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January 8, 2009

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Obama Picks Ross to Coordinate Iran Policy - Nicholas Kralev (Washington Times)
    The Obama administration has chosen former Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross to be "ambassador at large and special adviser to the secretary of state" for Middle East affairs and to coordinate policy toward Iran.
    In addition, Dan Shapiro, the Obama campaign's liaison to the Jewish community, will be director for Near East and North African affairs at the White House National Security Council.
    See also Ross' Portfolio on Iran - Steve Rosen (Middle East Forum)
    Ross will be special envoy on Iran, including Iran's support for Hizbullah and Hamas.
    Ross will not be responsible for Arab-Israeli peace issues; there will be another envoy for that.

Hamas Suicide Bombers Can Reach Israel - Yaakov Katz (Jerusalem Post)
    Israeli defense officials believe that Hamas is still capable of launching a "quality" terror attack by infiltrating into Israel through tunnels it has dug along the Gaza border.
    Hamas is also trying to kidnap Israeli troops. IDF commanders in Gaza have reported several attempts by Hamas gunmen who jump out of tunnels and try to pull soldiers inside.

Senior Iranian Official Meets Hamas in Damascus (Reuters)
    Ali Larijani, speaker of the Iranian parliament, met Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal at the Iranian embassy in Damascus on Wednesday.
    Larijani also met leaders of Islamic Jihad.

Palestinians Bet Their Lives on Israeli Adherence to International Law - Anat N. Kurz and Emily B. Landau (Jerusalem Post)
    Palestinians know they can count on Israel to call off attacks when they cynically climb to the roof-tops of buildings to serve as human shields.
    Isn't it a pretty strong indication of Israel's adherence to international law that Palestinians are willing to bet their lives on it?
    A striking confirmation of the abuse of international law, as well as moral codes, is the fact that the leadership of Hamas has been hiding in bunkers under the hospital of Gaza City.
    The writers are senior research associates at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Should Israel Value Palestinian Civilians Over Its Own Civilians? - Spengler (Asia Times-Hong Kong)
    To insist that Israel desist entirely from military activities that have a high probability of causing civilian casualties is hypocritical.
    That would demand, in effect, that Israel value the lives of Palestinian civilians more than those of its own civilians, who are subject to rocket bombardment.
    That is something no state in the world can do, and it is silly to ask it.
    Israel has less reason than any other nation on Earth to heed such a demand. Never has the State of Israel been offered mercy by its enemies, nor has it any reason to expect it.

Egyptian Film Star: Hamas Is to Blame - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    The Arab world's most prominent comedian and movie star, Egyptian actor Adel Imam, has expressed understanding for Israel's military operation in Gaza.
    Imam, 68, a longtime outspoken critic of Islamic fundamentalism, lashed out at Egyptians who have been demonstrating against Israel's war on Hamas, saying that calls for general strikes in solidarity with the Palestinians "harmed our economy."
    Imam blamed Hamas for the violence, pointing out that the Egyptian leadership had warned the Islamist movement against an impending Israeli military operation.
    "Hamas ignored our warnings and chose to lead an asymmetrical war," Imam said. "It's preferable for Hamas to stop [the rocket attacks]. They should have known that Israel wasn't going to receive the attacks with roses."

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Rockets Fired from Lebanon into Israel's North - Steven Erlanger
    At least three rockets were fired into the north of Israel from Lebanon on Thursday, wounding two Israelis near the town of Nahariya. The Israeli Army said it "responded with fire against the source of the rockets." (New York Times)
        See also Rockets Believed Fired by Palestinians, Not Hizbullah - Yaakov Katz (Jerusalem Post)
  • Hamas Pulling Back into Crowded Cities - Griff Witte
    Rather than stand and fight, Hamas has opted for a tactical withdrawal, with its fighters melting away into Gaza's sprawling cities and refugee camps. "They're hitting here and there with antitank missiles and mortars. Overall, though, they're not confronting the Israeli presence in Gaza," said former chief of staff retired Gen. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. Until now, Israeli casualties have been lighter than expected. Six Israeli soldiers have died in five days of ground operations, although only two were killed by Palestinians. The four others died as a result of "friendly fire" incidents.
        For the time being, military commanders have ordered ground troops to tighten their grip on less-populated areas that had long been used for launching rockets, while Israeli warplanes and helicopters continue to pound suspected hideouts from the air. For Hamas, the objective is to survive and to show the world that it continues to engage by firing rockets into southern Israel. "Whatever the outcome, they're going to say, 'We won.' They're going to say, 'We were attacked by a vastly superior force, and the rockets kept coming,'" said Martin van Creveld, professor emeritus of military history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (Washington Post)
        See also Hamas Army Hides Among Gaza Civilians - Azmi Keshawi
    Abu Jundal, a Hamas platoon commander, stands on a Gaza City street, unarmed and wearing civilian clothes. "We work in shifts, one day on, one day off, so we do not get exhausted," he said. His was one of three platoons operating in this sector of the northern Gaza Strip. He said that his unit had not yet seen close-quarters combat, having used only rocket grenades, landmines and mortars against the Israelis. (Times-UK)
  • U.S.-Funded Program Fails to Stop Tunnel Smuggling - Anna Johnson and Omar Sinan
    The U.S. last year allocated $23 million to help train Egyptian officials to stop the smuggling into Gaza through tunnels beneath the border. Months later, there is little noticeable effect: Smuggling has continued at a robust pace, allowing Hamas militants in Gaza to gain rockets to shoot at Israeli citizens. (AP)
        See also Mideast Mediators Seek Anti-Tunnel Plan to Block Hamas Rearmament - Craig Whitlock (Washington Post)
        See also IDF Focuses on Philadelphi Corridor at Gaza-Egypt Border - David Horovitz
    The IDF's former Gaza commander, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yom-Tov Samia, has been serving in recent days as an adviser to the current head of Southern Command, Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant. A year ago, Samia offered this prescription: "The Philadelphi Corridor between Egypt and Gaza should be the first priority for Israel. We should not expect the Egyptians to do the job for us, so this means we should clear the three kilometers from our side. As I have been saying for years, Israel should reoccupy Philadelphi and should stay there until we have had a peaceful relationship with the Palestinians for 25 years." (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Weapons Smuggling from Egypt to Gaza: What Can Egypt and Israel Do? - Maj.-Gen. (res.) Dr. Yom-Tov Samia (ICA/Jerusalem Center)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israeli Cabinet: Gaza Operation to Continue - Roni Sofer
    Israel's National Security Cabinet voted Wednesday in favor of continuing IDF military operation in Gaza in light of ongoing Palestinian rocket fire. Israel has not yet accepted the Egyptian-French ceasefire initiative, but is conducting a dialogue with Egypt in order to advance the issue. (Ynet News)
        See also Hamas in Deep Distress - Hanan Greenberg
    Israeli defense officials believe that Hamas is in deep distress. None of the Hamas administrators has an office from which to work, while its military infrastructure has been damaged extensively. However, their rocket capabilities still exist. (Ynet News)
  • Hamas' Armed Wing Seen Ignoring Cease-Fire Deal - Amos Harel
    Israeli defense sources say that Hamas' military wing wants to continue fighting despite its heavy losses and will not agree to a cease-fire. Israel can identify some 290 Palestinian casualties by name so far. Some 200 of them are known operatives in terror groups or others involved in the fighting. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Hamas Will Not Agree to Stop Weapons Smuggling in Cease-Fire Deal - Yaakov Katz
    Hamas will not agree to stop smuggling weaponry into Gaza under a new cease-fire with Israel, and the deployment of U.S. military engineers along the Gaza-Egypt border will likely be incapable of stopping them, Israeli defense officials say. (Jerusalem Post)
  • IDF Officer Killed in Gaza Battle with Hamas
    IDF Major Roi Rosner, 27, was killed and several soldiers wounded on Thursday near the former settlement of Netzarim in Gaza. (Ha'aretz)
  • 25 Palestinian Rockets Strike Israel Wednesday
    Palestinians in Gaza on Wednesday fired 25 rockets into Israel. Buildings were damaged in Beersheba and Ashkelon. Rockets also struck Sderot, Ofakim, Netivot, and Kiryat Malachi. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Palestinians Fire Rockets at Ashdod Thursday (Jerusalem Post)
  • Palestinian Terrorist Tries to Blow Up Gas Station Near Jerusalem - Jonathan Lis
    Israeli security forces on Thursday shot and killed a Palestinian terrorist trying to blow up a gas station in Mishur Adumim near Jerusalem. (Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Israel Finds More Sympathy in Europe - Robert Marquand
    For decades, Europe was a Middle East counterbalance - generally sympathetic to Palestinians as the weaker party. Yet Europe's traditional position has been quietly changing, gravitating closer to a U.S.-Israeli framing of a war on terror, a "clash of civilizations," with a subtext of concern about the rise of Islam. In no small way it is associated with the rise of Muslim populations in Europe. "There is convergence on goals [terrorism] between Europe and the U.S.," argues French intellectual Dominique Moisi. "The Europeans are less pro-Islamic Muslims now than before, after 9/11." European diplomats "don't see Hamas as Palestinian nationals, but as Islamic," says a senior French scholar with extensive Mideast experience.
        In Europe today, nearly all major leaders - France's Nicolas Sarkozy, Germany's Angela Merkel, Britain's Gordon Brown, and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi - are seen as leaning toward Israel. "There is a general 'Arab fatigue' in Europe," says Denis Bauchard, an adviser to the French Institute for International Relations in Paris. "Europe fears an Islamist threat, whether internal or external, and this has begun to change the overall views on the Israel-Palestine conflict," says Aude Signoles, an expert on Palestinian movements. (Christian Science Monitor)
  • Hamas' Palestinian Victims - Editorial
    On Tuesday, UNRWA head John Ging told the Washington Post that both Israeli and Hamas leaders were to blame for civilian deaths in Gaza. This moral equivalence is slanderous. There is a mountain of evidence from Israeli and Palestinian sources suggesting that Hamas deserves overwhelming blame for the mounting civilian death toll. Hamas' ideology celebrates the use of noncombatants to shield its fighters from Israeli retaliation. (Washington Times)
  • Within Hamas, Hardline Militants Calling Shots in Gaza - Matthew Levitt
    Discussion of moderates and radicals almost invariably invites well-meaning efforts to engage with the former to further a split with the latter. In Hamas' case, this approach is counterproductive; on issues relevant to U.S. policy, there are no substantive divisions between the two groups, only tactical differences. Efforts to engage with any part of Hamas will ensure the erosion of confidence within the PA, further diminishing long-term prospects for real diplomatic progress.
        The emergence of Gaza's hardline Hamas leadership, closely affiliated with the military wing, provides context not only for Hamas' decision to terminate the ceasefire and resume rocket attacks against Israeli civilian communities, but also for the Israeli decision to strike back hard. As the international community attempts to craft an enforceable ceasefire, a key prerequisite for success will be to weaken the militant Hamas leadership currently calling the shots in Gaza. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Why Doesn't Israel Have the Same Right to Self-Defense as Other Nations? - Marvin Hier
    There are a great many people in the world who just can't bear the Jewish state having the same rights they so readily grant to other nations. These voices insist Israel must take risks they would never dare ask of any other nation-state - risks that threaten its very survival - because they don't believe Israel should exist in the first place.
        At the end of World War II, President Harry Truman initiated the Marshall Plan, investing vast sums to rebuild Germany. But he did so only with the clear understanding that the money would build a new kind of Germany - not a Fourth Reich that would continue the policies of Adolf Hitler. Yet that is precisely what the world will be doing if we once again entrust funds to Hamas terrorists and their Iranian puppet masters. The writer is the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. (Wall Street Journal)
  • No Reprieve for Hamas - Martin Peretz
    Israel is gradually crippling Hamas by killing its armed men and demolishing its arms caches and tunnels. The IDF can ill afford to stop the fighting when a reprieve would permit Hamas to start with its missilery again. It is true that most Palestinians aspire to statehood, and Israel as a whole longs for the Palestinians' statehood, too. But the fact is that, fragmented as the Palestinian will is, prone to violence as its political culture is, peace will not be an axiomatic consequence of independence. (New Republic)
  • Hamas Has Failed - It Is Time They Stepped Down - Sultan Al Qassemi
    It is high time for Hamas to step down as the keeper of Gaza. People will object and remind us that they were democratically elected. Yes, but they are incompetent. Clearly, Hamas has not mastered the art of politics. Despite donations from wealthy Arabs in the Gulf to cover an annual budget that the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations estimates at $70 million, Hamas has hardly managed to amass a significant arsenal or military capabilities. All it has to show after all this time and money is little more than long-range fireworks that it launches into neighboring towns but which do more damage to its own image than to any infrastructure in Israel.
        Hamas' 18-month rule has been marred by lawlessness, extra-judicial public killings and gang warfare that is more reminiscent of Somalia than a civilized state. (The National-Abu Dhabi)
  • Observations:

    Iran's Hamas Strategy - Reuel Marc Gerecht (Wall Street Journal)

    • With strong ties to its fundamentalist brethren along the Nile, Hamas has given Iran (really for the first time, and so far at little cost) an important ally within the fundamentalist circles of the Muslim Brotherhood. One of the Islamic revolution's great disappointments was that it failed to produce more allies within the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and its many offshoots.
    • With Hamas, the mullahs have a chance of supplanting Saudi Arabia, the font of the most vicious anti-Shiite Sunni creed, as the most reliable backer of Palestinian fundamentalists. Even more than the Lebanese Hizbullah, which remains tied to and constrained by the complex matrix of Lebanese politics, Hamas seems willing to absorb enormous losses to continue its jihad against Israel. Where Saudi Arabia has been uneasy about the internecine strife among Palestinians - it has bankrolled both Hamas and the PA of Mahmoud Abbas - Iran has put its money on the former.
    • Through Hamas, Tehran can possibly reach the ultimate prize, the Egyptian faithful. For reasons both ancient and modern, Egypt has perhaps the most Shiite-sympathetic religious identity in the Sunni Arab world. As long as Hamas remains the center of the Palestinian imagination - and unless Hamas loses its military grip on Gaza, it will continue to command the attention of both the Arab and Western media - Egypt's politics remain fluid and potentially volatile.

      The writer, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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