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September 29, 2009

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In-Depth Issues:

Is Iran Designing Warheads? - William J. Broad, Mark Mazzetti and David E. Sanger (New York Times)
    In closed-door discussions, American spy agencies have stood firm in their conclusion that while Iran may ultimately want a bomb, the country halted work on weapons design in 2003 and probably has not restarted that effort - a judgment first made public in a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate.
    Yet U.S. spy agencies are delivering more cautious assessments about Iran's clandestine programs than their Western European counterparts.
    German intelligence officials say the weapons work never stopped, while Israeli intelligence officials believe Iran restarted weapons design work in 2005 on the orders of supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
    Some Israeli and European officials say the Americans are being overly cautious, having been stung by the Iraq intelligence debacle.

Iran Test Fires Two Missiles Capable of Reaching Israel, U.S. Bases - Jeffrey Fleishman (Los Angeles Times)
    Iran test-fired Shahab-3 and Sajjil medium-range missiles Monday capable of reaching Israel, Europe and American bases in the Persian Gulf, according to the country's Revolutionary Guard.
    The Shahab-3 and the Sajjil 2 have a range of 800 to 1,200 miles.
    See also Iran Missile Tests: What They Tell the West - Peter Grier (Christian Science Monitor)

Muslims Attack French Tourists on Jerusalem's Temple Mount - Isabel Kershner (New York Times)
    Clashes broke out Sunday between Palestinians and the Israeli police on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem after Muslims threw stones at a group of foreign tourists, apparently mistaking them for religious Jews.
    Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the police dispersed a crowd of about 150 Palestinians after they attacked the tourists, who he said were French.
    Disturbances then broke out in and around the Old City and elsewhere in eastern Jerusalem as Palestinian officials urged more Muslims to come to the site.
    See also Palestinian "Moderate" Government Slams Israel - Alastair Macdonald (Reuters)
    Palestinians' Western-backed government on Monday hailed people who fought Israeli police in Jerusalem as defenders of a Muslim holy site.

U.S., Arabs Support Yemeni Government in Fight Against Rebels (AFP)
    The U.S. and key Arab states including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan expressed concern Friday for the unrest in northern Yemen and offered "full support" to President Ali Abdullah Saleh as his army fights Shiite rebels.
    Hundreds of people have been killed and tens of thousands of civilians have fled their homes since August 11 when the Yemeni government began its "Scorched Earth" offensive against the Zaidi rebels, who are Shiite Muslims.
    The government accuses the rebels of being backed by Iran.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • U.S., France, and Britain: New Iranian Nuclear Facility Is Inconsistent with a Peaceful Program
    The leaders of the U.S., France, and Britain issued a statement Friday saying: "Iran's decision to build yet another nuclear facility without notifying the IAEA represents a direct challenge to the basic compact at the center of the non-proliferation regime....This site deepens a growing concern that Iran is refusing to live up to those international responsibilities, including specifically revealing all nuclear-related activities. As the international community knows, this is not the first time that Iran has concealed information about its nuclear program. Iran has a right to peaceful nuclear power that meets the energy needs of its people. But the size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program."  (White House)
        See also U.S. Background Briefing on Iranian Nuclear Facility
    "We have known for some time now that Iran was building a second underground enrichment facility...located near the city of Qom, a very heavily protected, very heavily disguised facility...designed to hold about 3,000 centrifuge machines....Our information is that the Iranians began this facility with the intent that it be secret, and therefore giving them an option of producing weapons-grade uranium without the international community knowing about it."  (White House)
        See also British Intelligence Played "Big Part" in Iranian Nuclear Discovery - Francis Elliott (Times-UK)
  • Clinton: Put Iran to the Test - Robin Wright
    The revelation of a hidden nuclear facility and the threat of more sanctions if Tehran does not cooperate with the new U.S.-sponsored diplomatic initiative appear to have deepened the political fissures rather than led Iranians to close ranks. The critical unknown is whether the escalating pressures will lead the theocracy to compromise or make it even more obstinate once it reaches the negotiating table.
        Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told CBS on Sunday, "If we don't get the answers that we are expecting and the changes in behavior that we are looking for, then we will work with our partners to move for sanctions." "The burden has now shifted....They have to come to this meeting on Oct. 1 and present convincing evidence as to the purpose of their nuclear program. We don't believe that they can present convincing evidence that it's only for peaceful purposes. But we are going to put them to the test."  (TIME)
        See also Gates: "The Iranians Have the Intention of Having Nuclear Weapons" - Interview with Defense Secretary Robert Gates (ABC News)
  • U.S. Seeking a Range of Sanctions Against Iran - Mark Landler
    The Obama administration is scrambling to assemble a package of harsher economic sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program that could include a cutoff of investments to the country's oil-and-gas industry and restrictions on many more Iranian banks than those currently blacklisted, senior administration officials said Sunday. The administration also is seeking to build a broader coalition of partners for sanctions so that it may still be able to act against Iran even if China and Russia were to veto harsher measures in the UN Security Council.
        In the upcoming Oct. 1 meeting between the U.S. and Iran, the Americans are expected to press for quick access and blueprints to a newly disclosed Iranian nuclear site. American efforts to marshal worldwide pressure against Iran have gained traction since the revelation last Friday that Iran was operating a clandestine nuclear site. However, administration officials said the U.S. was not likely to win support from its European allies for an embargo on shipments of gasoline or other refined fuel to Iran. (New York Times)
        See also U.S. Aims to Isolate Iran If Talks Fail - Glenn Kessler
    The Obama administration is laying plans to cut Iran's economic links to the rest of the world if talks over the country's nuclear ambitions founder. The administration would extend a prohibition against providing the "transfer of financial resources or services" to aid Iran's nuclear and missile programs to include insurance companies, export credits and the like. (Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israel, U.S. to Discuss Relaunching Peace Talks - Barak Ravid
    Israel and the U.S. will continue their talks in Washington on Wednesday on the framework for relaunching Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. There are currently disagreements between Israel and the Palestinians over a number of issues. First, the Palestinians want to restart the talks where the government of Ehud Olmert left off, while Netanyahu argues that he is not bound by Olmert's proposals. Second, the Palestinians want the negotiations to focus on the principle of a solution based on the 1967 borders, and Netanyahu strongly disagrees. Third, the Palestinians want a two-year timeframe for the achievement of a permanent agreement, while Israel objects. (Ha'aretz)
  • Israel Demands PA Drop War Crimes Suit at The Hague - Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff
    Tensions are mounting between Israel and the PA following Ramallah's call on the International Court at The Hague to examine claims of "war crimes" allegedly committed by the IDF during the Gaza operation. Israeli security sources said the move was authorized by Prime Minister Fayyad and PA Chairman Abbas. At the time of the operation last winter, senior PA officials had encouraged Israel to step up the pressure on Hamas, and even to attempt to bring its rule in the territory to the point of collapse. "The PA has reached the point where it has to decide whether it is working with us or against us," a senior Israeli defense official said.
        Israeli sources note the growing presence of Palestinian security personnel in civilian clothing in eastern Jerusalem, contrary to the obligations of the PA. The PA security personnel have stepped up their presence in Jerusalem's medical and educational facilities, and have been involved in the abduction of Palestinians suspected of selling property to Jews. (Ha'aretz)
  • Three Gaza Terrorists Killed While Firing Rocket at Israel - Anshel Pfeffer and Avi Issacharoff
    IDF jets attacked an Islamic Jihad unit preparing a rocket for launch toward Israel Friday night, killing three, an IDF spokesperson said Saturday. An IDF aircraft fired a single rocket at the group, killing Mahmoud Bana, Kamal Dahdouh and Muhammed Marshoud. Security sources believe this unit was responsible for firing a rocket at Sderot on Rosh Hashanah. Kamal Dahdouh was the son of Khaled Dahdouh, a former head of the Islamic Jihad military wing targeted by Israel in 2006. Security sources said that there has been a recent increase in attempts by Palestinian organizations, especially Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda affiliated groups, to carry out attacks against IDF patrols around Gaza and to launch shells and rockets at Israeli-populated areas nearby. (Ha'aretz)
        See also IDF Releases Video of Strike on Terrorists - Hanan Greenberg
    The IDF released a video on Saturday showing the terrorists carrying the rocket, setting it up, and then the airstrike. (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Dealing with Iran's Deception - Rep. Howard L. Berman
    Friday's revelations about the second uranium enrichment plant cast a particularly dark shadow over Iranian intentions, and they come after more than 20 years of deception and stonewalling by Tehran. It is critical that we set clear timelines and benchmarks by which to judge Iranian intentions as well as unambiguous consequences if Iran fails to meet the criteria. The window for Iran to demonstrate seriousness of purpose should start with the Oct. 1 meeting and, as Obama has indicated, should close by the end of the year. The writer is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. (Washington Post)
  • Time to Confront Iran's Deceptions - Editorial
    Ahmadinejad and his cronies cannot be remotely trusted. They are cheats and deceivers. After the events of the last few days, the world can make this judgment with confidence. (Financial Times-UK)
  • The Real Iran Crisis - Richard Cohen
    The supposedly secret installation had been known to Western intelligence agencies - Britain, France, the U.S. and undoubtedly Israel - for several years. Its existence had been deduced by intelligence analysts from Iranian purchases abroad, and it was pinpointed sometime afterward. What had changed was that news of it had gone public. This happened not because Obama announced it but because the Iranians beat him to it after discovering that their cover was blown.
        No one should believe Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran seems intent on developing a nuclear weapons program and the missiles capable of delivering them. This - not the public revelations of a known installation - is the real crisis. Only the U.S. has the capability to obliterate Tehran's underground facilities. Washington may have to act. (Washington Post)
  • Sanctions Now - Dore Gold
    If negotiations get dragged out to December and then the West begins experimenting with sanctions, precious time will have been lost. And if further sanctions depend on obtaining a consensus in the UN Security Council, Iran will work furiously to complete its race to the nuclear finishing line. When I researched my new book, The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran Defies the West, I found that numerous Iranian diplomats admitted in Farsi that they used negotiations to play for time and move their nuclear program forward. For this reason, severe sanctions must begin immediately and be tested quickly to see if they have any impact.
        Under these circumstances, immediate and severe sanctions are necessary to indicate that the West is serious and has the political will which Iran thinks it lacks. The time for a firm line is now - not in December. (National Review)
  • Observations:

    Restarting the Middle East Peace Process - Robert Satloff (New Republic)

    • Under both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the recipe for peacemaking began with a heavy dose of U.S.-Israel partnership. Because the peace process is, at its core, about asking Israelis to give up the tangible asset of land for the intangible and inherently revocable promise of peace, building Israel's confidence in the strategic alliance with Washington has long been considered elemental.
    • Was the U.S. demand for a building freeze in the territories really necessary to re-start negotiations, given that Palestinians - from Yasser Arafat on down - have had no compunction negotiating with Israel for the last sixteen years without one? Wouldn't Washington's direct bargaining with Israel over a freeze relieve the Arab side from having to contribute anything to this process?
    • Washington's fixation on stopping settlement activity did have a powerful echo in at least one Middle East country: Israel. America's freeze-mania managed to transform Israel's deep national ambivalence about the wisdom of expanding West Bank settlements into patriotic support for the right of Jews to live in their ancient capital. By giving off vibes that it wanted a freeze even more than the Arabs themselves, and that it wanted to halt building even in Israel's capital, the administration succeeded in making Netanyahu more popular than when he came to office in March.
    • In New York last week, Obama finally changed course, announcing that restarting peace talks would no longer be contingent on reaching agreement with Israel on a settlement freeze. Obama was not the first president to come into office with a policy rooted more in ideological attachment than dispassionate analysis, but, on this topic at least, he shifted gears more quickly than most.

      The writer is executive director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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