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August 24, 2011

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In-Depth Issue:

Assad's Chemical Romance - Leonard Specter (Foreign Policy)
  Among the most troubling uncertainties is the fate of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, which, if not protected properly, could fall into the wrong hands, with catastrophic results.
  Syria is one of a handful of states that the U.S. government believes possess large stocks of chemical agents in militarized form -- that is, ready for use in artillery shells and bombs. The arsenal is thought to be massive, involving thousands of munitions and many tons of chemical agents, which range from the blister gases of World War I -- such as mustard gas -- to advanced nerve agents such as sarin and possibly persistent nerve agents, such as VX gas.
  There are at least four, and potentially five, chemical weapons production facilities in Syria. One or two are located near Damascus, the other three situated in Hama, Latakia, and al-Safira village, near the city of Aleppo. If anti-Assad insurgents take up arms, the chemical sites, as symbols of regime's authority, could become strategic targets. And, if mass defections occur from the Syrian army, there may be no one left to defend the sites against seizure.
  The options available to the United States to minimize these risks are limited at best. The Obama administration needs to start planning now to manage Assad's chemical weapons legacy.

West Anxious over Libya's Chemical Weapons Caches - Yitzhak Benhorin (Ynet News)
  As the world watches deposed Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi's forces take their last stand in Tripoli, western intelligence officials are trying to follow the trail of Libya's chemical weapons arsenal, and especially its mustard gas caches.
  In an interview with CNN, United States Envoy to the UN Susan Rice said that the U.S. was taking steps to prevent the weapons from falling into the wrong hands.
  Most of Libya's chemical weapons are held at a facility located in Rabta, south of Tripoli. Western analysts believe that the country's WMD (weapons of mass destruction) arsenal alone contains some 10 tons of various chemical agents which can inflict grave damage. It is also believed that Gaddafi was in possession of Scud-B missiles, over 1,000 tons of uranium powder and mass quantities of conventional weapons.

Nigeria: Israel Trains Local Paramedics on Disaster Management - Victoria Ojeme (All Africa)
  In the wake of concerns over poor emergency response in Nigeria, the Israeli government has pledged its assistance towards training Nigerians on emergency management. This came as the Nigerian Government, over the weekend, disclosed its intention to sign a Bilateral Air Services Agreement with the Israeli government to enable Nigerian airlines fly direct to Israel, ahead of this year's Christian pilgrims' airlift to Jerusalem.

Dropping Security Fears, Israel Welcomes Google Street View�s Panoramic Images (AP/Washington Post)
  Israel has given Google a green light to photograph its streets after a deal with the Internet giant meant to ensure its panoramic Street View service would not aide terrorists planning attacks on sensitive sites. Google uses cameras mounted on cars to take Street View�s 360-degree images, which users of the website can view by zooming in on any given point on a map.
  Initial worries in Israel were that the detailed photos could help terrorists plot attacks against sensitive locations or political figures.

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News Resources - North America and Europe:

  • Rebels Overrun Gaddafi Compound - Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
    Libyan rebels have taken control of Col. Muammar Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, one of the final areas that remained under his control. TV footage showed fighters breaking off the head of a statue of the Libyan leader and kicking it along the ground. They also seized items from his home. Gaddafi's Bedouin tent, where he used to receive visiting foreign dignitaries, was set on fire. It is not known if Gaddafi or any of his family are inside the compound.
      Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department said it was clear that the regime had almost collapsed. Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. would seek to release between $1bn and $1.5bn in frozen Libyan funds in the coming days, and hand the money to the rebel National Transitional Council. (BBC)
  • Egypt Acts on Border Region as Israel Tensions Linger - Dina Zayed and Marwa Awad
    Egypt announced plans to develop a region bordering Israel on Monday after Israeli officials blamed its loosening grip on the area for the killing of eight Israelis by armed militants, inflaming tensions between the two neighbors.
      Cairo has struggled to assert its grip on the isolated desert peninsula, especially after the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February left a power vacuum that was quickly exploited by a local population resentful of the government in Cairo. The Egyptian cabinet approved the creation of a Supreme Authority for the Development of Sinai to boost investment and improve security. (Reuters)
  • Australia Pulls out of Durban Conference
    Australia has pulled out of the United Nations Durban conference to combat racism on grounds that it would likely to be a repeat of the initial racist and anti-Semitic event. A spokesperson for Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Australia had decided not to attend the High Level Meeting on the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action scheduled to be held in New York on September 22. (AAP/Herald Sun - Australia)
  • Syria's Bloody Ramadan
    Every day, nearly everywhere in Syria, people are taking to the streets and demanding an end to the regime of President Bashar Assad -- from Daraa in the south to Latakia in the north, from Zabadani in the west to Deir ez-Zor on the Euphrates River. And in almost all of these places, they continue to do so peacefully -- not because they lack weapons, but because they know the regime is just waiting for an excuse to strike back. And that would mean the beginning of a civil war. The regime is already fueling this conflict by inciting the various religious denominations against one another and stylizing itself the protector of minorities against the Sunni fanatics it loves to evoke.
      Sometimes in Homs, the government's thugs attack demonstrators. Sometimes security forces shoot into the crowd without warning, even using large-caliber machine guns. Proof of this can be seen in bullet casings, as big around as a person's thumb, picked up off the ground. (Spiegel - Germany)
  • UN Syria Sanctions Draft Targets Assad, Family - Louis Charbonneau
    Western nations circulated a draft UN resolution on Tuesday that calls for sanctions against Syrian President Bashar Assad, influential members of his family and key associates.
      U.S. and European delegations hope to put the draft resolution to a vote in the 15-nation Security Council as soon as possible. The sanctions are the Western nations' response to Damascus' five-month crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, which the United Nations says has left 2,200 civilians dead.
      But Russia, which has veto-power, said it does not think sanctioning Damascus is the right approach at the moment. (Reuters)
  • In Scotland, St Andrews Student Guilty of Israel Flag Racism
    A student at St Andrews University has been found guilty of a racist breach of the peace after he physically insulted the flag of Israel. The flag belonging to Jewish student Chanan Reitblat who Donnachie accused of being a terrorist during the incident. Donnachie has been expelled from St Andrews. Reitblat is a chemistry student on a one-term exchange from the Yeshiva University in New York. (BBC)
  • News Resources - Israel, the Mideast, and Asia:

  • Report: Three Egyptians Took Part in Terrorist Attacks on Southern Israel - Avi Issacharoff
    At least three of the perpetrators of the terrorist attack on the road to Eilat last Thursday were Egyptian citizens, according to a report in the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Yaoum.
      The report, based on a probe carried out by the Egyptian security forces, says that the three were members of an extremist Islamic group. One of them had escaped from an Egyptian prison during the revolution against Hosni Mubarak. Ha'aretz has learned that 12 terrorists, in four groups, carried out the attack. The groups were dispersed over an area 12 kilometers long. At least some of the attackers wore brown uniforms, similar to those used by the Egyptian Army. (Ha'aretz)
  • Woman Injured by Gaza Rocket Fired on Egyptian Town
    A woman was injured by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip into the Egyptian town of Rafah on Wednesday, Egypt's state news agency MENA reported, as tension simmered in the region after a spate of cross-border violence.
      Egyptian security forces were searching the desert frontier with Gaza and Israel for terrorists who may be behind the killing of eight Israelis on Thursday along a road north of the Red Sea resort of Eilat, Egyptian officials said. (Reuters/Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Why Assad Need Not Fear Gaddafi�s Fate - Ed Husain
    The dramatic scenes in Tripoli are already being seized upon by those keen to depose other despotic regimes. Taken alongside the unstable situation in Syria, there is now a risk of a dangerous moment of western triumphalism. This must be resisted, especially given that the odds of overthrowing dictator Bashar Assad are so small.
      U.S. president Barack Obama last week succumbed to calls from commentators and Syrian opposition leaders, and demanded Assad�s removal. The decision was a mistake. Calls for regime change will thus help Syria, as Assad defies the west with ease. As elsewhere in the Middle East, defying Washington is a cause of strength and popularity.
      For the west, the most powerful and poignant moment in recent months came when U.S. ambassador Robert Ford travelled to Hama, scene of protests, to show solidarity and monitor the regime�s actions. Such innovative, soft power strategies will do more to help Syrian democracy than loud statements from the White House.
      The writer is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of The Islamist. (Financial Times)
  • Palestinians Only Lose with Violence - Editorial
    Thursday�s raid on Israel, by a Palestinian splinter group taking advantage of Egypt�s current inability to police the Sinai Peninsula, was a setback for the cause of Palestinian statehood. Attacks like this one do more harm than good to the Palestinian cause. Considering the world�s deep aversion to anything that smacks of terrorism, such bloodshed can only damage the Palestinians� long-nurtured plan to win approval at the United Nations, in less than a month, for an independent state. If the status quo is to change to the advantage of the long-suffering Palestinians, then Hamas � and Fatah � must find a way to rein in, not to say permanently neutralize, groups which are capable, with a dozen rifles and a few small rockets, of changing the temperature of the region�s affairs any time they feel like it. (National -- Abu Dhabi)
  • Iranian Persecution of Christians Grows - Walter Russell Mead
    Whether it is generic religious bigotry, alarm at the success of Christian missionaries at making converts, or simple xenophobia, Tehran has been cracking down on its tiny Christian minority of late, so much so that even the EU has noticed. "In the past six months," the EU reported, "the crackdown has led to the arrest of 285 Christians in 35 cities, according to Elam Ministries, an organization that serves Christians in Iran."
      Yusef Nadarkhani, an evangelical pastor and the father of two, has been sentenced to death for converting from Islam, and the Iranian Supreme Court has upheld the decision.
      For many Americans, evidence of how Iran treats its Christian minority is an indicator of the kind of uses to which it would put nuclear weapons. (The American Interest)
  • Observations:

    The Ground Shifts In The Middle East - Elliott Abrams (Council on Foreign Relations)

  • How quickly the ground has shifted in the Middle East. The apparent fall of Tripoli must send shivers down the spine of the cousins who run the Assad mafia in Damascus.
  • Now is the time to turn up the pressure and make Assad fall sooner rather than later. Then attention will have to turn to the next act: the one in which we see, in Tunisia and Egypt, in Libya and Syria, if decent, stable, democratic governments can be built.
  • Meanwhile it is becoming a hot summer for Israel as well. The largest terrorist attack in months took place last week near Eilat, killing 8 and wounded 25.
  • That attack emerged from Sinai, which is fast coming loose from Egyptian control and falling under that of Bedouin criminal gangs and Palestinian terrorists. Whether the Egyptian military has the power and strength to re-assert control of Sinai seems to me very doubtful.
  • Now Hamas and its partners have sent dozens of rockets into Israel in the last few days.
  • All of that puts the PLO claim that it is ready for statehood in a different light, for it reminds us that Ramallah has no control over events in Gaza�even including making war on Israel, which these rocket and mortar attacks clearly are. It renders any U.N. vote on Palestinian statehood even more obviously unreal and unhelpful, for the greater problem Palestinians suffer is that half their populace is under the domination of an Islamic terrorist group.
  • It also shows how foolish has been recent U.S. and EU policy, constantly criticizing Israel whenever a plan to build a new apartment house is announced. The Quartet has turned itself into a real estate monitor, doing nothing to address and help solve far more real and more complex problems for Israelis and Palestinians both. The beginning of a more practical and useful approach would be complete solidarity with Israel.

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