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October 23, 2009

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Hizbullah: "Syria Opens Its Borders to Anyone Wishing to Wage Resistance, Including Al-Qaeda Fighters on Their Way to Iraq" (MEMRI)
    Walid Sukariyya, a Sunni representative of the Hizbullah party in the Lebanese parliament, told Al-Quds Al-Arabi on Oct. 19 that Syria has opened its border to anyone who wished to wage resistance, including al-Qaeda fighters on their way to Iraq.
    He said further that if Israel tried to invade Syria through Lebanon, Hizbullah would delay the Israeli forces; without it, Damascus would fall within hours.

Preparing Israel for the Next Missile Attack - Dan Williams (Reuters)
    The rockets of the December-January war against Palestinian Hamas, like those that rained down during the 2006 conflict with Lebanon's Hizbullah, were seen by many Israelis as a preface to a wider showdown involving Iran and its ally Syria.
    The depth of Israel's vulnerability to missile attack has sent Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, an ex-general responsible for civil defense, on weekly missions to assess the readiness of frontier communities and urban centers. "It's important to show your enemy that they can't surprise you," he said.
    Since 1992, Israel has required all new homes to include a reinforced room that can be sealed off for blast-protection. These "safe rooms" helped Israel withstand thousands of Hamas and Hizbullah battlefield rockets.
    Vilnai also wants highway tunnels and subway stations to double as shelters.
    Gas masks distributed to Israelis for the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq war are to be reissued next year.

Rocket Fire, Air Strikes Continue in Gaza - Douglas Hamilton (Reuters)
    Israeli planes hit targets in Gaza before dawn on Thursday after a rocket was fired into Israel by Palestinians.
    The exchange was what passes for normal, nine months after the three-week Gaza war ended with a ceasefire but no mutually agreed truce.
    Israel says more than 260 rockets or mortar rounds have hit Israeli territory since then.
    Its air force has retaliated with dozens of air strikes, mostly aimed at Gaza's smuggling tunnels into Egypt.

French Defense Minister: We Regularly Swap Info on Iran with Israel (AP/Jerusalem Post)
    The French and Israeli armies regularly swap information on Iran's nuclear program, French Defense Minister Herve Morin told RTL radio Thursday.
    "We have to know what's going on so we exchange our information," Morin said.

Ex-Israeli Prime Minister Heckled in San Francisco - Brooke Donald (AP/San Francisco Chronicle)
    Protesters heckled former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during a speech in San Francisco Thursday, denouncing him as a war criminal and demanding his arrest.
    Commenting on the protesters, Olmert said he was "impressed by the amount of energy that some of them have," but added, "they know nothing about the facts."
    Referring to the Goldstone Commission, Olmert said, "To come to Israel ignoring the fact that for 8 years Israel was attacked almost on a daily basis by rockets and missiles, and to talk only about the reaction of Israel, is unfair, is unjust, is unacceptable, is intolerable and Israel will not cooperate with it."

No Spark for a New Intifada - Zvi Bar'el (Ha'aretz)
    The Egyptian thinker Kamal Gabriel explains on the Internet site Elaph: "The Arabs are using the Palestinian problem as a drainage channel for all their rivers of crises and problems."
    In other words, the Arab states place Palestine at the top of their agenda only in order to avoid dealing with their own problems.
    Accordingly, he concludes, the Palestine issue "will be the last of all the Arab problems that will be resolved."
    The real problem, Gabriel says, is the absence of a pragmatic source of authority that is prepared to take the view that life is not made of daydreams or of tremendous victories.

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Beirut's Shiite Bastion Revives after '06 War - Hamza Hendawi (AP)
    The Dahiyah district in south Beirut, the stronghold of Hizbullah, was heavily targeted by Israel during the 2006 war. The bombardment leveled Hizbullah's headquarters as well as entire blocks of the neighborhood.
    Now dozens of newly built or repaired apartment blocks stand in place of those destroyed, the result of a Hizbullah reconstruction program. Hizbullah receives millions of dollars a year in aid from Iran.

Reassessing Pope Pius XII's Attitudes toward the Holocaust - Interview with Robert S. Wistrich by Manfred Gerstenfeld (Institute for Global Jewish Affairs)
    A judgment on Pope Pius XII's attitude during and after World War II should not be limited to his silence on the genocide of the Jews.
    The pope remained largely neutral about the German atrocities against the Polish people.
    Nor did he condemn the genocidal Catholic Croatian fascist state and its leader Ante Pavelic. This state massacred 350,000 non-Catholics, including 30,000 Croatian Jews.
    There is compelling evidence that the Vatican was instrumental in permitting Pavelic to escape from Italy to Argentina in 1947.
    Pius XII was neither "Hitler's pope" nor a "righteous Gentile."
    Professor Robert Wistrich has headed the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at Hebrew University since 2002.

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  • Iran Fails to Endorse UN Nuclear Deal
    Iran declined on Friday to endorse proposals by the UN nuclear watchdog to help reduce Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium. It said it was awaiting a "positive and constructive" response from world powers to its proposal on providing nuclear fuel for a Tehran reactor producing medical isotopes, state television reported. The UN nuclear watchdog Wednesday presented a draft deal to Iran and three world powers for approval within two days to reduce Tehran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium, seen by the West as a nuclear weapons risk. The three powers - Russia, the U.S. and France - have all signaled approval of the draft. (Reuters-New York Times)
        See also Iranian Lawmaker Dismisses Uranium Plan - Robert F. Worth
    Mohammad Reza Bahonar, the deputy speaker of Iran's Parliament, appeared on Thursday to reject a draft plan to have Iran ship its uranium abroad for processing. Bahonar said the terms of the deal were "not acceptable," the official news agency IRNA reported. "We have announced that this draft plan has to be reviewed, and for the time being we are not saying whether we accept or reject it," he added. (New York Times)
        See also Is Tehran Toying with the World - Again? - Peter Grier
    Is Tehran just yanking our chain? "The United States demanded Iran ship uranium abroad, in return for getting [nuclear] fuel back," said Mohammad Reza Bahonar, "but Iran does not accept this." As yet we do not know what is going on in Iran. The Iranian government does not speak with one voice.
        Some U.S. experts believe that Iran's delaying tactics could be having an effect on the recently revealed uranium-enrichment facility near Qom. It has now been a month since Qom's existence was made public and UN inspectors have yet to set foot inside the plant. (Christian Science Monitor)
        See also Why the Delay in Inspecting the Qom Enrichment Site Matters - Nima Gerami and James M. Acton (Foreign Policy)
  • What Really Happened at the Vienna Uranium Talks - Julian Borger
    In Vienna, IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei handed out a draft document expressing in legal terms the agreement in principle made in Geneva on Oct. 1, plus ElBaradei's pick of some of the modifications proposed by the participants in Vienna and the "red lines" of the various parties. "There was no formal discussion of the draft, and no formal expression of agreement with the draft," said one diplomat. The French, Russians and Americans simply said they saw no problem with it. The chief Iranian negotiator, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, agreed only to forward it to Tehran. (Guardian-UK)
        See also Iran Talks Finish Amid Doubts on Uranium Deal - James Blitz
    Western diplomats expressed serious doubts that Tehran would sign up to an agreement to reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium. A Western diplomat told the Financial Times that Iran's "delegation came up with a series of proposals about how it might transfer less of the fuel than the U.S. and France are proposing or about removing it at a later date or keeping it in Iran." One European official said: "The last two days in Vienna have been something of a reality check for Obama's officials on just how difficult and intransigent Iran really is."  (Financial Times-UK)
  • Clinton Briefs Obama on Push for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks - Glenn Kessler
    Secretary of State Clinton briefed President Obama on Thursday on the status of the administration's push for new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. A senior Obama administration official, in a statement after Clinton's briefing, made it clear that there is not yet a deal. The official praised Palestinians for strengthening "their efforts on security and reforming Palestinian institutions" and said Israel had "facilitated greater movement for Palestinians and responded to our call to stop all settlement activity by expressing a willingness to curtail settlement activity." U.S. officials privately say that there continues to be slow, if steady, progress and that the administration remains intent on restarting talks by the end of the year. (Washington Post)
        See also Clinton to Obama: We've Made Scant Progress on Mideast Peace - Barak Ravid and Natasha Mozgovaya
    A Jerusalem source said that gaps still exist between the Israeli and Palestinian positions and also between the American and Palestinian sides that are preventing peace talks from resuming. (Ha'aretz)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israel: Iran Must Halt Uranium Enrichment
    Responding to an internationally-backed draft plan that calls for Tehran to ship its uranium abroad for enrichment, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Thursday in Jerusalem: "The cessation of enrichment by Iran is needed, and not just the removal of the enriched material...and a short and limited time for discussion is needed." "This agreement - if it is ever signed - will manage to turn back the accumulation of the enriched material in Iran by about a year." He added that if Iran did not stop the enrichment, the only consequence of the agreement would be that the Islamic Republic would have received legitimacy for enriching uranium on its soil.
        Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai told Army Radio Wednesday: "This proves how important international pressure is....Iran is more susceptible to pressure than we may believe." World powers need to keep pressure on Tehran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapon capabilities, he added. (Ha'aretz)
        See also EU Official: Israel Out of the Loop on Iran Talks - Barak Ravid and Yossi Melman (Ha'aretz)
  • Israel Asks UN Chief to Block Gaza War Crimes Report - Barak Ravid
    Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to keep the Goldstone Commission's report on Israel's offensive in Gaza from advancing further within the international body. In a telephone conversation Thursday, Lieberman reiterated his stance that bringing the report for a vote in the Security Council or the General Assembly would harm Middle East peace talks. The Palestinians should not be allowed to hold negotiations with Israel on a local level while fighting against it in the international sphere, he said. (Ha'aretz)
        "Lieberman told Ban that a distorted international reality has developed where in every international forum there is an automatic majority of states far removed from concerns for human rights, such as Cuba, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia, that transform the international system to one characterized by hypocrisy and which operates according to prejudice," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "We should think of how to fix the situation in order to create a reliable and balanced international system," Lieberman told Ban. (AFP)
  • No Archeological Excavations Under the Temple Mount - Abe Selig
    The chief site engineer for the Western Wall tunnels, Ofer Cohen, declared on Thursday that Israeli archeological excavations were not being done under the Temple Mount, were in no way detrimental to the structural stability of the mount or its surroundings, and were actually improving such stability "tenfold." During a tour of the tunnels, participants saw a series of huge steel beams that had been set up to prevent the walls from caving in. "To those who say that our work here is causing structural instability, the exact opposite is true," Cohen said. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Chinese Jewish Descendants Start a New Life in Israel
    Seven young Chinese men wearing kippot arrived in Israel on Tuesday via Uzbekistan to make aliya, descendants of the Jewish community of Kaifeng. Shavei Israel organization chairman Michael Freund said he hoped this group's arrival and absorption would serve as a pilot and, if successful, would open the door to bringing more potential immigrants from China. "Kaifeng's Jewish descendants are a living link between China and the Jewish people, and it is very moving to see the remnants of this community returning to their roots," he said. At its peak during the Middle Ages, Kaifeng Jewry numbered about 5,000, and the community lasted until the middle of the 19th century. Hundreds of people in Kaifeng still cling to their identity as descendants of the city's Jewish community and, in recent years, a growing number have begun to express an interest in studying Jewish history and culture. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

    The Goldstone Report

  • The Goldstone Mission vs. the Peace Process - Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon
    For eight years, while Hamas indiscriminately shelled Israeli civilians with rockets provided by its patrons in Iran, the UN stood silent. Only when Israel, after years of restraint, moved to put an end to the terror, did the Human Rights Council act - by condemning Israel. The resolution adopted last Friday by the Council perverts the reality of Hamas criminality, blaming the victim, rather than the true perpetrator of war crimes in Gaza.
        The resolution also undermines moderate Palestinians who are interested in peace with Israel. In our neighborhood, everybody loves a winner. So when an international body upholds Hamas' atrocious behavior and exploits it once more to bash Israel, Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority loses face, moderate Arab states lose ground, and the Hizbullah-Syria-Iran axis gains strength.
        A new form of warfare has emerged, in which terror groups launch attacks against "enemy" civilians from behind a shield of "friendly" civilians. This resolution grants immunity to the terrorists and prevents law-abiding states from defending their citizens. With the blessing of the HRC, this tactic will be repeated by terrorists throughout the world, to the detriment of all other democracies struggling against terrorism, putting millions of innocent civilians in danger. (Jerusalem Post)
  • UN Council's Anti-Israel Agenda - Adam Raskin
    The UN Human Rights Council has become a shill for the international delegitimizing of a single nation: Israel. Since its inception three years ago, 80% of the business of the Human Rights Council has involved the censure of Israel. For a country with a democratically elected government that enshrines freedom of speech and religion, protects the rights of women, gays and lesbians and minorities - a country that has 80 human rights organizations of its own - all this attention seems a bit strange. In its most recent miscarriage of human rights, 25 member countries voted to support the deeply flawed, extremely one-sided Goldstone report, accusing Israel of war crimes during the 2008 Gaza incursion. (Six countries, including the U.S., voted against the resolution.)
        Remarkably absent from the UN council's condemnation was any mention of the deliberate Hamas targeting of Israeli cities and towns with rockets and mortars that precipitated the operation, which was Israel's last-ditch, desperate effort to protect its own civilians after years of negotiations and sanctions. When presidential candidate Barack Obama visited the rocket-pocked Israeli city of Sderot in July 2008, he declared: "If someone was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israel to do the same thing." Rabbi Raskin is president of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas. (Dallas Morning News)
  • Israeli Human Rights Group Calls Goldstone Report "Disagreeable" - Haviv Rettig Gur
    The UN Human Rights Council and its recent Goldstone report are either biased or mistaken in some of their fundamental accusations against Israel, according to Jessica Montell, director of the Israel human rights group B'Tselem. "There's no question that the HRC, which mandated the Goldstone [mission], has an inappropriate, disproportionate fixation with Israel," she said, adding that the Council was "a political body made up of diplomats, not human rights experts, which means that the powerful states are never going to come under scrutiny the way the powerless will. So China, Russia and the U.S. will never have commissions of inquiry, regardless of how their crimes rank relative to Israeli crimes."
        Furthermore, the Goldstone report is "disagreeable" and mistaken in some of its gravest accusations against Israel, she believes. These include the claim that Israel intentionally targeted the civilian population rather than Hamas, and the "weak, hesitant way that the report mentions Hamas' strategy of using civilians [in combat]."  (Jerusalem Post)

    Other Issues

  • Bringing in Hamas Will Undo the Peace Process - David Makovsky
    Advocates for engaging Hamas argue that if it is given a stake in the creation of an independent Palestine by being included in peace negotiations, it will moderate its positions. This argument is based on the misguided assumption that Hamas is a pragmatic nationalistic movement. However, Hamas is ideologically motivated, and misunderstanding its worldview is damaging. The growing Islamification of Gaza reflects Hamas' ideology, rooted in the philosophy of its parent movement, the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas has persistently refused to accede to the consistent demand of Egyptian intelligence head Gen. Omar Suleiman that it adhere to past Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Thus, clearly, Hamas' ideological rigidity greatly outweighs its pragmatism and political flexibility.
        Bringing in Hamas will not give peace a chance; it will likely undo and discredit peacemaking, crippling the nascent Palestinian institutions of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The writer is director of the project on the Middle East peace process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Ha'aretz)
  • Palestinians Denied Basic Rights and Citizenship by Their Arab Neighbors - Judith Miller and David Samuels
    For decades, Arab governments have justified their decision to maintain millions of stateless Palestinians as refugees in squalid camps as a means of applying pressure to Israel. A report by the International Crisis Group in Lebanon noted that the refugee population is "marginalized, deprived of basic political and economic rights, trapped in the camps, bereft of realistic prospects, heavily armed and standing atop multiple fault lines."
        The inclusion of the descendants of Palestinian refugees as refugees in UNRWA's mandate has no parallel in international humanitarian law and is responsible for the growth of the official numbers of Palestinian refugees in foreign countries from 711,000 to 4.6 million during decades when the number of ageing refugees from the 1948 Israeli war of independence was in fact declining.
        UNRWA grants refugee status to the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original Palestinian refugees according to the principle of patrilineal descent, with no limit on the generations that can obtain refugee status. Yet according to Article 34 of the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, "The Contracting States shall as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees," and must "make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings" - the opposite of what happened to the Palestinians in every Arab country in which they settled, save Jordan. (Independent-UK)
  • Israeli "Exceptionalism" Is Nothing to Apologize For - Ariella Bernstein
    Roger Cohen claimed in the New York Times that Israel lives in a perpetual state of exceptionalism. Yes, we are exceptional because the cards have been stacked against us for so long, yet we have survived and indeed thrived. We are exceptional because, despite all of the wars and terrorism that plague us, we have seen steady economic growth since our birth. We are exceptional because we open our doors wide to all Jews who seek to come here, even though we don't have enough jobs, enough land or enough water for those that live here already. And we are exceptional because we don't give up easily.
        We have averaged a war every decade since the creation of the state, with brutalizing intifadas in between that solely target civilians. For decades we have had to prove ourselves, over and over again, begging for the right to be recognized, to prove that we have a right to be here too. That we are still here is exceptional. Israel would like nothing more than to wake up one day and find itself an ordinary nation, at peace with the Palestinians and with the Arab world. That day won't come easily, or without sacrifice, but the fact that we continue to yearn for it is exceptional too. The writer is a former official of the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and the National Labor Relations Board. (Jerusalem Post)

    Weekend Features

  • Moses, the Patron Saint of Washington - Bruce Feiler
    Moses appears to be the patron saint of Washington. At the Supreme Court, the biblical prophet sits at the center of the structure's east pediment; he appears in the gallery of statues leading into the court and in the south frieze of the chamber; the Ten Commandments are displayed on the courtroom's gates and doors. Similarly, the House of Representatives meets in a chamber ringed by 23 marble faces, including those of Hammurabi and Napoleon. Eleven look left; 11 look right. They all look toward Moses in the middle, the only one facing forward. Moses stands in the Library of Congress. He appears in front of the Ronald Reagan Building. Images of his tablets are embedded in the floor of the National Archives.
        More than any other figure in the ancient world, Moses embodies the American story. He is the champion of oppressed people; he transforms disparate tribes in a forbidding wilderness into a nation of laws; he is the original proponent of freedom and justice for all. The Pilgrims, a band of Protestant outcasts who felt oppressed by the Church of England, saw themselves as fulfilling the biblical story of the Israelites, the descendants of Abraham who were enslaved in Egypt and freed by Moses, then journeyed toward the Promised Land. When the Pilgrims set sail on the Mayflower in 1620, they carried Bibles emblazoned with Moses leading his people to freedom.
        In 1751, the Pennsylvania Assembly chose a quote from the five books of Moses for its statehouse bell - the future Liberty Bell: "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants Thereof - Levit. XXV 10." The writer is the author of America's Prophet: Moses and the American Story. (Washington Post)
  • Influencing International Opinion with Humor - Daniella Ashkenazy
    With every newspaper on the face of the earth reporting on Israel's political culture, it's rather amazing that, according to a recent survey published in the Hebrew daily Yediot Ahronot, a third of the Germans, Spanish and English and 20% of Americans believe Israel is headed by a dictator. 21% of the Spanish and 15% of the English and the Germans are sure that stoning - like in the Bible - is part of the Israeli judicial system. Since we've tried everything else to influence international opinion, the one ploy we Jews have yet to try is our oldest and most effective weapon. Humor.
        Israel is a militaristic country? Let's fight back by introducing folks to the IDF recruit who was afraid of the dark, whose Jewish mother snuck into boot camp and accompanied him on patrol, disappearing at daybreak. And the reserve combat unit that found itself wresting with feeding two famished Palestinian lions during the Gaza campaign. These are genuine news items published in mainstream Hebrew papers. The writer authors, an open source for incredible snippets of daily life in Israel culled from the Hebrew press. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Observations:

    Goldstone Report Undermines Faith in International Law - Ed Morgan (Toronto Star)

    • From a legal point of view, the Goldstone report is full of more holes than the tunnel-riddled strip along the Gaza-Egypt border. Despite its 574-page girth, the actual evidence compiled against Israel is rather thin. Justice Richard Goldstone himself said, "If this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven." As Goldstone has described it, "We had to do the best we could with the material we had."
    • The report describes the Israeli attack on Gaza's Islamic University, stating: "These were civilian, educational buildings and the mission did not find any information about their use as a military facility." The Islamic University was previously featured as the site of clashes between Fatah and Hamas gunmen, with Fatah soldiers identifying it as a weapons laboratory for the new and improved Kassam rockets that Hamas fires by the thousands into Israel. PA television had a full display of the weapons cache found in the Islamic University at the time.
    • The report also finds no basis for the Israeli allegations that mosques were used as launching points for Hamas attacks and as weapons storage facilities. Israeli soldiers testifying at Tel Aviv's Rabin Academy after the war displayed first-hand photographs showing weapons stored in Gaza mosques and Hamas gunmen using mosques as firing platforms.
    • Finally, the report condemns Israel for the many civilian deaths in Gaza, paying no attention to Hamas spokesman Fathi Hammad, who said the people of Gaza "formed human shields of the women, the children, the elderly and the mujahideen, in order to challenge the Zionist bombing machine." Now that's a war crime.

      The writer is professor of law at the University of Toronto.

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