Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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October 22, 2008

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In-Depth Issues:

Top Tehran Officials Recommend Preemptive Strike Against Israel - Barak Ravid (Ha'aretz)
    Senior Tehran officials are recommending a preemptive strike against Israel to prevent an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear reactors, a senior Islamic Republic official told foreign diplomats two weeks ago in London.
    The official, Dr. Seyed G. Safavi, is head of the Research Institute of Strategic Studies in Tehran, and an adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
    Safavi said Tehran recently drafted a new policy for responding to an Israeli or American attack on its nuclear facilities. While the previous policy called for attacks against Israel and American interests in the Middle East and beyond, the new policy is to target Israel alone.
    He added that many Revolutionary Guard leaders want to respond to a U.S. attack on Iranian soil by striking Israel.

Somali Piracy Shakes Confidence in Suez Canal Route - Joseph Mayton (Middle East Times)
    The rise in piracy off the coast of Somalia has shaken confidence in the Suez Canal as a safe passage linking the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea and has prompted shipping companies to seek out alternative routes.
    The Egyptian government privately fears a downturn in revenues from the canal, which provides Egypt with up to $500 million a month, nearly 10% of Egypt's foreign currency income.
    The London-based Chatham House foreign policy think tank reported that insurance premiums for shipping through the Gulf of Aden have increased tenfold.

Two Convicted in Denmark of Preparing Terror Attack - Jan M. Olsen (AP/Washington Post)
    Hammad Khuershid, a Danish citizen of Pakistani origin, and Abdoulghani Tokhi, an Afghan, who were secretly filmed conducting a test blast with triacetone triperoxide, the type of explosive used in the 2005 London transit bombing, were convicted on Tuesday of preparing a terrorist attack.
    Investigators found handwritten bomb-making manuals in the men's homes that prosecutors said Khuershid had copied at the pro-Taliban Red Mosque in Islamabad.
    The men said the explosive was to be used for fireworks.
    See also UK Police Arrest Five Suspected Terrorists (AP)

Spy Pigeons and Secret Squirrels in Iran - Dion Nissenbaum (McClatchy)
    Iran says its security services have arrested two suspected "spy pigeons" near its well-guarded Nantaz nuclear site. One of the pigeons had a black-coated metal ring and invisible strings, security officials said.
    Just last year, Iran arrested 14 squirrels for spying. "The squirrels were carrying spy gear of foreign agencies, and were stopped before they could act, thanks to the alertness of our intelligence services," Iran's state-sponsored news agency reported at the time.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Berlin Plans to Deter Trade with Iran
    The German government has decided to "discourage" companies from doing business with Iran after criticism that Berlin has not done enough to pressure Tehran. It was decided last week that the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Economics should hold talks with trade associations to put pressure on member companies - particularly those in the banking, insurance, and energy industries - to decrease transactions with Iran. (Der Spiegel-Germany)
  • Colombia Smashes Drug Ring with Hizbullah Ties
    Colombian authorities said Tuesday they broke up a drug and money-laundering ring in an international operation that included the capture of three people suspected of shipping funds to Hizbullah. Chekry Mahmoud Harb, Ali Mohamad Abdul Rahim and Zacaria Hussein Harb used front companies to send drug cash to Hizbullah, the Columbian attorney general's office said. Washington has often complained that Iran-backed Hizbullah and other Islamic terrorist groups are active in Arab communities in South American countries such as Brazil and Venezuela. (Reuters)
  • Saudis Resurrect a Rival for Hizbullah - Sami Moubayed
    Saudi money is being pumped into the Shi'ite community in south Lebanon - in vain - to create a bloc against Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah. The Saudis are reportedly funding a rival wing of Hizbullah itself, modeled around Sheikh Subhi Tufayli, one of the party's original founders. The Saudis are strongly opposed to Hizbullah, claiming it is an extension of Iranian influence in the Arab world. The Saudis have also begun coordinating with former Syrian vice president Abdul-Halim Khaddam to break Hizbullah's influence in Lebanon. (Asia Times-Hong Kong)
  • Hamas Exploits Boom in Gaza Smuggling Tunnels - Toni O'Loughlin
    Hamas is receiving a steady revenue by licensing illicit tunnels in Gaza's south to smugglers and business people who are importing fuel and other items from Egypt. Hundreds of tents covering entrances to tunnels - big enough to transport everything from cows to industrial-size air-conditioners - have mushroomed along Gaza's border with Egypt. Many tunnels are also rigged with plastic pipes, siphoning Egypt's heavily subsidized fuel. One Gaza fuel station operator reported that by selling Egyptian fuel rather than Israeli fuel his profit was ten times greater.
        Smuggling has become a lucrative and entrenched part of the economy. Omar Shaban, a Gaza economist, estimates that smuggling comprises about 90% of market activity. "The tunnels are integrated into the economy." Last month, Hamas began charging tunnel owners a 10,000-shekel annual license fee. (Guardian-UK)
        See also Palestinians Smuggle Cattle Through Gaza Tunnels (Reuters/New York Times)
  • Saudi Arabia Puts Nearly 1,000 Al-Qaeda Suspects on Trial - Damien McElroy
    Saudi Arabia has put 991 al-Qaeda suspects on trial for participation in a wave of terror in 2003-4 until an official crackdown ended the attacks. Most of the suspects have languished in prison since then. In the wake of the 2003 Iraq war, al-Qaeda launched a concerted effort to destabilize Saudi Arabia. More than 30 attacks took place in which 164 were killed. The last major terrorist incident was a failed attempt to blow up the Abqaiq oil facility, the world's largest refinery complex, in January 2006. (Telegraph-UK)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • U.S. Urges Arab States to Forge Diplomatic Ties with Israel
    After meeting with Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa on Tuesday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch said: "We would like to see some action taken by Arab countries, which do not have relations with Israel, to establish ties with it." (DPA/Ha'aretz)
  • Hizbullah MP Rules Out Negotiations with Israel
    Hizbullah MP Hassan Hoballah on Tuesday rejected any form of negotiations with Israel amid reports that Israeli Foreign Ministry officials are exploring the possibility of signing a non-aggression pact with Lebanon. (Daily Star-Lebanon)
  • Palestinians in Gaza Fire Rocket at Israel in Violation of Truce - Yuval Azoulay
    Palestinians in Gaza fired a Kassam rocket into Israel that struck near Nativ Ha'asara on Tuesday evening, in violation of a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas. (Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Oil-Rich Iran Faces a Reckoning - Michael Slackman and Nazila Fathi
    As the price of oil roared to ever higher levels in recent years, the leaders of Iran muscled their way onto the world stage, using checkbook diplomacy and, on occasion, intimidation. Now, plummeting oil prices are raising questions about whether Iran can sustain its spending - and its bid to challenge U.S. hegemony. Iran extended its influence across the Middle East, promoted itself as the leader of the Islamic world and used its petrodollars to help defy the West's efforts to block its nuclear program. But such ambitions are harder to finance when oil is at $74.25 a barrel, its closing price Monday in New York, than when it is at $147, its price as recently as three months ago.
        "The drop in oil prices will make the Iranian regime re-examine its calculations because its political immunity is less," said Mustafa El-Labbad, director of the East Center for Regional and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "Their regional presence and role will shrink." The International Monetary Fund said in August that Iran would face unsustainable deficits should prices for its oil fall to $75 a barrel. (New York Times)
  • Ultraconservative Islam - Salafis - on Rise in Arab Nations - Paul Schemm
    The ultraconservative Salafi Islamic movement has grown dramatically across the Middle East in recent years. Critics worry that the rise of Salafists in Egypt, as well as in other Arab countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, will crowd out the more liberal and tolerant version of Islam long practiced there. They also warn that the doctrine is only a few shades away from that of violent groups like al-Qaeda - that it effectively preaches "Yes to jihad, just not now."
        Saudi preachers on satellite TV and the Internet have been key to Salafism's spread. Salafism preaches strict segregation of the sexes and resists any innovation in religion or adoption of Western ways seen as immoral. In most of the region, Salafism has been a purely social movement calling for an ultraconservative lifestyle. Most Salafis shun politics. Its preachers often glorify martyrdom and jihad or holy war - but always with the caveat that Muslims should not launch jihad until their leaders call for it. Critics of Salafism say it has spread so quickly in part because the Egyptian and Saudi governments encouraged it as an apolitical, nonviolent alternative to hard-line jihadi groups. (AP/USA Today)
  • China Wary of Islam - Edward Wong
    To be a practicing Muslim in the Xinjiang autonomous region of northwestern China is to live under an intricate series of laws and regulations intended to control the spread and practice of Islam, the predominant religion among the Uighurs, a Turkic people uneasy with Chinese rule. Official versions of the Koran are the only legal ones. Imams may not teach the Koran in private, and studying Arabic is allowed only at special government schools.
        Uighurs are the largest ethnic group in Xinjiang, accounting for 46% of the population of 19 million, and the Chinese government worries about separatist activity in the region. A series of attacks in August left at least 22 security officers and one civilian dead in the biggest wave of violence in Xinjiang since the 1990s. (New York Times)
  • Observations:

    U.S. Military Report: Terms "Jihad," "Islamist" Are Needed - Bill Gertz (Washington Times)

    • A U.S. military "Red Team" charged with challenging conventional thinking says that words like "jihad" and "Islamist" are needed in discussing 21st-century terrorism and that federal agencies that avoid the words soft-pedaled the link between religious extremism and violent acts.
    • "We must reject the notion that Islam and Arabic stand apart as bodies of knowledge that cannot be critiqued or discussed as elements of understanding our enemies in this conflict," said the internal report.
    • "The fact is our enemies cite the source of Islam as the foundation for their global jihad," the report said. "We are left with the responsibility of portraying our enemies in an honest and accurate fashion."
    • "While there is concern that we not label all Muslims as Islamist terrorists, it is proper to address certain aspects of violence as uniquely Islamic."

          See also Freedom of Speech in Jihad Analysis: Debunking the Myth of Offensive Words (U.S. Central Command)

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    Today's issue of the Daily Alert was prepared in Israel on Isru Chag.