Where Are Syria's Chemical Weapons? - Eli Lake (Daily Beast)
The Syrian military has transferred more and more of its stock of sarin and mustard gas from storage sites to trucks where they are being moved around the country.
"We've lost track of lots of this stuff," one U.S. official said. "We just don't know where a lot of it is."
In addition, two U.S. officials said intelligence from late last year indicates that the Syrian Scientific Research Center - an entity responsible for Syria's chemical-weapons stockpile - has begun to train irregular militias loyal to Syrian President Assad in how to use the chemical munitions.
The intelligence community had launched an ambitious plan to communicate directly with the mid-level Syrian officers in charge of chemical weapons to dissuade these officers from launching a chemical attack.
UK Worried about British Jihadists in Syria - with Reason (Economist-UK)
Intelligence sources reckon that about 100 British Muslims are fighting in Syria, mostly for extreme Islamist groups, and worries are growing about what they might do when they come back to Britain.
A study of jihadists between 1990 and 2010 by
Thomas Hegghammer, an expert on violent extremism at Stanford University,
suggests that only about one in nine returning foreign fighters tries to launch attacks in the West.
But their plots are more likely to succeed and twice as likely to kill people than those planned by terrorists who have never fought abroad.
Tokyo-Moscow Thaw to Hurt Mideast Oil Exporters - Amotz Asa-El
(MarketWatch-Wall Street Journal)
Following Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin this week, Russian gas will start flowing later this decade into Japan through new installations in Vladivostok.
Japan saw 48 of its 50 nuclear plants shut down in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster two years ago, meaning that Japan's energy sources had shrunk overnight by 13%.
Consequently, Tokyo's shunning nearby Russia's mineral wealth suddenly seemed like a diplomatic luxury the Japanese economy could no longer afford.
Also, importing from a shaky Middle East the bulk of the $150 billion worth of crude Japan buys annually has also become irresponsible, from a Japanese viewpoint.
Pro-Hizbullah, Pro-Hamas Stations Broadcasting in America - Charles C. Johnson (The Blaze)
The Lawfare Project has found that two television stations - NileSat IPTV in New Jersey and ArabTV4ALL in California - are broadcasting transmissions from pro-Hamas (al-Aqsa) and pro-Hizbullah (al-Manar) television stations.
Al-Aqsa uses popular cartoon figures to indoctrinate children and incite them toward hatred and violence.
In 2010, the French government outlawed al-Aqsa broadcasts "because the channel repeatedly violated European laws by showing programs which incited hatred or violence for reasons of religion or nationality, mostly against Israel and Judaism."
Pro-Hizbullah al-Manar is also banned in France, as well as Holland, Spain, and Germany. On September 17, 2001, the network became the first media outlet to allege Israeli and Jewish involvement with the 9/11 attacks.
Brooke Goldstein, director of the Lawfare Project, points out that broadcasting terrorist-inspired hate messages may constitute material assistance to a terrorist organization and be illegal.
Egypt's Economic Challenge - Mike Giglio (Daily Beast)
With Egypt's government reluctant to tackle serious reform, and the country's politics gridlocked, analysts say, its economy looks likely to keep fading.
"Things are going steadily worse in the economy, and the politics is becoming more polarized," says Mohsin Khan, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and former director of the International Monetary Fund's Middle East and Central Asia department. "I really don't see a way out in the near future."
"People don't feel that the economic policy of Morsi is different from the economic policy of Mubarak," says Hassan Aly, a professor at Ohio State University who specializes in Middle Eastern economies. "Nothing has changed. It's even getting worse."
Egypt's growth has slowed to a crawl, economists say. Rachel Ziemba, the director of emerging markets at Roubini Global Economics, notes that Mubarak's government borrowed heavily to finance stimulus packages during the worldwide economic downturn, leaving Morsi to pick up the tab.
Egyptians Become Victims of Soaring Crime Rate - Borzou Daragahi (Financial Times-UK)
Across Egypt, a wave of crime unlike anything the country has experienced in its recent history has upended lives and altered the psyche of a nation long considered devoid of violent crime.
Interior ministry officials say homicides tripled from 774 in 2010 to 2,144 in 2012. Kidnapping for ransom rose from 107 in 2010 to 412 in 2012.
Armed robberies rose from 233 in 2010 to 2,807 in 2012, while car thefts increased from 4,973 to 21,166.
"Now we have the problem of people violently expressing themselves in what they consider freedom of expression," said Mohamed Bastami, a criminologist at the National Center for Social and Criminological Research in Cairo.
Egypt's Birthrate Rises as Population Control Policies Vanish - Kareem Fahim (New York Times)
While the government of Hosni Mubarak expanded family planning programs and publicity campaigns to curtail population growth that he blamed for crippling Egypt's development, Egypt's birthrate has now surged to a 20-year high.
Last year, there were 2.6 million births, bringing the population to about 84 million.
An Israeli First-Responder in Rocket-Pocked Sderot - Christa Case Bryant (Christian Science Monitor)
Judith Bar-Hay works on the frontlines of one of the most battered areas of Israel: Sderot - hit with more than 7,000 rockets from Palestinian militants in nearby Gaza over the past decade.
Bar-Hay works with Israel's Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War, known as NATAL.
Some two dozen Israelis have been killed by rockets - about half of them residents of Sderot.
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- Pentagon Redesigns "Bunker Buster" Bomb to Combat Iran - Adam Entous and Julian Barnes
The Pentagon has redesigned its biggest "bunker buster" bomb with more advanced features intended to enable it to destroy Iran's most heavily fortified and defended nuclear site.
U.S. officials see this development as critical to convincing Israel that the U.S. has the ability to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb if diplomacy fails. In recent weeks, American officials showed Israeli military and civilian leaders secret Air Force video of an earlier version of the bomb hitting its target, and explained what had been done to improve it.
The newest version of the Pentagon's largest conventional bomb, the 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), has adjusted fuses to maximize its burrowing power, upgraded guidance systems to improve its precision, and high-tech equipment intended to allow it to evade Iranian air defenses in order to reach and destroy the Fordow nuclear enrichment complex, which is buried under a mountain near the Iranian city of Qom.
U.S. officials said the U.S. and Israel have reached an understanding that they will assess the intentions of Iran's leaders after the June elections, and then, barring progress on the diplomatic track, shift to a detailed discussion of military options.
(Wall Street Journal)
- Two Iranians Guilty in Kenya Terror Plot
Two Iranian nationals, whom officials accused of planning to attack Western targets inside Kenya, were found guilty Thursday by a Kenyan court of terror-related charges.
Officials in Kenya say the two may have been planning attacks on Israeli, American, British or Saudi Arabian interests. Ahmad Abolfathi Mohammad and Sayed Mansour Mousavi were arrested in June 2012 and led officials to a 15-kg. stash of the explosive RDX. Kenyan anti-terror officials said the Iranians are members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force.
Iranian agents are suspected in attacks or thwarted attacks around the globe in recent years, including in Azerbaijan, Thailand and India. Most of the plots had connections to Israeli targets.
Authorities say more than 85 kg. of RDX was shipped into Kenya but has not been found.
Police Sgt. Erick Opagal, an investigator with Kenya's Anti-Terrorism Police Unit, said, "The police have information that the applicants (suspects) have a vast network in the country meant to execute explosive attacks against government installations, public gatherings and foreign establishments." (AP-Washington Post)
- Arab States Look to Strip Canada of UN Agency - Campbell Clark
Growing discontent among Arab nations over the Harper government's pro-Israel stand is prompting joint talks on retaliation, with some eyeing a campaign to strip Canada of a major UN agency.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has been headquartered in Montreal since 1947, but Qatar is now bidding to relocate it to the Middle East in 2016.
Some Arab nations are now considering backing the bid as a potential focus for combined efforts to strike back at Canada for its stand on Palestinian issues.
The backlash has been fueled by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's April foray into east Jerusalem to meet an Israeli minister.
A spokesman for Mr. Baird, Joseph Lavoie, said, "Canada will not apologize for promoting a principled foreign policy....Those who choose to focus on where the minister stops for coffee instead of the larger, substantive issues at play do a disservice to the cause of peace."
ICAO has 534 employees and 37 full-time foreign delegations in the city, bringing $119 million a year to Montreal's economy. Its offices are designated as emergency UN headquarters in the event of attack or disaster. (Globe and Mail-Canada)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Livni, Kerry Meet in Bid to Renew Peace Talks - Herb Keinon
Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni met Thursday in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, where they discussed the peace process as well as regional developments, particularly Syria. Livni has been charged with heading Israel's team negotiating with the Palestinians when talks are renewed. An Israeli official said there is close coordination between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Obama administration on the new U.S. diplomatic initiative.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu added to the impression that talks with the Palestinians may start again soon by saying on Thursday he was interested in a referendum on any future agreement with the Palestinians. A government official said Netanyahu - mindful of the Oslo Accords, which passed by a single vote in the Knesset - believes if you are going to take a decision that will contain extremely difficult steps, it will necessitate "very special national legitimacy," the type that can be granted only through a referendum.
While the official said that the sides were a very long way off from an agreement that might necessitate a referendum, "there are intensive and serious efforts under way to restart the peace talks." (Jerusalem Post)
- Muslim Brotherhood-Hamas Revelations - Zvi Mazel
New revelations throw a startling light on how the Muslim Brotherhood worked hand-in-hand with Hamas during the mass demonstrations that brought about the fall of Hosni Mubarak's regime.
According to Al-Masry Al-Youm, quoting a high-ranking security source, Egyptian homeland security head Khaled Tharwet gave Khairat el-Shater - no. 2 in the Brotherhood's supreme guidance office - transcripts of five phone calls between Brotherhood members and Hamas leaders intercepted during January 2011.
The Brotherhood wanted Hamas to put added pressure on security forces by contributing to the general turmoil. Another goal was to secure the release of extremists imprisoned in Wadi Natrun prison - most notably Mohamed Morsi, who was to become Egypt's president a year later.
From the transcripts, it appears that the Brotherhood knew in advance about the protests which erupted on Jan. 25 - and participated in the planning.
In a call on Feb. 2, when the mass protests are reaching a paroxysm, an agitated Brotherhood member asks a Hamas official, "Where are you, I don't see any of your people." The official replies, "Don't worry, we are behind the museum [the Egyptian Museum on Tahrir Square] with our slingshots at the ready."
On Feb. 11, after the resignation of Mubarak, a senior Brotherhood member tells the Hamas official, "You have helped us and we owe you."
These conversations put a whole new slant on the revolution narrative. Far from having waited a number of days before joining the protests, the Brotherhood participated from the very beginning. Hamas terrorists, too, were right there in Tahrir Square, agitating and taking part in attacks on public institutions.
Egyptians are increasingly uneasy about the links between the Brotherhood and Hamas. The latest revelations add fuel to the fire.
The writer, a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.
- Egypt, Iran in Power Struggle over Gaza - Yaakov Lappin
Egypt and Iran are locked in a power struggle over influence in Gaza, with Egypt appearing to have the upper hand.
While Tehran is pushing Palestinian armed factions to violate the cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, Cairo is doing its utmost to reinforce the calm, which it views as serving Egypt's national interest. Egypt is actively neutralizing attempts by Iran to send representatives and arms to Gaza.
- Stalled Arab Peace Initiative Reaffirmed - David Makovsky
A few steps can be taken to make the Arab Peace Initiative (API) more effective.
1) Sequencing: For the initiative to work, Israel and the Arab world must each take steps in response to the other, in parallel.
2) Creating more clarity and flexibility in the API's terms. Given the chaos in Syria, it is hard to believe any Arab leader would expect Israel to withdraw from the Golan - at least not now.
3) A hopeful passage of the API says that if its terms are fulfilled, Arab League states would "consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region." It is legitimate to ask Arab states - even those who already have peace agreements with Israel - to discuss with Israel now how it views "security for all states in the region" in the event that Israel accepts the API.
A shifting regional environment will not make it easy for Kerry to engage the Arabs, given their other priorities. In principle, Kerry is correct in assessing that the political cover of Arab states could be helpful to Israelis and Palestinians. For the API to be a catalyst for action, however, it needs a different approach than has been tried before now: a more direct approach with Israel.
The writer is director of The Washington Institute's Project on the Middle East Peace Process.
(Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
See also Nothing New in the Arab League Proposal - Dan Margalit
Not much is actually new in the Arab League's endorsement of mutually agreed upon land swaps as part of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. The PA already agreed to land swaps (up to 2% percent of the West Bank) during talks with then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The Palestinians later ran away from the negotiating table.
- Universities Tolerating Intolerance - Editorial
It says a great deal about the illiberal tendencies of parts of our academic community that the anti-Israeli boycott, divestment and sanctions movement - which often borders on the anti-Semitic - finds support in the humanities faculties of some of our universities.
If it were not so tragic it would be a hilarious paradox that the University of Sydney's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies backs BDS, including preventing academic exchanges. It is difficult to think of an act that is more close-minded or less conciliatory.
No objective view of history could fail to recognize Israel's offers to surrender territory to the Palestinians in return for peace. But the olive branch has never been grasped, primarily because Hamas, like Yasser Arafat's PLO before it, simply will not recognize the right of Israel to exist. When Israel evacuated its citizens and withdrew from Gaza in 2005 it was rewarded with indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into its territory, targeting its civilians.
Demonizing Israel and Jews is not only wrong because it is racist, it is also an incorrect and deceptive interpretation of reality. [Prime Minister] Julia Gillard is right to condemn the BDS campaign, now so marginalized it has been disowned even by the Greens. We are entitled to expect our universities to take a stronger stand both against racism and in favor of facts.
- Israeli Checkpoints Don't Stop Elections - Khaled Abu Toameh
It is claimed that it is impossible for the Palestinians to hold new elections in the future so long as Israel maintains checkpoints in the West Bank.
Yet the Palestinians know that were it not for the continued power struggle between Hamas and Fatah, they would have had free elections several years ago.
The Palestinians also know that Israeli checkpoints have nothing to do with restricting freedom of expression and voting. They are fully aware that the checkpoints are there to stop terror attacks and not democracy or reforms.
In January 2006, despite Israeli security measures and checkpoints, Palestinians had free and democratic elections for the presidency and parliament, with
Hamas winning the parliamentary election. Since then, Palestinians have held different elections for various bodies in the West Bank, including municipalities, university campuses and professional unions.
There have never been any complaints from Palestinians about Israeli attempts to obstruct or prevent these elections. (Gatestone Institute)
- What Drone Critics Get Wrong - Amitai Etzioni
Critics claim that, according to international law, force should be used only when terrorists pose an imminent threat. However, because terrorists do not abide by the rules of armed conflicts, which require that combatants identify themselves as such, and not merely reveal their status only when ready to strike, all those who can be reliably identified as terrorists are a legitimate target. Simply because al-Qaeda and its associates hide their status does not mean that they should be accorded better protection.
Should we kill terrorists that cannot be captured and should drones be employed? I contend that once one agrees that kill we must, drones are the much-preferred tool of warfare. Unlike cruise missiles and bombs, unpiloted aviation systems allow for long and careful surveillance before a strike. By using drones, one can wait until the children are away from the area and take other measures necessary for minimizing collateral damage.
The writer, a senior advisor to the Carter White House, is a professor of international relations at George Washington University.
- Islamic Indoctrination in Boston - Shoula Romano Horing
The facts show that the Boston bombers were motivated by radical Islam. The two brothers were ethnic Chechens. In 2011, the Russian government warned the FBI about the older brother's connection to radical Islam. He created a YouTube channel filled with videos glorifying holy jihad against the West and Islamist jihadists and preachers. The surviving younger brother told interrogators that they were inspired by al-Qaeda propaganda and plotted the bombing to defend Islam.
Islamic terrorism is the reflection of a radical ideology which includes obsessive hatred for those who don't embrace Islam.
Otherwise how do you explain the fact that the 19-year-old terrorist, who is described by the media as a normal, nice, friendly kid, placed a bag containing a bomb next to several kids and young females, knowing that those innocents would likely be killed and maimed by the nails and ball bearings packed in to amplify the damage? (Ynet News)
- Opposing Radical Islamist Terrorism Is a Moral Duty - Colin Rubenstein
The horrific bombing of the Boston Marathon demonstrated that the ''age'' of Islamist terrorism against Western civilian targets - heralded by the September 11, 2001, attacks - is not over. The terrorist threat has neither been neutralized nor relegated to the past.
Evidence has mounted that lead plotter Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a disciple of radical Islamism.
The attack was part of a wider reality of terror motivated by the spread of transnational, violent and radical Islamist ideology.
There is no evidence that easing off on measures against Islamist jihadists will lead terrorists to reciprocate. Rather, past hints of such a relaxation have been viewed by extremists as a ''victory'' to be used as a recruitment tool.
Opposing radical Islamist terrorism remains a moral duty and an overwhelming national interest, but it requires long-term vigilance.
It is only when radical Islamist ideology is marginalized and discredited globally that the conflict with Islamist extremist terrorism will subside.
The writer is executive director of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council.
(Sydney Morning Herald-Australia)
- Netanyahu's Visit to China - Yoram Evron
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to make an official visit to China in early May 2013. New people are now holding top leadership positions and this will be an opportunity for Israel to meet China's new leaders. China has been rethinking its Middle Eastern policy since the start of the Arab Spring, which damaged China's economic interests in the region.
Wang Jisi, China's leading scholar of international relations, created a stir in October 2012 by asserting that China needs to adopt a new strategy, "march West," strengthening its influence and position in Central Asia and the Middle East.
In spite of China's traditional support for the Arab line and its energy ties with the Muslim states, it credits Israel with several important assets. One is that Israel holds one of the main keys to stability in the region; another is that the events of the Arab Spring have demonstrated that Israel is an island of stability in the heart of a volatile region. In addition, Israel is seen in China as a source of advanced technologies. Finally, China feels that strengthening its relationship with Jerusalem would be a sign that it gradually is coming to possess a foothold in the region.
(Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)
- One Last Flight - Reuven Ben-Shalom
Next week I will fly a Yasur (Sikorsky CH-53) helicopter for the last time, 26 years after my first flight in the Israeli Air Force. Flying the Yasur is a complicated task. There's not much room for error when you fly at night, 20 meters above the ground, at 200 km. an hour. I never say "yes" when asked "Is flying fun?" True, it is breathtaking, but I lost too many friends to consider the experience "fun."
The variety of missions was unbelievable. One day we flew an incubator with a newborn, and the next we searched for a pilot who ditched off the coast. Some operations took months of planning and training, while others were planned and executed overnight. We flew missions that took us more than 1,000 km. from home. I will never forget the thankful and relieved look on soldiers' faces, as they came onboard behind enemy lines. (Jerusalem Post)
- IDF: Preparing for the Unthinkable - Yaakov Lappin
While the probability of a missile or terrorist attack on Israel involving unconventional weapons is very low, the threat cannot be dismissed. Under the shadow of these extreme and plentiful security threats - faced by no other population in the world - Israeli military and health officials have been quietly ensuring that hospitals in Israel will be able to cope with the worst-case scenarios. The safety system is ready to be activated at any moment, an invisible protective layer that, one must hope, will never be needed.
The agency at the heart of preparations for the unthinkable is the Hospital Preparedness Branch (HPB), part of the medical department of the IDF's Home Front Command. All year-round, the HPB checks to see if Israel's 27 hospitals are ready for chemical, biological, or radiological attacks, as well as pandemics and earthquakes. Between 25 and 30 drills a year occur involving every imaginable scenario.
- Israel Is Doing Quite Well - Barry Rubin
The economic and strategic situation for Israel is surprisingly bright right now. During 2012, Israel's economy grew by 3.1%, which is amazing given the international economic recession. The debt burden fell from 79.4% of GDP to 73.8%, while the debt of the U.S. and other countries zooms upwards.
Standard and Poor lifted Israel's credit rating from A to A+. Moody's and Fitch also increased Israel's rating. Unemployment fell from 8.5% in 2009 to 6.9%.
The completion of the border fence with Egypt increases security in places where Palestinian and Egyptian Islamist groups are trying to attack. It also has reduced illegal civilian crossings to zero.
The picture is even bright regarding U.S.-Israel relations, certainly compared to the previous four years.
So what often seems to be the world's most slandered and reviled country is doing quite well. The author is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center.
- Israel's Tourism Is Booming, and for Good Reason - Tracey Greenstein
Israel's tourism is breaking records, with international travel at an all-time high. Visitors have said that Israel has a strong "magnetic pull." I never understood what this meant until I experienced it myself. On my first day in Israel, after wandering around Tel Aviv for about five hours, I had already found myself completely enamored by everything in front of me. This country sends out a vibration that everyone seems to feel. Maybe it's the holiness, the history, or the unusual, mysterious beauty; whichever way you look at it, Israel is a destination that simply cannot be missed.
Because of Israel's size, travelers can rent a car and really see it all - the country is an ideal destination for a two-week vacation crunch. 2012 saw the arrival of 3.5 million travelers, and Israel hopes to see 5 million by 2015. This country is an unparalleled, matchless and entirely transcendent experience. (Forbes)
- Why U.S. Companies Are Drooling over Israel's Amazing Startup Scene - Julie Bort
With 4,800 startups in the country today, Israel has more startups per capita than any other country, and is no. 2 in actual numbers after the U.S.
Tzahi Weisfeld, senior director of the Microsoft global startup group in Tel Aviv, explained what makes Israel startup heaven:
The tech scene is not a matter of who you know but what you know. It's an industry-wide meritocracy.
People launch careers a little later in life (after military service and travel) and with more worldly experience than in the U.S. and Europe.
Israel is a huge hub for semiconductor R&D. Intel employs 8,300 people there. Apple, IBM, and Motorola all have similar chip R&D facilities.
It all adds up to a nation of people who can create hardware, gadgets and apps and who have the confidence to leave good jobs and launch companies.
- An Oasis of Coexistence in Jerusalem - Laura Rosen Cohen
The Aleh organization in Jerusalem brings comfort and meaning to the most disabled young people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide. Founded by Israeli Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog, Aleh is a place where young people with exceptionally complex medical and cognitive challenges can thrive, regardless of their religion, nationality, background or socio-economic status. (National Post-Canada)
West Bank Construction and International Law - Eugene Kontorovich (Opinio Juris)
- A French Court of Appeals in Versailles ruled last week that construction of a light rail system in the Israeli-controlled West Bank by a French company does not violate international law.
Arguments that Israeli communities in the West Bank violate international law start with Art. 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which provides that "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer its civilian population into the territory it occupies." This provision was relied on heavily in the lawsuit.
- There has been a decades-old debate about the meaning of 49(6) in the context of Israeli civilian migration into the West Bank. In the standard narrative, any migration of Israeli Jews past the Green Line, or the expansion of their residences and communities once there, is a war crime.
- However, this reading of 49(6) is disconnected from the text, which only speaks of "transfers" carried out by the government. Some scholars, including myself, have long maintained that private movement of persons is in no way covered by 49(6), and the Court apparently adopts this position.
- Now one might say the government is always "involved" - roads, security, zoning, etc., but ubiquitous "background" roles do not trigger the state action doctrine in U.S. constitutional law, and it is not clear why they would under international law.
The writer is a professor of law at Northwestern University School of Law.
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