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December 24, 2009

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In-Depth Issues:

Yemeni Air Strike May Have Killed Cleric Linked to Ft. Hood Attack - Sudarsan Raghavan (Washington Post)
    Yemeni forces killed at least 30 suspected militants in an air strike Thursday in southeastern Yemen.
    The dead may include Anwar al-Aulaqi, the extremist Yemeni-American preacher linked to the suspected gunman in last month's deadly Fort Hood attack.
    A Yemeni government official said the apparent target of the strike was Aulaqi's house, where al-Qaeda leaders were believed to have gathered.
    See also Saudi Military Destroys Katyusha Rockets along Yemen Frontier - Mohammed al-Kaabi (Asharq Alawsat-UK)

Israel: First Jesus-Era House Found in Nazareth (AP)
    Israeli archaeologists say they have uncovered remains of the first dwelling in Nazareth that can be dated back to the time of Jesus.
    They say the find sheds a new light on what Nazareth might have been like in Jesus' time - probably a small hamlet with about 50 houses populated by poor Jews.
    See also Photos of the Excavation Site (Ha'aretz)

Curb on Veil in Egypt Backed by Islamic Clerics - Dina Zayed (Reuters)
    Egypt's three most prominent religious leaders have backed a government ban on the niqab, or full face veil, in dormitories and examinations, saying it had no basis in Islam.
    "Al-Azhar is not against the niqab but against its misuse," the government-run al-Akhbar newspaper on Tuesday cited Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, the head of al-Azhar University, as saying.
    He said it was a social habit that had no roots in sharia (Islamic law). More than 13 religious scholars have found that the face veil has no substantial roots in Islam, but rather can be considered a "form of extremism," the official MENA news agency cited Tantawi as saying.

Renewed Lebanese Drug Trade Seen - Bassem Mroue (AP)
    Lebanon's drug-producing heartland is back in business with a resurgence of marijuana and poppy fields, adding another dimension to Israel's war with Hizbullah.
    Production in the Bekaa Valley, a Hizbullah stronghold, peaked during the civil war, then died down to the point where the U.S. removed Lebanon from its list of big producers in 1997.
    Aram Nerguizian, an expert at the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says Hizbullah has enough financial support without depending on drug money, but uses the drug trade to gather intelligence on the Israeli military.

Blast Injures 3 Gaza Militants (Xinhua-China)
    A blast wounded three Palestinian militants in Gaza on Tuesday when an explosive device went off prematurely in al-Burij.
    According to witnesses, the militants were apparently going to plant the explosives on a route the Israeli army uses.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Israelis Seek Arrest of Hamas Leaders Abroad - Ron Bousso
    A group of Israelis wounded in Palestinian rocket attacks during this year's Gaza war, who also hold Belgian nationality, have asked a Belgian court to issue war crimes arrest warrants against ten top Hamas military and political leaders. The lawsuit follows a slew of requests filed by pro-Palestinian groups across Europe for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders over their role in the Gaza offensive.
        "The request for arrest warrants was submitted after six months of legal preparation and is based on strict evidence which ties Hamas leaders to terror attacks in which Belgium citizens ware harmed," their attorney, Roel Coveliers, said. "The Goldstone report says, among other things, that the rocket attacks by Hamas constitute a violation of international humanitarian law, so as a member of the United Nations, I don't believe Belgium will ignore the complaint," Coveliers said. "This is a first step in a broad offensive across Europe that will include Spain, Britain, Italy and other countries," said Mordechai Tzivin, an Israeli attorney representing the plaintiffs. (AFP)
        See also Muslims Slam UK Pledge to Reform War Crimes Law - Raphael G. Satter
    The Muslim Council of Britain, the UK's flagship Muslim organization, on Wednesday attacked a government pledge to reform a war crimes law used to try to arrest visiting Israeli dignitaries. (AP/Washington Post)
  • Iran's Ahmadinejad Mocks Obama
    The U.S. president had been a disappointment to the world, Iranian President Ahmadinejad said in an interview with Britain's Channel 4 News. Ahmadinejad rejected Obama's speech in which he said "if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fists, they will find an extended hand from us." "Which hand did he extend? His right hand or left hand?" Ahmadinejad asked. "Who has extended his hand in practice? He extended the sanctions against us. What step has he taken? We are concerned about his avenues - he has failed to meet the expectations of the people in the U.S. and the people of the world."  (Reuters)
        See also Clashes Continue in Iran - Nazila Fathi
    Clashes erupted Wednesday in the Iranian city of Isfahan between security forces and protesters who were trying to gather at a central mosque for the third day of mourning for the death of a senior cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri. The police used tear gas and pepper gas to disperse the crowd and arrested dozens of people. Iranian authorities banned all memorial services for Montazeri after his funeral on Monday in Qum, where hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered and chanted antigovernment slogans. (New York Times)
  • Yitzhak Ahronovitch, Captain of the Exodus Jewish Refugee Ship, Dies at 86 - Margalit Fox
    Yitzhak ("Ike") Ahronovitch, the captain of the refugee ship Exodus, whose violent interception by the British Navy as it tried to take thousands of Jewish refugees to Palestine in 1947 helped rally support for the creation of the State of Israel the next year, died Wednesday in Israel at 86. The story of the ship's thwarted journey formed the basis for Leon Uris' novel Exodus. (New York Times)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Netanyahu Reviews Threats to Israel
    Addressing the Knesset on Wednesday, Prime Minister Netanyahu listed the major issues facing the country, which he said were "the Iranian [nuclear] threat, the missile threat and a threat I call the Goldstone threat, along with the mission of renewing and completing the peace process with the Palestinians." Regarding the Iranian issue, Netanyahu said, "I assess that the UN will make decisions on the matter in February."
        He noted that "Goldstone is a codeword for an attempt to delegitimize Israel's right to self-defense....The international battle against Israel began at the UN Durban Conference I, and continued in the 2005 IJC advisory opinion against the security fence and in the Durban Conference II, as well as the Goldstone report. This is a comprehensive attack, not on a specific Israeli government but on the State of Israel." He added that the Palestinians were stalling on negotiations with the aim of blaming Israel "despite the facts."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Al-Qaeda Threatening to Abduct Israelis in Africa
    The Counter Terrorism Bureau in the Prime Minister's Office warned Israelis on Wednesday: "Information has been received that [al-Qaeda] intends to perpetrate attacks, especially abduction attacks, including against Israelis, in the various Sahel countries in Africa." The warning related to the Ivory Coast, Togo, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali, and northern Nigeria. Al-Qaeda has already abducted Austrian, German and Canadian nationals from the region. (Ha'aretz)
  • Desalinated Water Enters Israel's National Water Carrier - Ehud Zion Waldoks
    The Hadera water desalination plant began pumping water into the National Water Carrier on Wednesday, Mekorot, the national water company, announced. The Hadera plant will produce over 100 million cubic meters of water per year, joining two other desalination plants already in operation in Ashkelon and at Palmahim. Additional plants will be erected in Ashdod and Sorek. The goal is to have 600 million cubic meters of desalinated water being produced annually by 2013. Current household demand is about 750 million cubic meters per year. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • In Bethlehem, Palestinian Christians Are Suffering under Muslim Intolerance - Daniel Schwammenthal
    Yussuf Khoury, 23, a Palestinian Christian from Gaza, fled his birthplace just two years ago. He wasn't running away from Israelis, but from his Palestinian brethren. "Muslims tied to Hamas tried to take me twice," says Khoury, and he didn't want to find out what they'd do to him if they ever kidnapped him. In 2007, one year after the Hamas takeover, the owner of Gaza's only Christian bookstore was abducted and murdered. Christian shops and schools have been firebombed. Little wonder that most of Khoury's Christian friends have also left Gaza.
        Khoury, now a student at Bethlehem Bible College in the West Bank, tells me that Muslims often stand in front of the gate of the college and read from the Quran to intimidate Christian students. Other Muslims like to roll out their prayer rugs right in Manger Square. Christians have only recently begun to talk about how Muslim gangs simply come and take possession of Christian-owned land while the Palestinian security services, almost exclusively Muslim, stand by. (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Bethlehem's Exodus: Christians Flee Muslim Pressure - Benny Avni
    Bethlehem is fast losing its last few year-round Christian residents as rising Islamism pushes non-Muslims away. Islamists frown on real-estate ownership by non-Muslims - Christian, Jew or anything else. And though the secular Palestinian Authority still controls the West Bank, the clout of groups like Hamas is growing and in Bethlehem, Christians are ceding the land. Growing numbers of rural Muslim West Bankers from the Hebron area have moved to Bethlehem in recent years, where many increasingly buy or confiscate land. Seeing the trend, many Christians have decided to sell while they still can. There are frequent attacks on Christian cemeteries and churches; Christian-owned businesses are often defaced - and government jobs have grown scarce for non-Muslims. (New York Post)
  • Would Iran Provide a Nuclear Weapon to Terrorists? - Steven Emerson and Joel Himelfarb
    Terrorism analysts in Washington need to be asking: Under what circumstances might Iran decide to up the ante and transfer WMD technology to terrorist organizations? No nation today has as extensive a record of supporting terrorism as Iran, and Western policies in place until now have utterly failed to deter Iran from facilitating terrorism using conventional weapons. The late Paul Leventhal, president of the Nuclear Control Institute, noted in interviews in 2007 that it was not beyond the realm of possibility that Hizbullah could try to smuggle a crude nuclear device via a ship or truck and deliver it to a highly populated Israeli city. According to Leventhal, if the device functioned properly, it could result in an explosion equivalent to the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Steven Emerson is the executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT). Joel Himelfarb is a senior writer at IPT. (Jewish Policy Center)
  • Observations:

    There's Only One Way to Stop Iran - Alan J. Kuperman (New York Times)

    • President Obama should sigh in relief that Iran has rejected his nuclear deal. Within a year, or sooner in light of its expanding enrichment program, Iran would almost certainly have replenished and augmented its stockpile of enriched uranium, nullifying any ostensible nonproliferation benefit of the deal. Had the deal gone through, Iran could have benefited from a head start toward making weapons-grade 90%-enriched uranium by starting with purified 20%-enriched uranium rather than its own weaker, contaminated stuff.
    • If Iran acquired a nuclear arsenal, the risks would simply be too great that it could become a neighborhood bully or provide terrorists with the ultimate weapon, an atomic bomb. Incentives and sanctions will not work, but air strikes could degrade and deter Iran's bomb program at relatively little cost or risk, and therefore are worth a try. They should be precision attacks, aimed only at nuclear facilities, to remind Iran of the many other valuable sites that could be bombed if it were foolish enough to retaliate.
    • There are three compelling reasons that the U.S. itself should carry out the bombings. First, the Pentagon's weapons are better than Israel's at destroying buried facilities. Second, unlike Israel's relatively small air force, the United States military can discourage Iranian retaliation by threatening to expand the bombing campaign. Finally, because the American military has global reach, air strikes against Iran would be a strong warning to other would-be proliferators.
    • Negotiation to prevent nuclear proliferation is always preferable to military action. But in the face of failed diplomacy, eschewing force is tantamount to appeasement. We have reached the point where air strikes are the only plausible option with any prospect of preventing Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons. Postponing military action merely provides Iran a window to expand, disperse and harden its nuclear facilities against attack. The sooner the U.S. takes action, the better.

      The writer is the director of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Program at the University of Texas at Austin.

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