Significant Regime Defection in Syria - Andrew J. Tabler (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
Syrian Alawite army general Ali Habib Mahmoud defected to Turkey in recent days. Habib became army chief of staff in 2004 and defense minister in 2009.
Iran Denies President Rouhani's New Year Tweet to Jews (Fars-Iran)
A senior advisor to the Iranian president, Mohammad Reza Sadeq, rejected Western media reports alleging that President Rouhani has tweeted a greeting message to world Jews on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, underlining that the Iranian president has no official twitter account.
Among Syria's Islamist Fighters - Rania Abouzeid (New Yorker)
11 villages in the mountains of Jabal al-Akrad, in Syria's northwestern Latakia province, Assad's Alawite heartland, were captured by Syrian Islamist rebels in the first week of August; Assad's forces succeeded in getting them back by August 19.
The rebel effort is led by a conservative Islamist coalition, spearheaded by al-Qaeda's the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and Suqoor el Ezz, headed by a Saudi called Sheikh Sakr.
The coalition includes Jabhat al-Nusra, which is also tied to al-Qaeda; the Salafi Ahrar al-Sham brigades; and groups solely made up of foreign fighters, who are here in great numbers.
The rebel Free Syrian Army is also fighting here, but not in the lead.
Jane's: Rebels "Too Disorganized" to Take Over after Attack on Syria - Ben Farmer (Telegraph-UK)
American air strikes against the Syrian government would not allow rebels to topple Bashar al-Assad because opposition fighters are too fragmented and disorganized, warns an intelligence analysis from IHS Jane's, a defense consultancy.
Charles Lister, author of the analysis, said: "While it is perfectly feasible that localized insurgent groupings could take advantage of strikes that target government air assets and key artillery positions, it is unlikely that this will lead to a nationwide surge in opposition victories and any perceivable imminent overthrow of the government."
Britain's Observer Issues Correction: Israel Did Not Use Chemical Weapons in Gaza - Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)
The Observer in Britain issued a correction on Sunday after equating Israel's use of white phosphorous in Gaza to Syrian President Assad's use of chemical weapons.
"Contrary to the impression given... white phosphorus, used by Israeli forces in Gaza in 2008, is not a chemical weapon as understood by the Chemical Weapons Convention, and its use is in itself not 'in breach of all international conventions.'"
The spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in London, Yiftah Curiel, had asked for the correction, calling the request "an example of zero tolerance for disinformation."
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- Pentagon Is Ordered to Expand Potential Targets in Syria - David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt
President Obama has directed the Pentagon to develop an expanded list of potential targets in Syria in response to intelligence suggesting that the Assad government has been moving troops and equipment used to employ chemical weapons.
Obama, officials said, is now determined to put more emphasis on the "degrade" part of what the administration has said is the goal of a military strike against Syria - to "deter and degrade" Assad's ability to use chemical weapons.
For the first time, the administration is talking about using American and French aircraft to conduct strikes on specific targets, in addition to ship-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles. (New York Times)
See also EU Urges U.S. to Delay Strike on Syria - Deb Riechmann
European foreign ministers on Saturday endorsed a "clear and strong response" to a chemical weapons attack that strongly points to the Syrian government, but they urged the U.S. to delay possible military action until UN inspectors report their findings. The EU backs the need to address the crisis through the UN process. French President Francois Hollande said Friday for the first time that he would wait for the UN report before deciding whether to intervene militarily. The report is expected later this month.
- EU Seeks to Soothe Israeli Settlement Funds Tensions - Laurence Norman
A team of EU diplomats will head to Israel on Tuesday for talks aimed at soothing tensions over a decision to block EU money from reaching Jewish settlements.
Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign-policy chief, announced the move after a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry in Vilnius on Saturday.
U.S. officials said Kerry would push the EU to avoid any moves that could complicate Middle East peace talks.
For the first time since tensions flared in July, Israeli diplomatic officials sounded optimistic about a resolution that wouldn't threaten joint programs.
An Israeli foreign ministry official said the EU delegation is expected to give clarifications that will "ease our minds'' on how the policy will be carried out without blocking EU collaboration with major Israeli research universities.
(Wall Street Journal)
- EU Court Strikes Down Sanctions Against Seven Iran Companies - Henry Chu
A regional EU court Friday struck down sanctions imposed by the EU against several Iranian companies after the firms had appealed their placement on the EU's blacklist. The trade and financial restrictions will not be lifted for another two months to allow EU officials time to appeal the annulment to the European Court of Justice.
(Los Angeles Times)
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- Egypt Launches New Offensive Against Sinai Islamists
Egyptian helicopter gunships and tanks pounded suspected hideouts and weapon caches of Islamic militants on Saturday in northern Sinai in what locals say is the largest operation in the region in years. Nine militants and two soldiers were killed during the raids, security officials said. Residents say they saw columns of trucks and armored vehicles pour into the area. Military helicopters hovered overhead in a dozen villages near Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid. Soldiers stormed homes searching for suspected fighters. "We aim to cleanse the whole region of militants and prevent them from coming back," a security official said.
- 30 Arabs Arrested in Rosh Hashanah Riots on Temple Mount - Efrat Forsher
30 Arabs were arrested over Rosh Hashanah weekend, following several riots on the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem. The riots began Wednesday when dozens of Arabs began stoning security forces stationed in the compound. The riots resumed on Friday, following the end of the weekly prayer service in the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich said the Arabs had aimed "to hurt the Jews who came to pray at the Western Wall on Rosh Hashanah....The world should condemn this act and express contempt for this attempt to hurt worshippers on a holy day." (Israel Hayom)
- Israel Lodges Complaint with Washington over Palestinian Peace Talk Leaks - Barak Ravid
Prime Minister Netanyahu's envoy to the peace talks, Isaac Molho, has called his U.S. counterpart, Martin Indyk, to complain that numerous media leaks by Palestinians "violated all the agreements" made with the U.S. in July when both parties promised not to report the contents, or even the dates, of their meetings to the media, an Israeli official said.
An Israeli official said that the leaks, especially about an Israeli proposal to set up a Palestinian state within temporary borders, were incorrect.
"The Palestinian side not only leaks, but leaks wrong," he said. "It's a regular pattern of the Palestinians....They leak that there's no progress in order to increase international pressure on Israel." (Ha'aretz)
- Israel Approves 5,000 More Palestinian Work Permits - Herb Keinon and Khaled Abu Toameh
The Israeli cabinet on Sunday approved permits enabling another 5,000 Palestinians to work inside Israel, to add to the 35,000 Palestinian workers already working legally there. One cabinet source noted, however, that "while we take a step that will help the Palestinian economy, they [the Palestinians] continue to call for a total boycott of settlement goods and industry - something that hurts them since they are employed in that industry - and are behind the calls in Europe for stiffer economic sanctions against settlements." (Jerusalem Post)
- Israel's Role in the Syrian Conflict - Interview with Itamar Rabinovich
Q: Is it in Israel's interest for Assad to stay in power?
Rabinovich: No, it is not. If Assad stays in power under the present circumstances, this would be a victory for the axis of Russia, Iran, Hizbullah and Assad. Assad will be even more of an Iranian puppet than he is now. and definitely it is not in our interest.
Q: Why, then, has Israel not been more vocal with regard to striking Syria?
Rabinovich: Because we don't want to be part of this conflict. This conflict is not about Israel. It's a Syrian conflict. It is a regional conflict. What the regime tries to do is to turn it into yet another Israeli issue and we do not want to fall into that trap.
Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., was Israel's former chief negotiator with Syria.
- Israel Should Not Take Action on Syria - Nahum Barnea
No Israeli was left indifferent by the image of Syrian children killed by chemical weapons, by their own people, only a few miles from the Israeli border. The pictures we see exceed the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict. They touch on a much deeper sentiment, relating to the memories of the Holocaust, evoking frustration over the world's passivity then, and now.
In the past, Israel respected the Assad dynasty for its stability and credibility. But the man in Damascus is not abiding by the same rules any more. Israel cannot rely on him. Yet nobody expects Israel to intervene, and nobody would thank Israel if it did.
(New York Times)
- Syria Isn't Obama's Litmus Test on Iran - Jeffrey Goldberg
It would be a mistake to assume that just because the president is hesitant on Syria, he will be hesitant on Iran. Why? Because the president has defined Iran's nuclear program as a core threat to U.S. national security. He has stated repeatedly that it is unacceptable for Iran to cross the nuclear threshold, and his administration has worked assiduously to sanction Iran in the most punishing of ways. In contrast, he has never argued that the continued existence of the Assad regime represents a dire threat to U.S. national security.
Not all red lines are created equal. Not all national security challenges are equally dire. It is not analytically sound to assume that Obama's hesitancy in one area equals hesitancy in another. It would be a mistake for the Iranian regime to believe that the president won't strike their nuclear facilities if he judges them to be near the nuclear threshold.
Israel's Secret Doctors - Robert Fulford (National Post-Canada)
- When Israeli doctors and aid workers go into refugee camps in Jordan, they change clothes so that they can fade into the background. They must be smuggled in and out. They don't tell others where they're going and when they go home they usually don't say where they have been. Israel does nothing, officially, that could make it look like the medical corps of the rebellion.
- An Israeli organization, iL4Syrians, operates anonymously in Syria, providing food and medical supplies for those who need them. Its web site identifies no directors or staff but carries a defiant slogan: "Nobody asks permission to kill. We do not ask permission to save lives."
- They argue that respect for the sanctity of human life expresses Jewish tradition and culture. As they see it, this applies to Israel's toughest and cruelest enemies as well as anyone else.
- An Israeli Arabic paper reports: "The Arab countries offer condolences but the best role is provided by the Israelis because they are crossing the border to provide assistance to the refugees, risking their lives without a word of thank you."
See also Video - Syrian Refugees: "May God Bless Israel" - Tom Gross
Israeli doctors have been smuggled into refugee camps in Jordan and elsewhere, where they perform life-saving operations on wounded Syrians. Ordinary Israelis have also taken matters into their own hands, smuggling shampoo, soap, toothpaste, laundry detergent, sugar, rice, toys for children and other basic items - all donated by the Israeli public and Israeli supermarket chains - into Syrian refugee camps in Jordan and elsewhere.
(Israel Channel 10 TV-Mideast Dispatch)
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