Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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September 19, 2007

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In-Depth Issues:

Jane's: Dozens Dead in Syrian-Iranian Chemical Weapons Accident (Ynet News)
    Dozens of Syrian military officers and Iranian engineers were killed on July 26 in Halab, Syria, as they were attempting to mount a chemical warhead with mustard gas on a Scud-C missile, Jane's Defence Weekly reported Monday.
    An explosion spread lethal chemical agents, including mustard gas, VX gas and sarin nerve gas, killing 15 Syrian officers and dozens of Iranian engineers who were in the facility. Dozens of people were injured.

Syria Voted Co-chairman of IAEA - Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)
    The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear watchdog, elected Syria as deputy chairman of its General Conference on Monday, the Syrian news agency SANA proudly reported on Tuesday.
    "This move shows how little these types of international frameworks can really do when some of the main players are also the main violators of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," said Prof. Gerald Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University.

Israel, U.S. Flags Trampled at Koran Exhibition in Iran - Dudi Cohen (Ynet News)
    At the International Koran exhibition hosted in Tehran during Ramadan, U.S. and Israeli flags were placed on the floor at the entryway, forcing visitors to walk on them on their way in - symbolically trampling Iran's enemies.

Hamas Leaders Boost Security (Jerusalem Post)
    Hamas leaders are boosting their personal security over fears of assassination, the London-based Arabic-language newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi reported Monday.

Swedish Artist Displays Prophet Cartoon - Louise Nordstrom (AP/Washington Post)
    Swedish artist Lars Vilks displayed a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad to a seminar in Stockholm on Tuesday despite a death threat from al-Qaeda in Iraq.
    On Saturday, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, offered rewards for the killing of Vilks and a Swedish newspaper editor who published the cartoon on Aug. 19.
    Vilks said Monday that police had moved him to a secret location and told him he cannot return to his home following the threat.

Scottish Student Guilty in Terror Case - David Stringer (AP)
    A jury at Glasgow's High Court found Mohammed Atif Siddique, 21, a Scottish college student, guilty of four terrorism offenses Monday.
    Prosecutors said he became an aspiring suicide bomber after scouring extremist Islamic sites on the Internet.
    Siddique had stored and posted guides to bomb-making, guns and explosives on a network of Web sites, prosecutors said.
    Defense lawyer Aamer Anwar claimed Siddique was merely conducting research into his religion.

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  • Report: Egypt Moving Against Gaza Smuggling - Steven Erlanger
    The Egyptians, under pressure from the U.S. and Israel, recently changed all the security officers along the Gaza-Egypt border, replacing many of those who had been bought off by smugglers. Muhammad, 37, a smuggler whose father dug one of the first tunnels between Gaza and Egypt in 1984, said Egypt is clearing almost 1,000 feet of houses from the Egyptian side of Rafah, a city cut in two by the border. When Israel cleared Palestinian houses in Rafah to stop smuggling tunnels, there was an international uproar.
        "Hamas wants to control any arms or explosives that come into Gaza now, it's very simple," he said. "Hamas is cracking down, because they're afraid we'll sell to Fatah." "But there's no business at all now," Muhammad said, except in nitrate, prized both for explosives and fertilizer. "Hamas doesn't ask for money, but for nitrate," he said, taking a third of a shipment. Hamas then sells small amounts to other militant groups, like Islamic Jihad, Muhammad said. (New York Times)
  • Saudi Arms Sale Raises Concerns in Congress - Barry Schweid
    The Bush administration's proposed $20 billion dollar weapons sale to Saudi Arabia brought new allegations on Capitol Hill Tuesday that the monarchy has been lax in countering terrorism. At a hearing, Rep. Gary L. Ackerman, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, said the Bush administration has been unable to persuade Saudi rulers to stop the flow of fighters to Iraq and to attend a proposed regional meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Then why," he asked, "should we believe that they see the war on terror as we do, and why sell them those weapons?" "In the end," he said, "selling them arms won't guarantee their cooperation, much less their love."
        Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the U.S. had permitted the Saudis to "get off the hook" on failure to counter terrorism. "They have to prove they are not in a secret coalition with terrorists" to harm Americans, he said. (AP)
  • Lack of ID Data Impedes UN Sanctions Against Iran - Steven R. Weisman
    In the six months since the UN Security Council acted to freeze the assets and curb the overseas travel of Iranian officials, including members of the Revolutionary Guards, an embarrassing snag has occurred: the U.S. lacks passport numbers and other data to go after most of the people listed. Officials acknowledge that the U.S. has not carried out existing Security Council penalties on several companies linked to Iran's nuclear and missile programs because they lack identifying information that would ensure that the right companies are punished. (New York Times)
  • Israel, Iran Cooperate in Thailand Crash Probe - Mick Elmore
    Officials from Israel and Iran put aside political animosity Tuesday to work together in using Israeli forensics expertise to identify their dead from the crash of a jetliner on the Thai resort island of Phuket. Six Israelis and 18 Iranians were among the 89 people killed. "It's human nature to help in solving this problem as soon as possible," Safdar Shafiee from the Iranian Embassy in Bangkok said after shaking hands with Yaki Oved, head representative of Israeli police in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. "The main thing is to help. You don't think about the politics," Oved said. (AP/Yahoo)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israel's Security Cabinet Declares Gaza an "Enemy Entity," Votes to Disrupt Power, Fuel in Response to Palestinian Rocket Fire - Barak Ravid
    Israel's security cabinet declared Gaza an "enemy entity" on Wednesday, voting among other things to disrupt its power supply as a response to the ongoing Palestinian rocket fire at Israeli communities. The ministers decided, however, not to disrupt Gaza's water supply. (Ha'aretz)
  • Hamas Plot to Attack Israeli Tourists in Jordan Thwarted
    Israeli authorities foiled a plot by a Hamas militant to attack Israeli tourists at a hotel in Jordan, Prime Minister Olmert's office announced Tuesday. Khader Shkeir, from the West Bank village of Ein Arik, admitted to planning the attack during a visit to Jordan in 2005 with an accomplice. The suspects chose the Radisson SAS hotel in Amman and a second hotel as their targets. The pair planned to board a bus carrying tourists to the hotels and carry out a mass shooting attack. They bought two AK-47 automatic weapons for the attack, but then Jordanian authorities arrested Shkeir and deported him to the West Bank. (AP/Jerusalem Post)
  • Hamas Cell Planning Attack in Israel - Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff
    Israeli forces are hunting a Hamas cell based in the Nablus area which is believed to be planning a suicide bombing in Israel. IDF officers say terrorist groups in the city are intent on sending suicide bombers into Israel.
        According to Palestinian sources, some Fatah militants are still refusing to lay down their arms, and most of them are in Ein Beit Ilma or in Nablus. Moreover, several of those who signed up for the amnesty deal continue to hold on to their arms, the sources said. (Ha'aretz)
  • 600 Israelis Evacuated from Sinking Ship in Rhodes
    600 Israeli holidaymakers were evacuated from the "Dream Princess" on Tuesday after the boat began sinking at the Greek island of Rhodes, Israel Radio reported. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Ahmadinejad at the UN - Editorial
    It is a disgrace to the founding principles and mission of the UN that Iranian President Ahmadinejad will be allowed to speak before the body next week during the gathering of its General Assembly. Ahmadinejad, who is slated to speak next Tuesday, has openly called for the destruction of Israel, a UN member-state. Under the shadow of the Holocaust, the UN was founded in 1945 by a war-torn world weary of conflict and ready to embrace peace, social progress and human rights. Ahmadinejad has chosen to call for another genocide - and of the same original victims. This is in flagrant disregard of the UN's mission. (Washington Times)
  • Who Killed Watan? - Lorenzo Cremonesi
    "Who killed Watan?" cried the dozens of youngsters on the stage of the Shawah, the largest theater in Gaza, as they pointed accusing fingers at a group of older actors waving the flags of the Palestinian resistance movements: Fatah, Hamas, Iz a-Din al-Qassam, the Al-Quds Brigade and Islamic Jihad. This time there were none of the usual anti-Israel slogans. The play, "Watan," sends a new, revolutionary message. "Enough of always blaming the Israelis for our problems. The time has come for a reckoning, and to condemn those among us who are bringing catastrophe down upon our people," says poet-director Saed Swerky, 37, the author of the play.
        Watan, which means "homeland" in Arabic, was a 12-year-old boy who was killed during the Fatah-Hamas clashes that engulfed Gaza in June. The play premiered on Aug. 13. Thousands of people sat mesmerized for more than two hours, applauding during the most dramatic scenes: prisoners thrown from the roofs of 15-story buildings; people shot in the knees; militants who used to be on the same side exchanging insults. This article first appeared in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. (Ha'aretz)
  • Held in My Homeland - Haleh Esfandiari
    On May 8, I was arrested by agents of Iran's Intelligence Ministry on suspicion of working to destabilize the Islamic Republic. For the next 105 days, a cell in Ward 209 of Tehran's Evin Prison would be my "home." I had flown to Tehran last December to visit my 93-year-old mother. But in January the authorities prevented me from leaving. I underwent many weeks of intensive interrogation by intelligence ministry officials, centering on my activities as director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. The charge seemed ludicrous. I, a 67-year-old grandmother, was being accused of threatening the security of the most populous and powerful country in the Middle East because I had organized conferences in Washington on Iran and other states of the region.
        The Intelligence Ministry believes that the Bush administration hopes to encourage a "velvet" revolution in Iran, like the peaceful ones that occurred in Georgia and Ukraine. To achieve this end, it uses think tanks, foundations and universities to organize workshops for Iranian women, to invite Iranian opinion-makers and scholars to conferences and to offer them fellowships. In time, Iranian officials believe, the administration hopes to create a network of like-minded people in Iran who are intent on regime change. Iranian officials see an alert and vigilant Islamic Republic as successfully foiling this plan. (Washington Post)
  • Observations:

    Syria's Role in Regional Destabilization: An American View - David Schenker (Institute for Contemporary Affairs/Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

    • In the aftermath of Israel's air operation over Syria, Dr. Andrew Semmel, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy and Negotiations, warned that Syria might have a number of "secret suppliers" for a covert nuclear program. Syria is reported to have thousands of rockets with ranges of up to 56 miles positioned along Syria's southern border with Israel, while longer-range missiles armed with chemical warheads are believed to be positioned further from the border. At the Sixth Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference in November 2006, John C. Rood, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, specifically cited Syria as being engaged in research and development "for an offensive BW program."
    • During his testimony to Congress on September 10, 2007, General David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, presented maps illustrating Syria's pivotal role as the source of foreign fighters entering Iraq. One of his maps showed three arrows that illustrated infiltration routes from Syria into Iraq; they were labeled "Foreign Fighter Flow." A week earlier, in an interview with al-Watan al-Arabi, Petraeus described how Syria allows thousands of these insurgents to arrive at Damascus International Airport and then cross the Iraqi border.
    • Syria has sponsored terrorist organizations for decades. The U.S. Department of Defense determined that Syria and Iran were involved in the October 1983 attack on the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. military personnel. In 2001, a U.S. grand jury pointed out that Saudi Hizbullah, which had been responsible for the 1996 Khobar Towers attack killing 19 U.S. Air Force personnel, used Syrian territory for training; indeed, the planners of the attack met at the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine in Damascus.
    • During last summer's war, Damascus not only transshipped Iranian weapons to Hizbullah, but also provided its own top-of-the-line, Russian-made military equipment - the Kornet anti-tank missile - and its own 220mm anti-personnel rockets. Likewise, in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, Syrian rearmament of Hizbullah continues unabated. On March 24, 2007, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1747 that specifically called on all states to refrain from the procurement of "any arms or related material" from Iran. The resolution was adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and thus constitutes binding international law. Nonetheless, Syria persisted in receiving Iranian weaponry and transferring these prohibited materials to Hizbullah.

      The writer, a senior fellow in Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, served from 2002 to 2006 in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as country director for Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories.

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