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January 18, 2010

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"Updated" U.S. National Intelligence Estimate Expected on Iran Nukes - Mark Hosenball (Newsweek)
    U.S. intelligence agencies are quietly revising their widely disputed assertion that Iran has no active program to design or build a nuclear bomb.
    Three U.S. and two foreign counterproliferation officials tell Newsweek that, as soon as next month, the intel agencies are expected to complete an "update" to their 2007 National Intelligence Estimate.
    U.S. analysts now believe that Iran may well have resumed "research" on nuclear weapons - theoretical work on how to design and construct a bomb - but that Tehran is not engaged in "development" - actually trying to build a weapon.
    The update is unlikely to have an immediate impact on the White House's Iran policy. The administration already bases its cautious diplomatic approach on the assumption that Iran has, in fact, been pursuing a bomb.

Report: Syria Training Hizbullah to Use Advanced Anti-Aircraft Missiles - Jack Khoury (Ha'aretz)
    An American source says that Syria allowed Hizbullah operatives to train within its territory in the use of advanced SA2 anti-aircraft missile batteries, the Kuwaiti daily Al Rai reported Sunday.
    In an interview, the senior U.S. official warned that if Syria supplies Hizbullah with this missile, Israel will bomb Damascus and a war will likely ensue. According to the official, Israel has warned Syria not to transfer SA2 missiles to Hizbullah, and views the transfer of such missiles as the crossing of a red line.

Islamist Teacher in London Groomed Suicide Bomber for Tel Aviv Attack - Tim Ross and Rashid Razaq (London Evening Standard-UK)
    Reza Pankhurst, a senior member of the hardline Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir and currently a postgraduate teaching assistant at the London School of Economics (LSE), is alleged to have played a key role in radicalizing Omar Sharif, the British suicide bomber who died after an attempted attack in Tel Aviv in 2003.
    According to Sharif's former university friend, Zaheer Khan, Pankhurst acted as Sharif's mentor and had "a big hand to play" organizing the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir on campus.
    See also Islamist Teacher Led Secretive "Brothers' Circle" - Sean O'Neill and Alex Ralph (Times-UK)
    Pankhurst led a secretive "Brothers' Circle" at the university at which he espoused his hardline views.
    A series of terrorist trials have featured graduates, some of whom have been indoctrinated by al-Qaeda supporters at British universities.
    Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Detroit plane bomber, was president of the Islamic Society at University College London in 2006-07.
    See also UK's Universities Offer Conducive Environment to Islamic Extremists - Douglas Murray (Wall Street Journal Europe)
    Christmas bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was the fourth former head of a British university Islamic Society to be charged with a serious terrorism offense.
    Just before Christmas, the al-Qaeda preacher Anwar al-Awlaki was the subject of an airstrike on his Yemen home that killed many al-Qaeda operatives. Only last April, my organization [London's Center for Social Cohesion] was trying to explain to London's City University why he was not a suitable person to address, by video-link, their Islamic Society.
    Despite already having been known to be spiritual mentor to two of the 9/11 hijackers, he has been advertised as the "distinguished guest" speaker at the UK's Federation of Student Islamic Societies' annual dinner in 2003, and at Westminster University in 2006.
    Awlaki is now thought to be the connection between Abdumutallab and the people who gave him the bomb with which he intended to bring down the Detroit flight.
    It was a graduate of the London School of Economics who kidnapped and beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002.
    It was two undergraduates from Kings College London who carried out a suicide bombing in a bar in Tel Aviv the following year.

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  • Israeli Rescuers Battle to Reach Haitians Still Alive in Rubble - Beatriz Lecumberri
    Hearing Jules' strained voice pushes on adrenaline-fueled Israeli rescue workers racing against time to pry him from the ruins, as four days after the Haiti quake hopes fade of finding more survivors. This team of 22 men has pulled out all the stops to save someone whose life is hanging in the balance, sweating through the back-breaking work, hour after hour, inch by inch, amid the stench of rotting corpses. "Today is the last day that I think we will be able to find survivors, mainly because of dehydration," said Rami Peltz, one of the rescue workers on the Israeli team. The survivor is trapped with a steel reinforcement cable around his neck and a huge piece of ceramic flooring pinning his legs, said team member Moshe Sadir. (The Age-Australia)
        See also Israelis Race to Save Lives in Devastated Haiti - E. B. Solomont
    The Israeli delegation, which arrived on Friday, established a headquarters near the airport and swiftly set up its field hospital, unloading dozens of truckloads of medical and logistical equipment. The IDF's Medical and Rescue Team immediately began work, with two teams from the Oketz canine unit pressed into action. On Sunday, IDF Home Front Command soldiers rescued a 52-year-old man from the ruins. The trapped man had communicated his location by sending a text message on a cellphone. A ZAKA rescue unit, deployed at a collapsed multi-story university building, managed to extricate eight students from the rubble over the weekend. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Israelis Rescue Earthquake Survivor in Haiti - Noam Barkan (Ynet News)
        See also Israeli Field Hospital in Haiti - Natasha Mozgovaya
    Gali Wiest, the IDF delegation's head nurse, reports, "We've already taken in 87 children, most in moderate to serious condition; there have been a few operations and amputations, and they keep coming."  (Ha'aretz)
        See also Video: IDF Forces Operating in Haiti (IDF Spokesperson-YouTube)
  • Israeli Defense Minister Visits Turkey - Ian Deitch and Suzan Fraser
    Israel and Turkey had smoothed over differences and were working to develop relations and further military projects, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday after daylong talks with Turkish officials. Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul called Israel a "neighbor" and "strategic ally" with which Turkey had common interests in the region. (AP)
  • China Balks at Iran Sanctions - Kristen Chick
    Diplomats from six major world powers failed to reach an agreement on pursuing sanctions against Iran in a Saturday meeting in New York. China did not back down from its position that sanctions are not yet needed. To emphasize its point, China sent only sent a low-level representative to the meeting, while the other nations sent senior diplomats. (Christian Science Monitor)
  • Senior Iranian Envoy Quits in Disgust over Regime's Brutal Ways - Martin Fletcher
    Mohammed-Reza Heydari, Iran's consul in Oslo, Norway, has resigned his post, denounced his government and urged colleagues around the world to do the same after the regime's brutal suppression of huge opposition demonstrations last month. The Arabic television channel al-Arabiya reported on Sunday that 27 Iranian diplomats had resigned in protest at the crackdown on the opposition, including one in Britain and two each in France and Germany. Ali Ansari, a professor of Iranian history at the University of St. Andrews, said that it was striking how scarcely a single Iranian ambassador around the world had defended the regime publicly since the disputed election in June. "That's their job," he said. Their silence was more surprising because most were appointed by President Ahmadinejad when he purged their reform-minded predecessors after his first election victory in 2005. (Times-UK)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Report: Mitchell Brings No Guarantees for Abbas - Roee Nahmias
    U.S. special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell will not deliver during his upcoming visit to the region guarantees demanded by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas in order to renew peace talks, French sources told Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Saturday. Sources affiliated with Abbas said that in meetings between Abbas and Mitchell in Paris and Brussels last week, Mitchell did not present an American peace plan or a timetable for the talks. (Ynet News)
  • Quartet Suggests Reopening PLO Institutions in Eastern Jerusalem - Barak Ravid
    At a meeting of the Middle East Quartet last Wednesday in Brussels, the EU and Russia proposed asking Israel to reopen Orient House, the former PLO and PA headquarters in eastern Jerusalem, as well as other Palestinian institutions in the eastern half of the city, in an attempt to convince the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. At the meeting, U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell told the Quartet there was no prospect of Israel agreeing to a complete halt in construction in eastern Jerusalem. (Ha'aretz)
  • Israeli Foreign Minister: Gestures toward PA Are Finished - Herb Keinon
    "Since the establishment of the government we have made a large number of gestures," Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday at a press conference with visiting Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store. He was referring specifically to Prime Minister Netanyahu's acceptance of the principle of a two-state solution, the reduction of the number of roadblocks in the West Bank, the convening of the Fatah convention in Bethlehem last year, and the ten-month housing-start moratorium in the settlements. "From our position we are finished with the arsenal of gestures," he said. "There will not be any other gestures."
        "Right now we are waiting for gestures from the Palestinians," he said. Rather, Lieberman said, Israel has instead seen "Palestinian incitement against Israel in every possible international forum, calls for a boycott of Israeli products, suits filed against us in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and the creation of a fund to convince people to boycott Israeli goods."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • IDF Arrests Fatah Men Planning Terror Attack - Ali Waked
    Israeli security forces operating in the West Bank city of Nablus on Sunday arrested four Fatah operatives on suspicion that they were planning to commit a terror attack in Israel. Three explosive devices were found in their possession. (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Prospects for the Resumption of Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks - David Makovsky
    Currently, U.S. Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell is exploring whether it is possible to return to the peace table after what might be called a lost year. The two sides have quietly agreed to a text that could serve as a foundation for renewed talks. The subject of months of negotiations, the text was released under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's name and encapsulates Israeli and Palestinian aspirations, stating: "We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements." In effect, the text allowed Washington to say that the goals of the two sides are reconcilable, without committing itself or Israel to the 1967 lines or to land swaps that would counterbalance settlement blocs.
        With the exception of Egypt (which has sought to restart talks), the Arab states have done virtually nothing to realize Mitchell's hope that they would reciprocate an Israeli settlement moratorium. The writer is a Distinguished Fellow and Director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Israel and Turkey Look to Salvage Their Damaged Military Alliance - Marc Champion and Joshua Mitnick
    As Ankara realigns its position in the Middle East, this has severely damaged the Israel-Turkey alliance. Ever since the alliance was formed in the mid-1990s, it has given Turkey access to technologically advanced military equipment and Israeli intelligence capabilities. At the time, Turkey was fighting a brutal counterinsurgency war with Kurdish militants who had bases in Iraq and Syria. Analysts believe the relationship will survive, though in reduced form, if only because for Turkey to become hostile toward Israel would severely complicate its relationship with the U.S., and end support it has received from the Jewish lobby in the U.S. Congress. (Wall Street Journal)
        See also U.S. Jewish Leaders Vexed by Turkey's Hostility towards Israel - Hilary Leila Krieger
    The chill in relations between Jerusalem and Ankara is resulting in a few cold winds blowing through Washington as well. Several Jewish groups have historically worked closely with Turkey and its embassy in Washington, seeking to foster Israel's close relationship with a Muslim neighbor and strategic heavyweight in an otherwise hostile neighborhood, and at times these groups have lobbied Capitol Hill on the issues supported by Ankara. "Turkish hostility to Israel will naturally have ramifications when political issues regarding Turkey arrive on these shores. How could it not?" said one Jewish leader in Washington. At the same time, another Jewish official pointed out, "The relationship with Turkey is bigger than Erdogan" and the current Islamic government. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Observations:

    What Happened to the Jordan Valley? - Dore Gold (Jerusalem Post)

    • Prime Minister Netanyahu has explained that to create effective security arrangements for Israel and safeguard the demilitarization of the West Bank in the event of an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, it was vital for the IDF to maintain a military presence along the points of entry to the territories from the east, in order to prevent these areas from being penetrated and flooded by smuggled weaponry - alluding to the critical importance of the Jordan Valley for the future security of Israel.
    • One month before he was assassinated, Yitzhak Rabin outlined to the Knesset on Oct. 5, 1995, how he viewed the country's future borders. He first declared that "Israel will not return to the lines of June 4, 1967" and then stated that "the security border for defending the State of Israel will be in the Jordan Valley, in the widest sense of that concept." He sought to exploit the steep eastern slopes of the West Bank hill ridge that rise to a maximal height of 3,000 feet from the river bed which is below sea-level. In an interview in Ha'aretz on April 14, 2005, Ariel Sharon explained that Israel must control the Jordan Valley from the hill ridge above the Allon Road.
    • Yet in the public discourse over Israel's future borders, it seems as though the question of the Jordan Valley has been forgotten. Once prime ministers started talking about giving up 88, 93 or 97% of the West Bank, they stopped talking about the Jordan Valley. After all, the whole area is approximately 33% to 40% of the West Bank. A diplomatic strategy of holding on to the Jordan Valley contradicted their peace proposals, which became increasingly motivated by the question of what would be acceptable to the Palestinians rather than what was necessary for Israel's security.
    • It is now well-understood by the Israeli public that the most crucial error of the Gaza disengagement was abandoning the Philadelphi Corridor between Gaza and Egyptian Sinai, which allowed Hamas to build a vast tunnel network and smuggle a huge arsenal into Gaza. It does not require much imagination to understand what would happen in the West Bank if Israel left the Jordan Valley - which should be seen as the Philadelphi Corridor of the West Bank.
    • Up until now, Israel has not had to deal with SA-7 shoulder-fired rockets that could be aimed at aircraft over Ben-Gurion Airport, because it is difficult to smuggle them into the West Bank as long as the area is blocked by the IDF in the Jordan Valley. Nor has Israel had to face Islamist volunteers because Israel can deny them access to the West Bank.

      The writer is president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and served as Israel's ambassador to the UN.

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