Arms Shipments Rise to Syrian Rebels - Dale Gavlak and Jamal Halaby (AP)
Mideast powers opposed to President Bashar Assad have dramatically stepped up weapons supplies to Syrian rebels in coordination with the U.S. in preparation for a push on the capital of Damascus, officials and Western military experts said Wednesday.
Two military experts said the weapons include more powerful, Croatian-made anti-tank guns and rockets. Arms trafficking expert Hugh Griffiths of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said the Croatian arms are a "major game changer."
According to a senior Arab official whose government is participating, "The idea is that the rebels now have the necessary means to advance from different fronts - north from Turkey and south from Jordan - to close in on Damascus to unseat Assad."
French Soldier, Two Others, Held in Toulouse Terror Probe (AP)
French police have detained three people, including a soldier, in southern France as part of an investigation into last year's deadly terror attacks in Toulouse, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Prosecutors' spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre described all three as being close to Mohamed Merah, who killed three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers last March.
European Jihadists: The Latest Export - Soeren Kern (Gatestone Institute)
More than 1,000 Muslims from across Europe are currently active as Islamic jihadists, or holy warriors, in Syria, which has replaced Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia as the main destination for militant Islamists seeking to obtain immediate combat experience.
European officials are beginning to express concerns about the threat these "enemies within" will pose when they return to Europe.
British authorities say more than 100 British Muslims have gone to fight in Syria.
In July 2012, British freelance photographer John Cantlie, along with Dutch photographer Jeroen Oerlemans, was abducted by a group of British jihadists near Idlib in northwestern Syria. Both were later rescued by "moderate" fighters linked to the Free Syrian Army.
In an account of his experience published in The Sunday Times on August 5, 2012, Cantlie wrote: "I ended up running for my life, barefoot and handcuffed, while British jihadists - young men with south London accents - shot to kill. They were aiming their Kalashnikovs at a British journalist, Londoner against Londoner....This wasn't what I had expected."
Israel Deploys Robots for Defense - Rachel Nuwer (Popular Mechanics)
Israeli military specialists and university researchers have developed the Tomcar. It has no driver, no passenger, and no remote control.
The Tomcar uses cameras and lasers to survey its surroundings and avoid obstacles, while a computer program employs GPS and processes the information the camera and lasers gather to help the Tomcar react appropriately when it needs to make a decision.
Currently, 8-10 of these vehicles patrol Israel's borders, the first time this technology has been used in the field.
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- Saudi Arabia Sees Iranian Link to Espionage Cell - Badr Al-Qahtani and Huda Al-Saleh
Saudi Arabia on Tuesday officially declared a link between the defendants accused of operating in an espionage cell, which was revealed last week, and the Iranian intelligence apparatus. Maj.-Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, security spokesman for the Saudi interior ministry, said in a statement: "The preliminary investigations, the physical evidence that has been collected, and the statements made by the defendants in this case reveal direct links between the cell and the Iranian intelligence service."
"These elements received financial sums, at regular intervals, in exchange for information and documents about important sites, as part of an espionage operation for the Iranian intelligence apparatus."
- Developing Nations Voice Concern over Threats Against Iran
Leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) at the end of a two-day summit in Durban on
Wednesday expressed their opposition to threat of military action against Tehran, amid U.S. and Israeli warnings they will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran.
"We are concerned about threats of military action as well as unilateral sanctions," the leaders said. (AFP)
- U.S. Sanctions Finally Bite on Dubai's Trade with Iran - Simeon Kerr
Dubai's trade statistics for 2012 show that, finally, Western sanctions on Iran are crippling trade with the Islamic republic, as trade between Dubai and Iran fell by nearly a third. Ahmed Butti, director general of Dubai Customs, says the decline was prompted by last year's precipitous drop in the value of the Iranian riyal, which lost half its value in U.S. dollar terms, as well as a reluctance from UAE-based banks to fund trade.
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- In the Wake of Israel's Apology to Turkey - Herb Keinon
As Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan claims that Israel's apology in the Marmara incident now makes Turkey a major player in the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, Amos Gilad, head of the Israel Defense Ministry's diplomatic security bureau, told Israel Radio that it was important to distinguish between the "foam and the wave." He said that there had been a clear agreement between Israel and Turkey, and that the focus should be on the agreement, not on Turkish comments about it.
Ankara's acquiescence to stop legal proceedings against IDF soldiers was at the "heart" of the agreement, he said.
In addition, the U.S. was very keen that its allies in the region cooperate to help Washington cope with the changing landscape, from Tehran to Damascus, Gilad said.
One senior diplomatic official said that finding a way to put the incident behind Israel and Turkey was an important demonstration to the U.S. that Jerusalem could act as a "team player." (Jerusalem Post)
- Israel Arrests Five Palestinians for West Bank Shooting Attacks - Yoav Zitun
The Israel Security Agency on Thursday arrested five Palestinian Tanzim operatives in Beit Fajjar, near Bethlehem. The men were charged at a military court with carrying out shooting attacks and throwing firebombs at Migdal Oz in Gush Etzion. During their arrest the men were in possession of six makeshift weapons.
- PA: We Don't Want Turkish Prime Minister to Visit Gaza - Khaled Abu Toameh
The Palestinian Authority opposes Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's intention to visit Gaza, a senior PA official in Ramallah said Wednesday.
"The Palestinian Authority leadership has informed the Turkish government that we are opposed to such a visit," he said. "Gaza is not an independent Palestinian state and Hamas is not the legitimate representative of the Palestinians." The PA fears that such visits would legitimize Hamas rule in Gaza and affect the PLO's claim to be the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinians. (Jerusalem Post)
- Turkey's Erdogan: Remember Who We're Dealing With - Yoaz Hendel
Erdogan's Turkey is a regional rival of Israel, not an ally. The strategic romance ended, and it has nothing to do with the Marmara incident. As early as 2004 Prime Minister Erdogan called Israel a terror state.
In light of Israel's apology for the deaths of Turkish nationals during the raid on a Gaza-bound vessel in 2010, we should keep in mind that the sail was organized by IHH, an organization that supports terror and has built ties with Erdogan's administration. The terrorists on board the vessel were killed as a result of a violent and deliberate military confrontation.
See also Turkey, the Global Muslim Brotherhood, and the Gaza Flotilla - Steven G. Merley (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
- Israeli-Palestinian Peace? Focus on Syria and Iran Instead - James Phillips
Much of the news media coverage of President Obama's Middle East trip focused on the quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace. But that issue, though important, is simply not ripe for resolution. Peace is impossible as long as Hamas, with its commitment to Israel's destruction, retains its stranglehold over Gaza. Even if Israel were to negotiate a perfect peace settlement with the Palestinian Authority, Hamas is well-positioned to explode any agreement with another round of rocket terrorism. The writer is the senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at the Heritage Foundation.
(New York Times)
- How Iran Could Get the Bomb Overnight - Edward Jay Epstein
The West has tried to stop Iran from manufacturing nuclear weapons by diplomacy, sanctions and cybersabotage, and with the threat of military action if Tehran crosses red lines in moving toward the final stages of making a bomb. If Iran becomes discouraged in its efforts, an easier and more immediately dangerous option is available: buying nuclear weapons from North Korea.
To further enrich its current stockpile of low-enriched uranium to weapons-grade material, Tehran would need to reconfigure its centrifuges. Since those centrifuges are closely monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran would have to expel the inspectors.
Then it would take four to six months - according to the head of Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, Amos Yadlin - to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb.
During this interval, Tehran would effectively invite an attack by the U.S. and Israel. Since the U.S. has munitions capable of destroying all of Iran's centrifuges above ground at Natanz and sealing off the entrances to its underground facilities at Fordo - plus the Stealth bombers to deliver these knockout punches - Iran would likely lose the means to manufacture nuclear weapons before it could make a single one.
But what if Iran buys one or two nuclear warheads from North Korea? Pyongyang claims it has nuclear warheads that fit on its No Dong medium-range ballistic missiles. If that claim is true, then mounting the warheads on Iran's Shahab missiles, which are copies of the North Korean ones, would present little problem.
(Wall Street Journal)
- Russia's New Middle East Energy Game - Peter C. Glover and Michael J. Economides
Moscow is quietly buying long-term into the Israeli-Cypriot gas and oil energy bonanza. This represents an effective selling out of Russia's backing for both Iran and Syria. Only too aware of the threat of east Mediterranean supply if Europe is able to diversify away from Russian gas dependency, Moscow has been steadily feting Israel to buy into a piece of the action.
On Feb. 26, Russia's Gazprom clinched a key deal to market Israeli liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the Tamar offshore field for 20 years. But the Tamar deal is just for starters. Gazprom is already eyeing a role in the development of Israel's gigantic Leviathan gas field. (Commentator)
Obama to Palestinians: Accept the Jewish State - Daniel Pipes (Washington Times)
- One key shift in U.S. policy during President Obama's visit to Israel last week was the demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state.
Hamas leader Salah Bardawil called this "the most dangerous statement by an American president regarding the Palestinian issue."
- Israel's founding documents aimed to make the country a Jewish state. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 favors "a national home for the Jewish people." UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947, partitioning Palestine into two, mentions the term "Jewish state" 30 times. Everyone simply assumed that diplomatic recognition of Israel meant accepting it as the Jewish state.
- When Israelis and their friends realized that they had to insist on explicit Arab acceptance of Israel as the Jewish state, in 2007, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that unless Palestinians did so, diplomacy would be aborted.
- When Benjamin Netanyahu succeeded Olmert as prime minister in 2009, he said: "Israel expects the Palestinians to first recognize Israel as a Jewish state before talking about two states for two peoples."
- In his Jerusalem speech last week, Obama adopted in full the Israeli demand: "Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state."
That sentence breaks important new ground. It also makes for excellent policy, for without such recognition, Palestinian acceptance of Israel is hollow.
- Those 10 words establish a readiness to deal with the conflict's central issue. They likely will be Obama's most important, most lasting and most constructive contribution to Arab-Israeli diplomacy.
The writer is president of the Middle East Forum.
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