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March 9, 2010

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In-Depth Issues:

For Iran, Enriching Uranium Only Gets Easier - William J. Broad (New York Times)
    Uranium enrichment is a tricky process that accelerates as it moves ahead. "The higher the concentration, the easier it gets," said Houston G. Wood III, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Virginia who specializes in nuclear enrichment.
    On Feb. 7, Iran announced it would begin enriching its stockpiled uranium to 20% from 4%, which nuclear experts said was actually a fairly easy step - not at all as demanding and time-consuming as raising the level to 4% from 0.7%.

Turkey Should Pause Before a Mirror - Stephen Kinzer (Guardian-UK)
    A committee of the U.S. Congress voted last week to brand as genocide the 1915 slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.
    Turkey suffers from a creeping image deterioration in Washington. Some feel that Turkey has become too close to Iran, and resent the vigor of Turkey's opposition to sanctions on the Iranian regime - especially important since Turkey holds a rotating seat on the UN Security Council.
    These doubts might not have become as powerful if Israel, Turkey's old friend, had come to its rescue with lobbying help on Capitol Hill, as it has in the past.
    But Turkish leaders have sharpened their criticism of Israel lately, and the Israelis, seeking to show that they too have cards to play in this game, did not rush to help Turkey this time.
    See also Israel Offers Aid to Turkey after 41 Killed in Earthquake (Ha'aretz)
    See also Turkey Rejects Israel's Offer of Post-Quake Aid - Roni Sofer (Ynet News)

Rachel Corrie Damage Suit Trial Begins - Dan Izenberg (Jerusalem Post)
    The hearing of witnesses in the civil suit filed by the family of Rachel Corrie - a member of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM) who was killed trying to block an IDF bulldozer in 2003 - is due to begin in Haifa District Court on March 10.
    The IDF Southern Command investigated the incident and closed the file without taking measures against any of the soldiers involved.
    The state maintained that Corrie had been 100% responsible for the accident and that she had deliberately placed herself in danger.
    See also The Upcoming Rachel Corrie Trial: Go After the Real Killers - Lenny Ben-David (Pajamas Media)

Dozens of Arab Students in U.S. Visa Fraud - Gillian Flaccus (AP)
    Eamonn Higgins, 46, was charged Monday with operating a ring of illegal test-takers who helped dozens of Middle Eastern nationals obtain U.S. student visas by passing various proficiency and college-placement exams for them, federal authorities said.
    Over a seven-year period, Higgins collected tens of thousands of dollars from foreign students from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Kuwait, Turkey and Qatar before he or his accomplices took their exams at ten southern California community colleges and universities using doctored IDs.
    Higgins may have worked with hundreds of foreign students, although authorities have only been able to definitively identify 119.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Trafigura, Vitol Stopping Iran Gasoline Sales as U.S. Sanctions Loom - Simon Webb and Luke Pachymuthu
    Oil trading firms Trafigura, based in Amsterdam, and Vitol, based in Switzerland, are stopping gasoline sales to Iran, industry sources said on Monday, joining BP, Glencore and Reliance Industries which have halted sales under threat of U.S. sanctions. Analysts say Iran would always find traders to sell it fuel, but the smaller list of suppliers means Tehran would have to pay higher prices. "Political pressure from the United States and its European allies is starting to make an impact and deter fuel trading with Iran," said IHS Global Insight Middle East energy analyst Samuel Ciszuk. (Reuters)
  • Congress Hot to Trot on Iran Sanctions - Josh Rogin
    As the Obama administration pursues new multilateral Iran sanctions at the UN, Congress is getting ready to move forward with its own sanctions bill, which the administration is still not happy with. A senior Senate aide close to the process said the House and Senate will soon move to conference on resolving the two versions of the Iran sanctions legislation, one led by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), and the other sponsored by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT). The State Department had been negotiating with key senators over Dodd's bill, seeking an exemption for any countries they determine to be "cooperating" with the U.S. on the sanctions regime.
        Several congressional aides said Friday that their bosses were getting impatient with the ever-slipping deadline for UN action and that a large exemption that includes Russia and China would not fly on Capitol Hill. The administration had pledged to wrap up at the UN in February during the French rotating presidency, then that slipped to March, and now lawmakers are being told April. (Foreign Policy)
  • Experts Skeptical of Indirect Peace Talks - Janine Zacharia
    U.S. special envoy George Mitchell announced Monday that Israel and the Palestinians had agreed to indirect talks, though he acknowledged that the structure and scope of the talks had not yet been agreed upon. "It's hardly a cause for celebration that after 17 years of direct official talks we are regressing to proximity talks," said Yossi Alpher, former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.
        "Israelis and Palestinians aren't ready for direct talks; their positions are too far apart," said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. mediator and ambassador to Israel and Egypt, said it's "not understandable why we would now have them sit in separate rooms and move between them."  (Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • U.S.: Annapolis Understandings Are Non-Binding - Barak Ravid, Akiva Eldar and Avi Issacharoff
    In a Jerusalem meeting with Quartet envoys on Friday, U.S. special envoy for the Middle East George Mitchell's deputy, David Hale, said the negotiations after Annapolis and the understandings reached by Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qureia, as well as Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, would not be binding. The talks will be based on agreements signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, including the Roadmap. Abbas never responded to Olmert's offer, but the Palestinians insisted that the negotiations resume from where they stopped during Olmert's term as prime minister. The U.S. apparently accepted Israel's position, which was to ignore everything that was not signed as part of an agreement.
        The talks will also be based on the Obama administration's two statements from the past year: President Obama's speech to the UN, which described the goal of a secure, Jewish state in Israel alongside a viable, independent Palestine; and Secretary of State Clinton's statement regarding a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with territory exchanges, combined with Israel's desire for a secure Jewish state that includes "recent developments," meaning the settlement blocs. (Ha'aretz)
  • State Department: New West Bank Homes Don't Violate Freeze
    The U.S. said on Monday that Israel's approval of 112 new homes in Beitar Illit, adjacent to the "green line" in the West Bank, did not violate a limited Israeli settlement freeze. "On the one hand, it does not violate the moratorium that the Israelis previously announced. On the other hand, this is the kind of thing that both sides have to be cautious about as we move ahead with these parallel talks," said U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. Under heavy U.S. pressure, Israel agreed in November to restrict building in the West Bank. The government said at the time that exceptions could be allowed. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Exception to Freeze Approved for Infrastructure, Safety Reasons - Tovah Lazaroff
    Beitar Illit is the third-largest Jewish city in the West Bank, with a population of 36,000. Israel has assumed that it will retain Beitar Illit in any final status-agreement with the Palestinians. On Monday, the Defense Ministry explained that initial approval for the 112 apartment units had been granted by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as part of a larger project of close to 300 units. Contractors had received all the permits necessary for the units and had laid the foundations for all but 112 units when the moratorium was announced. A source explained that it was impossible to lay infrastructure for the larger project without construction of these 112 units. In addition, the site, as it is now, posed a safety hazard to people in the area. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Fayyad's Intifada - Alex Fishman
    Israel had issued VIP cards to about 300 Palestinian elected officials and heads of security arms which enable them to quickly pass through IDF roadblocks in the West Bank. However, Israel recently removed 100 names from the VIP list - all of them members of the Fatah's central committee who took part in the protests in Bil'in. Palestinian officials are also shunning economic ties with Israel, as seen in the discussion on eliminating Palestinian workers at industrial zones in the settlements.
        On the whole, the Abbas-Fayyad duo is attempting to erase the last remnants of the Oslo Accords as they press the Americans to prevent Israel from engaging in "hot pursuits" within the West Bank. All these moves, which are part of what is known as "Salam Fayyad's White Intifada," are directed at defeating Hamas in the upcoming local elections in the West Bank on July 17. Hamas has already announced that it will not take part in the elections.
        Indirect negotiations are slated to be launched this week between Israel and the Palestinians. However, before the local elections in the West Bank, nothing will come out of these contacts. The Palestinians enter these talks with the aim of discussing the core issues, so that they can showcase them ahead of the elections. Israel views these talks merely as a stage en route to direct talks which will be launched - according to Mitchell's plan - in four months. Meanwhile, the Americans want to end these talks with at least a declaration on final-status borders. What we have here are three parallel lines that do not meet. The PA cannot show up at the elections with a record of concessions on the national front. It has a clear interest in creating a crisis in order to prompt a warm public embrace and reach the elections with an image of strength. (Ynet News)
  • Are Iran's Oil Reserves Its Trump Card? - Jad Mouawad
    Iran holds the world's second-biggest oil and gas reserves and supplies about 4.5% of the world's oil production. Iran may be counting on China to shield it against international sanctions that could really hurt, but some analysts believe that would be expecting too much. "The Iranians are overconfident in the Chinese reliance on them," said Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Meanwhile, Erica S. Downs of the Brookings Institution says it is unclear how much money the Chinese have spent so far in Iran's energy sector. "The Iranians aren't getting all they were hoping for from China," she said.
        The global recession isn't helping. Iran needs oil prices to stay above $90 a barrel to balance its budget, according to PFC Energy, a consulting firm. Also, unlike a few years ago when the world's oil system could barely keep up with growing demand, there now is ample spare capacity, much of it in Saudi Arabia. Cliff Kupchan, a former State Department official and now a director at the New York consulting firm Eurasia Group, said this meant that Iran no longer held a "trump card" when it comes to oil. (New York Times)
  • Observations:

    Facing Iran: Lessons Learned Since Iraq's 1991 Missile Attack on Israel - Moshe Arens (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

    • The Iranians learned a great deal from the destruction of Iraq's Osirak reactor by the Israel Air Force in 1981. The Osirak reactor was the key element in the Iraqi nuclear program: a single target which, when it was destroyed, set that program back very substantially. The Iranians saw this and they dispersed their nuclear program. Much of it is deep underground. There is no single target which, if destroyed, would substantially set back the Iranian nuclear program.
    • When I came to Washington as Israel's ambassador in 1982, the atmosphere was one of hostility and there was talk of imposing sanctions against Israel as a reaction to its unilateral action against the Osirak reactor. Yet after a few years the view in Washington changed completely. It is difficult to envision the Americans undertaking Operation Desert Storm in the Gulf in 1991 if the Iraqi nuclear program had continued beyond 1981 and had not been so seriously set back by the Israeli action.
    • Some say that while the missiles Israel faces are relatively cheap weapons, we are launching a very expensive missile interceptor against it, which does not seem very wise at first sight. However, the damage that might be caused by the incoming missile may far exceed the cost of the missile interceptor.
    • Israel's missile interceptor system poses a dilemma to anybody who decides to launch missiles against Israel, especially a missile that has a nuclear warhead. The dilemma is that the missile may very well be intercepted and thus expose the launching of a nuclear missile, even if it didn't reach its target, which could bring about the response that could be expected for committing this deed.
    • At the start of the Gulf War, the Americans said they expected that within 48 hours the U.S. Air Force would eliminate the missile launch capability of the Iraqis. If they did not succeed, Israel would be free to take whatever action it considered appropriate. Although there was intensive aerial activity directed at hitting the Scud launchers, not a single Scud launcher was hit or immobilized during the Gulf War. Furthermore, the U.S.-made Patriot missiles in Israel did not succeed in intercepting a single Scud missile.

      Prof. Moshe Arens was Israel's defense minister during the 1991 war with Iraq.

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