Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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January 8, 2008

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In-Depth Issues:

Two Katyusha Rockets Fired from Lebanon Hit Northern Israeli Town - Jack Khoury and Eli Ashkenazi (Ha'aretz)
    Two Katyusha rockets fired from Lebanon struck the northern Israeli town of Shlomi on Tuesday.

Bush Trip Gave Irresistible Urge to Tweak Tail of Superpower - Richard Beeston (Times-UK)
    When the White House announced that President Bush would travel to the Middle East this week to bolster support among America's vulnerable Arab allies in the "Persian Gulf," there was always the risk that militants in the Iranian regime would feel forced to respond.
    Commanders in the naval wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) may have been ordered or encouraged to cause mischief in the Strait of Hormuz.
    There is also the temptation to tweak the tail of the world's only superpower.

UN Seeks to Halt Hizbullah Arms in Lebanon - Damien McElroy (Telegraph-UK)
    UN forces in Lebanon have stepped up joint patrols with the country's army to intercept shipments of heavy weapons by the terrorist group Hizbullah to the border regions with Israel.
    Hizbullah's move to replace artillery and rocket stocks depleted in the 2006 war with Israel follows completion of its effort to rebuild its command and control across southern Lebanon.
    Hizbullah is known to have restocked its strongholds north of the Litani river with weapons from Iran and Syria. But the presence of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has so far deterred movement of arms further south.
    Officials said relations between UNIFIL, commanded by an Italian, Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano, and Hizbullah deteriorated in recent weeks as the security forces cracked down on movements over the Litani's bridges.

Bedouin Attack Egyptian Guards Near Crossing with Israel (AP/International Herald Tribune)
    Dozens of Bedouin armed with rocket-propelled grenades ambushed Egyptian guards near the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing with Israel on Tuesday, injuring two people.
    The Bedouin also set fire to a police car and shot at the tires of trucks laden with goods, preventing them from crossing to Israel.
    The attack followed the arrest two days ago of two Bedouin from the Tarabin tribe during a tribal dispute over a woman's honor, police said.

Bush: Israel No Factor in Iraq War (JTA)
    When asked by Israel's Yediot Ahronot newspaper last week whether Israel had any involvement in his decision to invade Iraq, President Bush replied, "None whatsoever."
    "My decision was based upon U.S. intelligence, based upon the desire to provide security for our peoples and others," Bush said.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Iran Speedboats "Threatened Suicide Attack on U.S. Warships" in Strait of Hormuz - Michael Theodoulou
    The White House issued a stern warning to Tehran Monday after Iranian speedboats buzzed three U.S. navy ships passing through the strategic Strait of Hormuz and threatened to blow them up. A Pentagon official said that U.S. forces were "literally" on the verge of firing on the Iranian boats and had moved to man their guns when the Iranians turned and sped away. No shots were fired in the incident. "We urge the Iranians to refrain from such provocative actions that could lead to a dangerous incident in the future," said Gordon Johnson, spokesman for the White House's National Security Council. The incident occurred as a U.S. Navy cruiser, destroyer and frigate were crossing the strait when they were buzzed by the speedboats, which dropped boxes in the water in front of them. (Times-UK)
        See also U.S. Describes Confrontation with Iranian Boats - Thom Shanker and Brian Knowlton
    Defense Department officials said that as the Iranian boats neared the American vessels, a verbal warning broadcast over the internationally recognized bridge-to-bridge radio channel said, "I am coming at you, and you will explode in a few minutes." The five speedboats belonged to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The Pentagon said last year that there were signs that Iran had turned command of its naval missions in the Persian Gulf over to the Revolutionary Guards maritime forces, stripping Iran's regular navy of that responsibility. (New York Times)
  • Israel Warns of Iranian Missile Peril for Europe - Carolynne Wheeler
    Iran is developing nuclear missiles capable of reaching beyond its enemies in the Middle East to Europe. A senior Israeli cabinet minister has told the Sunday Telegraph that his government is convinced Iran is intent on becoming the first Muslim superpower, with weapons capable of striking not only at Israel but also Egypt, Libya, and Saudi Arabia as well as Greece and other parts of southeastern Europe. In an interview, Avi Dichter, the Israeli minister of public security, warned that Iran was developing missiles with a range of more than 1,250 miles. "Once you can reach double the distance between Iran and Israel with your missiles, it means there is some farther target. Is it Egypt? Libya? Saudi Arabia? A European country?"
        Dichter said there was almost no hope of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord this year, and that a major operation against Hamas and other Islamist groups in Gaza would eventually be needed. He added that the Palestinian Authority's loss of Gaza to Hamas in June showed it was not ready to take full control of security in an eventual state, and that Gaza must be brought back under control before a Palestinian state is created. (Telegraph-UK)
  • For New Jersey Pension Fund, No Iran-Linked Investments
    New Jersey on Friday became one of the few states to prohibit state pension money from being invested in companies that do business in Iran. Most American companies are already banned from doing business in the country, but Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed a measure restricting the state from buying stock in international companies that do business with Iran. Florida and California have similar laws. The New Jersey measure resembles a 2005 bill that prohibited investing state pension funds in companies doing business in Sudan. New Jersey recently divested $2.16 billion from 17 companies doing business in Sudan. (AP/New York Times)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Rice Considers Jerusalem Neighborhood a "Settlement" - Hilary Leila Krieger and Tovah Lazaroff
    U.S. Secretary of State Rice told the Jerusalem Post on Monday that the U.S. does not consider it legitimate for Israel to build homes in some Jerusalem neighborhoods located beyond the "green line." Israel, which annexed eastern Jerusalem after the 1967 war, does not equate the capital's Jewish neighborhoods over the "green line" with settlements in the West Bank and does not believe that construction there is bound by its obligation under the road map peace plan. Rice said "the United States doesn't make a distinction" between settlement in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank. "Har Homa is a settlement the United States has opposed from the very beginning," she said. Traditionally, the U.S. refrains from describing Jerusalem neighborhoods as "settlements." (Jerusalem Post)
        See also below Observations: Are Israeli Settlements Legal? (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
  • Olmert, Abbas Meet to Seal Talks Framework - Barak Ravid
    Prime Minister Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas are scheduled to meet in Jerusalem Tuesday to confirm an agreement to create negotiating committees and teams that will tackle the conflict's core issues. Olmert will also tell Abbas that Israel will not allow back into the country most of the Palestinian militants who took refuge in the Church of the Nativity in April 2002, since most of the militants are still involved in terrorism. (Ha'aretz)
  • Barak: Hizbullah Has New, Improved Rockets - Hanan Greenberg
    Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday that Hizbullah has acquired higher-quality rockets with longer ranges than those fired in the Second Lebanon War. He said there is currently free passage of arms between Syria and Lebanon. (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Iran's Global Ambitions - Uzi Rubin
    Striving for exactitude, the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate unfortunately sacrificed lucidity. The key judgment of the NIE, that Tehran halted its nuclear weapon program in 2003, is plausible. Ever since assuming power in 1978, the rulers of the Islamic Republic of Iran have been ever willing to make the necessary tactical concession to walk around minefields. If the bomb-making part must be deferred to safeguard the more profound fissile material effort, so be it.
        Any threat comes from a combination of capabilities and intentions. The Islamic republic's intentions are breathtaking in their scope. Holocaust denial? This is just a frill. Wipe Israel off the map? A detail. The Iranians are committed to no less than a fundamental change in the existing world order. In his May 2006 letter to President Bush, Iranian President Ahmadinejad wrote: "Those with insight can already hear the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic system." This is not about Israel, or the Palestinians, or the Middle East. This is a declaration of war on everything that we in the West hold dear. (Washington Times)
  • Adulation, Gratitude Await Bush in Israel - Tobias Buck and Daniel Dombey
    When George W. Bush arrives in Israel on Wednesday, the U.S. president will be greeted with adulation and gratitude. From the prime minister downwards, Israelis continue to hold Mr. Bush in high esteem, thanks to his unwavering support for the country in its struggle with Arab neighbors and militant Palestinian forces. Analysts say his popularity is founded on a common understanding of the broader conflict in the Middle East that defines the Arab-Israeli struggle as part of Mr. Bush's "war on terror." On the question of Israeli claims to land occupied after the 1967 war, Mr. Bush has been more supportive than any of his predecessors, arguing in a crucial letter three years ago that it was "unrealistic" to expect Israel to return fully to the pre-1967 border. (Financial Times-UK)
        See also Bush to Visit an Ambivalent Israel - Richard Boudreaux
    President Bush has accepted the permanence of the biggest Jewish settlement clusters in the West Bank and opposed a massive return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. He supports the Israeli army's vigorous pursuit of militants in the Palestinian territories and Israel's construction, now nearly complete, of a barrier between its territory and the West Bank. Israelis credit Bush's positions with helping protect them from Palestinian suicide bombers. But many fault him for pursuing sweeping regional goals that they fear have backfired.
        Though Israelis are grateful that Saddam Hussein is gone, they worry that the U.S. intervention in Iraq has benefited Israel's more dangerous enemy, Iran, better enabling Tehran to pursue the development of nuclear weapons. Israeli officials also view Bush's effort to promote Arab democracy as naive and counterproductive because it has empowered Islamists and Iranian clients in Iraq, Gaza, and Lebanon. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Observations:

    Are Israeli Settlements Legal? (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

    • Israeli settlements in the West Bank are legal both under international law and the agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. Claims to the contrary are mere attempts to distort the law for political purposes.
    • The various agreements reached between Israel and the Palestinians since 1993 contain no prohibitions on the building or expansion of settlements. As the Israeli claim to these territories is legally valid, it is just as legitimate for Israelis to build their communities as it is for the Palestinians to build theirs.
    • The Palestinians are demanding that every Jew leave the West Bank, a form of ethnic cleansing. By contrast, within Israel, Arabs and Jews live side-by-side; indeed, Israeli Arabs, who account for approximately 20% of Israel's population, are citizens of Israel with equal rights.
    • The settlements are not intended to displace Arab inhabitants, nor do they do so in practice. According to independent surveys, the built-up areas of the settlements take up about 3% of the total territory of the West Bank.
    • The right of Jews to settle in all parts of the Land of Israel was first recognized by the international community in the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine. The purpose of the Mandate was to facilitate the establishment of a Jewish national home in the Jewish people's ancient homeland. Indeed, Article 6 of the Mandate provided for "close settlement by Jews on the land, including state lands not required for public use."
    • Many present-day Israeli settlements have been established on sites that were home to Jewish communities in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) in previous generations, in an expression of the Jewish people's deep historic and religious connection with the land. Many of the most ancient and holy Jewish sites, including the Cave of the Patriarchs (the burial site of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and Rachel's Tomb, are located in these areas. Jewish communities, such as in Hebron (where Jews lived until they were massacred in 1929), existed throughout the centuries. Other communities, such as the Gush Etzion bloc in Judea, were founded before 1948 under the internationally endorsed British Mandate.

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