Elite Syrian Troops in Pivotal Battle for Qusayr (AFP-Al Arabiya)
Elite Syrian Republican Guard troops rushed to bolster a Hizbullah-led offensive against rebels in the strategic town of Qusayr on Wednesday.
Hizbullah sent 1,700 fighters to Qusayr more than a week ago.
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights spokesman Rami Abdel Rahman said, "despite the intense bombardment, the rebels are resisting fiercely."
Sunni militiamen from Lebanon had joined the battle on the side of the rebels.
Syria's Economy Survives War's Devastation - Sam Dagher (Wall Street Journal)
Economists estimate that Syria's gross domestic product has shrunk by nearly 45% over the past two years, while the Syrian pound has lost 70% of its value against the U.S. dollar.
At the same time, one Syrian economist believes the government can sustain itself for two more years.
Iran and Iraq are now supplying the regime with almost all of its oil and gas needs, while Iran has extended credit lines of up to $4 billion to finance imports and is finalizing a $4 billion loan to the regime.
Markets and retail stores in Damascus and other cities under regime control are well-stocked and businesses are functioning, although the prices of most goods have gone up on average by 240% since March 2011.
Palestinian Poverty Is Intimately Related to Palestinian Government Policy - Shoshana Bryen (Gatestone Institute)
Secretary of State John Kerry has announced his determination to raise $4.2 billion in private investment for the West Bank.
In the real world, investment flows organically to places that have an educated population, security, and rule of law that protects intellectual property and the repatriation of profits. It flows, for example, to Israel.
Areas with corrupt financial practices, a dictatorial government, multiple security services and an education system that is heavy on ideology and the veneration of violence get less.
Palestinian poverty is intimately related to Palestinian government policy.
Palestinian leadership is at war with the country best able to employ its people - Israel - which has, in fact, periodically employed a great many of them. In 1992, 115,600 Palestinian workers entered Israel every day.
The writer is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center.
World's Oldest Torah Found at World's Oldest University - Nick Squires (Telegraph-UK)
The world's oldest Torah, the holy book of the Jewish faith, has been discovered in the archives of Bologna University, which was founded in 1088.
The scroll, written in Hebrew, is 118 ft. long and 25 inches wide and consists of the first five books of the Jewish Bible.
It had been wrongly dated to the 17th century by a librarian who studied it in 1889, but it now transpires that it is more than 800 years old.
Leading experts "all agreed that it dated to the 12th or 13th centuries. One scholar believed it could even date back to the 11th century," said Mauro Perani, the university's professor of Hebrew who made the discovery.
Carbon dating tests dated the text to between 1155 and 1225.
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- Israel in Moscow Talks to Halt Supply of Missiles to Syrian Regime - Phoebe Greenwood
Top-level Israeli intelligence figures flew to Moscow on Tuesday in an attempt to talk the Kremlin out of supplying sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to the Assad regime, which once installed in Syria would have the range and power to target civilian and military aircraft over Tel Aviv. Israeli diplomats will continue to work both privately and publicly to prevent the transfer. Israel has read Moscow's insistence on pursuing its deal to supply Damascus with the powerful missile systems as part of a "cold war" power struggle between the U.S. and Russia.
A senior Israeli diplomat told the Guardian, "I don't know how upset the Russians would be if, at some point between payment and the installation of this technology in Damascus by Russian experts, something was done to damage the weaponry. As long as no Russians were hurt and they got paid, I don't think they would care."
Yuval Steinitz, Israel's minister of strategic affairs and intelligence, warned on Tuesday that Russia's S-300s could be fed through Damascus back to Assad's allies in Iran.
See also Russia Sends Arms to Syria as It Tries to Reassert Its Role in Region - Karen DeYoung and Joby Warrick (Washington Post)
- Chances Dim for UN Peace Talks on Syria - Hala Droubi and Rick Gladstone
Antagonists in the Syrian conflict appeared to harden their negotiating positions on Wednesday, further dimming the possibility that the UN would be able to convene talks in coming weeks aimed at halting the civil war. Syria's foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, said President Bashar al-Assad would remain in office until elections next year and might even seek another term. The Syrian Coalition, the main umbrella opposition group, said that Assad and his security and military subordinates must "step down and be excluded from the political process." (New York Times)
- Argentine Prosecutor: Iran Set Up Terrorist Networks in Latin America - Guido Nejamkis
Argentine state prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who is investigating the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people, accused Iran on Wednesday of establishing terrorist networks in Latin America dating back to the 1980s. In a 500-page document, Nisman cited evidence of Iran's "intelligence and terrorist network" in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname - among others.
In the case of the AMIA bombing, Argentina has secured Interpol arrest warrants for eight Iranians including Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi and Mohsen Rezaie, a former head of the Revolutionary Guards who is running for president. (Reuters)
See also Canada Freezes Trade with Iran over Nuclear Program, Human Rights
Canada will freeze all remaining trade with Iran to protest Tehran's nuclear ambitions and its human rights record, Foreign Minister John Baird said on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Israel Says It Will Act to Prevent S-300 Missile Systems from Becoming Operational - Barak Ravid
Israeli National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror sketched out Jerusalem's "red line" vis-a-vis the S-300 missile systems Russia intends to send to Syria, during a briefing last Thursday for EU ambassadors in Israel. Two diplomats said that Amidror stressed Israel will act "to prevent the S-300 missiles from becoming operational" on Syrian soil.
- Netanyahu: Israel Has World's Most Advanced Home Front Defense
Israel has the world's most advanced home front defense, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday. This week Israel conducted emergency exercises to test readiness to respond to an unconventional weapons attack, the level of communication between civilians and authorities, and municipalities' preparedness for emergencies. (Jerusalem Post)
See also In a Hospital Parking Lot, Israel Prepares for Chemical War - Mitch Ginsburg
The IDF Home Front Command on Wednesday simulated a chemical weapons missile strike in Jerusalem with multiple casualties. The "wounded" were brought to the Hadassah Medical Center's Mount Scopus campus, where they were treated by IDF Home Front reservist soldiers.
"The main things are decontamination and speed," said Minister of Health Yael German.
(Times of Israel)
- Israeli or U.S. Action Against Iran: Who Will Do It If It Must Be Done? - James Cartwright and Amos Yadlin
Israel's military capability to strike Iran's proliferating nuclear sites - especially those bunkered deep within a mountain, such as Fordow - is more limited than that of the U.S. Israel's window for military action is therefore closing, while Washington's more advanced capabilities mean that it can wait. Yet the Iranian nuclear program does not pose an existential threat to the U.S. as it does to Israel, so only an Israeli attack could legitimately claim self-defense.
Any Israeli attack would necessarily be surgical, with less collateral damage. This is a significant advantage. After such an attack, the Iranian regime would still have a lot to lose, and its retaliation would likely be much more measured.
Mechanically damaging Iran's nuclear program is not an end goal in itself, since no amount of bombs can destroy Iran's nuclear knowhow. Any strike must necessarily be followed by negotiations and a self-enforcing diplomatic deal that prevents Tehran from reconstituting the program in the future.
Gen. James Cartwright, USMC (ret.), is the Harold Brown chair in defense policy studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, IDF (ret.), is director of Israel's Institute for National Security Studies and former chief of Israeli defense intelligence.
- Palestinians: Kerry Trying to Bribe Us to "Sell Out" - Khaled Abu Toameh
PA officials say that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been focusing on boosting the Palestinian economy. This is not the first time that the Americans have tried to play the economic card. Billions of dollars that were given to the Palestinians over the past two decades have not had a moderating effect.
This does not mean that the Palestinians will refuse what they are being offered. They will take the money, but at the end of the day, they will continue to stick to their demands. If Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accepts Kerry's economic plan and resumes peace talks with Israel, he will be accused of "selling out" in return for money. Kerry's talk about boosting the Palestinian economy has only complicated his mission.
- Palestinians Want U.S. Cash, Not Peace - Jonathan S. Tobin
Secretary of State John Kerry offered a $4 billion plan to the PA to quit its boycott of peace negotiations. The Palestinian response was "no." The Palestinians say thanks for the cash but no talks except those that guarantee they get everything they're asking for while giving nothing in return and even then there's no guarantee they won't continue the conflict.
Almost from the beginning of the Jewish return to their ancient homeland, many Zionists thought the Arabs inside the country would be won over to the new reality once they realized that the Jews brought development and prosperity with them. But the underlying Arab animosity was always based in a refusal to accept the legitimacy of the idea that Jews would now be equal partners, let alone have sovereignty over part of the land.
Only a few Jewish leaders understood that the Arabs could not be bought with prosperity. For them the conflict was about honor and religion, not money. Only when they gave up their last hope that the Jews could be pushed out would they ever make peace.
More Peace, Less Process: The Key to Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations - Ben Cohen (JNS-Algemeiner)
- Every day, it seems, an American politician declares that time is running out, that windows of opportunity are closing, that the Israeli-Palestinian dimension of the broader Middle East conflict is propelling the region towards apocalypse. Yet today there is a Palestinian Authority that shuns direct negotiations in favor of a unilateralist strategy to secure recognition of an independent Palestinian state by everyone except Israel.
- Israeli academics Joel Fishman and Kobi Michael, in the academic journal, the Jewish Political Studies Review, discuss the notion of a "positive peace." They warn against efforts to create a Palestinian state without worrying about its governance and internal political culture, since this would increase "the chances of bringing into being one more failed and warlike state that would become a destabilizing force in the region."
- Positive peace is not just about the absence of war, nor about elevating the right of national self-determination above all other considerations. The real problem is that would-be peacemakers, in order to avoid disagreement, "concentrated on process and postponed the substantive issues of content. They hoped that the dynamic of congenial negotiations would facilitate a favorable outcome....They neglected the real goal: building a stable and sustainable peace, or positive peace."
- Israeli scholar Yehoshafat Harkabi observed that in Arab discourse, the idea of peace with justice is equivalent to the vision of a Middle East without Israel. In spite of all the economic incentives waved at the PA, for the Palestinians a near-metaphysical belief in a struggle to the death has prevailed over the rational, sensible notion of territorial partition.
- Negotiations that are not preceded by meaningful, internal political reform in the Palestinian entity will share the fate of the Oslo Agreement. The path to peace begins not with discussions about settlements, water rights or the size of the Palestinian security forces, but with what the Palestinians themselves believe about the world around them - and whether they are capable of change.
See also Building the Positive Peace:
The Urgent Need to Bring the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Back to Basics - Kobi Michael and Joel Fishman (Jewish Political Studies Review)
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