Visiting U.S. Lawmakers Affirm Strong Bonds - Haviv Rettig Gur (Times of Israel)
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), and Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), in Israel for meetings with senior Israeli officials, insisted on Thursday that high-profile disagreements have not dampened support for the U.S.-Israel alliance.
Shortly after meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Sen. Ayotte said the meeting "emphasized how unbreakable the relationship is with Israel regardless of what any official says at any one time." "I can say [Israel and the U.S.] are very much aligned."
The relationship "is as strong as could be," said Sen. Donnelly. "When we were with [Netanyahu] tonight, there was a very clear understanding on both [sides] that we're standing shoulder to shoulder."
Iran Building Mock-Up of American Aircraft Carrier - Eric Schmitt (New York Times)
Iran is building a nonworking mock-up of an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that U.S. officials say may be intended to be blown up for propaganda value.
The vessel is being constructed at the Gachin shipyard, near Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf. The ship has the same distinctive shape and style of the U.S. Navy's Nimitz-class carriers. Mock aircraft can be seen on the flight deck.
"We're not sure what Iran hopes to gain by building this," said Cmdr. Jason Salata, a spokesman for the Navy's Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, across the Persian Gulf from Iran.
In Iran, Hopes Fade for Surge in the Economy - Thomas Erdbrink (New York Times)
More than six months after President Hassan Rouhani took office, hopes of a quick economic recovery are fading among ordinary Iranians, business owners and investors, while economists say the government is running out of cash.
Although Rouhani has managed to stabilize the national currency, halt inflation and forge a temporary nuclear deal that provides some relief from sanctions, delivering on his promises of economic growth has proved far more difficult.
With the start of the Iranian new year on Friday, the government will begin phasing out subsidies on energy, the start of a process that will send the prices of gasoline and electricity soaring by nearly 90%, economists say.
Iraq-Kurdistan Crisis Escalates Following Autonomy Claims - Hamza Mustafa
The ongoing dispute between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad appeared to widen this week when a leading Kurdish political figure is reported to have confirmed that KRG President Massoud Barzani is preparing for independence for Kurdistan.
Kurdistan Pas News Agency quoted the head of the Goran Movement, Nawshirwan Mustafa, as confirming that Barzani had told him that he would seek to announce an independent state of Kurdistan within two years.
Over 25,000 Runners in Jerusalem Marathon - Jessica Steinberg (Times of Israel)
Over 25,000 runners took to Jerusalem's streets Friday morning for the city's fourth annual marathon. Mayor Nir Barkat, an avid runner, is himself participating.
Participants were expected to include 2,460 foreign runners from 54 countries.
Israeli President Sends Iranian New Year's Greetings - Joshua Levitt (Algemeiner)
Israeli President Shimon Peres on Thursday spoke to the people of Iran, delivering a festive greeting for Nowruz, the Persian New Year, through interviews with Persian-language radio stations, Israel Radio Persian and Radio Farda, and via his YouTube channel.
"Iranian citizens, wherever you are, Happy Nowruz. The Jewish people and the Persian people, the Iranian people, have a very long history and we're going to have a long future," he said.
"We are old cultures....We call to live in peace and understanding....Let us have a year of science and of peace, without war and threats."
Another "Work Accident" in Gaza Kills Hamas Militant (Ma'an News-PA)
Ibrahim Rifati, 22, a member of Hamas' Al-Qassam Brigades, arrived dead at Shifa Hospital after an explosion in the neighborhood of Tuffah.
The Brigades said Rifati was killed in an "accidental explosion" while carrying out a "jihadist mission" in the corps of engineers.
MI5 Focuses on British Jihadists Returning from Syria - Sam Jones (Financial Times-UK)
More than half of MI5's anti-terror investigations involve Britons who have travelled to fight in Syria, highlighting the growing security threat posed by homegrown jihadists.
Intelligence chiefs say the Syrian conflict is stoking the biggest terror threat to the West since the September 11 attacks in New York 13 years ago.
Arrests of British jihadists and those connected to them have increased in recent weeks, and at least one attack against the UK has been foiled.
See also British Fighters in Syria Urge Others to Join Them - Richard Hall (Independent-UK)
Gaza to Get Desalination Plant (AFP-Peninsula-Qatar)
The European Union and UNICEF launched a project Thursday to build a desalination plant in Gaza to provide 75,000 Palestinians with drinking water. UNICEF will implement the project with a $13.7 million EU grant.
Israel to Invest 70 Million Pounds in UK Economy (EN for Business-UK)
More than 70 million pounds will be invested in the UK following Prime Minister David Cameron's visit to Israel, creating hundreds of UK jobs.
They include a 50 million pound commitment by Israel's Noy Infrastructure and Energy Investment Fund to the UK's renewable energy sector, 12 million pounds spent by Israeli pharma company Teva in clinical development, a 10 million pound investment by Israel-based AposTherapy, and an additional 600,000 pounds to support research into dementia.
Russian Search Giant Yandex Acquires Israeli Startup KitLocate - Natasha Lomas (TechCrunch)
Russia's search giant Yandex has acquired Israel's KitLocate, a maker of low-power mobile geolocation technology.
KitLocate's flagship feature is reduced battery consumption - squeezed down to less than 1% per hour during use.
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- Russia Says Iran, World Powers Far Apart on Uranium Enrichment
The positions of Iran and six global powers seeking to rein in its nuclear program are "far apart" on the issue of uranium enrichment, Interfax news agency quoted the Russian negotiator as saying on Thursday after the latest round of talks this week.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Iran had "very far-reaching demands" on enrichment.
- U.S., UK Urge UN Probe of Iranian Arms Ship Seized by Israel - Alexandra Olson
The U.S. and Britain called Thursday for a UN investigation of Israel's interception of an Iranian shipment of rockets headed for Gaza, which would show Iran to be in violation of Security Council sanctions. Iran has still not replied to UN inquiries last year on two other incidents: Iran's launches of Shahab 1 and 3 missiles and an intercepted arms shipment in Yemen.
- Disillusioned Foreign Fighters Abandon Rebel Ranks in Syria - Erika Solomon and Sam Jones
Hundreds of foreign fighters have abandoned rebel ranks in northern Syria as frustration rises over bloody infighting there - a trend that suggests declining enthusiasm among hardline Sunni Muslim militants participating in Syria's civil war.
More than 4,000 people have died in three months of rebel-on-rebel clashes across opposition-held territories in northern and eastern Syria. "Since the second week of January until now...hundreds, if not more than two thousand, went back to their home countries," said a coordinator for the Nusra Front, a Syrian rebel group affiliated with al-Qaeda that has embraced many foreign fighters.
An estimated 11,000 foreign fighters remain in Syria and European intelligence analysts say the number of militants leaving is small - and fighters are still coming.
- Israel's Envoy Courts Democrats on Iran - Julian Pecquet
Israel's U.S. envoy, Ron Dermer, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, met with black and Jewish House members last week to press the case for demanding that Iran be prohibited from enriching uranium. "On the issue of Iran, we share a goal of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, and we have no doubt that the president is committed to that goal," Dermer said.
"Israel's goal is slightly broader than that: We want to prevent them not only from having a weapon but also to prevent them from having the capability." Dermer stated his "hope" that in Israel's discussions with Obama administration officials, "we can convince them to not put forward a proposal that would leave them [Iran] with enrichment capability." "That's not something Israel could support because to leave Iran with enrichment capability is to leave them as a threshold nuclear power."
Dermer also reminded the lawmakers that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif earlier this year laid a wreath at the grave of assassinated Hizbullah commander Imad Mughniyeh, whom Dermer called a "mass murderer of Americans" for his role in the 1983 U.S. Embassy bombing in Beirut.
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Israeli Official: Palestinians Celebrating Failure of Peace Talks - Herb Keinon
PA President Mahmoud Abbas returned from Washington on Thursday to a hero's welcome in Ramallah, where he told thousands of Palestinians at a rally that in his meeting on Monday with President Obama, "I have honored my pledge and kept my promise" not to give up Palestinian rights.
One Israeli government source said it was reminiscent of Yasser Arafat's return from Camp David in 2000, when it appeared that the Palestinians were celebrating the failure of peace talks. The second intifada broke out shortly thereafter.
"If the Palestinians celebrate rejectionism, they're closing the door to Palestinian statehood, because the only way to achieve a Palestinian state is through negotiations and agreement with Israel," the official said. "A rejectionist position makes Palestinian statehood impossible, and in maintaining such a position, ultimately the Palestinians are only hurting themselves." (Jerusalem Post)
See also Abbas: I Am a Hero. I Said No to Obama - Khaled Abu Toameh
Even before Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas left Washington on his way back to Ramallah, PA officials rushed to announce that his talks with President Barack Obama over the future of the peace process were "unsuccessful." The officials said that Abbas rejected most of the proposals made by Obama during their meeting at the White House, including the idea of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and maintaining an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley.
Abbas, according to the officials, also dismissed as "immature" Obama's proposal concerning the status of Jerusalem because it did not call for a full Israeli withdrawal from the eastern part of the city.
Over the past few months, Abbas and his top aides and negotiators have repeatedly voiced their strong opposition to
the U.S. proposals for a "framework agreement," with some accusing the U.S. of failing to serve as a honest broker. In the West Bank,
PA employees and schoolchildren were sent into the streets to chant slogans in support of Abbas, urging him not to succumb to U.S. pressure. Abbas is hoping to turn himself into a hero by telling his people that he had the guts to say no to Obama
"These rallies are not real," complained West Bank university professor Abdel Sattar Qassem. "They are similar to what Arab intelligence agencies have been doing - using blackmail and intimidation to force their public servants to show loyalty for the ruler." (Gatestone Institute)
- IDF Says It Exposed Massive Gazan "Terror Tunnel" - Joshua Davidovich
The Israeli military announced on Friday that it had uncovered a tunnel from Gaza into Israel meant for carrying out a terror attack.
IDF officials said the tunnel uncovered on Tuesday reached hundreds of meters inside Israel, "near civilian communities," and went as deep as dozens of meters underground.
An IDF official said the tunnel was one of the largest yet discovered.
"This advanced tunnel was intended to pose a direct link and threat to Israeli territory, and enable Hamas terrorists to reach and harm Israeli civilians," IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said, adding that the tunnel could be used in a terror attack or a kidnapping attempt.
(Times of Israel)
See also IDF Unveils Terror Tunnel in Gaza Once Again (Israel Defense Forces)
- Kerry's Diplomatic Double Standards - Michael Rubin
Secretary of State John Kerry is insulted that Israel's defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, criticized U.S. strategy and suggested that the U.S. is exuding weakness. One might also consider if there was something to Yaalon's remarks, however undiplomatic they might have been. What is truly revealing, however, is how Kerry acts in other circumstances when officials from other countries make similar statements castigating U.S. policy.
The administration's sensitivity to criticism doesn't apply to the Palestinian Authority when its much-heralded partner in peace talks not only rejects American positions but also lionizes terrorists and murderers, hardly an attitude that advances U.S. interests in the region.
Bashing allies isn't going to bring respect back to the U.S. on the world stage, nor is forcing allies to genuflect. Sometimes, tough words from friends are necessary. The writer, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School, has just published Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes. (Commentary)
- Has Obama Unmasked Abbas? - Dan Diker
The tireless efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry to broker a framework for further peace talks have revealed Palestinian red lines.
They have also exposed fault lines within the ruling Fatah party that render Palestinian acceptance of the U.S. deal impossible. Abbas is exposed on three issues in the American paper: long-term IDF active presence in the Jordan Valley, an undivided Jerusalem and recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
The irony in the Palestinian rejection of the American proposal on the Jordan Valley is that it was King Abdullah of Jordan who had insisted that the IDF, and not Palestinian security forces, defend the Jordan Valley up to the Judea and Samaria hill ridge facing Jordan. Jordan's insistence on Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley influenced the American position in recent months.
Abbas faces a mountain of Fatah and Palestinian public opposition to any compromise on the U.S. framework deal. The "pro-Abbas" demonstrations in Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin that took place on March 17 were protests led by Fatah against any Palestinian concessions. The U.S. has unmasked the real Palestinian positions.
Palestinian political and popular rejection of compromise and acceptance of the U.S. paper begs a larger question. Who will enforce any agreement on the Palestinian side? Abbas, nearly 79 years old, is in his 10th year of a four-year elected term and has no clear successor. The writer served as Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress.
- Ya'alon Just Said What Everyone Else Is Thinking - Lior Akerman
"No agreement with the Palestinians will be reached in our lifetime," newspaper headlines this week quoted Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon as stating publicly. Both Israel and the Palestinians have red lines they are not willing to cross.
The Palestinians claim that Jerusalem is their capital and at the same time Israel says that under no circumstances will Jerusalem be divided. The Palestinians demand that the Jordan Valley be demilitarized of Israeli forces, whereas Israel insists that IDF troops remain. The Palestinians demand that refugees be allowed to return to Israel, but Israel refuses. Israel is demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people, but the Palestinians refuse.
The only concrete action that has taken place during all these months of discussion was Israel's release of Palestinian terrorists. The Palestinians made no concessions whatsoever. The only thing the Palestinians did was to repeatedly make statements condemning Israel. Everyone knows that no agreement will be reached at the present time, but Ya'alon is the only one who said this out loud.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Israel Security Agency.
- A Palestinian Return to Armed Struggle Would Be a Disaster - Matthew Levitt
A Palestinian return to armed struggle would be a far greater political, economic, and humanitarian disaster than any short-term frustration with the negotiations.
As the tempo of negotiations between the main parties picks up speed, more radical actors have reemerged to violently oppose the process. There has been a sharp increase in rockets fired at Israel from Gaza in the past few weeks as well as an increase in violence across the West Bank. Israeli and Palestinian sources agree that PA security forces have been weak in the face of recent unrest.
The PA suffered a serious blow when Prime Minister Salam Fayyad resigned in April 2013. Meanwhile, Hamas appears to be expanding its presence in the West Bank, intending to take advantage of the PA's decline.
In Gaza, Hamas continues to lay the groundwork for a future battle with Israel with steady weapons production, while radicalization efforts continue unabated.
At a January 13 graduation ceremony for a "jihadi education" youth camp, Interior Minister Fathi Hamad told an audience of thousands: "This generation, Allah willing, will vanquish Israel."
(Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
- The Ghosts of Lockerbie - Tony Badran
Al Jazeera's documentary on the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988
established the context for the years preceding the bombing. Iran's immediate motive for the operation was revenge for an Iranian commercial flight that was accidentally shot down by the cruiser USS Vincennes in the Gulf in July 1988. Khomeini vowed retaliation and American intelligence at the time established that days after the Iranian flight was downed, the Iranians went to Ahmad Jibril's PFLP-GC in Beirut and contracted them for the job.
The man who quarterbacked the operation was Iran's former ambassador to Damascus, then Interior Minister Ali Akbar Mohtashami, who according to a 1989 Defense Intelligence Agency memo "conceived, authorized and financed" the operation.
Mohtashami is best known as the godfather of Hizbullah, and during his tenure as ambassador to Syria, Mohtashami helped organize and supervise the group. From his perch in Damascus, he coordinated the 1982 entry of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards contingent to the Beqaa, which, under the command of current Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan, trained Hizbullah and guided its attacks on U.S. and Western targets in Lebanon.
The writer is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
See also Iran's New Defense Minister: Behind the 1983 Attack on the U.S. Marine Corps Barracks in Beirut - Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
- Waltzing with Iran in the Nuclear Ballroom - Claudia Rosett
Amid the splendors of Vienna, the Iran nuclear talks are waltzing toward a fiasco as Russia threatened this week to change its position on the talks as payback for the West's negative reaction to the invasion of Ukraine. Four months have passed since the U.S. and its partners struck an interim deal with Iran in Geneva, and the parties appear to be talking mainly for the sake of talking. According to a senior U.S. official at the round of meetings that wrapped up on Wednesday, "We understand each other's concerns."
Meanwhile, without dismantling its nuclear infrastructure, Iran is enjoying a visible easing of sanctions and a celebrity comeback on the world stage. For all the smiles at the talks, Iran is publicly stipulating that it won't dismantle its nuclear infrastructure, won't stop enriching uranium, won't abandon building the plutonium factory that is its heavy-water reactor near Arak, and won't stop developing ballistic missiles.
In the end, it comes down to the unavoidable fact that the Iranians aren't at the bargaining table to give up the bomb. They've come so they get a breather from sanctions while they finish building it.
The writer is journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. (Wall Street Journal)
- Sanctions Against Iran Should Focus on Powerful Revolutionary Guards - Emanuele Ottolenghi and Saeed Ghasseminejad
Iran's Revolutionary Guards are under U.S. and European sanctions as the custodians of Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Increasing pressure on the IRGC is well within the purview of existing sanctions, which both the U.S. and the EU can enforce even as they implement the nuclear interim deal signed with Iran last November.
Targeting IRGC companies would reinforce the U.S. refrain that Tehran is not open for business. If a real power struggle is underway in Tehran between Rouhani and the Guards, the West can contribute to their weakening. Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Saeed Ghasseminejad is a Ph.D. candidate in finance at City University of New York.
(International Business Times)
- Ex-Envoy Sees Assad as Staying in Power - Michael R. Gordon
Former American ambassador to Syria Robert S. Ford, who retired from the State Department last month, told the Wilson Center in Washington on Thursday
that President Assad of Syria was likely to remain in power for the "medium term."
Ford said there were three reasons Assad had been able to hang on to power. First, the Syrian opposition had been unable to assure the Alawite minority that it would not be threatened by Assad's overthrow. Another factor has been "Iranian and Russian financing and huge amounts of arms coming from both Russia and Iran." Tehran's decision to encourage Hizbullah and Iraqi Shiite fighters to join the fray has also provided the Syrian government with badly needed manpower.
The third factor is that the Assad government has had a "certain unity and coherence, which is lacking on the opposition side." (New York Times)
- Hizbullah's Political and Security Situation - Benedetta Berti and Yoram Schweitzer
While Hizbullah remains the single most powerful military organization in Lebanon, both its freedom of action and its capacity to project power have been constrained.
Lebanon is becoming ever-more polarized between pro-and anti-Assad supporters, while the steady influx of Syrian refugees, numbering one million by late 2013 - more than 20% of Lebanon's total population - is expected to rise to 1.5 million by the end of 2014.
(Institute for National Security Studies)
- EU Funding for Radical NGOs: A Response to the EU Ambassador - Gerald M. Steinberg
One of the major points of friction in the relationship between Israel and the European Union centers on the millions of euros provided by EU taxpayers to non-governmental organizations active in demonizing Israel and opposing peace.
In responding directly to my detailed criticism of such EU policies (Jerusalem Post, Feb. 11), the efforts made by EU Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen to engage with Israelis on this issue
(Jerusalem Post, March 12) are important in resolving this troubling conflict.
Unfortunately, Ambassador Faaborg-Andersen, like his predecessors, failed to address the particulars of EU funding for radical NGOs that promote an agenda of hatred and discrimination by exploiting human rights, peace and democracy. My article, which was based on NGO Monitor's detailed and fully sourced research, referred explicitly to four cases of such EU funding that went directly to groups leading BDS and demonization campaigns. The writer is a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and heads NGO Monitor.
- Israeli Arabs Help to Debunk Apartheid Myths - Sheri Shefa
Eight Israelis who identify as Jewish, Muslim, Druze or Bedouin were brought to Toronto by StandWithUs Canada as part of a program called WordSwap, hoping to get the last word on the Israeli apartheid debate. Muhamed Heeb, 27, a Bedouin Muslim, said he was happy to have an opportunity to tour Ontario universities to dispel some of the damaging myths perpetuated by Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) organizers. "Some did not know there are Arabs in Israel. A lot of people were surprised," said Heeb, a University of Haifa student who is obtaining his master's in public policy.
Rabea Bader, 23, a Tel Aviv University student and a member of Israel's Druze community, said he met a number of people at U of T who were shocked to learn that Arabs live in Israel.
"I said, 'I'm living proof,'" he said, and conversed with them in Arabic to convince them. "I see how Israel is misrepresented in the media....They're accusing Israel of apartheid...and you know it's not true, but if you don't stand up and say it's not true, a lot of people are going to believe these lies."
Heeb described an IAW event at U of T: "They wanted to boycott Ben-Gurion University, so I said, 'Listen guys, Ben-Gurion University has the most Arab girls, Bedouin girls, studying there, more than [schools in] Arab countries.'" (Canadian Jewish News)
See also IDF Stories: Matan Fights to Defend His Family
Matan: I served as an officer in the Givati Brigade reconnaissance unit. In 2009 in Gaza, my unit took over the home of a known Hamas leader. In the master bedroom, hidden in a special compartment in the clothes cabinet, we found grenade launchers, mortar shells, hand guns, rifles, hand grenades, army vests, two-way radios, cell-phones and thousands of bullets. It was near a baby crib.
Hidden in his backyard we found two rocket launchers pointing towards Israel and rockets next to them on the ground. In the corner was a hut filled with rockets, explosive devices, fertilizers used for preparing explosives and Arabic manuals for assembling and launching rockets. It's almost impossible to think that all this was found in a residential home.
Matan was one of 13 IDF soldiers on StandWithUs' "Israeli Soldiers Stories" tour.
A Jewish State - Editorial (Wall Street Journal)
- "I think it is a mistake for some people to be raising it again and again as the critical decider of their attitude toward the possibility of a [Palestinian] state and peace," Mr. Kerry told Congress last week. The "some people" refers especially to Benjamin Netanyahu, while the "it" is the Israeli Prime Minister's insistence that the Arab world recognize his country as a Jewish state.
- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to do so, and earlier this month the Arab League met in Cairo to emphasize "its rejection of recognizing Israel as a 'Jewish state.'''
- To Israeli ears, as to ours, the League's rejection of a Jewish state exposes the deep insincerity of the Arab world's approach to peace.
- You would think, then, that Mr. Kerry would put the onus on Mr. Abbas. Instead, Mr. Kerry pointed a not-so-subtle finger at Israel, as if Jerusalem is being needlessly querulous by insisting on a point that ought to be basic and incontrovertible. The Administration's habit of constantly leaning on the Israelis for concessions while making no similar demands of the Palestinians explains its reputation for being unfriendly to Israel.
- As to why Mr. Abbas won't accept a Jewish state, it's because doing so means relinquishing what Palestinians call the "right of return," with its implicit promise to eliminate Israel. Such a right is recognized for no other refugee group in the world, least of all the roughly 800,000 Jews evicted from Arab lands.
- The idea that Israel's settlements are the problem should have been discredited for good after Israel dismantled its settlements in Gaza in 2005 only to get more war, not less. Mr. Kerry would perform a public service by pointing out these simple truths.
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