Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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February 4, 2008

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In-Depth Issues:

Palestinians Brought Advanced Arms into Gaza - Avi Issacharoff, Yuval Azoulay and Amos Harel (Ha'aretz)
    Israel Security Agency chief Yuval Diskin told government ministers on Sunday that large quantities of advanced weapons were smuggled into Gaza after the border between Egypt and Gaza was breached.
    Diskin said long-range rockets, anti-tank missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, and materials used for rocket production were some of the arms brought into the territory.
    Defense Minister Ehud Barak called for the immediate construction of a fence along Israel's border with Egypt.
    Israeli security remains high along the Egyptian border out of fear Palestinian militants who had already entered Sinai would attack targets in Israel.
    See also Shin Bet: Trained Terrorists Returning to Gaza - Roni Sofer (Ynet News)
    Diskin said the border breach allowed many Palestinian militants trained in Egypt, Syria, and Iran to return to Gaza.
    James Hider, Middle East correspondent of The Times, said there were unconfirmed reports Sunday that two busloads of Palestinian militants who had been in Syria and Iran had arrived at Rafah and walked into Gaza and that Hamas officials were waiting there as a reception committee. (Times-UK)

A Hamas Hardliner (Economist-UK)
    Hamas' foreign minister, Mahmoud Zahhar, denies that the accord between Fatah and Hamas in Mecca last year entailed accepting the PLO's previous agreements with Israel - though other Hamas people have so implied.
    He said Hamas might accept a two-state offer if most Palestinians agreed. But it was entirely "fantastical."
    He certainly would not now "accept the reality" of Israel, looking ahead to a distant future when, "like your European Union," the Arab nation will form one state across its historic lands, joining up with other Muslim nations such as Turkey.
    "We [Palestinians] were never an independent state in history," he notes. "We were part of an Arab state and an Islamic state."

Pope Rewrites Prayer Following Jewish Protest - George Conger (Jerusalem Post)
    Jewish leaders have welcomed Pope Benedict XVI's decision to reformulate the Catholic Church's traditional Good Friday prayers.
    In July, Benedict issued an edict permitting the use of the 1962 Latin Tridentine missal during prayers, which contains references to the "darkness" and "blindness" of the Jews for their refusal to recognize Jesus as the messiah.
    The new text will drop all reference to the "blindness" of the Jews, Milan's Il Giornale newspaper reported on Jan. 18.

U.S. Methodists Renew Drive for Divestment from Israel - Mark D. Tooley (FrontPageMagazine)
    United Methodist officials are urging their 7.9 million denomination to divest from Caterpillar, Inc. stock to punish Israel.
    While Rev. Steven Sprecher, a director on the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, insisted that his board's divestment stance "is not anti-Semitic and it's not anti-Israel," Israel is the only country against which the United Methodist board is urging a substantive divestment.
    "Don't give in to the demonization of Israel," Rabbi Gary Greenebaum of the American Jewish Committee implored a Methodist meeting on Jan. 25.
    The issue will arise at the denomination's governing General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, starting on April 23.
    The writer directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Palestinian Suicide Bomber Kills Israeli in Dimona - Yehuda Peretz
    A Palestinian carried out the first suicide bombing in Israel in a year on Monday, killing a woman and wounding 11 others in Dimona's shopping center. Police said they prevented a second blast by shooting dead an accomplice before he could detonate an explosives belt. Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed the attack along with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Young Fatah supporters in Gaza handed out flowers and candy to passing cars to celebrate. (Reuters/Washington Post)
        See also Palestinian Suicide Bombers Came from Gaza - Ali Waked
    The two bombers who carried out the attack in Dimona on Monday came from Gaza, Palestinian sources said. One of the bombers was Mussa Arafat, from Khan Yunis, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. (Ynet News)
        See also Hamas Calls Suicide Bombing in Israel "Heroic Act"
    Hamas said a suicide bombing in southern Israel on Monday that killed one woman civilian was a "heroic act." Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in Gaza City, "We bless this operation and call on armed groups to continue on the same path." (AFP/Dow Jones)
        See also Abbas Condemns Israeli Anti-Terrorist Raid and Dimona Bombing
    A statement from Mahmoud Abbas' office said: "The Palestinian Authority expresses its full condemnation of the Israeli military operation this dawn in Kabatiya just as it condemns the operation that took place today in Dimona." (Reuters)
        IDF forces killed two Islamic Jihad gunman in Kabatiya in the West Bank early Monday. (Ynet News)
  • Egypt Closes Border with Gaza - Ibrahim Barzak
    Egyptian troops closed the last breach in Egypt's border with Gaza on Sunday, ending 11 days of free movement for Gazans into Egypt. The troops were allowing Gazans and Egyptians to cross the border to return to their homes, but prevented any new cross-border movement. On Saturday, Egyptian security forces arrested two Palestinians in Sinai carrying a bomb. A police official in Cairo said the two had been trying to reach beach resorts in southern Sinai. At least 17 Palestinians have been arrested in the past days carrying weapons and explosives in Sinai. (AP/Washington Post)
  • Iran Tests Rocket, Plans to Launch Satellite - Parisa Hafezi and Fredrik Dahl
    Iran launched a rocket on Monday designed to send its first homemade research satellite into orbit in the next year, state television said, a move likely to add to Western concerns about Tehran's nuclear plans. The technology used to put satellites into orbit could also be used for launching weapons, analysts said. State media said the research satellite, called Omid (Hope), would be launched by March 2009. (Reuters)
        See also The Global Range of Iran's Ballistic Missile Program - Uzi Rubin
    Once Iran learns how to put 300 kg. into earth orbit, it could adapt the satellite launcher into an ICBM that could drop more than 300 kg. anywhere in the world, for instance, on Washington, D.C. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs/ Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • French Defense Minister Says Iran Still Pursuing Nuclear Arms
    French Defense Minister Herve Morin cast doubt on reports that Iran had halted its suspected nuclear weapons drive, speaking Thursday on a visit to Washington. "Coordinated information from a number of intelligence services leads us to believe that Iran has not given up its wish to pursue its (nuclear) program," and is "continuing to develop" it, Morin said. (AFP)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • The Gaza Border Is Closed, But the Bomb Is Ticking - Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff
    The next Palestinian attack, kidnapping, or suicide bombing carried out against Israelis in Sinai or the southern Negev is just a matter of time. Hani and Rami Hamdan, the two brothers from Gaza caught on Saturday wearing explosive belts in Sinai by Egyptian security forces, were not operating independently. Just a day earlier the Egyptians arrested 15 armed Palestinians in Sinai, 12 of whom were members of Hamas. Last week, another cell of five Palestinians was arrested near Taba, next to Eilat, and explosive belts were found in their possession.
        Despite the Egyptian interest to cooperate with Israel to avert attacks, there are Palestinian cells who have evaded the Egyptians and are hiding in the broad expanses of Sinai. These cells are believed to be planning attacks in Sinai, but some will try to penetrate the porous 300-km. Israel-Sinai border.
        Egypt is now dependent on the goodwill of Hamas. If Hamas wishes, the border at Rafah remains sealed. If it does not, thousands of Palestinians will be allowed to rush into Sinai. However, Egyptian cooperation with Hamas over the Rafah crossing means a perpetuation of Hamas rule in Gaza and a deepening of the rift between Fatahland in the West Bank and Hamastan in Gaza. (Ha'aretz)
  • Hamas Considering Economic Disengagement from Israel - Roee Nahmias
    Hamas is seriously contemplating severing Gaza's economic ties with Israel, said Ahmed Yousef, a senior advisor to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, in a Saturday interview with the London-based Asharq al-Awsat. According to Hamas, Egypt can serve as Gaza's gateway to the Arab and Muslim world and as its strategic partner. (Ynet News)
        See also Israel Welcomes Hamas' Intention to Economically Disengage from Israel - Roni Sofer
    Jerusalem on Saturday welcomed reports that Hamas is giving serious consideration to severing all economic ties with Israel. "This is clearly in Israel's interests, provided that our defense interests with Egypt are maintained," said a government official. According to a defense official, Israel's decision to downsize the supply of goods to Gaza was indeed meant to prompt Hamas into seeking other venues for aid. However, the defense official added that Israel cannot afford to let Gazans go hungry or restrict the treatment of sick Palestinians, and therefore aid to Gaza has continued despite the terror. "It's because we are Jews," he said. (Ynet News)
        See also Egypt Nixes Hamas Call for Economic Alliance - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Under pressure from Egypt, Hamas on Sunday backtracked from its call for economic disengagement from Israel. "Egypt has made it clear that it does not want to be responsible for providing Gaza with fuel and electricity," said a senior Hamas official in Gaza City. "They have informed us that Gaza must remain Israel's problem." (Jerusalem Post)
  • Palestinians Fire Four Kassam Rockets at Sderot Monday
    Palestinians in Gaza fired four Kassam rockets that landed outside Sderot Monday morning. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Four Palestinian Rockets Strike Israel Saturday - Tova Dadon
    On Saturday evening, Palestinians in Gaza launched four Kassam rockets at Israel. Two children suffering from shock and ear pain were evacuated to hospital. (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Hamas Leader: "Gaza Is Not Occupied" - Zvi Bar'el
    "Gaza is not occupied, so why should Israel have any role [at the Gaza-Egypt border crossing] when it has no presence on the border between Egypt and Gaza?" argued Mohammed Nuseir, a member of Hamas' political bureau, on Saturday. This is the first time an official Hamas representative has explicitly stated that Gaza is no longer occupied. At the same time, it puts Egypt in the difficult position of being Gaza's only outlet to the world - which means that it will also be held responsible for the Strip's economic plight.
        Egypt would be happy to serve as a shopping center for 1.5 million Gaza residents and provide them with services that could bring over $1.5 billion a year into its coffers. But it does not want to be responsible for security in Gaza. Its baseline position - that Gaza is occupied territory, and any solution to its problems is inseparable from a solution in the West Bank - remains unchanged. (Ha'aretz)
  • The Future of Relations with Mauritania After the Attack on the Israeli Embassy - Freddy Eytan
    The shooting attack on the Israeli Embassy in Mauritania should serve as a warning to Jerusalem. Mauritania, a member of the Arab League and a country fifty times larger than Israel, opened full diplomatic relations with Israel in October 1999 after great Israeli efforts. A poor country receiving no Arab support, Mauritania hoped to receive greater Israeli assistance to develop the country. Assistance was offered primarily in agriculture and medicine. In 1998, thousands were treated by Israeli doctors, but since then, many Israeli promises have gone unfulfilled.
        Jewish values require us to help people in need, and how much more so for an entire country. We succeeded in changing a hostile Muslim Arab state into a friend, but that could change back if there are no obvious benefits to be seen by the local population, as opposition voices continue to warn of the "Zionist enemy." An Israeli diplomatic failure in Mauritania would also deter other states such as Morocco and Tunisia from renewing relations with us.
        Israel must fulfill its promises and strengthen bilateral relations through significant confidence-building measures. Otherwise, there is no point in Israel supporting an entire embassy in a distant land, and endangering the lives of its diplomats, if we fail to do our part to protect our interests in that part of the world. The writer was Israel's first ambassador to Mauritania. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs-Hebrew)
        See also Al-Qaeda Claims Responsibility for Shooting Attack at Israeli Embassy in Mauritania (Ha'aretz)
  • Observations:

    Lebanon War Report: Implications for U.S.-Israeli Relations - David Makovsky (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

    • The second report on Israeli government decision-making during the summer 2006 Lebanon war highlights the degree to which the prime minister's office was subsequently blindsided by the draft ceasefire resolution negotiated by the U.S. and France. The released text provides detailed accounts of shocked Israeli government officials charging that they had no idea the U.S. would allow carefully negotiated terms to be suddenly reversed.
    • According to the report, this reversal occurred between a draft that Assistant Secretary of State David Welch shared with Israelis on August 10 and a fax of the new draft from Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns late that same night. The Burns draft reportedly included no enforcement for a weapons embargo on Hizballah and no mention that embargo violations would be sanctioned by chapter seven of the UN Charter (which authorizes the use of force). As such, Olmert believed he had no other choice but to approve the ground assault, partly in order to improve the ceasefire terms.
    • The Winograd report - at least the unclassified version - is careful not to blame the Bush administration, admitting that it did not interview U.S. officials who may have their own view of the events.
    • The one person who does blame the U.S. outright is John Bolton, who served as U.S. ambassador to the UN at the time. In his memoirs, he wrote that Washington prioritized its relationship with Europe and the fragility of the Lebanese government over Israeli concerns about the exact terms of Resolution 1701.
    • In essence, then, the report demonstrates that when coordination between the U.S. and Israel weakens, there can be tragic military consequences.

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