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February 26, 2009

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Iran Increasing Control over Hizbullah Operations - Amos Harel (Ha'aretz)
    Iran has been increasing its involvement and control over Hizbullah's operations since terror operations head Imad Mughniyeh was killed a year ago, using a large number of Iranian Revolutionary Guard and intelligence officers in Lebanon.
    Iranian officers, most of whom are based in Syria, often visit Lebanon and tour the Israeli border.
    The Iranians are directly involved in running Hizbullah operations in southern Lebanon and, in addition, hundreds of Hizbullah militants head for Iran every month for training.

The Iranian Octopus Sends Its Tentacles into Africa - Nadav Zeevi (Maariv-Hebrew)
    Ahmadinejad is signing economic and military agreements to strengthen Iran's position in Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Djibouti, raising fears of African bases that may become centers of activity against Israel.
    See also Is Iran Setting Up Bases around the World? - Lenny Ben-David (I*Consult)

Shi'ite Protests Break Out in Eastern Saudi Arabia (AP/Jerusalem Post)
    Members of Saudi Arabia's Shi'ite minority have held protests that included anti-government slogans rarely heard in public, sparked by a dispute at a cemetery in Medina.
    On Tuesday, the dispute erupted into two protests involving several hundred people, and Shi'ite leaders differed over whether demonstrations and shouting slogans would resolve the issue better than quiet dialogue with the government.

"Re-education" for West Bank Mosque Preachers - Ali Waked (Ynet News)
    Ever since Hamas took control of Gaza, PA officials in the West Bank have been waging an all-out war against anyone suspected of belonging to Hamas, taking action against the group's control of orphanages, community centers, health clinics, and groups for religious learning.
    Closer supervision of mosque activities has led to dozens of imams associated with Hamas being ousted. Sermons are now given by moderate imams associated with Fatah.
    A preacher in a mosque near Ramallah explained: "We receive a memo every so often from the Ministry of Religious Affairs stipulating the subject of that week's sermon. It is forbidden for us to stray from this....We have stopped with politics a long time ago."

Israeli Skaters Win Gold Medal in China for Ice Dancing (Xinhua-China)
    Israeli skaters Alexandra and Roman Zaretski won a gold medal in ice dancing at the Harbin Winter Universiade figure skating competition.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Iran Begins to Test First Atomic Reactor Despite Western Fears over Nuclear Weapons - Miriam Elder
    Iranians insist that the $1 billion Russian-built plant in Bushehr is part of a civilian energy program, but Western powers fear that its covert purpose is to produce atomic weapons. Start-up tests were carried out on Wednesday by Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of Rosatom, Russia's state-owned nuclear firm which built the plant. "The construction stage of the nuclear power plant is over, we are now in the pre-commissioning stage," Kiriyenko said.
        He was accompanied by Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, who announced a nearly ten-fold expansion of Iran's uranium enrichment capacity in the next five years. He also said 6,000 centrifuges were now enriching uranium, an increase of 1,000 since November. (Telegraph-UK)
  • Fatah and Hamas: Heading for a Showdown in Lebanon - Andrew Lee Butters and Rami Aysha
    There has been a collapse of support for Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah in Lebanon, home to the most politically active population of Palestinians outside of the West Bank and Gaza, leading many to transfer their support to Hamas and other radical Islamist groups. Hamas uses its financial backing from Iran to build clinics, kindergartens, and social services centers in every refugee camp, and Hamas supporters get vouchers for medical care at hospitals run by Hizbullah. And the refugees hear stories about leaders in the West Bank growing rich from embezzled international aid. "Hamas is taking advantage of this. They are entering deep, deep into the population," says the Beirut Fatah commander.
        In Lebanon the two sides are preparing for confrontation. Fatah officials accuse Hamas of secretly plotting a takeover of the camps in Lebanon in the same way that the movement took control of Gaza in 2007. By agreement of the Arab League, Palestinian camps lie outside of the jurisdiction of the Lebanese state, so control of the camps would allow Hamas to train and operate largely without interference. Moreover, unlike in Gaza, in Lebanon Hamas could easily receive weapons by sea, or by land from Syria, or with help from Hizbullah. A Hamas victory in Lebanon could be the beginning of the end of Fatah. (TIME)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Netanyahu Opposes Talks with a PA Government that Includes Hamas - Herb Keinon
    Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to lobby Secretary of State Hillary Clinton next week against U.S. recognition of a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas, top advisers to Netanyahu said Wednesday. Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Zalman Shoval said, "We shall try to convince our American friends that this is not something that would help the peace process, and that it would only make it easier for all sorts of other players - the Europeans and the Russians - to deal with Hamas." Shoval said history had shown that when there was an amalgamation between a moderate and an extremist party, it was only a matter of time before the extremists called the shots, and that the end result of a Hamas-Fatah merger would not be a more moderate Palestinian political entity but a more radical one.
        Officials said that Israel would insist that the international community's conditions for dealing with Hamas were met, and not be changed because Hamas refused to comply. Those conditions are recognizing Israel's right to exist, forswearing terrorism, and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Former Peace Negotiators Call for Scrapping Quartet Conditions for Talking with Hamas
    A group of former international peace negotiators on Thursday urged the world and Israel to abandon the policy of isolating Hamas and engage with the Islamist militant group. (Times-UK)
        See also UK: Egypt Best Placed to Talk to Hamas - Jonathan Wright
    British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on Wednesday that talking to Hamas was "the right thing to do," but Egypt and other parties were best placed to do it. Miliband said Egypt was acting on behalf of the whole world in its dealings with Hamas. (Reuters)
  • Economic Recovery in the West Bank - Meron Benvenisti
    The West Bank is undergoing a period of economic recovery. During the past year, there was an increase of more than a third in commercial activity, and the rise in the standard of living is continuing. True, the prosperity is misleading since it is based on the flow of donations from abroad, but the aim of the donors is to provide political support for the PA and to fight Hamas by economic means. They are apparently succeeding. The West Bank remained calm during the fighting in Gaza and was not dragged into reactions of protest. Security officials are aware of this improvement and they are doing away with roadblocks, making the movement of traffic easier.
        In view of this improvement, it is perhaps possible that Benjamin Netanyahu is correct in claiming that we should concentrate on "economic peace" and that in view of the lack of a chance for a permanent solution, attempts must be made to continue the economic development in the territories. The writer is a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem. (Ha'aretz)
  • Palestinian Rocket Explodes in Sderot - Shmulik Hadad
    A Kassam rocket fired by Palestinians in Gaza Thursday morning exploded in the yard of a home in the Israeli town of Sderot. Two homes sustained damage and a woman was treated for shock. Another rocket landed near Sderot's industrial zone. Despite the ceasefire, Palestinians have been firing rockets and mortar shells towards Israel on an almost daily basis. (Ynet News)
        See also More than 100 Rockets and Shells Have Been Fired at Israel Since Cease-Fire (CNN)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • The Iranian Gambit in Gaza - Jonathan Schanzer
    So long as Hamas rules Gaza and can use it as a base for anti-Israel violence, it will have an effective veto over any peace initiative. Hamas' decision to risk a new confrontation with Israel cannot be understood without taking the full measure of Iran's role in nurturing, training, sustaining, financing, and perhaps directing the group's actions.
        Until there is some resolution of the conflict within the Palestinian body politic, there will be nothing to discuss, primarily because there is and will be no legitimate interlocutor on the Palestinian side. And if Hamas, with the backing of Iran, finally emerges victorious in its twenty-year effort to be the defining force of Palestinian nationalism, it will have no interest in serving as that interlocutor, no matter what Obama and the West might do or say or promise. A Hamas-led Palestinian Authority will openly act as the vanguard for Iran's determination to see Israel "wiped off the face of the earth." The writer, a former intelligence analyst at the U.S. Treasury, is deputy director of the Jewish Policy Center. (Commentary)
  • Iran's Uncivil Treatment of its Jewish Citizens - Rafael Medoff
    New York Times columnist Roger Cohen believes the 25,000 Jews remaining in Iran are living happily and securely under the most repressive and anti-Semitic regime in the world. The State Department's most recent annual report on international religious freedom paints a picture of Jewish life in Iran that is at odds with Cohen's description. The report says Iran's Jews live in "a threatening atmosphere" and suffer "officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment, education and housing."
        Government pressure resulted in the shutdown of the Jewish community's newspaper, and "officially sanctioned anti-Semitic propaganda" permeates "official statements, media outlets, publications and books." Three-quarters of Iran's Jews have emigrated in the 30 years since the Khomeini revolution. The writer is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also What Iran's Jews Say - Roger Cohen (New York Times)
  • Observations:

    Israel's Use of Force in Gaza Was Justified - Uri Dromi (Guardian-UK)

    • White phosphorous is a chemical substance dispersed in artillery shells, used primarily to conceal the movement of troops. It burns on contact with oxygen and creates a smokescreen to mask the military maneuver. Unfortunately, when it comes into contact with people, it causes severe burns. This weapon is not banned by international law. When the Israeli army used it in Gaza, it did nothing unprecedented. As Peter Herby, the head of the Red Cross' mines-arms unit, told AP: "It's not very unusual to use phosphorus to create smoke or illuminate a target."
    • Remember Fallujah in Iraq? In 2004, U.S. forces destroyed one out of every four dwellings, killing 1,350 fighters and an undisclosed number of civilians. No one blamed the U.S. for war crimes, and no one dared threaten to drag American generals to tribunals at The Hague.
    • In Gaza, phone calls were made to specific residents to leave their homes because Hamas terrorists operated from there and thus turned them into military targets (you call your enemy and implore him to leave the area so he is not hurt). No other army in the world goes to such lengths to try not to hurt civilians.

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