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May 18, 2010

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Israel Tells Diplomats It Will Stop Gaza Aid Boats (AFP)
    A senior Israeli official told European diplomats on Monday that a plan by pro-Palestinian activists to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza would be stopped.
    The Free Gaza Movement aims to send three cargo ships and five passenger vessels to Gaza from Ireland, Greece and Turkey.
    "This is a provocation and a breach of Israeli law," Naor Gilon, a foreign ministry deputy director general, told the ambassadors of Greece, Ireland, Turkey, and Sweden, whose nationals were involved. "Israel has no intention of allowing the flotilla to enter Gaza," Gilon said in a statement.
    See also Another Futile Attempt by Propagandists to "Break the Gaza Blockade" - Lenny Ben David (Jerusalem Post)
    See also 14,000 Tons of Aid Transferred to Gaza (Jerusalem Post)
    "A total of 637 truckloads, consisting of 14,069 tons of humanitarian aid," were transferred from Israel into Gaza last week, the IDF announced on Tuesday.
    In addition, 781 medical patients from Gaza crossed into Israel and the West Bank along with their chaperones for medical treatment.

Hizbullah's "Disneyland" (AFP-Straits Times-Singapore)
    Ten years after Israel pulled out, south Lebanon is solidly controlled by Hizbullah which is even organizing "jihadist tours" along the border.
    About 500 young men and woman, both Christian and Muslim, took part Sunday in the latest such field trip. "We want to familiarize young people with the achievements of the resistance," said Mohammed Taleb, 23, a Hizbullah militant.
    The field trip included a workshop on how to handle weapons, close contact with Hizbullah fighters who spoke of their exploits in the face of the "enemy" (Israel), and a reenactment of battles at the border village of Maroun el-Rass, where some of the fiercest fighting took place during the 2006 war.
    The highlight of the trip was a visit to a key fighting position near the Iqlim al-Touffah region. After a steep climb, the group was met by two rows of Hizbullah fighters with blackened faces and armed with machine guns.
    In the background blared a speech by Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah boasting that his party had more than 20,000 rockets ready for the next battle with Israel.
    A French student couldn't get over the show. "This is surreal, it's like Disneyland," he said.

Over a Quarter Million Jews Have Visited Israel with Birthright - Jonatan Urich (Israel Defense Forces)
    This week, Taglit-Birthright Israel celebrated its tenth anniversary. Since the beginning of the year, 10,300 participants visited Israel, a number expected to reach 31,000 by the end of the year.
    Since its beginning in 2000, over a quarter of a million Jewish youth from more than fifty countries have participated in the program.
    About 17,000 Birthright alumni are now living in Israel.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • U.S. Skeptical on Iranian Deal for Nuclear Fuel - David E. Sanger and Michael Slackman
    The U.S., Europe and Russia responded with extreme skepticism to Iran's announcement on Monday that it had reached an agreement to ship roughly half of its nuclear fuel to Turkey, saying they would continue to press for new sanctions against Tehran. Officials from several countries said the deal, negotiated with the leaders of Turkey and Brazil, was a deftly timed attempt to throw the sanctions effort off track.
        White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement: "While it would be a positive step for Iran to transfer low-enriched uranium off of its soil as it agreed to do last October, Iran said today that it would continue its 20% enrichment, which is a direct violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions." Gibbs made clear that the U.S. would continue to press forward with sanctions until Iran demonstrates "through deeds - and not simply words - its willingness to live up to international obligations or face consequences, including sanctions."
        Sergei B. Ivanov, the deputy prime minister of Russia, was similarly skeptical, saying he expected the sanctions resolution to "be voted in the near future," and said that the new Iranian accord should not be "closely linked" to the sanctions effort. (New York Times)
        See also France: Iran Fuel Deal Would Not Fix Nuclear Issue (Reuters)
  • France Accused of Striking Deal with Iran on Prisoner Releases - Charles Bremner
    French judges are expected Thursday to release Ali Vakili Rad, who is serving a 1994 life sentence for murdering Shapour Bakhtiar, the last prime minister of the late Shah, in Paris. The move appears to be part of a deal which won the freedom of Clotilde Reiss, 24, a French student who had been held for 10 months in Tehran.
        President Sarkozy's government denied any link with a Paris court's decision last week to refuse an American request for the arrest of Iranian businessman Majid Kakavand, 36, wanted by Washington for exporting to Iran U.S.-made electronics which had possible military use. The media saw the twin releases as the price that Sarkozy had been forced to pay for Reiss' freedom. France also paid a $285,000 fine to obtain her release from house arrest at the French embassy in Tehran. (Times-UK)
  • Fayyad Campaigns in West Bank
    Hardly a day goes by without Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad touring a West Bank town or village to meet and greet the public. "Love him or hate him, the one who is running the show at the moment is Salam Fayyad," said one senior figure in the PLO's dominant Fatah faction, headed by Fayyad's boss, Mahmoud Abbas. "We could get to the point where the only option for the Palestinian people as a successor to Abbas is Salam Fayyad," said the senior Fatah figure.
        Opinion poll data show Fayyad with a low but increasing level of support. However, senior Fatah figures have no doubt Fayyad, a long-time outsider, is now very firmly a contender. "After three years in office and with all the projects he has opened, it would be stupid to believe that this man does not have a popular base," said Sabri Saidam, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council. (Reuters)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Report: Egypt Freezing Contacts with Hamas - Roee Nahmias
    Cairo has decided to cut all contact with heads of the Hamas movement, both in the Palestinian territories and abroad, the Egyptian newspaper al-Mesryoon reported Monday. According to a senior official, the decision was in response to "the organized media campaign that Hamas officials are waging against Egyptian figures, by defaming them in Arab satellite television stations and in Arab media."
        The tension between Hamas and Egypt is rooted in Egypt's refusal to open the Rafah crossing to Gaza, its construction of a steel fence on the Gaza border, and its war against smuggling tunnels. Last Wednesday, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused Egypt of torturing 30 Palestinian detainees in its custody. Last week, a Palestinian fisherman was killed when his boat collided with an Egyptian naval vessel in Egypt's territorial waters. Gazans said Egyptian sailors beat the fisherman to death. (Ynet News)
  • The New Lebanon Battlefield - Alex Fishman
    Hizbullah is growing stronger every day, in terms of the number of fighters, quantity of missiles, and capabilities. The M-600 missiles supplied by Syria to Hizbullah are not just another item in its arsenal. It is a much more accurate and effective weapon, with the ability to hit IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv in the next war should it wish to do so. In 2006, it did not possess this ability. In the next war, Hizbullah will have the option of firing dozens of accurate missiles simultaneously from dozens of launch sites across Lebanon - while directing them at one specific target. (Ynet News)
        See also Getting Ready for Hizbullah - Alex Fishman
    The Scud missiles which Hizbullah reportedly received from Syria are meant for a specific objective. If they are Scud D type, this is apparently a threat on Israel's nuclear reactor in Dimona. Its war will focus on firing rockets and missiles deep into Israel, over time. Hizbullah (as well as Hamas) is rapidly digging fortifications underground - bunkers, headquarters, control centers, and passageways between them.
        In the Second Lebanon War, the Air Force destroyed Hizbullah's long-range missiles within 35 minutes. Meanwhile, 50% of the rockets fired from short- and mid-range rocket launchers were destroyed before they were used, while the rest were destroyed immediately after the first attack. Hizbullah maintains an army of less than 20,000 men. The increase it aspires for, to at least 40,000 men, requires compromise on manpower quality. However, advanced weapons systems require strict maintenance and high technological capabilities. (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Iran Creates Illusion of Progress in Nuclear Negotiations - Glenn Kessler
    By striking a deal to ship some of its low-enriched uranium abroad, Iran has created the illusion of progress in nuclear negotiations with the West, without offering any real compromise. (Washington Post)
        See also A Sham Deal with Iran - Bronwen Maddox
    Brazil and Turkey claim to have pulled off a triumph in persuading Iran to freeze the heart of its nuclear program. But this is almost certainly a sham deal - and one that, dangerously, will undermine the drive to bring new sanctions against Tehran. (Times-UK)
  • Changing the Paradigm of U.S. Assistance to Egypt: Alternatives to the "Endowment" Idea - J. Scott Carpenter
    Recently leaked documents detail an exchange between Washington and Cairo regarding the future of U.S. economic assistance to Egypt, indicating that the Obama administration has welcomed Cairo's idea of ending traditional assistance in favor of creating a new endowment, "The Egyptian-American Friendship Foundation." This idea has a long, checkered history and, if implemented, will be bad for both American taxpayers and the Egyptian people. The administration should work with Egypt to craft alternatives that advance common objectives, including democratic reform. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Observations:

    Iran Maneuvers to Delay Sanctions - Ronen Bergman (Ynet News)

    • The agreement between Tehran and Ankara is a nice achievement for the Iranians that will somewhat delay the international sanctions against them and provide an alibi for the Russians and Chinese to maintain excellent economic ties with Tehran.
    • Every time Iran feels that it's approaching the point of no return in respect to Security Council or EU decisions on sanctions, it comes up with a "new initiative" and announces that it will in fact accept the international community's conditions. Yet when it actually needs to sign an agreement, it presents new conditions.
    • The Iranians agreed and reneged on this kind of arrangement eight times. Indeed, this is just part of the ongoing ritual of Iranian maneuvers aimed at buying time in order to get as close as possible to the bomb.

    Iran's Nuclear Coup - Editorial (Wall Street Journal)

    • Iran said it would send 1,200 kg. of low-enriched uranium to Turkey within a month, and no more than a year later get back 120 kg. enriched from somewhere else abroad. This makes even less sense than the flawed October deal. In the intervening seven months, Iran has kicked its enrichment activities into higher gear. Its estimated total stock has gone to 2,300 kg. from 1,500 kg. last autumn, and its stated enrichment goal has gone to 20% from 3.5%.
    • If the West accepts this deal, Iran would be allowed to keep enriching uranium in contravention of previous UN resolutions. Removing 1,200 kg. will leave Iran with still enough low-enriched stock to make a bomb, and once uranium is enriched up to 20% it is technically easier to get to bomb-capable enrichment levels.
    • Only last week, diplomats at the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran has increased the number of centrifuges it is using to enrich uranium. According to Western intelligence estimates, Iran continues to acquire key nuclear components, such as trigger mechanisms for bombs. Tehran says it wants to build additional uranium enrichment plants. The CIA recently reported that Iran tripled its stockpile of uranium last year and moved "toward self-sufficiency in the production of nuclear missiles." Monday's deal will have no impact on these illicit activities.

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