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April 2, 2010

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Israel Unveils Tank-Defense System of the Future - Josef Federman (AP-Washington Post)
    Israel says it has developed a major game changer in tank defense: a miniature anti-missile system that detects incoming projectiles and shoots them down before they reach the armored vehicles.
    If successful, the "Trophy" system could radically alter the balance of power against Hizbullah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza.
    Its performance could also have much wider implications as American troops battle insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    The Trophy is the first of a series of "active defense" systems to become operational. Such systems aim to neutralize threats before they strike the tank, as opposed to the past when tanks relied on increasingly thick layers of armor.
    The tiny Trophy system uses radar to detect incoming projectiles and fires a small charge to intercept them, said Gil, the Trophy's program manager at Israeli weapons maker Rafael.
    After firing, the system quickly reloads. The entire process is automated, and holds fire if the rocket is going to miss the tank.
    The U.S. and Russia are developing similar systems.

The CIA Spy Plot to Sabotage Iran - Reza Aslan (Daily Beast)
    The defection of Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri is part of a covert program put in place by the CIA in 2005 codenamed "Brain Drain."
    Two years ago, a former defense minister named Ali-Reza Asgari, who was also a general in the Revolutionary Guards, vanished while on a trip to Turkey.
    The program is just one aspect of a much larger U.S. and Israeli intelligence operation to sabotage Iran's nuclear program by, for example, using front companies to sell Iran faulty components for its centrifuges, or making subtle changes to technical documents that essentially render them useless.
    In 2006, 50 centrifuges were destroyed in Iran's Natanz plant when what appeared to be faulty power supplies purchased on the nuclear black market exploded.
    The sabotage program has created such high levels of paranoia within the Iranian regime that they now question every nuclear purchase and blame every setback on foreign interference, convinced that their components and their technology have been tampered with.
    As one intelligence official noted, that in itself is worth the clandestine efforts.

Egypt Seizes New Cars Headed to Gaza (AFP-Daily News-Egypt)
    Egyptian police have seized 41 brand-new cars near its border with Gaza that were to be smuggled into the Palestinian territory through tunnels, a security official said on Wednesday.

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Egyptians Quit French Film Festival over Israeli Entry (AFP)
    Egyptian film-makers who were to sit on the jury of a film festival in Cairo organized by the French embassy's cultural center are boycotting the event because one of the directors of one of the films is Israeli.
    Director Kamla Abu Zikri said she withdrew because she rejects "any sort of normalization with Israel."

Parliament Panel in Belgium Approves Banning Burqa - Raf Casert (AP-Washington Post)
    A parliamentary committee in Brussels unanimously voted Wednesday to ban the wearing of face-covering veils in public, in a legislative process that could make Belgium the first European country to impose such a prohibition.
    "We cannot allow someone to claim the right to look at others without being seen," said Daniel Bacquelaine, who proposed the bill.
    "It is necessary that the law forbids the wearing of clothes that totally mask and enclose an individual," he said, adding he was not targeting the classic headscarf worn by many Muslim women.
    Proponents of the ban argue that such all-covering garb poses security issues as well as threatens democratic values.

Israeli Exports Up 29% in Jan.-Feb. (Ynet News)
    Israeli exports rose 29% in the first two months of 2010 compared to the same period last year, totaling some $7.5 billion, according to the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute's economic unit.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Iran Sees Sanctions Talk as Empty Threat
    Iran said Thursday that talk of sanctions by world powers against the Islamic republic over its nuclear program is just an empty threat. President Obama said Tuesday that the new measures could be levied within weeks. However, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast responded, "The talk of sanctions is a threat that has been ineffective over the past 30 years."  (AFP)
  • Sen. Kerry Meets Syria's Assad - Michael Slackman
    Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met Thursday with President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus in another indication that the U.S. is moving to re-engage with Syria. After his meeting, Kerry said in a statement that the U.S. and Syria shared "a mutual interest in having a very frank exchange on any differences that may exist, but also on the many, many agreements that we have about the possibilities of peace in this region." Because Syria is faced with a looming economic crisis as its oil wells run dry, and because it has a growing population of young people who need jobs and housing, Syria has an incentive to re-engage with the West, Kerry said. (New York Times)
        See also Israel Dismisses Prospect of Headway on Peace Talks with Syria
    Israeli officials on Thursday dismissed speculation that Sen. John Kerry will have any luck in Damascus testing the waters for a Syrian-Israeli diplomatic channel, saying President Bashar Assad's bellicose statement at the recent Arab League summit in Libya belied any peaceful strategy. Assad on Sunday called on PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to ditch negotiations with Israel in favor of "armed resistance."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • PA Officials in U.S. to Discuss Takeover of More Territory in West Bank - Ali Waked
    Palestinian Interior Minister Saeed Abu Ali has left for Washington together with the commander of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service, Ziyad Hab al-Rih, for security consultations. The meetings are aimed at examining the Palestinian Authority's preparedness for taking full security control of additional territory in the West Bank. The Palestinians are demanding that Israel withdraw to the pre-intifada lines. (Ynet News)
  • Israel Planning New Gestures to Palestinians - Yaakov Katz and Hilary Leila Krieger
    Israel has formulated a new list of potential gestures towards the Palestinians, Defense Ministry sources said Thursday, in response to U.S. demands that Israel do more to show a commitment to the peace process. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Terror-Related Attacks Up in March
    The number of terror-related attacks in Israel rose from 53 in February to 125 in March, an Israel Security Agency report said Thursday. Attacks from Gaza rose from 13 in February to 36 in March; in Jerusalem, the number of attacks rose from 3 in February to 27 in March. 89 Molotov cocktails were hurled at Israel Defense Forces soldiers and police in March, while 35 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israeli territory and five explosive devices were planted. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Israel Responds to Gaza Rocket Fire - Yaakov Katz
    The Israel air force struck weapons factories and warehouses in Gaza Thursday in retaliation for Kassam rocket fire. Israel's defense establishment sees Hamas as under growing pressure from competing Palestinian terrorist factions to renew attacks on Israel from Gaza, and believes it will likely resume terrorism soon. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Thousands Participate in Priestly Blessing at Western Wall in Jerusalem - Kobi Nahshoni
    Ten thousand Jewish worshippers participated in Thursday's Priestly Blessing at the Western Wall, held during the intermediate days of Passover. Hundreds of Kohanim wrapped in prayer shawls blessed the crowd. (Ynet News)
        See also Christian Pilgrims Flock to Holy City for Good Friday
    Thousands of Christian pilgrims thronged the alleys of Jerusalem's Old City on Good Friday. This year, numbers were greater than usual with Catholics and other Christians in the West celebrating Easter on the same day as Orthodox Christians, a rare overlap. (AFP)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Obama's Counterproductive Settlements Ultimatum - Steven J. Rosen
    If, 17 years ago, U.S. President Bill Clinton or Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat had insisted that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin freeze all settlement construction, including in Jerusalem, before Arafat would sit down with Rabin, there would have been no Oslo agreements. Rabin said, "I explained to the president of the United States that I wouldn't forbid Jews from building privately in the area of Judea and Samaria....I am sorry that within united Jerusalem construction is not more massive." The same year as the famous handshake on the White House lawn, 1993, the Rabin government completed the construction of more than 6,000 units in the Pisgat Zeev neighborhood of east Jerusalem. On Sept. 13, 1993, the Oslo peace accord was signed - by the same Mahmoud Abbas who refuses to sit down today.
        The U.S. has never liked Israeli construction in east Jerusalem, but until Obama, no U.S. president had made its cancelation a precondition for negotiations, and until Obama, Palestinian leaders including Abbas did not make it a precondition either. This is the same Abbas who negotiated with seven previous Israeli prime ministers - Shamir, Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu (in his first term), Barak, Sharon, and Olmert - without the precondition that he now demands of Netanyahu. Netanyahu is doing something that every past Israeli prime minister has done, but Obama is doing something that past American leaders considered unwise. The writer served for 23 years as foreign-policy director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. (Foreign Policy)
  • Who Froze the Mideast Peace Process? - Abraham H. Foxman
    It is the Palestinians, not Israel, who have refused to return to negotiations. Unfortunately, the Obama administration gave the Palestinians an excuse not to come to the table by making settlements the central issue. In fact, over the years there have been negotiations despite the settlement issue. Had the Palestinians accepted Israel's generous offers under two prime ministers for a Palestinian state, the issue of settlements would have been resolved.
        The Obama administration has gone off track not only in its excessive focus on settlements and its overreaction to Israel's faux pas in announcing new construction while the vice president was in Israel, but also by suggesting that Israel is harming American interests in the region. This is a misguided and counterproductive view. Ultimately, America's interests in the region will rise or fall on its willingness to support its true friends there and its ability to distinguish between moderates who want peace and rejectionists who want to undermine it. There is no doubt that Israel is a true ally and peacemaker. The writer is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League. (New York Times)
  • A "Refreshing" Public Debate? - David Harris
    The New York Times finds it "refreshing" that President Obama "has forced public debate on issues that must be debated publicly for a peace deal to happen." Really? Why publicly? Were the Camp David Accords of 1979, the Oslo Accords and the Israel-Jordan talks, all of which involved immensely challenging and sticky issues, thrust into the public realm for a "refreshing" debate before agreement was reached? They were not. The writer is Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Rediscovering the Nature of Palestinian Rejectionism - Editorial
    The Obama administration has evidently failed to internalize that a succession of ever-more generous peace offers from prime ministers Rabin, Barak, Sharon and Olmert were rebuffed by a Palestinian leadership that has yet to acknowledge Israel's legitimacy, much less begin to explain to its own people the imperative for compromise. Israel's prime ministers, including Netanyahu, have made plain their desire for the creation in the West Bank and Gaza of a Palestinian society more interested in its own political and economic stability than the destruction of the Zionist entity, and for a Palestinian state established in a climate of genuine reconciliation and wider Arab normalization.
        Given the history of Palestinian rejection, the Israeli public is deeply skeptical about the chances of negotiations yielding the desired results. Since the Oslo Accords of 1993, 17 years of efforts under three presidents and six prime ministers have led nowhere. While Netanyahu's government is already doing more than previous governments to help PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad toward West Bank stability and institution-building, we have yet to see signs of a more profound Palestinian shift - toward true recognition of the Jewish state. That shift, so long overdue, is the key component of any viable peace effort. The sooner the U.S. utilizes its unique capacity to galvanize the necessary pressure, on the Palestinians and the wider Arab world, the better. (Jerusalem Post)
  • The Conflict between the U.S. and Israel Must End Now - Alan M. Dershowitz
    The apparently escalating conflict between the U.S. and Israel did not have to occur. It must be resolved now, before it does irreparable harm to prospects for peace. The initial impetus for the brouhaha was an ill-timed announcement that permits had been issued for building 1,600 additional residences in a part of Jerusalem that had been captured by Israel in the 1967 war. The permits were for residences not in east Jerusalem, but rather in north Jerusalem, and not in an Arab section, but rather in an entirely Jewish neighborhood. This neighborhood, Ramat Shlomo, is part of the area that everybody acknowledges will remain part of Israel.
        In that respect, it is much like the ancient Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, which was illegally captured from the Jewish residents by the Jordanian army in the 1948 war. The Israelis legally recaptured it during the defensive war of 1967. No one in their right mind believes that Israel has any obligation to give up the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, the holiest Jewish site in the world, despite the fact that it was recaptured during the 1967 war.
        As long as Israel exists, there will be Islamic extremists who regard that fact as a provocation. As long the U.S. continues to exist as a secular democracy with equal rights for women, Christians and Jews, the Osama Bin Laden's of the world will seek our destruction. Certainly as long as American troops remain in any part of the Arab world, Muslim fanatics will try to kill our soldiers. Blame for the murder of American troops should be placed on those who kill them, rather than on those who stand for the same values of democracy and equality as America does. The U.S. and Israel are on the same side in the continuing struggle against Islamic extremists who endanger the lives of American troops and American civilians.
        If Israel's enemies were to lay down their arms and stop terrorist and rocket attacks against Israel, there would be peace. If Israel were to lay down its arms, there would be genocide. When the Palestinian leadership and population want their own state more than they want there not to be a Jewish state, there will be a two-state solution. (Hudson Institute New York)
  • International Push for Iran Sanctions Is Too Little, Too Late - Editorial
    The new sanctions to be discussed by the UN Security Council do not include the kind of tools that could affect a change in Iranian policy. Iranian shipping companies will not be blacklisted nor the international assets of Iran frozen, and oil or gas shipments from the Islamic Republic will not be cut, after these proposals were all rejected by Russia or China. Iran has been under sanctions for three decades and still managed to develop a formidable technological infrastructure for nuclear power. It's doubtful another round of sanctions will persuade Iran to stop its project. (Ha'aretz)
        See also President Obama Still Moving Too Slowly to Curb Iran's Nukes - Editorial (New York Daily News)
  • The Four-Fold Iranian Threat - Irwin Cotler
    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran has emerged as a clear and present danger to international peace and security, regional stability and, increasingly and alarmingly, its own people. We are witnessing the toxic convergence of four distinct but interrelated threats: the nuclear threat; state-sanctioned incitement to genocide; state sponsorship of international terror; and a persistent, pervasive assault on the rights of its own citizens.
        While I supported the concept of the year of engagement, the 2009 end-of-year deadline for Iranian compliance has come and gone. Obama's extended hand was met with a clenched iron fist; there can be no more "business as usual." Silence is not an option. Action to hold Ahmadinejad's Iran to account is not simply a policy option, but an international legal obligation of the first order. (Ha'aretz)
  • Observations:

    The Terrorist Threat from Gaza: Response to the Goldstone Report (Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center)

    • The Goldstone report does not deal with the nature of Hamas, particularly its terrorist aspects. It does not deal with Hamas' ideology and its record as the terrorist organization which led suicide bombing terrorism against Israel and fired rockets at its civilians over a period of many years. The report adopts Hamas' false claim that there is no connection between "the Gaza authorities" and Hamas' military-terrorist wing. The facts unequivocally prove that Hamas is one integral system.
    • The report minimizes the extent and gravity of the terrorist activity carried out against Israel from Gaza and does not assign responsibility for it to Hamas. The report does define rocket fire targeting the Israeli civilian population as a war crime. However, the report does not assign responsibility for the war crime to Hamas or any other terrorist organization operating in Gaza. Thus, the war crime has no address and no organization is held accountable for it.
    • The report does not deal with Hamas' military buildup in Gaza during 2007-2008, which created a significant threat to Israel and was a gross violation of the Oslo accords between the Palestinians and Israel (the Oslo accords allowed the Palestinian Authority to hold weapons only for the purposes of policing and security). It ignores the smuggling into Gaza of an unprecedented quantity of advanced weapons and raw materials for the manufacture of weapons; intensive training in Gaza, Iran and Syria; and the manufacture of large quantities of rockets and IEDs. It also ignores the extensive efforts made to prepare residential areas for fighting, part of its combat doctrine of using civilians as human shields.
    • The report completely ignores the massive amounts of aid Iran as well as Hizbullah and Syria gave Hamas to construct its military-terrorist infrastructure.

          See also Hamas Used Kids as Human Shields - Yaakov Katz
      Hamas gunmen used Palestinian children as human shields, and established command centers and Kassam launch pads in and near more than 100 mosques and hospitals during the Gaza operation last year, according to a new Israeli report released by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. A sketch of the village of Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza discovered by IDF troops details the extensive deployment of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and snipers inside and adjacent to civilian homes. Another sketch was found for the Atatra neighborhood in northern Gaza City. "By placing all of their weaponry next to homes, by operating out of homes, mosques and hospitals, by firing rockets next to schools and by using human shields, Hamas is the one responsible for the civilian deaths during the operation," said Col. (res.) Reuven Erlich.
          One Hamas cell transported rockets on the back of a wagon in which children were also sitting. In other cases, Hamas fighters disguised themselves as women carrying babies. IDF officers provided testimony that a vast majority of Hamas fighters were dressed as civilians, and Hamas videos showed fighters wearing civilian clothing while firing mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at IDF troops. The report reveals that Hamas used almost 100 mosques inside Gaza to fight against the IDF, with videos and photographs of dozens of mosques that were used by Hamas to store weapons, function as command centers, or whose grounds were used to fire rockets into Israel. It also provides evidence that Hamas hid weaponry and senior operatives inside at least eight hospitals in Gaza. (Jerusalem Post)

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