Talks with U.S. (AP-Fox News)
Ahmadinejad - Iran Ready to Destroy Israel (UPI)
The Iranian people are ready to destroy Israel, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on the sidelines of the Islamic summit in Cairo.
"The Iranian people are ready to march on Israel to destroy it if it launches an attack adventure against Iran."
Also attending the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit in Cairo, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas thanked the Iranian president for supporting the Palestinian people.
See also Five Held in Egypt for Waving Shoes at Ahmadinejad (UPI)
Four Egyptians and a Syrian were arrested in Cairo for waving shoes at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - considered a sign of disrespect in eastern culture - to protest Iran's support for Syrian President Assad.
Yemen: Seized Iranian Ship Carried Weapons, Explosives, Rockets (AP-Washington Post)
A ship seized by Yemeni authorities last month carried a wide variety of Iranian-made weapons, Yemen's Defense Ministry said Wednesday.
They included material for bombs and suicide belts, explosives, Katyusha rockets, surface-to-air missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and large amounts of ammunition.
Night vision binoculars and goggles, remote devices, circuits, wires and rifle silencers were also discovered.
PA Sentences Man to One Year in Prison for Criticizing Leaders - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
A man who criticized the Palestinian Authority leadership has been sentenced to one year in prison, Palestinian sources said Wednesday.
Anas Awwad, 26, from Awarta, south of Nablus, was found guilty of "extending his tongue" against the PA leadership and "fomenting sedition and sectarian strife."
Palestinian Grand Mufti Slams Jerusalem Marathon - Mohammed Mar'i (Saudi Gazette)
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Tuesday denounced the International Jerusalem Marathon scheduled for March 1.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said Monday he will be running the half-marathon this year, while his wife will be running the 10k.
The Israeli organizers said that 17,000 runners are expected to participate in the 21-km. marathon, 1,600 from 52 other countries and 35 elite runners from Ethiopia and Kenya.
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- Multinational Search for Hizbullah Terrorists Behind Bulgaria Blast - Matthew Brunwasser and Nicholas Kulish
Law enforcement and intelligence officials from several countries are working to find two Hizbullah members, a Canadian and an Australian, both of Lebanese descent, who are believed to be behind the deadly bombing of a bus full of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria.
Bulgarian officials believe the two were working with a third man who was accidentally killed while trying to stow the bomb in the luggage compartment under the bus.
On Wednesday, Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said the three flew from Beirut to Warsaw, then traveled by train to Bulgaria. He said evidence indicated that the plan was to blow up the bus while it was traveling to a hotel using a remote detonator.
After the bomb exploded, the two surviving conspirators escaped to Romania, then flew to Turkey before traveling to Lebanon.
(New York Times)
- White House: Obama Won't Introduce New Peace Plan During Israel Visit
President Barack Obama won't be carrying any big new Mideast peace plans when he visits Israel this spring. Rather, he hopes to reset his relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Obama will stress the importance of getting the parties back to the negotiating table. But U.S. officials caution that no breakthroughs are expected during the president's trip and reviving the peace process in the near term is not seen as realistic by the Obama administration.
"That is not the purpose of this visit," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.
- U.S. Ratchets Up Economic War Against Tehran - Thomas Erdbrink and David E. Sanger
The West escalated the economic war another notch on Wednesday, imposing a new set of restrictions that block the sending of payments for oil deliveries to accounts inside Iran. From now on, when China, Japan, South Korea and India, among others, pay for oil deliveries, they will be required to put that money into a local bank account, which Iran can use only to buy goods within that country.
It is a way of keeping the money from ever being repatriated to Iran. (New York Times)
See also EU Court Rules Against Iran Bank Sanctions
An EU court has ruled that the EU should lift sanctions it imposed on Bank Saderat, one of Iran's largest banks, the second such judgment that could complicate Western efforts to increase pressure on Iran. The EU's General Court said the EU had failed to provide sufficient evidence that Bank Saderat was involved in Iran's nuclear program. Last week, the court issued a similar ruling about Bank Mellat.
EU diplomats say they face the challenge of providing sufficient justification while not compromising intelligence sources.
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Israel: Hizbullah Will Gain Immunity Without EU Blacklist - Herb Keinon
Europe needs to decide whether it will allow itself to be attacked with impunity, an Israeli diplomatic official said on Wednesday. Since Bulgaria is not going to respond to Hizbullah attacks on its soil by bombing training bases in Lebanon, if there is no strong European diplomatic reaction, then Hizbullah will essentially have immunity.
- Israel's Problem with Turkey Is Bigger than the Mavi Marmara - Ely Karmon
If it was thought that an official Israeli apology to Turkey over the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla incident, accompanied by the payment of damages to the victims, would end the hostilities between the two countries, we now have clear proof that this is simply impossible under the current Turkish administration of Prime Minister Erdogan. Erdogan this week described the bombing of a convoy of advanced ground-to-air missiles from Syria to Hizbullah in Lebanon as "another reflection of Israeli state terror."
Turkey is acting to strengthen the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in the hope of having a firm foothold in the future Syria. Erdogan sees himself as a kind of neo-Ottoman sultan as he seeks to become the leader of the Sunni Muslim bloc in its struggle with the Shia bloc led by Iran. The writer is the Senior Research Scholar at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya.
- Brussels' Hizbullah Excuses Are Running Out - Daniel Schwammenthal
How could adding Hizbullah to the EU's terror list possibly be the wrong thing to do? Over the past 30 years, the "Party of God" has murdered hundreds of people around the world and therefore has long belonged on the EU's terror list.
In recent years Hizbullah has been able to raise funds, recruit new members and even send operatives from Europe to Israel for attacks there, but refrained from carrying out attacks in Europe. Leaving the Burgas bombing unsanctioned would send the message that it is OK to carry out terror attacks, even in Europe - as long as the victims are Israelis.
Hizbullah is the single most destabilizing factor in Lebanon, constituting a state within a state, with its own army. The group is using Lebanon's population as human shields by hiding weapons in or near residential structures. Its support for the Assad regime is, by itself, reason to blacklist it.
Weakening Hizbullah would advance the EU's policy goals in the Middle East: It would be a blow to Assad's regime and would increase the chances of seeing a truly democratic Lebanon emerge. It would also be a blow against Iran and the rejectionist forces that work against Israeli-Palestinian peace. The writer is director of the AJC Transatlantic Institute in Brussels.
(Wall Street Journal-Europe)
See also Europe's Hizbullah Hesitation - Editorial (Wall Street Journal)
See also Why Won't Europe State the Obvious about Hizbullah? - Raphael Ahren (Times of Israel)
- Hizbullah's Bulgaria Problem - Joyce Karam
The Burgas probe comes at a tumultuous time for Hizbullah. The party's popularity has declined in the last few years due to divisive policies, accusations from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as well as continued support for the Assad regime in Syria. Reports on Hizbullah sending fighters into Syrian territory to help the government have not sat well on the Arab street, draining most of the capital that the party acquired fighting Israel.
Today, Hizbullah is seen more as a Lebanese proxy for Iran, one whose performance in the Lebanese government since 2005 is as non-transparent and as corrupt as the rest of the Lebanese political class. Its designation by the EU as a terrorist organization will weaken the party's infrastructure and subject it to more scrutiny in Lebanon. The writer is the Washington correspondent for Al-Hayat.
- Hizbullah's Syria Problem - Matthew Levitt
The Syrian regime is increasingly relying on help from Hizbullah to suppress rebel forces and civilian populations. Syrian protestors are protesting not only for the downfall of Assad, but also against Hizbullah. Indeed, it is the group's activities in Syria that have, as a journalist in Lebanon put it, "torn away the party's mask of virtue."
According to a senior Syrian defense official who defected from the regime, Syrian security services were unable to handle the uprising on their own. "They didn't have decent snipers or equipment," he explained. "They needed qualified snipers from Hizbullah and Iran."
The Party of God has turned its "weapons of resistance" not on Israel, but on fellow Muslims.
This now threatens Hizbullah's standing in Lebanon.
The writer is director of the Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The Bombers of Burgas - Editorial (The Times-UK)
- A terrorist organization is what Hizbullah is and has always been. Nearly 20 years ago it and its Iranian allies were involved in the worst anti-Jewish atrocities in recent history when first the Israeli Embassy and then a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires were bombed. Hizbullah has declared itself to be irreconcilable to the existence of the State of Israel and committed to attacks on Israelis anywhere in the world.
- Locally it has acted as a proxy for both the Syrian and Iranian regimes, receiving money and weapons from both in return for favors, such as its complicity in the assassination of the anti-Syrian former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, in 2005.
- Hizbullah continues to violate every international law. Today it doubtless plans new attacks of the Burgas variety - in which British citizens could easily be the next to die - while intervening in the Syrian civil war on the side of the tyrant Assad.
- In the wake of the Bulgarian report revealing who was responsible for murdering the Israeli visitors to Bulgaria, there can surely be no more hesitation by the EU in declaring Hizbullah to be a murderous gang to whom the message must be clear: you can make peace or you can make war, but you cannot do both.
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