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August 15, 2008

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In-Depth Issues:

Olmert Rejects Return of Any Palestinian Refugees to Israel (Reuters)
    Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has told Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas that Israel will not allow the return of any Palestinian refugees as part of a future statehood deal, Olmert's office said on Thursday.
    The rare official statement was issued in response to reports Olmert proposed absorbing 2,000 refugees per year for 10 years as part of an agreement to establish a Palestinian state.
    "The prime minister never offered to absorb 20,000 refugees in Israel. The prime minister again reiterates that under any future agreement, there will not be any return of Palestinian refugees to Israel in any number," Olmert's office said.

Ex-Egyptian Envoy Spied on Israel - Yaakov Lappin and Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    Former Egyptian ambassador Mohammed Bassiouny took part in espionage activities against Israel during his 18-year-term, Israel's ex-ambassador to Washington Danny Ayalon told the Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
    "What is the definition of a spy? Someone who handles agents and receives information that is sensitive. I believe he was involved in that," Ayalon said.
    Ayalon drew a clear distinction between espionage and "legitimate information-gathering," which took the form of scanning the press and meeting with government and opposition officials and senior military officers, which "all diplomats do."
    In a speech in Egypt on Saturday, Bassiouny was quoted as saying: "There is no such thing as friendship [with the Israelis]....Besides, I was sent there as an intelligence officer and not because of my character. Do you really think that I worked there as an ambassador?"
    "The Prime Minister's Office knew he dealt in intelligence," Ayalon said.
    Bassiouny was Egypt's military attache in Syria during the Yom Kippur War.

Rafah, Round Four - Dina Ezzat (Al-Ahram-Egypt)
    Egyptian authorities are determined that there will be no replay of the scene of thousands of Palestinians storming into Egyptian territories, as occurred in January.
    Cairo is convinced, according to sources that spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly, that continued suffering in Gaza is to a great extent the doing of Hamas.
    Egyptian officials complain that their attempts to convince Hamas to give up its control of Gaza or to work seriously towards reconciliation with the Fatah-controlled PA have stumbled "over the desire of Hamas leaders to be in control."
    "The leaders of Hamas need to be honest with themselves and with their people and sympathizers. They need to say that their desire to stay in control is a clear reason for the continued problems of Gaza, including the almost permanent closure of the Rafah crossing point," one senior official commented.

Hizbullah TV Broadcasting via Indonesian Satellite (AP)
    The U.S. government is concerned that a television channel backed by Hizbullah is using an Indonesian satellite to broadcast to the Asia-Pacific region, an American Embassy spokesman said Thursday. Al-Manar TV has rented Indonesia's Palapa C2 satellite through operator PT Indosat.
    "Al-Manar and its partners and affiliates form a recognized arm of Hizbullah," said Tristram Perry, a public diplomacy officer at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta.
    Perry said the U.S. has informally "shared concerns" with authorities in Jakarta about Al-Manar broadcasting from Indonesia, home to the world's largest Muslim population.
    In January, a Thai satellite company stopped airing Al-Manar broadcasts after learning it was tied to Hizbullah.

American Jewry and the State of Israel: How Intense the Bonds of Peoplehood? - Steven Bayme (Jewish Political Studies Review)
    At a time in which America has served as Israel's primary friend and ally, greater attention has been given to the unique role of American Jewry in creating and sustaining this "special relationship."
    Jewish forebodings about the toll of assimilation and mixed marriage in the U.S. have implications both for the future support of Israel and for Jewish peoplehood overall.
    The general distancing from matters Jewish connotes distancing both from Israel and from broader Jewish concerns.
    The writer is director of the Contemporary Jewish Life Department of the American Jewish Committee.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Iraqi Assassination Teams Trained in Iran by Quds Force and Hizbullah
    Iraqi Shiite explosive and assassination teams are being trained in at least four locations in Iran by Tehran's elite Quds force and Lebanese Hizbullah, according to intelligence gleaned from captured militia fighters and other sources in Iraq. A senior U.S. military intelligence officer in Baghdad also said the fighters planned to return to Iraq in the next few months to kill specific Iraqi officials as well as U.S. and Iraqi forces. "Wanted" posters picturing men believed to be heading the special groups are being posted around Baghdad, the military officer said.
        The training camps in Qom, Tehran, Ahvaz and Mashhad are operating under the direction of Quds force commander Brig. Gen. Ghassem Soleimani, and Lebanese Hizbullah conducts much of the training because its members speak Arabic. (AP/International Herald Tribune)
  • U.S. Warns Turkey over Energy Deal with Iran - Andrew Ward and Alex Barker
    The U.S. on Wednesday warned Turkey not to strike an energy deal with Iran that undermined diplomatic efforts to halt Tehran's nuclear program, on the eve of a visit to Ankara by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The State Department said: "Such a deal by Turkey with Iran would send the wrong message at a time when the Iranian regime has repeatedly failed to comply with its UN Security Council and IAEA obligations."
        Turkey, which is reliant on energy imports, is keen to diversify its supplies and establish itself as a hub between Europe and the energy-rich nations to its east. Washington and some EU states have expressed deep concern over its energy ties to Iran, which pave the way for Iranian and Turkmen gas to be transported to Europe via the planned Nabuko pipeline from eastern Turkey to Austria. (Financial Times-UK)
        See also Iran, Turkey Fail to Reach Deal on New Pipeline - C. Onurant
    Iran and Turkey signed several cooperation agreements Thursday but failed to complete a deal for building a new natural gas pipeline - a project the U.S. has opposed. (AP)
  • Sept. 11 Families Can't Sue Saudi Arabia - Anthony M. Destefano
    Families of Sept. 11 victims were rebuffed again Thursday in their attempt to hold Saudi Arabia legally responsible for the terror attacks. A three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan found that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, four Saudi princes, a Saudi banker and the Saudi commission responsible for disbursing funds to charities were protected from lawsuits under U.S. law. Under the sovereign immunity doctrine, foreign governments and officials can't be sued in the U.S. except for damages in auto accidents and other torts, commercial activity, or state sponsorship of terrorism. The terrorism exception isn't relevant to the Saudis because "The Kingdom has not been designated a state sponsor of terrorism by the United States," said the court. (Newsday)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Egypt: Rafah Border Crossing Closed until Israeli Soldier Freed - Khaled Abu Toameh
    The Egyptian government has informed Hamas that it will not reopen the Rafah border crossing until Hamas releases kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, a Hamas official in Gaza said Thursday. A senior Egyptian government official told Hamas leaders earlier this week that even if Cairo agreed to reopen the Rafah border, it would do so only under the terms of the 2005 U.S.-brokered agreement that gave Abbas' security forces exclusive control over the terminal, the Hamas official said. Hamas officials claim the Egyptians are "biased" in favor of Israel and are putting pressure on Hamas to soften its position over Shalit. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Fatah Gunman Who Broke Pledge to Cease Terror Arrested by IDF - Yuval Azoulay
    Israeli security forces operating in Nablus apprehended Firas Tashtush, a senior Fatah-Tanzim gunman who had violated a signed pledge to cease all terror-related activities. He is suspected of planning to supply Tanzim members with explosive materials, and was said to have taken part in attacks against IDF troops. Tashtush, 24, signed an agreement a few months ago which committed him to ceasing any involvement in terror-related activities. Nevertheless, it became clear to security authorities that Tashtush "grossly" deviated from the agreement, eschewing his pledge to desist from participation in terror activities. (Ha'aretz)
  • Gaza Truce Violation: Palestinians Fire Mortar Shell at Israel
    Palestinians fired a mortar shell at Israel from Gaza on Thursday afternoon. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

    Russian-Georgian War

  • The Russian Giant Returns - Shlomo Avineri
    This war, above all, is a symbol of Russia's return to the playing field of the Great Powers. Lacking a civic society, without representative or elected frameworks, the disintegration of the Communist regime led to the anarchy and chaos of the Boris Yeltsin period. Putin must be credited with the rehabilitation of the Russian state, the subordination of local bullies to the rule of Moscow and the restoration of some assets, mainly in the field of energy, to central control. It wasn't done by persuasion, but with brutality and aggressiveness: The free press was reined in, the opposition parties were pushed aside, although not eliminated, the parliament was neutralized and moguls with political ambitions were expelled from the country or arrested. Although Russia as a country was rescued, a duplicate of the authoritarian czarist regime emerged.
        During Yeltsin's time the West became accustomed to seeing Russia as a giant cut down to size. The EU and NATO expanded eastward without hindrance. But this proved a passing weakness. The entanglement in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated the limits of U.S. power, while soaring oil prices gave Russia a tremendous economic advantage, as well as European dependence on Russian gas.
        This is not a return to the Cold War, since Putin's Russia is not the bearer of a universal ideology like the Soviet Union; however, it will attempt to establish its own regional hegemony. The era of ignoring Russia has come to an end. The writer is professor emeritus at Hebrew University and former director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (Ha'aretz)
  • Russia Lost the War - Sever Plocker
    The general perception is that Moscow won in Georgia, big time. In my view, however, Russia did not win in Georgia. When a superpower needs to utilize brutal military force in order to punish a rebellious tiny neighbor, it does not prove its power - in fact, it proves its weakness. By invading Georgia, Russia proved that it does not even have the power to deter a tiny country from provoking it. Those who think that Russia's neighbors were scared by the sight of 50 airplanes and 100 tanks pushing the Georgian army out of south Ossetia and Abkhazia are wrong. "Conquering" Ossetia is not the same as conquering Ukraine.
        Russia's military victory is even less convincing. The Georgian troops were sent to Ossetia to suppress the region's autonomic aspirations. The troops were sent on a blatant imperial mission, which they did not feel any sympathy with. It is no wonder they fled. The Russian army entered those areas while facing little resistance, but this does not attest to its fighting abilities. Officials at the Kremlin realized this full well, and were quick to end the fighting before Georgia prepared to truly defend itself. The pressure to end the fighting came first and foremost from the Russian army itself.
        The limited enthusiasm displayed by Russian newscasters and commentators was surprising. Russia's citizens wondered what their troops were doing there, at the cursed Caucasus, and feared escalation that would lead to yet another Chechnya war. Moreover, it is virtually impossible to provoke anti-Georgian sentiments in Russia. Both peoples are very close. Josef Stalin, one of Russia's most admired historical heroes, was Georgian. (Ynet News)
  • Russian Support for Iran Sanctions at Risk amid Georgia Rift - Scott Peterson
    Fierce American criticism of Russia's military action in Georgia is almost certain to jeopardize a very different U.S. strategic objective: stepping up pressure on Iran with another layer of UN sanctions. "This will make any hope of cooperative effort on Iran much more difficult," says Michael McFaul, a Russia and Iran expert at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Support on Iran, he says, is "without question" the biggest strategic casualty of the renewed U.S.-Russia tension. Iran is "the one place...of high national security interest to the United States where Russia plays a direct role in what we are trying to do. In that sense, it towers over all these other things."
        "This has come at a very opportune time for Iran," says a Tehran-based political analyst. "Any new rift between the U.S. and Russians would be welcome by Iran...anything that gives Iran more time and a little more headache for the U.S." (Christian Science Monitor)

    Other Issues

  • Why Hasn't the Muslim World Lifted a Finger for Darfur? - Martin Peretz
    The fact is that the other Arabs do not care a fig for Palestine. Even with their lush surplus of petroleum cash, the oil Arabs do not pay their self-assessed tax for Palestine. The Emirates, perhaps the greatest employment agency for foreign labor anywhere, hire relatively few Palestinians, preferring Malaysians and Pakistanis and, if Arabs, Yemenis and Egyptians. The sultans are not dumb: They saw how the Palestinians behaved when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The Palestine national movement is a fraud. Internecine killing has taken far more Arab lives than armed encounters with the Israelis.
        How can the Arabs feign such great agitation about the Palestinians when they maintain such composure about the truly bitter fate of the Darfuris? It is the blood of their blood who are committing the genocide. It is their diplomats who protect the murderers. Whatever standing the African Muslims of Darfur command as pious supplicants before Allah, they have none before his Arab servants. Apparently, this does not trouble the conscience of Islam. They are otherwise engaged in the hyper-drama of Palestine. (New Republic)
  • The Geneva Convention and "Collective Punishment" - Sean Gannon
    In 1942, after Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich was assassinated by the Czech underground, the SS rounded up the residents of the nearby village of Lidice. Some 200 men were immediately executed. Two years later, a partisan bomb killed 33 members of an SS police battalion in Rome. In reprisal, the following day, 335 Italians were taken down to the Ardeatine Caves and shot in the back of the neck. Such were the type of atrocities that the framers of the Fourth Geneva Convention had in mind when they outlawed "collective punishment" in 1949.
        Therefore, the constant invocation of the Geneva Convention by critics of Israel in the context of its lockdown of Gaza represents little more than a cynical exploitation of the language of international law, part of a well-established strategy which seeks to de-legitimize Israel. However, the legality of economic sanctions in conflict situations is enshrined in the UN Charter despite their unavoidable impact on civilians. The UN embargo against Saddam Hussein's regime caused enormous suffering among ordinary Iraqis. Yet no one accuses the Security Council of imposing "collective punishment."
        The Fourth Geneva Convention does not obligate the supply of goods and services to enemy populations other than "essential foodstuffs, clothing and tonics intended for children under 15, expectant mothers and maternity cases." (Irish Times-Ireland)
  • Assessing the Fight Against al-Qaeda - Ted Gistaro
    U.S. national intelligence officer for transnational threats Ted Gistaro addressed the Washington Institute on Aug. 12:
        Greatly increased worldwide counterterrorism efforts over the past five years have constrained the ability of al-Qaeda to attack the United States and our allies. That said, al-Qaeda remains the most serious terrorist threat to the United States. We assess that al-Qaeda's intent to attack the U.S. homeland remains undiminished. Attack planning continues and we assess it remains focused on hitting prominent political, economic, and infrastructure targets designed to produce mass casualties, visually dramatic destruction, and significant economic and political aftershocks.
        We assess that al-Qaeda will continue to try to acquire and employ chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear material in attacks, and would not hesitate to use them if it develops what it deems is a sufficient capability. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • AP Falsely Reports Israel Building New Settlement - Barry Rubin
    The AP falsely reported that Israel is building a new settlement on the West Bank. In fact, the report was false. Israel had authorized the building of 22 houses on a settlement created more than 25 years ago. According to the AP, "Under the first phase of the internationally backed peace plan known as the road map, which is the basis of the negotiations, Israel was to freeze all settlement construction and Palestinians were to crack down on extremist groups." The AP gives a lot of attention to settlement construction but none to the Palestinian failure to "crack down on extremist groups." Where are the reports of the PA failing to stop terrorists, releasing them, glorifying them, putting them on its payroll, endorsing their goals, inciting to terrorism in its media, providing rationales for their actions in its schools? Why are radical speeches by PA and Fatah officials ignored?
        Consider this simple question: If Israel withdrew from all the West Bank and/or freed all Palestinian prisoners, would anything really change? Would the Palestinians reciprocate or alter their line, stopping terrorism and backing an end to the conflict. The evidence indicates not. The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. (Global Politician)
  • The "Halo Effect" Shields NGOs from Media Scrutiny - Naftali Balanson
    Whenever a highly political, non-governmental organization (NGO) - funded by the EU and European governments - issues a report on alleged Israeli human rights violations, the media uncritically promote it, regardless of the NGO's credibility or the veracity of the allegations. This "halo effect," whereby the claims of human rights groups are accepted without a modicum of scrutiny, often results in Israel's vilification and demonization. By dint of its presumed independence and stated lofty goals, the NGO is considered more truthful than the Israeli government. The media pits universal human rights against Israel, leaving it to respond on the defensive. By publishing these stories, the media reinforces the halo effect and becomes partner to the damage done. The writer is managing editor of NGO Monitor. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Observations:

    The Russian-Georgian War: Implications for the Middle East - Ariel Cohen (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

    • Moscow formulated far-reaching goals when it carefully prepared - over a period of at least two and a half years - for a land invasion of Georgia. These goals included: expelling Georgian troops and effectively terminating Georgian sovereignty in South Ossetia and Abkhazia; bringing down President Mikheil Saakashvili and installing a more pro-Russian leadership in Tbilisi; and preventing Georgia from joining NATO.
    • Russia's long-term strategic goals include increasing its control of the Caucasus, especially over strategic energy pipelines. If a pro-Russian regime is established in Georgia, it will bring the strategic Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Erzurum (Turkey) gas pipeline under Moscow's control.
    • In recent years, Moscow granted the majority of Abkhazs and South Ossetians Russian citizenship. Use of Russian citizenship to create a "protected" population residing in a neighboring state to undermine its sovereignty is a slippery slope which is now leading to a redrawing of the former Soviet borders.
    • Russian continental power is on the rise. Israel should understand it and not provoke Moscow unnecessarily, while defending its own national security interests staunchly. Small states need to treat nuclear armed great powers with respect.
    • U.S. intelligence-gathering and analysis on the Russian threat to Georgia failed. So did U.S. military assistance to Georgia, worth around $2 billion over the last 15 years. This is something to remember when looking at recent American intelligence assessments of the Iranian nuclear threat or the unsuccessful training of Palestinian Authority security forces against Hamas.

      The writer is Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Security at The Heritage Foundation.

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