Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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December 20, 2007

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In-Depth Issues:

Israel Opposes Russian Plans for Moscow Peace Summit - Barak Ravid (Ha'aretz)
    Israel said Thursday it is opposed to Russian plans to stage a Middle East peace conference in Moscow in the coming months as a follow-up to the Annapolis summit.
    Government officials in Jerusalem cite the need to focus on bilateral talks with the Palestinians "and not be dragged onto a slippery slope of opening negotiations on other issues like Syria and Lebanon at the present time."
    Government officials also say Israel is perturbed by Russia's behavior, chiefly Moscow's delivery of nuclear fuel to the Iranian reactor in Bushehr.

UN Sees Iranian Rights Abuses - Edith M. Lederer (AP)
    The UN General Assembly approved a draft resolution Tuesday expressing "deep concern" at the systematic human rights violations in Iran, including torture, flogging, amputations, stoning and public executions.
    The 192-member world body adopted the resolution by a vote of 73-53 with 55 abstentions.

Egyptian College Students Flock to Learn Hebrew - Itamar Eichner (Ynet News)
    An unexpected new trend among Egyptian university students: Hebrew language studies. Foreign Ministry data indicate that over 1,400 Egyptian students are currently enrolled in full-time Hebrew studies programs at more than ten Egyptian universities.
    Egyptian officials explained that this burgeoning interest in Hebrew stems mostly from Egyptian curiosity, but also of a keen desire to "know the enemy."
    Many students are sent to Hebrew studies programs by Egyptian intelligence, who frown upon students who study Hebrew at their own initiative.
    Students who attend the Israeli Academic Center or frequent the Israeli embassy in Cairo are harassed by security personnel, who incessantly question them and often warn them not to return.

At Rocket-Plagued Kibbutz, Kidnapping through Tunnels from Gaza Is Real Worry - Mijal Grinberg (Ha'aretz)
    Tuesday began for Kibbutz Kerem Shalom with a Kassam rocket, shattering some windows. There was also a barrage of mortar shells, starting a fire.
    Altogether, Palestinians fired nine mortars and six Kassam rockets at Israel during the day.
    But neither rockets nor mortars are considered the most serious security threat, which is the possibility that militants will tunnel from Gaza to the kibbutz and make an attack. This is how IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped last year.

U.S. to Fund Joint Energy Research with Israel - Hilary Leila Krieger (Jerusalem Post)
    A new program for funding joint American-Israeli research projects on renewable and alternative energy and energy efficiency was signed into law by President Bush on Wednesday.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Iran Making Push into Nicaragua - Todd Bensman
    As part of a new partnership with Nicaragua's Sandinista President Daniel Ortega, Iran and its Venezuelan allies plan to help finance a $350 million deep-water port at Monkey Point on the Caribbean shore, and then plow a connecting "dry canal" corridor of pipelines, rails and highways across the country to the Pacific Ocean. Iran recently established an embassy in Nicaragua. What worries State Department officials, former national security officials, and counterterrorism researchers is that Iran could stage strikes on American or allied interests from Nicaragua, deploying the Iranian terrorist group Hizbullah and Revolutionary Guard operatives already in Latin America.
        Few Nicaragua observers believe Iran has any obvious need for trade ties with one of Latin America's poorest countries. "They use their embassies to smuggle in weapons. They used them to develop and execute plans," said Oliver "Buck" Revell, who served as associate deputy director over FBI intelligence and international affairs. "Diplomats have immunity coming and going. It is a protected center for both espionage and, on occasion, for specific operations. So an embassy in Managua is definitely an area that will be of concern to our national security apparatus." Front and center on many minds is Argentina's contention that Iran, using its embassy as cover, orchestrated two Hizbullah bombings of Israeli and Jewish community targets in Buenos Aires in the early 1990s. (San Antonio Express-News)
        See also Breaching America's Borders, How Potential Terrorists Enter the U.S. (San Antonio Express-News)
  • Sarkozy Losing Patience with Assad over Lebanon Presidential Election
    The London-based al-Hayat quoted French President Nicolas Sarkozy as having told Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday to use "all the means of your influence to allow the realization of (the Lebanese presidential election)." "I will no longer make do with talk. I expect action and the last opportunity is Saturday and if the election does not happen I will clearly state my analysis of what happened," Sarkozy said in remarks published Wednesday. France has been leading efforts to mediate an end to the deep Lebanese political crisis, currently focused on the election of a new president. The election has already been postponed nine times. (Reuters/Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israel: Hamas "Playing Games" with Ceasefire Talk - Gil Hoffman and Herb Keinon
    After Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh told Israel Channel 2 television Tuesday that he was prepared to negotiate an end to the rocket attacks on Israel, senior Israeli government officials indicated that an end to rocket fire from Gaza alone would not be enough to bring about a halt to IDF action in Gaza. Hamas would also have to stop building up its military capabilities. "Israel cannot allow a situation where Hamas is free to build a formidable military machine in Gaza," said one government official. Prime Minister Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, said Hamas was "playing games," and that Israel would not deal with Hamas until it accepted the international community's three benchmarks: forswearing violence, recognizing Israel, and accepting previous agreements. "Our partner for discussions on the Palestinian side is the legitimate Palestinian government," Regev said. "Hamas has excluded itself from talks by its continued rejection of the international community's benchmarks."
        President Shimon Peres called Haniyeh's overture a "pathetic and misleading attempt to divert international attention away from the crimes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad....If Hamas and Islamic Jihad stop firing rockets at our women and children, Israel will immediately hold its fire, so there is no need for negotiations....Hamas does not give hope to [the Palestinian] people. Its sole purpose is to sow destruction, bloodshed and war, and the moment it ceases its violent crimes, quiet will once again reign in our region." (Jerusalem Post)
  • Palestinian Rocket Lands Near Elementary School in Sderot - Shmulik Hadad
    Palestinians in Gaza fired at least four rockets at Israel Thursday morning. Three landed near Sderot, while another landed just south of Ashkelon. One rocket landed near an elementary school in Sderot, where several students suffered from shock. (Ynet News)
  • Israel's Unemployment Rate the Lowest in a Decade
    Israel's unemployment rate in October stood at 6.9%, down by 1% since January and the lowest in a decade, Army Radio reported Wednesday. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Bush and Bushehr - Editorial
    After a year's delay, Russia announced this week that it will begin supplying 80 tons of uranium for the nuclear reactor it has built for Iran in Bushehr. Now we're supposed to believe that the Bushehr reactor will have a purely civilian purpose. Yet there is a good reason why the Bush Administration tried to stop the Russians from delivering fuel, and the Clinton Administration lobbied hard against Russia's initial decision to build Bushehr in the 1990s.
        John Carlson, until recently the chairman of the IAEA's Standing Advisory Group on Safeguards Implementation, has written that "during the normal operation of large light water reactors of the sort Iran is building at Bushehr, the reactor will produce 330 kilograms of near-weapons grade plutonium - enough to make over 50 crude nuclear bombs." Carlson added that the process of separating plutonium from spent fuel from the reactor "employs technology little more advanced than those required for the production of dairy products and the pouring of concrete." (Wall Street Journal)
  • Bring Rice to Visit the Har Homa Neighborhood in Jerusalem - Calev Ben-David
    The next time U.S. Secretary of State Rice touches down in Jerusalem, it might be wise to take her to visit a place she has apparently never been: Har Homa. Although Har Homa sits just north of Bethlehem and just south of the Palestinian villages of Sur Bahir and Umm Tuba, it doesn't abut directly against, or limit or cut off access to, any of them. In fact, Har Homa sits in a relatively unpopulated border area. The planning and approval process for the neighborhood dates back to the early 1990s government of Yitzhak Rabin.
        In his famed April 14, 2004, letter to then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, President George W. Bush referred to the "new realities on the ground" that make a full return to the 1949 lines "unrealistic." If this doesn't apply to Har Homa, it's hard to say exactly where else it would. That's why it's troubling that Rice would repeatedly single out construction in a Jerusalem neighborhood that sits within the Israeli side of the security fence and is contiguous with the former border community of Kibbutz Ramat Rahel. In specifically citing Har Homa, the Bush administration is certainly not engendering confidence in the current post-Annapolis negotiations with an Israeli mainstream that knows exactly where Har Homa is. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Qaddafi Plays Paris - Editorial
    For 34 years, Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, was not invited to Paris. By the time he left last weekend, it was clear why. Here was Libya’s leader-for-life, now in his 39th year of running a nasty police state, being feted on International Human Rights Day by the leader of a country that authored the Declaration of the Rights of Man. French legislators, to their credit, turned down the colonel’s request to address the National Assembly.
        The visit was in part a reward for Libya’s release - after lengthy imprisonment and abuse - of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor unjustly accused of deliberately injecting patients with the virus that causes AIDS. France will help Tripoli build a civilian nuclear power plant and will sell military equipment that will allow Libya to rebuild its forces after years of damaging international sanctions. (New York Times)
  • Observations:

    Sanction Iran Now - Matthew Levitt (Financial Times Deutschland/Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

    • The more significant conclusion of the latest U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear intentions and capabilities is that the most likely tool to successfully alter Iran's nuclear calculus is targeted political and economic pressure, not military action.
    • Iran continues to produce fissile material and the ballistic missiles needed to deploy a weapon. According to IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei, Iran could produce a nuclear weapon in "only a few months" once it completes the fuel-cycle facilities it is building. The answer is to sanction Iran now, before it reaches this critical threshold.
    • All those interested in averting a military confrontation with Iran must rededicate themselves to employing a robust regime of smart sanctions targeting Tehran's illicit activities.
    • While multilateral sanctions are always preferable, targeted financial measures applied unilaterally by major economic powers and regional bodies are sufficient to successfully target Iran with painful financial sanctions.

      The writer directs the Stein Program on Terrorism, Intelligence, and Policy at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and was deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury for intelligence and analysis.

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