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May 25, 2009

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U.S. Military Chief: Iran within One to Three Years of Nuke - Alan Elsner (Reuters)
    Iran could be within one to three years from developing a nuclear weapon and time is running out for diplomacy to defuse the problem, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday.
    "They are moving closer, clearly, and they continue to do that," Mullen said on ABC's "This Week."
    "That leaves a pretty narrow space in which to achieve a successful dialogue and a successful outcome, which from my perspective means they don't end up with nuclear weapons," he said.
    See also U.S. Updates Military Plans for Iran (DPA)
    The Pentagon has updated its plans for using military force against Iran at the request of President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday.
    The U.S. has not ruled out the possibility of a military strike if diplomacy fails to resolve the international dispute over Iran's nuclear activities, Gates said.
    "Presidents always ask their military to have a range of contingency plans available to them," Gates told NBC television. "And all I would say is that, as a result of our dialogue with the president, we've refreshed our plans and all options are on the table."

Israel Lifts Objection to Anti-Israel Egyptian Minister as Head of UNESCO - Barak Ravid (Ha'aretz)
    At a May 11 meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Israel promised to cease its campaign against Hosni's appointment.
    A senior source in the Prime Minister's Office said the decision was made following a personal request by Egypt's president. "We would not have done this unless Israel's interests benefited," the source said.
    See also Jewish Intellectuals Oppose Egyptian UNESCO Nominee (JTA)
    Bernard-Henri Levi, the French philosopher, joined Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace laureate, and Claude Lanzmann, director of the Holocaust documentary "Shoah," in an open letter urging nations to keep Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni from leading UNESCO.
    See also UNESCO: The Shame of a Disaster Foretold - Bernard-Henri Levi (Huffington Post)
    Who declared in April 2001: "Israel has never contributed to civilization in any era" - and added two months later: "the Israeli culture is an inhumane culture; it is an aggressive, racist, pretentious culture"?
    Who explained in 1997, and has repeated it since in every way possible, that he was the "archenemy" of all attempts to normalize his country's relations with Israel?
    Farouk Hosni, the Egyptian Minister of Culture, is the opposite of a man of peace, dialogue, and culture; he is a dangerous man, an inciter of hearts and minds.
    We invite all countries dedicated to liberty and culture to take the initiatives necessary to avoid the disaster that would be his nomination.

Russia to Build Nuclear Power Plants in Jordan (Ynet News)
    Russia and Jordan on Friday signed a 10-year nuclear cooperation agreement to build four power plants in Jordan, the Russian news agency Novosti reported.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Settlement Issue Is Complicated by Bush Agreement - Glenn Kessler and Howard Schneider
    The Obama administration is pressing the Israeli government to halt the expansion of Jewish settlements, seeking a visible symbol that might inspire Arab states to consider normalizing relations with Jerusalem. But the administration's effort has been complicated by an unwritten agreement on the issue between Israel and the U.S. reached during the Bush administration. While in Washington, Prime Minister Netanyahu argued that Israel already dismantled settlements in the Gaza Strip, going beyond the Roadmap, and was rewarded with the takeover of Gaza by Hamas and hundreds of rockets raining on Israeli towns, Israeli sources said. Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said there are no plans for a full settlement freeze. "The issue of settlements is a final status issue, and until there are final status arrangements, it would not be fair to kill normal life inside existing communities," he said.
        Regev said the Israeli government is relying on "understandings" between former president George W. Bush and former prime minister Ariel Sharon that some of the larger settlements in the West Bank would ultimately become part of Israel, codified in a letter that Bush gave to Sharon in 2004. In an interview with the Washington Post last year, Sharon aide Dov Weissglas said that in 2005 the Bush administration arrived at a secret agreement that Israel could add homes in settlements it expected to keep, as long as the construction was dictated by market demand, not subsidies. Elliott Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser who negotiated the arrangement with Weissglas, confirmed the deal in an interview last week. (Washington Post)
  • New Evidence Points to Hizbullah in Hariri Murder - Erich Follath
    The UN special tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri now believes Hizbullah was behind the murder. At the time of the 2005 attack, it was known that Hariri had had a falling out with Syrian President Bashar Assad after demanding the withdrawal of Syrian occupation forces from Lebanon. As a result, the prime suspects in the murder were Syria and its Lebanese henchmen.
        However, intensive investigations in Lebanon are all pointing to a new conclusion: that it was not the Syrians but Hizbullah that planned and executed the attack. A special unit of the Lebanese security forces, headed by intelligence expert Captain Wissam Eid, has identified a network of mobile phones used by the hit team that carried out the attack, together with a second network of phones that were in proximity to the first network noticeably often. All of the numbers involved in the second network belong to the "operational arm" of Hizbullah.
        Hizbullah member Abd al-Majid Ghamlush, who had completed a training course in Iran, was identified as the buyer of the mobile phones. He committed the indiscretion of calling his girlfriend from one of the "hot" phones, enabling investigators to identify him. This led investigators to the man they now suspect was the mastermind of the terrorist attack: Hajj Salim, 45, considered to be the commander of the "military" wing of Hizbullah. (Der Spiegel-Germany)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Netanyahu: No New West Bank Settlements, Jerusalem Not Under Settlement Construction Restrictions - Herb Keinon
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet on Sunday that he made clear in the U.S. last week that although Israel is committed to removing illegal West Bank outposts, it will not stop construction in Jerusalem or building to accommodate natural growth in the settlements. Netanyahu said he stressed in Washington that Jerusalem was not included in various understandings regarding settlement construction that were reached over the years between the U.S. and Israel. "Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty, and we do not accept limits on construction or on our activity inside Israel," he said. Netanyahu also told the cabinet, "We can't accept the idea that families will not bring children into the world, or that children will have to move away from their parents....We won't establish new settlements, but there is no logic in not providing an answer to natural growth."
        Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, trying to illustrate how the settlement issue was widely misunderstood abroad, said that in a recent meeting with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, he said that his home settlement of Nokdim needed additional preschools, and was asked by Kouchner why the children there couldn't just go to study in nearby Bethlehem [which is part of the Palestinian Authority]. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Defense Minister Barak: U.S. Demand on "Natural Growth" in Settlements Makes No Sense - Roni Sofer
    Defense Minister Ehud Barak, chairman of the Labor party, told the cabinet on Sunday: "There cannot be a situation whereby a father of two who bought a 54-square-meter home and then decides to expand his family will be forbidden from adding two rooms due to an injunction relayed by the U.S. This makes no sense." (Ynet News)
        See also Strategic Affairs Minister Ya'alon: Settlements Did Not Block Peace
    Strategic Affairs Minister and former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon told Channel 2 television on Saturday: "Settlements are not the reason that the diplomatic process failed. The settlements were not an obstacle to peace at any point. Even when Israel evacuated swathes of land, terrorism continued. Even when we uprooted communities, all we got in return was 'Hamastan.'"  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Netanyahu Seeks to Extend Olmert-Bush Deal on Settlements - Aluf Benn and Barak Ravid
    Prime Minister Netanyahu will seek to extend an informal agreement reached between former prime minister Olmert and the Bush administration on the issue of West Bank settlement construction that was reached ahead of the 2007 Annapolis conference. The understanding is an extension of a similar pact reached during the tenure of former prime minister Sharon, and divides West Bank construction into four categories - those involving Jerusalem, settlements in major blocs, isolated settlements outside the blocs, and unauthorized outposts.
        Regarding Jerusalem, Israel refused to accept any limitations whatsoever. On settlements in the major blocs (such as Maale Adumim), construction would be allowed even beyond the existing borders, as long as it remained in close proximity to the community itself. ("No farther than two hills from houses at the settlement's edge," according to a senior Israeli official.) In settlements outside the major blocs, building will be allowed within the existing construction boundaries. In addition, Israel promised not to erect any new settlements, not to expropriate Palestinian land for settlement construction, and not to issue government incentives for settling communities beyond the "green line." (Ha'aretz)
  • What Confidence-Building Measures Are the Palestinians Willing to Undertake? - Herb Keinon
    In a briefing with Israeli reporters after meeting Obama, Netanyahu said it was particularly ingenuous for the world to demand that Israel fulfill its Roadmap obligation calling for a complete freeze on settlements, while giving the Palestinians a pass on their major obligation to uproot the terrorist infrastructure. If the world expected Israeli concessions on settlements, as per the Roadmap, it would have to ensure that the Palestinians fulfilled their part of the Roadmap, including uprooting the terrorist infrastructure - something that right now seems impossible, considering Hamas' control of Gaza. Fix that, Netanyahu is saying, and then talk to Jerusalem about a settlement freeze.
        Indeed, Uzi Arad, a top Netanyahu aide and the head of the National Security Council, intimated as much when he responded to a question about what confidence-building measures Israel would make toward the Palestinians. His reply: "What confidence-building measures are they willing to undertake?"  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Observations:

    Protecting the Contiguity of Israel: The E-1 Area and the Link Between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim - Nadav Shragai (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

    • The E-1 area, part of the city of Maale Adumim located immediately adjacent to Jerusalem, is largely uninhabited, state-owned land that will connect the city's 36,000 residents to Israel's capital.
    • The main threat to Israel's future contiguity comes from encroachments on E-1 made by illegal Palestinian construction. Israeli and Palestinian construction in the West Bank has been governed by the legal terms of the Oslo II Interim Agreement from September 28, 1995. The area around E-1 is within Area C, where, according to Oslo II, Israel retained the powers of zoning and planning. As a result, much of the recently completed Palestinian construction there is illegal.
    • In contrast, none of the Oslo Agreements prohibited Israeli settlement activity, though Israel undertook unilateral limitations upon itself in this area in recent years.
    • Contrary to reports, the completion of E-1 would not cut the West Bank in half and undermine Palestinian contiguity. Israel has planned a new road that would allow Palestinian traffic coming from the south to pass eastward of Maale Adumim and continue northward to connect with the cities in the northern West Bank. This Palestinian bypass road would actually reduce the time for Palestinian drivers traveling in a north-south direction who would encounter no Israeli roadblocks.
    • Israeli construction of E-1 will not undermine Palestinian contiguity, but were Israel to lose control of E-1, the contiguity of Israel would be severely compromised.

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