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May 20, 2010

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The Man Who Trained the Times Square Bomber - Adnan R. Khan (Macleans-Canada)
    Faisal Shahzad, who was captured by U.S. authorities after leaving a powerful bomb in an SUV in the heart of Manhattan's tourist district, visited Pakistan in mid-June 2006 to receive training at a camp belonging to the Lashkar-e-Taiba in Kashmir, according to one of its senior commanders.
    The LeT was blamed for a vicious attack on Mumbai in November 2008 in which more than 160 Indians were killed.
    According to the commander at the LeT's main base in Dulai, Shahzad "was an eager recruit...very intelligent but also very intense, and driven to make his mark for the sake of Islam."
    "Shahzad came to us for training," he says. "He stayed with us for three months and we provided him with the basics. Then he went back to the U.S....We have thousands of recruits who come to us for training."
    "He wanted to do something big," the LeT commander recalls. "He wanted to be famous. For us, that was dangerous. We don't want attention brought to us, and we were worried that Shahzad's personal agenda would get him captured and bring the spotlight on us."
    See also NYC Bomb Suspect Looked at Other Targets - Tom Hays (AP-TIME)
    Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square car bomb suspect, had considered bombing Grand Central Terminal, Rockefeller Center, the World Financial Center, and Sikorsky Inc., a defense contractor with an office in his Connecticut hometown, a law enforcement official said Wednesday.

Germany Stops Shipment to Iran - David Crawford and Joe Lauria (Wall Street Journal)
    German customs officials stopped a shipment of parts destined for delivery to an Iranian nuclear-power plant via Russia.

Drill to Simulate Massive Rocket Attack on Israel - Yaakov Lappin (Jerusalem Post)
    A nationwide war drill will be held in Israel on May 23-27 to test the country's responses to a scenario of hundreds of rockets being fired on the home front.
    Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan, commander of the Home Front Command, said 68 local authorities would participate in the drill, which will include field simulations to test emergency responses.
    Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai stressed that the exercise was an annual event that was not linked to fears of war.

France to Fine Muslim Women with Full-Face Islamic Veils - Edward Cody (Washington Post)
    The French government decided Wednesday to impose a $185 fine on women who wear a full-face Islamic veil in public.
    President Nicolas Sarkozy said his government had a "moral responsibility" to uphold traditional European values in the face of an increasingly visible Muslim population, estimated at more than 5 million.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Major Powers Have Deal on Sanctions for Iran - David E. Sanger and Mark Landler
    The Obama administration announced an agreement on Tuesday with other major powers, including Russia and China, to impose a fourth set of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. The announcement came a day after Iranian leaders announced their own tentative deal, with Turkey and Brazil, to turn over about half of Iran's stockpile of nuclear fuel for a year, part of a frantic effort to blunt the campaign for harsher sanctions.
        On Wednesday, however, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that the draft resolution is far from completion. An official in the Russian Foreign Ministry said, "Our position [on Iran] is, give them another chance."  (New York Times)
        See also U.S. Proposes New Nuclear Sanctions Against Iran - Edith M. Lederer
    The draft resolution would ban Iran from pursuing "any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons," freeze assets of nuclear-related companies linked to the Revolutionary Guard, bar Iranian investment in activities such as uranium mining and prohibit Iran from buying several categories of heavy weapons. (AP-ABC News)
  • Sanctions Effort May Open Door to Press Iran Central Bank - Neil MacFarquhar and David E. Sanger
    The sanctions resolution now being debated in the UN Security Council calls for countries to "exercise vigilance" in dealing with Iran's central bank. American and European officials said Wednesday that the reference could give them a legal basis in the future for choking off financial transactions between Iran and banking centers in Europe and elsewhere. (New York Times)
  • Obama Reassures Jewish Lawmakers on "Obama Peace Plan" - Ben Smith
    During a meeting Tuesday between President Obama and Jewish members of Congress, Obama sought to quell concerns that he would impose a peace plan on Israel without the country's consent, two attendees said. Jewish members, led by New York's Eliot Engel and Connecticut's Joe Lieberman, pressed Obama on their impression that he is putting more pressure on Israel than on the Palestinian side in peace talks, and asked about recent calls on Obama to jumpstart the process with an "Obama plan."
        "I cannot impose a settlement," Obama said. "Israel is a sovereign nation and the notion that I would or could do that is simply wrong." Obama told the group that the rift between the U.S. and Israel has been overstated and stressed that the American commitment to Israel's military superiority is unabated. (Politico)
        See also Jewish Dems Get a Chance to Vent to Obama - Laura Rozen
    One can hardly turn around in Washington the past three weeks without running into another Jewish outreach event by the Obama White House. (Politico)
  • Senators Call to Punish Syria - James Morrison
    Twelve Republican senators are calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to impose "prompt punitive" sanctions against Syria for threatening Israel by supplying long-range Scud missiles to Hizbullah terrorists. They noted that the new missiles put every Israeli city in range of attack. (Washington Times)
        See also Rebuilding the "Box" around Syria - Firas Maksad (Los Angeles Times)
  • U.S. Seeking to Build Up Hizbullah Moderates - Adam Entous
    The Obama administration is looking for ways to build up "moderate elements" within Lebanese Hizbullah, John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, said on Tuesday. "There are certainly the elements of Hizbullah that are truly a concern to us....And what we need to do is to find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements," Brennan said. Hizbullah is branded a "foreign terrorist organization" by the U.S. (Reuters)
        See also State Department Denies Change in Policy toward Hizbullah (Naharnet-Lebanon)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Palestinian Official: Expel Israel from the UN
    Senior PLO official Nabil Shaath said Wednesday that the Palestinians must strive for the isolation of Israel in the international community, attempt to expel it from the UN and prevent a deepening of Israeli ties with the EU. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Report: PA to Ask NATO and U.S. to Defend It from Israel
    The Palestinian Authority will ask that NATO and the U.S. commit to "defending the Palestinian state from Israel," Al-Quds al-Arabi reported Palestinian sources as saying Wednesday. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Egypt Asked Israel to Reject Qatari Offer on Gaza Construction - Zvi Bar'el
    Israel rejected a proposal from Qatar to allow it to bring construction materials into Gaza in exchange for renewing diplomatic relations with Israel after Egypt made clear its opposition to the plan. Relations between Qatar and Egypt are tense, in part because of the sharp criticism of Egypt voiced on Al Jazeera television, which is owned by the emirate's ruling family. (Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Iran's Circle of Diplomatic Partners Is Shrinking - Patrick Clawson
    Even as Iranian leaders argue that they will ignore any and all pressure from the U.S. and its allies, the record demonstrates otherwise. This week's trilateral agreement reached by Iran, Brazil, and Turkey to refuel the Tehran Research Reactor was transparently done with the goal of forestalling sanctions at the UN.
        Iran has had high hopes that Russia would block attempts by the West to slow its nuclear progress. But instead, Moscow has grown increasingly frustrated with Tehran. Beijing also does not seem particularly willing to buck the West on behalf of the Islamic Republic. Iran is not negotiating with Brazil and Turkey because it prefers these two nations as international partners. Rather, Tehran had no choice: its previous, and preferred, interlocutors no longer bought the line that, this time, the Iranians would really cooperate. The writer is deputy director for research at the Washington Institute. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • The Proponents of the Israel Divestment Movement Are on Trial - Hanan Alexander
    Supporters of the initiative to divest from U.S. companies that sell arms to Israel stand accused of seeking to deny Israel the basic human right of self-defense by singling out Israel rather than opposing arms sales in general; of seeking to deny Jews the right to cultural self-determination in a country of their own by minimizing Hamas treachery and supporting its aim to destroy Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; of seeking to deny Jews self-respect by attributing to the Jews alone the power to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict; asserting a false analogy between democratic Israel and apartheid South Africa; and shamelessly asserting the vicious libel that the IDF intentionally targets innocent Palestinian children.
        If one country is denied the right to self-defense, all countries can be denied that right; if one national culture is forbidden, then all cultures can be subjected to ideological discrimination; if one people is despised, then all peoples can be despised; and if one group is unsafe, then everyone is unsafe. The writer is Goldman Visiting Israeli Professor at UC Berkeley and Professor of Philosophy of Education, University of Haifa. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Observations:

    A Diplomatic Game of Chicken with Iran - David Ignatius (Washington Post)

    • On Tuesday, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, including Russia and China, endorsed a draft resolution condemning Iran's nuclear program. However, the new UN resolution won't stop Iran's nuclear program any more than the previous three did.
    • The U.S. and its allies will top up the UN sanctions with some tougher measures of their own, but those won't be enough to halt Tehran either. Yes, Tehran can claim that it has support from Turkey and Brazil, but realistically, the Iranians know that having lost Russia and China on sanctions, they are on shaky ground.
    • The problem with this protracted process of bargaining is that the clock is ticking, with Iran moving toward nuclear-weapons capability even as it haggles on the diplomatic front. As Iran plays the game, "yes" and "no" are never final; negotiators walk away from the table only to return; face-saving compromises are floated, rejected and then re-floated.
    • It's likely that this enervating bargaining will end when Iran announces - surprise! - that it has all the elements for a nuclear weapon and is now a de facto nuclear state.

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    Today's issue of the Daily Alert was prepared in Israel on Isru Chag.