U.S. Poll: 64% Say Military Action Preferable to an Iranian Nuke (Pew Research Center)
A national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted March 13-17, found that
64% of Americans favor stopping Iran's nuclear program, even if it means taking military action.
Time for an Alawite State in Syria - Ely Karmon (Ha'aretz)
The implosion of the Syrian state and the formation of a separate Alawite mini-state is now a plausible outcome of the conflict.
The inevitable collapse of the Assad regime is likely to provoke tremendous acts of revenge by Sunnis against their former rulers, the Alawites.
The Alawite leadership is aware of this impending threat, and has prepared for a retreat to an "Alawite Fortress" in the Mediterranean coast region and the Alawite Mountains; to create a neutral "buffer zone," the regime has already ethnically cleansed the Sunni rural areas near the big cities bordering their enclave.
Lebanese observers have mentioned a plan to build a territorial corridor between the Alawite statelet and the Shia regions in Lebanon that are controlled by Hizbullah and by sympathetic Christians, who fear a radicalization of the Lebanese Sunnis more than all else.
The battles that some 1,500 Hizbullah fighters are waging in Syria are contributing to this plan.
The Assad government could transfer its huge non-conventional weapons arsenal to this territory to serve as an ultimate insurance policy against a massacre of the Alawites.
A radical Alawite state with non-conventional capabilities, with the presence of an Iranian expeditionary force, a territorial link to Hizbullah strongholds in Lebanon, plus a Russian strategic military umbrella in Tartous is a recipe for continuing instability.
The writer is the Senior Research Scholar at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at The Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
Walking through Ramallah and Gaza, Political Differences Become Real - John King (CNN)
In Ramallah, West Bank, there are fancier cars and more economic activity than when I last visited five years ago. There are also posters and protests critical of President Obama.
In Gaza City, a billboard reminds you only fools get optimistic about prospects for peace here: It is a celebration of the Hamas military wing that is responsible for rocket attacks on Israeli communities.
Al-Qaeda Veteran Charged in New York - Peter Finn (Washington Post)
Ibrahim Suleiman Adnan Adam Harun, a battle-hardened al-Qaeda veteran who fought U.S. troops in Afghanistan and planned to bomb U.S. diplomatic facilities in Nigeria, was extradited from Italy last year and indicted in New York, according to court documents unsealed Wednesday.
See also Al-Qaeda Operative Charged for Terrorism Offenses Against Americans Overseas (FBI)
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News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
- Obama and Netanyahu Show Unusual Solidarity - Scott Wilson
President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed an unusual degree of solidarity Wednesday on a set of shared national security concerns that have divided them in the past, as they concluded the first day of Obama's first presidential trip to Israel. The warm display by Obama and Netanyahu comes against the backdrop of a rapidly changing Middle East.
Signs of a stronger U.S.-Israel relationship may put new pressure on Iran's leaders, who Obama said Wednesday must be convinced that it is not in their interest to pursue a nuclear weapon.
See also Israel Extends Obama Effusive Welcome on Historic Trip
Israel on Wednesday gave an effusive welcome to Barack Obama, praising him for his "unshakeable" support and defense of the Jewish state. Speaking at a welcoming ceremony, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he wanted to extend "a simple thank you for standing by Israel at this time of historic change in the Middle East.
Thank you for defending Israel's right to unequivocally defend its right to exist....Thank you, Mr. President, for upholding the Jewish people's right to a Jewish state in our homeland and for boldly defending that right in the United Nations."
President Shimon Peres added, "A world without your friendship would invite aggression against Israel." (AFP)
See also below Observations: Obama's Press Conference in Jerusalem (White House)
- U.S., Israel Concerned about Iran Plutonium Reactor - George Jahn
While international diplomacy has focused on trying to prevent Iran from using enriched uranium to produce nuclear arms, concern is growing about another rapidly advancing project that could supply plutonium for a nuclear weapon. Tehran hopes to have a plutonium-producing reactor up and running next year.
U.S. envoy Joseph Macmanus told a recent meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency that
the plutonium reactor at Arak is "of increasing concern." Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN and an informal adviser to Prime Minister Netanyahu, describes uranium enrichment as "the immediate burning issue," but said the plutonium reactor is "not that far behind." (AP-Washington Post)
- Iran's Support Emboldens Assad, Envoy Says - Michael R. Gordon
Iran is stepping up its military assistance to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and the supplies have strengthened his belief that he can prevail in his struggle with the opposition, Robert S. Ford, the American ambassador to Syria, said Wednesday. With continued support from Iran, Russia and Hizbullah, "today, he still thinks he can win militarily," Ford told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
(New York Times)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Rockets Hit Israel as Obama Visits - Neri Brenner
Five Kassam rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza on Thursday morning, on the second day of President Obama's visit to Israel. One rocket hit the backyard of a house in Sderot.
- Behind the Obama Visit - Ron Ben-Yishai
Washington is seeking to create an axis of stable Sunni countries to counter the Iran-led radical Shiite axis, which is seeking hegemony in the Middle East - with Israel as a quiet partner in this axis. For the sake of this cooperation Obama will likely ask Netanyahu to show restraint and calm in the Palestinian arena and ask Abbas to refrain from attempting any empty diplomatic provocations that will anger Israel and foment unrest in the territories.
With regard to Iran, there are fewer disagreements between Israel and the Obama administration. There is no argument over the intelligence information indicating that Iran's nuclear program is at an advanced stage. The sides also agree in principle on the need to exhaust the non-military means and that the West should have a credible military option that will be activated should Iran cross the red line, although the U.S. and Israel are still at odds over the definition of this red line.
The Americans argue that more than a year will pass before Iran reaches the point where it has the ability to produce a nuclear weapon within weeks of Khamenei's order. Israel claims a decision must be made this coming summer, or in the autumn at the latest - when Iran will have enough 20%-enriched uranium to produce one nuclear warhead.
- Why Is Obama Going to Israel? - Michael Oren
The U.S. is economically, militarily and strategically engaged in the Middle East. And Israel keeps chaos from completely engulfing the area. Without Israel, jihadist forces which have killed Egyptians in Sinai and fired rockets at Jordan would spread unchecked as far north as Lebanon.
Israel has effectively deterred Hizbullah, confining its regional influence and blocking its stated vision of creating "a greater Islamic republic governed by...Iran." Syria long dreamed of annexing Lebanon but refrained for fear of Israeli intervention. If not for Israel, Lebanon as we know it might not even exist. In 1970, when Syria threatened to invade Jordan, Israel mobilized its army in Jordan's defense.
The Palestinian Authority as well remains extensively dependent on the Jewish state. Israel facilitates international trade for the Palestinians, supplies them with water and electricity, and furnishes thousands of jobs. And without Israeli warnings that spurred the international community to act, Iran would have long ago become a nuclear power. The writer is Israel's ambassador to the U.S.
(Los Angeles Times)
- Obama Embraces Biblical Israel - Nathan Diament
After landing in Israel on Wednesday, President Obama explicitly invoked and embraced the Jewish people's historic footing in the Holy Land, dating back to biblical times. "I know that, in stepping foot on this land, I walk in the historic homeland of the Jewish people....More than 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people lived here....The founding of the Jewish State of Israel was a rebirth - a redemption unlike any in history."
President Obama's recognition and acknowledgment of this is a welcome step in the relationship of today's American and Israeli governments and peoples. The writer is Executive Director for Public Policy at the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. (Washington Post)
- Pressuring the PA - Dan Diker
The Palestinians continue to refuse to return to the negotiating table with Israel without preconditions. Both Fatah and Hamas officials have issued threats of violence during President Obama's visit and say they are weighing a third intifada. Obama can still prevail upon the Palestinians to stop the vicious incitement against Israel, stop refusing to negotiate peace with Israel, hold free and fair elections and stop threatening the U.S. administration when it offers to help Palestinians achieve stable political independence. The writer, a foreign policy fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress. (Jerusalem Post)
Obama in Jerusalem: "The Security of Israel is Non-Negotiable" (White House)
At a joint press conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu on Wednesday, President Barack Obama said:
- Israel's security needs are truly unique, as I've seen myself....I've walked through Israeli homes devastated by Hizbullah rockets. I've stood in Sderot, and met with children who simply want to grow up free from fear. And flying in today, I saw again how Israel's security can be measured in mere miles and minutes.
As President, I've, therefore, made it clear America's commitment to the security of the State of Israel is a solemn obligation, and the security of Israel is non-negotiable.
- Today, our military and intelligence personnel cooperate more closely than ever before. We conduct more joint exercises and training than ever before. We're providing more security assistance and advanced technology to Israel than ever before. And that includes more support for the missile defenses like Iron Dome, which I saw today and which has saved so many Israeli lives.
- We will take steps to ensure that there's no interruption of funding for Iron Dome....We will help to preserve Israel's qualitative military edge so that Israel can defend itself, by itself, against any threat.
- We agree that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to the region, a threat to the world, and potentially an existential threat to Israel. And we agree on our goal. We do not have a policy of containment when it comes to a nuclear Iran. Our policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
- My main goal on this trip has been to have an opportunity to speak directly to the Israeli people at a time when obviously what was already a pretty tough neighborhood has gotten tougher, and let them know that they've got a friend in the United States, that we have your back; that we consider Israel's security of extraordinary importance to us, not just because of the bonds between our peoples but also because of our own national security interest.
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