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April 29, 2010

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In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Navy Has Encounter with Iranian Jet - Anne Flaherty (AP)
    A U.S. military official says the Navy had a close encounter with an Iranian surveillance jet on April 21 in the Gulf of Oman.
    The jet buzzed a Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Eisenhower, coming within 1,000 yards of the ship in international waters.
    See also How the U.S.-Iran War May Start - Lenny Ben-David (I*Consult)
    Why does everyone assume that the U.S. or Israel are the only ones with military options?
    If war breaks out, the spark could come from miscalculations by the overconfident Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Persian Gulf.

Israel Thanks Clinton for Removing Anti-Israel Items from UNESCO Agenda (JTA)
    Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman thanked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for removing items critical of Israel from UNESCO's agenda.
    In an April 25 letter, Lieberman wrote that the U.S.' "strong and consistent position prevented the introduction of five anti-Israel resolutions initiated by the Arab group" of states in the UN agency.
    "There is clearly widespread rejection in the organization of all attempts to politicize its work, and your delegation skillfully tapped this sentiment."
    "Your position proves to us and to the world once again how strong and stalwart the ties are between our countries and peoples."

Human Rights Watch Fights a Civil War over Israel - Benjamin Birnbaum (New Republic)
    Last year, Robert Bernstein, the founder and former chairman of Human Rights Watch (HRW), wrote in the New York Times that his organization was "helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state."
    Bernstein's op-ed was the culmination of a long struggle inside the organization. The debate revolved around a single question: Was the human rights group being fair to Israel? Bernstein wasn't the only person at HRW who thought the answer was no.
    According to HRW's own count, since 2000, its Middle East and North Africa division has devoted more reports to abuses by Israel than to abuses by all but two other countries, Iraq and Egypt. That's more reports than those on Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria, Algeria, and other regional dictatorships.
    If you count only full reports, there are roughly as many reports on Israel as on Iran, Syria, and Libya combined.

New Media Need a New Approach to Anti-Semitism - Andre Oboler (Jerusalem Post)
    The U.S. Congress and the Italian parliament both held hearings last week into combating on-line anti-Semitism. Why should something condemned by society were it published in print suddenly become legitimate simply because it appears on-line?
    Anti-Semitism 2.0 is the spread of the social acceptability of anti-Semitism through Web 2.0 technology. It creates an environment in which to be racist is no worse than to support the wrong soccer team. In such an environment, hate spreads, and society is conditioned to accept it.
    Incitement to hate is a danger to public order. There is no reason for platforms like Facebook and YouTube to facilitate the spread of hate.
    The writer is cochairman of the working group on on-line anti-Semitism for the Global Forum to Combat Anti-Semitism.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • White House Seeks to Soften Iran Sanctions - Eli Lake
    The Obama administration is pressing Congress to provide an exemption from Iran sanctions to companies based in "cooperating countries," a move that likely would exempt Chinese and Russian concerns from penalties meant to discourage investment in Iran. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said the exemption "is aimed at China and Russia specifically....The administration wants to give a pass to countries for merely supporting a watered-down, almost do-nothing UN resolution."
        However Patrick Clawson, deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said: "If the administration can use this 'cooperating-countries' waiver to get cooperation from a country like China on enforcing the UN sanctions and on suspending investment in Iran's oil and gas industry, then this bill will be a great success for U.S. objectives about Iran's nuclear program and support for terrorism."  (Washington Times)
  • Ahmadinejad to Visit U.S. for UN Nuclear Meeting
    Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has applied to visit the U.S. as part of an Iranian delegation to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty monitoring conference in New York which begins next week. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Wednesday the U.S. has a responsibility as the host of the UN to accept the Iranian president's visa request. (VOA News)
  • Egyptian Court Convicts 26 Men of Hizbullah Links - Yasmine Saleh
    Egypt on Wednesday convicted 26 men it linked to Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hizbullah of planning attacks inside the country. Judge Adel Abdel Salam Gomaa of Egypt's emergency state security court said the group intended "to strike Egypt's economy, destroy the bonds between its people and create chaos and instability throughout the country." The court sentenced the men - who included Lebanese, Palestinians, Egyptians and one Sudanese - to jail terms from six months to life. Some were convicted in absentia. (Reuters)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Tension on Israel's Northern Border Remains High - Ron Ben-Yishai
    Tension on Israel's northern border remains high after Western intelligence agencies spotted the Syrian effort (encouraged and funded by Iran) to equip Hizbullah with Scud missiles. Lebanon and Syria fear that Israel would not accept the presence of heavy ballistic missiles in Hizbullah's hands and will take offensive military action to lift the threat against its home front. This marks the first time in history where a sovereign state hands over heavy ballistic missiles to an armed militia and even trains its members to use them. Yet at this time Israel has no intention of striking in Lebanon or Syria.
        Hizbullah has already accumulated and prepared for action roughly 45,000 rockets and missiles in fortified and camouflaged shelters, including a few hundred heavy rockets and missiles with a range that can hit every populated area in Israel. Some of them are even more dangerous than Scud missiles because they're more accurate. However, because of the Scud's long range, they can be deployed in northern Lebanon far from the Israeli border, making it harder for Israel to target them. On the other hand, the liquid-fuel Scuds require about 30 minutes of fueling to prepare for launching, during which time the missile is vulnerable to attack, unlike Hizbullah's other, solid-fuel rockets which can be launched within minutes. (Ynet News)
  • Egypt Blows Up Smuggling Tunnel, Killing Four Palestinians
    Four Palestinians were killed and at least 10 others were wounded Wednesday after Egyptian security forces detonated a bomb underground to collapse a smuggling tunnel under the border between Gaza and Egypt. A Palestinian police official said three died of smoke inhalation and a fourth from flying debris. (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Why Gates Rolled Out the Red Carpet for Ehud Barak - Laura Rozen
    When Defense Secretary Robert Gates hosted visiting Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak this week, the Obama administration appeared to be pulling out all the stops in lavishing honor and warm attention on the visiting Israeli official, who has come to Washington numerous times in the past few months without so much grand ceremony. The administration seems to be making a concerted effort to put to rest any impression that the top U.S. military brass was in any way questioning the value of the U.S.-Israeli military and strategic relationship. The White House is engaged in an aggressive public relations and outreach effort to the Hill and Jewish groups to assure them of its commitment to Israel's security. (Politico)
        See also Obama Spreads the Love - For Now - Ron Kampeas
    The Obama administration is projecting a new attitude when it comes to Israel, and is selling it hard: unbreakable, unshakeable bond. "It's a positive development," Alan Solow, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said of the recent Jewish outreach blitz by the administration. "There are two questions, though, that will only be answered over time: Will the outreach be sustained, and will the policy be consistent with the positions being expressed in the outreach?"  (JTA)
  • Rejectionism by Palestinians Key to Mideast Standoff - David Harris
    Gideon Rachman presents a skewed view of Israeli policy (Financial Times, April 27), unfairly placing the onus for the lack of progress toward peace on Israel's shoulders, while ignoring the conflict's core issue - Palestinian rejectionism. Four consecutive prime ministers, including Benjamin Netanyahu, have endorsed a two-state accord, but to no avail. Withdrawal from southern Lebanon and Gaza has led to increased, not reduced, tension. Virulent incitement against Israel continues apace both in the West Bank and Gaza.
        Moreover, Rachman ignores the historical record. Previous talks with the Palestinians, prior to the Obama administration, were held without any preconditions. Those negotiations, in fact, led to breakthrough proposals by Israel, in 2000 and again in 2008, to create a viable Palestinian state. The conflict's root remains what it has been for more than 60 years - namely, the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel's very legitimacy. When that hurdle is overcome, peace will become not just possible but inevitable. The writer is executive director of the American Jewish Committee. (Financial Times-UK)
  • Palestinians Expect Obama to Do All the Work - Eytan Gilboa
    Ever since President Obama entered the White House, the Palestinians are the ones refusing to renew negotiations with Israel. However, the image created by Obama's policy is that Israel alone is responsible for the impasse, and that construction in Jerusalem is the main obstacle to securing an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Somehow, no American policymaker or commentator is asking how Fatah, which cannot engage in talks with its Hamas "brethren" and secure a deal with them, can finalize an agreement with Israel.
        Obama started off by presenting requests and demands to Israel, the Palestinians, and pro-American Arab states for mutual gestures in order to renew the talks. Netanyahu was the only leader who did something. In his Bar-Ilan speech he endorsed the two-state principle, and he even declared a construction freeze in the territories. All the others rejected the American requests. The Palestinians wholly disregard Obama and expect him to do all the work for them and elicit unilateral concessions out of Israel. The writer is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. (Ynet News)
  • Observations:

    America's Big Middle East Game - Tony Badran (Now Lebanon)

    • Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, testifying last week before the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, outlined the administration's conceptual framework for its Syria policy as follows: The U.S. is working to mitigate Iran's regional influence, which Syria facilitates. But Syria is not Iran, and there's a basic policy difference between them - unlike Iran, Syria has an interest in negotiating a peace agreement with Israel. Therefore, the peace process is, in Feltman's words, the "big game."
    • This toxic viewpoint was echoed by National Security Adviser Jim Jones at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy: "One of the ways that Iran exerts influence in the Middle East is by exploiting the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict....Advancing this peace prevent Iran from cynically shifting attention away from its failures to meet its obligations."
    • The sought-after model for Syria is Anwar Sadat's Egypt. But that model is totally inapplicable. Egypt made the leap into the pro-American camp before signing the peace treaty.
    • The Obama administration might lean on the Israelis to resume peace talks with Syria. But even if the Netanyahu government agrees, it's highly unlikely that the talks will lead anywhere, especially since Assad has repeatedly rejected putting his ties to Hizbullah and Iran on the table - a sine qua non for Israel. And so, the "grand idea" will come crashing down, as it already has in its Palestinian version.

      The writer is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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