Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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July 26, 2007

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In-Depth Issues:

Blast Kills 15 Syrian Troops, Wounds 50 (Reuters/Washington Post)
    An explosion at an infantry school in the Muslemiah area north of Aleppo on Thursday killed 15 Syrian soldiers and wounded 50, a Syrian official said.
    "There is a heat wave and temperatures reached close to 50 degrees, which caused an ammunition dump to explode," he said.

Hizbullah Trains Lebanese Shiites to Fight Israel - Ferry Biedermann (Financial Times-UK)
    "We have twice as many people signing up for training this summer as before," said a senior Hizbullah official when asked about the movement's strength.
    After last year's war Hizbullah is putting more emphasis on training the local population in the villages and towns in southern Lebanon. The goal is to have the inhabitants stay and fight rather than flee, as happened en masse during last year's war.

U.S. Labor Denounces British Union Support for Israel Boycott (JTA)
    Labor leaders in America are signing on to a statement being circulated by the Jewish Labor Committee expressing staunch opposition to the boycott efforts of several British unions.
    Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee, praised the U.S. labor leaders for opposing the boycott.

PA Security Services Uncover Hamas Weapons Cache in West Bank (Maan News-PA)
    Sources in the Palestinian security services said on Wednesday they have found weapon caches in Tulkarem that they suspect belong to the Hamas' Executive Force.
    One buried weapon cache contained M16 rifles and a variety of other guns and ammunition.

Israeli Arab Chosen to Manage State Hospital - Judy Siegel-Itzkovich (Jerusalem Post)
    Dr. Mas'ad Barhoom, 47, the director of the Italian Hospital in Nazareth for the last eight years, has been named the first Arab director of a state-owned hospital - Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya - one of eight state-owned hospitals in Israel.

Palestinian Rock Throwers Hurt Palestinian Girl (Jerusalem Post)
    A Palestinian girl was lightly wounded near Bethlehem on Tuesday night when Palestinians mistook the vehicle she was traveling in for a Jewish one and pelted it with rocks.
    The girl received medical treatment from IDF troops.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Arab Envoys and Israelis Meet to Talk Mideast Peace - Isabel Kershner
    The foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan held joint meetings with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem on Wednesday, their first as envoys of the Arab League. Israeli officials hailed the visit as "historic" while the Arab officials spoke of a "historic opportunity." The Arab League made clear that the Jerusalem meetings did not represent a normalization of relations between the group and Israel, according to Al Jazeera.
        "This visit comes at the wrong time," said Yitzhak Reiter, a professor of Middle Eastern history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "There is no clear and legitimate partner on the Palestinian side," he said, referring to the constitutional crisis afflicting the Palestinian system since Hamas' violent takeover of Gaza last month. The Jordanian foreign minister expressed "full support" for Abbas and his government as a "legitimate partner to engage in negotiations with Israel." But Egypt is known to favor a quick return to dialogue between Abbas' Fatah party and Hamas - a development Israel would oppose. (New York Times)
        See also below Observations: Can Arab Leaders Bring Peace? - Andrew Lee Butters (TIME)
  • Hizbullah's Long Reach into Iraq - Mark Kukis
    According to the People's Mujaheddin Organization of Iran (PMOI), a longtime opposition group to the regime in Tehran, as many as 500 Hizbullah operatives are at work in Iraq training militiamen at the behest of Iran. The PMOI, which claims to have an extensive intelligence network in Iran and Iraq, says most of the Hizbullah operatives in Iraq are serving as trainers or assistant trainers to the Mahdi Army, the Shi'ite militia of firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
        Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, the acting commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad, said sophisticated kidnapping operations and high-tech bombs of the kind Hizbullah has been known to use in Lebanon are signs that the group is increasingly a part of the militia scene in Iraq. "I think it elevated the lethality of the militias for sure," Brooks said of the Hizbullah presence. "They are absolutely some of the world's best in terms of terrorist tactics." U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said Tuesday, "Over roughly two months we have actually seen militia-related activities that can be attributed to Iranian support go up and not down." (TIME)
  • Michigan House Approves Divestment Bills Aimed at Sudan, Iran
    The Michigan state House on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved bills calling for state retirement funds to break ties with some foreign companies doing business in Sudan and Iran. Both bills now go to the state Senate. Gov. Jennifer Granholm supports the bills. According to the Sudan Divestment Task Force, 19 states and more than 50 universities have adopted some sort of divestment policy related to the African nation. The bill targeting Iran passed 104-2. (AP/International Herald Tribune)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israel Authorized Transfer of 1,000 Rifles to PA - Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel
    Israel authorized the transfer of 1,000 rifles from Jordan to the PA security forces in the West Bank three weeks ago, Israeli and Palestinian security sources confirmed Wednesday. They were meant to aid forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas in preventing a Hamas challenge. Earlier this year, several thousand rifles were delivered to Fatah forces in Gaza and the West Bank, but most of those arms came under Hamas' control following its takeover. (Ha'aretz)
  • Israel Eyes Kerem Shalom as Main Gaza Crossing - Yaakov Katz
    With the Karni and Rafah crossings closed since Hamas' takeover of Gaza, Israel's Defense Ministry is expanding the Kerem Shalom terminal, which it plans to turn into the primary pedestrian and cargo entry point into Gaza. High-ranking defense officials said Wednesday that Israel did not plan to allow Rafah to reopen under Hamas control. In the meantime, the officials said that Egypt was cooperating with Israel and had shut down its side of the Rafah border terminal, denying Hamas members the ability to leave Gaza. (Jerusalem Post)
  • PA Frets Over Abbas Assassination Plots - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Was PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas the target of an assassination attempt earlier this week? PA security officials said several shots were fired at Abbas' home while he and his family were inside the house. "We have received a lot of information over the past few weeks that some Hamas elements in the West Bank are preparing to assassinate senior Palestinian officials in Ramallah," a top PA security official said. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Securing the Arab World - Martin Indyk
    As a consequence of the conflict in Iraq, we see that as the U.S. pulls out of that country, Iran is moving in. For some time Sunni Arab leaders in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan had been warning that a Shiite arc was spreading its influence across the region. Iraq's descent into civil war and Iran's defiant pursuit of nuclear weapons have fed these concerns, but it was only when Hizbullah provoked the confrontation with Israel in Lebanon and when Damascus blocked Egypt from intervening in Gaza that these leaders began to ring the alarm bell. Without Iranian backing it is doubtful that Hamas would have succeeded in taking over Gaza last month. Meanwhile, in Iraq, Iran is aiding and encouraging the Shiite militias. Most alarmingly, Iran is attempting to achieve military dominance in the Middle East through a nuclear program that could put it in possession of nuclear weapons within five years. (The Age-Australia)
  • How Supreme Is Iran's Supreme Leader? - Patrick Clawson and Mehdi Khalaji
    Reports that Ayatollah Ali Meshkini has either died or is on the brink of death shed light on the nature of power in Iran. Meshkini is speaker of the Assembly of Experts - a body that, despite its traditionally minor role in Iranian politics, is constitutionally empowered to not only elect a new Supreme Leader if the post becomes vacant, but also to dismiss a sitting leader. Current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei cannot be pleased that this body may now be headed by deputy speaker Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, a former president known to be a wily comeback artist.
        In the event that Khamenei dies, the new Supreme Leader would most likely be a compromise candidate rather than either of the two polarizing figures said to want the post: Rafsanjani, a technocrat, and Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, an extreme hardliner openly dismissive of democracy. The senior clerics, the Majlis, the technocracy, and the revolutionary power structure (i.e., the IRGC, Basij, and the foundations that control the economy) all share a common interest in a weak leader with limited ability to check them. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Saudi in the Classroom - Stanley Kurtz
    It turns out that the system of federal subsidies to university programs of Middle East Studies (under Title VI of the Higher Education Act) has been serving as a kind of Trojan horse for Saudi influence over American K-12 education. Harvard's Center for Middle Eastern Studies' outreach program delivers seminars that virtually promoted Islam as a religion, while sharply criticizing alleged American prejudice against the Muslim world - all at American taxpayer expense. Harvard's outreach training prompted K-12 teachers to design celebratory treatments of the life and teachings of Mohammad and the "revelation" and spread of Islam, with exercises calling on students to "appoint imams," memorize Islamic principles, and act out prayer at a mosque.
        Saudi involvement with Title VI Middle East Studies centers has never been entirely secret. A volume published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Harvard's center lists funding from the Saudi-government-owned oil company Aramco among the sources of funding for the center's public outreach program. (National Review)
  • Observations:

    Can Arab Leaders Bring Peace? - Andrew Lee Butters (TIME)

    • Has the Arab League finally broken its taboo on ties with Israel by sending a delegation to Jerusalem? Depends who you ask.
    • The Israeli government has declared Wednesday's visit by the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan a historic landmark on the road toward acceptance of Israel by the Arab world. "In the past, the Arab League has opposed dialogue, normalization and any contact with Israel, and this is the first time the Arab League has authorized a delegation to visit Israel," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.
    • Not so fast, say the visitors. The Egyptian government released a statement on Saturday saying that the foreign ministers are not, in fact, representing the Arab League in Jerusalem, but only their own countries.
    • Saudi Arabia, for example, which drafted the Arab initiative, is now warning that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is impossible unless Israel also negotiates with Hamas.
    • The Saudi warning is a sign that those in Fatah such as Mahmoud Abbas who are closest to the U.S. and Israel have lost support not only among Palestinians, but among Arab countries as well.

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