Hizbullah Courier Found Guilty in Plot to Attack Israeli Tourists in Cyprus - Nicholas Kulish (New York Times)
A court in Cyprus on Thursday found Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, a dual Swedish-Lebanese citizen, guilty of participating in a plot to attack Israeli tourists there, part of a conspiracy similar to a deadly bombing last July in Bulgaria.
Yaacoub admitted in court last month that he was a member of Hizbullah, and that he was trained in the use of weapons and sent around Europe on missions as a courier and scout for the organization.
Yaacoub acknowledged performing clandestine work in France and the Netherlands as well as Cyprus.
His conviction is likely to give further impetus to efforts to have the group designated a terrorist organization by the EU. Experts say that in the legalistic, bureaucratic world of Brussels, a court conviction holds significantly more weight than a declaration by a government or an intelligence report.
See also Why Europe Should Ban Hizbullah - Matthew Levitt
Palestinians Disappointed with Obama - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
Even before President Obama left Ramallah on Thursday, PA officials were quick to express disappointment with the result of his talks with President Abbas.
Asked about the PA's future steps in light of Obama's visit, an aide to Abbas said, "We have no choice but to step up popular resistance against Israeli occupation and settlements."
Obama's Israel Visit Leaves Arabs Upset - Ariel Ben Solomon (Jerusalem Post)
The Arab media see the Obama visit to Israel as a reversal of his initial attitude upon beginning his first term in 2009 and his famous outreach to the Muslim world, symbolized by his speech in Cairo that same year.
How Would Obama's Speech Play in Ramallah? - Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)
President Obama delivered a passionate peace paean to a warm and excited crowd in Jerusalem on Thursday.
That peace will arrive when a similar address receives a comparable ovation in Ramallah, let alone Gaza.
Behind Closed Doors: Gaps over Iran Policy - Dan Margalit (Israel Hayom)
President Obama's trip to Israel has essentially been one of reconciliation, friendship, smiles and understanding.
But friendship is not a substitute for policy positions.
At their press conference on Wednesday, Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu couldn't hide the fact there are still gaps between their views.
Obama believes he can prevent Iran from going nuclear and that he still has time. In private, he is probably pressuring Netanyahu to not launch an independent attack on Iran's nuclear sites.
Israel, however, can't accept this demand verbatim even if it intends to abide by it.
Paralyzed Long Island Vet Demonstrates Israeli Tech and Gets a Bear Hug from Obama - Matthew Kalman (New York Daily News)
Theresa Hannigan, a paralyzed retired U.S. Army sergeant from Long Island, found herself bear-hugged by President Obama Thursday as she showed how she regained the power to walk.
With ReWalk, a $60,000 bionic suit invented by Israeli scientists, she can even climb stairs.
Obama Sees a Land Unique in the Middle East - Aaron Sagui (Washington Times)
On June 16, 1974, Richard Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit Israel. This week, President Obama has become the fifth president to do so, in a visit that underscores the advancements Israel has made in only four decades.
Israel has pursued gender equality with vigor. By 1974, Golda Meir had already served as Israel's first female prime minister, but the Knesset only had 11 female members. Today, the Knesset boasts 27 female members - a higher percentage of women than in the U.S. Congress.
In 1974, women were relegated to clerical positions in the military. Today, they are fighter pilots.
Arab-Israelis have served in every Knesset since the beginning of the state. After the latest election, there are 11 Arab-Israeli Knesset members representing three Arab parties.
In 1974, 50,000 Israelis studied in an Israeli university. Today, 125,000 Israelis are enrolled in Israel's universities.
The writer is spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
Blind Israeli Teens Participate in Pre-Military Program - Noam Barkan (Ynet News)
Thirteen girls and boys recently participated in the IDF's Gadna program for Israeli high school students.
Over four days, the kids put on uniforms, and had lessons in military culture and IDF values just like regular kids their age, who go through the Gadna experience to get a taste of what will be in store for them during military service.
"They didn't make exceptions for us," said Adi Kushner, 15, blind since birth. "We did pushups, kitchen duty, a stretcher march and went to the shooting range."
Dalia Yanko, commander of the Gadna unit in the Defense Ministry, sees great importance in the inclusion of special needs youths within the activities of Gadna.
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- Obama Lays Out Case for Israel to Revive Peace Talks - Rick Gladstone
Laying out his case for a future Israel at peace with the Palestinians, President Obama delivered an enthusiastically welcomed speech on Thursday before an audience of youthful Israelis in Jerusalem, in a carefully crafted address that was widely regarded as the centerpiece of his trip to Israel. (New York Times)
See also below Observations: Israelis and Palestinians Deserve to Be Free in a Land of Their Own - President Barack Obama (White House)
- Palestinians Protest Obama Visit - Noah Browning
Palestinian protesters raised their hands and tried to wave away the helicopter that brought U.S. President Barack Obama to Ramallah in the West Bank on Thursday, accusing him of siding with Israel.
Around 150 demonstrators chanted anti-American slogans, saying they wanted weapons not presidential visits.
While the U.S. president received a warm welcome when he arrived in Israel on Wednesday, Palestinians were much colder, clearly angered by his promise of unstinting support for Israel and repeated pledges to guarantee its security needs. Obama laid a wreath on the grave of Zionist leader Theodor Herzl, but Palestinian requests for Obama to visit the tomb of former President Yasser Arafat were turned down. In Gaza, dozens of protesters burned U.S. flags and chanted that the president should "get out of Palestine."
See also Israeli-Arab Student Heckles Obama During Jerusalem Speech - Hassan Shaalan
Rabea Id, an Israeli-Arab Haifa University student, interrupted President Obama's speech in Jerusalem on Thursday. "Obama's visit supports the Israeli side at the expense of the Palestinian people," Id said after the incident. (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Obama Tells Palestinians: No Preconditions to Peace Talks - Matti Friedman
President Obama told Palestinians on Thursday that he does not support preconditions to peace negotiations. Speaking at a press conference in Ramallah, Obama indicated that Palestinians could not expect an Israeli settlement freeze ahead of talks. If issues were made into preconditions to negotiations, he said, there was "no point in negotiations."
Obama reminded listeners that the U.S. is the Palestinians' biggest donor, and blamed Hamas for "misery" in Gaza. The situation there, he said, came about "because Hamas refuses to renounce violence...because too often it focuses on tearing Israel down than building Palestine up." (Times of Israel)
- IDF Decreases Gaza Fishing Zone in Response to Rockets - Yaakov Lappin
In response to the Palestinian rocket attack on Sderot Thursday, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon restricted the Gaza fishing area to three miles from the coast, reducing it from the six-mile zone allowed after the November 2012 round of fighting in Gaza. (Jerusalem Post)
See also Islamist Group Says It Fired Rockets at Israel from Gaza
The Salafi group Magles Shoura al-Mujahddin claimed responsibility for firing rockets on Thursday at an Israeli border town from Gaza during President Obama's visit to the region, in a statement posted on the Ansar al-Mujahideen website, which is used by Islamist terrorists.
The group had previously claimed a deadly attack in June 2012 on Israel from Sinai.
- Between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Rachel's Tomb Frequently Under Siege - Mitch Ginsburg
The tomb of Rachel comes under "daily Molotov cocktail and stone attacks," a reality that is a violation of international law, said Miriam Adani, the head of the Kever Rachel Fund, an NGO that raises money for the site's upkeep.
A senior officer in the IDF's Etzion Brigade confirmed that the tomb, where two Israeli soldiers were killed during the Second Intifada, has "become a central point of friction."
During Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza in November, the first days saw stone throwing at the tomb, the officer said. Then came slingshots, followed by Molotov cocktails, followed by sling-shot Molotov cocktails, followed by improvised explosive devices and finally sling-shot IEDs.
"They burned a watch tower, broke windows, [and] threw Molotov cocktails," said the officer.
The Pilgrim of Bordeaux noted the tomb of Rachel as situated outside Bethlehem already in 333, as did the Jewish traveler Benjamin of Metudela in the 12th century. (Times of Israel)
See also Rachel's Tomb, a Jewish Holy Place, Was Never a Mosque - Nadav Shragai (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
President Obama Visits Israel
- The Best Mideast Intentions - Editorial
President Obama delivered an impassioned speech to an audience of young Israelis in Jerusalem Thursday, pledging America's commitment to the Jewish state's security while insisting that, when it comes to the Palestinians, "peace is possible." This trip seems to reflect Obama's recognition that America's friends have to trust him before he can broker a peace with adversaries.
Obama assured Israelis that they have a willing peace partner in Palestinian President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. But you wouldn't know it from Abbas' remarks Thursday. The man who is supposed to represent the moderate side of local politics delivered a verbal salvo against Israel's alleged "violence, occupation, settlements, arrests, siege and denial of refugee rights," which isn't mood music for negotiations to resume.
Abbas continues to advocate "reconciliation" with Hamas, which remains unreconciled to Israel's existence and firmly in control of Gaza. Obama's best intentions can't deliver peace until enough Palestinians decide they want it too.
(Wall Street Journal)
- Obama's Visit with Abbas in Ramallah - Jonathan S. Tobin
During President Obama's visit, rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel, illustrating not only that the PA didn't control much of what would constitute an independent Palestinian state, but that those who did had no interest in a two-state solution.
The Obama-Abbas press conference struck a very different note from the friendly exchanges that marked the president's appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. While the president was again stating his support for the idea of a Palestinian state, he also pushed back a little bit on Abbas' charade that Israeli settlements were preventing the outbreak of peace.
Obama said that settlements were not the core issue at the heart of the conflict and that if all the other factors dividing the two sides were resolved, settlements would not prevent peace. Even more importantly, he emphasized that there ought to be no preconditions placed by either side before peace negotiations could be resumed. That's a direct shot at Abbas who has refused to talk to the Israelis since 2008 and consistently set conditions for doing so that were merely a thinly veiled excuse for staying away from the table.
Obama's message to Palestinians seems to be more one of "get your act together" than one that offers them hope they can count on the president to hammer the Israelis on their behalf. The lack of a direct demand from Obama for a settlement freeze and the seeming endorsement of Israel's call for resumption of negotiations without preconditions means the Palestinians have been put on notice that the president's second term may not be squandered on further attempts to help a divided people that won't help themselves. (Commentary)
- The U.S. Is Underengaged in the Middle East - Interview with Vali Nasr
Circumstances have changed. In 2009, President Obama thought that the most important issue in the region was the Arab-Israeli issue. It now has to compete with some other very important crises there.
American interests abroad do not take a holiday because you are having an economic problem. We end up with this false assumption that we can selectively pay attention to the Middle East when it suits us, or when our pockets are full of money. We know from experience that we do have vital interests there.
This is not just about energy. Can the United States afford a broken Egypt and a shattered Syria? Can Asia itself be successful if the Middle East begins to melt down? What will happen to Europe if North Africa ends up being a series of failed states with al-Qaeda across the border? We have gone from a period of being overengaged in the Middle East to being now underengaged.
Vali Nasr is dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.
- Israel's New Defense Minister's Outlook - Mazal Mualem
Former IDF chief of staff Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon said during the election campaign, "To my regret, I supported the Oslo Agreements. But as head of military intelligence, the full picture was revealed to me and I understood that the more land we concede, the more we put people at risk. This is our history. Every time a proposal was raised to partition the land, the other side started a war. Every time we expressed willingness to give up territory, terror rose to new heights."
Ya'alon denies the underlying premise that the fundamental conflict existing between Israel and the Palestinians is territorial in nature, and that a return to the 1967 lines will bring an end to the conflict. "Even in Oslo, late Palestinian Chairperson Arafat viewed the return of territory as only one stage in his doctrine of stages. Whoever understands this can also explain why Palestinian President Abu Mazen [Abbas] does not want to reach the negotiating table," Ya'alon said last week.
Discussing relations with the U.S., he said, "We had a difficult period at the beginning of the term of office. We heard all kinds of things from the administration that caused disagreements and disputes. For example, they told us that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is a source of instability in the Middle East. I don't think that there are many who still say things like that. They understood that not everything that happens in the Middle East is because of us."
Regarding Iran, he said, "The military option is the last option. Before that, we must exhaust all other means and prepare for all scenarios. After all, if we are not for ourselves, who else will be for us?" (Al-Monitor)
See also Restoring a Security-First Peace Policy - Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Moshe Ya'alon
This is the Introduction to the study Israel's Critical Security Requirements for Defensible Borders by a group of senior Israeli generals, outlining the basic principles of a defense policy - rooted in a consensus spanning past and present Israeli governments - which is focused on Israel maintaining defensible borders.
(Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
See also Video: Restoring a Security-First Peace Policy - Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Moshe Ya'alon (Jerusalem Center)
See also Video: Israeli Security - A Priority for Peace - Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Moshe Ya'alon (Jerusalem Center)
- Hamas: We Are Not Terrorists; We Just Want to Destroy Israel - Khaled Abu Toameh
Hamas wants to be removed from the U.S. State Department list for foreign terrorist organizations, without changing its strategy or charter, which call for jihad [holy war] and do not recognize Israel's right to exist. Hamas is also not prepared to dismantle its armed group, Izaddin al-Kassam, or stop smuggling weapons, or give up thousands of rockets and mortars it possesses in Gaza.
And of course Hamas is not prepared to renounce violence in the context of its effort to seek legitimacy in the international community.
The Americans and most EU countries are opposed to Fatah's efforts to achieve unity with a movement that remains on their list of foreign terrorist organizations. In private, however, Fatah leaders say they are also opposed to removing Hamas from the list out of fear that such a move would legitimize it.
Hamas wants to be removed from the list because it feels that the world has changed, and that many naive Westerners are now willing to tolerate its radical ideology and terrorism.
Anyone who supports Hamas' bid should also favor removing al-Qaeda from the same list.
- Protecting a Holy Site - Editorial
Imagine the deafening outcry that would have arisen had Jewish stone-throwers attacked Arab mourners and visitors to a major cemetery. But when, as it happens, the assailants are Arab while the mourners and visitors are Jewish, there is no outcry, no condemnation. No one talks about the regular predations on Jews trying to reach Jerusalem's ancient Mount of Olives Cemetery, regarded by many as the second holiest Jewish site anywhere.
The Mount of Olives was consecrated as a grave site for Jerusalem's Jews in pre-First Temple days 3,000 years ago. It still serves that purpose. The Jewish return to an indisputably Jewish site - the final resting place for a veritable pantheon of spiritual, cultural and national paragons - is what world opinion and the Arabs now deem as "occupation." Mourners should not fear for their lives at any cemetery anywhere in Israel, but all the more so at the oldest continuously used burial ground on earth.
- Passover's Enduring Message of Freedom - Ruth R. Wisse
On Monday, Jewish homes around the world will hold a Passover Seder - an orchestrated meal that commemorates the liberation of their people from enslavement in Egypt and celebrates the civilization that emerged from that breakout into independence. In the summer of 1940, my parents executed our flight from a fate worse than slavery at the hands of the Soviets and the Nazis who took turns subjugating the Romanian city we escaped, Czernowitz.
Every year, we include in our family reading of the Haggadah a postwar insert circulated by the Canadian Jewish Congress honoring both those who perished at the hands of the Nazis and those who went down fighting: "On the first day of Passover the remnants in the Ghetto of Warsaw rose up against the adversary, even as in the days of Judah the Maccabee...and they brought redemption to the name of Israel through all the world."
The traditional Passover Seder concludes with the pledge, "Next year in Jerusalem." The writer is a professor of Yiddish and comparative literature at Harvard.
(Wall Street Journal)
- Jews in Greek City Mark 70th Anniversary of Roundup and Deportation by Nazis
Jewish residents of the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki (Salonica) on Saturday marked the 70th anniversary of the roundup and deportation of its Jews to Nazi extermination camps during World War II.
Several hundred people gathered at Thessaloniki's Freedom Square, where the first group of Jews was rounded up by the occupying German forces on March 15, 1943. The crowd held a moment of silence, then marched to the city's old railway station, where the first trains departed for the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex.
"We were packed 80 to each train wagon....When we arrived, they sent a number straight to the crematoriums and kept some of us for work. We were beaten often by the guards," recalled Holocaust survivor Moshe Haelion. Fewer than 5,000 of the 80,000 Jews living in Greece survived. The Jewish community in Thessaloniki had, until the early 20th century, formed a slight majority of the city's inhabitants.
- Israel's High-Tech Pipeline to the U.S. - Michael Eisenstadt and David Pollock
Israel is helping the U.S. meet the economic, environmental and non-military security challenges of the future. In the realm of cyber security - which the Pentagon says could pose a strategic threat to U.S. infrastructure - Israeli systems secure a significant and growing proportion of U.S. telecommunications, financial transactions, utility and other essential computer-dependent operations. Israeli experts and start-ups regularly partner with U.S. firms to develop applications such as instant messaging, Internet telephony and data-mining.
In January, Intel executive Greg Slater noted that the latest "Ivy Bridge" and "Sandy Bridge" microprocessors, which accounted for 40% of Intel revenues in 2011, started in Israel. Each year Israel contributes thousands of skilled professionals, hundreds of joint patent applications, and hundreds of coauthored scientific and technical papers to the U.S. economy. Across the U.S., Israeli firms or their subsidiaries have set up manufacturing plants that employ tens of thousands of Americans.
Each year Israel sells the U.S. military about $1.5 billion in advanced items, from specialized munitions to life-saving armor and sensors for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. U.S. and Israeli manufacturers
are now partnering to sell Israeli rocket and missile interceptors to U.S. allies. When the U.S. gives Israel $3 billion in annual military aid, 75% of it comes back to purchase American-made products and services. The writers are fellows at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
(Wall Street Journal)
Israelis and Palestinians Deserve to Be Free in a Land of Their Own - President Barack Obama (White House)
In a speech in Jerusalem on Thursday directed to the people of Israel, President Barack Obama said:
- While Jews achieved extraordinary success in many parts of the world, the dream of true freedom finally found its full expression in the Zionist idea - to be a free people in your homeland. That's why I believe that Israel is rooted not just in history and tradition, but also in a simple and profound idea - the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own.
- We've made it clear, time and again, that Israel cannot accept rocket attacks from Gaza, and we have stood up for Israel's right to defend itself. And that's why Israel has a right to expect Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist.
- A people who have a living memory of the Holocaust [are] faced with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iranian government that has called for Israel's destruction. It's no wonder Israelis view this as an existential threat. But this is not simply a challenge for Israel - it is a danger for the entire world, including the United States.
- Strong and principled diplomacy is the best way to ensure that the Iranian government forsakes nuclear weapons....But Iran must know this time is not unlimited....America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
- I believe that peace is the only path to true security....Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine....No single step is going to erase years of history and propaganda. But progress with the Palestinians is a powerful way to begin.
- The only path to peace is through negotiations - which is why, despite the criticism we've received, the United States will oppose unilateral efforts to bypass negotiations through the United Nations. It has to be done by the parties. But the Palestinian people's right to self-determination, their right to justice, must also be recognized....Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.
- Israel is the most powerful country in this region. Israel has the unshakeable support of the most powerful country in the world. Israel is not going anywhere. Israel has the wisdom to see the world as it is, but - this is in your nature - Israel also has the courage to see the world as it should be.
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