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June 2, 2014

In-Depth Issues:

Turkey Blocks Flow of Euphrates River to Syria, Water Crisis Looms - Suhaib Anjarini (Al-Akhbar-Lebanon)
    The Turkish government began to reduce the flow of the Euphrates River to Syria six weeks ago, then cut it off completely two weeks ago, threatening primarily Syria but also Iraq with a major water crisis.
    Lake Assad, Syria's largest water reservoir, has dropped by six meters, threatening to leave seven million Syrians without access to water.
    Also, Tishrin Dam stopped receiving any water, which stopped its electricity-generating turbines, decreasing the power supply in the Aleppo region.

Israel Limits Security Cooperation with Russia - Barbara Opall-Rome (Defense News)
    Israel has forfeited some $1 billion in defense trade and dual-use development projects with Russia due to a delicately balanced policy aimed at preserving the vital interests of the U.S.
    Given ongoing U.S.-Russian geopolitical posturing and recent tensions over Ukraine, Israel must remain sensitive to the interests of its key ally in Washington, Israeli officials say.
    "We could gain from Russia billions of dollars," a senior Israel Ministry of Defense official said. Even more important is Moscow's unique capacity to influence Israel's strategic standing in the region through its ties to enemy states such as Iran and Syria.
    "We obviously gained greatly from Russia's decision to cancel a huge S300PMU [air defense] contract with Iran," he said. But, he added, "We need to be concerned about U.S. concerns."

Israel Responds to Rocket Fire from Gaza, Shelling from Syria - Yaakov Lappin (Jerusalem Post)
    The Israel Air Force struck two terror targets in Gaza overnight Monday in response to Palestinian rockets fired at Israel hours earlier, the first such Israeli retaliation in a month.
    In a separate incident Monday morning, the IDF fired artillery salvos into Syria after Syrian shells flew in the direction of Israeli military posts on Mount Hermon.

154 People Detained in Saturday Istanbul Protests (AP-Washington Post)
    Police in Istanbul detained 154 people in Saturday's protests marking the one-year anniversary of last year's nationwide anti-government demonstrations.
    Protesters had defied a warning by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to keep away from Istanbul's Taksim Square, the center of last year's protests against what demonstrators view as Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian rule.

"Why Do They Want to Kill Us?" - Bob Schieffer (CBS News)
    I was talking with a young Israeli farmer and his wife who live near the Gaza Strip. In their village, no one is more than 15 seconds from a concrete bunker.
    The farmer's wife tells me the kids know what the bunkers are for, and how bombs and sniper fire have come from Gaza.
    "They know to run to the playground bunker when they hear the sirens," she tells me.
    "But what do I tell the four-year-old when he asks, 'Why do they want to kill us?'"

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Netanyahu Urges World Not to Recognize Palestinian Unity Government that Includes Hamas - Jeffrey Heller
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Sunday against any international rush to recognize a Palestinian government that includes Hamas. Israel and the West classify Hamas as a terrorist organization and have no official dealings with the movement.
        "I call on all responsible elements in the international community not to rush to recognize a Palestinian government which has Hamas as part of it and which is dependent on Hamas," Netanyahu told the cabinet. "Hamas is a terrorist organization that calls for Israel's destruction, and the international community must not embrace it. That would not bolster peace, it would strengthen terror."
        U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry "expressed concern about Hamas' role in any such government and the importance that the new government commit to the principles of nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements with it," the State Department said in a statement. PA President Mahmoud Abbas told Kerry on Monday that "the new government would be committed to these principles," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. (Reuters)
  • French Police Arrest Syria Jihadist over Brussels Jewish Museum Murders - Rory Mulholland
    Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, a French former jihadist volunteer in Syria, was arrested in Marseille on Friday for last week's deadly shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. Investigators found a memory stick containing a video in which a person claims to have carried out the attack, displays weapons similar to those used and unfurls a sheet of cloth with the words Islamic State of Iraq and Syria written on it, Paris prosecutor Frederic Molins said.
        Nemmouche had served five jail sentences since 2004, including one for armed robbery. "During his last stay in jail he was noticed for extremist [Islamic] proselytism," Molins said. (Telegraph-UK)
  • IAEA Assessment Plan Presents New Hurdle in Iran Nuclear Talks - Paul Richter
    In its latest quarterly report released Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, said it would conduct a comprehensive "system assessment" of all evidence on the sensitive issue of whether Iran has sought to gain nuclear weapons capability. However, the assessment is unlikely to be completed before the July 20 deadline for talks on an agreement between Iran and the West. U.S. officials say they won't agree to a deal unless Iran answers the IAEA's questions about its nuclear activities, including any military dimension. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Revolutionary Guards: Iran Can Target Enemy Interests Across Globe
    "We can target the crucial interests of the enemy at any location in the world if it harbors any ill intention," Deputy Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Brig.-Gen. Hossein Salami said Friday in Tehran. "We have accumulated and built up so much power that even if all of the enemy's options unfold at the same time, it will bring them nothing but defeat and disappointment."  (Press TV-Iran)
        See also Commander's Death in Syria Points to Iranian Role in Civil War - Nabih Bulos
    Abdollah Eskandari, a retired senior commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), was "martyred" last Monday in fighting near Damascus, according to a statement by the Iranian Defense Ministry. Eskandari's death brings the number of Iranian officers killed in Syria to 60. (Los Angeles Times)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel Thwarts 11 Kidnapping Plots Orchestrated by Palestinians in Israeli Jails
    The Israel Security Agency and Israel Prison Authority have exposed and thwarted 11 attempts of Palestinian security prisoners to orchestrate kidnappings from inside Israeli jails, it was announced Sunday. The prisoners, from Fatah, Hamas and other Islamic organizations, instructed other terrorists to try to kidnap Israeli soldiers and citizens to secure their own release in a prisoner exchange deal. (Ynet News)
  • Assad Hiding Chemical Arms in Remote Mountainside, Activist Charges - Elhanan Miller
    A senior member of the Syrian opposition who maintains contact with security officials still working for the Assad regime told the Times of Israel that on April 16, three vehicles arrived by night at Jourin, 100 km. northwest of Hama in a remote Alawite region of northwestern Syria, where the regime's Mountain Brigade was stationed. The vehicles were loaded with chemical substances, which were then buried underground within the brigade's encampment.
        In addition, the regime has been transferring chemical substances and missiles carrying chemical warheads from a research center in Marzaf, 20 km. northwest of Hama, to a converted recreation camp northeast of Masyaf. The weapons were placed in secret caves and trenches in the mountain near the camp.
        "We believe the regime has hidden a large amount of VX (nerve agent) which is extremely toxic," the source said. He estimated that the regime is hiding "no less than 20% of its chemical stockpiles."  (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Palestinians: BDS Activists Are Troublemakers, Criminals - Khaled Abu Toameh
    At university campuses in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe, they are hailed as heroes campaigning for Palestinian rights. But in Ramallah, activists belonging to the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] movement are seen by the Palestinian Authority as trouble-makers and law-breakers. For some PA officials, BDS is a movement that acts against the true interests of the Palestinians.
        A PA official in Ramallah explained that BDS followers make the Palestinians appear as if they are all radicals who are only interested in boycotting and delegitimizing Israel. "This goes against the PLO's official policy, which is to seek a peace agreement with Israel based on the two-state solution," he said.
        Four prominent BDS activists this week went on trial before a PA court for "provoking riots and breach of public tranquility" after protesting against the performance in Ramallah of an Indian dance troupe that had also appeared in Tel Aviv. The PA concluded that the BDS activists are anti-peace extremists whose goal is to prevent any peaceful settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
        Omar Barghouti, one of the leaders of the BDS movement, said that the PA should be put on trial for bringing the four men to court. Amnesty International also called for dropping charges against the four. (Gatestone Institute)
  • The Engagement Trap - Oren Kessler
    While campaigning for president in 2008, Barack Obama insisted that the U.S. must "talk to its enemies." In Dancing with the Devil, Michael Rubin, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official, makes the opposite case: that engaging with rogue regimes often exacts heavier costs than not and, worse, can make war with them more likely.
        Engaging with rogues, the author argues, squanders precious time, momentum and leverage. It rewards bad behavior - states that play by the rules never get the same attention - and confers legitimacy on illegitimate actors. And once begun, engagement is seldom dialed back: Western negotiators are generally loath to walk away, lest they be seen as having failed. The writer is a Middle East research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society. (Wall Street Journal)

With the Peace Process on Hold, Washington Still Faces Key Israeli-Palestinian Tests - Robert Satloff (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

  • While it is no longer a front-burner topic, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process will require a number of critical decisions by the Obama administration in the coming weeks.
  • The administration's first challenge is how to respond to the expected announcement of the formation of a new Hamas-Fatah Palestinian government. As various spokesmen have affirmed, Washington will only work with a government that endorses the "Quartet principles," i.e., recognition of Israel's right to exist, renunciation of violence and terror, and endorsement of previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
  • While the legislative language governing U.S. aid to the Palestinians offers the administration wiggle room to argue for providing assistance to a Hamas-backed government that affirms the Quartet principles, the administration evidently gave Israel a specific promise that it would not deal with any Palestinian government "backed by Hamas."
  • According to authoritative American and Israeli sources, that broader assurance was first made to Israel by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton following President Obama's May 2011 addresses on the Middle East. The assurance was then specifically affirmed by Secretary of State John Kerry prior to the start of his peace initiative last year.
  • A related question is whether the U.S. will condone Hamas participation in the next Palestinian elections. In 2006, the Bush administration acceded to Hamas participation so that the Palestinian people could choose their own leaders as they saw fit, confident in the theory that governance itself would be a moderating experience if Hamas won.
  • The unintended result was Hamas' surprise victory and eventual takeover of Gaza. Condoleezza Rice, a vocal advocate of Hamas inclusion in the elections when she served as secretary of state, wrote in her memoirs, "In retrospect, we should have insisted that every party disarm as a condition for participating in the vote."

    The writer is executive director of The Washington Institute.

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