Syria's Druze Shifting Support to the Opposition - Babak Dehghanpisheh (Washington Post)
Members of Syria's Druze community are joining the opposition in bigger numbers, according to opposition activists and rebel military commanders.
The Syrian Druze number 700,000 out of a total population of 21 million, and have a history of rebelling under authoritarian leaders. Most live in mountainous southwestern Syria.
In mid-January, dozens of Druze fighters joined a rebel assault on a radar base on a mountaintop in Sweida province. The fighters killed several government soldiers but were ultimately routed by troops that outgunned them; the fighters retreated, suffering many casualties.
Among those killed was Khaldoun Zeineddine, one of the first Druze officers to defect from the Syrian army, who was seen as a folk hero among the Druze who have joined the opposition.
Saudi Money Shaping U.S. Research - Susan Schmidt (National Interest)
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) opened its doors in 2009 and already has lavished more than $200 million on top U.S. university scientists.
Stanford, Cornell, Texas A&M, UC Berkeley, CalTech, Georgia Tech - all are awash in new millions of Saudi cash for research directed at advancing solutions for Saudi energy and water needs.
Fertility, Faith, and the Decline of Islam: Strategic Implications - David P. Goldman (PJ Media)
Iran's total fertility rate plunged to 1.6 in 2010, barely above Europe's rate of 1.5 children per female. In 1979, when the Islamists took power in Iran, the average woman bore seven children.
Turkey's fertility rate is about the same as Iran's.
Faith and fertility are linked inextricably. Iran may be one of the world's most secular countries; some reports put mosque attendance at just 2%, lower than Church of England attendance.
A society that suddenly stops having children suffers from cultural despair.
Israel Permits Construction Materials from Turkey into Gaza - Serkan Demirtas (Hurriyet-Turkey)
In a move described as a gesture of goodwill toward Turkey, Israel has authorized the passage of Turkish trucks through Gaza carrying materials for the construction of the Turkish-Palestine Friendship Hospital.
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan is expected to visit Gaza to inaugurate the hospital within a year.
Turkey recently acted against Israel's membership to the board of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), despite strong pressure from its Western allies.
Israeli Team Wins Ice Hockey World Cup Hosted by Turkey (Hurriyet-Turkey)
The Israeli ice hockey team took home the winning title in the U-18 World Championship, which was hosted in Kocaeli, Turkey.
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- Syria's Rebels Prepare to Take a Province from Assad - Rania Abouzeid
Last Wednesday, the rebels began a new push to take Wadi Deif, a Syrian military base that is one of the last major loyalist outposts in the vast northern province of Idlib. But unlike previous offensives that were disorganized, poorly coordinated actions by a few brigades, this one has been carefully planned over many weeks.
The offensive is overseen by a council of religious clerics, a Shari'a court led by Jabhat al-Nusra, a militant group designated a terrorist organization by the U.S but widely respected by rebels for its disciplined fighting prowess. The court has knitted together dozens of groups from across Idlib province, extracting a sworn pledge from each brigade leader that he will work with the other groups under the direction of the court and will not compete with his counterparts for any spoils of war from the outposts if they fall.
The Free Syrian Army's Idlib Revolutionary Military Council, headed by Colonel Afif Suleiman, is also involved, but not in a leading role.
See also Fall of Damascus May Not End Syrian Civil War - Jonathan Spyer
The regime of President Bashar Assad is contracting, and seeking to establish new defensive lines.
In the capital city Damascus,
Assad's forces are ceding rebel-held eastern suburbs and fiercely defending the remainder. At the same time, Assad is building an additional defensive line in the Orontes River valley, west of the majority Sunni cities of Homs and Hama.
This appears to be part of a strategy whereby if Damascus falls, the regime will seek to maintain control of an area of Alawi majority population in the west of the country, from where it will continue its fight. If the capital city falls, this will effectively mark the end of the Assad regime, but it will probably not mark the end of the Syrian civil war.
The core, Alawi-dominated, Praetorian Guard type units of the Syrian Arab Army remain loyal to the regime. The 4th Armored Division and the Republican Guard, both commanded by the president's brother, Maher, remain intact, as do the regime's special forces and the "Shabiha" Alawi irregular forces.
The fall of Assad would mean a major, strategic setback for Iranian ambitions in the Levant area. Yet Israel is acutely aware of the large numbers of Syrian and foreign Salafi (extreme Sunni Islamist) fighters playing a vital part in the fight against Assad. The presence of these men, and the likely anarchy in a post-Assad Syria, would bring with it the possibility of attacks on Israel from across the border. The writer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya.
See also Syrian Rebels Capture Largest Dam in Syria - Bassem Mrou (AP)
See also Will the Al-Qaeda Affiliates Ousting Assad Turn to Israel Next? - Mitch Ginsburg
Last week Islamist fighters in Syria released a video showing masked Jabhat al-Nusra fighters saying: "We will put our hands on" Assad's biological and chemical arsenal. "We will attack and take over those sites and then use them against the Zionists, from Syrian territory, until we reach Jerusalem."
The U.S. State Department in December called Jabhat al-Nusra an alias for Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and added it to the U.S. list of foreign terror organizations. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the organization represents 9% of the rebel forces in Syria.
(Times of Israel)
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- Report: Egypt Destroying Gaza Smuggling Tunnels - Jack Khoury
The Egyptian army has been destroying smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Sinai by flooding them,
the Hamas website reported.
The Egyptian army has increased its deployment along its border since August 5, 2012, when 16 Egyptian border police were killed in a terror attack. A Palestinian official said that Egypt's destruction of the tunnels is in keeping with the agreements reached between Egypt, Hamas and Israel after Israel's Gaza operation in November. (Ha'aretz)
See also Report: Egypt Blocking Smuggling Routes in Sinai - Elhanan Miller
Over the past 10 days, Egyptian soldiers have set up checkpoints in Sinai, stopped incoming trucks, and confiscated merchandise headed for Gaza through the smuggling tunnels, the Safa news agency reported Monday. Tunnel owners said the Egyptians have dug a well opposite the border with Gaza and installed hoses leading into the tunnels. Some tunnel owners have begun employing pumps to empty the water.
(Times of Israel)
- "Turkey Hurting NATO by Undermining Israel Ties" - Herb Keinon
Turkey continues to undermine Israel-NATO cooperation and this hurts the NATO alliance, the deputy head of Israel's National Security Council, Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman, told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem on Monday.
Lerman said that Ankara should be told that it was not proper for a member of NATO to undermine the organization's capacity.
Asked whether the U.S. should continue supplying Egypt with fighter planes and tanks, Lerman noted Egypt's role in securing the cease-fire with Gaza following the fighting in November, saying this is "the longest cease-fire" Israel has had with Gaza. He added that "it is our judgment that in this period of history, the Egyptian military remains the repository of the historical memory [inside Egypt] that war is bad. Our relationship with it, and the U.S. relationship with it, is useful to our long-term interests." (Jerusalem Post)
- Iran's Global Business Is Murder Inc. - Michael Oren
In 25 cities across five continents, community centers, consulates, army barracks and houses of worship have been targeted for destruction. Thousands have been killed. The perpetrators are agents of Hizbullah and the Quds Force, sometimes operating separately and occasionally in unison. All take their orders from Tehran.
Hizbullah provides the foot soldiers necessary for realizing Iran's vision of a global Islamic empire. With funding, training and weapons from Iran, Hizbullah terrorists have killed European peacekeepers, foreign diplomats and thousands of Lebanese, among them Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. They have hijacked American, French and Kuwaiti airliners and kidnapped and executed officials from several countries. They are collaborating in Bashar Assad's slaughter of opposition forces in Syria today. Second only to al Qaeda, Hizbullah has murdered more Americans - at least 266 - than any other terrorist group.
Above all, Hizbullah strives to kill Jews. It has fired thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians and tried to assassinate Israeli diplomats in at least six countries. Its early 1990s bombing of a Jewish community center and the Israeli Embassy in Argentina killed 115.
Iran and its proxies have already dotted the world with murderous acts. They need only nuclear weapons to complete the horrific picture. The writer is Israel's ambassador to the U.S.
(Wall Street Journal)
- Blaming "El Yahud" - Zvi Mazel
Hassan Banna, who founded the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, offered his services to Hitler
with the onset of World War II, while asking him to help Egypt in its fight against the British and the Jews. The clandestine terror organization he set up passed along information on the movements of British forces.
Under former president Hosni Mubarak, incitement went on in the media and in the mosques, though they were under state control. It was an unwritten rule that no item presenting Israel and/or the Jews in a favorable light could be aired.
Israeli cities were called "settlements" wherever they were; reports would describe "a fedayeen operation in the Haifa settlement," referring to a city in the heart of Israel. Israelis are usually called "el Yahud," the Jews.
Editorials in the Egyptian media routinely accuse Jews of treacherous actions such as "infiltrating into Africa to incite Africans against Egypt." A recurrent theme is making the Jews responsible for the ongoing struggle between Egypt and upper Nile countries regarding the distribution of the river's waters. The writer, a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.
Netanyahu: Israel's Three External Challenges (Israel Prime Minister's Office)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations meeting in Jerusalem on Monday:
- Three great challenges - Iran, Syria and the pursuit of peace - are three of the main subjects that I intend to take up with President Obama when he comes here to visit Israel.
- Iran's nuclear weapons program continues unabated. I drew a line at the UN the last time I was there. They haven't crossed that line, but they're shortening the time that it will take them to cross that line by putting in new, faster centrifuges that cut the time by one-third. This has to be stopped for the peace and security of the entire world.
- How do you stop it? You have to put greater pressure on them. You have to upgrade the sanctions. And they have to know that if the sanctions and diplomacy fail, they will face a credible military threat. That's essential. Nothing else will do the job. And it's getting closer.
- The second challenge we face is in Syria, whose stockpiles of chemical weapons and other strategic weapons can change the balance of power in the Middle East. We will not sit idly by and let those weapons fall into the hands of terrorists.
- The third challenge is to advance a solid, secure peace with the Palestinians. I believe that the framework for this peace is two states for two peoples - a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.
- To reach this solution we have to negotiate in good faith, which means you don't place preconditions. My hope is that the Palestinians will leave their preconditions aside and get to the negotiating table so we don't waste another four years.
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