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March 27, 2009

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Sudan Strike Targeted Weapons Capable of Hitting Tel Aviv - Amos Harel, Barak Ravid and Yoav Stern (Ha'aretz)
    Alluding to foreign media reports of an Israel Air Force strike in Sudan in January, Prime Minister Olmert said Thursday, "We operate everywhere we can hit terrorist infrastructure - in nearby places, in places further away, anywhere we can strike them in a way that increases deterrence."
    Israeli officials declined to confirm or deny Israel's involvement in the air strike in Sudan.
    Any Israeli decision to attack such a distant target would likely have been based on the belief that Iran could deliver arms into Gaza, possibly including 70-km.-range Fajr rockets which could strike Tel Aviv.

    Daily Alert of March 26 included an excerpt entitled, "Prominent U.S. Political Cartoonist Compares Israel to Nazis," based on an AP story. The excerpt mistakenly identified cartoonist Pat Oliphant as the author of a cartoon that critics said likened a violent chimpanzee to President Obama.
    The author of that cartoon was Sean Delonas, not Oliphant.

Egypt Puts Troops on Sudan Border to Halt Gaza Smuggling - Amos Harel, Barak Ravid and Yoav Stern (Ha'aretz)
    Egypt has been sending forces to its border with Sudan in an effort to prevent smuggling into Gaza.
    "The Egyptians are patrolling the border and inspecting it," a senior Israeli intelligence source said. "They weren't doing that until now. They started doing it because of the increased international pressure to act against the smuggling. But so far, the results are only partial."
    The source said the Iranians have established smuggling networks via the Persian Gulf, Aden and east Africa, with an emphasis on Sudan.

Israel Would Prefer Japan's Amano to Head IAEA - Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)
    As Mohamed ElBaradei completes his term as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, government sources in Jerusalem seem to prefer the Japanese candidate, Yukiya Amano, rather than South Africa's Abdul Samad Minty.
    Sources said that while Amano and Minty have equivalent technical expertise for the job, South Africa's relationship with Iran is very problematic from an Israeli perspective.
    For instance, in 2006, when the IAEA finally decided to report Iran to the UN Security Council, South Africa was one of five countries that abstained.

Officers Charged in Venezuela Synagogue Attack (AP/New York Times)
    Venezuelan prosecutors have charged eight police officers and three other people in connection with a break-in and vandalism in January at Caracas's largest synagogue, prosecutors said Thursday.

Israel to Provide India Air Defense System (Times of India)
    In its biggest defense deal with India, Israel will provide an air defense system for $1.4 billion.
    Under the deal signed on Feb. 27, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) will develop and manufacture seaborne and shore-based systems against missile attack on India.
    IAI has also undertaken to procure military or aviation products and services from India, and will invest in defense companies in India up to an amount equal to 30% of the contract.

The Jews in Poland Today - Interview with Rabbi Michael Schudrich by Manfred Gerstenfeld (Institute for Global Jewish Affairs)
    The Polish Jewish community is growing and the average age is declining.
    General Polish interest in Jews and Israel is intensifying. More and more small non-Jewish groups want to "do something Jewish." A number are involved in cleaning up unattended Jewish cemeteries.
    About 1,300 of the 1,400 remaining Jewish cemeteries are still unattended.
    New York-born Rabbi Michael Schudrich began working in Poland in 1990 and has been Chief Rabbi of Poland since 2004.

Israel to Share Farming Technology with Kenya - Ally Jamah (Standard-Kenya)
    Israeli Ambassador Joseph Keidar on Tuesday invited Kenyan Agriculture Minister William Ruto to attend the 17th International Agriculture Exhibition in Israel in May.
    "We have answers to most of the problems that Kenya faces in agriculture and water and we are ready to share it," said the ambassador.

Useful Reference:

Virtual Tours of Israel (Israel Ministry of Tourism)
    Visitors from all over the world can now enjoy ten virtual tours of Israel via a multimedia experience that includes 100 videos, 130 panoramic views, and tens of photographs on the Ministry of Tourism website.
    In 2008, 3.5 million visitors accessed the Ministry of Tourism website.

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  • U.S. Officials Confirm Israel Struck in Sudan - Michael R. Gordon and Jeffrey Gettleman
    American officials said Israeli planes bombed a convoy of trucks in Sudan in January believed to be carrying arms to Gaza during the weeks it was fighting a war with Hamas there. Two American officials who are privy to classified intelligence assessments said Iran had been involved in the effort to smuggle weapons to Gaza and that an operative with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps had gone to Sudan to coordinate the effort. One American military official said the strike was one of a series of Israeli attacks against arms shipments bound for Gaza. (New York Times)
        See also Report: Second Airstrike Hit Iranian Ship at Sea
    A new report by Sudanese sources cited an additional strike on a ship possibly making its way to Sudan from Iran. "There were indeed two strikes in Sudan, in January and February," Sudan's deputy transportation minister told Israel's Channel 10 television on Thursday. "The second strike was against a ship at sea and it was completely destroyed," another Sudanese official said. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Israel, U.S. Agreed to Address Arms Shipments in East Africa - Patrick Martin
    A senior Israeli official said Tuesday, "what we learned from Lebanon and from Gaza is that there is a need to prevent forces such as Hamas or Hizbullah from rearming....Is it possible to be more pro-active in intercepting weapons before they arrive at the frontier? That's why we signed an MOU with Secretary of State Rice to intercept weapons shipments." The memorandum of understanding, signed Jan. 16 in Washington, calls for the U.S. and its partners to work together to address the problem of the supply of arms to Hamas and other militant forces in Gaza. It lists the areas where such arms shipments may occur as "the Mediterranean, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and Eastern Africa." Sudan is an Eastern African country.
        Former Israeli Air Force commander Avihu Bin Nun described to Israel's Army Radio the enormous difficulty in carrying out such an operation: "The planes had to pass over areas that have defenses against missiles and against other air forces; this had to be done at night, the target had to be hit precisely and not something else. This is quite an operation. And you also don't have years to prepare for this kind of operation." (Globe and Mail-Canada)
  • New IDF Figures: 700 Hamas Terrorists Killed in Gaza Operation
    The Israeli military said Thursday that the "vast majority" of Palestinians killed in the recent Gaza conflict were "terror operatives" and the number of people killed was less than Palestinian sources reported. The Israel Defense Forces spokesman's office claimed their figures contained the names of 1,166 Palestinians killed in the conflict, with 709 of them "identified as Hamas terror operatives, among them several from various other terror organizations." There were also 162 names who "have not yet been attributed to any organization." "Furthermore, it has come to our understanding that 295 uninvolved Palestinians were killed during the operation, 89 of them under the age of 16, and 49 of them were women." "The Hamas terror organization placed the primary fighting scene at the heart of civilian neighborhoods as it booby-trapped homes, fired from schools and used civilians as human shields," the IDF said.
        The IDF released the findings to counter "false information originating from various Palestinian sources, and in order to remove any doubt regarding the number of Palestinians killed." The numbers differ sharply from those reported by Palestinian sources. The Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health in Gaza put the death toll at over 1,300, with the majority made up of non-combatants. Asked about the discrepancies, an Israeli military official suggested that naturally occurring deaths in Gaza had been included in the Palestinian death toll numbers. (CNN)
        See also Majority of Palestinians Killed in Gaza Operation Were Terror Operatives (Israel Defense Forces)
  • UN Body Votes to Curb Criticism of Islam - Frank Jordans
    The 47-nation UN Human Rights Council approved a proposal by Muslim nations Thursday urging passage of laws around the world to protect religion from criticism. The proposal put forward by Pakistan on behalf of Islamic countries received the support of 23 nations. Eleven nations opposed the resolution, including Canada, all European Union countries, Switzerland, Ukraine and Chile, while 13 countries abstained. Muslim nations have argued that religions, in particular Islam, must be shielded from criticism in the media and other areas of public life. They cited cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad as an example of unacceptable free speech.
        "It is individuals who have rights and not religions," Canadian diplomat Terry Cormier said. India abstained in protest at the fact that Islam was the only religion specifically named as deserving protection. (AP)
  • Obama Commemorates 30th Anniversary of Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty
    President Obama released the following statement Thursday: "Today marks the anniversary of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, signed thirty years ago at the White House. As we commemorate this historic event, we recall that peace is always possible even in the face of seemingly intractable conflicts. The success of Prime Minister Begin, President Sadat, and President Carter, begun at Camp David, demonstrated that progress results from sustained efforts at communication and cooperation. While much work remains, we honor the courage and foresight of these leaders, who stood together in unity to change the course of our shared history. Today, as we seek to expand the circle of peace among Arabs and Israelis, we take inspiration from what Israel and Egypt achieved three decades ago, knowing that the destination is worthy of the struggle."  (White House)
  • Israel's Netanyahu Doesn't Expect U.S. Pressure - Jeffrey Heller
    Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday he did not expect to come under pressure from the U.S. over the Middle East peace strategy of his new government. "I think you are talking about something that I doubt existed for any length of time in the past and which I am convinced does not exist today," Netanyahu told reporters. He served as Israel's prime minister from 1996 to 1999. Netanyahu played down any notion of friction with Obama, saying the U.S. and Israel shared mutual interests and values, and ties between the two allies were especially strong. (Reuters)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Netanyahu to Back 25 Economic Initiatives in the West Bank - Barak Ravid and Amos Harel
    Israel's next prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, plans to form an administrative body to promote economic peace with the Palestinians. The department will work with the Quartet's special envoy to the region, Tony Blair, and the Palestinian Authority, in order to advance some 25 economic initiatives in the West Bank. (Ha'aretz)
  • Sudan Has Become a Playground for Terror Groups - Zvi Bar'el
    Iran has been strengthening its ties with Sudan ever since President Omar Hassan al-Bashir took power in 1989. Iranian Defense Minister Mustafa Muhammad Najar visited Sudan this month and signed a series of military cooperation agreements. Iran's army will now train Sudanese military cadets and Iran will provide Sudan with advanced weapons. Arab sources report that Sudan allows Hizbullah to operate in its territory and purchase arms for its own use and for Hamas. Since some areas of Sudan are not under the central government's control, international terror organizations see it as a convenient playground. Cairo is also watching the increasingly close relationship between Iran and Sudan with alarm, seeing it as a threat. (Ha'aretz)
  • Israeli Official: Egypt Our Ally Against Iran, Hamas - Yael Levy
    At a ceremony marking 30 years of Israel's peace agreement with Egypt, Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Security-Diplomatic Bureau, said Thursday, "Hamastan is viewed by the Egyptians as a substantial threat to its national security." Gilad also said Egypt was Israel's "partner" in the struggle against Iran's nuclear program, adding that President Hosni Mubarak has made it clear that Cairo would not accept a nuclear Iran. (Ynet News)
  • Soldiers Tell of Assisting Palestinians in Gaza - Yaakov Lappin
    Israeli soldiers have described the humane measures taken by the army to assist Palestinian civilians during Israel's Gaza operation. Nina Klevipsky, 24, who served as a supervisor in a Home Front Command medical control room, helped coordinate several airlifts of wounded Palestinian civilians to Israeli hospitals during the operation. She added that she viewed with skepticism the recent allegations of the targeting of civilians by IDF soldiers. On Wednesday, an IDF source said the claims had been found to be categorically untrue by official army investigations which would soon be released to the public.
        "I did not believe a word of these accounts. I know the soldiers who go in. I know how they operate, what values they received at home and in the army. There is no way such orders could have gone out," Klevispsky said. "I have full faith in the army. I do a month of reserves every year. If for a second I thought these were the procedures, I would not show up to serve. I serve in a moral army - my job is to save lives, not harm them," she added. Amir Golan, a 25-year-old medic who entered Gaza with his reserve Givati unit during the incursion, said there was never any hostility towards Palestinian civilians among members of his unit. "I think the general spirit was that we were there to protect our homes from rocket fire," he said. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • With Isolation Over, Syria Is Happy to Talk - Robert F. Worth
    Today, Syria seems to be coming in from the cold. A flurry of diplomatic openings with the West and Arab neighbors has raised hopes of a chastened and newly flexible Syrian leadership that could help stabilize the region, but Syria has its own priorities. Saudi Arabia and the other major Sunni Arab nations once hoped to push Syria away from Iran through isolation, and now - like President Obama - they appear to be trying sweeter tactics. For the Syrians, the turnabout is proof that their ties with Iran are in fact useful, and accord them an indispensable role as a regional broker.
        Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries "have great stakes in maintaining good relations between Syria and Iran, because at difficult times they will find Syria helping them," said Faisal Mekdad, Syria's vice minister of foreign affairs. For the moment, the Syrian leadership is not feeling any real pressure to detach itself from Iran. In fact, a number of Syrian analysts have suggested that after emerging intact from the deep freeze of the Bush years, Syria has more power to dictate the terms of its new relationship with Washington. (New York Times)
  • West Turns Blind Eye to Saudi Arabia, a Friend It Dare Not Offend - Catherine Philp
    Saudi billions fund the promotion of extreme forms of Islam around the world. Saudi Arabia is the home of Wahhabism, the austere interpretation of Islam that it has pioneered and the faith espoused by Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda followers. An estimated $90 billion of Saudi money has gone to build mosques and madrassas, distribute religious literature and fund Islam across the world, with a portion of it, according to terrorism experts, directly or indirectly funding the violent expression of those beliefs.
        Jonathan Evans, the director-general of M15, said last year that the Saudi government's multimillion-dollar donations to British universities had led to a "dangerous increase in the spread of extremism in leading university campuses." Saudi Arabia, in the words of a former diplomat there, "gets away with things other countries could not" because of the West's dependence on it - for oil, for arms contracts, for intelligence, for military bases, and for being a firm friend in an often unfriendly neighborhood." (Times-UK)
  • Iran's Promising Presidential Contender - Alireza Nader
    Iran's presidential race just got more interesting, with former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Mousavi throwing his hat in the ring and former President Mohammad Khatami withdrawing his. This development poses the most significant challenge yet to current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - and a potential opportunity to alter the relationship between Iran and the West. Mousavi, who believes that Iran is in "poor shape," is perceived by many of the Iranian elite to possess the revolutionary and ideological credentials to run against Islamist fundamentalists such as Ahmadinejad. At the same time, he is associated with Iranian reformists, who believe that Iran must enact major domestic and foreign policy changes to escape its economic crisis and international isolation.
        Mousavi was an important part of the revolutionary movement that overthrew the Shah in 1979. Widely viewed as a capable technocrat, he served as prime minister from 1981 to 1989, when the post was abolished. But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is wary of Mousavi, who served as prime minister during Khamenei's presidency in the 1980s. The two were often at odds over economic, social and religious policies. The writer is an analyst at the RAND Corporation. (Japan Times)
  • The Palestinian Cause is Being Hijacked - Michael Young
    The speculation over who killed Kamal Medhat, the no. 2 leader of the PLO in Lebanon who died near Sidon on Monday in a roadside bomb blast, will continue for some time. Fatah retains much support among the Palestinians in Lebanon, and it's not the murder of Kamal Medhat that will reverse this. However, if Fatah's leadership comes under more attack and is unable to distribute money and services in the way it has managed to in the past year, the balance may slowly shift away.
        Next week's Doha Arab summit will determine whether the so-called moderate Arab states have any valid rejoinder to the very plain Syrian and Iranian efforts to hijack the Palestinian cause. It's no secret that Hamas leaders would like to take control of the PLO away from Fatah, just as it's no secret that Syria tried during the Gaza war to persuade other Arab states to distance themselves from the 2002 Arab peace plan. With Hamas these days largely doing Syrian and Iranian bidding, the Syrians are in a position to strengthen their bargaining hand by manipulating Palestinian affairs. (Daily Star-Lebanon)
  • Gaza and Darfur: Some People Matter More than Others - Savo Heleta
    The recent conflict between Israel and Hamas has created fury, especially in the Muslim world, with large demonstrations in a number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa. One has to wonder why the Darfur conflict has never received similar attention. Over the past six years about 200,000 civilians in Darfur have died from fighting, starvation and disease. The UN estimates that more than 2 million Darfurians, out of a population of about 6 million, are living in refugee camps. Yet to this day, not one Arab or Muslim leader has publicly criticized Sudan's actions in Darfur, even though both sides in Darfur are Muslim and Darfurians - both Arabs and Africans - are Sudan's most devout Muslims.
        Ahmed Hussein Adam, spokesman of the Justice and Equality Movement, currently the most powerful Darfur rebel movement, says it is shameful that many seem to "consider the blood of the people of Darfur less important than the blood of the people of Gaza." Abdel Wahid al-Nur, leader of one faction of the Darfur rebel Sudan Liberation Movement, thinks that "if the Arab and Islamic countries mobilized 10% of what they did for Gaza," they could have stopped the suffering of millions in Darfur a long time ago. (Sudan Tribune)
  • What the Koran Says about the Land of Israel - Simon Rocker
    The foundation text of Islam, the Koran, recognizes the special link between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. Cairo-trained British imam Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Al-Husseini says, "You will find very clearly that the traditional commentators from the eighth and ninth century onwards have uniformly interpreted the Koran to say explicitly that Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) has been given by God to the Jewish people as a perpetual covenant. There is no Islamic counterclaim to the land anywhere in the traditional corpus of commentary."
        One classic commentator of the Koran, Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (838-923), describes the verse in the Koran (5:21), "O my people! Enter the Holy Land which God has decreed for you," as "a narrative from God...concerning the saying of his community from among the children of Israel and his order to them according to the order of God to him, ordering them to enter the Holy Land." "No fundamentalist, no matter how hard they try, can overrule the existing tradition to say there is, in fact, an Islamic counterclaim to Eretz Yisrael," Dr. Al-Husseini says. (Jewish Chronicle-UK)
  • Observations:

    UNRWA Has Backed U.S. Foes for Years, Time to Cut Off Funds - Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, John A. Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mike Pence, Thaddeus McCotter (Washington Times)

    • For six decades, the United States has voluntarily contributed billions of dollars to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which was created strictly to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees.
    • In return for our generous investment, UNRWA subverts our laws, aids violent Islamist extremists, propagandizes against our ally Israel and in favor of Hamas, and works with banks targeted by the United States for money laundering and terrorist financing.
    • As our nation faces growing economic challenges, Congress must cut off funding to UNRWA and use our foreign aid to advance, rather than undermine, American interests and values.
    • This spending spree must not continue. The United States must withhold all contributions through and to UNRWA until that agency meets a number of conditions to comply with U.S. law and its humanitarian mandate. We have had enough.

      Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida is the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. John A. Boehner of Ohio is the House Republican leader. Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia is the House Republican whip. Mike Pence of Indiana is chairman of the House Republican Conference. Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan is chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee.

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