Hizbullah Courier Was Told to Track Israeli Flights - Nicholas Kulish (New York Times)
Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, a Hizbullah operative who worked as a courier for the group in Europe, said at his trial in Cyprus on Thursday that he had instructions to record the arrival times of passenger flights from Israel to Cyprus, prompting Israel to press the EU to formally declare Hizbullah a terrorist organization.
President Shimon Peres of Israel said Thursday: "The hour has come for every country in the world, and especially the European Union, to add Hizbullah to the list of terror organizations."
"It is time to call Hizbullah what it really is: a murderous terror organization."
Experts Decry EU Delays on Hizbullah Sanctions - Benjamin Weinthal (Jerusalem Post)
Hossam Taleb Yaacoub's admission in a Cypriot criminal court on Wednesday that he was a member of Hizbullah and was assigned to track the movements of Israeli tourists on the island opened a new floodgate of evidence that the Lebanese group had been engaging in murderous acts within the EU.
"The details revealed by Hossam Taleb Yaacoub regarding Hizbullah's activities in Europe surely put the final nail in the coffin of the credibility of any further equivocation regarding Hizbullah's status as a transnational Islamist terror group," said Dr. Jonathan Spyer, a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya.
However, "European reluctance in this regard does not relate to the facts, but rather to the fear in some European countries of antagonizing Hizbullah."
Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University said, "The leaders of the European Union claim to promote moral foreign policies, but the cynical excuses used to avoid designating Hizbullah as a terrorist organization are anything but moral."
Why Kerry's Not Visiting Israel - Aaron David Miller (Wilson Center)
John Kerry's first trip as Secretary of State includes just about every other Middle Eastern stop except Israel.
However, a new Israeli government has yet to be formed in the coalition-making negotiations following the elections, so Kerry has no official counterpart yet. At the moment, the focus in Israel is internal horse trading, not diplomacy.
Kerry's visit would only confuse matters further or be deemed not relevant. That's not good for him or America.
Syrian Television's Most Outraged Bystander - Robert Mackey (New York Times)
In the aftermath of a deadly bombing in Damascus on Thursday, a man emerged from a small knot of bystanders crowded around a camera crew from Syrian state television to vent his anger at the foreign Islamist fighters he held responsible.
Rime Allaf, a Syrian writer monitoring the conflict from Vienna, noticed that this man on the street, whose views so closely echoed those of the Syrian government, had a very familiar face.
That is because, as opposition activists demonstrated, the same man had already appeared at least 18 times in the forefront or background of such reports since the start of the uprising.
Israel's Deputy Ambassador Forced to Flee Essex University Lecture - Marcus Dysch (Jewish Chronicle-UK)
Israel's deputy ambassador to Britain Alon Roth-Snir was forced to flee from Essex University in Colchester on Wednesday when 40 students disrupted his presentation.
After the deputy ambassador was forced to flee, Nathan Bolton, president of the student union, tweeted that it had been "a great day - free Palestine!"
An Israeli embassy spokesman said: "These students make a mockery of the very foundations of freedom of speech, a pillar of the academic world."
British Aim to Forge UK-Israel Academic Links - David Matthews (Times Higher Education-UK)
In 2011 the British Embassy in Israel and the British Council launched the Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership (Birax) Regenerative Medicine Initiative, a multi-million-pound, five-year partnership involving scientists and universities from both countries.
The British Embassy and the British Council are launching an "ambitious strategy to persuade Israeli students to study in the UK," said the British ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould.
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- Iran Moves to New Machines for Making Nuclear Fuel - David E. Sanger and William J. Broad
Just days before Iran enters its first nuclear talks with the West since the summer, international nuclear inspectors said Thursday that the country has begun installing a new generation of equipment that should give it the ability to produce nuclear fuel much faster. The new centrifuges at Natanz are four to five times more powerful and would make it easier for Iran to race toward making fuel for nuclear weapons, if it decided to do so. Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, called the installation of the advanced machines "yet another provocative step" and "a further escalation."
At the same time, evidence collected by the International Atomic Energy Agency suggests that the Iranian authorities are deliberately slowing the accumulation of the medium-enriched uranium that could most quickly be converted to bomb fuel. According to a new report by the agency, Iran has diverted about 40% of its growing stockpile of 20%-enriched uranium into an oxide form that can be used to make fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.
Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, defined as a "red line" the accumulation of enough medium-enriched fuel to make a single nuclear weapon - about 240 kg. of uranium enriched to 20% purity. If production remains at roughly the same rate, it appears that the date of the "red line" will now slip from early summer into the fall, allowing more time for diplomatic progress.
(New York Times)
See also Netanyahu: Iran Closer than Ever to Nuclear Bomb - Herb Keinon
Iran is closer than ever to obtaining the necessary enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday in response to an International Atomic Energy Agency report that Iran had begun installing advanced centrifuges at its main uranium enrichment plant. Netanyahu termed the report "very grave," and said it proved that Iran was moving swiftly toward the red line he had set out at the UN in September.
See also Iran Move to Speed Up Nuclear Program Troubles West - Fredrik Dahl
The IAEA said 180 IR-2m centrifuges and empty centrifuge casings had been put in place at Iran's Natanz facility. They were not yet operating.
- British Jihadi Suicide Bomb Gang Guilty of Plotting Terror Attack - Tom Whitehead
The ringleaders of an al-Qaeda-backed British jihadi group - Irfan Naseer, 31, Irfan Khalid, 27, and Ashik Ali, 27 - have been found guilty of plotting the worst terror attack on UK soil. The Birmingham-based gang planned to use eight suicide bombers, armed with guns, to cause "mass death" and "carnage" on the streets of Britain and wanted to carry out "another 9/11." Six other men linked to the plot have already pleaded guilty to related terror offenses.
Naseer and Khalid traveled to Pakistan for terror training, where they made martyrdom videos to be released by al-Qaeda after they had blown themselves up. Detective Inspector Adam Gough said: "They were the real deal. They were committed, passionate extremists hell bent on pursuing their intention of killing as many people as they could in coordinated suicide bomb attacks." The gang raised more than £20,000 by claiming to be collecting for Muslim Aid to fund their atrocity.
- Car Bomb Kills 50 as Rebels Push Deeper into Damascus - Babak Dehghanpisheh and Ahmed Ramadan
The detonation of a massive car bomb on Thursday near the heart of Damascus underscored a major shift that has brought sustained fighting close to the center of the capital for the first time. The attack killed at least 50 people and wounded more than 200 near the headquarters of Syrian President Assad's Baath Party. Rebels have recently increased their pressure in Damascus, with brazen daylight attacks on military checkpoints in the center of the city and two mortar attacks aimed at Assad's palaces.
- U.S. Congressmen Support Bulgarian Report on Hizbullah Responsibility for Burgas Bombing
Over 100 U.S. Congressmen sent a letter to the Bulgarian government "to express our support for your recent report on the 2012 Burgas bombing....The Bulgarian report demonstrates irrefutable evidence that Hizbullah was responsible for the
Burgas bombing. There is now clear imperative for action. Hizbullah's actions in Europe must be met
with a response to prevent further attacks in Europe and around the world."
"Placing Hizbullah on the terrorist list would be the next logical step, in light of the terrorist attack
on European soil. Blocking Hizbullah from fundraising would make it more difficult for Hizbullah to
plan, finance and execute terrorist activities in Europe and around the world. We fear that failure to add
Hizbullah to the terror list will allow, perhaps even encourage, the terror organization to exploit the lack
of unity in the European Union Member States and attempt to launch additional attacks on civilians.
Furthermore, if Hizbullah's ability to maintain fundraising networks in Europe remains intact, this
threatens to undermine the European Union's significant efforts towards Middle East peace." (U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman)
- Sympathy for a Palestinian Terrorist? - Tamar Sternthal
Palestinian demonstrations and NGO activity on behalf of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner Samer Issawi have intensified.
Who is Samer Issawi and why had he been imprisoned?
According to the Israel Prison Service, Samer Issawi of Issawiyeh, Jerusalem, was arrested in April 2002 and sentenced to 26 years for attempted murder, belonging to a terror organization, military training, and possession of weapons, arms and explosive materials. Issawi was one of the 477 Palestinian prisoners released in the first stage of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange in October 2011. Issawi was convicted of firing a gun at a civilian vehicle in October 2001, indiscriminately firing an AK47 assault rifle at civilian buses, and manufacturing and distributing pipe bombs used in attacks on Israeli civilians.
As part of the Shalit deal, a condition of Issawi's release was that he was banned from entering the West Bank, but he violated the terms of his release by entering the West Bank three times after he was freed, and was therefore rearrested. As for his 200-day hunger strike, the Palestinian minister of prisoner affairs, Issa Qaraqe, said Issawi began his fast in August and has been observing it intermittently.
Prison spokesman Sivan Weizman said he eats periodically. (CAMERA)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Prisoner Protests Mark PA Effort to Start a "Popular Intifada" - Elhanan Miller
With little prospect of success on the reconciliation front with Hamas, and on the verge of bankruptcy, the Palestinian Authority has been instrumental in orchestrating the escalating series of popular demonstrations in recent weeks, held in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. On Thursday, thousands of Palestinians demonstrated at the Beitunia military checkpoint near the Ofer Prison outside Ramallah.
"The PA is incessantly searching for issues to mobilize the public," said Hillel Frisch of Bar-Ilan University's BESA Center. "If it weren't prisoners, the PA would find another issue. This is a highly planned, top-down mobilization." PA President Mahmoud Abbas has praised the protests and Samer Issawi's hunger strike, calling them "an honorable example of our people's struggle for freedom and independence."
Yet, Frisch said, the protest movement lacks two essential components for success: an effective organizational framework and middle-ranking commanders. "Violence can flare," Frisch said, "but without organization and middle command it won't persist."
Shalom Harari, a former adviser on Arab affairs at Israel's Defense Ministry, added, "The Arab World and the West are beginning to forget the Palestinian issue. So the PA has decided to employ a policy of 'soft violence,' which isn't necessarily so soft." (Times of Israel)
See also The Palestinian Authority's Responsibility for the Outbreak of the Second Intifada: Its Own Damning Testimony - Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi (ICA-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
- Israel Awards Golan Oil Drilling License - Amiram Barkat
The Israeli government has awarded a license to drill for oil on the southern half of the Golan Heights to Genie Energy Ltd., headed by former minister Effie Eitam.
Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney is an advisor to the company. Geological tests indicate a large potential oil discovery in the area. The license is highly symbolic for Eitam, who resides on the Golan and fought against the Syrian Army there during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, winning a medal for courage.
- Palestinians Plan Violence to Force the U.S. to Extract Concessions from Israel - Khaled Abu Toameh
There are many signs that the Palestinian Authority is seeking to escalate tensions in the West Bank ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to the region next month.
Some PA officials in Ramallah believe that a "mini-intifada" would serve the Palestinians' interests, hoping that scenes of daily clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians will prompt Obama to exert pressure on the Israeli government to make far-reaching concessions.
Now the PA is using the issue of Palestinian prisoners as an excuse to call for street protests and clashes. Before that, the PA used the issue of settlements as an excuse for protests.
Before that, the PA leadership encouraged Palestinians to protest against Israeli "plans" to destroy the Aqsa Mosque. (Gatestone Institute)
- Insufficient Trust for a Deal with Iran - David Ignatius
While the next negotiating session between Iran and the P5+1 nations is scheduled for Feb. 26 in Kazakhstan, Mohammad Khazaee, Iran's ambassador to the UN, indicated this week that while a deal can be imagined in principle, the environment isn't conducive for making it happen in practice. He said, "The point is...the mistrust that exists between the two countries. As soon as one side says something...[the other side] says there is a hidden agenda." (Washington Post)
- How to Start a Battalion in Syria (in Five Easy Lessons) - Ghaith Abdul-Ahad
For decades, the dictatorship in Syria worked to stamp the people into submission, to be subservient to the ruler. In Syria, you spent your life trying to avoid being humiliated - let alone detained and tortured or disappeared - by those in authority while somehow also sucking up to them, bribing them, begging them to give you what you needed: a telephone line, a passport, a university place for your son. So when these systems of control collapsed, something exploded inside people, a sense of individualism long suppressed.
Why would I succumb to your authority as a commander when I can be my own commander and fight my own insurgency? Many of the battalions dotted across the Syrian countryside consist only of a man with a connection to a financier, along with a few of his cousins and clansmen. (London Review of Books)
- Who Really Cares about the Palestinians? - Mitchell Bard
Just two months ago, 180 countries voted in favor of Palestinian statehood at the UN, but they have not adopted a resolution condemning the brutal slaughter of more than 700 Palestinians in Syria. If Israel were responsible for what is happening to the Palestinians, the UN would have acted immediately, but the inconvenient truth is that no one really cares about the Palestinians - unless Jews are involved.
In 1948, the Arab states did not invade to help the Palestinians. They intended to carve up Palestine for themselves, not to create a Palestinian state. From 1949 until 1967, Egypt and Jordan could have given Gaza and the West Bank to the Palestinians for a state. Neither did, but no one in the world cared because the occupiers were Arabs. The writer is executive director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise.
(Times of Israel)
- Made in China, Blessed in Israel - Judy Maltz
Descendants of Kaifeng Jews, an ancient community from China's Henan Province, have come to Israel to reclaim their Judaism. Yage Wong, today Yaakov, and five of his peers, all in their 20s, recently participated in the conversion rituals in Israel, becoming the first group of men from this remote Jewish community to be accepted back into the fold after hundreds of years. They were preceded in 2007 by a group of four Kaifeng women who completed the conversion process in Israel.
The Jewish community of Kaifeng was formed roughly 1,000 years ago, when a group of Jewish merchants, presumably from Persia, settled in the region. The Jews lived in a segregated community for hundreds of years before they began assimilating and intermarrying with local Chinese.
At its height, the community numbered as many as 5,000. Today, about 1,000 Chinese can trace their roots to them.
See also Video: Search for the Jews of Kaifeng - Gidon Elazar
With no synagogue or rabbi since the mid-19th century, until very recently the descendants of the ancient Jewish community of Kaifeng had almost completely assimilated into the Chinese world around them. In recent years, however, some members of the community have begun to examine and explore their Jewish roots. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
- Revealing Herbal Remedies in the Land of Israel - Dan Even
For the past year and a half, scientists have been collecting various plants from throughout Israel and then studying their ability to treat human diseases in the laboratory, as part of the international BioXplore project funded by the EU. Israel sits at the crossroads between three continents and has a very broad range of climates and habitats, with 2,600 local species of plants found in this country. The interim findings show dozens of plants that have been found to treat diseases caused by bacteria, parasites and worms.
"The Land of Israel is known for being very appropriate for growing medicinal herbs since it is dry here in summer. The aridity allows the essential oils to develop inside the plants," explained Dr. Mina Faran, president of the Israeli Herbalists Association.
Are Iran Sanctions Working? - Elliott Abrams (Council on Foreign Relations)
- It's a commonplace to say that sanctions against Iran are tighter than ever and are working. The problem is that sanctions appear to be having no impact on Iran's nuclear weapons program, which is after all their purpose.
- The damage to Iran's economy is visible, foreign exchange reserves are down from $100 billion to $75 billion, but that is not economic collapse.
- A foreign ambassador stationed in Iran recently told me that the depressed value of the currency means that a middle class family can no longer afford an annual vacation in Turkey and now has to vacation inside Iran. But that's hardly the kind of thing that produces rioting and it isn't going to produce a change in the Supreme Leader's nuclear policy.
- Reuters' Middle East economics editor recently wrote that sanctions "are not close to having the 'crippling' effect envisaged by Washington. The Iranian government has found ways to soften the impact."
- So sanctions are hurting Iran's economy, and are hurting many Iranians - though the richest can take care of themselves, and the poorest are protected by the government with subsidies for food. But there is no crisis, and it seems to be wishful thinking that the ayatollahs will abandon their nuclear program because the economic pain is too great.
The writer is a Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at CFR.
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