Iran and Hizbullah Accessing Treasure Trove of Syrian Weapons - Gili Cohen and Amos Harel (Ha'aretz)
Syrian President Assad's forces have reportedly lost 13,000 men and another 40,000 have deserted.
Iran and Hizbullah are gaining access to a treasure trove of weapons in Syria, "obtaining air defense capabilities, shore-to-sea missiles, surface-to-surface missiles and other capabilities," IDF Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi told the Herzliya Conference.
"Hizbullah and Iran understand that Assad's fate is sealed, and they're preparing for the day after."
IDF Returns Fire at Syrian Military Post - Yoav Zitun (Ynet News)
The IDF returned fire at a Syrian military post on Sunday after the Syrians opened fire at IDF soldiers.
The Syrian post in the Tel Fares area in the southern Golan Heights was destroyed and two armed Syrians were wounded.
Free Syrian Army Chief Wounded in Car Bombing (Voice of Russia)
Free Syrian Army chief Riad al-Asaad was severely wounded when a bomb went off in his car near Deir ez-Zor.
Fearing a Stark Future, Syrian Alawites
Meet in Cairo - Khaled Yacoub Oweis (Reuters-Jordan Times)
Alawites who oppose Syrian president Bashar Assad met in Cairo on Saturday to support a democratic alternative to his rule, seeking to untangle his fate from their own.
Distancing the Alawites from Assad could be crucial for the survival of the community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam that makes up about 10% of Syria's population.
Israel Initiated Apology to Turkey, Not the U.S. - Yifa Yaakov (Times of Israel)
Israel initiated the process of apologizing to Turkey, not the U.S., Prime Minister Netanyahu's National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror said Saturday night.
"There was no American pressure. We went to the Americans" to have them help broker the call and the understandings designed to heal Israel-Turkey ties, he said.
Monument with "Palestine" Replacing Israel Was Hidden from Obama - Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik (Palestinian Media Watch)
After the UN vote in November 2012, the PA built a monument in a central square in Bethlehem which shows the "State of Palestine" - that included all of Israel, thereby erasing it completely.
Since the monument was on President Obama's route in Bethlehem, to prevent him from seeing it the PA had the monument removed before he arrived, the official PA daily reported.
UN Human Rights Council Approves Settlements Report - Tovah Lazaroff (Jerusalem Post)
A UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission report on Israeli settlements was approved Friday in Geneva.
Only the U.S. voted against the report, saying it was troubled by the council's biased and disproportionate focus on Israel.
The council also passed another five resolutions against Israel.
Erdogan's Miscalculation - Ron Ben-Yishai (Ynet News)
What really led to the sudden reconciliation between Turkey and Israel after so many failed attempts to reach an acceptable formula?
Erdogan had seen the conflict with Israel as an excellent opportunity to bolster his political status within his country, and mostly to be perceived as a regional leader.
Yet the Turks failed in almost every diplomatic move - in Libya, Syria, and Egypt. They saw that the persistent conflict with Israel was failing to bring them the political gain and status they had hoped for, yet it was causing them damage in NATO and Washington.
Their incitement in the global media against Israel came back at them like a boomerang.
Obama's visit to Israel created the climate which allowed Erdogan to slightly relax his demands, while Netanyahu took advantage of the visit's momentum to slightly relax the wording of the Israeli apology and give Erdogan a ladder to climb down.
Erdogan simply realized that his inflammatory policy against Israel was not giving him the dividends he hoped for, but rather causing him damage in the West.
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- Arms Airlift to Syrian Rebels Expands, with Aid from CIA - C.J. Chivers and Eric Schmitt
With help from the CIA, Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria's opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against President Assad. The airlift includes more than 160 military cargo flights by Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari military cargo planes landing near Ankara and, to a lesser degree, at other Turkish and Jordanian airports. Most of the cargo flights have occurred since November.
American intelligence officers have helped the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia, and have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons. The Turkish government has had oversight over much of the program.
(New York Times)
See also CIA Expands Role in Syria Fight - Adam Entous, Siobhan Gorman and Nour Malas
The CIA is expanding its role against the Syrian regime by feeding intelligence to select rebel fighters to use against government forces, as part of a U.S. effort to stem the rise of Islamist extremists, current and former U.S. officials said. (Wall Street Journal)
- Obama Asked Abbas Not to Go to International Court Against Israel - Kifah Ziboun and Nazir Majli
During President Obama's four-day tour of the Middle East he did not repeat his earlier demands for construction in Israeli settlements to be halted entirely. A Palestinian source said that Obama, during his meeting with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Thursday, asked the Palestinian president not to go to the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Israel for any reason, including the settlement issue. Abbas replied that he would wait another two months before taking any steps.
Obama asked Abbas to resume negotiations in order to resolve all outstanding issues, including Israeli settlements, but Abbas refused to do so and insisted on a settlement freeze before proceeding with negotiations. The source quoted Abbas as saying that the U.S. president told him that America did not want to vote against the Palestinian state but that he did not expect the Palestinians to succeed in the end via the ICC.
See also PA: U.S. Peace Initiative Coming "in the Next Two Months" - Asher Zeiger
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's recent round of meetings in the region is the beginning of a new U.S. initiative to revitalize the Middle East peace process, a senior Palestinian Authority official told AFP on Sunday, saying "the U.S. push for finding a solution has begun." The U.S. "will, in the next two months, present a plan of action to the two sides for the next political steps."
Kerry arrived in Israel on Tuesday, a day ahead of President Obama, and accompanied the president from Wednesday to Friday.
When Obama left, Kerry met separately on Saturday with Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu to talk about ending the negotiating deadlock of the last four years.
(Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Netanyahu Phones Erdogan to Apologize for Deaths of Turkish Citizens on Gaza Flotilla - Barak Ravid
Prime Minister Netanyahu phoned Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan on Friday and apologized over the deaths of nine Turkish citizens during the 2010 Israel Navy raid on the Gaza flotilla. Netanyahu told Erdogan that an Israeli investigation into the incident revealed several operational errors made by IDF forces.
Netanyahu "expressed his apologies to the Turkish people for any error that could have led to loss of life and agreed to complete an agreement to provide compensation to the families of the victims," according to a statement by the Prime Minister's Office. Netanyahu made it clear that "the tragic consequences of the Mavi Marmara flotilla were unintentional, and Israel regrets any injury or loss of life."
Netanyahu added that Israel had removed a number of restrictions upon the movement of citizens and goods in all the Palestinian territories, including Gaza, and would continue to do so as long as the security situation remained peaceful.
The phone call was the first between the two leaders since Netanyahu assumed office in 2009. At one point, President Obama came on the line and joined the conversation.
- Turkey's Erdogan Briefs Abbas on Deal with Israel
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan on Friday called PA President Abbas to brief him on the agreement reached with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu concerning the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla incident.
Erdogan told Abbas that all of Turkey's demands for reconciliation were met.
President Abbas told the Turkish premier he considered all who died on the flotilla as martyrs.
- The Erdogan, Netanyahu Reconciliation: Interests Triumph - Barak Ravid
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu told Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan in a phone conversation on Friday
that he appreciated the comments Erdogan made to the Danish newspaper Politiken on Wednesday in which he took back the statements he previously made calling Zionism a form of racism. Erdogan explained that he was criticizing Israeli policies in Gaza and that his statements were misconstrued. Erdogan told Netanyahu that he cherishes the longstanding relationship between Israel and Turkey and between the Turkish people and the Jewish people, stressing that he would like to improve relations.
The Turkish prime minister promised President Obama to stop his harsh public criticism of Israel. Erdogan was surprised by the strong American response to the speech in which he said that Zionism is a crime against humanity. The Americans were furious and publicly rebuked him. In actuality, Netanyahu's message of apology to Turkey was only made possible after Erdogan apologized himself for his remarks.
What led more than anything else to the end to the crisis was the serious deterioration of the crisis in Syria.
In addition, shared interest in the Iranian nuclear issue is only growing. As in September 2007 in Syria, Erdogan will not shed a tear if Israel or the U.S. "solves" this problem. (Ha'aretz)
- Turkish Perception Versus Reality - Herb Keinon
Turkish President Erdogan crowed that Israel acceded to all of Ankara's demands in apologizing for the Mavi Marmara incident.
According to Israeli diplomatic officials familiar with the months-long negotiations over the formula, Erdogan wanted a public apology to him for the raid on the ship and the killing of nine Turks. What he got was a bit different.
Netanyahu regretted the loss of life, and issued an apology to the Turkish people, not to Erdogan, for operational mistakes - if they happened - that led to the loss of life. Furthermore, Netanyahu did not apologize for commandeering the ship, something the Turks wanted.
On the issue of compensation, Israel always said it would pay compensation. On the issue of lifting the blockade of Gaza, the statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office and carefully crafted by both sides read: "Prime Minister Netanyahu also noted that Israel had substantially lifted the restrictions on the entry of civilian goods into the Palestinian territories, including Gaza, and that this would continue as long as calm prevailed."
That in no way can be interpreted as "lifting the siege of Gaza," but Erdogan declares his demands were met.
See also Amidror: Deal with Turks Doesn't Require Gaza Blockade End - Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)
- Can Israel and Turkey Really Bury the Hatchet? - Eyal Zisser
The events of the 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara seem far away now. Since that incident, Egyptian President Mubarak was overthrown, the reality between Israel and Gaza changed radically, and Syria has plunged into a bloody civil war. It is doubtful that the re-normalization of relations will truly allow both nations to re-establish the same intimate relationship they once shared - not any time soon.
At the same time, Israel and Turkey's financial ties continued to prosper over the past three years, despite the diplomatic rift. Tourism may have suffered, but commercial ties bloomed. Erdogan had hoped that his anti-Israeli, pro-Arab policies would open the Arab markets for them, only to see Ankara's massive investments in Syria literally go up in smoke. The same fate befell Turkey's investments in Egypt. This reality makes Israel seem like a reliable and promising economic partner. The Arab Spring has also exposed - and deepened - the political chasm between Turkey and Iran.
Israel must remember that Turkey is ruled by a firebrand prime minister who supports various Islamic movements in the Arab world. But he too understands that political interests trump all others; and it was those economic and security interests that facilitated the reconciliation with Israel.
Prof. Eyal Zisser is former director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University.
The Obama Visit
- Obama Aligns U.S. Policy with Israel on Resuming Peace Talks - Robert Satloff
The main story of President Obama's Middle East trip was his intensive focus on engineering an emotional reset with both the leadership and people of Israel, including an embrace of Israel's founding ideology. The visit also marked a shift in U.S. policy on the requirements for resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The president firmly aligned himself with Israel's position that they should now proceed, immediately and without precondition.
He reiterated that the most effective way to proceed remains a negotiation over the delineation of borders, which he said would resolve the settlements issue. This approach is now likely to dominate U.S. diplomatic efforts, as opposed to focusing on interim arrangements or incremental changes. The writer is executive director of The Washington Institute.
(Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
- Obama in Israel - Josh Gerstein
Obama's second-term strategy became clear during the trip: express such unqualified, heartfelt love and affection for Israelis and the State of Israel that they trust him to have Israel's back in future peace talks, then coax Palestinians back to the table. Obama warmed the hearts of many Jews by paying tribute to the ideas of Zionism and Jews' historic connection to the Holy Land. His statements were unequivocal and rejected Arab narratives about Jews and the Jewish state being interlopers. (Politico)
- U.S., Israel Red Lines on Iran Still Far Apart - Ron Ben-Yishai
Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated that Israel cannot give sanctions and diplomatic efforts with Iran another year to succeed. Obama tried to soften the impression that there are disagreements on the Iranian issue and is trying to convince Israel that it should continue to coordinate its moves with the U.S. rather than act alone against the Iranians. What remains unclear is whether the American president accepted Israel's demand that Washington show it is determined to resort to the military option should the negotiations and sanctions fail to stop Iran's nuclear program. This, Israel believes, will grant credibility to the negotiations between the world powers and Iran.
Regarding Syria, while Obama did not say Israel has a green light to attack arms convoys from Syria to Lebanon, it is safe to assume that Israel does have the yellow light from the U.S. to do whatever is necessary to prevent the transfer of advanced and strategic weapons to Hizbullah.
Understanding the Current State of the Iranian Nuclear Challenge - Dore Gold (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
- To produce its first atomic bomb from 20 percent enriched uranium, Iran would need a stockpile of 225 kilograms, which upon further enrichment to the weapons-grade level would yield the 25 kilograms of uranium metal for a nuclear warhead. Since it began enriching 20 percent uranium, Iran had produced 280 kilograms of this material - well above the Israeli red line drawn by Prime Minister Netanyahu. But it had removed a total of 112.6 kilograms of this 20 percent stockpile, leaving itself with a net total of 167 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium. This changed the entire timeline of the Iranian bomb, pushing it off from the fall of 2012 to a later date.
- In May 2011, the IAEA raised concerns about the "possible existence" of seven areas of military research in the Iranian nuclear program, the last of which was the most alarming: "the removal of the conventional high explosive payload from the warhead of the Shahab-3 missile and replacing it with a spherical nuclear payload." In November 2011, material that the IAEA presented pointed clearly to the fact that Iran wanted to develop a deliverable nuclear weapon. The planned warhead design also underwent studies that investigated how it would operate if it was part of a missile re-entry vehicle and had to stand up to the stress of a missile launch and flying in a ballistic trajectory to its target. The IAEA concluded that "work on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components" had been executed by the Iranians.
- Iran is not a status quo power. A few years after he assumed the position of Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a revealing interview to the Iranian daily Ressalat, in which he asked a rhetorical question: "Do we look to preserve the integrity of our land, or do we look to expansion." He then answered himself, saying: "We must definitely look to expansion." This world view is still sustained to this day. Khamenei's senior adviser on military affairs, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, who was the previous commander of the Revolutionary Guards, described Iran in 2013 as "the regional superpower" in the Middle East.
- In the meantime, Iran has substantially increased the number of centrifuges that it installed for uranium enrichment. It also introduced its more advanced centrifuges into its nuclear facilities and it is making progress on its heavy water reactor that will allow it to produce plutonium. Iran, so far, has been careful not to cross the Israeli red line, but that hasn't prevented it from moving ahead on other aspects of its program. Indeed, just after the last P5+1 talks in Kazakhstan, Tehran announced it was building 3,000 advanced centrifuges that it intended to install at Natanz.
- Thus, if proposals are to be made that protect the international community as a whole from the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons, they must address other aspects of the program which might become fully operational in the years to come: the plutonium program, weaponization, delivery vehicles, and continuing upgrade of Iran's centrifuge technology. If negotiations only halt one aspect of the Iranian effort to reach nuclear weapons, while letting the other parts of the program go forward, they may preclude an immediate crisis, but the world will still face a new Iranian challenge in the years ahead.
Ambassador Dore Gold, President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is the author of The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran Defies the West (Regnery, 2009). This article is based on a briefing paper prepared for a meeting with the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and the Middle East Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School on March 4, 2013.
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