Israel Confirms Syria Used Chemical Weapons Against Civilians - Gili Cohen (Ha'aretz)
"The [Syrian] regime has used deadly chemical weapons in a number of incidents - most probably sarin gas," the head of the Research Division at IDF Military Intelligence, Brig. Gen. Itai Baron, told the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University on Tuesday.
Lebanese Hizbullah Leading Assad Offensive in Syria - Richard Spencer (Telegraph-UK)
Regime forces are making a concerted advance around the rebel-held town of Qusayr near the Lebanese border.
The Syrian National Coalition says this is only possible because Hizbullah, whose fighters are better trained in guerrilla warfare than the regime's, have taken over from regime forces on the ground.
Al-Qaeda Plot Against Toronto Passenger Train Thwarted (CBC News-Canada)
Canadian police have arrested two men accused of conspiring to carry out an "al-Qaeda supported" attack to derail a passenger train in the Greater Toronto Area, following a cross-border investigation that involved Canadian and American law enforcement.
Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, from Toronto, have been charged with "conspiring to murder persons unknown for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a terrorist group."
RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said the two were getting "direction and guidance" from al-Qaeda elements in Iran.
Egyptian State Paper: Israel Spy Ring Broken in North Sinai (Egypt Independent)
The state-run Al-Akhbar newspaper reported Saturday that North Sinai security forces had arrested members of an alleged spy ring working for Israel. The primary suspect is an Egyptian from Rafah.
Aswat Masriya, a Reuters-affiliated news website, quoted a security source who said the alleged spy told authorities there were eight other Egyptians and two Palestinians working for the network.
Jordan MP Expelled for Shaking Hand of Israeli President - Roi Kais (Ynet News)
Muhammad Esa al-Doima, a member of Jordan's moderate Islamic Al-Wasat Al-Islamiy party, was expelled from his faction this week after it was published that he visited Israel on Independence Day and shook President Shimon Peres' hand.
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- U.S.-Israel Differences on Iran Threat Re-emerging - Thom Shanker and David E. Sanger
A close adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that "the fundamental difference of views on how much risk we can take with Iran is re-emerging." Israel's position has been that Iran cannot be allowed to build up too large a stockpile of medium-enriched uranium that could allow it to then race for a bomb.
So far, Iran has stayed just below the red line Netanyahu drew at the UN last September. To the U.S., this has offered more time for a diplomatic solution. To many Israeli officials, it is a ploy, designed to buy time as Iran installs a new generation of centrifuges that could speed its production.
"It's all about timetables," said Dore Gold, the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a member of Netanyahu's inner circle of strategists. "If you say the goal is to halt Iran in the enrichment phase, you don't have much time. If you are waiting for Iran to weaponize" - the position the Obama administration has taken - "maybe you can give it another year or more." (New York Times)
- U.S.: Iran Is Biggest Threat to Nuclear Pact's Credibility - Stephanie Nebehay
Iran's nuclear program poses the greatest threat to the credibility of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Thomas Countryman, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, said Monday.
Iran has a "long history" of deceiving the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its nuclear enrichment program far exceeds that needed for civilian use, he added. (Reuters)
- Turkish PM to Visit Gaza Despite U.S. Request for Delay
There will not be any change in Prime Minister Erdogan's Gaza visit plans, a Turkish diplomatic source has said following U.S. Secretary of State Kerry's demand the visit be postponed.
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- U.S. Defense Secretary Hagel Meets with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in Jerusalem on Tuesday. Prior to their meeting, Netanyahu noted: "In the last four years, we've greatly enhanced the defense and security relationship between Israel and the United States, and I am absolutely confident that we will continue to further strengthen this under your stewardship of the American defense establishment....Israel appreciates deeply the military and security support that it enjoys from the United States."
Hegal responded: "This is a difficult and dangerous time. This is a time when friends and allies must remain close, closer than ever. I'm committed to continue to strengthen this relationship." (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
See also Hagel Meets with Israeli Defense Minister Ya'alon (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
See also Chuck Hagel Visits Israel, Gets Geography Lesson - Craig Whitlock
In his first visit to Israel as secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel took a one-hour, 40-minute tour of the northern half of the country Monday in an Israeli Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, flying from Tel Aviv to the Golan Heights before circling over Jerusalem's Old City. The main lesson of the flight was that Israel is a really small country with difficult-to-defend borders.
A briefing book told the former Nebraska senator: "The State of Nebraska is nine times the size of the State of Israel." (Washington Post)
- Force Multipliers for the Israel Air Force - Aharon Lapidot
The new arms deal with the U.S. includes the V-22 Osprey, an airplane-helicopter hybrid that can take off and land like a helicopter but fly like an airplane. Israel will be the first country in the world to get the Osprey outside of the U.S.
The Osprey will replace Israel's aging Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion heavy cargo helicopter fleet. The V-22 is an advanced, modern aircraft with additional functionality and capabilities, enhanced safety for its passengers, and a 25% reduction in fuel consumption in comparison to the Sea Stallion.
Also part of the arms deal is the KC-135 Stratotanker, a flying gas station, that allows the air force to extend its already long range and allows its fighter jets to operate far from the country's borders. There is no doubt this is a force multiplier for the Israel Air Force.
See also To Prevent War with Iran, Give Israel Fuel Tankers - Andrew Burt and Jordan Chandler Hirsch (Atlantic)
- The Opening of a Spanish Consulate in Gaza - Alan Baker
Spain announced on March 14, 2013, that it would open a Spanish consulate in Gaza, accredited to the Hamas administration. Opening a consulate in Gaza is incompatible with the provisions of the 1995 Oslo II agreement, under which the Palestinians are committed not to exercise powers in the sphere of foreign relations, and specifically not to permit the establishment of diplomatic or consular posts in the West Bank or Gaza. In opening a consulate in Gaza, Spain would be in violation of the Interim Agreement, in contravention of the EU's status as signatory and witness to the agreement.
Furthermore, the opening by Spain of a consulate in Gaza would be seen universally as a formal act of diplomatic recognition of Hamas by Spain, in direct contravention of the EU designation of Hamas as a terror organization.
Moreover, Spain's foreign minister might consider recent expressions by Hamas bodies calling for Spain to be returned to Muslim rule as "Al Andalus," and calling for acts of martyrdom, suicide bombings and resistance as the way to achieve this. The writer is former legal adviser to Israel's Foreign Ministry and former ambassador to Canada.
- Kerry's Remarks on the Boston and Mavi Marmara Victims - Tovah Lazaroff and Gil Hoffman
At a press conference in Istanbul on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of the Turks killed on the Mavi Marmara: "I particularly say to the families of people who were lost in the incident: We understand these tragedies completely and we sympathize with them....I have just been through the week of Boston and I have deep feelings for what happens when you have violence and something happens and you lose people that are near and dear to you. It affects a community, it affects a country."
While some said they found Kerry's comparison offensive, senior Israeli leaders made a point of not responding to his words. High-ranking diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said they believed Kerry was only trying to show empathy with the people of Turkey on a national level. (Jerusalem Post)
- U.S. Human Rights Report Relies
on Unverified NGO Claims
The U.S. State Department released its "Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2012" this week. While the chapter on Israel highlights Israel's democratic rule of law, guarantees and freedoms, the chapter on the West Bank/Gaza relied on unverified allegations and quotes from political advocacy NGOs, such as B'tselem and Human Rights Watch, in effect "outsourcing" the reporting. Prof. Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor stated: "In the report on Gaza and the West Bank, reliance on biased and second-hand NGO allegations is a major flaw. When the authors have no independent ability to assess these claims, this should be clearly stated." (NGO Monitor)
Doubts Fail to Dent Confidence in Israel's Iron Dome - Kevin Connolly (BBC News)
- The U.S. is preparing to increase its investment in Iron Dome, the missile defense system said by Israel to have shot down nearly 90% of the rockets fired at it from Gaza last November - the clearest possible indication that the U.S. government has not been troubled by recent attempts to cast doubt on how well the system works.
- Uzi Rubin, a rocket scientist and former head of the national missile defense program, said, "You can't fool all the people all the time....This is not the first time that Iron Dome is working, it's the sixth time out. And every time it's working, losses go down, damage goes down and it's obvious for everyone to see....It's working and people feel safe and rightly so."
- Defense writer Amos Harel, no tame mouthpiece for Israel's military establishment, is inclined to side with the government against its critics.
"I think these people [the critics] are mostly against the idea of interceptive rocket systems and they're trying to find an argument after it's already been proved that the system is working," he says.
- "It reminds me of those people who argue NASA never landed on the moon and faked the whole thing at Universal Studios."
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