Dempsey: U.S. and Israel Agree on Iran Threat - Jim Michaels (USA Today)
Israel and the U.S. are now in broad agreement about the threat that Iran poses to the region and how to deal with it, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday after wrapping up a two-day visit to Israel.
"I think they are satisfied that we have the capability to use a military option if the Iranians choose to stray off the diplomatic path," Dempsey said of Israeli officials. "I think they believe we will use it."
"Our clocks are more harmonized than they were two years ago," Dempsey said.
"They just wanted to know that we are maintaining and continuing to refine our military options," he said.
Kerry Lauds Nonexistent Iranian Fatwa Banning Nuclear Weapons (MEMRI)
In a March 22, 2014, Voice of America interview marking the Persian New Year, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that he and President Obama were "grateful" that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had issued a fatwa banning the possession, development, and use of nuclear weapons.
As MEMRI has reported repeatedly, no one has ever actually seen this fatwa and it does not exist. It does not appear in the 2013 compilation of 493 fatwas issued by Khamenei.
Khamenei did discuss nuclear weapons in a Friday sermon in 2004, but a sermon is not a legal ruling.
Khamenei maintains two websites which include a special section devoted to fatwas that he has issued. They do not include a fatwa on the topic of banning nuclear weapons.
Israel Releases Passover Travel Advisories for 31 Countries - Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)
Iran and Hizbullah continue to pose a terrorist threat to Israeli and Jewish targets abroad, the Counter-Terrorism Bureau in the Prime Minister's Office said Monday.
The travel advisory, issued before Passover, placed 31 countries and eight regions inside other countries on the warning list.
Israelis were told not to travel at all, and to leave immediately, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Tunisia. Israelis should also leave the Sinai, southern Thailand, the southern Philippines, eastern Senegal, the Kashmir region in northern India, northern Nigeria, Chechnya, and parts of Kenya.
Israelis were advised to avoid Egypt, Jordan, and the Persian Gulf states. Turkey and Morocco were countries where non-essential travel should be avoided.
Report: Israel Deploys Unmanned Patrol Vehicle on Lebanese Border - Or Heller (Israel Defense)
Lebanon's Daily Star reported Monday on an IDF military robot moving along the border fence near Kfar Kila.
The Unmanned Ground Combat Vehicle, which operates on the Gaza border as well, can carry cameras, sensors, speakers and it can be equipped with weapon emplacements.
Its purpose is to locate demolition charges and holes along the fence, and is operated from an IDF's operations room near the border.
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- U.S. Gambit on Mideast Peace Talks Falters - Jay Solomon, Nicholas Casey and Joshua Mitnick
The Obama administration's campaign to forge a Middle East peace agreement appeared near collapse Tuesday. Republicans and Democrats criticized the administration's last-minute discussions to offer up the spy, Jonathan Pollard, to persuade the Israelis to make more concessions.
"It's hard for me to see how releasing Jonathan Pollard would help jump-start Middle East peace talks," Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said.
Despite eight months of negotiations spearheaded by Secretary of State John Kerry, diplomacy appeared to be unraveling after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he had signed papers formally applying to join 15 international organizations affiliated with the UN. Abbas also said he would support a form of "nonviolent resistance" against Israel. Kerry, who was set to visit Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday, canceled his trip, the State Department said. Israeli officials warned that the moves could derail the negotiations completely. "This is a serious escalation," said a senior Israeli official. (Wall Street Journal)
See also Kerry-Abbas Visit Canceled as Mideast Talks Falter - Jodi Rudoren, Michael R. Gordon and Mark Landler
Israeli officials say they are not bound by their pledge to release a fourth batch of long-serving Palestinian prisoners by the end of March because no meaningful negotiations have taken place since November.
A senior American official said Secretary of State Kerry's decision not to return to the region immediately reflected a growing impatience in the White House, which believes that his mediating efforts have reached their limit and that the two sides need to work their way out of the current impasse.
Kerry has made the peace process a personal mission, with a dozen trips to the region in the past year, though few beyond Kerry and his team believed there was much chance of closing the gaps in the two sides' positions. Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former American ambassador to Israel, said: "All of the indications are that this is moribund. We're now into Plan B, which has two parts: the blame game, which is well underway, and a last-ditch effort by the United States not to have the collapse lead to violence."
(New York Times)
See also Palestinian Bid for Stronger UN Ties Throws Peace Talks into Confusion - William Booth and Anne Gearan
PA President Mahmoud Abbas defied American diplomats Tuesday by unilaterally signing more than a dozen UN treaties, endangering the U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. It was clear that Abbas' move blindsided the U.S., which was trying to broker a new deal for prisoner releases sought by the Palestinians and an extension of the peace talks.
Secretary of State John Kerry said, "The leaders on both sides have to make the decisions, not us. It's up to them to decide what they are going to do with each other, for each other, for the future, for the region, for peace."
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Arafat-Style, Abbas Is Playing with Fire - Avi Issacharoff
PA President Mahmoud Abbas signed on papers to join 15 international charters on Tuesday evening in a live broadcast on official television, surrounded by members of the Palestinian leadership.
But look deeper and you'll see Abbas did not sign up for big-ticket UN organizations. Look deeper still and you'll note that the applications were not actually filed.
Abbas stressed in his speech that he intends to continue negotiations with Israel and the U.S. until the April 29 deadline.
However, Abbas' media has already declared the peace talks a failure and stressed the appeal made by Abbas to the Palestinian public to go out and begin peaceful resistance. (Times of Israel)
See also Despite Palestinian Unilateralism, Talks Will Likely Limp On - Raphael Ahren (Times of Israel)
- Study Shows Palestinian Textbooks Rife with Incitement - Shlomo Cesana
A recent study of 150 new Palestinian Authority textbooks reveals widespread delegitimization of Israel and continued calls to use violence against Jews.
The survey, conducted by Dr. Arnon Gross and the Near East Policy Research Center, found widespread demonization of Israel and calls for a violent struggle instead of peace. According to the textbooks, the Jews have no rights to Israel, including to Jewish holy sites.
The name "Israel" appears less than a handful of times on maps and is usually replaced with Palestine, and areas inside pre-1967 Israel are described exclusively as Palestinian. (Israel Hayom)
- Offering Jonathan Pollard's Release in Mideast Peace Talks Is Premature - Editorial
The administration's Middle East diplomacy has degenerated from a bid to conclude a final Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement this month to an attempt to win agreement on a preliminary "framework" to a desperate race to prevent the talks from collapsing. According to widespread reports Tuesday, there was discussion of the possible release of Jonathan Pollard, to be bartered for Israel's freeing of Palestinian prisoners.
The obvious question is why the U.S. is offering its own concessions rather than brokering compromise between the two parties that are supposed to be negotiating. The simple answer is that Secretary of State John Kerry has failed to persuade either side to budge from widely divergent positions on the terms of Palestinian statehood.
Just as in two previous rounds of U.S.-sponsored peace talks, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has publicly rejected Kerry's terms and refused to commit to an extension of the talks.
See also Bad Move on Jonathan Pollard - Editorial
The emergence of Jonathan Pollard as a bargaining chip in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations is a lamentable sign of America's desperation to keep both sides talking. The proposal would do nothing to advance progress on the core issues of a peace deal. After nine months of talks, there is no sign of progress on any of these issues.
(New York Times)
See also An Unseemly U.S. Prisoner Swap Proposal - Editorial
Leaving aside the unseemliness of using Pollard as a negotiating pawn (to advance goals most of Pollard's champions in Israel and the U.S. profoundly oppose), it's hard to see how the interests of peace are served by returning people with terrorist convictions to Palestinian streets. If Pollard is to be released, let it be on humanitarian grounds, not as part of some hostage-like diplomatic swap.
(Wall Street Journal)
- The Jonathan Pollard Trial Balloon - Edward-Isaac Dovere
There are reports that President Obama might try to jump-start the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations via some kind of clemency for Jonathan Pollard, the former Navy analyst who's been in jail since 1987 for spying for Israel.
Experienced negotiators say the Pollard trial balloon itself might be the clearest sign yet that the peace process is essentially over once again.
For Pollard's release to ever be used in negotiations, time's running out: he's expected to be released in November 2015 anyway.
If this were the last stitch needed to sew up a final deal, that would be one thing. But as a ploy to keep negotiations going over a peace framework, those who've been part of prior talks aren't impressed. "It shows a certain weakness and desperation," said Aaron David Miller, a former State Department senior adviser on the region.
"If, after 30 years, we think that Pollard should be released for humanitarian reasons, then we should release him now. We should not make his release part of complicated negotiations with Palestinians and Israelis over some talks that may not last more than a few weeks anyway," said Elliott Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser overseeing the Middle East for President George W. Bush. "We are asking Israel to release terrorists. We should not be doing that," Abrams said. "Terrorists that kill Americans don't get released. And we should not be asking Israel to." (Politico)
Pollard Release Seems Justified - Dennis Ross (TIME)
- In every negotiation in which I participated, Jonathan Pollard was raised by Israeli prime ministers from Rabin through Netanyahu. We may view him as a spy; Israelis view him differently. He has taken on the aura of being a soldier who was left in the field, and the ethos in Israel is that soldiers are never left behind.
- As someone who is Jewish and who also worked in the Pentagon in the 1980s, I had no sympathy for Pollard. He stole top-secret documents; he betrayed his country and the trust put in him; he was caught and it was appropriate that he pay a price for what he had done. I felt strongly about that.
- At the time, I was contending with a prejudice that lingered in the national security bureaucracy that in not so subtle ways suggested that anyone who was Jewish could not work on Middle Eastern issues because they would serve Israeli as opposed to American interests - a view typically held by those who also defined U.S. and Israeli interests as being at odds.
- So I had good reasons for believing that Pollard should be punished. But what constitutes sufficient punishment?
- Whether one accepts the argument that Pollard's sentence seems more severe than that handed out to other spies, it surely makes little sense to say that someone who has spent nearly 30 years in jail has not paid a severe price.
The writer, a fellow and counselor at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy,
served under presidents George H. W. Bush, Clinton, and Obama.
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