Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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January 15, 2008

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In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Navy Clash Exposed Rise of Iran's Hardliners - Gethin Chamberlain (Sunday Telegraph-UK)
    The clash in the Strait of Hormuz between American warships and Iranian gunboats last week exposed a power struggle within the Iranian regime.
    According to sources within Iran's ministry of foreign affairs, President Ahmadinejad was kept in the dark about the decision to challenge the U.S. ships until after the confrontation had ended.
    The action was ordered by hardline elements in the country's Revolutionary Guard.
    "The president is not the commander-in-chief in Iran and it seems he was totally unaware of the incident being planned in advance," one senior official admitted.

As Bush Visits, U.S. and Egypt Grow Farther Apart - Will Rasmussen (Reuters)
    The brevity of President Bush's four-hour touchdown in Egypt on Wednesday at the end of his Middle East tour reflects the diminishing importance of the U.S.-Egypt relationship.
    Egypt has been a major recipient of U.S. aid money for the past 30 years. But U.S. aid represented only 1.4% of Egypt's gross domestic product in 2006, compared to about 10% in 1980.
    With its economy booming and petrodollars pouring in from the Gulf, some Egyptians are questioning whether the aid is worth any concessions to the U.S.

Gaza Tunnel Smugglers Stay Busy - Dan Murphy (Christian Science Monitor)
    A visitor to the Palestinian border with Egypt completely ignorant of the problems of this part of the world might imagine for a moment that Gaza is home to a species of giant and unusually industrious ant.
    In dozens of spots along the narrow swath of land between the Palestinian town of Rafah and the metal fence that marks the Egyptian border, the region's sandy soil is piled high in crescents that fan out from holes leading underground, the work of hundreds of Palestinian smugglers.
    Never have the signs of smuggling activity been so obvious.

Palestinian Students Study Israel (AP/International Herald Tribune)
    A two-year master's degree program in Israel studies at Al Quds University in the West Bank, which has 120 students, is the brainchild of the school's president, Sari Nusseibeh.
    Rasha Rabaieh, a veiled 23-year-old from Bethlehem, said her studies have dispelled some of her animosity. "I had an image of Israel as an enemy, but now I feel less hatred," she said.
    Another student, Mohammed Ilias, who spent 15 years in an Israeli prison, said he wanted to learn how Palestinians can replicate Israel's successes.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Bush Urges Unity Against Iran - Steven Lee Myers
    President Bush on Sunday urged wary Persian Gulf allies to rally against Iran "before it is too late." In an address to government and business leaders in Abu Dhabi, Bush focused not only on what the U.S. believes are Iran's nuclear ambitions but also its support for Islamic militants in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories. He called Iran's government "the world's leading sponsor of terrorism." (New York Times)
        See also Focus on U.S.-Saudi Relations - Ray Suarez
    According to Robert Baer, who spent 21 years as a caseworker for the CIA, much of that time focused on Saudi Arabia, the number-one agenda item for President Bush's meeting with Saudi King Abdullah "was Iran. It was Iran, Iran, Iran." Thomas Lippman, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute, said the Saudis "were blindsided by that National Intelligence Estimate about the Iranian nuclear program. They're confused about what the Americans are really up to here."
        When Baer was asked if worries about Iran have pushed what was often the number-one item in Saudi-U.S. talks, the Israel-Palestine question, further down the list, he replied: "Oh, I think absolutely. But, you know, at the end of the day, what the Saudis are worried about is that we go to Tehran and cut a deal, and Saudi Arabia then falls to a second-rate position in its relations with the United States." (PBS)
  • U.S. Plans Sale of 900 Sophisticated Missiles to Saudi Arabia
    The Bush administration notified Congress Monday that it would sell 900 sophisticated satellite-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia as part of a $20 billion arms sale. The administration is worried that some in Congress might object, since the missiles are some of the most accurate produced by the U.S. (New York Times)
        See also Israel to Get "Smarter" U.S.-Made Bombs than Saudis - Dan Williams
    The U.S. has agreed in principle to provide Israel with better "smart bombs" than those it plans to sell Saudi Arabia, senior Israeli security sources said Sunday. The Bush administration last year proposed supplying Gulf Arab states with some $20 billion in new weapons, including Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bomb kits for the Saudis. Two Israeli security sources said the U.S. offered military aid grants worth $30 billion over the next decade, as well as an "understanding in principle" that future JDAM sales to Israel would include advanced technologies not on offer to Saudi Arabia. "The agreement is that Israel's qualitative edge will be preserved," one source said. (Reuters)
  • Ex-Leaders of Islamic Charity Convicted - Dan Eggen
    Three former leaders of an Islamic charity were convicted on federal tax and fraud charges in Boston Friday for using tax exemptions to hide support for religious militants and terrorists overseas. The defunct group, Care International Inc., described itself as a charity for Muslim refugees, widows and orphans. Prosecutors said, however, that the organization distributed a newsletter in favor of jihadist causes and lent other support to Islamic militants since its formation in 1993. Prosecutors presented evidence alleging that the group obtained tax deductible donations to support "mujahadeen" fighters overseas. Officials said the defendants could face 10 to 19 years in prison. (Washington Post)
        See also Prosecuting Terrorism: A Change in Tactics - Matthew Levitt
    Prosecutors proved the defendants fraudulently used the charity they ran - Care International - "to solicit and obtain tax deductible donations for the purpose of supporting and promoting the mujahedin (Muslim holy warriors) and jihad (violent armed conflict)." The defendants concealed from U.S. authorities the fact that Care was an outgrowth of and successor to the al-Kifah Refugee Center, and engaged in non-charitable activities. Coming on the heals of partial convictions and hung juries in other recent cases, this case highlights the strategic utility of charging terrorists and their supporters for ordinary criminal activities that the government can easily prosecute. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israel, PA Start Talks on "Core Issues" - Herb Keinon
    Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei formally began discussions Monday in Jerusalem on the "core issues" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements, security and water. Government officials said that Livni and Qurei will meet weekly. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has stipulated that any agreement hammered out would not be implemented until the PA dismantled the terrorist infrastructure and fought terrorism. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Palestinian Sniper Shoots Foreign Volunteer at Israeli Kibbutz near Gaza - Yonat Atlas
    A 20-year-old foreign volunteer from Ecuador was shot and killed by a Palestinian sniper from within Gaza as he worked in the fields of Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha. The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military wing, took responsibility for the shooting. (Ynet News)
  • Hamas Leader's Son Killed in Airstrike - Ali Waked
    Palestinian sources in Gaza reported Tuesday that Hussein al-Zahar, son of senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar, was killed in an airstrike in Gaza City's Zeitun neighborhood. Israeli forces killed at least nine more Palestinians during raids in Gaza, where sources identified the gunmen killed in the clashes as being members of Hamas' Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. (Reuters/Ynet News)
  • Bomb Ingredients Found on Gaza Aid Truck - Zohar Blumenkrantz and Yuval Azulay
    Israeli security personnel on Monday thwarted an attempt to smuggle a chemical substance that can be used to manufacture explosives and rockets from Israel into Gaza though the Kerem Shalom crossing. Two tons of bomb-making material was in a truck with humanitarian aid for Gaza. Last week a larger amount of the material was found on a similar truck attempting to cross into Gaza. The amount apprehended Monday could have been used to produce 500 rockets. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Fertilizer Fuels Gaza's Rockets - Dan Murphy (Christian Science Monitor)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Squandered Oil Bonanza May Bring Down Iranian President - Bronwen Maddox
    Oil at nearly $100 a barrel cannot keep Mahmoud Ahmadinejad safe in the presidency of Iran forever. Finally, it seems as if his breathtaking economic mismanagement, squandering an unprecedented bonanza, may prise him from office. With a total oil revenue in the first two years of his presidency of $120 billion, Ahmadinejad still found it necessary to deplete the emergency oil reserve fund set up by his predecessor, Mohammed Khatami. The parliamentary elections in March will be the best test of his support. (Times-UK)
  • The Revolt of Iran's Turkmen Minority - Amir Taheri
    In addition to ethnic revolts in both Baluchistan and Kurdistan, in Golestan the ethnic Turkmen community is seething with anger after a gunboat of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot and killed a Turkmen fisherman on Jan. 4 in the Caspian Sea. As news of the incident spread, bands of angry Turkmen attacked government offices and set vehicles on fire. Eyewitnesses say the riots lasted until Jan. 6, ending after more than 300 people were arrested. Turkmen anger was so strong that the government in neighboring Turkmenistan halted its flow of natural gas to Iran.
        The revolt highlights the failure of a narrowly based ideological regime to understand the pluralist nature of Iranian society and the legitimate aspirations of its diverse component parts for dignity, equal opportunity, and a fair share in decision-making. (New York Post)
  • Why Al-Qaeda Is Losing - Gary Anderson
    Al-Qaeda is waning, due largely to its own institutional limitations. Simply stated, to know al-Qaeda closely is not to love it. Every place where al-Qaeda has gained some measure of control over a civilian population, it has quickly worn out its welcome. This happened in Kabul and in Anbar province in western Iraq. No one likes to be brutalized and dominated by foreigners. The writer led a study of al-Qaeda from 2003 to 2005 for a Defense Department contractor. (Washington Post)
  • Observations:

    Are the Palestinians as Desperate as the West for Peace? - Barry Rubin (Jerusalem Post)

    • Arafat had the power to make a deal if he wanted to. Of course, he did not. The Palestinian leader was restrained by his own character and ideology, and by fear of his own people, whom he had trained toward extremism for decades.
    • PA leader Mahmoud Abbas is more willing to make peace. Yet this is more than counterbalanced by his extraordinary weakness. Not only has Hamas seized control of Gaza, but Abbas does not have control over Fatah itself.
    • But aren't the Palestinians desperate for a solution, given all their suffering? The answer is no. The ideology of extremist nationalism and Islamism, the belief that total victory is possible, the miscomprehension of Israel and suspicion of the West are all still in place.
    • Indeed, who acts as if they desperately need a diplomatic solution right away and will pay anything to get it? Not the Palestinians or the Arab states, but the West and the U.S.

      The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center at IDC Herzliya and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs.

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