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October 28, 2011

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Defections from Bashar Assad's Armed Forces Are Growing (Economist-UK)
    The glue and the guts of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime are the army and its allies in the police and the Mukhabarat, the intelligence service. So far they have generally stayed loyal. But defectors are growing in number and are getting better organized.
    Since the start of the uprising in March there have been defections, mainly from the ranks of Sunni conscripts. Some flee the country, others hide among civilians.
    In July, Riad al-Asaad, a colonel in his 50s, left for Turkey and announced the formation of the Free Syrian Army. Another group, calling itself the Free Officers' Movement, also emerged.
    The Free Syrian Army says it has 22 "battalions" across the country, with field leaders taking orders from a central command in Turkey. These include the Khalid bin Walid battalion in Homs, where clashes with loyalist forces have been fiercest. In the past few weeks, fighting has also broken out in Idlib, in the northwest, and al-Bukamal, on the border with Iraq.
    The role of defectors is changing. "Defected soldiers initially just fled, then they came out with weapons behind protesters just to ensure they were safe to go out," says a man who received military training and took part in Free Syrian Army actions.
    Now he says the army defectors are becoming more belligerent, attacking checkpoints, armed pro-regime gangs and military equipment.
    See also Defections Test Assad's Ability to Sustain Crackdown - Khaled Yacoub Oweis (Reuters)
    Cracks in Syria's military are widening along sectarian lines, say analysts, fueling an armed mutiny that may pose an even greater threat to President Bashar al-Assad than the street protests which have rocked the country for months.
    Diplomats and military experts say army cohesiveness is fraying and defections increasing. "The crackdown is looking increasingly unsustainable. Assad is more unable to rely on the majority Sunni rank and file. It is costing lots of money to move already exhausted core troops and his capability of launching simultaneous strikes on protest centers is diminishing," a European diplomat said. "The Sunni backlash against him is growing."
    Maj.-Gen. Moussa Hadid, a former Jordanian army strategist, said Syria's military command had intensified censorship and cut holidays to try to prevent Sunni conscripts from finding out about the extent of killings by the security forces in their home regions.
    "They send conscripts from the south to the north and vice versa. Despite all the controls over the senior officers and army and soldiers, a lot of them are now becoming more distrustful of the regime and are awaiting the opportunity to support the uprising."

Air Defense: Iron Dome Shoots Down Palestinian Morale (Strategy Page)
    During two periods of intense rocket attacks last April and August, Islamic terrorists in Gaza fired over 300 rockets at Israeli towns. Israel's Iron Dome air defense system detected and shot down about 90% of the missiles that were headed for inhabited areas.
    None of the Palestinian media will mention Iron Dome, but over the last two months Israeli intelligence has collected a lot of communications chatter in Gaza that indicates a demoralized population.
    Hamas had made much of how the rockets being brought into Gaza by the thousands would bring Israel to its knees, but Iron Dome has spoiled any enthusiasm for rockets destroying Israel.
    The rockets are now seen as a liability. The rockets can't hurt Israel much, and the Israelis shoot back, doing a lot more damage that the Palestinian rockets.

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Forum with Israeli Scientists "Offends Muslims" - Omri Ceren (Commentary)
    The Australian reports that University of Sydney scholars set to exchange ideas with visiting Israeli experts on neuroscience, tissue regeneration and other cutting-edge research areas were warned by a professor who supports the boycott of Israel that the event will offend potential Muslim undergraduates.

Islamists Pitch Tent in Denmark - Soeren Kern (Hudson Institute-New York)
    The Danish Islamist group Kaldet til Islam (Call to Islam) has launched a campaign to turn parts of Copenhagen and other Danish cities into "Sharia Law Zones" that would function as autonomous enclaves ruled by Islamic law.
    The Tingbjerg suburb of Copenhagen will be the first area to be subject to Sharia law, followed by the Norrebro district, Jyllands-Posten reported on Oct. 17.
    Call to Islam says it will dispatch 24-hour Islamic "morals police" to enforce Sharia law in those enclaves.
    Denmark's TV2 public television recently filmed members of Call to Islam in downtown Copenhagen openly campaigning for the abolishment of democracy and calling on people not to vote in the parliamentary elections that were held on Sep. 15.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • In Slap at Syria, Turkey Shelters Anti-Assad Fighters - Liam Stack
    Once one of Syria's closest allies, Turkey is hosting an armed opposition group waging an insurgency against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, providing shelter to the commander and dozens of members of the Free Syrian Army, a militia composed of defectors from the Syrian armed forces, and allowing them to orchestrate attacks across the border from inside a camp guarded by the Turkish military. Turkish officials describe their relationship with the group's commander, Col. Riad al-As'aad, and the 60 to 70 members living in the "officers' camp" as purely humanitarian.
        Turkey is expected to impose sanctions soon on Syria, and it has deepened its support for an umbrella political opposition group, the Syrian National Council, which announced its formation in Istanbul. (New York Times)
  • Tunisian Islamist Party Wins 90 of 217 Seats
    Tunisia's Islamist party Ennahda emerged the official victor in the nation's first free elections, taking 41% of the vote and 90 of 217 seats in an assembly that will write a new constitution, the electoral commission announced. Officials of the party have said they are seeking a broad-based coalition government. Second place, and 30 seats, was won by the Congress for the Republic party, founded by noted human rights activist Moncef Marzouki, a doctor who had lived in exile in Paris. (AP-Washington Post)
  • Quartet on Mission Impossible in Mideast Logjam - Tom Perry
    World powers trying to revive peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians may be flogging a dead horse and their repeated failure is eroding what credibility they have left as mediators. Some political analysts argue it is now time for them to scale back their ambitions. With faint hope of a deal, would-be peacemakers may inevitably find themselves seeking to manage rather than resolve the generations-old conflict. The latest effort by the Middle East Quartet - meetings in Jerusalem on Wednesday to bring the parties to the same table for talks on a permanent peace deal - was arguably a failure before it began.
        "The Quartet is irrelevant because it is stuck on a road which is not leading anywhere," said Shlomo Avineri, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a former director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. "The Quartet is basically wrong-headed because it is avoiding realization that the attempt to bring the two sides together to negotiation about a final status agreement is wrong. It hasn't worked now for a long time," he said. (Reuters)
  • Saudi Arabia Names Nayef as New Crown Prince - Abdullah al-Shihri
    Saudi state TV announced Thursday the naming of Prince Nayef bin Abdel-Aziz Al Saud as heir to the Saudi throne following the death of the previous second in line, Crown Prince Sultan, last week. Prince Nayef is the tough-talking interior minister who is known for cracking down on Islamic militants and resisting moves toward greater openness in the ultraconservative kingdom. (AP)
        See also What Does Prince Sultan's Death Mean for Saudi Society? - Ali Alyami
    In light of King Abdullah's deteriorating health, it is likely that Prince Nayef will be the next Saudi king despite his unpopularity domestically, regionally, and globally. The writer is Executive Director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. (Hudson Institute-New York)
  • Islamist Leader Raed Salah Loses UK Deportation Case - Marcus Dysch
    Sheikh Raed Salah, the leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, has lost his deportation case and could now be forcibly removed from Britain. An Immigration Tribunal found in favor of Home Secretary Theresa May's order that Sheikh Salah should be banned from Britain as his presence "would not be conducive to the public good." The judgment found she had acted correctly on grounds of his "unacceptable behavior."  (Jewish Chronicle-UK)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel Rebuffs U.S. Request to Halt Construction in Jerusalem - Barak Ravid
    U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro met with Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Wednesday and urged him to shelve a plan to construct 1,100 new housing units in the Gilo neighborhood [pop. 40,000] of Jerusalem, warning it could push international support in favor of the Palestinians in their move for UN recognition. Yishai reportedly rejected Shapiro's request, saying that construction in Jerusalem has never stopped and that it would not stop now.
        Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected criticism against the construction plan, saying that Gilo is not a settlement, but rather a Jerusalem neighborhood five minutes from the center of the capital. He noted that all Israeli governments built in such neighborhoods. (Ha'aretz)
  • Egyptian Official: Prisoner Deal "Another Victory over Israel" - Roee Nahmias
    After the completion of the swap deal which saw dual U.S.-Israeli national Ilan Grapel freed in exchange for 25 Egyptian prisoners, South Sinai Governor General Khalid Fuda said Thursday, "the release of Egyptian prisoners is another victory over Israel like the 1973 October war." "If the October war was a military triumph, this is a diplomatic triumph."
        Ilan Grapel returned to Israel on Thursday after four months in an Egyptian prison. He was arrested in Egypt on suspicion of spying and inciting the public during the popular revolution. Egyptian officials later admitted he was not a spy. (Ynet News)
        See also U.S. Denies Sale of F-16 Jets to Egypt Part of Grapel Prisoner Exchange Deal
    The U.S. on Thursday denied reports that it agreed to sell F-16 fighter planes to Egypt in connection with the release of Ilan Grapel. "There is no truth to [these] press reports," a U.S. statement read. "Since 1982, the U.S. government has sold over 220 F16s to Egypt as part of our long standing bilateral defense relationship."  (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Ilan Grapel: I Want to Thank the Israeli People - Tovah Lazaroff (Jerusalem Post)
        See also below Observations: Egypt Saves Face in Prisoner Swap - Kristen Chick (Christian Science Monitor) and Israel Encouraged by Egyptian Cooperation - Attila Somfalvi (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Iran's Regional Status: Expanding Influence alongside Weaknesses - Ephraim Kam
    The relative weakness of Iran's rivals and their inability to stop the Iranian steamroller, including in the nuclear sphere, have contributed to Iran's rising influence in recent years. Iran's ability to exploit opportunities and utilize the vacuum created in weak countries - such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon - and the need for assistance on the part of sub-state organizations such as Hizbullah, Hamas, and the militias in Iraq and Afghanistan, have also played an important role. Through its organized mechanism for channeling money, arms, al-Quds personnel, and religious figures, Iran has succeeded in building strongholds and gaining important influence both in its neighboring environment and along the Mediterranean shore.
        Yet, significant potential for regime change exists in Iran, and even if this has not yet come to fruition, it is likely to occur in the future. Thus despite Iran's successes, there is no doubt that it currently fears negative developments - mainly the possibility that the fall of Arab regimes will give renewed encouragement to unrest in Iran. Another worry is that the Syrian regime will fall and drag its ally down with it. (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)
  • Tunisia's "Moderate" Islamists? - Michael J. Totten
    Just about every report I've read describes the Islamists in Tunisia as "moderate." This is - if I may be blunt - idiotic. They're moderate compared to what? Hizbullah and al-Qaeda? Sure. But who isn't? I'll accept the notion that Tunisia's Islamists look slightly moderate next to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, but that isn't saying much. The Muslim Brotherhood is not even in the same time zone as any genuinely moderate party the typical Westerner has ever had any experience with.
        I, for one, will consider Tunisia's Islamists a Muslim version of Europe's conservative Christian Democrats only after they've shared power with liberal parties for a decade without showing totalitarian tendencies. (Pajamas Media)
        See also Tunisian Elections and the Road to the Caliphate - Raymond Ibrahim
    If Islamists have risen to power in onetime "moderate" Tunisia through the usual conduits - grassroots support, lip-service to democracy, promises of "sharing power," and a complacent West - is there any doubt that Islamists will also take over in those nations where they are especially entrenched, like Egypt and Libya? (Jihad Watch)
  • The Arab Spring Is Becoming an Islamist Takeover - Con Coughlin
    Much as I sympathize with the desire of millions of young Arabs to free themselves from the tyranny of autocratic government, I'm finding it hard to draw any positive conclusions from the results of last weekend's elections in Tunisia, where the Islamist Ennahda party has emerged as the main winner. The same goes for neighboring Libya, where NATO has just spent the past eight months helping the rebels to overthrow Gaddafi's regime.
        No doubt Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy were hoping to replace Gaddafi with a pro-Western regime with whom they could negotiate lots of lucrative oil contracts. Instead they find that the victors of Libya's nasty civil war are planning to set up a new government based on the strict interpretation of Sharia law. Sharia law is the complete antithesis of Western-style democracy, as we have seen in Iran these past 30-odd years. So, who wants to support the Arab Spring now? (Telegraph-UK)
  • What Libya Has Inherited from Gaddafi - Anne Applebaum
    Libya's Moammar Gaddafi has left an unprecedented vacuum in his wake. Neighboring Egypt has a sophisticated economy, a middle class, foreign investors and an enormous tourist industry. Tunisia has a highly educated population. Libya, by contrast, has neither a sophisticated economy nor an articulate population, nor any political experience whatsoever. There were no political parties under Gaddafi, no media, and hardly any Internet access.
        During four decades in power, Gaddafi destroyed the army, the civil service and the educational system. The country produces nothing except oil, and none of the profits seem to have trickled down to anybody. Some 60% of the population works for the government for very low salaries. There is hardly any infrastructure.
        Libya also has the largest oil reserves in Africa and some $250 billion in foreign currency reserves, money Gaddafi never spent on his people. The nonexistent economy and the absence of political institutions means that there aren't any entrenched interests that will set themselves against change, as they have done in Egypt. (Washington Post)
  • The Debatable Merits of a Marshall Plan for the Middle East - Michael Peel
    Some have called for a Marshall Plan for the Middle East, to help drag the region out of conflict and poverty. Yet, for all the proposal's compelling simplicity and appeal, there are big questions about whether it is either desirable or feasible, as well as who should pay. Western governments flailing through their own economic crises are not in a position to do much, and, in any case, close engagement is unlikely to go down well with their voters.
        Policymakers who are cool on a Marshall plan say the economic focus should instead be on narrower or smaller-scale initiatives, with a much greater emphasis on institutional reform. (Financial Times-UK)

  • Weekend Features

  • Video: "This IsReal" - A Road Trip Across Israel - Matthew Brown
    Israel is a small country, but it has a spark in almost everything that people do or say about it. I decided that I wanted to find the beauty of the people and places, neglecting the tension for once. I wanted to prove that there are so many beautiful people in that country, of all religions, cultures, regions. It was not hard to do, actually.
        My favorite part to shoot was the scene where all the people are frozen still in time. It was actually that everyone was standing still in a moment of silence for the Holocaust victims. I found one of the busiest intersections in Tel Aviv and stood in the middle of everyone. I think it was worth it to show the world how beautiful and eerie this amazing moment is. (Atlantic Monthly)
  • Jewish Detention Camps in Cyprus Remembered
    The University of Cyprus is due host a lecture by Professor Emanuel Gutmann entitled, "The Jewish Detention Camps in Cyprus (1946-1949): the Memories of a Contemporary Witness." In the second half of the 1940s Cyprus become the temporary refuge for tens of thousands of Jews. Fleeing post-war Europe, survivors of the Holocaust found themselves barred from entering Palestine due to British quotas. Forced to immigrate illegally, they boarded ships and ventured into the Mediterranean unsure of their fate.
        The British Navy overtook 39 of these ships, carrying a total of 52,000 passengers, and sent the people to Cyprus. At its peak there were nine camps in Cyprus, located at two sites about 50 km apart: Caraolos, north of Famagusta, and Dekhelia, outside of Larnaca. On February 10, 1949, the last Jews finally were freed from the confines of the camps, 267 days after the establishment of the State of Israel. (Cyprus Mail)
  • The Largest Influx of Christians into the Holy Land since the Crusades - Matti Friedman
    The schedules for Mass at the two Roman Catholic churches in Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, reveal a change that has dramatically altered the face of Christianity in the Holy Land. The two Masses in Arabic for the town's native Arab Christian population are outnumbered by four in English, attended mainly by Filipina caregivers. Then there are others in Spanish, for South Americans; French, for African migrants; three South Asian languages, including Konkani, spoken in the Indian district of Goa; and, for a generation of Christians raised among Israel's Jewish majority, Hebrew. In September, a colorful celebration for Indian Catholics alone drew 2,000 people. That's twice the total number of native Catholics in the parish.
        For centuries, Christianity here meant the ancient communities of Christian Arabs. The past two decades, however, have seen one of the most significant influxes of Christians into the Holy Land since the Crusades, and it has created a wholly new Christian landscape shaped by the realities of Israel. If one counts all of the people in Israel who are neither Jewish nor Muslim, these newcomers outnumber Arab Christians by more than five to one.
        On a recent Sunday, the chapel at the Ratisbonne monastery in downtown Jerusalem rang with the sound of hymns in Tagalog, one of the languages of the Philippines. Most of the worshippers were women who serve as caregivers for elderly Israelis. Today there are 40,000 Filipino workers in Israel. There are now several thousand children born to foreign workers who speak Hebrew as a first language and celebrate Jewish holidays with their classmates.
        Among the 1 million immigrants from the former Soviet Union who began moving to Israel en masse in the early 1990s, about a third were not Jewish but qualified for citizenship because they had a Jewish spouse or lineage. Among them were an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 practicing Christians, mostly Orthodox. (AP)

Egypt Saves Face in Prisoner Swap - Kristen Chick (Christian Science Monitor)

  • The military "arrested [Ilan] Grapel in order to send a message to the Egyptian public that Egypt is targeted by Western powers," says Emad Gad of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. "After sending this message, they could get rid of the tool - Grapel. But they don't want to say, 'We fabricated the story [that he was a spy],' they have to reach the deal with the Israeli side."
  • Israel did Egypt's military council a favor by giving Egypt a way out of the situation without losing face, says Gad. The military council is also sending a message to the West that it will maintain Egypt's ties with Israel. Had Grapel truly been a spy, says Gad, Egypt would have exacted a much higher price for his release.
  • The deal was not costly to Israel because the prisoners released were not accused of terrorism or espionage and were mainly Bedouins held on smuggling charges. Their release will win the Egyptian military points with the Bedouin in Sinai, whose cooperation it needs to bring security to the region.
  • And empowering the military council currently ruling Egypt by handing it a victory is in Israel's interest, says Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Cairo. "This is the interest of Israel that the military council governs a stable Egypt."
    See also Israel Encouraged by Egyptian Cooperation - Attila Somfalvi (Ynet News)
  • Israel is drawing encouragement from the cooperation with Egypt's ruling Higher Military Council over the recent deals to free Gilad Shalit and Ilan Grapel. Diplomatic sources said Thursday that "all in all the relationship with the council is a good one and it is completely clear at the moment that Egypt's interest is to maintain the peace treaty."
  • A senior Israeli official stressed that the Egyptians demanded that the negotiations for the release of Ilan Grapel be held directly with Israel and not through an American intermediary. "There is an important message from the Egyptians who are signaling that they are interested in continuing cooperation." Diplomatic sources emphasized that "both Israel and Egypt have joint challenges in the terror and Islamization departments."
  • Diplomatic sources also stressed that "the Muslim Brotherhood was gaining strength but they failed in presenting a presidential candidate, and the interest of any elected president would be to maintain the peace treaty. At this time, all the candidates are stating that they are committed to the treaty. The Egyptians know that without a peace treaty, the U.S. will withhold aid to Egypt and so in the short term the treaty is not expected to disintegrate."
  • They also emphasized that Israel and Egypt have a joint interest in not allowing Iran to expand its hegemony in the Middle East, as well as preventing weapons from reaching the Sinai Peninsula.
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