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March 30, 2009

In-Depth Issues:

New Israeli Government to Be Sworn In Tuesday - Attila Somfalvi (Ynet News)
    Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu's new government will be sworn in on Tuesday afternoon.
    Israel's 32nd government will include ministers from the Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, Labor, Shas and Habayit Hayehudi parties.

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Hizbullah Uses Mexican Drug Routes into U.S. - Sara A. Carter (Washington Times)
    Hizbullah is using the same southern narcotics routes that Mexican drug kingpins do to smuggle drugs and people into the U.S., reaping money to finance its operations and threatening U.S. national security, counterterrorism officials say.
    A senior U.S. defense official warned that al-Qaeda also could use trafficking routes to infiltrate operatives into the U.S.

Syria to Receive Russian MiG 31E Warplanes - Yaakov Katz (Jerusalem Post)
    Syria will take receipt of advanced MiG 31E fighter jets in the near future, the outgoing head of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency Lt.-Gen. Michael D. Maples told the Senate earlier this month.

Hamas to Change Strategy and Expand Arsenal after Gaza Lessons - Mohammed Najib (Jane's)
    Hamas will adopt new fighting and training techniques and emphasize its anti-armor capabilities following a review of its failures during the three-week conflict in Gaza, a senior Hamas official said.
    Some 50 field commanders will also be removed from their roles for their poor performance, the official said.
    However, conclusions drawn from an internal Hamas investigation show an organization unbowed by its defeat, with plans for new logistical supply lines and a modern satellite communications network.
    The report also stresses a need to rebuild the morale and motivation of the front-line fighters so that they do not show the same "weakness and fear [when confronted] by a real war."

U.S. Judge Orders Iran to Pay $25M for Hamas Killing - Nedra Pickler (AP/Washington Post)
    U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina on Friday ordered Iran to pay $25 million plus interest to the family of Israeli soldier Nachshon Wachsman, a U.S. citizen who was kidnapped and executed by Hamas in 1994.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Israel Disputes Accounts of Gaza Abuses - Ethan Bronner
    Israel is pushing back against accusations of civilian abuse in its Gaza war, asserting that an overwhelming majority of its soldiers acted honorably and that the account of a killing of a woman and her two children appears to be an urban myth spread by troops who did not witness it. Officers are stepping forward, offering numerous accounts of having held their fire out of concern for civilians, helping Palestinians in need and punishing improper soldier behavior.
        Israeli commanders say they confronted armed women in Gaza and Hamas gunmen dressed as women and in other guises, like doctors. "We had a woman run at us with a grenade in one hand and the Koran in the other," said Brig. Gen. Eli Shermeister. (New York Times)
        See also below Commentary: The Blood Libel Is Alive and Well over Gaza - Barry Rubin (Jewish Chronicle-UK)
  • Three Israeli Airstrikes in Sudan Against Iranian Weapons for Hamas - Luis Martinez
    Israel has conducted three military strikes against targets in Sudan since January in an effort to prevent Iranian weapons shipments from reaching Hamas in Gaza, a U.S. official said. Sudanese officials reported two airstrikes in the desert of eastern Sudan and the sinking of a ship in the Red Sea carrying weapons. (ABC News)
        See also Report: U.S. Warned Sudan Ahead of Attack on Gaza Convoy
    The U.S. warned the Sudanese government that weapons were being smuggled into Gaza through its territory ahead of a recent attack on a Gaza-bound arms convoy, the pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported Monday. (Ha'aretz)
  • U.S. Defense Secretary Gates Prefers Sanctions to Diplomacy for Iran
    Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday that Iran was more likely to heed sanctions than diplomacy in U.S. efforts to dismantle its nuclear drive. "I think frankly from my perspective the opportunity for success is probably more in economic sanctions in both places (Iran and North Korea) than it is in diplomacy," he said. "Perhaps if there is enough economic pressure placed on Iran, diplomacy can provide them an open door through which they can walk if they choose to change their policies....And so I think the two go hand in hand, but I think what gets them to the table is economic sanctions." (AFP)
  • Prince Naif Seen Next in Line for Saudi Throne - Abeer Allam
    Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, 84, on Friday appointed his half-brother Prince Naif, 74, as the new second deputy prime minister, signaling that he would be next in line for the throne after the ailing Crown Prince Sultan. Naif has been the kingdom's interior minister for more than 30 years. Crown Prince Sultan, the first deputy prime minister, remains in a New York hospital after surgery. (Financial Times-UK)
  • Syria Tells U.S. It Will Maintain Tight Relations with Iran - O. Winter
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's political and media advisor Buthaina Sha'ban said improved relations with the U.S. would not be at the expense of Syria's relations with Iran, and added, "It is time to stop telling Syria and Iran to sever their relations with Hizbullah, Hamas, and the other resistance organizations," Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London) reported on March 19. Knowledgeable sources in Damascus said Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mu'allem told visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman that Syria is determined to maintain its tight relations with Iran, and that it is the West that had to change its policy towards Syria, the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reported on March 12. (MEMRI)
        See also Ahmadinejad, Assad Believe Balance of Power Turning Against Israel
    The top leaders of Syria and Iran believe that the regional balance of power is tilting in favor of the Muslim nations at Israel's expense. In a telephone conversation, the Iranian and Syrian presidents said Israel and its allies are getting "weaker" and instead the tide is turning in favor of regional Muslim nations, the Iranian Presidential Office said on Friday. According to Mehr News Agency, President Ahmadinejad said, "the enemies of regional peace are losing ground, but the formidable alliance of friendly countries like Iran and Syria is getting more powerful." Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad also insisted that regional developments "are turning in favor of Muslim countries and to the detriment of the Zionist regime and its allies." (KUNA-Kuwait)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • 70 Tons of Explosives Smuggled into Gaza Since IDF Operation - Barak Ravid
    Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) chief Yuval Diskin told the Cabinet on Sunday that since the end of Israel's Gaza operation in January, 45 tons of raw materials for the production of weapons have been smuggled into Gaza, along with 22 tons of standard explosives, as well as dozens of rockets, mortar shells, and anti-aircraft missiles. "Organizations other than Hamas are pursuing plans to kidnap [Israeli] soldiers and to carry out terror attacks from Sinai into Israel as well as in the West Bank," he added. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Drop in Gaza Rocket Attacks - Roni Sofer
    Diskin told the Cabinet: "There is indeed a drop in rockets; only one rocket from a small organization was fired in recent days. There are two reasons for this: Hamas is not interested in an escalation or another confrontation with Israel, and as a result, Hamas is carrying out arrests before attacks....Hamas has also signed an agreement with Islamic Jihad to abstain from such attacks in the near future." (Ynet News)
  • PA Disbands West Bank Youth Orchestra - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Palestinian authorities disbanded a youth orchestra from Jenin in the West Bank after it played for a group of Holocaust survivors in Israel. Local official Adnan Hindi on Sunday called the Holocaust a "political issue" and accused conductor Wafa Younis, an Israeli Arab woman who helped organize the event, of dragging the children into a political dispute. The concert was held last week at the Holocaust Survivors' Center in Holon as part of "Good Deeds Day," an annual event. Ramzi Fayad, a spokesman for various political factions in Jenin, also condemned the participation of the teenagers in the Holocaust event, saying all the groups were strongly opposed to any form of normalization with Israel. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • The Blood Libel Is Alive and Well over Gaza - Barry Rubin
    A group of young Israeli soldiers met to evaluate their experiences in the Gaza war to see what could be learned from them. The next thing you know, there is a global news story about Israel committing war crimes. Given the eagerness to find Israel evil and guilty, it falls into the category of a "blood libel," the historic allegation that Jews murder Christian children to use their blood for matzo.
        The charges of war crimes and murder rest almost entirely on two stories. First, a Palestinian mother and daughter were shot by a sniper. An Israeli television station interviewed the soldier who had told this story and he stated that he had simply heard it as a rumor. In the second story, an officer told soldiers to shoot an old woman in the belief she might be a suicide bomber - and an argument broke out over whether to do it. It is not even clear that the woman was shot. And it highlights the caution and humanitarian standards of the Israeli army: enlisted men argued with an officer over obeying an order that soldiers in most armies would have obeyed without hesitation.
        Much of the media has not learned from earlier experiences of being tricked by deliberately concocted stories about Israeli atrocities, like the Muhammad al-Dura affair in which charges that Israeli forces murdered a little boy in Gaza at the start of the Second Intifada were shown to be false. The fact remains that there is not a single documented case of any Israeli soldier violating international law or committing a war crime in Gaza - or Lebanon in 2006. And it isn't as if a lot of people haven't tried to find or manufacture such an event. (Jewish Chronicle-UK)
  • Building Up Jerusalem's Economy - Robert Weisman
    Jerusalem's new mayor, Nir Barkat, is turning to Harvard Business School for advice on American-style economic development. During a briefing at the business school on Thursday, Barkat said the ideas of Harvard business professor Michael E. Porter on competitive advantage form the backbone of his push to revitalize Jerusalem. "We have a 3,000-year-old brand," Barkat noted. "The whole concept is focusing on areas where we have competitive advantage," Barkat said. Jerusalem is following Porter's playbook by building its economy on three existing areas of strength: culture and tourism, healthcare and life sciences, and outsourced medical and financial services.
        Barkat noted that he favors a united Jerusalem. "I have no doubt in my mind that our model would work much better in a united city," he said. "Both ideologically and practically, you will not see a split city that really works."  (Boston Globe)
        See also Jerusalem Mayor Asks U.S. Aid in Rebuilding - Eli Lake
    Jerusalem's mayor is asking Americans to invest in upgrading his city in a plan he says also will benefit the capital's 270,000 Palestinian Arabs. (Washington Times)
  • Observations:

    Examining the Conduct of IDF Operations in Gaza - Jeffrey White (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

    • Charges against Israel's conduct during the war in Gaza give the impression of an unrestrained campaign against an undefended population. Analysis of the conduct of operations, however, paints a different picture. Ground operations were narrowly focused in the north; central and southern Gaza saw no significant - if any - ground combat. Even where ground forces were employed, fighting was not sustained, as reflected in the very low Israeli combat causalities. No attempt was made to penetrate with ground forces deeply into populated areas.
    • The IDF took active measures to reduce civilian casualties, including the extensive use of leaflets and phone messages warning Palestinians to leave the area or to avoid potential targets. Civilian warnings also included Israeli Air Force "knocking" actions - shots fired to alert building inhabitants of an imminent attack.
    • IDF measures to protect its soldiers undoubtedly translated into damage to civilian property - tactics that included breaking through walls of structures to avoid exposure to fire. These measures were taken in response to Hamas' preparation of the battlefield with mines and explosive devices, as well as to Hamas' employment of snipers and antitank weapons. In effect, Hamas had already prepared the civilian environment for military purposes. The Gaza operation was not conducted with the aim of killing civilians and damaging their property, although Palestinian civilians were killed and property destroyed as a consequence of military operations.
    • The criticism leveled against the IDF raises a broader issue: to what standard should the armed forces of states be held when they are in conflict with nonstate actors operating from within a civilian population. Certainly, these standards should be high, but they cannot be so high as to prevent states from acting in legitimate self-defense.

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