Israel: Assad Preparing to Use Chemical Arms - Gili Cohen (Ha'aretz)
The head of Israel's military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, said on Thursday that Syrian President Bashar Assad is preparing to make use of his chemical weapons.
Much of Syria is now under rebel control, Kochavi told the Herzliya Conference.
To date, the Syrian military has fired 70 Scud and M-600 missiles on populated areas of the country, Kochavi said.
Hundreds of fighters from a special Hizbullah unit are on Syrian soil, he added.
In addition, Hizbullah operatives have trained a 50,000-strong Syrian "people's army" that has been operating for the past six months.
Ethiopian-Born Miss Israel to Meet Obama - Sam Sokol (Jerusalem Post)
The newly crowned Miss Israel, Yityish Aynaw, will meet President Obama next Thursday at a state dinner hosted by President Shimon Peres.
Aynaw, 21, a former IDF officer, said she was "very excited" about meeting a leader whose success she cited as a "notable influence on her life."
Paraplegic Will Leave Wheelchair Behind for Tel Aviv Marathon - Edmund Sanders (Los Angeles Times)
Israeli Druze paratrooper Radi Kaiuf, now 46, was wounded during a 1988 Lebanon firefight and told he'd never walk again.
On Friday, Kaiuf plans to compete in the 10-km. Tel Aviv marathon using ReWalk, a groundbreaking Israeli medical device that enables those paralyzed from the waist down to walk with the aid of robotic leg braces.
Female Technicians Maintain Israeli Fighter Aircraft - Arie Egozi (Flightglobal)
You see them in great numbers at every Israeli air force base - female technicians preparing fighter aircraft for missions around the clock.
Young women in compulsory service with an average age of 19 have become part of the scenery in shelters housing ready-for-action F-15s, F-16s, and Apache helicopters.
Compulsory military service brings many women into all the units of the Israel Defense Forces.
You find them in the infantry, armored units, the navy and in the air force, where they fill positions from radar and electronic systems operators through to line technicians and even aircrews in fighting squadrons.
Finance Minister Reports on Israel's Economic Progress - Niv Elis (Jerusalem Post)
Outgoing Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz on Monday told the Knesset Finance Committee that Israel's economy went from shrinking 2.4% in 2009 to growing 3.1% at the end of 2012.
The debt burden fell from 79.4% of GDP to 73.8% and Israel's credit rating rose to A+ from A.
The unemployment rate fell from 9.5% to 6.5%, while GDP per capita grew 5.2%.
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- Iran Steps Up Weapons Support to Syria - Louis Charbonneau
Iran has significantly stepped up military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in recent months, Western diplomats said. Iranian weapons continue to pour into Syria from Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon. "The Iranians really are supporting massively the regime," a senior Western diplomat said this week. "They have been increasing their support for the last three, four months through Iraq's airspace and now trucks. And the Iraqis really are looking the other way." (Reuters)
- Iran Oil Exports Rise Even as Sanctions Widen - Isaac Arnsdorf
Iranian oil shipments rose 13%, to 1.28 million barrels a day in February from 1.13 million in January, even as the U.S. implemented new sanctions against Iran, according to the International Energy Agency.
Iranian exports are still down from an average of 1.5 million barrels a day in 2012 and 2.5 million in 2011.
- Free Syrian Army vs. Jihadists - Michael J. Totten
Anti-regime activists took to the streets of rebel-held Mayadeen in eastern Syria on Wednesday for the third straight day to demand that jihadist Al-Nusra Front fighters leave the town, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. When Assad falls, the Free Syrian Army will go to war with Jabhat al-Nusra. There is not enough room in that country for al-Nusra and everyone else. (World Affairs)
- Jews Worldwide See an Ally in Newly Elected Pope Francis - Lauren Markoe
Jews worldwide welcomed newly elected Pope Francis as a friend on Wednesday, and pointed in particular to his sympathetic and strong reaction to the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in his native Argentina. "He has shown deep signs of respect and friendship towards the Jews," said Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome.
As Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis "has had a warm relationship with the Jewish community of Argentina, and enjoyed close friendships with many prominent rabbis," said Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee.
See also Israeli President Invites New Pope to Visit the Holy Land - Anna Sheinman (Jewish Chronicle-UK)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Hamas Minister Promoting Terror Attacks - Yoav Zitun
Hamas interior minister in Gaza Fathi Hamad is behind attempts to launch terror attacks against Israel from the West Bank, an Israel Security Agency report published Wednesday revealed. Hamad's involvement was exposed during the interrogation of a Hamas terror cell arrested recently in the Ramallah area. The terror cell members were preparing explosive devices and planning abductions and launching rockets.
- Golan UN Peacekeepers to End Patrols, Leave Posts - Joshua Davidovich
The UN peacekeeping force on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights said Wednesday it would drastically cut back activity, fearing more kidnappings like one last week involving 21 Filipino soldiers. The force will stop patrols and shut down a number of observation posts, a senior UN diplomat told AFP.
(Times of Israel)
See also Croatia Orders Pullout of Peacekeepers from Syria-Israel Border (AP-Washington Post)
- PA Lowers Expectations of Obama Visit - Jack Khoury
American officials in charge of coordinating President Obama's upcoming visit have told PA officials not to anticipate any breakthroughs, saying he was coming just "to listen," according to a Palestinian source. Ha'aretz has learned that the Americans are pressuring the PA to avoid any more unilateral moves, including petitioning the International Court of Justice against Israel. (Ha'aretz)
- Egypt Bans Film about Jewish Community - Ben Child
Egyptian security agencies have banned a film about the nation's once-thriving Jewish community just a day before it was due to open in cinemas, according to the documentary's producer, Haytham el-Khamissy. The "Jews of Egypt" examines the lives of the country's estimated 65,000 Jews prior to their departure in the late 1950s due to Egypt's conflict with Israel. The film presents a harmonious vision of early 20th century multicultural Egypt and asks: "How did the Jews of Egypt turn in the eyes of Egyptians from partners in the same country to enemies?" - according to director Amir Ramses. (Guardian-UK)
View Trailer for "Jews of Egypt" - Max Fisher (Washington Post)
- Qatar Cuts Egypt Loose as Financial Picture Darkens - Walter Russell Mead
Egypt's death spiral is now scaring off even its closest friends. Last year, Qatar gave an Egypt in crisis $5 billion in aid money. But Qatar won't help Egypt anymore, according to the Financial Times.
A $4.8 billion grant from the IMF could stanch the bleeding, but it requires Egypt to accept austerity measures that are deeply unpopular with most Egyptians. (American Interest)
See also Egypt Wheat Stocks Dwindle
"The total strategic stocks of local and imported wheat have reached 2.207 million tons, enough for 89 days until 9 June 2013,"
an Egyptian Cabinet report said on Wednesday.
When new shipments on order arrive, they will add an extra 479,000 tons. Egypt normally buys strategically to ensure that it has wheat stocks equal to at least six months' consumption. (Egypt Independent)
- Egypt's Army Will Not Intervene - Hillel Frisch
Hopes or expectations that the Egyptian military will intervene in the deteriorating political and security crisis are probably misguided. The army is loath to take on the well-organized and powerful Muslim Brotherhood because the majority of its soldiers support the Islamist government. It also wants to avoid losing financial backing from the U.S., which would not support a military coup.
The writer is a professor at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at the BESA Center.
(Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies - Bar-Ilan University)
See also Deadlock in Cairo - Hazem Kandil (London Review of Books)
- Salafis Push for a Puritanical Egypt - Jeffrey Fleishman
The brother of al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri, Mohammed, is an unflinching man whose aim, as a Salafi, is to impose Islamic law on Egypt. He was imprisoned for more than a decade on charges of attempting to overthrow the state. Once at the edges of Egypt's political spectrum, puritanical Islamists - Salafis - have been emboldened by the nation's revolution.
Morgan Gohary, who fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan, returned home after years as a warrior in a shifting international holy war.
"Having a parliament is blasphemy," Gohary said. "Egypt needs someone like Osama bin Laden."
"The secularists want Egypt to look like Europe and America," Gohary said. "But only Islamic rules should apply. God is the ruler, not the people. We battled Mubarak over this for years and this is why we killed Sadat." Gohary recently startled Egypt by calling for the destruction of the pyramids. He called them idols forbidden by Islam, much like the Buddhist statues the Taliban blew up in 2001. (Los Angeles Times)
Hizbullah's European Enablers - Matthew Levitt (National Post-Canada)
Hizbullah has been banned in Canada since 2002, but not so in the European Union as a whole.
- Hizbullah has been active in Europe since the early 1980s, when it engaged in a long list of attacks across the continent. But while it has continuously raised funds, procured arms and provided logistical support for attacks elsewhere, it had been years since Hizbullah last carried out an attack on European soil. Then came the Burgas bombing in Bulgaria in 2012.
- In Cyprus, as well, authorities arrested an admitted Hizbullah operative who collected information about Israeli tourists in a similar plot.
- Given Hizbullah's long and sordid history in Europe, and the fact that it now has resumed violent operations there, what will it take to get EU member states to agree to ban Hizbullah as the terrorist group it is?
The writer is director of the program on counterterrorism and intelligence at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
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