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March 18, 2009

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In-Depth Issues:

Dahlan: Fatah Never Recognized Israel - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    Former Fatah security commander Muhammad Dahlan, in an interview on the PA's Palestine TV on Tuesday, called on Hamas not to recognize Israel's right to exist, pointing out that Fatah had never recognized it.
    Dahlan was recently appointed as a special adviser to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas.
    "For the one thousandth time, I want to reaffirm that we are not asking Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist. Rather, we are asking Hamas not to do so because Fatah never recognized Israel's right to exist," Dahlan said.
    "We acknowledge that the PLO did recognize Israel's right to exist, but we [in Fatah] are not bound by it."
    Dahlan also boasted that "the Palestinian Authority under [Arafat] targeted collaborators [with Israel] ten times more than Hamas."

Egypt Stops Hamas from Smuggling Cash to Gaza - Ashraf Sweilam (AP/Washington Post)
    Two Hamas officials returning from Egypt were caught trying to cross the Gaza border Tuesday with nearly $850,000 stuffed into candy tins, an Egyptian security official said.

Report: Israel Could Use Missiles Against Iran Nuclear Sites - Dan Williams (Reuters)
    Ballistic missiles could be Israel's weapon of choice against Iranian nuclear facilities if it decides on a pre-emptive attack and deems air strikes too risky, according to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
    Abdullah Toukan of the CSIS said 42 missiles would be enough to "severely damage or demolish" Iran's core nuclear sites at Natanz, Isfahan and Arak.
    See also Read the Report: Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran's Nuclear Development - Abdullah Toukan and Anthony Cordesman (Center for Strategic and International Studies)

Iranian Suspected of Smuggling Weapons Jailed in U.S. - Joby Warrick (Washington Post)
    Hossein Ali Khoshnevisrad, 55, a Tehran businessman who allegedly helped run a major weapons-smuggling ring for Iran, was charged Monday in the U.S. with multiple export-related crimes, two days after he was arrested in San Francisco after a flight from Europe.
    He was described by U.S. officials as a key figure in Iran's vast network of businesses and front companies seeking Western technology for weapons ranging from ballistic missiles to improvised explosive devices.
    Officials linked Khoshnevisrad's firm to a scheme to acquire millions of dollars worth of parts for military helicopters and jet fighters, using Malaysian and European companies as middlemen.
    At least some of the parts were intended for an Iranian company that the State Department has linked to Iran's nuclear and ballistic missiles program.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Durban II: Diplomats Amend UN Racism Text - Stephanie Nebehay
    Following an EU threat to boycott next month's "Durban II" UN conference on racism in Geneva, diplomats have removed references to Israel and religious defamation from the draft declaration in an amended text circulated on Tuesday. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said, "it would seem that precise improvements have been made." (Reuters)
  • Egypt Seeks Softer U.S. Stance on Hamas
    Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman on Tuesday met U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell to seek a softer U.S. stance on Hamas, so that it can participate in an internationally-recognized Palestinian unity government. During her March 4 visit to Israel, Secretary of State Clinton said the U.S. would not work with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas unless the Islamist movement recognizes Israel and renounces violence. "If there is to be a unity government that includes Hamas, then we would expect that Hamas would comply with the principles as set forth by the Quartet," she said. Hamas says those conditions are unacceptable. (AFP)
  • Arab League Rejects Arrest for Sudan's President - Albert Aji
    The Arab League rejected an international arrest warrant issued on March 4 for Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir on charges of war crimes in Darfur, and Qatar has done the same, clearing the way for the Sudanese leader to attend an Arab summit there later this month. "The court asked Qatar and the Arab League at the same time, but our legal position on the matter does not allow what the International Criminal Court is requesting," Arab League head Amr Moussa said Monday during a visit to Syria. (Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israel Won't Release Hamas Terror Masterminds in Exchange for Captured Soldier
    At an Israeli Cabinet meeting Tuesday, security officials made clear that in the Egyptian-mediated negotiations for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Hamas did not show flexibility and reneged on written understandings. According to the security officials' assessments, if Israel had released all of the murderers that Hamas was demanding, this would have caused severe damage to national security, including the rehabilitation of terrorist infrastructures and the return of senior terrorist "engineers," who had planned and put into operation the most murderous terrorist attacks that the State of Israel has ever known. This would have also dealt a mortal blow to pragmatic elements in the region, whereas the extremists would have been significantly strengthened. (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
        See also Who Are the Murderers Israel Refuses to Release? - Barak Ravid
    Palestinian prisoners Hamas has demanded be freed include: Ibrahim Hamed, head of Hamas in Ramallah, charged with planning the terror attacks in which 36 Israelis were murdered, including the attacks on Cafe Moment and the Hebrew University cafeteria in Jerusalem. Hassan Salama, head of Hamas in Jerusalem, responsible for two suicide bombings in Jerusalem and one in Ashkelon. Abdullah Barghouti, senior Hamas bombmaker, convicted of planning terror attacks in which 66 Israelis were murdered and hundreds hurt, including the attack on a Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem. Abbas Sayid, head of Hamas in Tulkarm, convicted of planning terror attacks in which 35 Israelis were murdered and hundreds hurt, including the attack on the Park Hotel in Netanya. Ra'ad Hutri, one of the masterminds of the attack on the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv, which killed 22 young Israelis. (Ha'aretz)
  • Israel to Consider Tying Hamas Prisoners' Conditions to Shalit's - Roni Sofer
    The Israeli Cabinet on Tuesday appointed a special ministerial committee headed by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann to report back Sunday with proposed regulations which would compare the conditions of Hamas prisoners jailed in Israel to the conditions in which kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit is being held. Shalit has been allowed no visitors.
        Friedmann said at the meeting, "The prime minister was ready to make far-reaching concessions on this matter, way beyond what some of the ministers were willing to accept. Nonetheless, Hamas' demands have reached such dimensions that we believe no government in Israel will be able to accept." Friedmann noted that "in the era before World War II, the arch-murderer Hitler received significant concessions from the democratic countries. He interpreted this wrong and continued with unreasonable demands until the moment when the democratic countries got to their feet and fought for their rights, aggressively and firmly." (Ynet News)
        See also NGOs Condemned for Ignoring Captured IDF Soldier - Etgar Lefkovits
    International human rights groups have maintained an "almost total" silence on the fate of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor said in a statement Tuesday. Shalit, who was kidnapped near the Gaza border in June 2006, has spent nearly 1,000 days in captivity without even one visit by the International Red Cross, in contravention of international humanitarian law. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Brake Lights on Iran - Michael Gerson
    Iranian leaders and proxies seem to be taking the offer of negotiations as a sign of American weakness. "The United States," taunts Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah, "is ready now to talk with any party, not out of a sense of morality, but because it failed in its attempts to implement its plans in the region." Meanwhile, the Iranian Quds Force continues to lead, train and arm Shiite terrorists within Iraq. And last week, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair stated: "Some officials, such as Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari-Najafabadi, have hinted that Iran would have a hand in attacks on 'America's interests even in faraway places,' suggesting Iran has contingency plans for unconventional warfare and terrorism against the United States and its allies." Rather than unclenching its fist, Iran has been pounding it on the table.
        Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and special envoy George Mitchell have returned from trips to the Middle East sobered by the intensity of Arab fears of Iranian intentions. A high-profile outreach to Iran would probably be taken by Arab leaders as American betrayal. They would assume that America is cutting a secret deal with Iran - and would be led to cut such deals of their own. (Washington Post)
  • Russia Signaling Interest in Deal on Iran, Analysts Say - Philip P. Pan and Karen DeYoung
    As President Obama seeks to persuade Russia to help contain Iran's nuclear ambitions, the Kremlin has indicated it is willing to explore a deal with Washington, and analysts say it may be more open to new sanctions against Iran than expected. In a meeting last week with a bipartisan commission studying U.S. policy toward Russia, President Dmitry Medvedev expressed alarm in "very graphic language" over Iran's successful test launch of a satellite last month, linking it to Tehran's nuclear program, said Dmitri Simes, director of the commission and president of the Nixon Center in Washington. In another sign of Russian concern, Russian media reported that the Kremlin informed Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar, in Moscow last month for talks on delivery of Russia's advanced S-300 antiaircraft missile system, that the deal was being put on hold. (Washington Post)
        See also Russia Confirms Iran Missile Contract
    Russian news agencies say a top defense official has confirmed that Russia signed a contract two years ago to sell S-300 air-defense missiles to Iran but that none of the weapons have been delivered. (AP)
  • Observations:

    The Obama Administration Reaches Out to Syria: Implications for Israel - David Schenker (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

    • In early March, two senior U.S. officials traveled to Damascus for the highest-level bilateral meeting in years, part of the new administration's policy of "engagement." Washington seeks to test Damascus' intentions to distance itself from Iran. While a "strategic realignment" of Damascus is unlikely, in the short term the diplomatic opening is sure to alleviate international pressure on Damascus.
    • The Assad regime made no secret of its preference for Barack Obama last November. At the same time, Syrian regime spokesmen appear to be setting preconditions for an effective dialogue, saying Washington would first have to drop the Syria Accountability Act sanctions and remove Syria from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
    • U.S. diplomatic engagement with Syria comes at a particularly sensitive time, just a few months before the Lebanese elections, where the "March 14" ruling coalition faces a stiff challenge from the Hizbullah-led "March 8" opposition, and Washington has taken steps to shore up support for its allies.
    • Should the U.S. dialogue with Damascus progress, Washington might consent to take on an enhanced role in resumed Israeli-Syrian negotiations. However, U.S. participation on the Syria track could conceivably result in additional pressure for Israeli concessions in advance of any discernible modifications in Syria's posture toward Hizbullah and Hamas.
    • Based on Syria's track record, there is little reason to be optimistic that the Obama administration will succeed where others have failed. Washington should not necessarily be faulted for trying, as long as the administration remains cognizant of the nature of the regime. Damascus today remains a brutal dictatorship, which derives its regional influence almost exclusively through its support for terrorism in neighboring states and, by extension, through its 30-year strategic alliance with Tehran.

      The writer, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, served from 2002 to 2006 in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as country director for Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories.

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