On Syria, Obama Faces a Skeptical Public - David A. Fahrenthold and Paul Kane (Washington Post)
On Tuesday, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll showed significant opposition to a missile strike in Syria. 59% of Americans oppose the idea, while 36% support it.
Moreover, 70% said they opposed supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels.
See also U.S. Public Opposes Syria Intervention - Andy Sullivan (Reuters)
A Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Tuesday that 56% of American say the U.S. should not intervene in Syria, while 19% supported action.
See also Public Opinion Runs Against Syrian Airstrikes (Pew Research Center)
By a 48% to 29% margin, more Americans oppose than support conducting military airstrikes against Syria in response to reports that the Syrian government used chemical weapons, according to a new national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Aug. 29-Sept. 1.
Putin: Russia May Agree to Syria Strike If Assad Used Chemical Arms (Reuters)
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Russia may approve a military operation in Syria if evidence shows that Damascus carried out chemical weapons attacks, but only if the operation is conducted with UN approval.
"Only the UN Security Council can sanction the use of force against a sovereign state. Any other approaches, means, to justify the use of force against an independent and sovereign state, are inadmissible."
Hizbullah Mobilizes for Expected U.S. Attack on Syria - Ariel Ben Solomon (Jerusalem Post)
Hizbullah has mobilized its forces in anticipation of a U.S. attack on Syria, according to witnesses in Lebanon, AFP reported.
Egypt to Receive Additional $2B in Aid from Abu Dhabi - Doaa Farid (Daily News-Egypt)
The crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, has pledged to send $2b in additional aid to Egypt, Al-Ahram reported on Monday.
Egypt's foreign reserves increased by $4b, the Central Bank of Egypt announced in August, reaching $18.9b.
Egypt Goes to War in Sinai - Avi Issacharoff (Times of Israel)
Tuesday's bombing by Egyptian helicopter gunships of jihadi positions in the town of Sheikh Zuweid, which reportedly killed dozens, was the latest aggressive step taken by the Egyptian army against the terror groups in Sinai.
Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is putting heavy pressure on the terror groups there that identify with al-Qaeda.
"We will not end this war until we clean out the area,"
an Egyptian security source said.
The source also confirmed that Egypt intends to set up a 500-meter-deep "security zone," empty of homes and residents, in the border area between Gaza and Sinai, in order to clamp down, once and for all, on the smuggling tunnels.
Israel contemplated similar initiatives when the IDF controlled the Gaza-Sinai border area, but it never acted because of a well-grounded fear of the outraged international response.
The tunnels have become a strategic target for the Egyptian army because most of the jihadi terror organizations in Sinai get their weapons via the Gaza tunnels, and cross through them into the Strip for military training.
See also Egypt's Sinai Emerges as New Theater for Jihad - Maggie Michael (AP-Miami Herald)
Ramzi Mawafi, 61, an Egyptian doctor once close to bin Laden who escaped from an Egyptian prison in 2011,
is bringing together multiple al-Qaeda-inspired militant groups in Egypt's Sinai, Egyptian intelligence and security officials say.
Sinai has seen an influx of foreign fighters over the past two months, including several hundred Yemenis, responding to religious edicts by clerics back home urging them to fight in Egypt. Egyptian officials say fighters have also come from Saudi Arabia, Libya and Syria.
Since Morsi's ouster, more than 70 police and soldiers have been killed by militants.
Over the same period, security forces have killed 87 militants, including 32 foreigners, and arrested 250 others, including 80 foreigners.
Hit-and-run attacks targeting security forces take place nearly daily in northern Sinai.
Prime Minister Netanyahu's Greetings for Rosh Hashanah (Prime Minister's Office)
"We seek to advance peace with the Palestinians while maintaining our security and ensuring that the peace will be a real and enduring peace - not a ceremony, not an agreement that we celebrate for two minutes and then it collapses."
"We want a real, genuine and enduring peace and this must be anchored in recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and in our security."
Israel Tourism at Record High in 2013 (Reuters-Ynet News)
Tourism to Israel hit a record January-June high in 2013, reaching 1.7 million visitors, the Central Bureau of Statistics said this week.
In June, tourism rose 3% to 295,000.
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- As It Builds Coalition on Syria, U.S. Faces Skeptical Allies - Elise Labott
"We are stuck in an impossible situation," one senior Israeli official said. "If we endorse Obama's message or publicly encourage him to act, we are seen as weak or trying to drag America into a war it doesn't need for Israel's sake. If we stay on the sidelines, we are not seen as being supportive enough in calling for action."
"We totally do believe the international community, led by the United States, should do something because not acting is a signal to like-minded dictators they can act with impunity. But we want them to do it because it is a moral imperative for the world, not for our sake. We have always said we don't rely on anyone for our security and can take care of ourselves."
Israeli officials said the delay in acting against Syria is raising questions about Obama's stated commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. "The psychological barrier has been broken, these weapons are being used on a periodic basis," another senior Israeli official said. "So what does President Obama do when the information comes that the Iranians are making a breakout? This is what is on people's minds." (CNN)
- Momentum Shifts Again in Syrian Civil War - Christoph Reuter and Holger Stark
The Syrian capital is bracing itself for the worst. Last Thursday alone, over 10,000 people reportedly fled across the border into Lebanon, and hundreds of families of soldiers have left their apartments.
The headquarters of the intelligence agencies had been largely vacated and, according to one guard on duty, nearly all Alawite officers and generals had headed for the port city of Tartus and the surrounding area. Mount Kassioun, which overlooks the city and has been used by the 4th Armored Division to shell rebel positions in the suburbs, was said to have been completely evacuated.
In large parts of the country, panic began spreading among many of Assad's loyal followers. Residents in Homs reported that an exodus into the surrounding mountains had begun from districts loyal to the regime. The entire Syrian leadership is reportedly afraid that the defense lines will collapse. Recent weeks have seen the unauthorized withdrawal of previously Assad-loyal militias to their Alawite villages, declining morale among regular troops, and rising military losses.
The Syrian army's 4th Armored Division, commanded by Bashar al-Assad's younger brother, Maher al-Assad, is the only unit that possesses launching devices for chemical weapons. Immediately following the chemical attack, it shelled rebel positions with conventional artillery - but was unable to take a single location.
Instead, the division lost at least seven tanks in the Damascus neighborhood of Harasta alone.
In mid-August, the rebels captured Khan Assir, south of Aleppo, closing off the last corridor to the regime's troops in Aleppo, leaving them completely surrounded.
See also Syria Hiding Weapons, Moving Troops - Ryan Lucas
Ahead of possible U.S. armed action against Syria,
the main Western-backed opposition group says the Syrian army has moved troops as well as rocket launchers, artillery and other heavy weapons into residential neighborhoods in cities nationwide.
If the U.S. does bomb, Assad will seek to show the world images of civilians killed by American strikes, said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center.
"If he's able to score points from this, he will feel that he's actually won without actually engaging in a military response." (AP-ABC News)
See also Syria Creates a Russian Safe Zone, Civilian Danger Zones - Shaun Waterman
Syria's military may be hiding its most valuable assets inside a Russian naval base, betting that U.S. missiles will avoid it.
"There is some evidence that the Syrian military is treating the Russian base at Tartus as a safe zone," said Christopher Harmer, a senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. "The Assad regime is moving tracked vehicles into Tartus."
Jeffrey White, a defense intelligence analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has watched the Syrian military for many years,
said he also would expect Syria to use more conventional denial and deception tactics, "like hiding artillery pieces under camouflage or in buildings, using decoys, fake targets [and] fake damage....They can make it a lot harder to hit what you want to hit and to work out afterwards whether you did or not. They have a repertoire of tricks they can use. The question is, is our intelligence good enough to see through them." (Washington Times)
- "Chemical Weapons Use a Big Mistake," Hizbullah Told Iran - Jeevan Vasagar
Assad's use of chemical weapons outside Damascus was discussed with Iran by a senior representative of Hizbullah. A briefing by the head of Germany's intelligence service, Gerhard Schindler, noted that in a telephone intercept of a call between a high-ranking representative of Hizbullah and the Iranian embassy, the Hizbullah representative said that poison gas had been used, and that Assad's order to attack with chemical weapons had been a big mistake. The telephone intercept had identified the chemical used as sarin. (Telegraph-UK)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Ya'alon: Israel Not Involved in U.S. Decision on Syria - Tovah Lazaroff
Israel is not planning to interfere in Syria and its enemies understand the price of attacking Israel, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said Tuesday. "Israeli citizens do not need to run to stock up on gas masks."
"We are not involved and we're not going to interfere in what is happening in Syria. We have repeated and emphasized this. With respect to American preparations for an offensive operation, this activity stems from the crossing of an American red line, and even with respect to this, we are not involved," Ya'alon said. President Obama's decision to seek authorization from Congress for military action in Syria was "an internal American one and we are not interfering with it."
Regarding renewed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Ya'alon said, "It seems to me that negotiations with the Palestinians will occupy us for many years." (Jerusalem Post)
- Jordan Condemns Israeli Building in Al Aqsa Mosque Complex
Jordan on Monday condemned Israel's establishment of a platform in the southern area of the Buraq Courtyard in the Al Aqsa Mosque complex in Jerusalem, describing the measure as a "flagrant" attack against historical Islamic sites.
Government Spokesperson Mohammad Momani called on the Israeli authorities to remove the platform as soon as possible.
He reiterated Jordan's rejection of the so-called Sharansky compromise and urged the international community to pressure Israel to prevent such practices, which "provoke" Muslims across the world.
See also New Prayer Plaza at Western Wall in Jerusalem - Jodi Rudoren
Israeli officials last month unveiled a new plaza at the Western Wall in Jerusalem where men and women can pray together. The 4,800-square-foot platform in an archaeological park is a "compromise" whose "goal is to unify all the walks of Jewish life," said Naftali Bennett, Israel's minister for Jerusalem and diaspora affairs. Leaders of the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism offered cautious praise.
(New York Times)
- Israel Has an Interest in Strengthening the Ban on Use of Chemical Weapons - Shlomo Brom
Limited punitive military action aimed at deterring Assad from further use of chemical weapons is possible. To achieve its objectives, such action should deliver a message to the regime that continued use of chemical weapons will lead to further Western military operations that will greatly detract from the regime's ability to survive.
One of the advantages of such an operation is that it minimizes the chances that the Syrian regime's response will cause escalation, because its will to survive will prompt it to refrain from responding against the U.S. and its allies. On the other hand, if the U.S. attack is ineffective - for example, if it damages several empty sites using cruise missiles - American credibility and deterrence will suffer an additional blow.
Israel, which is located in a region with the world's largest stockpiles of active chemical weapons, should have an interest in strengthening the norm of non-use of chemical weapons. IDF Brig. Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Brom served as Chief of the Strategic Planning Division.
(Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)
- U.S. Credibility, Not "Israel Lobby," Will Decide Syria Vote - Jonathan S. Tobin
In the debate about U.S. action on Syria, the idea of shifting the discussion from one that revolves around America's credibility and national security to one that seeks to parse the decision as either good or bad for Israel is a profound misreading of the issue. Israel has no friends in Syria and no matter which side wins, it will be on its guard.
The question of American credibility and influence is bigger than Israel and everyone in Washington knows it. The real issue is whether the U.S. can effectively go on defending its national interests if the word of its president is allowed to be so flagrantly flaunted by a Middle East butcher like Assad or frustrated by the stacked diplomatic deck at the UN. (Commentary)
- Should the U.S. Act in Syria? - Thomas L. Friedman
Count me with the activists on the question of whether the U.S. should respond to the Syrian regime's murder of 1,400 civilians, more than 400 of them children, with poison gas. If there is no global response to this breaching of a universal taboo, the world will be a much more dangerous place. And only America can spearhead a credible response: Russia and China have rendered the UN Security Council meaningless; Europe is a military museum; and the Arab League is worthless. We are out front - alone. We may not want to be, but here we are. So we must lead. (New York Times)
- Frenzied but Steadfast - Shmuel Rosner
With the Syrian government threatening to retaliate against Israel if Syria is bombed by the U.S., thousands of Israelis lined up at distribution points for gas masks.
Since looking scared isn't much of an asset in the region, this display of apprehension might seem like a cause for concern. Israelis can seem fragile - but they aren't when war actually begins.
Thirteen years ago, Palestinian suicide bombers miscalculated that the Israeli public would crack under a wave of terrorism. In fact, the escalating violence "galvanized the Israeli public," as Daniel Byman, a professor at Georgetown University, wrote in A High Price, his book about Israeli counterterrorism. The Second Intifada was beaten back.
Seven years ago, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbullah, made a similar mistake. Israelis were angry with their government after the war, not for waging it, but because the IDF failed to deliver a decisive victory.
Last November, even while rockets were raining on Israeli cities, more than 80% of Israelis supported Operation Pillar of Defense, an eight-day military campaign against Hamas in Gaza. (New York Times)
- So Who Still Thinks Israel Is the Root of Middle East Problems? - Dominic Lawson
Forget the massacre of thousands in Syria and Egypt, whether by chemical weapons or more conventional methods of mass slaughter. The Middle Eastern issue galvanizing some of our musical mega-stars and their followers, even now, is the treatment by Israel of Palestinians.
When the wave of popular uprisings known as "the Arab Spring" reached Syria, Damascus' envoy in London went on BBC's "Newsnight" to say that "the Israelis could be behind it...they could be behind any bad thing in the world."
Actually, the Israeli government was most discomfited by the uprisings in the region, rather preferring the dictators it knew to the possibility of Islamist regimes in their place.
The idea that Israel is the proximate cause of any tension within that part of the world - and therefore of the sea of blood sweeping through Egypt and Syria - is paranoiac when not deliberately mendacious. The tribal and sectarian dispute between the Sunni and Shia has about as much to do with Israel as did the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. And the peoples involved care very little, if at all, about the fate of the Palestinians.
- Turkey's Jewish Problem - Dogu Ergil
One characteristic of Turkish politics - especially foreign policy - is the weight of conspiracy theories.
One of the scapegoats for Turkey - and Islamic societies in general - is Israel or the international Jewish lobby. Accusing Jews of everything that goes wrong is easy; one has no need to understand the causality behind the blunders made at home.
Thoughts of Jews and anti-Jewish feelings have infiltrated the minds of the politicians at the helm of the country.
The ruling Turkish politicians know that reconciliation with Israel will strengthen Turkey's hand in international matters, but ideology, namely their own bias (shared by a large part of the traditional society) against Jews, has often overwhelmed pragmatism. (Zaman-Turkey)
- Peace on Paper Is Not Peace on the Ground - Yan Barakat
As a Jordanian, I was taught that Israel is our first enemy. People in Jordan (and almost all Arabs in the Middle East) think that Israel seeks to destroy them. It is common to hear conspiracy theories asserting that decisions by the governments of the U.S., Russia and Europe that have adversely affected Arab countries can all be traced back to the Jews. In the mosque, the Imam asks God to make widows of Jewish wives and orphans of Jewish children. In the minds of most, nearly any problem in the Middle East can be traced back to Israel. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that if we stop Israel, or expel them from the Middle East, our situation will be better.
When I crossed the border on a visit to Israel, I saw the opposite of what people told me. No policemen detained me for hours.
Instead, people were welcoming and one beautiful woman actually said, "Welcome to Israel Habibi." It was wonderful.
When I arrived in Jerusalem I went to the Israeli Arab neighborhoods. There, I met Arabs who love their country, Israel. After I asked one his opinion about racism from Jewish Israelis, he told me, "If I am in an Arab country, I will not have what I have here. If I go to a hospital, I find all the services I need. I have insurance because of my age. I do not experience discrimination."
I would like to encourage my friends here in Jordan and cousins from my tribe to visit Israel and to meet real Israelis in everyday life, to break down the stereotypes they hold onto. I will not be intimidated by organizations which seek to enforce a boycott on those who visit Israel. The writer is a Jordanian journalist.
- Proof of Solomon's Mines Found in Israel
New findings from an archaeological excavation led this winter by Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures prove that copper mines in Israel thought to have been built by the ancient Egyptians in the 13th century BCE actually originated three centuries later, during the reign of King Solomon.
Based on radiocarbon dating of material unearthed at a new site in the Timna Valley in Israel's Arava desert, the findings suggest the mines were operated by the Edomites, a tribal confederation that warred constantly with Israel.
"The mines are definitely from the period of King Solomon," says Dr. Ben-Yosef.
Now a national park, Timna Valley was an ancient copper production district with thousands of mines and dozens of smelting sites.
Impressive cooperation would have been required for thousands of people to operate the mines in the middle of the desert.
Dr. Ben-Yosef is leading another dig at Timna in the winter and is looking for volunteers.
- Ancient Samson Mosaic Uncovered in Israeli Synagogue - with Photos - Meredith Bennett-Smith
Beautifully preserved mosaics have been unearthed in a fifth-century synagogue in Huqoq, an ancient Jewish village in Israel's lower Galilee.
The stunning discoveries are part of an ongoing excavation at the site since 2011, led in part by Jodi Magness, a distinguished professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As detailed in the September/October issue of the Biblical Archeology Review, the team has uncovered a second Samson mosaic - one much better preserved than an earlier one.
Another mosaic depicts colorful elephants and humans in scenes that have "absolutely no parallels in any other synagogue," Magness said. "And there are no elephants in the Hebrew Bible." (Huffington Post)
President Obama's Shift on Syria and Western Strategy - Jonathan D. Halevi
(Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
- The Syrian regime is far weaker than most observers think. Rebel forces are continuing to gain momentum in all districts. The regime's dire situation is manifested in its ever-increasing reliance on irregular and volunteer forces from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon (Hizbullah).
- The Muslim Brotherhood is making a huge effort to establish an organizational infrastructure within Syria that will allow it to lead the opposition and take over after the overthrow of the Assad regime. It has placed its battalions within the Civilian Protection Committee under Free Syrian Army leadership, unlike the organizations affiliated with al-Qaeda, as the Brotherhood strives to take control from within the official groups.
- If the U.S. attacks, the rebels will not express any gratitude and will view it as an imperial force attempting to promote its own narrow interests in the region and assist Israel. If it fails to attack, it will stand accused of keeping silent in the face of genocide, in practice abetting the Assad regime.
- A limited military move has advantages. It will allow the Syrian regime to maneuver, yet will provide fresh impetus to the rebel forces to step up their military pressure without the need for foreign intervention.
- The true test for the U.S. will be in its ability to influence the outcome of the conflict so that a responsible leadership replaces the Assad regime, and prevents chaos and the takeover of chemical weapons stockpiles by terrorist organizations.
Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a former advisor to the Policy Planning Division of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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