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August 5, 2010

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In-Depth Issues:

U.S.: Lebanese Fire on Israeli Troops Was Totally Unjustified - Natasha Mozgovaya and Barak Ravid (Ha'aretz)
    State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Wednesday that the firing by Lebanese armed forces on Israeli troops near the Israel-Lebanon border on Tuesday, which killed one Israeli officer and seriously wounded another, was "totally unjustified and unwarranted....We don't want to see this happen again."
    Israeli officials had expressed disappointment on Tuesday with the initial U.S. response to the shooting incident calling on both sides to show restraint, prompting Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren to hold talks with senior U.S. officials to demand a harsher response.

Explosion Kills 5 At Iranian Petrochemical Plant - Benoit Faucon (Dow Jones-Wall Street Journal)
    A massive explosion killed five workers Wednesday at the Pardis Petrochemical complex in the southern Iranian port city of Assaluyeh, the second such incident in less than two weeks.
    Assaluyeh is home to the Pars Special Energy Economic Zone, a giant energy complex that uses natural gas from the neighboring South Pars field.

Turkey and Israel Do a Brisk Business - Dan Bilefsky (New York Times)
    Turks who protested Israel's raid on a Turkish-led flotilla to Gaza this summer do not know that their cellphones, personal computers and plasma televisions were made using parts and technology from Tel Aviv.
    According to Manashe Carmon, chairman of the Israel Turkish Business Council, "most of the software Turks use in everything from cell phones to medical equipment is made in Israel. So unless Turks want to stop using their computers, boycotting Israel would mean punishing themselves."
    In addition, many Israeli businesses use Turkish partner companies to sell to the Arab world.

British Muslims Urged to Boycott Israeli Dates, While Israeli Ambassador Calls for "Two-Date Solution" - Haroon Siddique (Guardian-UK)
    British Muslims are being urged to boycott Israeli dates when breaking their fast during Ramadan. But the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor, appeared to take the threat of a boycott lightly.
    "Israel will continue to successfully export dates, while others choose to export hate," he said.
    "We encourage Muslim shoppers to ignore this nonsense, and instead double the quantity they usually purchase, to help bring about a two-date solution."

Gaza Documentary Rapped for Breaking Impartiality Rules - Sherna Noah (Independent-UK)
    A current affairs program on the Gaza flotilla incident presented by Lauren Booth, former Prime Minister Tony Blair's sister-in-law, has been rapped by the UK broadcasting watchdog for breaching impartiality rules.
    The program, broadcast in June on Press TV, the Iranian international news network, started with a pro-Palestinian song set to anti-Israeli/pro-Palestinian imagery, followed by Booth saying, "Israeli commandos... committed a massacre of innocent civilians."
    Yet the UK Office of Communications (Ofcom) ruled that "the program did not contain any alternative views" and "gave a one-sided view on this matter of political controversy."

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Obama Offers Iran an Opening on Engagement - David Ignatius
    President Obama put the issue of negotiating with Iran firmly back on the table Wednesday. "It is very important to put before the Iranians a clear set of steps that we would consider sufficient to show that they are not pursuing nuclear weapons," Obama said, adding: "They should know what they can say 'yes' to." As in the past, he left open the possibility that the U.S. would accept a deal that allows Iran to maintain its civilian nuclear program, so long as Iran provides "confidence-building measures" to verify that it is not building a bomb.
        Why is Obama talking engagement with Iran when many analysts are debating the growing risks of a military confrontation? Administration officials cite two factors: First, the sanctions against Iran are beginning to bite, making Tehran potentially more interested in dialogue; and second, U.S. intelligence reports indicate that the Iranians have had technical troubles in their nuclear-enrichment program - which allows more time for diplomacy. A senior official said that only 3,800 centrifuges were now operating at Natanz, at only about 60% of their design capacity, with another 4,000 in reserve to cope with breakdowns.
        The White House chose an unusual way to send its signals to Tehran. A small group of journalists was invited to a "background session" on Iran policy and the briefer turned out to be Obama. What came through in Obama's upbeat presentation was the administration's view that for all Tehran's bombast, the U.S. and its allies have the upper hand. (Washington Post)
  • Iran Defiant in Nuclear Documents - George Jahn
    As Iran and world powers prepare for new nuclear talks, letters by Tehran's envoys to top international officials and shared with the Associated Press suggest major progress is unlikely, with Tehran combative and unlikely to offer any concessions. A letter addressed to Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, slams her offer to resume talks a day after the UN Security Council passed its fourth set of sanctions. The second letter says that "irrational conditions" imposed by the West are blocking a new round of fuel swap talks. Addressed to International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano and signed by Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief IAEA delegate, the letter accuses the five permanent members of the UN Security Council of poisoning the atmosphere "through (the) imposition of another illegal resolution."
        While both letters say Iran is ready to talk, the one to Ashton - the point person for the six big powers - sets the bar perhaps unreachably high, suggesting that Tehran is prepared to come to the table only if the other side ends its "hostility," avoids "any kind of pressure or threat," and states its "clear position on the nuclear weapons of the Zionist regime."  (AP)
  • U.S. Blacklists 21 Iranian Companies - Jay Solomon
    The U.S. Treasury on Tuesday blacklisted 21 state-owned Iranian companies in six countries as part of a growing and coordinated international effort to undercut Tehran's ability to use units in Europe and Asia to facilitate financial transactions and weapons development. The Obama administration's point man in its financial war on Iran, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence Stuart Levey, also announced U.S. sanctions against key leaders in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as measures targeting Iranian foundations accused of supporting militant groups in Lebanon, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories. (Wall Street Journal)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Netanyahu: Hamas Responsible for Rockets on Eilat
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Hamas was responsible for the rocket fire on Israel's and Jordan's Red Sea ports on Monday. Earlier Wednesday, Egyptian officials confirmed that the rocket attacks, which had killed a Jordanian taxi driver in Aqaba, had been carried out by Hamas operating from Egypt. An Egyptian security official said Hamas had fired seven rockets, including one which misfired and left debris near a security facility in the town of Taba.
        "Over recent days we've witnessed three attacks against Israel," Netanyahu said in a special announcement on Israeli television. "An attack from Gaza on Ashkelon, an attack by the Lebanese army on Israel Defense Forces troops carrying out a routine operation, and another attack from the Sinai peninsula at Eilat. I want to make very clear to Hamas and to the Lebanese government that we view them as responsible for the violent provocation against us."
        "Grad rockets were fired from Sinai at Eilat and Aqaba by a seemingly anonymous organization. Several months earlier, on April 22, similar rocket fire came from Sinai. We investigated the two incidents - it became clear beyond a doubt that Hamas' military wing in Gaza had perpetrated both attacks under disguise....The use of a third country's soil, one that seeks peace, in order to launch rockets at Israel, will not help Hamas escape culpability."  (Ha'aretz)
  • Congressmen Threaten to Reassess U.S. Military Aid to Lebanon - Hilary Leila Krieger
    Some members of Congress are threatening to reassess U.S. aid to the Lebanese military following its border clash with Israel on Tuesday. "To start shooting as they did - one person killed, one seriously injured - is a very serious move by the Lebanese army," said Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fla.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "It certainly is going to come up in our conversations in the Congress about the continued support of the Lebanese army," he said. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Israel-Lebanon Tensions and the Hariri Assassination Investigation - David Schenker, Andrew J. Tabler, and Jeffrey White
    In the aftermath of the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri, the UN established an International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC), which quickly implicated Syria in the killing. More recently, however, the commission and its prosecutorial arm, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), have focused on Hizbullah's alleged role. Some sources have even implicated senior Hizbullah official Mustafa Badreddine, brother-in-law of former top commander Imad Mughniyah. Recent reports assert that between two and six Hizbullah members will be indicted. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Attacked by Lebanon - Editorial
    Israel's security fence in the north isn't constructed directly on the border but inside Israeli terrain. Israel had coordinated with UNIFIL that it was going to carry out routine pruning of shrubs and trees near the border that could provide cover to terrorists. The work was to be done beyond the fence but not outside the Blue Line international border.
        Lebanese officers arbitrarily decided that the fence constitutes the border, but their fire wasn't directed at the crews that ventured beyond the fence but at officers clearly on the Israeli side of it. Though called "peacekeepers," the UNIFIL forces did not raise, much less use, their weapons to foil what was obviously outright aggression.
        The hope was that the Lebanese Armed Forces would restore order in what had become Hizbullah's dominion. But instead of central government control over Hizbullah-land, we witness growing Hizbullah control of both the central government and its army. Lebanon's military is increasingly Shi'ite (including the command of the southern region) and overtly sympathetic to Hizbullah, if not actually in active cahoots with it.
        Not a shred of doubt exists about the aggressor's identity. Yet, regarding the Lebanese ambush, the reaction of the UN, U.S., EU and Russia has been implausibly "evenhanded." Rather than promote peace, it underscores Israeli apprehensions regarding international guarantees and international peacekeeping. Both the U.S. and France need to reassess their aid to what has become an arm of the Iranian-Syrian axis. (Jerusalem Post)
  • The Widening Rift Among Iran's Clerics - Geneive Abdo and Arash Aramesh
    There is now a full-blown rift between supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and many of the conservative and traditional clerics who once supported him. Many prominent clerics are at odds with Iran's leadership - a development that casts a question mark over the legitimacy of the Islamic state. This conflict has been exacerbated by clerical opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is Khamenei's protege, and illustrates the depth of Iran's domestic crisis.
        A large segment of the clerical population does not believe in the theory of velayat-e-faqih - the "Guardianship of the Jurist," which places a leader interpreting God's word atop republican institutions - and thinks the clergy should stay away from politics. One such cleric is the most notable figure in the Shiite world, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Iraq, who has many Iranian followers as well. Geneive Abdo is the director of the Iran program at The Century Foundation. Arash Aramesh is a research associate for the Iran program. (International Herald Tribune)
  • Observations:

    The International Community Must Condemn Attacks on Israel - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Prime Minister's Office)

    In the wake of recent attacks on Israel from Lebanon in the north and Gaza and Sinai in the south, Prime Minister Netanyahu issued the following statement Wednesday:

    • For years many in the international community have remained silent when rockets have been fired at Israeli civilians, and when unprovoked attacks have been launched against our soldiers.
    • Expressions of outrage have largely been reserved for Israel's response to those attacks.
    • Firing missiles on civilians is a war crime, and unprovoked attacks on soldiers are blatant acts of aggression.
    • Israel expects the international community to condemn such attacks in the strongest possible terms.
    • All those in the international community committed to peace should support Israel's right to defend itself against those who attack the innocent and seek to destroy peace.

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