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  DAILY ALERT Wednesday,
July 13, 2011

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Life Among Syria's Not-So-Secret Police - Jonathan G. Panter (Wall Street Journal)
    In Bashar Assad's Syria, the Mukhabarat are a professional bureaucracy specializing in the production and dissemination of fear.
    The Mukhabarat do not enforce laws, they simply enforce the will of the state, using any means necessary or expedient.
    Mukhabarat agents are everywhere, easily recognizable in their black leather jackets. To describe them as "secret police" is misleading: Much of their power lies not in their secrecy, but in their visibility.
    Aleppo's main square is dominated by a massive billboard depicting Assad surrounded by adoring crowds. On every lamppost hangs a banner, its slogan screaming "God, Syria, and Bashar alone!"
    Amidst this cult of personality stroll the Mukhabarat. Observation is only half their job; the rest is sheer intimidation.
    Citizens glance up at the billboards of their dictator, glance down at his men in black leather, and understand there is no room for debate.

Arab World's Views of U.S. Increasingly Negative, Poll Finds - Jason Ukman (Washington Post)
    Favorable ratings of the U.S. have plummeted in the Arab world, according to a new poll conducted by Zogby International for the Arab American Institute Foundation.
    In most countries surveyed, favorable attitudes toward the U.S. dropped to levels lower than in the last year of the Bush administration. The killing of Osama bin Laden also worsened attitudes toward the U.S.
    In Saudi Arabia, 30% said they had a favorable view of the U.S. (compared with 41% in 2009), while 5% said the same in Egypt (compared with 30% in 2009).

Israel Opens Jesus Baptism Site on Jordan River - Matti Friedman (AP)
    Israel opened the traditional baptism site of Jesus at Qasr el-Yahud to daily visits Tuesday, a move that required the removal of mines along the border with Jordan.
    The site, in a heavily mined no-man's land, had been opened several times a year in coordination with the Israeli military, but was not regularly open to the public.
    Of the 3.45 million tourists who arrived in Israel in 2010, 69% were Christian, and 38% defined their visit as a religious pilgrimage, according to the Tourism Ministry.
    Palestinians reject any Israeli moves to develop the West Bank. "Whatever Israeli authorities are doing on Palestinian sites we consider illegal," said Khouloud Daibes, the Palestinian tourism minister.

Video: Female Combat Hummer Operatives Train at the Urban Warfare Training Center (Israel Defense Forces)
    The female soldiers who serve in the Hummer Operators' Unit - there are no male Hummer operators - spend their days in the field, training other soldiers how to use military Hummer vehicles in real-life combat scenarios.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • White House, in Shift, Turns Against Syria Leader - Mark Landler and David E. Sanger
    President Obama, in an interview Tuesday with the "CBS Evening News," said: "You're seeing President Assad lose legitimacy in the eyes of his people....He has missed opportunity after opportunity to present a genuine reform agenda. And that's why we've been working at an international level to make sure we keep the pressure up."
        Until recently, some American officials argued they were better off with Assad in power than with a power vacuum that could threaten the stability of Lebanon and security of Israel, and might be filled by Iran. But now that Assad "has shown definitively he has no interest in reform," one senior official said, "the rationale for holding on to him has evaporated." The U.S., officials said, is readying fresh sanctions against senior members of the Assad regime, and is weighing sanctions on Syria's oil and gas industry. (New York Times)
        See also Obama: "Nobody Can Be Messing with Our Embassy" - Scott Pelley (CBS News)
        See also A Sea Change in Washington's Policy toward Syria - Andrew J. Tabler
    Secretary of State Clinton's statement that Syrian President Assad is "not indispensable, and we have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power" is the latest public signal of a quiet sea change in U.S.-Syria policy. U.S. ambassador Robert Ford's visit to Hama last week - where the regime massacred 30,000 people in 1982 - showed very clearly that this time the regime's actions there will not go unnoticed. The Assad regime then sent pro-Assad supporters to attack the U.S. embassy in Damascus, marking a turning point in U.S.-Syrian relations. The writer is the Next Generation Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of the forthcoming book In the Lion's Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington's Battle with Syria. (CNN)
  • U.S. Aid to Palestinians in Jeopardy over Hamas Link - Donna Cassata
    American aid to the Palestinians is in jeopardy over their ties to the terrorist group Hamas, unwillingness to restart negotiations with Israel, and push for statehood at the UN over U.S. resistance, congressional Republicans and Democrats warned on Tuesday. Lawmakers signaled that U.S. assistance to the Palestinians could be eliminated as Fatah and Hamas reconcile and try to form a new government. Israel and the U.S. consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
        "I would suggest to the Palestinian Authority leadership that when you get into a cage with a tiger, you're not a partner; you're a lunch," said Rep. Gary Ackerman of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. "As a matter of both law and basic decency, we will never do business with or provide aid to a government controlled by or reporting to terrorists."
        Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, chairman of the subcommittee, said: "The Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act requires the Palestinian Authority to stop incitement and recognize the Jewish state of Israel's right to exist if it wants to keep receiving U.S. assistance. Given the Palestinian Authority's record and given U.S. law, how can we justify continued assistance?"
        In 2009, the Arab countries gave the PA $462 million, a contribution that dropped to $287 million in 2010 and $78.5 million this year. (AP)
        See also White House Presses Congress on Palestinian Aid - Elias Groll
    The Obama administration forcefully pushed back Tuesday against threats from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to cut off aid to the Palestinian government because of its ties to the Hamas terror group. In defending assistance to the PA, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Jacob Walles told Congress that American financial support for the Palestinian government helps build institutions and strengthen stability, both of which he said are keys to a future peace deal with Israel. (Politico)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Officials: Quartet Talks Failed over "Israel as Jewish State" - Barak Ravid
    The foreign ministers of the Middle East Quartet failed to reach an agreement on Monday surrounding the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and so did not issue a public statement after their meeting, Western diplomats and senior officials in Jerusalem said Tuesday. "The goal was to give each side something that was important to them," a Western diplomat said. "The Palestinians were supposed to get 1967 borders with land swaps and the Israelis wanted to receive in return the recognition of Israel as the Jewish homeland." A senior Israeli official said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would not allow the inclusion of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in the concluding statement. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Russian Envoy: No Rift among Mideast Quartet (AFP)
        See also Officials: PA Prevented Quartet Statement - Attila Somfalvi
    Israeli officials said Tuesday that the Mideast Quartet refrained from releasing a statement after Monday's meeting due to Palestinian objections. The PA opposed a Quartet demand to withdraw their plan to declare statehood unilaterally at the UN in September. The Palestinians also refuse to halt all demands from Israel once a peace deal is signed, and oppose demands to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people as well as to modify their education to cease all enmity towards the state, sources say. (Ynet News)
  • Gaza Rocket Damages Home in Southern Israel - Shmulik Hadad
    Palestinians in Gaza fired two Kassam rockets at Israel Tuesday evening. One rocket damaged a home, exploding just a few meters away from it. The head of Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, Alon Schuster, said rocket fire from Gaza had increased over the past few weeks. (Ynet News)
        See also Israel Air Force Responds to Gaza Rocket Fire (Israel Defense Forces)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • U.S. Needs to Get Tougher with Syria - Editorial
    The Obama administration has finally recognized what the people of Syria have been making clear for the past four months: that President Bashar al-Assad "has lost legitimacy," as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it on Monday. Amb. Ford's mission to Hama was a demonstration that it is possible for the U.S. to help Syrians free themselves from the Assad dictatorship. The administration should also be working to step up economic pressure on the regime, which is highly vulnerable to a collapse of foreign revenue. (Washington Post)
  • Jordan on Verge of Survival Showdown? - Alexander Bligh
    The Dubai-based daily Al-Bayan recently published a leaked report that Jordan's prime minister had revealed that his country would vote against Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly in September - thus breaking with the Arab consensus. In recent months, Israel seems to have divorced itself from its traditional policy of resisting a Palestinian state at all costs. In the Jordanian mind, this translates into a position that might endanger the very existence of the Hashemite Kingdom, as well as the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian Peace Treaty.
        The creation of such a state would put Jordan's very existence in jeopardy: The PLO is formally and spiritually committed to taking over all of mandatory Palestine - i.e., Jordan, the territories and Israel. Considering that Israel would hold its ground within the 1967 lines, the next target of a small, economically weak, irredentist Palestinian state would be Jordan - a country that has already served as a battleground for the PLO in 1970-71.
        Furthermore, declaring a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital constitutes a flagrant violation of the internationally recognized Israeli-Jordanian Peace Treaty. That instrument states (Article 9): "When negotiations on the permanent status will take place, Israel will give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines [Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem]." The writer is director of the Middle East Research Center, Ariel University center, and former adviser on Arab Affairs to the prime minister of Israel (1990-1992). (Jerusalem Post)

The Peace Process: From Oslo Parameters to Unilateral Actions - Zaki Shalom (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)

  • Today, against the backdrop of the current stalemate in the diplomatic process that seems poised to continue in the foreseeable future, the relevance of the Oslo Accords for implementing a two-state solution is highly questionable. They called for bilateral negotiations under international auspices that were to lead to a permanent settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
  • However, for some time there has been a noticeable trend, which has intensified over the past two years, of abandoning the Oslo format in favor of unilateral steps, either with negotiations, or without them. To a large extent, this trend stems from the assessment by both sides that their ability to fulfill their national interests in the context of bilateral negotiations is very limited, if not nonexistent. Furthermore, each side is skeptical of the desire and/or ability of the other side to accept its minimal basic conditions for a settlement.
  • At the same time, the third party to the agreement, the U.S. administration, seems to be losing confidence in the Oslo format. Instead it exhibits a tendency to rely on its own unilateral actions and those of the Quartet, which the other two parties will be "persuaded" to accept.
  • It appears that President Obama's administration is inclined - for lack of choice, and cognizant of its limitations - to lower its profile regarding a settlement, at least until the domestic situation in the U.S. becomes clear. However, the decision on such a strategic issue is ultimately made by the president alone, and he has already demonstrated an ability to take unexpected steps that go against the common assessment of the situation.

    The writer is a Principal Research Fellow at INSS.

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