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April 22, 2010

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In-Depth Issues:

Two Katyusha Rockets Fired at Eilat from Sinai - Amos Harel (Ha'aretz)
    Two Katyusha rockets were fired Thursday morning from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula toward the southern Israeli city of Eilat.
    One of the rockets struck near the Jordanian city of Aqaba, while the other landed in the water off the coast.

Hamas Leader Vows to Capture More Israeli Soldiers (AP)
    Khaled Mashaal, the leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, vowed Monday in Syria to capture more Israeli soldiers to use in bargaining for the release of Palestinian prisoners.
    Gaza militants are still holding Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured in a 2006 cross-border raid.

Iran's Influence Continues to Spread - Robert Baer (New York Daily News)
    The Iranians have played the game brilliantly. Early on they understood that a lot of countries were willing to evade the spirit of sanctions or just cheat.
    And it wasn't just China and   Russia. The   United Arab Emirates, one of America's closest allies in the Persian Gulf, has been an egregious sanction buster.
    Iran will continue to enrich uranium for bombs, design and build triggering devices, and develop a delivery capability.
    In a couple of years, Iran will be able to assemble a workable bomb in less than a month.
    Iran's influence continues to spread across the Middle East with a near inevitability.
    In Lebanon, not only is Iranian-backed Hizbullah stronger than the   Lebanese Army, Hizbullah in all but name commands the army.

Obama's Syria Outreach Under Fire Amid Scud Reports - Andrew Quinn (Reuters)
    President Obama's outreach to Syria came under fire on Wednesday as members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee questioned the rapprochement amid charges that Damascus has sought to arm Lebanese Hizbullah guerrillas with Scud missiles.
    U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said the U.S. was seeking answers on the missile charges and took the issue extremely seriously.

    See also The Problem of Syrian Engagement - Lee Smith (Tablet)
    As Syrian support for Hizbullah, Hamas, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and a host of other organizations shows, Islamic terrorism is how Middle Eastern regimes fight for their strategic interests.
    If we let Syria off the hook for its proven acts of terror against U.S. military and diplomatic personnel, as well as U.S. allies in Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq, we have all but announced that in the event of future attacks on the U.S. homeland we will never retaliate against the states without which so-called stateless terrorist organizations cannot exist.
    Obama's public diplomacy is premised on the notion of reaching out to the Muslim masses and encouraging moderate streams of Islam, a strategy that is incongruous with a diplomacy that also reaches out to Muslim states that not only breed and support extremism but also arm it to kill Americans.

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  • Israel Offers New Measures to Promote Peace Talks But Won't Freeze Construction in Jerusalem - Jay Solomon and Charles Levinson
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conveyed to the White House this weekend his rejection of a U.S. call for a total Israeli construction freeze in East Jerusalem. At the same time, U.S. officials involved in the diplomacy noted that the Israeli prime minister agreed to take nearly a dozen measures that could underpin new peace talks, including the release of Palestinian prisoners, easing the flow of goods into Gaza, and the removal of more roadblocks in the West Bank. Israel also said it would expand the area of responsibility for Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, and agreed to discuss the issues of borders and the status of Jerusalem in any new round of negotiations with the Palestinians, either directly or through a U.S. mediator.
        U.S. officials also said Israel was willing to stop construction in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo for two years. A plan to build more housing in the neighborhood had sparked a diplomatic crisis between the two allies. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Jones: Our Security Relationship with Israel Is Important for America
    U.S. National Security Advisor James L. Jones told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Wednesday: "Everyone must know that there is no space - no space - between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel's security.  Our commitment to Israel's security is unshakable.  It is as strong as ever....We understand very well that for peace and stability in the Middle East, Israel must be secure.  The United States will never waiver in defense of Israel's security."
        "Our security relationship with Israel is important for America. Our military benefits from Israeli innovations in technology, from shared intelligence, from exercises that help our readiness and joint training that enhances our capabilities and from lessons learned in Israel's own battles against terrorism and asymmetric threats....Every day, across the whole range of our bilateral relationship, we are working together for our shared security."
        "One of the ways that Iran exerts influence in the Middle East is by exploiting the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict.   Iran uses the conflict to keep others in the region on the defensive and to try to limit its own isolation.  Ending this conflict, achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and establishing a sovereign Palestinian state would therefore take such an evocative issue away from Iran, Hizbullah, and Hamas."  (White House)
  • Decrying U.S., Iran Begins War Games - Nazila Fathi and David E. Sanger
    Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared that President Obama's new nuclear strategy amounted to "atomic threats against Iranian people," and Iranian state television reported Thursday that its military had begun a large exercise in the Persian Gulf. The ayatollah's statement on Wednesday referred to the section of Obama's "Nuclear Posture Review" that guaranteed non-nuclear nations that they would never be threatened by a U.S. nuclear strike - as long as they are in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as judged by the U.S. Gary Samore, Obama's top adviser on unconventional weapons, insisted that this did not amount to a nuclear threat against Iran.
        The Iranian military began a three-day naval, ground and air war game in the Persian Gulf, including the Strait of Hormuz, through which a large amount of the world's oil passes. (New York Times)
        See also U.S. Defense Official: Iran Military Strike "Off the Table" - Alex Kennedy
    The U.S. has ruled out a military strike against Iran's nuclear program any time soon, hoping instead negotiations and UN sanctions will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. "Military force is an option of last resort," Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said in Singapore on Wednesday. "It's off the table in the near term."  (AP)
        See also Pentagon: Striking Iran Never Off the Table
    "We are not taking any options off the table as we pursue the pressure and engagement tracks" (with Iran), Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday. "The president always has at his disposal a full array of options, including use of the military....It is clearly not our preferred course of action, but it has never been, nor is it now, off the table."  (Reuters)
  • China Proposes Changes to Weaken Iran Sanctions Proposal - Edith M. Lederer
    China has proposed changes to weaken a U.S.-drafted resolution that would impose new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, UN diplomats said Wednesday. (AP)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Obama: Alliance with Israel Serves U.S. National Security Interests
    In a letter sent Tuesday to Alan Solow, Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, President Obama stated: "We have a special relationship with Israel and that will not change. Our countries are bound together by shared values, deep and interwoven connections, and mutual interests. Many of the same forces that threaten Israel also threaten the United States and our efforts to secure peace and stability in the Middle East. Our alliance with Israel serves our national security interests."
        "As we continue to strive for lasting peace agreements between Israel, the Palestinians, and Israel's neighbors, all sides should understand that our commitment to Israel's security is unshakeable and that no wedge will be driven between us. We will have our differences, but when we do, we will work to resolve them as close allies." The President asserted that he would not impose "peace from the outside; it must be negotiated directly."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Israel, U.S. Secretly Working to Bridge Gaps - Barak Ravid
    Israel and the U.S. have been conducting behind-the-scenes negotiations in recent days in an effort to find a formula that would bridge their differences. According to a senior Obama administration official, the top Middle East policy specialist at the White House, Dan Shapiro, arrived in Israel Wednesday on a secret visit. Shapiro and David Hale, who serves as deputy to U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, held lengthy talks Wednesday in Jerusalem with the prime minister's envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, and Netanyahu adviser Ron Dermer. The talks will continue on Thursday. A senior Israeli official said the parties would try to reach an understanding on a joint approach for furthering the peace process. (Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Even as Momentum for Iran Sanctions Grows, Containment Seems Only Viable Option - Glenn Kessler
    After months of first attempting to engage Iran and then wooing Russia and China to support new sanctions against the Islamic republic, the Obama administration appears within reach of winning a modest tightening of UN measures targeting Tehran. But administration officials acknowledge that even what they call "crippling" sanctions could prove ineffective in keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons. That stalemate, in the view of many analysts, means that a strategy of containing Iran is inevitable - diplomatic isolation backed by defense systems supplied to Persian Gulf allies. (Washington Post)
  • How to React to Syria's Nuclear Program - Andrew J. Tabler
    In his confirmation hearing in March, Robert S. Ford, the U.S. ambassador-designate to Syria, argued that Washington should insist that Syria end its foot-dragging on the International Atomic Energy Agency's investigation into its nuclear activities. For nearly two years, Syria has refused to cooperate with the IAEA's probe of a suspected nuclear reactor that was destroyed by Israel in September 2007. The international community cannot afford to let Syria's proliferation attempts go unaddressed, since the violations threaten the global nonproliferation regime and may be evidence of a wider nuclear program.
        Particles found at a research reactor outside Damascus, plus Syria's refusal to allow the IAEA access to three other suspect sites, suggest the existence of a larger program. The writer is a Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Foreign Affairs)
  • Observations:

    Obama, Don't Forget Jerusalem - Richard Cohen (Washington Post)

    • President Obama gives every appearance of not "getting" Israel; not appreciating its fears or its history. Israel is not half of the equation, as if both sides are right. It is a democracy with American values that has tried, over and over again, to make peace with a recalcitrant and unforgiving enemy.
    • Most Israelis want a two-state solution. Most American Jews feel the same. But the Israeli political middle is scared. It is about life and death. It is about rockets coming in from Gaza yet again. It is about Hizbullah's Scud missiles and the reasonable apprehension that Hamas would oust the moderate (and hapless) Palestinian Authority from the West Bank and turn the area into the functional equivalent of Gaza, an Islamic republic whose charter is a stew of crackpot anti-Semitism laced with death threats.
    • What then? Would Obama stick by Israel? Many Israelis wonder. Obama "needs to address Israelis' fears," the Israeli philosopher Carlo Strenger wrote recently. So far, Obama has done just the opposite. His coolness toward Netanyahu has chilled the Israeli public and encouraged Palestinian defiance. He is on the cusp of an enormous diplomatic blunder.

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