Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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May 27, 2008

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In-Depth Issues:

Hamas Leader: We Will Never Recognize Israel (Tehran Times-Iran)
    Hamas political chief Khalid Mashaal told a conference at Tehran University on "The Decline of the Zionist Regime" that "We will never recognize Israel."
    "When the United States cannot even defend its own troops in Iraq, how does it propose to protect the Israeli regime from collapse?" he added.

PA Daily: Arabs Caused the Palestinian Refugee Problem - Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook (Palestinian Media Watch)
    The Arabs who became refugees in 1948 were not expelled by Israel but left on their own to facilitate the destruction of Israel, according to a senior Palestinian journalist writing in a Palestinian daily.
    Jawad al-Bashiti wrote in Al-Ayyam on May 13, 2008: "The Arab Salvation Army came and told the Palestinians: 'We have come to you in order to liquidate the Zionists and their state. Leave your houses and villages, you will return to them in a few days safely. Leave them so we can fulfill our mission (destroy Israel) in the best way and so you won't be hurt.'"

Hamas, Abbas Hold Surprise Meeting in Ramallah - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    In a surprise move, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas met Monday in Ramallah with a senior Hamas delegation.

Israel Sees Little Progress in Gaza Truce Talks - Marius Schattner (AFP)
    Egyptian-brokered negotiations on a proposed truce in Gaza have made "no substantial progress," a senior Israeli official said Monday.
    The official said he was "rather pessimistic" after talks in Cairo on Sunday between Amos Gilad, a senior aide to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

Hizbullah in West Africa - W. Thomas Smith Jr. (World Defense Review)
    Terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and Hizbullah are increasingly developing forward operating bases in many of Africa's poorly governed regions that are used as launching points for terrorist operations worldwide.
    Sources have sent pictures of Hizbullah activities in Nigeria: Note the Hizbullah flags and the posters of Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Iranian ayatollahs.
    See also Hizbullah's African Network - J. Peter Pham (World Defense Review)

Shekel Goes International - Tal Levy (Ha'aretz)
    The Bank of Israel announced Sunday that the shekel has joined the international clearing system and can be converted to any of 16 major currencies.

Key Links 
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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Nuclear Agency Accuses Iran of Willful Lack of Cooperation - Elaine Sciolino
    The International Atomic Energy Agency, in an unusually blunt and detailed report, said Monday that Iran's suspected research into the development of nuclear weapons remained "a matter of serious concern" and that Iran continued to owe the agency "substantial explanations." The report accused the Iranians of a willful lack of cooperation, particularly in answering allegations that its nuclear program may be intended more for military use than for energy generation. "There are certain parts of their nuclear program where the military seems to have played a role," said one senior official close to the agency. "We want to understand why."
        The report also makes the allegation that Iran is learning to make more powerful centrifuges that are operating faster and more efficiently, the product of robust research and development that have not been fully disclosed to the agency. (New York Times)
  • Ahmadinejad Sure Syria Will Press Struggle Against Israel
    President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday that he remains confident Iran's close ally Syria will keep up the struggle against Israel despite its announcement of renewed peace negotiations. "I am sure that the Syrian leadership will manage the situation with wisdom and will not abandon the front line until the complete removal of the Zionist threats," Ahmadinejad told visiting Syrian Defense Minister Hassan Turkmani. (AFP)
  • Iran "Paid Iraq Insurgents to Kill UK Soldiers" - Sean Rayment
    Iran has secretly paid Iraqi insurgents hundreds of thousands of American dollars to kill British soldiers, according to a leaked government document. Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) - also known as the Mahdi Army - one of the most violent insurgent groups operating in Basra, used money from Iran to recruit and pay young unemployed men up to $300 a month to carry out attacks against the British.
        Twenty-seven soldiers died and dozens were seriously injured in southern Iraq between November 2006 and May 2007, the period covered in a report by Major Christopher Job. Tory MP and former infantry commander Patrick Mercer said: "This report makes it quite clear that Iran is directly involved in funding the insurgency." He added: "The government must confront Tehran over the deaths of British troops - anything else is appeasement." (Telegraph-UK)
  • Egypt Eyes Iran's Overtures with Suspicion - Jeffrey Fleishman
    Iran has made a series of overtures in recent months to restore full diplomatic relations with Egypt, while Cairo has remained coolly noncommittal. Iran needs Egypt to further extend Tehran's influence and legitimacy in the Middle East. Iranian policies, however, have led to regional instability that has often infuriated the Egyptians. "Iran wants Egypt to say that its peace treaty with Israel is dead," said Sadr Hussiani, founder of the Tehran-based Iran-Egypt Friendship Council.
        "I think we won't be talking about prospects for the resumption of relations but a clear confrontation between the two countries and an escalation of tension," said Mohamed Abdel Salam, an expert with the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "Iran acts as if it was already in control of the Middle East; it has controlled Iraq, and it is about to control Lebanon."  (Los Angeles Times)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Military Intelligence: Syria Continuing to Arm Hizbullah - Shahar Ilan
    The head of the Military Intelligence research division, Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that Syria was continuing to transfer significant amounts of weapons to Hizbullah. Baidatz said that, in his view, Syria was not really considering changing its attitude toward Iran, despite diplomatic contacts with Israel. He said Hizbullah was continuing to enhance its rocket capability both north and south of the Litani River. "The rockets are coming in from Syria and Iran," he said. He also said that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas will likely not run for reelection in January 2009. (Ha'aretz)
  • Israel: UNIFIL Ignoring Hizbullah Violations in South Lebanon - Barak Ravid
    Israel has submitted a complaint to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon against the commander of UNIFIL, General Claudio Graziono, and UNIFIL official Milosh Strugger for giving interviews to the Lebanese press in which they ignored violations of UN Resolution 1701. Graziono said the only violations of the resolution were by Israel, for conducting flyovers in Lebanese air space. Following recent incidents in which UNIFIL soldiers managed to take photos of armed Hizbullah militants, UNIFIL now instructs its soldiers not to take pictures of Hizbullah. (Ha'aretz)
  • IDF Considering Buffer Zone for Gaza - Yaakov Katz and Khaled Abu Toameh
    The IDF is planning to move the Gaza crossings several kilometers deeper into Israel and away from the border, defense officials said Monday. There are currently four crossings into Gaza - Karni, Erez, Kerem Shalom, and Sufa. "We want to create a sterile area between the crossings that would reduce the risk of car bombs and other attacks against the crossings," said a defense official working on the project. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Al-Durra Case Revisited - Editorial
    It's hard to exaggerate the significance of Mohammed al-Durra, the 12-year-old Palestinian boy allegedly killed by Israeli bullets, whose iconic image crouching behind his father helped sway world opinion against Israel and fueled the last intifada. It's equally hard, then, to exaggerate the significance of last week's French court ruling that called the story into doubt. The whole incident may have been staged for propaganda purposes. If so, it would be one of the most harmful put-up jobs in media history. The judge's verdict said that media watchdog Philippe Karsenty was within his rights to call the France 2 report a "hoax." (Wall Street Journal Europe)
        See also A Hoax? - Nidra Poller (Wall Street Journal Europe)
  • Iraqi Mothers Laud Israeli Heart Operations for Their Sick Children, Fear Reaction at Home - Ali Rifat and Uzi Mahnaimi
    Aria, an 18-month-old baby from Kirkuk in northern Iraq, underwent a successful operation at the Edith Wolfson Medical Center in Tel Aviv, where 11 Iraqi children are being treated. The surgery is sponsored by Save a Child's Heart (SACH), a humanitarian organization founded in Israel in 1996. Aria's mother, Paiman, paid tribute to the clinic and the surgeon, Dr. Lior Sasson, saying: "He saved little Aria's life." The mother of Mustafa, 4, from Kirkuk, who has undergone two heart operations in six months, said: "My only fear, which spoils my joy at my son's escape from death, is the revenge my family can expect when we go back to Iraq." (Times-UK)
  • Perfection Demanded Only from Little Israel - Chris Powell
    As much as the dislocations arising from Israel's re-establishment obsess certain people today, they are tiny compared to dislocations that are hardly noticed anymore. For example, just a year before Israel's re-establishment, British-ruled India was partitioned into Hindu and Muslim sectors - India and Pakistan. This uprooted 15 million people and cost about a half million lives, but today no one outside India and Pakistan seems to care.
        Europe has partitioned itself too many times to count. From Finland down to Yugoslavia - whoops, Serbia now - it is impossible to walk more than a few miles without crossing what, within the last 200 years, used to be a national border or without finding a town whose name wasn't different not long ago. Traces of vanished and dispersed peoples can be found in practically every country - that's what Connecticut's Indian casinos are supposed to be about - but everyone is forgiven except for the Jews. (Journal Inquirer [CT])
  • Observations:

    Syria: Between Negotiations with Israel and the Iranian Axis - David Schenker (Institute for Contemporary Affairs/Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

    • The Syria-Iran alliance predated the rise to power of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Prior to the 1979 Iranian revolution, President Hafiz Assad offered Ayatollah Khomeini sanctuary in Syria. Subsequently, Syria was the first Arab state to recognize the Shiite revolutionary regime in Tehran.
    • Increased political pressures, a growing fiscal deficit, rising food prices, and the ongoing depletion of oil reserves have placed Damascus in a precarious situation. According to the IMF, as of Summer 2007, Syria had recovered from five years of weak growth, achieved economic recovery, and it was assessed that the "near-term outlook for growth and inflation is favorable." But the IMF also said that Syria faced a number of economic challenges, which now appear to be having an effect on Damascus.
    • The Assad regime is increasingly feeling the pressure of isolation within the Arab system, as it faces an unprecedented backlash from its continued pernicious meddling in Lebanon. With pressures increasing, the Assad regime is now focusing again on its second-tier strategy for ending the UN tribunal and emerging from isolation - by initiating peace negotiations with Israel.
    • The Syrians see bilateral negotiations with Israel as a way to renew contacts with Washington and end international isolation and pressure. Thus, negotiations, even without fruition, entail great benefits to the Syrians. Recognizing this, the Syrians have cynically employed the notion of negotiations with Israel since 2003.
    • The view from Washington is decidedly more sober. After years of engaging the Syrians, in 2005 the Bush Administration came to the conclusion that the Assad regime was basically irredeemable. Washington understood it could neither convince the Assad regime of the wisdom of switching sides, nor could it purchase a reformed Syria. In addition, engagement with Damascus necessarily would undermine Washington's allies, further empowering Hizbullah and Iran.
    • When Israel announced on May 21, 2008, that it had officially resumed negotiations with Syria in Turkey, not surprisingly, the Assad regime merely pocketed this diplomatic gain, providing no sign that it had any intention to meet Israeli requirements.

      The writer is a senior fellow in Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. From 2002 to 2006, he served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as country director for Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories.

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