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June 16, 2010

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In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Deploys Tech Firms to Win Syrian Allies - Jay Solomon (Wall Street Journal)
    The State Department has dispatched a high-level diplomatic and trade mission to Syria, marking the latest bid by the Obama administration to woo President Bashar al-Assad away from his strategic alliance with Iran.
    The U.S. delegation comprises senior executives from some of America's top technology companies, including Microsoft, Dell, Cisco Systems and Symantec.
    Some lawmakers and Syrian human-rights activists criticized news of the State Department's mission Monday, saying Assad hasn't responded to almost any of the policy requests made of him by the U.S. since President Obama announced a policy shift toward engaging Damascus last year.
    They cited Syria's continued financial and arms support for militant groups operating in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, and Damascus' refusal to cooperate with UN investigators looking into Syria's development of weapons of mass destruction.
    Some also voiced concern that repression of political opponents could grow if the government develops more sophisticated technologies.

Poll: Palestinians Oppose Proposed Ban on Work in Settlements - Khalil Shikaki (Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research)
    According to a poll of Palestinian opinion conducted June 10-13, only 38% support and 60% oppose preventing Palestinian laborers from working in Israeli towns in the West Bank.

Hizbullah Financier Arrested in Paraguay (AFP)
    Interpol said Tuesday it has arrested Moussa Hamdan, 38, a Lebanese national suspected of funneling money to Hizbullah in Paraguay in the tri-border area with Argentina and Brazil.
    The Interpol chief in Paraguay, Jose Chena, said justice officials would decide whether to extradite Hamdan to the U.S., where an arrest warrant has been issued against him.

British Inmates Convert to Islam for Jail Perks - Richard Ford (Times-UK)
    The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Dame Anne Owers, warned last week that some convicted criminals are converting to Islam in order to receive benefits only available to practicing Muslims and to gain the protection of powerful Muslim gangs.
    The number of Muslim prisoners in the UK has risen dramatically from 2,513 in 1994, or 5% of the population, to 9,795 in 2008, or 11%.
    All prisons offer a halal menu, which some inmates see as better than the usual choices. Some converts admitted that they had changed faith because they got more time out of the cells to go to Friday prayers.
    In some of the most secure jails, the size of the Muslim population is well above average. Two years ago, Muslim inmates accounted for a third of prisoners in Whitemoor, Cambridgeshire, and a quarter of inmates in Long Lartin in Worcestershire.
    Inmates convert after learning about Islam from other inmates, to obtain support and protection in a group with a powerful identity and for material advantages. One inmate said: "I've got loads of close brothers here. They share with you, we look out for each other."

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • UN Gaza Investigation Gathers Steam, as U.S. Stays Neutral - Ben Smith
    A spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday that the secretary general remains "hopeful" that the world body will approve an international inquiry into the Gaza flotilla incident - on top of Israel's own domestic investigation - after it received overwhelming support in a closed Security Council meeting Tuesday. The U.S. position on the panel - amid intense support for it among UN members - has been to wait and see what Ban proposes. "As we always do, we will work hard to make sure that Israel is not treated unfairly at the UN," a U.S. official said. (Politico)
  • Western Nations Slam Iran over Human Rights Record - John Heilprin
    Western nations rebuked Iran for its human rights record Tuesday after overcoming an attempt by Iran and its Muslim allies to block the statement from being read aloud at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The statement won the backing of all 27 EU nations and more than two dozen other countries. It expressed concern over a "lack of progress in the protection of human rights in Iran," including "the violent suppression of dissent, detention and executions without due process of law, severe discrimination against women and minorities including people of Baha'i faith, and restrictions of expression and religion."  (AP-Washington Post)
        See also UN Human Rights Council Coddles Iran - Anne Bayefsky
    Just as Iranians were reminded of their stolen June 2009 election and continued oppression, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a decision on human rights in Iran that was a sentence long and contained no condemnation whatsoever. The context was a review by the Council of Iran's human rights record, as part of the Council's consideration of all 192 UN states. The "outcome" was a sentence identical for dictatorships and democracies alike, in which the Council merely refers to a bundle of documents containing praise, criticisms and responses without drawing any conclusion attributable to the Council itself. (Weekly Standard)
  • Lawmakers Seek to Bar Flotilla Activists from U.S.
    Several members of Congress have called on the State Department to investigate any passengers aboard the Gaza-bound aid flotilla trying to enter the U.S. A group of people affiliated with the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, known as IHH, who were aboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, is planning a U.S. speaking tour in the coming weeks. "The IHH, the flotilla's sponsoring organization, has long been known for its affiliations with terrorist organizations, including Hamas and al-Qaeda," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). "It is the responsibility of our government to ensure that terrorists, and those who support terrorist activities, not be allowed to enter the United States."
        He was joined by Reps. Eliot Engel, Carolyn Maloney, Anthony Weiner and Charles Rangel, all Democrats from New York, at a news conference organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. More than 23,000 people have signed a JCRC of New York petition calling for an investigation of the flotilla passengers. Rep. Weiner said, "Our existing laws are clear and we ought to follow them - anyone that aids and abets terrorism cannot be issued a visa." Rep. Engel said, "The United States must stand with Israel as it seeks to carry out legitimate acts of self-defense." Those aboard the flotilla "should be condemned by the world as supporters of the Hamas terrorist organization, not celebrated as humanitarian activists."  (JTA)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Blair Hails Israeli Plan to Ease Gaza Blockade - Barak Ravid and Jonathan Lis
    Tony Blair, the Quartet's envoy to the Middle East, hailed Tuesday the Israeli cabinet's expected approval on Wednesday of a plan to allow more aid into Gaza. The plan, formulated jointly by Blair and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, includes the formulation of a blacklist of goods that will not be allowed into Gaza, particularly items that could be put to use in manufacturing weapons; the entry of building materials for UN-sponsored construction projects; and Israel's agreement to consider stationing EU as well as PA monitors at border crossings to inspect incoming goods.
        "It will allow us to keep weapons and weapon materials out of Gaza, but on the other hand to help the Palestinian population there," Blair said. "The policy in Gaza should be to isolate the extremists but to help the people." Now, after the easing of the blockade and the change in policy, "we will have to redouble our efforts to release [kidnapped soldier] Gilad Shalit," he added. Blair has met with the prime minister three times over the past ten days, in addition to numerous telephone conversations, to discuss easing the civilian blockade of Gaza while meeting Israeli security concerns. (Ha'aretz)
  • Shin Bet Chief: Hamas Buying Land in Jerusalem - Jonathan Lis
    Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) director Yuval Diskin said on Tuesday that Hamas was busy buying up land within municipal Jerusalem. He told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Israel's Islamic Movement were competing over influence and presence in east Jerusalem. (Ha'aretz)
  • PA Outraged over Arab League Secretary-General Visit to Gaza - Khaled Abu Toameh
    The PA is outraged over a visit to Gaza earlier this week by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa. "This visit legitimizes the Hamas coup," an official said. "We need to remind the Arab world and the international community that Hamas seized control over the Gaza Strip through a bloody and violent coup." PA President Mahmoud Abbas met separately in Sharm e-Sheikh on Tuesday with Moussa and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and relayed to them his deep concern over attempts to recognize Hamas' authority in Gaza. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • U.S.-Turkey Relations Headed Over a Cliff - Thomas L. Friedman
    After 9/11, I was among those hailing the Turkish model as the antidote to "Bin Ladenism." Indeed, the last time I visited Turkey in 2005, my discussions with officials were all about Turkey's efforts to join the EU. That is why it is quite shocking to come back today and find Turkey's Islamist government seemingly focused not on joining the EU but the Arab League - no, scratch that, on joining the Hamas-Hizbullah-Iran resistance front against Israel. I exaggerate, but not that much.
        Turkey's Erdogan today is the most popular leader in the Arab world. Unfortunately, it is not because he is promoting a synthesis of democracy, modernity and Islam, but because he is loudly bashing Israel and praising Hamas instead of the more responsible Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. It is very troubling when Erdogan decries Israelis as killers and, at the same time, warmly receives in Ankara Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the bloodshed in Darfur, and while politely hosting Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose government killed and jailed thousands of Iranians demanding that their votes be counted. (New York Times)
  • After the Flotilla: Crisis and Opportunity - Tal Becker
    As more and more facts emerge about what took place aboard the Marmara, the identity of some of its members, and their violent agenda, many Israelis and their supporters feel at once more vindicated and more outraged at the ferocity of the international criticism that was unleashed. Many Israelis felt - more palpably than in decades - that it was not only Gaza that was under a kind of siege, but Israel itself. Many were astonished not just by the hypocrisy and fury of Israel's critics, but by the estrangement from some of its erstwhile friends. Israel, it seemed, belonged to a special category of "guilty before proven guilty."
        Israel has always had, and will always have, its detractors and its enemies. But the question is whether we have the imagination and the passion to develop a range of responses that prevent the advocates of delegitimization from dictating the agenda. Perhaps we will have the wisdom to see that Israel's adversaries are turning the revival of Jewish and Zionist identity from an aspiration into an imperative. Perhaps their assault on Israel's legitimacy can help renew our own dedication to Israel's calling as a vibrant Jewish and democratic state, one that is a source of pride and meaning for Jews everywhere and a source of inspiration, leadership, and moral example for the world.
        Israel needs to focus on inspiring confidence in the sincerity of its intentions, the morality of its motives, and the integrity of its actions. Israel needs a reputation that gives it the benefit of the doubt. It needs for serious people to be able to testify to the country's wisdom, reason, and moral integrity and to affirm with certainty that these qualities will be brought to bear in grappling with the painful dilemmas that Israel faces. The writer, former legal advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is a Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute. (Shalom Hartman Institute)
  • Observations:

    Can a Nuclear Armed Iran be Deterred? - Amitai Etzioni (Military Review)

    • Increasing evidence that Iran has embarked on a course that will lead it to develop nuclear arms in the near future has reintensified the debate about the ways the world should react to such a danger. Engagement has been tried, sanctions are deemed an unreliable tool, and military strikes are said to be likely to fail. Hence the growing interest in deterrence.
    • But for deterrence to work, the leaders of the nations that command nuclear arms must be rational. However, leading sociologists point to a major category of human behavior where people act in response to deeply held beliefs. People have long shown that they are willing to kill for their beliefs, even if they will die as a result.
    • Objections to the efficacy of bombing nuclear sites points to a different military option that seeks not to degrade Iran's nuclear capacities but to compel the regime to change its behavior, by causing ever-higher levels of "pain." This would entail bombing of Iran's nonnuclear military assets (such as the headquarters and encampments of the Revolutionary Guard, air defense installations and radar sites, missile sites, and naval vessels that might be used against oil shipments).
    • The location of these assets is known, it matters not if one misses some, they are not well hidden nor well protected, and bombing them will not unleash radioactive materials. Above all, we cannot delay action much longer if we are to prevent Iran from crossing a threshold after which a military option will become much more dangerous to implement.

      The writer is professor of international relations at George Washington University.

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