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May 6, 2011

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Al-Qaeda Data Yield Details of Planned Plots - Joby Warrick (Washington Post)
    Documents seized in the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound have yielded a bonanza of new intelligence, from names and locations of terrorist suspects to chilling details of al-Qaeda plots to attack targets in the U.S. and beyond, U.S. officials said Thursday.
    Intelligence officials found documents detailing a previously unknown plan to attack the U.S. commuter rail network on this year's 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
    There was no evidence that the plot ever advanced beyond the conceptual stage, the officials stressed.

Hamas Leader Mashaal: Bin Laden Assassination an "Atrocity" (AFP-Ynet News)
    Damascus-based Hamas Politburo Chief Khaled Mashaal called on the West Thursday to "recognize the atrocity" of the assassination of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
    See also Hamas' Condemnation of Bin Laden Killing Reflects Deep Identification with Jihadist Islam (Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center)

Arab Spring, Turkish Fall - Steven A. Cook (Foreign Policy)
    The Arab uprisings seemed tailor-made for the "new Turkey" to exert its much-vaunted influence in the Middle East. Yet Ankara has been downright clumsy in dealing with the Arab upheavals.
    Despite the brutality and chaos instigated by Muammar Gaddafi, Erdogan found it difficult to decisively cut ties with the Libyan leader, and seems to be engaged in a similar diplomatic dance with regard to Syria.
    There was always a lot less to Ankara's influence in the Arab world than met the eye. Turkish leaders love the anecdotes about Arabs watching Turkish soap operas, and the comparison between the Turkish prime minister and Gamal Abdel Nasser, but the new Ottomans have found it as difficult to manage the politics of the region as the Sultans before them.
    At base, the Turks managed a measure of influence during a period of Arab decay.

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Is the Pro-Israeli Policy of Canada's Conservative Government Affecting Jewish Voters - Paul C. Merkley (Jewish Political Studies Review)
    Political strategists distinguish twelve ridings across Canada that have a significant Jewish population (over 6,000), as calculated in 2004.
    Of these, only one - Thornhill, one of the Greater Toronto seats - was actually won by the Conservative candidate at the last election.
    But in all of these elections there was a substantial shift toward the Conservative candidate, and, more specifically, a significant increase of the Conservative vote in the polls where Jews live in greatest numbers.

First Arab on Israel's Supreme Court Talks about Diversity - Niraj Warikoo (Detroit Free Press)
    Justice Salim Joubran, the first Arab on Israel's Supreme Court, was in Detroit Wednesday to tell attorneys, students, and judges that Israel is a diverse country.
    Joubran said he lives in Haifa, where Muslims, Jews, and Christians live side by side in peace.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Clinton: U.S. Cannot Support PA Government with Hamas Until It Adopts Quartet Principles
    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked in Rome on Thursday if the agreement between Hamas and Fatah closes the door on the prospect of peace talks continuing with Israel. Clinton responded: "We've made it very clear that we cannot support any government that consists of Hamas unless and until Hamas adopts the Quartet principles" [of recognizing Israel's right to exist, renouncing violence and respecting treaties previously signed by the Palestinians]. (State Department)
  • Egypt Front-Runner Seeks Israel Reset - Matt Bradley
    The leading candidate in Egypt's presidential race said that if he was elected he would break with former President Hosni Mubarak's reliably amenable policies toward Israel. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Amr Moussa also described a political landscape in which the Muslim Brotherhood, outlawed under Mubarak, is dominant. It is inevitable, he said, that parliamentary elections in September will usher in a legislature led by a bloc of Islamists, with the Brotherhood at the forefront.
        Moussa owes the bulk of his popularity to his trenchant criticism of Israel and the U.S. while he was foreign minister. In recent years, for example, he has said Israel's unacknowledged nuclear program poses a bigger threat than Iran's program. In a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 89% of Egyptians said they had a positive impression of Moussa - far ahead of competitors such as Ayman Nour, of whom 70% approved. Mohammed ElBaradei rated 57% approval. (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Meet Amr Moussa - the Anti-Israel Demagogue Who Will Likely Be Egypt's Next President - Eric Trager (New Republic)
        See also The New Egypt: Back to Belligerence? - Elliot Jager (Jewish Ideas Daily)
  • Syrian Troops Storm Damascus Suburb - Khaled Yacoub Oweis
    Hundreds of Syrian soldiers broke into houses and made arrests Wednesday night in the Damascus suburb of Saqba, scene of a mass demonstration against the president last week. (Reuters)
        See also Syrian Crackdown Is Failing - Amir Taheri
    Syrian human-rights groups have established the names of 2,834 people arrested in 23 cities over the last four days. And the list is growing by the hour. The rebels' resilience has surprised many Syrians. Six weeks after the uprising started, Damascus is abuzz with speculation about the Assad clan's infighting.
        On the diplomatic front, the German foreign ministry started procedures leading to "targeted sanctions" against the Syrian regime and its top leaders. The EU is studying an even broader package of sanctions. Turkey, which at first tried to "persuade" Assad to take the path of reform, is clearly distancing itself from the despot. (New York Post)
        See also Bin Laden's Legacy Lives On in Syria - Lee Smith (Weekly Standard-NPR)
        See also Former Syrian Vice President: "A Boundless Fury Has Been Building Up" - Interview with Abdul Halim Khaddam (Der Spiegel-Germany)
  • Internal Strife Emerges as Tehran Looks Westward - David Ignatius
    There's political upheaval in Tehran as seen in a recent feud between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The key figure in this dispute is Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's former chief of staff and said to be his choice as successor in the next Iranian presidential elections, scheduled for 2013. The political battle erupted after Ahmadinejad and Mashaei attempted to get greater control over the intelligence ministry, prompting the resignation of Heydar Moslehi, its director. But on April 20, Khamenei refused to accept the resignation, and Moslehi was reinstalled - in an unusual public rebuke by the supreme leader of Ahmadinejad. (Washington Post)
        See also Ahmadinejad Allies Charged with Sorcery - Saeed Kamali Dehghan
    Close allies of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been accused of using supernatural powers to further his policies amid an increasingly bitter power struggle between him and the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Several people said to be close to the president and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, have been arrested in recent days and charged with being "magicians" and invoking djinns (spirits).
        The feud has taken a metaphysical turn following the release of an Iranian documentary alleging the imminent return of the Hidden Imam Mahdi - the revered savior of Shia Islam. Conservative clerics, who say that the Mahdi's return cannot be predicted, have accused a "deviant current" within the president's inner circle, including Mashaei, of being responsible for the film. On Saturday, Mojtaba Zolnour, Khamenei's deputy representative in the powerful Revolutionary Guard, said: "Today Mashaei is the actual president. Mr. Ahmadinejad has held on to a decaying rope by relying on Mashaei."  (Guardian-UK)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Germany Warns Against Unilateral Recognition of Palestinian State
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned against unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state during talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Berlin on Thursday. "We do not think that unilateral steps are helpful," she said, while encouraging an "urgent" return to peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Merkel said the Palestinian authorities must recognize Israel's right to exist, reject violence, and commit to the negotiation process. (DPA-Ha'aretz)
        See also UK, France Lay Red Lines on Terms for Palestinian State - Tovah Lazaroff
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he has secured the support of France and England against accepting any Palestinian government that fails to renounce terror and refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Fatah-Hamas Tensions Return Despite Fresh Unity Deal - Khaled Abu Toameh
    One day after Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement in Cairo, Hamas official Wasfi Qabaha on Thursday accused the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank of arresting dozens of Hamas supporters in the past few days. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

    Bin Laden

  • Unholy Warrior - Lee Smith
    The assassination of bin Laden is a major achievement, but there is also no mistaking that all it amounts to is a parade celebrating a victory in the last war. Ten years ago with the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, al-Qaeda seemed to be at its height, but looking back it is clear that by this moment it was breathing its last significant gasp. There were to be no more spectacular attacks, and bin Laden's field officers were hunted by the U.S. and its allies around the world.
        The group's influence extended as far as inspiring disaffected young men to strap bombs on themselves - a tragedy for their victims from Madrid to London and Baghdad to Kabul, but al-Qaeda's geostrategic weight was nothing in comparison to Hizbullah and Hamas.
        Most important, we've known now for a decade that the real problem isn't shadowy networks of rogue operators, or superteams of comic-book villains like Bin Laden and associates, but the Arab and Muslim states that sponsor terror, like Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, whose army and intelligence service appear to have actively protected bin Laden for much of the past 10 years while receiving tens of billions of dollars in American aid. Yet bin Laden's capture also happened with the active cooperation of the Pakistani government. (Tablet)
  • The Assassination of Bin Laden - Yoram Schweitzer
    Without a doubt too much time passed until bin Laden met his due punishment. Still, in the war against terrorism extended time is usually needed to capture and punish wanted high-profile arch-terrorists, such as Hizbullah's Imad Mughniyeh (25 years), Wadiya Hadad of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (10 years), and Carlos "the Jackal" (some 20 years).
        As for the legitimacy of assassinating bin Laden, it seems that the vast majority of world leaders and global public opinion share the consensus that it was justified, though in the past targeted assassination as a necessary tool in the war against terrorism lacked such sweeping support. Apparently the resentment of the indiscriminate murderousness of bin Laden and his henchmen pushed aside, if only temporarily, the rigid moral considerations whereby nations that engage in targeted killings, like Israel, are judged. (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)

  • Palestinians

  • Will PA-Hamas Reconciliation Threaten Other Palestinian Commitments? - David Makovsky
    Previously, observers speculated that President Obama might deliver a speech before Netanyahu's congressional address, outlining the U.S. perspective on the Arab Spring and, in that context, laying out U.S. principles for an Israeli-Palestinian final-status agreement. Yet offering generous peace terms at a time when Abbas is reaching out to Hamas would have profoundly negative implications, vindicating the view that U.S. policy can be moved by sharing power with a group that the Obama administration called a "terrorist organization" just last week. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Palestinian "Unity" Breakthrough Isn't the Real Deal - Michael Bell
    The reconciliation deal between Abbas and Hamas appears to suggest that Palestinian security co-operation with Israel may end and that Western nations may end their considerable assistance to Palestine. It could also jeopardize efforts to ensure broad recognition of Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly this fall. The writer, Senior Scholar on International Diplomacy at the University of Windsor, is a former Canadian ambassador to Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. (Globe and Mail-Canada)
  • Palestinian Unity - Step to Peace, or Its Demise? - Ofer Bavly
    The choice facing Abbas was clear: resume negotiations with Israel as it has been asking him to do for over a year and fast-tracking the talks towards statehood or alternatively signing a unity agreement with Hamas and abandoning hope for a peaceful settlement with Israel. He chose Hamas. With Hamas now part of the Palestinian leadership, Abbas chained himself to a terrorist organization that rejects the very idea of peace.
        Nor can Israel be expected to negotiate with a Palestinian leadership that accepts the Hamas charter and calls for Israel's destruction as the only possible solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yasser Arafat refused to renounce the use of violence and died a stateless leader. Now, Abbas refuses Israel's outstretched hand, opting instead to ally himself with the same ruthless terrorists, proxies of Iran, who have been massacring Fatah members for the past five years. The writer is Consul General of Israel to Florida and Puerto Rico. (Miami Herald)

  • Arab World

  • Revolution and Oppression in the Arab World - Shlomo Avineri
    In the West, the emergence - for the first time in Arab history - of popular mass movements threatening and eventually toppling autocratic leaders was a welcome development. In Israel, the sudden overthrow of a leader who kept peace with Israel for 30 years appeared as threatening the strategic and moral achievement of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's momentous move of 1977 to reach out to the Jewish state. For the West, the agenda was about democracy; for Israel, it was peace.
        With the National Democratic Party dismantled, this leaves the Muslim Brotherhood as the only major public force, and given its widespread networks, it is difficult to see how anyone can prevent it from becoming the hegemonic power in a future structure of Egyptian politics.
        The ability of rulers in Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and Syria to withstand popular demonstrations suggests that the forces of democracy are still weak in many Arab countries, and the willingness of oppressive regimes to use ruthless power should not be underrated.
        It is clear that Egypt will develop a much more critical approach to Israel: while popular in Egypt, this approach will not enhance the peace process. The writer, professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, served as director-general of Israel's Foreign Ministry. (
  • Israel's "Syria Option" Was Never One - Jonathan Spyer
    Advocates of the "Syrian option" saw Syria's strategic alliance with Iran as an uncomfortable fit for the non-Islamist rulers of Syria and assumed that President Assad was looking for a way out if it. They backed a process whereby Syria would receive territorial concessions from Israel in return for a strategic realignment away from Iran and toward the U.S.
        Yet Syria's alignment with Iran and its backing of local paramilitary and terrorist clients such as Hizbullah and Hamas are not flimsy marriages of convenience. Through it, Damascus has magnified its local and regional influence, and obtained an insurance policy against paying any price for its activities.
        The Syrian dictator is currently getting away with slaughtering large numbers of his people because of Western fear of Iran and its proxies. Syria's resurgence under the protective tutelage of Tehran would prove that membership in the Iranian alliance provides a handy guarantee for autocratic rulers hoping to avoid the judgment of their peoples. (Guardian-UK)
        See also I Was Wrong about Syria - Sever Plocker
    A peace treaty with Assad would have fully collapsed a day after the Assad regime collapsed. A dictator is a dictator is a dictator, and peace with him would always be handicapped, flawed, and unstable. Peace with such a tyrant is immoral, undesirable and dangerous for Israel. (Ynet News)

The Alawites and Israel - John Myhill (BESA Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University)

  • The ruling group in Syria, the Alawites - a highly distinctive non-Muslim sect with no theological or territorial objections to a Jewish state - believe that two of God's incarnations were Joshua Ben-Nun, the original Jewish conqueror of the Land of Israel, and the fourth Caliph, Ali, who was murdered by the Sunnis. They do not fast during Ramadan or make pilgrimage to Mecca, have no mosques or indeed any public worship, and traditionally wear crosses like Christians.
  • The Alawites are outnumbered in Syria by 70 to 12 percent. Thus, in order to legitimize their rule among the Sunni majority, they must publicly project an image of championing Arabism by unrelentingly rejecting Israel and flirting with Israel's avowed enemies. Syria will not accept a peace treaty with Israel, no matter what the conditions are, because it would delegitimize the Alawite regime.
  • The Alawites are a purely ancestral religious group and like other groups of this type - Jews, Maronites, Armenians and Druze - their basic loyalty is to their own particular group rather than any larger unit they may seem to be part of. Even if they happen to speak Arabic, they do not necessarily understand themselves as being "Arabs." Alawites in Syria find it indispensable to publicly claim to be Arabs, but this does not reflect their real loyalties.
  • From Israel's perspective, it is better for the Alawites to maintain power in Syria than for a Sunni regime to take control there. These Muslims are particularly dangerous to Israel because they are of the same ethnicity as the Palestinians. For a Sunni regime in Syria, any wide-scale Israeli-Palestinian clash, such as the Gaza operation, would likely trigger an emotional response, pulling Syria into a war with Israel, regardless of the consequences.
  • This represents a much more serious danger to Israel than the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt, where popular attachment to the Palestinians is much more superficial.
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