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December 25, 2009

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Israel Seeks to Restore Deterrence - Isabel Kershner (New York Times)
    Given the growing threats from Iranian-backed militant organizations both in Gaza and in Lebanon, some in Israel suggest that in the next war Israel will apply more force.
    "The next round will be different, but not in the way people think," said Giora Eiland, a retired major general and former chief of Israel's National Security Council. "The only way to be successful is to take much harsher action."
    Both the three-week campaign in Gaza, which ended on Jan. 18, and Israel's month-long war in 2006 against the Shiite Hizbullah in Lebanon have brought relative quiet to Israel's borders.
    Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, the chief of Israel's military intelligence, said the source of the quiet is Israeli deterrence, starting with the war in Lebanon and continuing with the Gaza operation. But in the military's assessment, the calm is temporary and fragile; Hamas and Hizbullah are said to be rearming, making another confrontation only a matter of time.
    Israel's objective, according to Gabriel Siboni, a retired colonel who runs the military program at the Institute for National Security Studies, is to shorten and intensify the period of fighting and to lengthen the period between rounds.
    Siboni said the idea was to inflict such damage that the other side would ask whether confrontation was worthwhile.

Gazans Suffer, and Israel Is Not the Reason - Joel Brinkley (McClatchy)
    For Hamas, the radical Islamic terrorist group that seized control of Gaza in 2007, the long-term pursuit of a political impossibility trumps even the slightest concern for the welfare of the group's 1.5 million "constituents."
    I have interviewed the leaders of Hamas many times over the years, and all of them offered one consistent refrain: We are patient. Our resistance will continue as long as it takes - even centuries - until we reach our goal, full control of Palestine.
    Of course, that includes the State of Israel.
    The majority of Gazans I have met want to live peaceful lives and provide for their children. Now, a growing number - half the population, according to recent polls - is trying to get out of Gaza to escape from Hamas control and the deprivation that comes from its rule.
    A year after the Israeli invasion of Gaza, it's time to stop blaming Israel for the desperate plight of Gaza's people. Now, without question, it's Hamas' fault.
    The writer, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for the New York Times, is a professor of journalism at Stanford University.

Hamas Arming for New Fight - Nidal al-Mughrabi (Reuters)
    "We have the right to use any weapon that we deem suitable and we have the right to get into (Gaza) any weapon that we see as appropriate," Abu Ubaida, spokesman for Hamas' armed wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, said Wednesday.
    Israel has said the brigades, estimated to number 25,000 fighters, have been seeking with Syrian and Iranian help to upgrade their rocket capabilities and put Tel Aviv and the Israeli heartland within range.

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154,500 Christians Live in Israel (Ynet News)
    154,500 Christians live in Israel, representing 2.1% of the total population, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported Thursday. This does not include foreign workers residing in Israel.
    81% of Christians in Israel are Arabs, the majority residing in the north. 20,000 live in Nazareth, 14,100 in Haifa, 12,800 in Jerusalem, and 9,100 in the northern town of Shfaram.
    29,000 Christians arrived from the former Soviet Union during the 1990s.

Public Security Minister Seeks to Stamp Out Gunfire at Arab Weddings - Yaakov Lappin (Jerusalem Post)
    Celebratory "firing [of weapons] at weddings must stop," Israel Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee on Tuesday.
    "Shooting incidents within the community will be reduced dramatically in 2010, and so will incidents involving possession of explosives and firearms....I have asked the police commissioner to draw up a program that places these goals at its center," Aharonovitch said.

Wild and Wacky Israeli Tales from '09 - Daniella Ashkenazy (JTA)
    The award for the strangest Supreme Court case goes to an Israeli named Shlomo Avni, who petitioned the high court for the right to be eaten by wild animals after his death, saying he was only repaying a debt to nature as a lifetime consumer in the food chain. In their decision, three Supreme Court judges wished the 80-year-old plaintiff a long life and unanimously rejected his petition.
    Residents of a north Tel Aviv apartment building found themselves paying huge water bills that were 10 to 100 times those of similar dwellings. After investigation, it was discovered that an underground connection from the apartment house was watering an adjacent municipal park.
    These and other snippets of daily life as reported in the Israeli press are found in the author's column Chelm-on-the-Med.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • As Deadline Looms, Iran Nuclear Program Poses Intense Challenge - Bridget Johnson
    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) stressed Thursday that he wants to bring Iran sanctions legislation to a vote when lawmakers return from the Christmas and New Year's break in January. The House passed a sanctions measure 412-12 last week that would enable Obama to bar foreign companies that supply Iran with refined petroleum from doing business in the U.S.
        Meanwhile, the Senate is poised to move on the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2009 cosponsored by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). "We've wasted a year," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America." "Sanctions have to be tried before we explore the last option. The worst option is a military action."  (The Hill)
  • Iran Makes New Bid for Improving Ties with Arabs - Salah Nasrawi
    Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met for two hours on Sunday with Iran's parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, who is also a top aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Larijani described the talks with Mubarak as "positive and very good." An Egyptian official said Larijani handed Mubarak a message from the Iranian leadership "dealing with Iranian-Arab relations" and "offering a new Iranian approach to resolve outstanding issues." Mubarak began a visit on Monday to the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to explore ways for the Arab world to "avert the dangers of the Western-Iranian confrontation," presidential spokesman Suleiman Awwad said. (AP)
  • Anti-Iranian Demonstrations Spread across Iraq in Oil Well Dispute - Alice Fordham
    A row over an oil well on the Iran-Iraq border has triggered anti-Iranian demonstrations across Iraq, angry statements by politicians accusing the government of supporting Iran, and the announcement of a new cross-tribal armed force to combat Iranian incursions. Last week armed Iranians moved on to the al-Fakka oilfield, in Missan province, south Iraq, and erected their flag on oil well No 4, which has been disputed by the two countries since the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988. On Wednesday the Iranian troops were "still inside Iraqi territory" said a government spokesman. A source working at al-Fakka said that around 100 Iranian troops and two tanks were still present. (Times-UK)
  • Syria, Turkey Move Towards Closer Cooperation
    Syria and Turkey on Wednesday signed 50 agreements and memoranda of understanding as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad hosted Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Damascus. (Xinhua-China)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israeli Father of Seven Killed in West Bank Shooting - Chaim Levinson, Avi Issacharoff and Anshel Pfeffer
    Rabbi Meir Hai, 40, a teacher and father of seven, was killed Thursday when Palestinian militants opened fire at his car between Shavei Shomron and Einav in the West Bank. Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack. An IDF officer said that in the past week a roadblock had been removed on the road Hai was driving on, about 150 meters from where he was shot. The perpetrators are believed to have fled past where the roadblock used to be to Asira al-Shamaliyah. (Ha'aretz)
  • Terror Attack Foiled on Jerusalem-Modiin Road - Efrat Weiss
    Security forces thwarted a terror attack last week on Road 443, leading from Jerusalem to Modiin, after uncovering an explosive device which was meant to target passing vehicles between the West Bank town of Dir Nabala and the Jewish community of Givat Ze'ev. Israel Defense Forces soldiers who searched the area found a note in Arabic with the name, "The al-Aqsa Brigades - the Allah Abu Shreifa unit," with a sketch explaining how to plant the device in order to target as many cars as possible. The drawing depicted cars with a Star of David. (Ynet News)
  • IDF Marks Over 1,500 Sites Off-Limits in Gaza - Yaakov Katz
    The IDF is continuing to update its maps of Gaza, adding several hundred international and humanitarian institutions in the past year to prevent them from being targeted in a future conflict. During the Gaza operation a year ago, the IDF distributed maps filled with over 1,500 dots, designating buildings that were off-limits to all air force and ground force commanders. These dots marked hospitals, UN facilities, schools, and homes of foreigners and journalists. The updating of the maps underlies the Israeli assessment that a future conflict with Hamas could be around the corner. The IDF has said that while it will refrain from initiating an attack against these marked sites in the future, it reserves the right to respond with force if it is attacked from within the buildings.
        According to the latest IDF casualty findings, 1,166 Palestinians were killed during the Gaza operation: 700 were terrorists - 600 Hamas and 100 Islamic Jihad. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Time to Be Tough with Iran - Emily B. Landau
    As 2009 draws to a close and President Obama takes stock of his diplomatic overture to Iran, he will not be able to avoid the conclusion that his approach so far has achieved next to nothing: Iran continues to progress, without consequences, toward military nuclear capability. The one hope for a breakthrough - the nuclear fuel deal offered in October - was rejected by Iran, which responded with further defiance. The Americans have undertaken to convince Iran to back down from a goal that it is highly motivated and determined to achieve. This means that the diplomatic process must be a game of hardball if it is to succeed.
        Iran's unwillingness to cooperate is due to the fact that the cooperation demanded simply doesn't serve Iran's perceived interest. This was made clear in 2009 with the proposed fuel deal. The foremost challenge for the U.S., thus, is not to build confidence, but to demonstrate resolve while formulating the contours of a deal that Iran also has a clear interest in pursuing. This means that the U.S. must not waste any more time trying to negotiate interim deals with Iran that are devised either to test whether its intentions are peaceful, or to build confidence. It should be focused on the final deal, which it should negotiate with Iran bilaterally. As long as the P5+1 countries are not on the same page with regard to Iran, the multilateral format weakens their collective ability to confront it with the necessary determination.
        The U.S. must also find a way to communicate true resolve to Iran. Projecting the idea that there is no realistic scenario in which the U.S. would use military force is counterproductive in this regard, as are hints that the U.S. could successfully contain a nuclear Iran. Only the U.S. can fulfill the role of the determined bilateral negotiator. But if the message it conveys is that it lacks the political will to make Iran a top diplomatic priority, or if it shies away from the bilateral format, then diplomacy doesn't stand a chance. The writer is senior research fellow and director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. (Ha'aretz)
  • Halevy: A Palestinian State Won't Succeed If It's Built by Outsiders - Yoni Goldstein
    Efraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad, Israel's national intelligence agency, said in an interview: "Peace between Israel and the Palestinians hinges on the Palestinians proving the capability of nationhood. I don't think that nationhood can be thrust upon the Palestinians from without. A nation has to be built from within - and it has to be purely Palestinians who create and build their own nation."
        "The way things are at the moment, the Palestinians are not creating their own nation. The nation is being created from without. The United States is training their military forces; Tony Blair is chaperoning them and helping them build their economic and political institutions; the European Union is helping in other fields. In other words, what is being done is the Palestinian nation is being built with outside help. This, I think, cannot succeed....I think it is in Israel's interest that there should be a Palestinian people that is capable of sustaining a Palestinian state. But what has been going on in recent years is not very encouraging."
        "I am sure that President Obama recognizes - and I know that he recognizes - that Israel is a very valuable and important partner in most of the endeavors that the U.S. is involved in globally....We are a point of sanity, of democracy, of capability, of devotion. We have common values and aims that transcend one kind of an administration or another. And I know Obama respects this."  (Macleans-Canada)
  • Assad Returns as the Strong Horse - Michael J. Totten
    Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri just spent two days with Syrian strongman Bashar Assad in Damascus. Hariri went to Damascus with Hizbullah's bayonet in his back. Assad's regime assassinated Saad Hariri's father, Rafik, in 2005. There is no alternate universe where Saad Hariri is OK with this or where his generically "positive" statements at a press conference were anything other than forced. I was invited to dinner at Hariri's house earlier this year. Trust me: the man is no friend of the Syrian government or Hizbullah. His political party, the Future Movement, champions liberalism and capitalism, the very antithesis of what is imposed in Syria by Assad's Arab Socialist Baath party regime and the totalitarian Velayat-e Faqih ideology enforced by the Khomeinists in Iran and in the Hizbullah-occupied regions of Lebanon.
        Hizbullah and its sponsors in Tehran and Damascus have forced Hariri to surrender to its continuing existence as a warmongering militia that threatens to blow up the country again by picking fights with the Israelis. The national army isn't strong enough to disarm Hizbullah. At the end of the day, Hariri has to do what Hizbullah and its friends say unless someone with a bigger stick covers his back. When Hariri went to Damascus, everyone in the country understood it meant Syria has re-emerged as the strong horse in Lebanon.
        Now that the U.S., France, and Saudi Arabia are bringing Assad in from the cold, his influence, naturally, is rising again, in Lebanon and everywhere else. That's good news for Hizbullah and Iran. It's bad news for the Lebanese, the Americans, the French, the Saudis, and the Israelis. None of this was inevitable, but - in Lebanon, at least - it was predictable. (Commentary)
  • Domino Effect Seen in Lebanon - Jonathan Spyer
    Although the Obama administration has hesitated before rushing headlong into renewing relations with Damascus, it has undertaken a series of gestures that have demonstrated that any real policy of isolation is over. This goes hand in hand with the broader regional stance of the administration of attempting "engagement" with the Iranian regime. Far from signaling to Middle Eastern powers that a new world of cooperation is about to commence, what this U.S. stance conveys to friends and foes in the region is that Washington no longer has the stomach for holding fast against the bid by Iran and its allies for regional hegemony.
        The actors, therefore, move to make their accommodation with the changed reality. The small dominoes are falling, like Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who visited Damascus last week in a ritual gesture of supplication to Bashar al-Assad. The writer is senior researcher at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, IDC, Herzliya. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also The Murdered Fathers Club: Washington's Allies in Beirut Are Now Bowing to Damascus - David Schenker
    Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt, the leaders of the Cedar Revolution, whose fathers were all but certainly killed by Syria, are paying homage to Damascus. Perhaps the leading factor in the March 14 leadership's decision to return to Damascus appears to be Saudi Arabia's equivocating. To mitigate the threat posed by Tehran, Saudi Arabia is attempting to pry Syria away from its 30-year strategic ally, and the first Saudi down-payment in this ill-advised gambit has been its Lebanese allies. At least in part, this dramatic change in policy is related to the perceived U.S. weakness on Iran. Absent Saudi confidence that Washington will prevent a nuclear Iran, Riyadh is hedging. The writer is director of the Program in Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Weekly Standard)
  • Shhh...Mubarak Is Building a Wall - Khaled Abu Toameh
    For years, the Egyptians have been strongly condemning Israel for erecting the security fence in the West Bank. But now Egypt is quietly building its own wall along its border with Gaza and does not want to hear any complaints. The Israeli barrier was built with the chief goal of halting suicide bombings and other terror activities against Israelis. The Egyptian fence, on the other hand, is being constructed to stop Palestinians living in Gaza from entering Egypt. Israel does not want to reopen its borders with Gaza and that is regrettable and painful, but also understandable. But what one cannot understand is the negative attitude of the Egyptians and the rest of the Arab regimes toward the misery of their Palestinian brothers. The Arab rulers want Gaza to remain Israel's problem alone.
        The ironic part is that PA President Mahmoud Abbas is now defending Egypt's right to build a separation wall. This is the same Abbas who, for years, has been condemning Israel's "Apartheid Wall" and urging the world to force Israel to tear it down. (Hudson Institute-New York)
  • British Anti-Semitism Returns - with a Vengeance - Gabriel Schoenfeld
    Today, Britain is awash with hatred of Jews carried in by followers of radical Islam who have found a congenial home in which to preach their genocidal doctrines. Anti-Semitic incidents in the first six months of 2009 alone - vandalism, hate mail, and direct violent attacks on Jews - already exceeded the entire number for 2008 and reached a level not seen since such statistics began to be compiled in 1984.
        An astonishing ruling from Great Britain's newly created high court holds that an Orthodox Jewish school is guilty of "discrimination" for insisting that matrilineal descent - a core precept of Judaism - determines who is a Jew and eligible to enroll. This not only tells Jews, laments the columnist Melanie Phillips in the Spectator, "that the state will not accept their own decision about who is or is not a member of their own community but uniquely stigmatizes them for doing so." Anti-Semitism is playing offense in Great Britain. The writer is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a resident scholar at the Witherspoon Institute. (Weekly Standard)
  • An Abundance of Gifts for Abbas - Sarah N. Stern
    This month, Mahmoud Abbas has been bestowed with a multitude of gifts. The first is that of extending his term as president until elections are held. He has been bestowed with the gifts of billions of dollars in aid that has been pumped into the West Bank so that Fatah is regarded as a more reasonable alternative to Gaza-governed Hamas. Last week, President Obama approved a budget that will give an additional $500 million to the Palestinian Authority.
        People have forgotten the results of the Gaza withdrawal, a gift the Israelis gave to the Palestinians, of a place to prove to the world that they can govern themselves in peace. It was used as a beachhead to launch more than 10,000 rockets and mortars on the citizens of the Israeli border town of Sderot. And when Israel exercised Article 51 of the UN Charter that calls on the legitimate right of every nation to protect its own citizens, it was handed the Goldstone Report - holding Israel to a standard that would make it virtually impossible to defend her civilian population. The writer is founder and president of EMET, the Endowment for Middle East Truth. (Washington Jewish Week)

    Weekend Features

  • Israel at Shanghai World Expo 2010
    Israel will highlight innovation at its pavilion at Expo 2010 Shanghai along with traditional Jewish culture. The design of its pavilion resembles two clasped hands, symbolizing Israeli innovation and technology. The pavilion consists of the Whispering Garden, the Hall of Light, and the Hall of Innovations. The Whispering Garden is an orchard that greets visitors as they enter the building. Facilities will be installed to make the trees "whisper" in English and Chinese when visitors walk close to them, said Haim Dotan, chief designer of the pavilion.
        The Hall of Light is covered with transparent PVC/glass and contains a 15-meter screen showing films highlighting Israel's technological achievements. The Hall of Innovation is covered in natural stone. A special audio-visual show will allow visitors to talk with Israeli children, scientists, doctors and inventors via hundreds of screens. Israel will also participate in Expo Shanghai Online, which offers a three-dimensional virtual visit to the Expo site via the Internet. (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
  • New Archeological Discoveries Reveal Jewish Life in Jerusalem during Second Temple Period - Arieh O'Sullivan and Felice Friedson
    Descending deep into the underground excavations in Jerusalem's Old City beneath the approaches to the ancient Jewish Temple, archeologists have cleared away centuries of debris to reveal an enormous arch, called the "giant causeway," which once carried Jewish pilgrims to the Second Temple over two millennia ago. Archeologists have discovered remnants of homes from the First Temple period some 3,000 years ago, including some rare ancient Hebrew stamps used by officials in the court of King Solomon.
        "We found a bronze seal of an archer with fine details. It's no bigger than a shekel, or a penny. The name on it is 'Hagav.' We find in the Book of Prophets 'b'nei Hagav' written once - the sons of Hagav. Is this the same Hagav who was mentioned? He might have actually stood here, lived here some 2,800 years ago," says Miri Sak of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. Archeologists uncovered a total of some 6,000 ancient coins, as well as tens of thousands of pottery shards spanning the city's history, from the First Temple, Roman and Byzantine, to the Persians, Umayyad, Crusaders, Mamaluks and Ottomans. (Media Line-Jerusalem Post)
  • Miss Palestine Contest Shelved over Moral Fears - Rachel Shabi
    Despite efforts to cater to cultural sensitivities, plans to hold a Miss Palestine competition in Ramallah have foundered as organizers stand accused of "spreading moral corruption'' by Hamas officials. Thwarting the ambitions of the 58 hopefuls who had been expected to take part in the competition final on Sunday, the Palestinian Authority has asked that the event be postponed indefinitely. According to Salwa Yousef, a spokesperson for the event organizer, Trip Fashion, many of the initial entrants pulled out after pressure from family members, while Palestinian newspapers and Internet forums have denounced the event as improper and "scandalous."  (Guardian-UK)
  • Israeli Artificial Diamonds Being Tested in International Space Station - Judy Siegel-Itzkovich
    Artificial diamonds "grown" at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and sent to space on the Atlantis international space station are being hung outside to test whether there was any damage from the atomic oxygen that attacks materials based on carbon. Their resistance to damage in space can determine if they are suited to future uses in satellites. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Observations:

    Israel Extends Its Hand in Peace - Danny Ayalon (Ha'aretz)

    Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon published the following op-ed in Asharq Alawsat on Dec. 15:

    • Our Declaration of Independence, Israel's founding document, reads, "We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help." Egypt and Jordan have accepted these principles and made peace with the Jewish state.
    • Recently the Israeli government has made significant steps to restart negotiations with the Palestinians and reach out to the Arab world. In his Bar-Ilan speech in June, Prime Minister Netanyahu clearly stated his acceptance of a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with the State of Israel. My government has removed hundreds of roadblocks to improve access and movement for Palestinians and has assisted the facilitation of economic developments in the West Bank, through close cooperation with international parties to expedite projects and remove bottlenecks.
    • We find ourselves on the same side in seeking to quell and defeat the forces of extremism and destruction in our region. While many see the threat from Iran directed solely at Israel, we in the region know differently. Together, we understand the menace that emanates from the extremist regime in Tehran, a regime that seeks to export its extremist ideology across the region and beyond, while arming terrorist groups that seek to destabilize moderate Sunni regimes, and aiming for hegemonic control of the Middle East and far beyond.
    • The enemy of the people of Lebanon is not Israel, but Hizbullah. The enemy of the Palestinian people is not Israel, but Hamas. The enemy of the Egyptian people is not Israel, but militant Islamist opposition groups. All of these groups, and many others, receive their commands from Iran.
    • Iran seeks to hold an entire region, including its own people, to ransom and keep it engaged in conflicts orchestrated and directed from Tehran. Whether it is in Morocco, Iraq or Yemen, Iran is constantly interfering with Arab sovereignty for its own gain.

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