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April 3, 2009

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Obama Meets Saudi King Abdullah (Reuters)
    U.S. President Barack Obama and Saudi King Abdullah discussed cooperation on the global economic crisis and joint efforts against terrorism in their first face-to-face talks on Thursday on the sidelines of a G20 summit, the White House said.
    See also Saudi King Abdullah, Obama Discuss Arab Initiative, Bilateral Ties (Saudi Gazette)
    King Abdullah discussed with U.S. President Obama in London the Arab peace initiative and ways to step up Saudi-U.S. cooperation.

UN Names Jewish Judge to Lead Israel-Gaza Probe (AP)
    The UN says former chief prosecutor for war crimes in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Richard Goldstone, a Jewish judge from South Africa, will lead a mission to investigate alleged war crimes committed by Israel in Gaza.
    The probe was ordered by the Human Rights Council in January and will focus only on Palestinian victims. Israel has refused cooperation with previous council probes, calling them biased.
    See also UN Probe Head Called for Gaza War Crimes Investigation (Reuters)
    On March 16, sixteen judges and investigators called for a prompt investigation into allegations of war crimes committed in Gaza earlier this year.
    In their letter, distributed by rights group Amnesty International, Richard Goldstone and others said they were "shocked to the core" by the events in Gaza and said an independent investigation was needed to adhere to the laws enshrined in the Geneva Conventions on conflict.

Iran, Syria Got Indirect U.S. Nuclear Aid - Siobhan Gorman (Wall Street Journal)
    Four countries designated by the U.S. as terrorism sponsors, including Iran and Syria, received $55 million from a U.S.-supported program promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy, according to a report by Congress' Government Accountability Office released Tuesday.
    Iran received more than $15 million from 1997 to 2007 under the International Atomic Energy Agency's Technical Cooperation program. An additional $14 million went to Syria, while Sudan and Cuba received more than $11 million each.

Palestinians Firing Chinese-Made Rockets - Yaakov Lappin (Jerusalem Post)
    A growing number of Chinese-made rockets are being smuggled into Gaza and fired at Israel.
    Supt. Kobi Preger, deputy head of the Israel Police's national bomb disposal laboratory, identified three types of Chinese-made rockets at a press conference Tuesday: "The 107 millimeter rocket, often called a 'Grad,' and two types of 122mm rockets."
    One version of the 122mm rocket had a range of 40 km. and had been used by Hamas to target areas such as Yavne, north of Ashdod.
    "The rockets are going farther and getting more powerful," he warned.

Israeli Tourist Bookings Hit by Turkish Prime Minister's Criticism (Hurriyet-Turkey)
    Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's harsh words about Israel have hit Israeli tourism arrivals hard.
    The tourism sector has seen cancellations by nearly 10,000 Israeli tourists, as well as 40 flights from Israel to Turkey for the Passover holiday.
    "We brought 5,734 Israeli tourists to Turkey in the same period last year," said tour operator Yuksel Aslan, "But there are only 15 bookings from Israel for April right now."
    "This year we expect a 70% decline in our income from Israeli tourists," said Ulkay Atmaca, managing director of the Majesty Club Belizia Hotel. "While the world is struggling with the global crisis, we have created our own crisis."

Unmanned Bulldozers to Play Greater Role in IDF - Yaakov Katz (Jerusalem Post)
    The IDF Ground Forces Command plans to double the number of unmanned D9 armored bulldozers in the Engineering Corps after the vehicle provided exceptional results clearing roads of mines and explosive devices during the Gaza operation in January.
    The unmanned bulldozer was developed several years ago and was only recently declassified.
    The D9 is equipped with cameras that transmit images to the operator, who controls the vehicle with a wireless remote control.
    In the event of a communications malfunction the vehicle can be manned and operated like a regular D9.

Israeli "Bionic Nose" Could Detect Cancer, Bombs and Impure Water (Science Daily)
    Using molecular techniques in nanotechnology, Prof. Doron Shabat of Tel Aviv University has developed a device to detect microscopic signs of cancer, bombs and impure water that appear in trace amounts too small for conventional detection techniques.
    The invention, like a bionic nose, can "sniff out" these trace molecules and amplify them tenfold, making them noticeable.
    The prototype is ready, and Shabat plans to use it to "amplify" problems around the world to improve healthcare, safety, and security.

Google Service Developed in Israel Launched - Itai Smuskowitz (Ynet News)
    The international Google Suggest service, which was developed by a Google Israel team, was launched in local versions on Wednesday.
    The service works by completing words a user types in the search box and offers suggestions in real time.
    The team that led the development of the product is headed by Miki Herkovitz, and Dr. Yoel Mark, who heads Google Israel's research and development center in Haifa.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Clock Ticks for Iran Despite Obama's Offer of Talks - Louis Charbonneau
    The U.S. will push for new UN sanctions against Iran later this year if President Obama's effort to improve relations fails to stop Tehran from pursuing its nuclear program. But plans for a fourth round of international sanctions will remain on hold at least until after Iran's presidential elections in June, diplomats said. (Reuters)
        See also The U.S.-Iran Meeting that Wasn't - Golnaz Esfandiari and Mehrdad Mirdamadi
    Diplomats from the U.S. and Iran sat at the same table during a conference on Afghanistan in The Hague on March 31. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that a meeting took place between (U.S. special representative) Richard Holbrooke and the head of Iran's delegation, Mohammad Mehdi Akhundzadeh. Yet a day after the conference, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qhasghavi said: "There was no official or unofficial meeting or conversation between the representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran and America on the sidelines of the conference." In any case, reports of a "meeting" would contradict Iran's position that they expect concrete steps from Washington - such as lifting sanctions or recovering frozen assets - before Tehran will talk to U.S. officials. (RadioFreeEurope-RadioLiberty)
  • U.S. to Push for Palestinian Statehood - Sue Pleming
    State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Thursday, "We're going to be working hard to see what we can do to move the (peace) process forward. But we're under no illusions. It's not going to be easy....We're going to pursue that two-state solution, because we believe it's in the best interests of all the parties in the region."  (Reuters)
  • Spanish Prosecutors Seek to Shelve Israel Case
    Public prosecutors requested Thursday that a Spanish court shelve a complaint against seven top Israeli military figures over a deadly bombing of [a Hamas terrorist commander in] Gaza in 2002, a lawsuit which angered Israel. Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said, "there is nothing surprising about the news, as the complaint was groundless and stemmed only from the political aims (of the complainants) and baseless rumors." Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak rejected the complaint as "delirious" and said he would do "everything possible to get the investigation dismissed." Israel's protests embarrassed the Spanish government, which wants to play an active diplomatic role in the Middle East. (AFP)
  • Sweden Punished for Israel Davis Cup Lockout
    The Swedish city of Malmo was banned from hosting Davis Cup matches for five years on Thursday after its decision to stage Sweden's World Group clash with Israel behind closed doors. The Swedes will now be forced to guarantee to the International Tennis Federation that every Davis Cup series in the country will be open to fans. (Telegraph-UK)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Arms Pouring into Gaza - Guy Bechor
    Immense quantities of missiles are still pouring into Gaza. Under the guise of a temporary calm, a major military buildup is being undertaken there ahead of the next round of fighting. Meanwhile, Israeli communities are still being bombarded. Iran, the Palestinians, and other elements are very determined to transfer the arms to Gaza and threaten Israel's population centers. The implication of the bombing in Sudan is that our security coordination with Egypt is slim. If the convoy in Sudan was meant to reach Egypt, why would the Egyptians have any problems seizing it, just like the Cypriots seized the arms ship that entered their territory? Apparently, we indeed have no way of counting on the Egyptians on this front. (Ynet News)
  • Palestinian Factions Suspend Unity Talks Without Agreement - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Hamas and Fatah negotiators have failed to reach agreement over the formation of a Palestinian unity government, sources close to the two parties said Thursday. Sources said the two sides agreed to meet again next month. A Fatah official in Ramallah told the Jerusalem Post that the Egyptians asked both sides to leave Cairo immediately. "It's a total failure," he said. "We are just wasting our time because Hamas is not going to change." A Hamas official in Gaza said both Hamas and Fatah negotiators had been under immense pressure from their Egyptian hosts to conclude a deal. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Hamas Policemen in Gaza Doubled as Terrorists
    Hamas and human rights organizations often include policemen and other internal security servicemen killed during the Gaza operation in the civilian death toll, though the claim has no factual basis. An in-depth examination of Hamas-associated media shows that many casualties portrayed as policemen were at the same time operatives of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military wing. The Hamas police published a list of 232 internal security servicemen killed in the operation. There was no clear distinction between internal security servicemen and Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades operatives. (Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center)
  • Study Cites Dramatic Rise in Anti-Semitic Attacks in Europe - Assaf Uni
    The number of anti-Semitic incidences in Europe in the first three months of this year exceeds the total number of such occurrences during all of 2008, according to a report issued by the European Jewish Congress. The report cites the reaction to January's IDF operation in Gaza as one of the key triggers of anti-Semitic attacks against Jewish communities in Europe. "Public opinion links Israel with the local Jewish community, which turns us into enemies," said Rony Smolar, the head of the Jewish community in Finland. (Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):


  • Sudan Convoy Just as Far from Israel as Iran Nuclear Plant - Richard Beeston
    It is a widely held conclusion among nuclear experts that Iran now possesses enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb. It would still have to be enriched to weapons grade, but Iran has mastered the technology and has the raw materials. Building a nuclear bomb is now only a matter of time. Iranian President Ahmadinejad has threatened to wipe Israel off the map, has hosted a Holocaust-denying conference, and has stepped up arming and funding Hizbullah and Hamas, the two militant groups responsible for rocket attacks against Israel.
        Israel carried out a raid in January on a weapons convoy in Sudan. The aircraft, which were refueled in mid-air, flew 1,750 miles from Israel to Sudan and back. The distance from Israel to Natanz, the uranium enrichment center in Iran, is 900 miles one way. Many Arab states, particularly in the Gulf, are more afraid of a nuclear-armed Iran than Israel is. A military strike that delayed that threat would be welcomed in some Arab capitals. The Israelis know that they would face a huge international outcry. But that happened after the raid on Iraq and many countries later thanked them privately. (Times-UK)
  • The Iran-Sudan Connection
    Iran's then president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, visited Khartoum in 1991, along with no fewer than 157 officials. During the visit, Iran agreed to help train Sudan's version of the Revolutionary Guards, the Popular Defense Forces. To this end Hassan Azda, an Iranian who had been training Hizbullah fighters in Lebanon, was posted to Sudan in 1992.
        Iran also helped set up Sudan's fledgling arms industry, now the third-largest in Africa. The missiles that Israel is said to have destroyed in the January raid were probably shipped into Port Sudan via Yemen from Iran. But it is also possible that some of the arms were manufactured in Sudan's own military-industrial complex south of Khartoum. The Iranian defense minister spent four days in Khartoum last year, where he signed another co-operation agreement in the fields of military technology and the exchange of expertise and training. (Economist-UK)
  • Israeli Unity Government Anchored to Iranian Nuclear Emergency - Meyrav Wurmser
    Israel's formation of a national unity government, a common strategy by parliamentary governments in times of war or national emergencies, is a move to gird the Jewish state for an impending crisis involving Iran's nuclear program. Labor Party leader Ehud Barak has decided that Iran's nuclear ambitions confront Israel with a historic crisis so grave that even the peace process is of secondary importance. Netanyahu and Barak, two seasoned former prime ministers, are convinced Israel faces decisions of life or death. The writer is director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute. (Washington Times)
  • Arab Summit, Iranian Agenda - Jonathan Spyer
    The Arab League summit in Doha, Qatar, this week reflected a growing Iranian encroachment on the politics of the Arabic-speaking world, and the divided Arab response to this. The Palestinian cause - the great self-proclaimed moral flagship of Arab politics - is currently the subject of a hostile takeover bid by Iran and its clients. The Iranian-armed and sponsored Hamas enclave in Gaza has successfully suppressed its internal rivals and defended its existence against Israel. There are now in effect two Palestinian national movements. One of them is ideologically strong and hungry, favors Israel's destruction, and is supported by Iran. The other is old and tired, propped up by vast amounts of Western funding. The former is in the process of trying to devour the latter, and may succeed.
        One might conclude that Iran is developing into a vast, looming power, about to overshadow the region. But Iran's advances are testimony not to the great strength and vitality of the Tehran regime, but rather to the weakness of Arab states and political cultures. Iran dreams of a bloc of Muslim states led by a nuclear Iran, challenging Israel's existence and American power. But Iran will always suffer from a "legitimacy gap" in the Arab world. It will always be perceived as a foreign, frightening power by many non-Shi'ite Arabs. The writer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Arab Summit in Qatar - a Demonstration of Weakness - Zvi Mazel (Jerusalem Post)

    Other Issues

  • For Hizbullah Leader Mughniyah, the Cause of Annihilating Israel Took Precedence
    On the first anniversary of the assassination of Hizbullah operations officer 'Imad Mughniyah, the editor of the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, Ibrahim Al-Amin, who is close to Hizbullah, published a comprehensive editorial on Mughniyah's role: After the 2006 Lebanon War, Mughniyah "formulated new plans for the resistance, based on the outcome of the [2006] confrontation and on [his expectations regarding the next] confrontation, which could occur any day. But his operational activities were grounded in the belief, shared by other Hizbullah commanders, that the annihilation of Israel was no longer just a dream that would take decades to realize. [They saw that] it was deal the enemy blows that would neutralize its ability to defend its entity, and to target the [Israeli] home front in a way that would undermine its unity and its strength - all in order to accomplish...the mission of rescuing Palestine and annihilating Israel."
        "Palestine always remained a watchword for [Mughniyah] and for his comrades in the Palestinian resistance, who shared his cause. Neither side ever found it difficult to cooperate in order to achieve the common goal, which serves the larger purpose of creating conditions that will bring about the actual annihilation of Israel....The cause of restoring Palestine to its people and annihilating Israel took precedence over everything else." (MEMRI)
  • Prince Nayef Bids for Saudi Throne - Simon Henderson
    On March 27, the official Saudi Press Agency announced that Interior Minister Prince Nayef had been appointed second deputy prime minister. If Nayef eventually becomes king, Saudi Arabia's hesitant steps toward reform will likely stop, and Washington's relations with Riyadh would most likely be rockier than those with the current King Abdullah. Prince Nayef, who controls the kingdom's huge internal security apparatus, most famously suggested that Israel's intelligence service was behind the September 11 attacks on the U.S. in which fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were Saudis. Just last week, a month after King Abdullah announced a series of reforms including the appointment of the first female deputy minister, Nayef publicly stated that he saw no need for either elections or women members of parliament. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Democracy in Egypt Appears to Wane - Paul Schemm
    Four years ago, the U.S. talked about laboratories for democracy in the Middle East. But now Egypt seems to be going backward with President Hosni Mubarak's government solidifying its hold on the levers of power. Still, Egypt is hoping for improved ties with the U.S. under President Obama after the Bush administration called for reform by Mubarak and after years of strains over its human rights record. The Obama administration has already hinted it won't hinge its relationship with Egypt on human rights demands. (AP/Washington Post)
        See also The Obama Administration and Implications for Freedom and Democracy in the Middle East - Scott Carpenter
    The U.S. government can use Arab governments' insecurity regarding Iran as leverage to encourage real reform. This is particularly true for Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia - now engaged in the ideological fight of their lives with Iran and its reactionary allies. Only by establishing a new bargain with these regimes that stresses the need for them to respect internal civil and political rights, while forging a joint response to the reactionary threat, can the U.S. offer a true alternative to theocratic and minority rule. The writer, a fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs from 2004 to 2007. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Why Spain Leads Europe in Anti-Jewish Views - Yoav Sivan
    Spanish leaders learn of Middle East affairs through El Pais, the country's flagship newspaper. El Pais consistently refers to Tel Aviv [and not Jerusalem] as the capital of Israel. It is regularly filled with references comparing Israel to the Nazis. A cartoon published during the recent Gaza campaign depicted a figure saying, "Palestine belongs to the Palestinians, not the Israelis. The Hebrew myths are false, and abuse of the weak is disgusting." To whom a Jewish man with a hooked nose responds, "We are the people chosen by the God we ourselves invented."
        Even in minor stories unrelated to the conflict, El Pais displays unapologetic hatred for Israel. An illustration of the ostensibly oppressive encroachment by religious authorities on individual rights was the fact that Israeli hospitals separate cutlery for dairy and meat because of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws). A survey last spring by Washington's Pew Global Attitude Project found that 46% of Spaniards view Jews unfavorably - the highest proportion in Europe - due to the shallow conception of Israel perpetuated and aggravated by Spain's leading newspaper, and the general use in Spanish media of anti-Semitic images. (Ha'aretz)
  • Apartheid in Israel? - Reda Mansour
    A few years ago I began an initiative at the Israeli Foreign Ministry aimed at opening a dialogue with Muslim communities in the West. When the first delegations of European and American Muslims started to arrive, they were amazed at the coexistence between Arabs and Jews in Israel. In Haifa, the Muslim delegations visited a major university with an Arab Muslim vice president and many Arab students. They went to markets and offices and observed Arabs and Jews peacefully going about their daily lives. They met some of the more than 100 Islamic family court judges and talked with the imams who provide religious services; both groups are paid by the Israeli government. In a regular Israeli parliament session, there are an average of 15 Arab members. The facts on the ground show nothing even remotely close to a racist system.
        Before the first Palestinian uprising in 1987 more than 120,000 Palestinians worked in Israel. In every Palestinian household there was at least one person who worked in Israel. The workers entered the country freely and their standard of living was among the highest in the Middle East. Israel, like any other country, is not perfect. But apartheid? You must be joking. Palestinians need to understand that violent action will never yield the results they want and that serving as a useful distraction for the regime in Tehran will never bring prosperity. The writer, an Israeli Druze, is consul general of Israel to the southeastern U.S. (JTA)

    Weekend Features

  • Israeli Soldiers Speak Out
    The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) has over 700,000 citizen soldiers and reservists who are expected to live up to the IDF's ethical standards. In any army, some soldiers violate the rules of combat. In the IDF, all alleged violations are investigated, and offenders are punished. Yet today, there is an attempt to defame the IDF through allegations that there were instances of misconduct during Israel's Gaza operation. The accusations are based on unverified hearsay, and are proving to be false. Many IDF soldiers feel a deep sense of injustice at how some are misrepresenting them and the IDF. We want to tell you, the public, about their personal experiences. Listen to their stories on this site. (Stand with Us)
  • Spectacular Mosaic Floor Restored in 1,500-Year-Old Synagogue in Israel
    A 1,500-year-old mosaic, found in a synagogue from the Byzantine period (fifth and sixth centuries CE) at Ma'on-Nirim, near Kibbutz Nir Oz in the western Negev, is now open to the general public. The mosaic floor and the remains of the synagogue were discovered during road paving work in 1957. In 2006, the mosaic was transferred for treatment to the Conservation Laboratories in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem, and has now been returned to its original location.
        The decoration on the mosaic floor consists of a vine tendril that stems from an amphora (vase) to form a trellis of medallions that are adorned with scenes of everyday life from the vineyard and from wine production and with different animals. The images portrayed include a seven-branched candelabrum that stands on three legs shaped like lion's feet, and near them etrogim, a shofar and a lulav, and alongside the candelabrum - palm trees and lions, which are symbols of Judah. An Aramaic inscription is incorporated in the mosaic blessing all of the community, followed by a dedication to three individuals who donated generous contributions. The Ma'on synagogue is one of three synagogues in the western Negev and its floor is identical to the one in the synagogue in Gaza. (Israel Antiquities Authority)
  • Observations:

    Who Killed Annapolis? - Editorial (Jerusalem Post)

    • As Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated, Annapolis is dead - and everyone knows it. Annapolis has become just another footnote in the 100-year history of Palestinian rejectionism. It died when Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qurei rejected Ehud Olmert's and Tzipi Livni's offer last year of virtually the entire West Bank (the Palestinians already have Gaza), plus tracts of the Negev to make up for strategic settlement blocs retained beyond the "green line." Had the Palestinians taken this astonishingly magnanimous deal, "Palestine" would have become the 22nd Muslim Arab state in the Middle East.
    • Lieberman pledged a total commitment to what is officially known as a "Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israel-Palestinian Conflict."
    • The Annapolis process was a stab at leapfrogging over the Roadmap because the Palestinians could not - or would not - fulfill their obligation to end the violence. And the international community preferred the illusion of momentum Annapolis provided. The alternative would have been to concede that even "moderate" Palestinians are not prepared to follow through on the hard work necessary to achieve a two-state solution.
    • The Roadmap stipulates: "A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only be achieved through an end to violence and terrorism, when the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror and are willing and able to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty, and through Israel's readiness to do what is necessary for a democratic Palestinian state to be established." What could be clearer?
    • Israel buried another victim of Palestinian terror, 16-year-old Shlomo Nativ, who was hacked to death on Thursday in Bat Ayin, southwest of Jerusalem. It is this kind of Palestinian brutality - combined with diplomatic obduracy - that keeps the Roadmap grounded.

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