Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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May 29, 2006

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In-Depth Issues:

Tel Aviv, Beersheba Within Range of New Hizballah Rocket - Ze'ev Schiff (Ha'aretz)
    Iran has equipped Lebanese-based Hizballah with long-range rockets capable of hitting targets up to 200 km away, putting all of Israel's major urban centers within striking distance.
    The solid-fuel Zelzal-2, and its earlier model, the Zelzal-1, lack an independent guidance system and their accuracy is questionable, but they carry a 600 kg warhead that can cause considerable damage.
    In this latest transfer of military technology, Iran is seeking to improve its strategic options against Israel.
    International defense journals have reported that the rockets are stored by Hizballah in bunkers in the Bekaa Valley near Lebanon's border with Syria.

Hamas Dismisses Referendum "Threat" - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    Hamas rejected a threat by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to hold a referendum on the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, as Hamas' new security force returned to the streets of Gaza City on Saturday after withdrawing the day before.
    See also PFLP to Join Hamas-Led Government (Jerusalem Post)

Palestinians Look to Jordan's Dinar as Israeli Banks Halt Shekel Supply - Harvey Morris (Financial Times-UK)
    The PA may be forced to abandon the Israeli shekel and adopt the Jordanian dinar as a result of restrictions on the transfer of funds since Hamas came to power, according to George Abed, the Palestinian banking regulator.
    Abed said he urged the Bank of Israel to find ways to ensure that legitimate financial transactions would continue after the two Israeli commercial banks that supply shekels decided to sever ties with their Palestinian counterparts.
    "Otherwise we will have to do away with the shekel and adopt the Jordanian dinar," he said.
    The dinar would be an obvious alternative. Land values in the West Bank and Gaza are designated in dinars, while a quarter of deposits in Palestinian banks are in the Jordanian currency.

Palestinian Territories Ripe for Al-Qaeda - Sana Abdallah (UPI/Middle East Times-Cyprus)
    There are growing indications that al-Qaeda is penetrating the Palestinian territories.
    Experts on Islamic militancy say the network targets weak countries to set up base and an infrastructure, as it has done in Afghanistan, Somalia, and more recently in Iraq, preying on places where chaos and an absence of strong state institutions prevail.

Hamas FM Leaves Conference When Fatah Leader Arrives (Jerusalem Post)
    PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar left a nonaligned movement conference in Malaysia on Sunday following the unexpected arrival of Fatah chairman Faruk Kaddoumi, head of the political department of the PLO, who was introduced by the hosts of the conference as Palestine's foreign minister.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • U.S. Urges Financial Sanctions on Iran - Dafna Linzer
    The Bush administration is pressing Europe and Japan to impose wide-ranging sanctions designed to stifle the Iranian leadership financially if diplomatic efforts fail to resolve an impasse over the country's nuclear program. Developed by a Treasury Department task force that reports directly to Secretary of State Rice, the plan is designed to curtail the financial freedom of every Iranian official, individual, and entity the Bush administration considers connected not only to nuclear enrichment efforts but to terrorism, government corruption, suppression of religious or democratic freedom, and violence in Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and the Palestinian territories. It would restrict the Tehran government's access to foreign currency and global markets, shut its overseas accounts, and freeze assets held in Europe and Asia.
        But internal U.S. assessments suggest that the sanctions could not hurt Tehran without causing significant economic pain for Washington's friends, which makes the plan a difficult sell in capitals such as Rome and Tokyo, which import significant quantities of Iranian oil. (Washington Post)
        See also Iran's Drive to Nuclear Fuel Slows, Diplomats Say - William J. Broad and David E. Sanger
    Iran appears to have slowed its drive to produce nuclear fuel, according to European diplomats who have reviewed reports from inspectors inside the country. "It could simply mean we're not looking in the right places," said one senior administration official. Nuclear experts caution, too, that the slowdown may mean that Iran has run into technical obstacles. (New York Times)
  • Iran Chief Eclipses Power of Clerics - Michael Slackman
    President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is trying to consolidate power in the office of the presidency in a way never before seen in the 27-year history of the Islamic Republic, according to Iranian government officials and political analysts. Analysts say Ahmadinejad and his allies are trying to buttress a system of conservative clerical rule that has lost credibility with the public. Their strategy hinges on trying to win concessions from the West on Iran's nuclear program and opening direct, high-level talks with the U.S., while easing social restrictions and cracking down on political dissent. For the first time since the revolution, a president has overshadowed the nation's chief cleric, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on both domestic and international affairs.
        In this theocratic system, where appointed religious leaders hold ultimate power, the presidency is a relatively weak position. But many of those watching in near disbelief at the speed and aggression with which the president is seeking to accumulate power assume that he is operating with the full support of Ayatollah Khamenei. (New York Times)
  • Thousands of Academics Oppose Boycott of Israel - Benjamin Joffe-Walt and Matthew Taylor
    Thousands of international academics have signed an online petition opposing a proposed boycott of Israeli lecturers by the UK's National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (Natfhe), who are holding their annual conference this week. MPs at the Israeli parliament held an emergency meeting to discuss the UK boycott plans, which were described as a "witch hunt." If passed, the resolution may be short-lived. Natfhe is set to merge with the other major lecturers' union, the AUT. Any adopted resolution will thus become Natfhe policy for less than a week. (Guardian-UK)
        See also Ontario Public Employees Union Joins Boycott of Israel - Melissa Leong
    The Ontario wing of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Canada's largest union, has voted to join an international boycott campaign against Israel. Steven Schulman, Ontario regional director of the Canadian Jewish Congress, called the vote "outrageous." (National Post-Canada)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Katyusha Rockets Hit IDF Base in Northern Israel
    Early Sunday morning, several Katyusha rockets launched from Lebanese territory hit an IDF base in northern Israel, lightly wounding a soldier and causing damage to the base. In response to this attack, the IDF carried out an aerial attack on two command posts used by terror organizations in Lebanon, one of which was used as a storage facility for weaponry and ammunition.
        In the afternoon, Hizballah launched a large-scale attack on communities and military posts along the border with Lebanon with sniper fire and machine gun fire, and launched Katyusha rockets and mortar shells at Israeli targets. An IDF soldier was severely wounded in Kibbutz Manara. In response to this severe, unprovoked attack on Israel, the IDF returned fire on Hizballah targets along the Lebanese border. (Israel Defense Forces)
        See also IDF: If Hizballah Wants Escalation, We'll Give It to Them - Hanan Greenberg
    A senior commander in the Northern Command defined the most significant day of battles with Hizballah since Israel pulled out of south Lebanon six years ago as highly successful. "We awaited their attack, were ready, and the moment they made a move - they absorbed a lot of damage to infrastructure and forces." He revealed that during the battles, Hizballah sent dozens of children toward the border to throw stones, and even fired from inside a UN building.
        "We took out a lot of Hizballah bases, all those along the border including those built in the past few months in the west. We made an effort to hit the terrorists, rather than the structures. Every manned post was in our sights; they tried to put snipers on us but they got hit too; they aimed anti-tank missiles but they missed and our tanks hit their bases," the officer related. Iran's involvement could be clearly identified in the preparation and equipping of the fighters, the officer said. (Ynet News)
        See also Israel to Complain Against Lebanon to Security Council
    "We have instructed our delegation at the UN to present a formal complaint against Lebanon to the president of the Security Council," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Sunday after Lebanese guerrillas fired a barrage of rockets at northern Israel. Regev said Lebanon must comply with Security Council resolutions calling on Lebanese militias to disarm. (AP/Jerusalem Post)
  • Suicide Bomber Caught on Way to Attack in Israel
    IDF troops arrested two Palestinians at a checkpoint south of Nablus on Monday who were on their way to carry out a suicide bombing in central Israel. Troops found a 7-kg explosive belt in a bag which one of the men cast aside as he attempted to flee. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Palestinian Rocket Lands in IDF Base in Western Negev - Josh Brannon
    Palestinians in Gaza fired a Kassam rocket that landed without exploding in an IDF base in the western Negev on Sunday. Some 400 Kassam rockets, launched from northern Gaza, have landed in Israel since the Gaza disengagement, according to IDF sources. Twenty have landed in Israel in the last two months, a significant decrease from previous months, which army officials attribute to the use of artillery against launch sites. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Gaza's Culture of Violence - Jeremy Bowen
    I visited the Kweitar family in Gaza. The men are all commanders in Fatah's various armed groups. I walked into their living room which, like all Gazan living rooms, was full of children. It was also full of weapons. One man, who was cuddling a boy of about three, had a rocket launcher propped up next to him. His cousin was walking around looking for his cigarettes with a backpack full of rockets. There were more rockets on the sofa and machine guns in the kitchen. The teenage sons of the family were armed and ready to fight.
        The reason for all this? They said that men from Hamas had put bombs under their cars. They were convinced Hamas would come back to kill them. They played and replayed a video clip from the previous night's news, showing a Hamas gunman stopping a car driven by one of their colleagues and shooting him the moment he opened the door. (BBC News)
        See also Deadly Feud in Gaza Follows an Old Script - Laura King
    The Palestinian security apparatus was specifically designed as an array of competing militias, ensuring that no single commander would grow powerful enough to challenge Arafat. Now, after Arafat's death and Hamas' rise to political power, chieftains aligned with the defeated Fatah faction are scrambling to retain influence and control of their own bands of armed followers, even while taking on the fighters of Hamas. "More and more, Gaza is ruled by warlords," said Eyad Sarraj, who heads a human rights group in Gaza. "We are turning into a kind of Somalia. And this is Arafat's legacy."
        With government salaries unpaid for more than two months, thousands of gunmen are ready to sell their services to whoever can offer them a paycheck. A united Fatah army could easily dominate Hamas, but Fatah commanders have individual scores to settle with one another and don't always come to their comrades' aid in confrontations with Hamas. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Observations:

    Reaffirming U.S.-Israeli Ties - Eran Lerman (Boston Globe)

    • The appearance by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert before a joint session of Congress last Wednesday offered a keyhole understanding of the three interwoven threads that sustain the special relationship between the United States and Israel.
    • The first thread is the strategic dimension, namely the common stand of Israel, the U.S., and like-minded nations against the same enemy, Islamist totalitarianism, with its terror methods, its culture of hate, and its cult of death. However, that thread also includes the common quest for a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
    • The second thread is the affinity of values, which ranges from the power of biblical reference in the cultures of both nations to the ever-present remembrance of the Holocaust, and from the love of liberty to the exercise of a robust knowledge-based economy.
    • The third thread is the unique role of American Jewry which, unlike all others in Jewish history, is made all the more American, not less so, by its close and committed association with Israel.

      The writer is director of the Israel and the Middle East Office of the American Jewish Committee.

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