Why the West Should Be Scared of Syria - Ely Karmon (Ha'aretz)
U.S. National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen said recently that the "single greatest terrorist threat" to U.S. security in 2014 "will come from Syria."
Nearly half of the 100,000 rebel fighters seeking to oust Bashar Assad are either jihadists or hardline Islamists (the findings from a September 2013 study by IHS Jane's).
The jihadists have engaged in a wave of assassination of moderate Syrian rebels.
The West should seriously press Saudi Arabia and Qatar to stop financing and arming the jihadists, help Turkey physically close its borders with Syria, support the Kurdish moderate forces, and find legal ways to stop the flow of foreign fighters to Syria.
The writer is the Senior Research Scholar at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
Al-Qaeda-Linked Syrian Rebels Suffer Reversals - Loveday Morris (Washington Post)
A series of stunning reversals in recent days for al-Qaeda-linked rebels in Syria has made clear that the militant group may be more vulnerable than it seemed, in part because its frequent kidnappings and attacks on fellow rebels have won it few allies.
By Tuesday, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria appeared increasingly desperate, with its fighters pushed out of some towns.
For now, a coalition of more moderate Syrian rebels seems to hold the upper hand - a development that would come as a relief to Western governments that had become increasingly concerned about the gains made by the extremists.
Hizbullah Intensifies Its Involvement in Syria, Suffering Heavy Losses (Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center)
In late 2013, Hizbullah intensified its military involvement in the civil war in Syria, suffering heavy losses.
In November and the first half of December 2013, 47 Hizbullah operatives were killed. The total number of Hizbullah casualties now amounts to around 300.
Africans Coming to Israel in Search of Work Are Not Refugees - Yonatan Jakubowicz (Jerusalem Post)
The majority of illegal infiltrators into Israel, who came from Eritrea and Sudan, do not meet the criteria for refugee status according to the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
Most of them explicitly stated upon arrival that they had come to Israel in search of work. (A minimum-wage salary for one month in Israel is the same as the average salary for three years' work in Eritrea.)
According to UN figures, 85% of the infiltrators are young men, a distinct characteristic of economic migrants, as opposed to refugees, who typically flee for their lives together with their families.
All infiltrators have passed through at least one other country in which there was an active branch of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Article 31 of the UN charter explicitly states that rights should be awarded only to refugees who come directly from the country in which they were being persecuted.
As a percentage of Israel's population, Israel has absorbed 10 times as many infiltrators as France, 20 times as many as Italy and 100 times as many as Spain. We're talking about a critical mass of people that Israel certainly is not obligated to absorb.
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- Report: Kerry Proposes Return of 80,000 Palestinian Refugees to Israel
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry proposed to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the return of 80,000 Palestinian refugees to Israel, a senior official of the Palestinian government told Xinhua on Monday.
Kerry's proposal was part of his ideas presented to the Palestinian side to reach a framework peace agreement.
"Kerry's proposal on the return of refugees is the same proposal offered by former U.S. President Bill Clinton during Camp David peace talks held in the United States in 2000," said the official. During their meetings, Abbas wanted to increase the number of Palestinian refugees returning to Israel to 200,000, and the demand is still under discussion with Kerry.
As for the issue of Jerusalem, the official said, "Kerry's recent ideas focus on handing over parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority and that Jordan will have the jurisdiction on holy sites and places in the city." However, Israel still refuses to recognize east Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state, and insists that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Israel, according to the source.
He added that "gaps are still wide concerning the permanent status issues of the refugees, Jerusalem, borders, settlements and the Jewish state."
- U.S. Denounces Iran Role in Syria
The U.S. on Tuesday accused Iran of helping "brutalize" Syria. "Iran has done nothing but help the regime, help bring foreign fighters in, help the regime's efforts to brutalize the Syrian people," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
"If they wanted to send a message to the world about their seriousness of having a positive outcome, there are steps they could take. There's no indication that they have any desire or interest in taking any of these steps." (AFP)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Netanyahu on Peace Process: "You Cannot Base Policy on Illusions" - Shlomo Cesana
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the peace process on Monday, saying,
"The Americans presented their stances and I am trying to bring reality into the plan....In our entire region, from Morocco in the west to Pakistan in the east, there is no country that is not undergoing turbulence, other than Israel, and that teaches us that you cannot base policy on illusions. Every policy based on illusions eventually bursts [when it meets] reality."
"I will not support a binational state. A settlement freeze during negotiations is not on the agenda. The talks are not about dismantling settlements and I have no intention of evacuating any settlements in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank)." "I do not intend to give up any settlement blocs or symbols of [our heritage], for example, Hebron." He added that Israel is seeking to extend negotiations by a year. (Israel Hayom)
- Ya'alon: IDF, Israel Security Agency Have Thwarted Numerous Terrorist Plots - Yaakov Lappin
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon on Tuesday praised the IDF's Central Command and the Israel Security Agency for having foiled many terrorist plots.
He said the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank did not have an interest in sparking a third intifada, but its incitement to hatred and violence was creating lone attackers, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad were seeking an upsurge in violence.
See also Weapons Found in Palestinian Home near Jerusalem
The Israel Police in cooperation with Border Police forces found a weapons cache in the Palestinian village of Abu Dis near Jerusalem on Wednesday. An armed explosive device and an 84mm rifle with 100 bullets were among the weapons found.
- Why Palestinian Recognition of a Jewish State Really Matters - Avi Shilon
The Palestinians raise three objections to recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. First, such recognition would be perceived as discrimination against Israel's Arab citizens. However, Israel defines itself as a Jewish state in any case and Israeli Arabs are officially not affected by this.
Second, Israel did not make this demand of Egypt or Jordan, and it is not the Palestinians' place to define Israel's identity. This is disingenuous since the conflict with both those countries was mainly territorial and political. In contrast to Egypt and Jordan, as long as the Palestinian national movement does not recognize the right of Jews over at least part of the Land of Israel, the conflict will continue to simmer even after the signing of an agreement.
Third, defining Israel as Jewish compels the Palestinians to contradict their historical narrative. This demonstrates that even in the eyes of moderate Palestinians, Jews are not perceived as a nation but as a religious community. Thus, they have no authentic claim for sovereignty over any part of the land.
Israelis who claim they have no need for Palestinian recognition of Israel's Jewish character and essence are right. What they don't understand is that Netanyahu needs such recognition as proof that the Palestinians are serious about ending the conflict.
- Palestinian Action in the International Arena an "Empty Threat" - Raphael Ahren
According to Alan Baker, a former legal adviser to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the Palestinian threat of a unilateral statehood drive is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. "This is a big bluff; it's just an empty threat," he said. "So the Palestinians will go to the International Health Organization, the International Postal Union and the Civil Aviation Authority. So what? That won't give them statehood. It won't make a difference, because Israel is still sitting in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], and any change can only come about as the result of a negotiation process."
Palestinian attempts to influence the agendas of UN bodies actually did more damage to those organs than to Israel's interests, he posited. Many diplomats and parliamentarians have told him that the international community is becoming "increasingly fed up" with Palestinians trying to appropriate UN organizations for their political purposes and, in the process, distracting those bodies from their actual jobs.
Baker called the specter of an International Criminal Court (ICC) trial against Israel "a completely empty and utterly unrealistic threat." Even if the court's prosecutor ruled that "Palestine" could file a complaint against Israeli leaders for war crimes, an investigation would have zero chances of succeeding because the Palestinians would need to prove that the alleged offenses took place on Palestinian sovereign territory.
(Times of Israel)
- Best Remedy for Middle East Is Pluralism, Applied from Within - Thomas L. Friedman
Every day the headlines from the Arab world get worse. Some say it's because of the "power vacuum" - the U.S. has absented itself from the region. But there is also a huge "values vacuum."
For the Arab awakening to have any future, the ideology that is most needed now is the one being promoted least: pluralism. Until that changes, argues Marwan Muasher, in his new book The Second Arab Awakening and the Battle for Pluralism, none of the Arab uprisings will succeed. Muasher is a former Jordanian foreign minister and now a vice president at the Carnegie Endowment.
Ultimately, argues Muasher, this is the Arabs' fight for their political future. If 500,000 U.S. troops and $1 trillion could not implant lasting pluralism in Iraq, no outsider can. The corrupt secular autocrats are locked in a struggle with the Islamists, who also have no clue how to deliver jobs, services, security and economic growth. "As long as we're in this zero-sum game, the sum will be zero," Muasher says.
No sustainable progress will be possible, Muasher argues, without the ethic of pluralism permeating all aspects of Arab society. "Experience proves that societies cannot keep renewing themselves and thereby thrive except through diversity." (New York Times)
No End to Palestinian Claims:
How Israel and the Palestinians View Borders - Pinhas Inbari (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
- An internal, strategic document formulated in the office of Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in 2013 states that the aim of the current U.S.-led talks is not to reach an agreement but, rather, to create an alibi for imposing a solution on Israel. The Palestinians agreed to enter the talks only after receiving a written commitment from Kerry to support the Palestinian position on the 1967 lines.
- However, there have been repeated signs that the Palestinian leadership has claims to Israeli territory within the 1967 lines. In 1999, the PLO was planning to replace the Oslo Accords with Palestinian territorial demands based on the Partition Map that appeared in UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947 and thereby extend Palestinian territorial claims.
- After Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in 2005, the Palestinians demanded the annexation to Gaza of the Israeli border village of Netiv Ha'asara. In negotiations over the water issue, the Palestinians demand not only the water of the West Bank and Gaza, but also a division of the Israeli aquifer and the Sea of Galilee. They also claim sovereignty over the al-Hama enclave in the Golan Heights because it was part of the British Mandate for Palestine.
- In September 2011, Mahmoud Abbas told the UN General Assembly that he was applying for UN membership "on the basis of the 1967 borders." But in the formal Palestinian submission to the UN, there is no reference whatsoever to the 1967 lines but only to Resolution 181 from 1947. Thus, there is considerable, cumulative evidence that the Palestinian leadership is maintaining claims to Israeli territory within the 1967 lines.
Pinhas Inbari, a veteran Palestinian affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper, currently serves as an analyst on the Palestinian issue for the Jerusalem Center.
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