Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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January 7, 2008

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In-Depth Issues:

Rocket that Hit Ashkelon Was Made in Iran - Isabel Kershner (New York Times)
    Israeli security officials said Sunday that a rocket with a longer range than usual fired by Palestinians from Gaza into the coastal city of Ashkelon on Thursday had been made in Iran.
    There have been a few cases of militants from Gaza firing old, 122-millimeter Katyushas that were probably manufactured in the Eastern bloc and smuggled into Gaza.
    But the rocket that landed Thursday in the city of 120,000 people was different, "not like something we've seen before," said Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman.

Egypt to Bolster Gaza Border - Ellen Knickmeyer (Washington Post)
    Egypt has agreed to spend $23 million in U.S. military aid on robots and other advanced technology to detect smuggling tunnels along its border with Gaza, Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said Sunday.
    Egypt also has accepted a U.S. offer to send experts from the Army Corps of Engineers to train Egyptian border guards in the technology.
    Congress voted last month to withhold $100 million in U.S. military aid to Egypt until the country intensifies policing of the border.
    See also Report: Israel Seeks to Regain Control of Egypt-Gaza Border Crossing at Rafah - Roee Nahmias (Ynet News)
    Israel has asked the U.S. for approval to recapture the Rafah crossing on the border between Gaza and Egypt, European sources told the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi.
    Israel is seeking to set up a military base in the area, and wants control over the Rafah crossing to be in the hands of international monitors.
    Egypt enabled hundreds of Palestinians to enter Gaza through the Rafah crossing last week, despite an earlier understanding with Israel that the Palestinians would enter through the Kerem Shalom crossing, and undergo security checks by the IDF.

Hamas Loots Gaza Hospital's Fuel Reserve (Maan News-PA)
    The Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah said Thursday that "Hamas militias" have looted the fuel stores destined for hospital vehicles in Gaza.
    Fuel from the European Hospital in Gaza had been stolen by the director of the hospital drivers to supply the Hamas-affiliated Executive Force.

Israel Home of 41% of World Jewry - Anshel Pfeffer (Ha'aretz)
    The world Jewish population in 2007 is estimated at 13.2 million people, a rise of 200,000 over 2006, according to a Jewish People Policy Planning Institute report published Sunday.
    In the past year, the number of diaspora Jews shrank by 100,000, while Israel's Jewish population rose by 300,000. Israel is now the home of 41% of world Jewry.

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  • As Bush Heads to Mideast, Renewed Questions on Iran - Michael Abramowitz and Ellen Knickmeyer
    President Bush intends to use his first extended tour of the Middle East to rally support for international pressure against Iran, even as a recent U.S. intelligence report playing down Tehran's nuclear ambitions has left Israeli and Arab leaders rethinking their own approach toward Iran and questioning Washington's resolve. Bush is to leave Tuesday for Israel, where he hopes to jump-start the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations he launched in Annapolis late last year. But in Jerusalem and some of the Arab countries Bush plans to visit, Iran's growing regional influence looms larger than the peace process or the Iraq war.
        Administration officials insist that the National Intelligence Estimate showed Iran remains capable of, and interested in, developing a nuclear weapon. But Israel saw the report as a sign that Washington is flagging in its zeal to confront Iran. One senior administration official said many Middle Eastern governments were "confused" by the NIE. "No Arab regime understands why the United States would publish an intelligence estimate." (Washington Post)
  • Bush: Iran Could Easily Have Another Nuclear Weapons Program
    In an interview with Nahum Barnea and Shimon Shiffer of Yediot Ahronot, President Bush discussed a possible Iranian nuclear weapons program: "My message to the American people is that a non-transparent society that had a program could easily have another program. And therefore, the intensity of the effort must not decline, but must stay strong - and the intensity of the effort being to prevent them from developing the know-how."
        "I've also made statements on the settlements, as well. As I said, realities on the ground will help define the eventual border of what the Palestinian state will look like. And the state will come into being subject to the conditions set out in the road map, which means we've got a lot of work to do." (White House)
        See also Bush: NIE Means Iran Is a Threat
    In an interview with Yonit Levi of Israel Channel 2 News, President Bush said: "If I were an Israeli, I would take the words of the Iranian president seriously. And as President of the United States, I take him seriously....I said that we will defend our ally - no ands, ifs or buts." "One of the concerns I'm sure among the Israeli population is whether this intelligence estimate that came out, what does it mean. It means to me that Iran was a threat and Iran is a threat."  (White House)
  • Al-Qaeda Calls for Attacks on President Bush During Mideast Trip
    A new al-Qaeda videotape on the Internet shows Adam Yahiye Gadahn, an American member of the terror network, calling for attacks on President Bush during his travels in the Middle East later this week. Gadahn, who also calls himself "Azzam the American," urges militants to greet Mr. Bush with bombs, not flowers. Gadahn has appeared in several previous al-Qaeda videos. A U.S. court charged him with treason in 2006, and the FBI has a $1-million cash reward for information leading to his capture. (VOA News)
        See also Hamas Calls Bush Visit "Unwelcome"
    The Islamist Hamas movement said on Saturday that next week's visit by President Bush to the region was "unwelcome." Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the Bush visit was aimed at "providing political and material aid to the enemy and working to deepen the internal divisions to help one Palestinian faction confront another."  (AFP)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Fatah Disarmed? Not in Nablus - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Contrary to PA claims, Fatah's armed wing has not been dismantled in Nablus. Dozens of Fatah gunmen in the West Bank have not surrendered their weapons and are continuing to plan attacks against Israel. During an IDF operation in Nablus which began on Thursday, the IDF arrested 19 gunmen belonging to Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades. The IDF has also arrested two security officers working for the PA's Military Intelligence Force: Shadi al-Sakhel and Ahmed Hisham, suspected of helping the Aksa Martyrs Brigades in the city. IDF soldiers discovered a workshop in Nablus' Old City where the group was said to have manufactured two rockets.
        Many Palestinians in Nablus said that while the PA security forces did clamp down on local criminals, they did not do enough to stop the Fatah gunmen from continuing to operate in the city. Many members of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades have openly challenged the PA's call to hand over their weapons in return for jobs and salaries. They prefer to continue operating as an independent "security force" where they can earn more by extorting businessmen and wealthy families. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Palestinian Rockets Hit Sderot - Tova Dadon
    Two Kassam rockets fired by Palestinians in Gaza landed in the town of Sderot Saturday evening, causing several local residents to suffer from shock. (Ynet News)
        See also Sderot Youth Wounded in Rocket Attack
    The sixth Kassam rocket fired into Israel by Palestinians on Friday hit a home in Sderot, lightly wounding a 17-year-old boy. In addition, Palestinians fired eight mortar shells into the town of Netiv Ha'asara on Friday afternoon. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • What Palestinians Will Do with $7.4 Billion - 70% to Pay Public Salaries - Ilene R. Prusher
    Donors met in Paris last month and awarded $7.4 billion in aid to the Palestinians over the next three years. The PA remains the largest employer in the Palestinian territories, with at least 165,000 workers; some officials say that the PA could probably function with a third of that. "The PA has already spent the retirement funds of all employees in order to keep itself going," says Bassem Hadaydeh, the spokesman of the Palestinian civil servants' union. "They're trying to retire large numbers of workers, but have no retirement funds to give them."
        Samir Barghouthi, an economist who runs a Ramallah investment firm, says that of the amount of aid pledged, approximately 70% will go to public salaries. The biggest problem, he says, is the bloated PA payroll. "There are many thousands of public sector employees who are not working. Some are living in Jordan or Egypt, some work from home, some work in the private sector but still take a salary from the government. There are people who are not even showing up in work because there isn't something to do." "The Paris aid is just a mechanism to help people survive, which means after three years, when those monies are spent, we have to face the problem again," he says. "We should use this commitment to push for deep restructuring."  (Christian Science Monitor)
  • Bush's Mideast Trip - Chuck Freilich
    President Bush's upcoming Mideast tour may be well intentioned, but the stage is set for a dark comedy - not a feel-good play. In the month since the Annapolis conference, Hamas has further solidified its control over chaotic Gaza and barely a day passes without Kassam rockets hitting the southern Israeli town of Sderot. With its cities under attack, Israel's reticence to launch a major ground operation in Gaza will disappear, despite the heavy anticipated loss of life on both sides. Not that it will achieve a long-lasting effect. It will not, but public uproar will force government action. In the West Bank, the Fatah-headed Palestinian Authority governs in name only, its rule contingent on Israel's military control and pacification of the extremists.
        The good news, on which all hopes are pinned, is that Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad are probably the best-meaning Palestinian leaders we will see for many years to come. Intentions, however, are insufficient. The sad reality is that they do not have the power to make or enforce the necessary decisions domestically or vis-a-vis Israel. The writer is a senior fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and is Ira Weiner Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Washington Times)
        See also A Triumph of Hope Over Experience? - Max Boot
    With Gaza in the hands of a rabidly anti-Israel group and the West Bank in the hands of only a mildly less anti-Israel group, it is hard to see what in the current situation makes President Bush think he will succeed where his predecessors failed. While there is plenty of evidence that most Israelis are tired of today's war, there is little sign that their enemies are likely to give up anytime soon. The writer is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Observations:

    The Bush Visit and Tensions in the U.S.-Israel Relationship - Gerald M. Steinberg (Institute for Contemporary Affairs/Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

    • The December "surprise" resulting from the publication of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate disrupted fifteen years of Israeli policy based on working with the international coalition to pressure Iran to drop its nuclear weapons program through sanctions and the threat of military action, and has reminded Israelis of the limits of American security guarantees and strategic cooperation.
    • Within two weeks following publication of the NIE report, China signed a major contract on energy development and supply with Iran, and Russia quickly dispatched two shipments of nuclear fuel for the Bushehr nuclear reactor. Egypt moved to improve relations with Iran, and Saudi Arabia welcomed Iranian President Ahmadinejad to Mecca for the Haj.
    • Prime Minister Olmert had explained the logic of the "Annapolis process" in terms of the coalition to stop Iran, but two weeks after Annapolis, with the release of the NIE report, this rationale has lost much of its relevance.
    • Another source of stress comes from differences over renewed U.S. efforts to forge a quick agreement with the Palestinian Authority at a time of continued terrorism, the violent conflict between Fatah and Hamas, the failure to develop functioning Palestinian institutions, and the PA's ongoing incitement and rejection of the legitimacy of a Jewish state.
    • In addition, the overall decline of U.S. influence, as reflected in Iraq, the return of Russia as a world power, the chaos in Pakistan, and other developments, has highlighted the limits of Israeli reliance on American assistance, and the need for Israel to maintain an independent capability to act when necessary.

      The writer is head of the Political Studies Department at Bar-Ilan University, a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and Executive Director of NGO Monitor.

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