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March 11, 2009

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In-Depth Issues:

Obama Administration Rebukes UN Official for Attacks on U.S. and Israel - Colum Lynch (Washington Post)
    The Obama administration scolded the president of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, saying that his frequent public attacks against the U.S. and Israel are undercutting the standing of the world body.
    The rebuke comes one day after Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann lashed out at the U.S. during a visit to Tehran, where he defended Iran's nuclear program as peaceful.
    Alejandro Wolff, the second-ranking U.S. diplomat at the UN, said d'Escoto, the former Nicaraguan Sandinista foreign minister, "has repeatedly abused his position to pursue his personal agenda, and in doing so he diminishes the office and harms the General Assembly."
    Mark Kornblau, a U.S. spokesman, said d'Escoto "seems like he is lost in some kind of time warp."
    D'Escoto has said Israel should be targeted with a boycott because of its military offensive in Gaza.

Another Key Politician to Run Against Ahmadinejad - Thomas Erdbrink (Washington Post)
    Former Iranian Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi announced his presidential candidacy Tuesday to challenge President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in elections set for June 12.
    Mousavi is a proponent of Iran's nuclear program and a strong backer of Iran's system of government in which Shiite Muslim clerics oversee policies of elected officials.
    Mousavi was prime minister from 1981 to 1989, and the post of prime minister was abolished after his term ended.
    Former president Mohammad Khatami and former head of parliament Mehdi Karrubi have also announced their candidacies.

Iran Seen as Target of Saudi Overtures to Syria - Alistair Lyon (Reuters)
    Saudi Arabia is mending ties with Syria to nudge Damascus toward cooling its alliance with Tehran. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will visit Riyadh on Wednesday, along with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, the state Saudi Press Agency reported.
    While open to Arab detente, Assad has shown no readiness to sever a bond with non-Arab Iran that has lasted 29 years.
    "Saudi Arabia's top priority is to confront Iran and its agenda in the Arab world. The Saudis want to weaken Tehran's cards in the Arab world, thus the new approach toward Syria," said an Arab official with close ties to the Saudis.

Egyptian Cleric: Starbucks Logo Is Jewish Queen Esther (MEMRI)
    Egyptian cleric Safwat Higazi said on Al-Nas TV on Jan. 25, 2009:
    In the Starbucks logo, "have any of you ever wondered who this woman with a crown on her head is? Why do we boycott Starbucks?"
    "The girl you see is Esther, the queen of the Jews in Persia."
    "We want Starbucks to be shut down throughout the Arab and Islamic world."

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • U.S., Israel Disagree on Iran Arms Threat - Peter Finn
    U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told Congress Tuesday: "The overall situation - and the intelligence community agrees on this - [is] that Iran has not decided to press have a nuclear weapon on top of a ballistic missile....Our current estimate is that the minimum time at which Iran could technically produce the amount of highly enriched uranium for a single weapon is 2010 to 2015."
        On Sunday, Israel's chief of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, said: "Iran continues to stockpile hundreds of kilograms of low-level enriched uranium and hopes to use the dialogue with the West to buy the time it requires in order to move towards an ability to manufacture a nuclear bomb." Blair said Israel was working from the same facts but had drawn a different interpretation of their meaning. "The Israelis are far more concerned about it, and they take more of a worst-case approach to these things." (Washington Post)
  • U.S. Intelligence Pick Pulls Out after Objections - Randall Mikkelsen
    Former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Charles Freeman, named to head the National Intelligence Council which produces formal U.S. intelligence assessments of security issues, withdrew on Tuesday amid congressional objections over his past criticism of Israel and ties to China and Saudi Arabia. Freeman was president of the Middle East Policy Council, a Washington think tank that received funding from Saudi Arabia. (Reuters)
        See also What Was Behind the Freeman Fight? - Eric Fingerhut
    Lawmakers who led the successful campaign against the selection of Charles Freeman said their concerns always had less to do with his criticisms of Israel than his financial ties to Saudi Arabia and a Chinese oil company with business dealings in Iran. Freeman had lashed out at his critics Tuesday, releasing a statement blaming "the Israel Lobby." Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) focused on Freeman's ties to the China National Offshore Oil Company and China's purchase of oil from Sudan throughout the Darfur genocide, as well as his use of the term "race riot" to describe a protest in Tibet. Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), a member of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel of the House Appropriations Committee, said Freeman is "entitled to be a strident critic of Israel and be a strident defender of China. He is not entitled to hold those opinions and make judgments on intelligence matters." (JTA)
  • UN Committee Accuses Iran of Violating Arms Embargo - Louis Charbonneau
    Japan's UN Ambassador Yukio Takasu, chairman of the Iran sanctions committee, told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that the Cyprus-flagged MV Monchegorsk, chartered by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line, was carrying banned items when it was seized by authorities in Cyprus, including bullet shells, high-explosive gun charges, items related to 125 mm armor-piercing guns and high explosive anti-tank propellant. Takasu said the shipment of weaponry constituted a "violation" of Security Council Resolution 1737, passed in 2006 to put pressure on Iran to suspend its nuclear enrichment program.
        U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said, "In light of Iran's continued failure to comply with its obligations, the Iran sanctions committee should redouble its efforts to ensure full and robust implementation of Security Council resolutions." Rice reiterated that President Obama was prepared for "principled engagement" with Iran but Tehran had to live up to its responsibilities. (Reuters)
  • Israeli Kids Near Gaza Get Rocket-Proof Indoor Playground - Aron Heller
    A converted warehouse in Sderot, near Gaza, has brightly painted walls surrounding a mini-soccer field, a climbing wall and play areas. It also has a new thick concrete roof, a half dozen shelters and an alert system to give a 15-second warning of incoming rockets. Eight Sderot residents have been killed, hundreds wounded and nearly everyone in the town of 24,000 has been traumatized by the frequent explosions of the thousands of rockets that have hit over the past eight years. Now parents in this battered town have a secure place to take their children, thanks to funding by the Jewish National Fund. Devora Biton, who brought her daughter, said: "I'm glad the kids will have a place to go, but it means the kids will have to live under a reinforced roof, rather than play outside as they should." (AP)
        See also For Israel, Sderot Symbolizes Conflict's Toll - Howard Schneider (Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Netanyahu: Weaken Iran to Help Mideast Peace
    Israeli prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu believes that weakening Iran is key to ending the Middle East conflict as it would in turn weaken Hamas, a senior aide said on Tuesday. "Iran's growing power and intransigence give great advantage to the radical elements among Palestinians and in Lebanon," he said. "Any progress in the Middle East peace talks will require Hamas' weakening which can be achieved only if Iran is seen as weakened." Israel accuses Iran of supplying weapons to both the Islamist rulers of Gaza and Lebanon's Hizbullah. "It will be very difficult to stabilize the situation in Lebanon or to hold negotiations with the Palestinians as long as Iran's power is on the rise," the aide quoted Netanyahu as saying. (AFP)
  • Palestinian Rocket Fire Continues, Israel Responds - Efrat Weiss
    Palestinians in Gaza fired four rockets at Israel on Tuesday. The Israel Air Force struck a rocket cell in northern Gaza, wounding two Palestinian gunmen, and later struck two arms-smuggling tunnels. (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Time to Drop Misguided Prosecution of Former AIPAC Officials - Editorial
    Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. should put an end to a criminal case that should never have been brought. Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, two former officials for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, were indicted in 2005 during the Bush administration and charged with conspiracy to disclose national security secrets to unauthorized individuals under the archaic Espionage Act. The government has the right to demand strict confidentiality from government officials who swear to protect its secrets. The Justice Department errs egregiously and risks profound damage to the First Amendment, however, when it insists that private citizens - academics, journalists, think tank analysts, and lobbyists - also are legally bound to keep the nation's secrets. The prosecution in effect criminalizes the exchange of information. (Washington Post)
  • Is Dealing with Hamas in the Cards? - Ron Kampeas
    "The U.S. Congress will find it impossible to work constructively with any Palestinian national unity government that fails unequivocally to recognize Israel, to reject terrorism and all forms of violence, and to accept all previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements," said Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. "Diluting the existing preconditions for engagement with Hamas would elevate Hamas' stature and pollute any negotiations with a hateful ideology which sabotages the search for regional peace and security," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the committee's top GOP member. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), who chairs the House's Middle East subcommittee, noted, "Hamas is the odd man out....I don't know how you make peace with half of a want-to-be country. I don't know how you sign an agreement with an entity whose legal, political and administrative bona fides are all in question." (JTA)
        See also How to Bypass Hamas in Getting Aid to Gaza - Ron Kampeas (JTA)
  • History's Oldest Hatred - Jeff Jacoby
    Anti-Semitism is an ancient derangement, the oldest of hatreds. The misnomer "anti-Semitism" was coined in 1879 by the German agitator Wilhelm Marr, who wanted a euphemism for Judenhass, or Jew-hatred - though hostility to Jews has never had anything to do with being Semitic. In their classic study of anti-Semitism, Why the Jews?, Joseph Telushkin and Dennis Prager write: "Fascists have accused them of being Communists, and Communists have branded them capitalists. Jews who live in non-Jewish societies have been accused of having dual loyalties, while Jews who live in the Jewish state have been condemned as 'racists.' Poor Jews are bullied, and rich Jews are resented. Jews have been branded as both rootless cosmopolitans and ethnic chauvinists. Jews who assimilate have been called a 'fifth column,' while those who stay together spark hatred for remaining separate."
        Many Jews are no saints, but the paranoid frenzy that is anti-Semitism is not explained by what Jews do, but by what they are. They are the object of anti-Semitism, not its cause. (Boston Globe)
  • Observations:

    U.S. Cannot Ignore Secret Syrian Nuclear Facility - Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Joshua D. Goodman (Jewish Policy Center)

    • Israel's Sep. 6, 2007, attack on Syria's al-Kibar nuclear facility was reminiscent of its 1981 attack on Iraq's Osirak reactor.
    • While few were aware of the extent of Syria's nuclear program, a 2004 report by the U.S. Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis stated that A.Q. Khan - the Pakistani nuclear scientist who ran a clandestine black market network - offered "nuclear technology and hardware to Syria" and expressed concern "that expertise or technology could have been transferred."
    • Syria's response in the wake of Israel's bombing was curious. The regime did not ask the UN Security Council to condemn the incident. Rather, satellite photos show Syria's efforts to scrub the site of any traces of the nuclear reactor that Syria denied having. Former UN weapons inspector David Albright told the New York Times, "It looks like Syria is trying to hide something and destroy the evidence of some activity. But it won't work. Syria has got to answer questions about what it was doing."
    • If Washington does attempt to engage Syria, it cannot simply ignore al-Kibar. Syria's apparent nuclear development and subsequent deception reinforce pre-existing concerns about the country's interest in regional peace and stability. Pretending that the al-Kibar incident did not occur would send the wrong signal to Syria and other potentially dangerous proliferators in the Middle East.

      Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is director and Joshua D. Goodman is deputy director of the Center for Terrorism Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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