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November 22, 2010

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Evidence Links Hizbullah to Hariri Death - Colum Lynch (Washington Post)
    A Lebanese police officer and UN investigators unearthed extensive circumstantial evidence implicating the Syrian-backed Hizbullah movement in the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, according to an investigation by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
    The UN Investigation Commission's findings are based on Lebanese phone records that suggest Hizbullah officials communicated with the owners of cell phones used to coordinate the detonation that killed Hariri and 22 others as they traveled through downtown Beirut.
    A Lebanese officer, Col. Wissam Eid, reviewed the call records of all cellphones used in the vicinity of the Hotel St. George, where Hariri's convoy was bombed. He quickly established a network of "red" phones that had been used by the hit squad.
    He then established links with other small phone networks which he traced back to a landline at Hizbullah's Great Prophet Hospital in south Beirut, and a handful of government-issued cell phones set aside for Hizbullah.
    Eid was killed in a car bomb eight days after being contacted by a team of British investigators working for the UN.
    See also CBC Investigation: Who Killed Lebanon's Rafik Hariri? - Neil Macdonald (CBC News-Canada)
    See also The Demand for the Freedom to Assassinate - Tariq Alhomayed (Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
    There is a group in Lebanon, with external support, that wants the blessing of Arabs, and others, to have the "freedom to assassinate" in Lebanon. Thus, anyone who assassinates a prime minister, a politician of any rank, or a media personality, should not be harmed; otherwise civil peace in Lebanon will be severely jeopardized.
    The writer is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat.

Photo: Israel from Space - at Night (NASA)
    Photo by astronaut Douglas Wheelock of the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, November 7, 2010.

Poll: Most Palestinians See Two-State Solution as Precursor to Single Palestinian State - Avi Issacharoff (Ha'aretz)
    Almost two-thirds of Palestinians support the two-state solution (Israel and Palestine) but eventually hope that a single Palestinian state will prevail, according to a survey by pollster Stanley Greenberg for The Israel Project.
    Only 23% said they believed in Israel's right to exist as the national homeland of the Jews.
    See also Poll: Support for Hamas Dropping among Palestinians, But Armed Struggle with Israel Not Over - Hilary Leila Krieger (Jerusalem Post)
    According to an Israel Project survey conducted between Oct. 4 and 15, 56% of Gazans and 53% of West Bank Palestinians think negatively of Hamas in comparison to 28% in Gaza and 40% in the West Bank who have positive views. In July 2009, 35% of Gazans and 44% in the West Bank had favorable views of Hamas.
    49% in Gaza and 58% in the West Bank dislike Iran, versus 39% in Gaza and 35% in the West Bank who have favorable attitudes. In 2009, 44% of Gazans had negative views of Iran, while 31% were favorable.
    56% said the Palestinians would once again resort to armed struggle, while 38% agreed that violence only hurts the Palestinians and the days of armed struggle are over.
    See the Complete Poll (The Israel Project)

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  • Israel Says U.S. Has Provided Written Guarantee Not to Ask for Additional Settlement Freezes
    The U.S. has given Israel a written guarantee that it won't pressure the Jewish state for additional settlement freezes if it accepts a limited 90-day construction moratorium to revive Mideast peace talks, a top Israeli official said Saturday. "A commitment not to ask an additional freeze after 90 days was written by the Americans," National Security Adviser Uzi Arad told Israel Channel 2 TV. "What is important - and the prime minister insists on this - is that it be clear beyond any shadow of a doubt that this is the last freeze, there won't be an additional request, there won't be any American demands for freezes or other restrictions," Arad said. He also said the 20 F-35 stealth fighter jets being discussed are not a gift and that Israel will be buying them.
        Arad said he wasn't certain a final peace agreement could be reached with Abbas, saying the Palestinian leader's imposition of preconditions and opting out of talks so early "raises question marks." But Arad said negotiations should continue and that the sides shouldn't rule out an interim agreement. (AP)
        See also Abbas: No Negotiations Without Jerusalem Freeze - Amy Teibel
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned on Sunday that he would not accept a U.S. proposal for resuming peace talks unless Israel stops building homes for Jews in east Jerusalem. In Israel's inner Cabinet that is to vote on the moratorium, the Shas Party, which holds the swing votes, has demanded a written assurance from the U.S. that construction in east Jerusalem would not be affected. (AP)
  • Sarkozy: Missile Threat Today Comes from Iran
    France's President Nicolas Sarkozy said Saturday that Iran poses the main threat that NATO's planned anti-missile defense shield is designed to foil. "No name appears in the documents made public by NATO, but let's call a spade a spade: today's missile threat, it's Iran," Sarkozy said at the NATO summit in Lisbon. The 28-member alliance had earlier agreed on a plan to design a network of radars and interceptor rockets to shoot down missiles targeted at NATO member states, and to invite Russia to take part. NATO member Turkey insisted that Iran not be singled out as a threat in official policy documents. (AFP)
  • Worm Can Deal Double Blow to Iran's Nuclear Program - John Markoff
    German software engineer Ralph Langner, who in September was the first to report that the Stuxnet computer worm was apparently designed to sabotage targets in Iran, said Friday that the program contained two separate "digital warheads," designed to disable both Iranian centrifuges used to enrich uranium and steam turbines at the Bushehr nuclear power plant.
        He described two different attack modules that are designed to run on different industrial controllers made by Siemens. "It appears that warhead one and warhead two were deployed in combination as an all-out cyberstrike against the Iranian nuclear program," he wrote. (New York Times)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Military Intelligence Head Warns: Tel Aviv May Be Front Line of Next Conflict
    Tel Aviv is likely to be on the front lines in the next large military confrontation, Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, the head of Military Intelligence, warned the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday. "The quiet should not fool us," Yadlin said. "Our enemies are getting stronger and arming." "Iran's tentacles extend to all those who are working against Israel," he said. "In the next confrontation there is a likelihood that more than one front may erupt, and Tel Aviv will be turned into the front lines."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Israel Protests to UN over Palestinian Phosphorous Attack
    Israeli UN Ambassador Meron Ruben filed an official complaint on Saturday with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon following Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza. Starting on 18 November 2010, "a barrage of rockets and mortars were fired at Israeli towns and civilians from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. These attacks included the launch of a long-range rocket at the Israeli town of Ofakim, causing damage to property and livestock, which was followed by a barrage of seven mortars - some of which apparently contained white phosphorus - that were fired into the area around the city of Ashkelon and into the Eshkol region in the south. In addition, two Kassam rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into the Merhavim region in southern Israel."
        "These incidents are only the latest in a series of attacks carried out by Hamas and other terrorist organizations, which have launched some 8,800 rockets from Gaza against Israeli towns since 2001....These attacks reflect the continued buildup of arms and munitions by Hamas and other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip. These latest incidents - a clear violation of international law - demonstrate the acute security threats facing Israel on a daily basis."  (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
  • Israeli Cabinet Approves Western Wall Development Plan
    The Israeli Cabinet Sunday approved a five-year plan for the continued development of Jerusalem's Western Wall plaza and its environs. The plan is designed to preserve - and improve accessibility to - archaeological findings, upgrade physical and transportation infrastructures, and hold educational activities for students and soldiers. The plan for 2011-2015 is a direct continuation of the five-year plan approved in 2004, which led to a major increase in the annual number of visitors to the Western Wall from two million people to eight million in 2009.
        The Western Wall is the most visited site in Israel. Thus, it is necessary to meet the traffic needs of private vehicles and public transportation, create access routes for emergency vehicles, increase access for the handicapped and provide for the flow of visitors on weekdays and holidays. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "The Western Wall is the Jewish People's most important heritage site."  (Prime Minister's Office)
        See also Palestinians Brand Western Wall Plaza Plan "Illegal"  (AFP-Gulf Times-Qatar)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Why America Chases an Israeli-Palestinian Peace - Ethan Bronner
    The U.S. believes that if it can end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its fraught relationship with the Muslim world will greatly improve, thereby allowing America to accomplish much that is currently eluding it in places like Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, not to mention easing its role as the prime guarantor of Israel's own security.
        Many Israelis dismiss this as a form of magical thinking. Mark Heller, a researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, says, "Let's assume that you've resolved the conflict or that Israel has disappeared or that Israel and the United States are now enemies. Will the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq suddenly start making love? Will the Sunnis, Shiites and Christians in Lebanon get together? Will it end the oppression of Christians in Egypt? Will it raise the status of women or put an end to the use of violence as a political weapon in the Muslim world? It's a total illusion."  (New York Times)
  • Obama's Foreign Policy Needs an Update - Jackson Diehl
    Obama's preoccupation with stopping Israel's settlement expansion in the West Bank and Jerusalem is a campaign that even Palestinian and Arab leaders have watched with bafflement. The settlements have become a sideshow; the real issues concern how to create a Palestinian state in a Middle East where the greatest threat is not Israeli but Iranian expansionism. What to do about Hamas and Hizbullah and their Iranian-supplied weapons? How to ensure that the post-occupation West Bank does not become another Iranian base? The Obama administration seems to have no strategy for these issues. (Washington Post)
  • NATO Considering Peacekeeping Force in Middle East? - Emanuele Ottolenghi
    Speaking in Lisbon during NATO's summit, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the alliance is prepared to consider sending a peacekeeping force to enforce an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. According to Florence Gaub, a scholar at the NATO Defense College in Rome, a NATO force in Palestine would "need forces ranging from 43,700 to 76,000 men." But aside from her assessment that "NATO's mission in Palestine would have slim chances of success and a high probability of failure," what are the chances that NATO countries, that found it hard to contribute an additional few thousand men to Afghanistan, would give 76,000 for Palestine? (Commentary)
  • Observations:

    U.S. Support for '67 Borders Would Break Deal with Israel - Malvina Halberstam (Jerusalem Post)

    • The New York Times reported on Oct. 6 that to induce PA President Mahmoud Abbas to return to negotiations, Obama offered "to formally endorse a Palestinian state based on the borders [sic] of Israel before the 1967 Middle East war." Such a promise would breach an agreement between the U.S. and Israel entered into on April 14, 2004, in an exchange of letters between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
    • Although the U.S. Constitution only provides for treaties ratified by the president with the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Senate, executive agreements have been used since the beginning of the United States, and most agreements between the U.S. and other countries today are by executive agreement rather than by treaty. In two cases decided over 70 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held that executive agreements are constitutional, and that, like treaties, they supersede inconsistent state law.
    • While there is, of course, no way Israel, or any other country, can compel the U.S. to honor its treaty commitments, the U.S. has generally done so. If Obama fails to honor agreements made by his predecessor, it would not only tarnish the U.S. reputation internationally, it would seriously impair America's ability to negotiate future agreements, as other states would wonder whether any U.S. commitments they received in return for concessions would be honored.

      The writer, a professor of international law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, served as counselor on international law in the U.S. Department of State, Office of the Legal Adviser.

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