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February 27, 2009

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In-Depth Issues:

Controversial Figure Appointed as U.S. National Intelligence Council Chairman (FOX News)
    National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair announced Thursday he had selected Chas Freeman to head his council of advisers, deflecting the concerns of Israel supporters who question whether Freeman will undermine U.S. policy in the Mideast.
    Statements that Freeman made over the last three decades on U.S. peace efforts in the Middle East and Iran's threat to the international community have prompted some to question his objectivity in a role that requires it.
    For example, in October 2007, Freeman said the U.S. has "abandoned the role of Middle East peacemaker to back Israel's efforts to pacify its captive and increasingly ghettoized Arab populations."
    See also Obama's Intelligence Pick Linked to Saudi Arabia - Eli Lake (Washington Times)
    The Obama administration on Thursday named as chairman of the National Intelligence Council a veteran former diplomat who heads a think tank that has received major financing from Saudi Arabia. Chas W. Freeman Jr. served as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War.
    Since 1997, Freeman has been president of the Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), a Washington think tank. In 2007, he accepted a $1 million donation from Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.
    MEPC Vice President Anne Joyce said the council aims to further U.S.-Arab relations and widen the range of debate in Washington from what the group sees as an excessively pro-Israel focus.
    In his new position Freeman will oversee production of national intelligence estimates.

U.S. Rights Report Names and Shames Mideast States (AFP)
    The U.S. State Department's human rights report for 2008, released Wednesday, singled out Egypt, Iran, Libya and Syria in the Middle East for jailing rights activists because of their beliefs.
    "Along with greater access to information through the Internet and satellite television came greater restrictions on media, including Internet bloggers," the report said, naming Egypt and Iran.
    The report said Iran also intensified its crackdown on dissent "through arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture, and secret trials that occasionally end in executions."
    In addition, "Iranian women's rights activists were harassed, abused, arrested, and accused of 'endangering national security' for participating in peaceful protests and demanding equal treatment under Iranian law."
    Nations continued to restrict religious freedoms, the report said, citing members of the Bahai faith detained in Iran and Saudi Arabia barring public worship other than Sunni Islam.
    Furthermore, Syria in 2008 "continued to violate citizens' privacy rights and to impose significant restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association, in an atmosphere of government impunity and corruption."

Muslim Publics Oppose Al-Qaeda Attacks on Civilians, But Approve Attacks on U.S. Troops in Muslim Countries (World Public Opinion)
    A study of public opinion in predominantly Muslim countries reveals that very large majorities continue to renounce the use of attacks on civilians as a means of pursuing political goals.
    At the same time large majorities agree with al-Qaeda's goal of pushing the U.S. to remove its military forces from all Muslim countries and substantial numbers, in some cases majorities, approve of attacks on U.S. troops in Muslim countries, including in Egypt (78-83%), the Palestinian territories (87-90%), and Jordan (66-72%).
    A key belief is that the U.S. has goals hostile to Islam itself. Large majorities ranging from 62% in Indonesia to 87% in Egypt say they believe that the U.S. seeks "to weaken and divide the Islamic world."
    Majorities agree with nearly all of al-Qaeda's goals to change U.S. behavior in the Muslim world, to promote Islamist governance, and to preserve and affirm Islamic identity.

U.S. Charges Suspected Al-Qaeda Agent - James Vicini and Jane Sutton (Reuters)
    U.S. criminal charges were filed on Thursday against Qatari national Ali al-Marri, a suspected al-Qaeda "sleeper" agent.
    Marri entered the U.S. on Sep. 10, 2001, and was said by a captured al-Qaeda member to have come to help operatives plotting a second wave of attacks after the 9/11 attacks.
    He was initially detained in Dec. 2001 and later indicted for credit card fraud and making false statements to the FBI.

Useful Reference:

Behind the Humanitarian Mask: The Nordic Countries, Israel, and the Jews - Edited by Manfred Gerstenfeld (Institute for Global Jewish Affairs)
    In 13 essays and interviews, this volume lifts the humanitarian mask from the elites of the Nordic countries, whose anti-Israel motifs are similar to those of classic anti-Semitism.
    The 256-page book, now available on-line without charge, discusses the attitudes of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland toward Israel and the Jews.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Iran Slams Obama Government at UN - Louis Charbonneau
    Iran went on the offensive against the Obama administration on Thursday, accusing Washington's new UN ambassador of making the "same tired" accusations against Iran as the Bush administration. In a speech to the Security Council, U.S. envoy Susan Rice reiterated charges of Iranian support for terrorism and attempts to develop nuclear weapons. U.S. policy "will seek an end to Iran's ambition to acquire an illicit nuclear capacity and its support for terrorism," Rice told the council. (Reuters)
        See also U.S. Will Seek to End Iran's Nuclear Ambitions - Edith M. Lederer (AP)
  • EU Trio Targets Tougher Iran Sanctions - Guy Dinmore, Najmeh Bozorgmehr, and Alex Barker
    France, Germany and the UK are proposing a tough list of additional sanctions to be imposed against Iran in order to give the Obama administration more muscle in its expected engagement of the Islamic republic. A confidential document lists 34 Iranian entities and 10 individuals allegedly linked to Iran's covert nuclear or biological weapons programs. The individuals on the new EU-wide sanctions proposal include the commander and deputy of the paramilitary Basij force. (Financial Times-UK)
  • Clinton: Too Soon to Say Whether U.S.-Syria Ties Will Thaw
    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Thursday it was too soon to say whether there would be a thaw in ties with Damascus, referring to a meeting at the State Department between Syrian ambassador Imad Mustafa and acting head of the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau, Jeffrey Feltman. The Obama administration is reviewing its relations with Syria as part of its overall policy overhaul. (Reuters)
  • Israel Urges Gaza Aid Efforts Not Break Hamas Boycott
    Israel urged world leaders on Thursday to provide aid to Gaza without breaking a diplomatic boycott of Hamas Islamists. "There is a need to help in Gaza without granting legitimacy to Hamas," Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said after talks with visiting U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell. The U.S., Israel, and EU have shunned dialogue with Hamas, citing its refusal to renounce violence and to recognize Israel and past peace agreements. (Reuters)
  • U.S. Helps Palestinians Build Security Force - Ethan Bronner
    In Jericho on the West Bank, a U.S.-sponsored training base for Palestinian security forces has an air-conditioned mess where aluminum glints from every kitchen surface. Rows of Land Rovers stand by. The entrance reads "The Presidential Guard, Always in Front: Strength, Sacrifice, Redemption." "These guys now feel like they're on a winning team, that they are building a Palestinian state," said Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, the American who has been overseeing the training of Palestinian forces. "And I wouldn't stay if I didn't think they were going to do it." Gen. Dayton was due to end his three-year assignment, but Middle East envoy George Mitchell asked him to stay on for two more years.
        In coordination with Israeli defense officials, Palestinian troops and police officers have taken over much of the patrolling in the West Bank cities of Jenin, Nablus, Bethlehem and parts of Hebron. Israeli defense officials say that the development of the Palestinian security forces is a real step forward and that the more the Palestinians do in the West Bank, the less Israel will do. But the Israelis also said that if they did not carry out their night raids on Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists in the West Bank, the area would be a lot less stable. (New York Times)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Netanyahu Holds "Friendly Meeting" with U.S. Envoy Mitchell - Roni Sofer
    Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu met Thursday with President Barack Obama's special Middle East envoy George Mitchell. Following the meeting Netanyahu said that it was held "in a very friendly and practical atmosphere." Sources said at this point the U.S. did not present any demands to Israel. (Ynet News)
        Mitchell seemed to be very much in fact-finding mode, talking with a variety of regional players, including the Palestinians, Egyptians, Saudis and Turks, to look for ideas on how best to proceed now with the diplomatic process. Netanyahu has known Mitchell for 25 years. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Palestinian Rocket Fire Continues - Shmulik Hadad
    Palestinians in Gaza fired Kassam rockets at Israel on Friday morning and Thursday evening. (Ynet News)
        See also Israel Air Force Strikes Rafah Smuggling Tunnels - Hanan Greenberg
    The Israel Air Force launched two strikes against smuggling tunnels along the Philadelphi Route, near the Gaza-Egyptian border, on Thursday in response to several bouts of Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza on Israel. (Ynet News)
  • Did Israel's Gaza Offensive Achieve Its Goals? - Aluf Benn, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff
    Three rockets fell Thursday in the area around Gaza, reminders that Israel is still far from its declared goal in its Gaza operation. If Israel can enshrine the operation in a long-term agreement, the war will be remembered as a success. But fears are mounting that the operation's military achievements are dissipating. Because in Gaza the enemy was less determined than in Lebanon, Israel's move first appeared to be a victory. Only when the IDF left could the results of the war be seen as limited, with almost daily attacks near the fence, a continuing "drizzle" of rockets and information on renewed arms smuggling. Hamas is still waiting for another crowning achievement: if abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit is released for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. (Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • America's Durban Disgrace - Editorial
    Washington has joined in the UN's preparations for its "Durban Review Conference." That's the follow-on to the infamous 2001 "Zionism is racism" conference in Durban, South Africa - which called Israel's self-defense "a crime against humanity." The U.S. delegation then rightly walked out in disgust. Like most sequels, Durban II promises to be worse than the original.
        Well, the conference preliminaries are over - and they again accused Israel of apartheid and xenophobia. Plus, it seems that at Durban 2.0, criticism of Islam will be forbidden. America needs to follow the Canadians and Israelis - and boycott. Other Western democracies are looking to walk, but won't as long as Washington stays in. (New York Post)
        See also Conference of Presidents Confident in Obama Plans on Durban
    The foreign policy umbrella for U.S. Jews expressed confidence in the Obama administration's handling of Durban II. On Thursday, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations released a statement saying that it was reassured, "after a series of meetings with key administration officials," that the Obama administration would make the right decision. "We believe that the administration is engaged in a serious process relative to the Durban conference with full recognition of the concerns of the community," said the joint statement by Conference chairman Alan Solow and executive vice-chairman Malcolm Hoenlein. (JTA)
  • Iran's Clenched Fist - Editorial
    Is Iran unclenching its fist, responding to Obama's inaugural address? Or just posturing to buy more time for its nuclear ambitions? We'd bet on the latter. There are upward of 4,000 centrifuges churning out enriched uranium in Iran. Iran has enough enriched uranium to build a bomb. The Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control said Iran will have enough enriched uranium for a second bomb by June or earlier, and enough for a third bomb no later than November. Years of talks with the Europeans and several rounds of UN Security Council sanctions have yielded nothing. Right now, Iran's fist is still clenched. (Chicago Tribune)
  • Global Economic Crisis Boosts Utility of U.S. Sanctions on Syria - Andrew J. Tabler
    Even as Washington appears to be softening its stance on sanctions against Syria that have been in place since 2004, with an eye toward engaging Damascus, sanctions remain an important tool to ensure that engagement achieves U.S. policy goals. Rather than dropping sanctions, Washington should recalibrate them to leverage the economic pressure on Damascus that has been exacerbated by the global economic crisis. Fueled by high oil prices and increased investment from the Gulf, Syria has posted an average annual economic growth rate of about 5% over the past five years. However, oil production - proceeds from which account for 27% of state revenues - is declining by about 9% per year. With the collapse in oil prices, the Economist Intelligence Unit now estimates that Syria's budget deficit will swell to $5.2 billion.
        The bad economic news explains Damascus's recent shift in focus from the need for Washington to mediate peace talks to a demand for Washington to drop U.S. sanctions, evidence that U.S. sanctions on Damascus are having an increasing impact. If targeted sanctions are effective, Damascus will be forced to choose between continuing its policies and suffering the economic consequences, or concluding clear agreements with Washington to change its policies and gain American assistance to put Syria on the road to prosperity. The writer is a Soref fellow in the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • New Era of Engagement with Iran and Syria Likely to Be Brief - Jonathan Spyer
    In addition to the new policy of seeking to reduce pressure on Iran, the U.S. is currently engaged in what looks like an extended courtship of the Assad regime in Syria. In words and deeds, the response of Iran and Syria to the Obama approach is also becoming apparent. There is concern at the increasing opacity of the Iranian nuclear program. There are now real fears that a secret uranium enrichment site in addition to the site at Natanz might have been constructed.
        The new era of engagement appears so far to be providing the Iranians with valuable leeway for the pursuit of their nuclear ambitions, and the Syrians with similar space to avoid being brought to account for their own apparently now discontinued program. In addition, the new era is giving the spokesmen of both dictatorships plenty of opportunity for engaging in the scolding and proclamations of moral superiority of which they are so fond. It is unlikely that this is what the new U.S. president had in mind. It is therefore probable that the new era will be an unusually short one. The writer is a senior researcher at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, IDC, Herzliya. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Time Not Ripe for Two-State Solution - Eytan Bentsur
    The Obama administration will have to tackle the rehabilitation of Gaza under Hamas rule: to secure aid to assure the fundamental wellbeing of its inhabitants, while at the same time curtailing the influx of weaponry into Gaza. The fight against terror has to be continued in all vigor. The belligerent policy of Hamas should be continuously subject to international boycott and isolation with minimal ill effects on the population.
        Whereas the two-state solution ought to be reiterated, for the time being it is an untenable proposition. It will be a grave mistake to pursue the Annapolis track against all odds. As long as Hamas remains defiant of any peace agreement with Israel while acting as a full-fledged extremist Iranian agent, we are much closer to the establishment of two Palestinian states than to reaching a two-state solution. The precarious rule of Mahmoud Abbas, who is at pains to prosecute his Israeli counterparts for the peace negotiations as war criminals, is conducive to an inflammable fiasco.
        The Madrid process provides a viable, existing and proven framework that calls for historic reconciliation and compromise alongside plans and endeavors for regional cooperation in economic and practically all walks of life. For a short while, following the Madrid Conference (1991), the region was an altogether "new Middle East," filled with hope, reconciliation and cooperation. The Madrid process is essentially the balanced and enriched implementation of the Arab peace initiative. The writer is former director-general of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (Ynet News)
  • Why Accept Hamas' Definition of a Cease-Fire? - Rafael Israeli
    Ever since the Muslim world launched its global terror war, small non-state groups have engaged in hostile acts, ensconced within - and protected by - civilian populations, and leaving no means to defend oneself without touching off the world's fury. Hamas speaks of a hudna or a tahdiyeh (temporary lull), which will enable them to resume hostilities once they have beefed up their forces, repositioned themselves, and better booby-trapped the civilian populace. We are dragged behind them, forgetting internationally accepted terminology like cease-fire and armistice. We can reject these concepts and abide strictly by accepted international terms.
        Let us recall that the American-led coalition in Iraq and Afghanistan has refused any cease-fire, and is even ruling out any contact or negotiation with al-Qaeda or the Taliban until they surrender. We must return to enforcing the set of international concepts that have legal validity and staying power, and we must stop granting legitimacy to a second Palestinian entity in Gaza that will force us to accept two states of Palestine in addition to Jordan. The writer is a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (Ha'aretz)

    Weekend Features

  • Protective Cover - Noam Dvir
    How does one prevent a rocket from penetrating a building and causing casualties and mass destruction? The Negev region bordering Gaza - with a population of about 200,000 - has in the past three years become one of the largest building sites in the country. In all architectural drawings of structures designed for the communities bordering Gaza, the "area under threat" has become an integral part of every design, from the position of the building to the thickness of the window glass.
        Protected spaces in the areas under threat are supposed to be separated by a distance of no more than 20 meters - a sprint of 15 seconds. So Kibbutz Kfar Aza is covered in concrete. Lawns and paths are dotted with hollowed-out concrete blocks designed to provide temporary shelter during a missile attack. Above the children's houses are massive concrete canopies that provide protection from a direct hit. Public buildings like the dining room and the cultural center have become white elephants, because their size and shape make them impossible to protect. Ironically, because they are the best-protected buildings on the kibbutz, the children's houses became the most sought-after places during Israel's recent operation in Gaza. The parents stayed with the children even after school hours, and several of the families even spent the night.
        A recently built kindergarten has visors for protection against a direct hit at the windows, walls of reinforced concrete 40 centimeters thick, and steel plates concealed in areas likely to be hit. There is even an inner secure room with an advanced air filtration system. "Kfar Aza was a kibbutz that used to bustle with life and children," said local resident Yoav Halperin. "At 4 p.m., after the children's houses closed, all the lawns were full of people, a real carnival. It's not like that any longer." (Ha'aretz)
  • A Solar Dream from Israeli Kibbutzim - Neal Sandler
    With both sun and land in abundance, a band of new-age socialists envisages turning the desert into a vast solar power plant. The first 5-megawatt field at Kibbutz Ketura is expected to be up and running by early next year. "Within five years we'll have 200 megawatts of photovoltaic fields on more than a dozen kibbutzim in southern Israel," predicts Yosef Abramowitz, president and founder of Arava Power Co. Israel's Defense Ministry is becoming a proponent of alternative energy partly because the recent military operations in Gaza underscored the vulnerability of Israel's large power plants, two of which were in range of Hamas rockets.
        Solar isn't the only alternative energy being considered. Ketura began growing algae for use as a food additive and potential fuel source. The kibbutz has signed an agreement with Boston-based GreenFuel Technologies to develop algae strains for use in producing biofuel. (BusinessWeek)
  • Israel Sending Jewish-Arab Duo to Eurovision Songfest - Matti Friedman
    Israel is sending a Jewish-Arab duo to represent it with a song of peace at Europe's Eurovision competition, a festival which draws some 100 million TV viewers every year, to be held in Moscow in May. Achinoam Nini, known internationally as Noa, and Mira Awad were selected by Israel's national broadcasting authority. Awad, who will be the first Arab ever to represent Israel at the competition, was roundly criticized for agreeing to go by Israeli Arab artists, even though Nini is a veteran peace activist. Awad said she was going in order to make the point that Jews and Arabs had no option but to find some way to live together.
        Awad has achieved mainstream popularity, becoming a sought-after television and stage actress. Last year, she starred in the country's first Arabic sitcom aimed at Jewish viewers. Around a fifth of Israel's 7 million citizens are Arabs, who have equal rights under the law. Nini, an Israeli of Yemenite extraction, said, "Some people will see an Arab girl who looks Jewish and a Jewish girl who looks Arab, which is what we are. Maybe it will open some people's minds." (AP)
        See also Noa and Mira Awad Perform (YouTube)
  • Observations:

    Averting Abuse of Universal Jurisdiction - Irit Kohn (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

    • Right at the outset of Israel's recent operation in Gaza, French pro-Palestinian organizations filed a lawsuit against the Israeli president, foreign minister and defense minister. Turkish prosecutors said in February 2009 that they were investigating whether Israeli leaders should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity over Israel's offensive in Gaza, after Mazlum-Der, an Islamic-oriented human rights organization, filed an official complaint in Turkey. At the same time, a Spanish judge is currently investigating the role of Israeli soldiers and security officials in a bombing in Gaza in 2002 in which a top Hamas suicide bombing planner, Salah Shehada, and 14 other people were killed.
    • Universal jurisdiction refers to the power of a state to legislate, adjudicate, and punish any individual for war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide committed outside its borders, even when those crimes were not committed against that country or its citizens, and even if the accused is not its citizen. The idea is that anyone who commits such atrocious, internationally condemned crimes will not be able to find shelter or hide from judgment anywhere on the globe.
    • Human rights organizations all over the world have been instrumental in the implementation of universal jurisdiction. This has contributed to the entry of politics into the universal jurisdiction process, as may be seen in many actions brought by NGOs that are supported financially by special interest groups or even states for the benefit of their own agendas. In 2005, Israeli Brig.-Gen. Doron Almog was warned not to leave his plane at Heathrow Airport in London after a UK court issued a warrant for his detention.
    • It is important to remember that universal jurisdiction and the International Criminal Court are applied when a country does not or cannot act to prosecute. Yet Israel is a democracy with a well-developed judicial system and does not need external intervention to conduct any investigation.
    • In fact, the Israeli military police reported that between 2000 and 2007, Israel's military judicial system conducted 272 investigations of illegal firing of weapons, with 31 indictments and 17 convictions; 330 investigations of property damage, with 36 indictments and 36 convictions; 475 investigations of violence, with 37 indictments and 34 convictions; and 128 investigations of crimes in the Palestinian areas, with 20 indictments and 18 convictions. The case of Salah Shehada, mentioned above, has already been reviewed thoroughly by Israel's Supreme Court, which is widely respected in the international legal community. What would a Spanish court have to add?
    • Dr. Henry Kissinger wrote that we are witnessing an unprecedented movement to turn international politics into legal proceedings. International law does not require that the prosecuting country be neutral or politically impartial in order to exercise its jurisdiction in a given case. The purpose for which universal jurisdiction was created may be a worthy and noble one. However, its current execution is problematic, to say the least.

      The writer was director of the International Affairs Department at the Israel Ministry of Justice from 1995 to 2005.

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