ISIS Abductions in Syria Rise to 220 Christians (Reuters-New York Times)
Islamic State militants have abducted at least 220 people from Assyrian Christian villages in northeastern Syria during a three-day offensive, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday.
"ISIS now controls ten Christian villages," Observatory head Rami Abdulrahman said. "They have taken the people they kidnapped away from the villages and into their territory."
See also The Plight of Syria's Vulnerable Christian Minority - Ishaan Tharoor (Washington Post)
Iran Smuggles in $1 Billion in Bank Notes to Skirt Sanctions - Jonathan Saul (Reuters)
At least $1 billion in U.S. bank notes has been smuggled into Iran in recent months as it seeks to avoid Western sanctions that have shut Tehran out of the global banking system, with the Iranian central bank playing an important role, Iranian officials and Western intelligence sources say.
Dozens of Militants Killed in Egypt's Northern Sinai (Reuters)
Egypt's military killed 20 suspected Islamist militants and wounded 28 near the northern Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid in Sinai, Egyptian security sources said on Wednesday.
Internal Unrest Threatens Gaza - Hazem Balousha (Al-Monitor)
Starting Nov. 2014, there has been an increase in bombings, car burnings, kidnappings, theft and shootings in Gaza, most notably the assassination attempt on Fatah leader Mamoun Sweidan on Feb. 16.
The security services have made no arrests, while Fatah and Hamas have exchanged accusations of responsibility.
The Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for some of the bombings, but Hamas has denied that IS is present in Gaza.
An informed security source told Al-Monitor that some of the recent crimes were linked to organizational disagreements between the two Fatah currents - President Mahmoud Abbas and former leader Mohammed Dahlan - and that some are attributable to lax security as a result of the non-payment of security staff.
The source added:
"There are people who belong to some extremist currents, and they have links to the security agencies operating in Gaza."
The bombings are done at "individuals' initiative in the absence of a strong leader and an interior minister who keeps track."
The incidents have a negative effect on Palestinian reconciliation and delay the postwar reconstruction process.
Arab and Jewish Jerusalemites Are Flocking to Study the Other's Language - Nir Hasson (Ha'aretz)
Jerusalem Arabs are filling up Hebrew classes and a similar thing is happening with Jerusalem Jews studying Arabic.
Arabs consider Hebrew a must to make a living. They want it for leisure-time activities and academic studies as well.
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- Netanyahu: World Powers "Have Given Up" on Stopping Iran from Developing Nuclear Weapons
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that world powers "have given up" on stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons in ongoing negotiations. Netanyahu, as well as many in Israel, view a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its very existence, citing Tehran's repeated calls for Israel's destruction and its support for groups like Hizbullah.
Netanyahu said that the greatest challenge Israel faces is "the threat of Iran arming itself with nuclear weapons with a declared goal of annihilating us....From the agreement that is forming it appears that they (world powers) have given up on that commitment and are accepting that Iran will gradually, within a few years, develop capabilities to produce material for many nuclear weapons." "They might accept this, but I am not willing to accept this," he said.
- U.S., Israel Trade Barbs Over Iran Talks - Carol E. Lee
Top U.S. officials have sharpened efforts to undermine Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of his visit to Washington.
Members of Netanyahu's inner circle described the prime minister as caught between the objectives of maintaining good relations with the White House and protecting Israel from an Iranian threat. In the end, they said, while damage control might later be necessary, Iran took priority.
"Sometimes in the life of a nation you have to make hard choices," said Dore Gold, who has served as an adviser to the prime minister on international affairs. "This is a very tense moment. But Iran is not some agreement about a [West Bank] settlement. This is a life-or-death question for Israel."
Gold compared Netanyahu's predicament with one faced by another Israeli prime minister, Levi Eshkol, who defied a warning from Lyndon Johnson not to launch pre-emptive strikes against an Arab military buildup in 1967, the start of what is known to Israelis as the Six-Day War. (Wall Street Journal)
- House Panel Grills Kerry on Iran Nuclear Negotiations - Deb Riechmann and Matthew Lee
Secretary of State John Kerry played defense Wednesday on Capitol Hill, fielding dozens of questions from lawmakers worried about what Iran could get in a deal being negotiated to block its ability to make an atomic weapon. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Cal.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Kerry, "I'm hearing less about dismantlement and more about the performance of Iran's nuclear program. That's particularly disturbing when you consider that international inspectors report that Iran has still not revealed its past bomb work."
Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) said, "We're hearing troubling reports on the scale and duration of the program that Iran may be allowed as part of a deal." Kerry responded, "There are some big issues yet to be resolved. We are not there yet." (AP-U.S. News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Hizbullah Campaign Stalls on Syrian Golan Heights - Avi Issacharoff
Contrary to reports by Lebanese and Hizbullah-affiliated media,
the military operation carried out by the Assad regime and Hizbullah designed to purify the Syrian Golan Heights of rebel forces has not borne much fruit.
The major operation, which was devised with the assistance of Iranian officials, began about two weeks ago, and during the first days of the offensive, Lebanese and Syrian media reported rapid gains.
In reality, while a couple of thousand Syrian army soldiers along with a few hundred Hizbullah fighters indeed did take control of individual villages and several outposts, the Syrian opposition - both secular factions and members of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front - also managed to capture several villages and outposts and the situation in the Syrian Golan Heights, in essence, has not changed at all.
(Times of Israel)
- IDF: Hamas Foiling Gaza-West Bank Trade - Elior Levy
"Hamas presents Israel with severe obstacles in creating direct, vibrant commerce with the Palestinian Authority," Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), told the Palestinian media on Wednesday. "Israel wants to rebuild the Strip and improve the conditions of those who live there, but every action by Hamas against Israel leads to a response and a deterioration of the situation." Moreover, Hamas prevents the reconstruction by violently taking building supplies in order to rebuild its terror tunnels.
- To Speak or Not to Speak - Ben Chouake
For Israel, with just one bomb, Iran can do to the Jews in 12 minutes what Hitler did in 12 years. The P5+1 negotiations with Iran are scheduled to produce a political agreement similar to a letter of intent on March 24. This is why Prime Minister Netanyahu believes he must speak out now against the dangers of a faulty agreement. Rescheduling this after the Israeli election may be too late. The invitation for Netanyahu's address to Congress and timing close to the Israeli election may break typical protocol, but there are life-threatening issues at hand.
Netanyahu's upcoming address to Congress is not about insulting the honorable president, which no Israeli leader would gratuitously do. It is about Israel trying to save itself and the world from Iranian terror and its messianic ambitions.
- Why Is Netanyahu's Speech to Congress Key for Israel's Security? - Arye Mekel
The agreement now being worked out with Iran is terrible and dangerous, and it will enable the Iranians to continue and advance in their efforts to become a nuclear nation, or at least a nearly nuclear nation. This is the assessment of many experts in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere. Moreover, Iran doesn't hide its hostility to Israel and its desire to destroy the Jewish state.
What should an Israeli prime minister, whatever his name, do? Sit with his hands folded, or warn by every means possible about the danger which, in Netanyahu's view, is the most serious threat to the Jewish people since the Holocaust?
It is clear that it would be preferable to work in cooperation with the American president, as Israel has always tried to do. Netanyahu, who was educated in the U.S. and is very familiar with the American experience, would have preferred to work together with Obama. Unfortunately, the president sees the Iranian issue differently.
Ambassador Arye Mekel is a veteran Israeli diplomat.
- Iran's Israel Intentions - Editorial
Israel is the one nation whose existence is most threatened by Iran.
Understand this and you understand why the Israelis are so alarmed by the deal President Obama is trying to strike with Tehran.
Understand this and you also understand that it gives Jerusalem a far different stake in these talks than the nations negotiating the deal. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told American Jewish leaders last week: "A regime that openly calls for Israel's destruction would thus finally have the means to realize its genocidal aims."
When the president first began negotiations with Iran, he said the purpose was to halt Iran's nuclear program. Now, it seems, the purpose is to delay it. But a rogue state with an unquenchable thirst for nukes cannot be managed. Trying to keep Tehran a year or so from producing WMDs will neither solve the problem nor end the threat.
(New York Post)
Submission to the UN Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict - Col. Richard Kemp (Col. Richard Kemp)
- I was in Israel for much of the summer 2014 Gaza conflict. This submission is based on observations on the ground during the conflict, 29 years' military experience of conflicts of this type, intelligence work relating to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and knowledge of the IDF and Israeli intelligence services.
- In my opinion the actions taken by the IDF were necessary to defend the people of Israel from the ongoing, intensive and lethal attacks by Hamas and other groups in Gaza. There was a sustained assault on the Israeli population from rockets and mortar bombs; attacks on Israeli military posts using tunnels; apparent plans to launch further attacks on Israeli military posts and on civilian settlements also using tunnels; and attempted attacks from the sea.
- As the Gaza Strip is effectively a separate state, outside of Israeli control, these actions amounted to an attack by a foreign country against Israeli territory. In these circumstances I know of no other realistic and effective means of suppressing an aggressor's missile fire than the methods used by the IDF. Nor have I heard any other military expert from any country propose a viable alternative means of defense against such aggression.
- It is grossly irresponsible to demand that Israeli control of Gaza's borders be lifted, when it is clear that Israeli action is necessary to prevent the re-armament that will lead to further attacks by Hamas and other groups. It should be noted that Egypt takes similar preventive action against Gaza extremists for the same reason as Israel.
- In my experience the most junior soldiers in the IDF understand the Laws of Armed Conflict
and the imperative of adhering to them. I previously commented in relation to the 2008-09 Gaza conflict that no army in the history of warfare had taken greater steps than the IDF to minimize harm to civilians in a combat zone. My observations during the 2014 conflict confirmed this.
- I personally observed 19 separate missile attacks, some involving multiple missiles, fired at Israeli population centers. Hamas does not possess the capability to carry out precision attacks using missiles and therefore these attacks were all indiscriminate, and therefore unlawful under the Laws of Armed Conflict, carrying the risk of killing or wounding innocent civilians.
- The IDF took exceptional measures to adhere to the Laws of Armed Conflict and to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza. I strongly urge the Commissioners to condemn Hamas and the other groups for their actions during this conflict. Failure to do so would be tantamount to encouraging a repeat of such actions in the future, by Hamas and other Gaza groups and by extremist groups around the world who would wish to emulate the actions in Gaza.
Col. Kemp was Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan and served in the UK Cabinet Office working on intelligence relating to international and domestic terrorism.
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