Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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January 19, 2006

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In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Moves Against Syrian Intelligence Chief - Jeannine Aversa (AP/ABC News)
    The Bush administration acted Wednesday to financially clamp down on Syria's military intelligence chief, Assef Shawkat, who is Syrian President Bashar al-Assadís brother-in-law.
    The Treasury Department ordered U.S. banks to block any assets found in the U.S. belonging to him.
    The department alleged that Shawkat has played a role in furthering Syria's "support for terrorism and interference in the sovereignty of Lebanon."

Six Iraqi Women Prisoners to be Released After American Journalist Kidnapped - Sinan Salaheddin (AP/Newsday)
    Iraq has recommended U.S. authorities release six of the eight Iraqi females in military custody, but claimed it was not part of a bid to free a kidnapped American journalist, a government official said Thursday.
    Militants holding Jill Carroll, 28, have demanded the release of all Iraqi female detainees or else they would kill the freelance reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, who was kidnapped Jan. 7 in Baghdad.

EU Prepares to Work with Hamas After Palestinian Poll - Daniel Dombey (Financial Times-UK)
    The EU is preparing itself for the possibility of doing business with Hamas after this month's Palestinian elections, even though the group is on the EU's list of banned terrorist organizations.
    The EU is unlikely to cut funding automatically if Hamas emerges as part of the Palestinian government after the elections.

Russia Cracks Down on Muslim Schools - Paul Goble (UPI)
    The Russian government is preparing a major move to control Muslim training schools.
    At the direction of President Putin, the Russian government's Commission on Religious Organizations has prepared a new draft law that will allow Russian authorities a powerful voice over the curriculum, faculties, and even continued existence of these institutions, Kommersant reported last week.
    At present there are 162 religious higher education institutions in the Russian Federation - 49 are Orthodox Christian, 75 are Islamic, 4 are Catholic, and 2 are Buddhist.
    Nafigulla Ashirov, co-chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, said he is certain that Moscow would use such a law to close down many Muslim educational centers.
    Orthodox priest Andrei Kurayev agreed, although he does not appear unhappy about that prospect.
    "The new law will be directed above all at Muslim centers," Kurayev said, because "in the entire world, madrassas are thought to be places for the recruitment of fanatics."

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Rice: "Not Much to Talk About" Until Iran Halts Nuclear Activity
    Europe, backed by the U.S., on Wednesday rejected Iran's request for talks on its nuclear program. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said "there's not much to talk about" until Iran halts nuclear activity. Rice condemned Iran's decision to resume its nuclear program, saying the international community is united in mistrusting Tehran and its present leadership with such technology. (AP/USA Today)
  • Pakistanis Say U.S. Airstrike Killed Al-Qaeda Bombmaker - Kamran Khan and Griff Witte
    A senior al-Qaeda operative and a son-in-law of the group's deputy leader, Ayman Zawahiri, were among those killed in a U.S. airstrike in an area along the Afghan border last week, Pakistani sources said Thursday. At least three al-Qaeda operatives were killed, including Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, a training camp leader and expert in explosives and poisons, on whom the U.S. had posted a $5 million bounty. Also believed killed were Abdul Rahman Maghribi, Zawahiri's son-in-law, who was believed to have been al-Qaeda's chief of propaganda for the region, and Abu Ubayida Misri, a key operative in Afghanistan's Konar province. (Washington Post)
  • Is Hamas Moderating? - Anne Barnard
    While Hamas's political leaders are playing down their military wing in their appeal to a broader swath of society in the Palestinian elections, Yasser Mansour, a Hamas candidate for the legislature from Nablus, said Hamas still wants ''Palestine from the river to the sea" - including Israel. Israeli officials dismiss Hamas's campaign as a diversion from its real aim of continuing violent struggle.
        ''There's no serious evidence whatsoever that Hamas is actually moderating," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. ''If Hamas ever had a dominant position in the PA, that would be the end of the peace process, not because of anything Israel would do but because of who Hamas is," Regev said. (Boston Globe)
        See also Islamic Jihad, Hizballah Continue Attacks on Israel - Anne Barnard
    While Islamic Jihad commands the loyalty of at most 3-4% of Palestinians, it has made up for its relative lack of popularity with millions of dollars in funding from Iran and Hizballah, Iran's proxy in neighboring Lebanon. Those backers have increased pressure in recent months to continue attacks on Israel. Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for all six of the suicide bombings that have killed more than 20 Israelis since the Palestinian factions declared a truce last February. In addition to Islamic Jihad, Hizballah now directly sponsors 51 militant cells in the West Bank, most of them offshoots of Fatah's Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, an Israeli intelligence official said. (Boston Globe)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Palestinian Teen Hands Over Bomb Belt to IDF
    A 15-year-old Palestinian arrived at the Hawara checkpoint near Nablus Wednesday evening and handed over to IDF forces an explosives belt in his possession. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Three More Rockets Fired at Israel - Shmulik Hadad
    Palestinians fired three Kassam rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday evening, security sources confirmed. Two of the rockets landed in the Zikim area. The third rocket landed inside the northern Gaza Strip. Palestinians have fired at least 13 Kassam rockets at Israel since Friday. (Ynet News)
  • U.S. Kills Nautilus Laser Gun Project - Amnon Barzilai
    The Pentagon has killed the joint U.S.-Israeli Nautilus mobile tactical high energy laser (MTHEL), designed to intercept aerial targets such as rockets, missiles, and artillery shells at ranges of 5-6 kilometers. Maj.-Gen. (res.) Prof. Yitzhak Ben-Yisrael, who served as IDF chief R&D officer when the decision to develop the Nautilus was taken, said, "We'll have to live with Kassam rockets for decades. Technologically, the laser system was the only solution in the foreseeable future that could intercept them." Over a year ago, Israel received the Nautilus's radar system, which has been integrated into a warning system in Sderot to warn against incoming rockets.
        The Nautilus laser gun program was begun ten years ago, originally designed to enable the IDF to intercept Katyusha rockets fired by Hizballah in Lebanon. The technology chalked up impressive successes in tests, intercepting Katyushas and mortars in mid-flight. However, when development was completed it was realized that the system was immobile, awkward, and too big. A senior Defense Ministry official said Wednesday he believes the U.S. decision was professional. The Nautilus uses a chemical laser, and the U.S. is now developing a solid-state laser interceptor, which the U.S. believes is better technology. (Globes)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Let's Give Iran Some of Its Own Medicine - Mark Steyn
    The majority of Iran's population is younger than the revolution: whether or not they're as "pro-American" as is sometimes claimed, they have no memory of the Shah; all they've ever known is their ramshackle Islamic republic where the unemployment rate is currently 25%. If war breaks out, those surplus young men will be in uniform and defending their homeland. Why not tap into their excess energy right now? As the foreign terrorists have demonstrated in Iraq, you don't need a lot of local support to give the impression of a popular insurgency. Would it not be feasible to turn the tables and upgrade Iran's somewhat lethargic dissidents into something a little livelier? A Teheran preoccupied by internal suppression will find it harder to pull off its pretensions to regional superpower status.
        Eight of the regime's border guards have been kidnapped and threatened with decapitation by a fanatical Sunni group in Iranian Baluchistan. I'm of the view that the Shia are a much better long-term bet as reformable Muslims, but given that there are six million Sunni in Iran and that they're a majority in some provinces, would it not be possible to give the regime its own Sunni Triangle? Insofar as Iran has a strategy, the president's chief adviser, Hassan Abbassi, has based it on the premise that "Britain is the mother of all evils" - the evils being America, Australia, Israel, the Gulf states, and even Canada and New Zealand, all of which are the malign progeny of the British Empire. "We have established a department that will take care of England," said Abbassi last May. "England's demise is on our agenda." Apropos the ayatollahs, England could at least return the compliment. (Telegraph-UK)
  • Mortal Threat - Frank J. Gaffney Jr.
    What if Iran's nuclear weapons were actually intended to bring about one of Ahmadinejad's other stated objectives: "a world without America"? Would we indulge in still more talk-a-thons like those of the last two-plus years led by the EU3 - for which the Iranians have publicly expressed appreciation as "buying time" for their nuclear program? A blue-ribbon commission's report to the Congress last year found a single nuclear weapon detonated in space high above the U.S. could unleash an immensely powerful electromagnetic pulse (EMP). An EMP wave a million times stronger than the most powerful radio transmitter would damage or destroy the electrical grid and unshielded electronic devices upon which our society utterly depends.
        Iranian missile tests - including firing a Scud missile off a ship and flying the new Shahab 3 missile in a profile apparently designed to deliver a weapon into space - suggest the mullahs seek an EMP capability. If this is, indeed, what the Iranian regime has in mind, would we wait to act? (Washington Times)
  • Observations:

    Why Won't Sunni Arab States Fear an Extremist Nuclear Shi'ite Iran? - Zeev Schiff (

    • For 18 years Iran misled the International Atomic Energy Agency, violated the safeguards agreement, and failed to report the full scope of its nuclear activities to the IAEA. Israel was perhaps the only country that detected what was happening in Iran at an early stage, and it had repeatedly claimed that Iran was deceiving the IAEA.
    • Israel appears to possess extensive intelligence information on Iranian nuclear activities. There can be no doubt that military nuclear development is the objective of the Tehran regime. Israel views this as a serious threat, frequently defining it as existential in nature. Iran's diplomatic maneuvers are intended to play for time until it achieves the status of regional nuclear power. This assessment is now shared by the U.S. and leading European countries.
    • It is obvious that after Iran, additional Middle East states will seek to develop their own nuclear weapons. Why, for example, shouldn't Egypt or Saudi Arabia try? Why won't Sunni Arab states fear an extremist Shi'ite Iran that has acquired nuclear weapons?
    • Obviously, Israel has good reason to prepare itself for every contingency, and this it is doing. It refrains from threatening Iran while preparing for the worst. Israel's basic approach holds that the problem of a nuclear Iran is not its problem alone, but that of the broader international community. The surface-to-surface missiles it is developing reach far beyond Israel. The next generation of Iranian missiles will cover most of the European subcontinent.
    • Is there a military option for stopping Iran's military nuclear project? If the question refers only to Israel, the answer is in the negative. If Israel senses a direct threat from the extremist regime in Tehran and feels the need to do so, it can severely punish Iran and cause a significant delay in its military nuclear development project. But I do not believe it can put a complete stop to the project by military means. Undoubtedly, the U.S. has a far greater military capability.

      The writer is the defense editor of Ha'aretz.

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