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May 11, 2009

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In-Depth Issues:

Did U.S. Help Lebanon Crack Alleged Israeli Spy Rings? - Yoav Stern (Ha'aretz)
    Lebanon arrested five people over the weekend suspected of belonging to an intelligence cell transmitting information about Hizbullah to Israel, the most recent arrests in a two-month crackdown apparently aided by American training and equipment.
    Lebanese security sources attribute the recent arrests to better-trained personnel and access to more sophisticated equipment.
    The U.S. has provided $1 billion in aid since 2006, including $410 million in security assistance to the Lebanese military and police.
    Israel has expressed reservations about American aid to the Lebanese army and security services, saying that any aid is liable to serve Hizbullah's interests.

    See also New Lebanese Security Unit Cooperating with Hizbullah - Andrew Wander (Daily Star-Lebanon)
    More than 17 suspected spies have been arrested since January, prompting the leader of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) Ashraf Rifi to declare their capture "the strongest security strike against the Israeli Mossad."
    Increased intelligence sharing between Hizbullah and a new, specialized ISF counter-espionage unit - for the first time openly admitted by Lebanese security officials - has given authorities an advantage in the fight against Israeli espionage operations in the country, experts said.
    See also Israel's "Sleeper Cells" Were Building Hizbullah Database (AFP/Daily Star-Lebanon)

Hamas Leader Rejects Two-State Solution (UPI)
    Hamas leader Khaled Meshal, who lives in Syria, called a two-state solution unacceptable because Hamas cannot envision living with Israel in peace, the Kuwait news agency KUNA reported Saturday.

U.S. Confident Israel Is Not Rushing to Attack Tehran - Mohammed Almezel (Gulf News-UAE)
    Israeli talk of a unilateral attack on Iranian nuclear facilities is just "rhetoric responding to similar rhetoric coming out of Iran," a Gulf official quoted Dennis Ross, President Obama's special advisor on the Gulf and South West Asia, as saying when he toured the region last month.
    "According to Ross, Israel will not move unless they are convinced Iran poses a clear and present danger to its national security and will not do that without seeking U.S. approval," the Gulf official said.
    He said all parties believe there will be no real movement before the Iranian presidential elections, set for June 12.

    See also If Israel Attacks Iran, 49% Say U.S. Should Help (Rasmussen Reports)
    49% of Americans say that if Israel launches an attack against Iran, the U.S. should help Israel.
    The Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 37% believe the U.S. should do nothing, while just 2% believe the U.S. should help Iran.
    Last summer, just 42% said the U.S. should help Israel, while 46% said the nation should do nothing.
    66% now say that preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons is more important than preventing war between Iran and Israel, up from 52% last July.

Palestinian Rocket Fire Continues - Yanir Yagana (Ha'aretz)
    Palestinians in Gaza fired a Kassam rocket at Israel on Sunday evening.

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  • Terrorist Traffic Via Syria Returns - Karen DeYoung
    After a long hiatus, the Syrian pipeline of suicide bombers headed for Iraq and operated by al-Qaeda is back in business. The revival of a transit route that officials had declared all but closed comes as the Obama administration is exploring a new diplomatic dialogue with Syria. Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, told Congress late last month that the al-Qaeda in Iraq pipeline through Syria had been "reactivated." While the flow of foreign fighters through Syria reached a high of 80 to 100 a month in mid-2007, most of them would-be suicide "martyrs," in December the traffic reached an all-time low, into the single digits. More recently, the estimate has risen to 20 a month. (Washington Post)
  • U.S. Renews Syria Sanctions Despite Outreach to Damascus - David Gollust
    The Obama administration has renewed economic sanctions against Syria despite its efforts at diplomatic outreach with the Damascus government. State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood said Friday, "I think this shows you we still have some very serious concerns about Syrian behavior and activity in the world....We've said to you before our concerns about what Syria is doing in Iraq, its support for terrorist groups." Syria has long been listed by the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism for supporting Hizbullah militants in Lebanon and playing host to senior officials of Hamas. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and White House National Security Council Middle East Adviser Daniel Shapiro visited the Syrian capital last week. (VOA News)
        See also Biological Weapons Facility Replaces Syrian Nuclear Reactor - Orly Azulai
    Syria has rebuilt the structure that housed the nuclear reactor that Israel destroyed and turned the place into a facility for the production of chemical and biological weapons, CBS News reported Sunday, quoting U.S. intelligence sources. The two American envoys who visited Syria last week were aware of the report and presented satellite photos to the Syrians, who denied it.
        As a result, Obama decided that Syria had done nothing to justify the removal of sanctions. The revelation of Syria's plan to develop biological and chemical weapons joins a series of disagreements that has brought the Syrians and Americans to a stalemate at this point. The chief disagreement involves Israeli-Syrian negotiations: The Syrians insist that Israel must first agree to the return of the Golan Heights prior to the start of negotiations. (Yediot Ahronot-Hebrew, 11May09)
        See also Why Obama Renewed Sanctions on Syria - Zvi Yehezkeli
    U.S. intelligence determined that the main source of funding and training of suicide bombers in Iraq is in Syria. There is evidence that Syrian intelligence is directly involved in preparing the attacks. (Israel TV Channel 10/Nana-Hebrew)
  • Netanyahu Meeting with Obama Decides Mideast's Future, Says Jordan's King Abdullah - Michael Binyon and Richard Beeston
    President Obama's meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu next week has become the acid test for the U.S. administration's commitment to peace in the Middle East, King Abdullah of Jordan said Sunday. The king traveled to Damascus Monday to urge President Assad to join the Arab efforts to seek a settlement with Israel, based on the Arab peace plan adopted in 2002.
        Brokered by the Americans, this would be the most comprehensive deal attempted since the opening of the Madrid conference in 1991. It would offer Israel immediate benefits, such as entry visas to every Arab country, the right of El Al, Israel's national airline, to overfly Arab territory, and the eventual recognition of Israel by all 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. In return, the Israelis would have to put an immediate stop to the building and expansion of settlements and agree to withdraw from territories occupied since 1967. The two most sensitive issues - the future status of Jerusalem and the right of return by Palestinians who fled in 1948 - would be negotiated within the framework of the peace plan. (Times-UK)
        See also Arab Peace Offer Is Not Negotiable
    The Arab League and Syria have shot down a U.S. suggestion that the Arab peace initiative be changed to make it more palatable to Israel. Several Arab diplomats said this week that the Americans are asking Arab states to drop demands for a right of return for Palestinian refugees and agree to either resettle them in the host countries or in the Palestinian territories. Arab foreign ministers meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo last week rejected the request, said Jordan's foreign minister. "The ministers renewed their commitment to the initiative as it is without change," Nasser Judeh said. (Arab News-Saudi Arabia)
  • U.S. Security Advisor: We Will Work Hard Towards a Two-State Solution - George Stephanopoulos
    U.S. National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday: "We understand Israel's preoccupation with Iran as an existential threat. We agree with that. And by the same token, there are a lot of things that you can do to diminish that existential threat by working hard towards achieving a two-state solution." (ABC News)
        See also McCain: U.S. Shouldn't Dictate Israeli-Palestinian Policy - William McQuillen
    The U.S. shouldn't dictate to Israel how to proceed with a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, instead allowing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's administration flexibility to proceed in its own, Senator John McCain said Sunday. "I'm not sure the timing is right, right now, with a new government in Israel, for us to dictate to them their policy," McCain told ABC's "This Week."  (Bloomberg)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Pope Benedict XVI Arrives in Israel - Eli Senyor
    Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Israel from Jordan on Monday as part of his first papal visit to the Middle East and a self-proclaimed "pilgrimage of peace." "I take my place in a long line of Christian pilgrims to these shores," he said at the airport. "I come, like so many others before me, to pray at the holy places, to pray especially for peace - peace here in the Holy Land, and peace throughout the world." "Anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head in many parts of the world. This is totally unacceptable. Every effort must be made to combat anti-Semitism wherever it is found," he added. (Ynet News)
  • Prime Minister Vows to Improve Palestinian Economy - Zvi Lavi
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he is committed to improving the economic status of Palestinian Authority residents and that all bureaucratic obstacles to this end should be removed if they were not linked to security issues. "There is a lot of bureaucracy in our relationship with the Palestinians, as amongst ourselves, and we have to work to decrease it," he said. (Ynet News)
        See also Israel Removes More Roadblocks in Ramallah Area
    The removal of two roadblocks in the Ramallah area on Sunday allows free movement of vehicles between the city of Ramallah and the villages to its west and east. Over 140 checkpoints have been removed throughout Judea and Samaria in the last year. (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • The Vatican, the Jews, and the Palestinians - Shlomo Avineri
    The Second Vatican Council in the 1960s not only absolved the Jewish people of collective guilt for crucifying Jesus, but recognized the continuing covenant between God and the Jews, paving the way for recognizing the legitimacy of their existence. This transformation, in turn, enabled the Vatican's recognition of the State of Israel.
        Yet even today, when the idea is raised of matching Israeli recognition of a Palestinian nation state with Palestinian recognition of Israel as the home of the Jewish people, the moderates in the Palestinian Authority respond with unqualified refusal. This is deeply rooted in Palestinians' unwillingness to recognize that in 1948 they made an enormous, tragic mistake in their refusal to accept the UN partition plan and the decision to respond to it with force. Even today they are unable to accept the principle of partition. The Palestinians are willing to talk about two states, but not for two nations, since that would imply recognition of the Jews as a people. (Ha'aretz)
  • Obama, Netanyahu, and Iran - Elliott Abrams
    Israelis see an Iranian bomb as an existential threat. They cannot be sure an Iranian leader waiting excitedly for the Mahdi's return will be using game theory and mathematical calculations to decide whether it's sensible to strike the Jewish state. Even former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, whom European diplomats view as a wonderful moderate, called Israel "a one-bomb country."
        U.S. Middle East Envoy George Mitchell seems impressed by the Arab preoccupation with Iran rather than with the Palestinians. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seems to get it too. With the Palestinians split between Fatah and Hamas, the old "peace process" is increasingly irrelevant to real world crises. There is a critical struggle under way right now in the Middle East, but it is not between Israelis and Palestinians; it is the people aligned with us - including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the PA, Israel and the UAE - against Iran, Qatar, Syria, Hizbullah and the Palestinian rejectionist groups. The writer, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, was the deputy national security adviser overseeing Near East and North African affairs from 2005 to January 2009. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Observations:

    Israel Still Looks Good, Warts and All - Greg Sheridan (The Australian)

    • The Israel I know, which I have visited for weeks at a time, which I experience through its literature and media and the Israeli citizens I have met, bears no relation to the Israel I see in most of the Western media. That Israel of the Western mind (and indeed of the Arab mind) is a hateful place: right-wing, militaristic, authoritarian, racist, ultra-religious, neo-colonial, narrow-minded, undemocratic, indifferent to world opinion, indifferent especially to Palestinian suffering.
    • Yet the Israel I know is mostly secular, raucously, almost wildly democratic, has a vibrant left wing, having founded in the kibbutz movement one of the only successful experiments in socialism in human history. It is multi-ethnic, there is a great stress on human solidarity, there is due process. And I've never heard an Israeli speak casually about the value of Palestinian life.
    • The Israel I know is a Western democracy, often under siege. I see a society striving for the good, certainly not beyond criticism, but overall behaving as well as any comparably sized Western society would or could in all the circumstances.
    • Nobody declares Saudi Arabia an illegitimate state because it has no democracy or human rights, and its doctrinaire Wahhabi Sunni establishment rules over a marginalized Shia minority. Nobody declares Turkey an illegitimate state because it has a disgruntled Kurdish minority, some of whom certainly aspire to statehood. Even North Korea, the most extreme Stalinist gulag on earth, is constantly reassured that the West accepts not only the legitimacy of its state, but does not even seek regime change. Only the legitimacy of Israel is routinely questioned: a special standard for the Jewish state.
    • Since 1977 Israel has given up territory equivalent to three times its size in exchange for peace with various neighbors. This was land acquired in defensive wars that made a contribution to Israeli security. Israel may be guilty of many things but a refusal to compromise is not one of them.

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