Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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December 25, 2007

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In-Depth Issues:

Syria Threatens Spanish UN Soldiers in Lebanon (AFP)
    Syria's secret service has reportedly threatened Spanish soldiers in Lebanon in a bid to block the extradition of suspected arms dealer Monzer al-Kassar from Spain to the U.S.
    According to a memo cited by the newspaper El Mundo, the Spanish intelligence service fears that troops on UN deployment in southeast Lebanon could be targeted if the Spanish cabinet ratifies a judicial verdict and sends Kassar to the U.S.
    General Assef Schawkat, chief of Syrian military intelligence, wrote to his opposite number in Spain: "If you think we are going to ignore the affront inflicted by North-American henchmen on our brother (Kassar), you don't really know us."
    Around 1,100 Spanish soldiers serve in the UN interim force in Lebanon.

Poll of Saudis: Don't Like Jews and Christians, Want Israel Destroyed and Saudis to Have Nuclear Weapons - Tom Gross (National Review)
    A telephone survey conducted in Saudi Arabia in Arabic for Terror Free Tomorrow found:
    Opinion of Jews: Favorable 6%, Unfavorable 89%; Opinion of Christians: Favorable 39%, Unfavorable 54%.
    51% agreed that "I oppose any peace treaty recognizing Israel, and I favor all Arabs continuing to fight until there is no Israel in the Middle East"
    30% agreed that "I would favor a peace treaty recognizing the State of Israel, if an independent Palestinian state is established."
    Should Saudi Arabia develop nuclear weapons? Favor 52%, Oppose 31%.

Gaza's Most Wanted - Joseph Krauss (AFP)
    Abu Suheib, 28, a leader in the radical Islamic Jihad in Gaza, has been on Israel's most wanted list for six years.
    He knows that the Israeli drones circling overhead are searching for him, spies are eyeing him from the shadows, and that his life will likely end in the fireball of a midnight airstrike.
    Israel has vowed to kill men like Abu Suheib, militants responsible for the rocket attacks that have cast a shadow of fear across southern Israel.

A Creche Without Christians - Nina Shea (National Review)
    Lands that once were the cradle of Christianity have turned distinctively inhospitable to the faith.
    Fiercely intolerant variants of Islam are taking hold in the region, many of them fueled with ideology and funds from Saudi and Iranian extremists.
    From Morocco to the Persian Gulf, we are seeing the rapid erosion of Christian populations, thought to now number no more than 15 million.
    The new survey, Freedom in the World, produced by the Center for Religious Freedom, shows that while some Muslim governments do respect religious freedom, none are to be found in the Middle East.
    Israel is the only "free" country, and its Christian numbers are increasing.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Bethlehem Basks in Calm and Cheer - Dalia Nammari
    Encouraged by renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Christian pilgrims from around the world converged on Bethlehem Monday to celebrate Christmas - a palpable contrast to the sparse crowds of recent years. (AP/Washington Post)
        See also A Merry Christmas in Bethlehem - Ali Waked
    This year, for the first time since the second intifada broke out, the celebrations seemed to have recovered their traditional grandeur, as the improved security situation kindled optimism and hope among visitors and locals. (Ynet News)
        See also Christians Stream Out of Gaza for Christmas
    Hundreds of Christians in Gaza flocked to the Erez border crossing with Israel on Monday after securing permission to leave the Hamas-run territory for Christmas. Most were hoping to pray on Christmas Eve in Bethlehem. (AFP)
  • Israel Says Egypt Doing "Terrible" Job on Gaza Border
    Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was quoted as telling a key Knesset committee on Monday: "Egyptian actions in the war against smuggling in the Philadelphi Corridor are terrible and definitely have implications for future problems in the region, such as the arming of Hamas in Gaza."  (Reuters)
  • U.S. Ambassador in Iraq Wary of Iranian Intentions - Tina Susman
    U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker expressed wariness Sunday about Iranian intentions in Iraq, saying that even if Iran-backed militias had decreased activities there, he was not yet convinced that Iran was committed to helping stabilize Iraq. Referring to a recent drop in violent incidents, he asked: "Is it a conscious policy decision on the part of the Iranian government to use all its influence to bring these things down? Or does it involve the Iranians saying, 'Let's throttle it back, get everyone comfortable, and then put the pedal down again?'" (Los Angeles Times)
  • Israeli Cluster Bombing Ruled Within the Law - Josef Federman
    Israeli military prosecutors have determined that Israel's use of cluster bombs during last year's war in Lebanon did not violate international humanitarian law, the army said Monday. The army's chief investigator, Maj. Gen. Gershon HaCohen, determined: "It was clear that the majority of the cluster munitions were fired at open and uninhabited areas, areas from which Hizbullah forces operated and in which no civilians were present." Cluster bombs were used in residential areas only "as an immediate defense response to rocket attacks by Hizbullah" and Israeli troops did everything possible to minimize civilian casualties. "The use of this weaponry was legal once it was determined that, in order to prevent rocket fire onto Israel, its use was a concrete military necessity."  (AP/Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israeli, Palestinian Negotiating Teams Meet - Roni Sofer
    A two-hour meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams was held in Jerusalem Monday. Israel stressed the need for the PA to start implementing security reforms in the West Bank. Prime Minister Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas are scheduled to meet later in the week. (Ynet News)
  • Palestinian Rocket Fire Continues
    Palestinians in Gaza fired four Kassam rockets at the Sderot area on Tuesday morning. A Palestinian rocket fired from Gaza on Monday night exploded south of Ashkelon. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Palestinian Islamic Jihad Under Attack in Gaza
    During the first two weeks of Dec. 2007 there was a sharp increase in rocket fire from Gaza, with 66 identified rocket hits, compared with 65 for the entire month of November. On Dec. 12, 26 rockets hit Israel, most of them in and around Sderot. Most of the responsibility for the attacks was claimed by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the terrorist organization which has launched the greatest number of rockets since Hamas took over Gaza in June 2007. Hamas allows and even encourages the PIJ and other terrorist organizations to launch rockets at Israel.
        Following the escalation of rocket fire, the IDF and the Israel Security Agency deployed to attack senior PIJ terrorist operatives involved in rocket fire and other attacks. On Dec. 17 and 18 the Israel Air Force carried out four air strikes, killing ten PIJ and two Hamas terrorist operatives including Majid Yussuf Harazin, commander of the Jerusalem Battalions, the PIJ's terrorist operative wing in Gaza. (Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • In Praise of Missile Defenses - Editorial
    According to Uzi Rubin, the former head of Israel's Arrow missile defense program, the "Iron Dome" defense system approved by the Israeli cabinet against short-range rockets will cost about $30,000-$40,000 to shoot down a single Kassam rocket. This sounds expensive, given that a Kassam costs a small fraction of that to produce and shoot. Rubin suggests, however, that this is the wrong way to calculate cost effectiveness. What matters is that the alternatives are either much more expensive or unacceptable: "hardening" entire cities, a massive ground incursion into Gaza, evacuating Sderot and other towns, or allowing the status quo to continue.
        The first two options cost much more than Iron Dome and have serious drawbacks. A city cannot be "hardened" against missiles completely, and a ground operation would cause many IDF casualties. Evacuating cities is unacceptable, as is the status quo, which, in any case, is liable to worsen if Israel does not address the missile threat.
        Defenses are no panacea, but they can be a critical part of a comprehensive strategy that includes deterrence, diplomacy and offensive operations. Missile defenses - combined with other measures - are critical to making Kassams, Scuds and Katyushas obsolete, just as the security fence was to defeating suicide bombers. The goal is peace, but removing military options from our enemies is critical to getting there. The less vulnerable Israel is, the greater the potential that diplomacy can lead to a sustainable peace. (Jerusalem Post)
  • The Palestinians: Between State Failure and Civil War - Michael Eisenstadt
    Since its creation in 1994, the Palestinian Authority has been crippled by "the four Fs": fawda (chaos), fitna (strife), falatan (lawlessness), and fassad (corruption). These conditions - the hallmarks of state failure - continue to define life in the PA-controlled West Bank and show signs of returning in Hamas-controlled Gaza. The Palestinians face numerous obstacles to meaningful reform and stability, including economic stagnation, unsustainable population growth, a self-defeating strategy of armed struggle, and Arafat's enduring legacy of corruption and unaccountability. These problems have been exacerbated by continued interference from Iran and Syria. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Muslims Driving Christians Out of Bethlehem, But Media Blame Israel - Aaron Klein
    The mainstream media descend upon Bethlehem every year to ignore rampant Muslim intimidation of Christians and instead blast Israel - often with completely inaccurate information - for ruining Christmas. In fact, Bethlehem's Christian population started to drastically decline in 1995, the very year Arafat's PA took over the city. Bethlehem was 80% Christian in 1948, but since Arafat got his hands on it, the city's Christian population dove to below 25%. Some Christian leaders said one of the most significant problems facing Christians in Bethlehem is the rampant confiscation of land by Muslim gangs. "There are many cases where Christians have their land stolen by the (Muslim) mafia," said Samir Qumsiyeh, a Bethlehem Christian leader. (Ynet News)
        See also Nablus's Dwindling Christian Community - Ilene R. Prusher
    Nablus' ancient Christian community has been dwindling for decades - from about 3,000 in the 1960s to a mere 700 now - and those who remain had all but gone underground in recent years, in the face of increasing violence and ascendant fundamentalists. Four churches were firebombed 16 months ago following comments made by the pope about the Prophet Mohammed. Half of the city's Christians are Greek Orthodox. The others are Roman Catholic or Anglican. (Christian Science Monitor)
  • Observations:

    Bush's "Axis of Evil," Six Years Later - Charles Krauthammer (Washington Post)

    • Just four months after Sept. 11, George Bush identified Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the "axis of evil" and declared that defanging these rogue regimes was America's most urgent national security task. Six years later, Bush is one for three. Bush will have succeeded on Iraq, failed on Iran and fought North Korea to a draw.
    • Bush has thrown in the towel on Iran's nuclear program because the intelligence bureaucracy, in a spectacularly successful coup, seized control of the policy with a National Intelligence Estimate that very misleadingly trumpeted the claim that Iran had halted its nuclear program. In fact, Iran halted only the least important component of its nuclear program, namely weaponization.
    • The hard part is the production of nuclear fuel. Iran continues enriching uranium with 3,000 centrifuges at work in open defiance of the UN. Once you have the necessary fuel, you can make the bomb in only a few months. Thus to even speak of the Iranian program as having been stopped while enrichment continues is absurd.
    • And that is true even if you discount recent dissidents' reports that the weaponization program, suspended in 2003, in fact resumed the following year.

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