Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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December 19, 2006

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In-Depth Issues:

Israeli Intelligence: Hamas Gunmen Being Trained in Iran - (AP/Ha'aretz)
    Israeli military officials said Monday that dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Hamas militants recently left Gaza to receive advanced military training in Iran.
    The training is similar to that received by thousands of Hizballah guerrillas from Lebanon over the past few years, and Israel fears it will greatly improve Hamas' military capability.

A Palestinian Civil War? - Jonathan D. Halevi (JCPA-Hebrew, 18Dec06)
    Palestinian unity was maintained as long as Israel's military ruled Gaza. Israel's disengagement from Gaza has led to a battle within the Palestinian leadership over the "prize" of representing the Palestinian people.
    Both sides understand that the current balance of power will make it difficult for either side to achieve a quick resolution at a low cost.
    Hamas has more power and weapons in Gaza, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the military infrastructure which is available to the security forces loyal to Abbas.
    In the West Bank, Fatah has a significant advantage.
    Yet Israel's existential struggle with the Palestinian national movement will continue regardless of which Palestinian side overcomes the other.

Bush Delays Moving U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem (Reuters)
    President Bush has delayed for another six months moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, citing national security interests, the White House said on Monday.
    Congress enacted legislation in 1995 calling for the U.S. to move its embassy to Jerusalem, but the move has been postponed every six months since the law was passed.

Gaza Weapons Smuggling Flourishes - Sarah El Deeb (AP/Los Angeles Times)
    In houses along the steel wall separating Gaza and Egypt, the lights are flickering - a sign that smugglers are digging tunnels below, their powerful drills weakening the flow of electricity.
    Since Israel pulled out of Gaza a year ago, the number of tunnels for smuggling weapons and other contraband has more than doubled.
    When Israel withdrew, some 90 tunnels were operating. Now, there are at least 150, but the number is probably closer to 250, said one tunnel digger.
    Palestinian militants say they have already imported longer-range Katyusha rockets.
    Digging a tunnel cost about $100,000 during Israeli rule. With the tunnel business out in the open now, their average cost has fallen to about $20,000.
    Uri Dromi, a former Israeli government spokesman, said, "On the surface, there is a cease-fire, but underground they keep building tunnels."

Israel's Airport Ranks First in Survey - Avi Krawitz (Jerusalem Post)
    Israel's new Ben-Gurion Airport terminal that opened two years ago was voted the most customer-friendly airport in Europe in a new survey based on passenger feedback at 77 airports around the globe.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • In Abbas, Western Hopes Hang on Thin Reed - Steven Erlanger
    The call for early elections by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is part of a Western-backed effort to drive the radical Hamas party, which favors Israel's destruction, out of power. But Abbas today is a weak reed, with little power to carry out his decrees or his will. Opinion polls show that Abbas is perceived by a majority of Palestinians as a great disappointment, having brought little reform to his Fatah movement or improvement to their lives. Abbas made a great drama on Saturday of announcing early elections, but they seem unlikely to happen. Hamas has promised to boycott them. It seems clear that Abbas has no legal right to dissolve parliament without its consent. It may therefore be too late for Abbas and Fatah to be bolstered very effectively, even by a new American and British aid effort. (New York Times)
  • The "Troops" of Islamic Jihad - Johann Hari
    I am sitting somewhere in Gaza City - I'm not allowed to know where - and opposite me is a huge beaming picture of Osama bin Laden, with the smoke from a burning World Trade Center forming a black halo around his head. He is surrounded by a gaggle of jihadi angels: some Chechen fighters, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and Britain's own Tube bomber, Mohammed Sidique Khan. "Would you like to see our weapons?" a masked jihadi says cheerfully, before thrusting a grenade into my hand.
        "I want to kill and kill and kill again. I want to be a killing machine until, inshallah [God willing], I become a martyr," said Abu Ahmad, 27. He has just described how he slashed the throats of four female Israeli soldiers in 2002. "All the Jews have to be killed," he says. The Holocaust did not happen, he says, "but it should have." "I love Osama bin Laden," he said to me as we parted, slapping me on the back. (Independent-UK)
  • Ahmadinejad Stifles Student Dissent - Kay Biouki and Colin Freeman
    University authorities in Iran have adopted a "star rating" system for politically-active students as part of President Ahmadinejad's crackdown on dissent within the academic elite. Regime critics are given between one and three stars according to the perceived threat they pose. The star system has, however, become a badge of honor among those who have acquired them on their records. Students have likened it to the German Nazi-era practice of making Jews wear the Star of David. (Sunday Telegraph-UK)
        See also Iranian Students in Fear for Lives after Venting Fury at Ahmadinejad - Robert Tait
    Iranian student activists who staged an angry protest against President Ahmadinejad last week have gone into hiding in fear for their lives after his supporters threatened them with revenge. (Guardian-UK)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Mossad: Iran Could Have Bomb by 2009, Syria More Confident After Lebanon War - Aluf Benn and Gideon Alon
    Mossad chief Meir Dagan told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Monday that Iran will be in a position to build a nuclear bomb by 2009, at the earliest, and rejected talk of "a point of no return," saying that "such a concept does not exist." Dagan said that since June Iran has been intensifying efforts to enrich uranium and is trying to have some 3,000 centrifuges working toward that end by 2007.
        The Mossad chief also said he does not give much credence to recent Syrian calls for peace talks. Dagan said that following the war in Lebanon, there is a change in the strategic thinking in Damascus; it is less wary of Israel. Syria is willing to take risks and even confront Israel. Syria's president is more confident and feels secure in his close relation with Iran and Hizballah. Syria has intensified its efforts to topple the government of Fuad Siniora in Lebanon, and is offering its full backing to Hamas in terrorist activities against Israel. Syria has also stepped up its ballistic missile production. (Ha'aretz)
  • Hamas-Fatah Battles Rage in Gaza - Avi Issacharoff
    Gunbattles raged between Hamas loyalists and Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah forces in Gaza on Tuesday, killing at least three people and wounding a dozen others. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Hamas-Fatah Clashes Continue - Khaled Abu Toameh
    A member of the Hamas executive force was killed and 11 other Palestinians were wounded Monday in Fatah-Hamas clashes in Gaza. At Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, gunmen from Hamas' elite forces and security officers from the PA intelligence establishment took up positions on rooftops and fired rocket-propelled grenades at each other. Former PA minister Sufyan Abu Zaidah of Fatah was kidnapped and later released after intensive negotiations, as were at least eight other Fatah and Hamas members kidnapped by either side during the day's fighting. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Visiting Senators McCain and Lieberman Slam Iraq Report - Herb Keinon
    A Congressional delegation headed by U.S. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) told Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday that they are squarely against the Baker-Hamilton report calling for the U.S. to engage in dialogue with Iran and Syria. The senators said the report was just one of several circulating in Washington, and did not represent U.S. policy. The senators also criticized the report for linking Iraq to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told Olmert that it seemed ridiculous to say that Sunni-Shi'ite fighting has anything to do with Israel and the Palestinians. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Why They Deny the Holocaust - Much of the Muslim World Hasn't Even Heard of It - Ayaan Hirsi Ali
    As a child growing up in Saudi Arabia, I remember my teachers, my mom, and our neighbors telling us practically on a daily basis that Jews are evil, the sworn enemies of Muslims, and that their only goal was to destroy Islam. We were never informed about the Holocaust. I remember that the building of mosques and donations to hospitals and the poor went hand in hand with the cursing of Jews. If we ever wanted to know peace and stability, and if we didn't want to be wiped out, we would have to destroy the Jews. For those of us who were not in a position to take up arms against them, it was enough for us to cup our hands, raise our eyes heavenward, and pray to Allah to destroy them.
        For the majority of Muslims in the world, the Holocaust is not a major historical event that they deny. We simply do not know it ever happened because we were never informed of it. For generations, the leaders of Muslim countries have been spoon-feeding their populations a constant diet of propaganda similar to the one that generations of Germans (and other Europeans) were fed. In Europe, the logical conclusion was the Holocaust. The world needs to be informed again and again about the Holocaust - not only in the interest of the Jews who survived and their offspring but in the interest of humanity. The writer served in the parliament of the Netherlands until earlier this year. (Los Angeles Times)
  • No Talks with Iran and Syria - David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey
    Any notion that the U.S. could open talks with Syria or Iran without being prepared to give something (in return for something) is wrongheaded and dishonest. The very act of negotiating implies a willingness to strike a deal. The questions for Baker and others who support immediate, unconditional, direct talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Iranian mullahs are what exactly does the U.S. hope to gain from their assistance in Iraq, and what would it be prepared to give in return?
        The U.S. and France have diligently worked to isolate Syria, primarily because of its suspected involvement in the assassination of senior Lebanese officials. Engaging Damascus diplomatically would instantly relegitimize the Assad regime. Similarly, the U.S. has spent years building a coalition within the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Iran over its nuclear weapons program. Opening an unconditional dialogue with Iran would undermine all of this diplomatic spade work. It does not make sense to open a dialogue with two of Washington's bitterest enemies without a clear notion of whether their help in Iraq would be worth the price in the long run. The writers served in the Justice Department under presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. (Los Angeles Times)
        See also Talk with Syria and Iran? - Jeffrey Gedmin
    Ruprecht Polenz (CDU), the chairman of the Bundestag foreign affairs committee, has told the Tagesspiegel the U.S needs to talk to Syria and Iran. The U.S. talks to Syria. Washington has probed conversations with Iran. The issue is not whether we talk, but rather what we negotiate with these regimes. It is no surprise that publication of the Iraq Study Group report, an effort led by former Secretary of State James Baker, would inspire the enthusiasts of interest-driven Realpolitik. What I am still missing from the so-called realists is the slightest bit of realism. It is simply hard to fathom what leverage we have at this moment to convince Iran and Syria to pull George W. Bush's chestnuts out of the fire. (Die Welt-Germany, 13Dec06)
  • Observations:

    Israel Did it! - Victor Davis Hanson (National Review)

    The Palestinian-born Al-Jazeera editor-in-chief, Ahmed Sheikh, was interviewed recently by the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche:

    • Sheikh: "In many Arab states, the middle class is disappearing. The rich get richer and the poor get still poorer. Look at the schools in Jordan, Egypt, or Morocco: You have up to 70 youngsters crammed together in a single classroom....The public hospitals are also in a hopeless condition."
    • Q: Can you please explain to me what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to do with these problems?
      Sheikh: "The Palestinian cause is central for Arab thinking."
    • Q: In the end, is it a matter of feelings of self-esteem?
      Sheikh: "Exactly. It's because we always lose to Israel. It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego."
    • Where in the Middle East is there an Arab middle class of sorts? Where do Arabs have good schools? And where is there adequate medical care? Ask the over one million Palestinians who live in a democratic Israel.

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