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  DAILY ALERT Wednesday,
December 14, 2011

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Syria's Torture Machine - Jonathan Miller (Guardian-UK)
    Nadim Houry, the Beirut-based deputy director of Human Rights Watch for the Middle East and North Africa, has taken testimony on hundreds of cases of torture from Syria.
    "The odds are, if you're detained, you will be ill-treated and most likely tortured. We know of at least 105 cases of people who were returned from the custody of security services in body bags to their loved ones...and those are only the ones that we know of."
    A weathered former tractor driver in his 50s from Tal Kalakh in Syria, who escaped to Lebanon, can barely move; his right leg is now gangrenous below the knee.
    He told me in gruesome detail of beatings he'd received with batons and electric cables on the soles of his feet. He had been hung upside down for hours, then hung up by his wrists and whipped and tormented with electric cattle prods.
    When he wasn't being tortured, he had been crammed into cells with up to 80 people, without room to sit or sleep. "I saw at least 200 children - some as young as 10," he said. "And there were old men in their 80s. I watched one having his teeth pulled out by pliers."
    He told of forced confessions, knives and other people's severed fingers, boiling water, cigarette burns and finger nails extracted - and worse: electric drills.
    I met other survivors and each account corroborated the other. What emerged was a pattern of systematic brutality, a revolving door of terror through which thousands of people have passed in recent months.
    This is Syria's torture machine. It is torture on an industrial scale.
    A former platoon commander in the army said he had accompanied officers in house-to-house searches for wanted men in Homs. "When they don't find their target, they either rape the women, or kill the children."
    When they had failed to find one man on their wanted list, he claimed, they had taken his son, beheaded him and hung his head above the door of the family home. This, he told me, was what had prompted his defection.
    See also Syria: 47 Dead as Activists Warn of "Real Massacres" (Albawaba-Jordan)
    Syrian rights activists said the death toll on Tuesday amounted to 47 amid clashes between army deserters and government forces. Most of those killed and injured were in Idleb, Al-Arabiya television reported.

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Official: Review Peace Treaty with Israel (Fars-Iran)
    A senior member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood party, Kamal al-Halbawi, on Tuesday underlined the necessity for revising the Camp David Accord between Cairo and Tel Aviv.
    "The issue of revising the Camp David Accord will also be in the list of the top priorities of (Egypt's new) officials to be studied in its appropriate time," he said.
    He reiterated that the Camp David Accord has damaged Egypt's honor and dignity, and called on all Egyptian people and politicians to stand against the shameful pact which was signed at a hard time in Egypt.
    In October, former Egyptian Ambassador to the Palestinian territories Gamal Mazloum said Egypt should take action to boost its forces in the Sinai Desert and make a formal request to correct and modify the Camp David Accord.
    He said Egypt should use its power and increase its military presence in Sinai if the Israeli regime rejects a willing modification of Camp David.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Dennis Ross: Still Time to Prevent Iran's Nuclear Program - Joby Warrick
    The Obama administration is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear arms as a "vital national security interest" but believes there is still time to change Iranian behavior through economic and political pressure, Dennis Ross, a former top adviser on the Middle East, told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Tuesday. More pressure is needed to prevent Iran's leaders from acquiring a nuclear capability that would destabilize the region and heighten the risk of war, he said. "This is not about containment; it's about prevention," Ross said. "I believe we still have time and space to achieve that objective."
        Ross also played down chances for a breakthrough on Middle East peace in the near future. (Washington Post)
  • Leaders Are Defiant, But Many Iranians Fear War - Thomas Erdbrink
    The Shiite Muslim clerics who rule the country laud the might of Iran's armed forces, and military commanders boast that the country could shoot "150,000 missiles to Israel" if one Israeli bomb struck Iranian territory. Instead of sharing that sense of defiance, however, many ordinary Iranians are increasingly worried that war could be catastrophic. Some are stocking up on basic goods. Others are changing their money into foreign currencies, or obtaining visas to move abroad. (Washington Post)
  • Saudi Arabia's Security Meeting with Iran - Simon Henderson
    Saudi crown prince Nayef and Iranian minister of intelligence and security Haydar Moslehi held a surprise meeting in Riyadh this week. The Saudis are concerned about Iran's nuclear program and believe Tehran has malevolent intent in Iraq, where U.S. forces are leaving this month, as well as in Bahrain, where near-daily clashes continue between the island's majority Shiite population and the ruling Sunni monarchy's security forces.
        Prince Nayef is the Saudi interior minister, giving him control over most of the kingdom's security and intelligence services. Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, who heads the Saudi equivalent of the CIA, was also at the meeting. Nayef is close to members of the Saudi religious establishment and, like them, is deeply suspicious of Shiites in general and Iran in particular. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel to Delay Replacement of Mughrabi Bridge - Barak Ravid and Nir Hasson
    The Mughrabi Bridge to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem was closed Monday due to fears the temporary wooden bridge may collapse. Senior Israeli cabinet ministers decided Tuesday that, in light of the sensitivity of the matter in the Arab world, the bridge would not be replaced at this stage. Instead, those parts deemed hazardous by the Jerusalem municipal engineer will be strengthened. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Mughrabi Bridge Reopened (AP)
  • Keep the Temple Mount Open - Dan Margalit
    From an engineering point of view, the Mughrabi Bridge is unsound. It poses a danger to the personal safety of those who use it. At one point, Israel wanted to build an iron bridge in its place, but King Abdullah of Jordan asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to refrain from doing so, and Netanyahu complied. It is in Jerusalem's interest to preserve the delicate fabric of our relations with Amman.
        The Arab position on this issue is utterly negative. They seek to remove Israel's right to make any decisions regarding the site. Arabs want to shield their eyes from archaeological evidence that demonstrates a Jewish connection to the place. For instance, archaeologists found a stone with a Hebrew inscription indicating the place where a Temple priest stood and blew a trumpet to proclaim the onset of the Sabbath. The stone probably formed part of the Temple Mount's banister and rolled onto the street below at the time of the Second Temple's destruction, where it lay buried for almost 2,000 years.
        Nor do the Arabs want to see the Western Wall tunnels, or the many ancient Hebrew inscriptions in and around the Temple Mount. Their greatest fear is that continued professional archaeological work will uncover remnants of the Second Temple - a building that Yasser Arafat brazenly proclaimed never existed. (Israel Hayom)
  • Attacks May Force French UNIFIL Troop Reduction - Nicholas Blanford
    The latest bomb attack against UNIFIL peacekeepers and the return of rocket firings into Israel has raised speculation that the French battalion in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) may be contemplating reducing troop numbers. A strategic review of the peacekeeping force's operations was authorized in August by the UN Security Council and is aimed at allowing the Lebanese Army to "start to take on a greater share of the security responsibilities," according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. (Daily Star-Lebanon)
        See also Is France Trying to Get Out of Lebanon? - Colum Lynch (Foreign Policy)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Hamas and the Temple Monty Python - Tim Marshall
    Even by the standards of the flowery rhetoric of their usual outbursts, Hamas has excelled on the subject of the closure of a wooden ramp leading from the Western Wall plaza up to what Jews call the Temple Mount. Spokesman Fawzi Barhum said this was a "violent act which amounts to a declaration of religious war on the Muslim holy places." This reaction is reminiscent of something from Monty Python. The ramp is a rickety temporary structure that is considered as both a fire hazard and in danger of collapse. It really ought to be demolished and a permanent structure built as in days of old.
        The ramp is used almost entirely by non-Jewish and non-Muslim tourists. Muslims use one of the other ten entrances which are currently open. Oddly enough, when the wooden ramp was first built, to replace a crumbling earthen ramp, the Muslim authorities opposed its construction. How closing the ramp amounts to a "war on the Muslim holy places" is beyond me since the decision to temporarily close the ramp in no way prevents Muslims from accessing the site. Closing a bridge which Muslims don't use hardly counts as an act of repression. (Sky News-UK)
  • Hizbullah's Hypocritical Resistance - Larbi Sadiki
    Since the mid-1980s, the militant groups Hizbullah and Hamas have tirelessly pursued armed resistance against Israel in the name of liberating Palestine - often with enormous Arab popular support. But when a so-called resistance movement fails to support a bottom-up popular revolt against a tyrant, its leaders expose themselves as hypocrites. Hizbullah's alignment with Syria's Assad is destroying its reputation across the Arab world. The Syrian masses who once worshiped Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah today curse him when they parade in public squares. The writer is a senior lecturer in Middle East politics at the University of Exeter. (New York Times)
  • The Peace Process Has Become Irrelevant - Amnon Lord
    If you travel to the depths of the West Bank, around Nablus or Ariel, you'll observe a routine of civilian and economic life moving along busy roads. From Hizmeh checkpoint all the way to the heartland of the Palestinian villages surrounding Nablus, you can hardly notice an Israeli soldier. By my estimate, at least two-thirds of the traffic volume is Palestinian. Both sides seem to make the best of co-existence inside a strange bubble that hovers in the midst of regional turmoil and international economic distress where stability and growth are a rarity.
        The main reason for the feeling that the Palestinian front is a non-issue right now stems from the fact that it has become a sideshow. Some suggest that the huge Islamic takeover of Egypt is tipping the balance in favor of Hamas. Hamas is after all a Palestinian offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Israel's dilemma remains: should it negotiate with the PA leadership in the West Bank that may not be able to follow through on an agreement?
        At the Saban Forum in Washington, when U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta exclaimed, "Just get to the damn table," it was Dan Meridor, the most dovish minister in the Israeli government on the Palestinian issue, who stood up and told Panetta, "On that one, you are simply wrong." Israel has made unprecedented concessions in order to get the Palestinians to "the damn table" but they refuse. (

Veteran Israeli Diplomat: Beware the Arab Spring - Arnaud de Borchgrave (Washington Times)

  • To those who hail the Arab Spring and the first free elections in Egypt in 60 years, a prominent Israeli responded, "Remember Mussolini, remember Hitler." Two years after seizing power in 1922 with a march on Rome, one-time socialist Benito Mussolini's fascist party won 64% of the popular vote and 374 seats of 535 in parliament. His coup inspired Adolf Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch, which failed. But in 1933, Hitler legally came to power in a free election.
  • For Zalman Shoval, 81, Israel's ambassador to the U.S. twice, a member of the Knesset for 40 years, and close adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the "Arab Awakening" is an "anti-democratic, anti-human-rights movement camouflaged as a victory for human rights." Most Arab elections, warned Shoval while in Washington last week, will produce anti-U.S., anti-Israel parliaments.
  • Twenty years after the Cold War, he said, "Israel is facing the longest erosion of its strategic environment" while "America's strategic environment is also eroding." "Once you believe you're becoming weak and impotent, you will become so," he warned.
  • Arab-Israeli negotiations are at a dead end, he argued, "because the Palestinians do not wish to negotiate. They ask for a freeze on settlements in the West Bank, but the settlements are only 1.1% of that territory." Shoval made clear Israel will also demand a physical security presence for the Israel Defense Forces along the Jordan River.
  • The Palestinians believe time is on their side, Shoval said. But "security cooperation between Israel and the U.S. is at the highest level in memory." The $3 billion Israel receives yearly from the U.S. for defense is a tiny fraction of America's $3 trillion budget, "which enhances stability and makes it less likely the Arab world would start a new war. And the $3 billion goes back to U.S. [defense] jobs."

    The writer is editor-at-large of The Washington Times and United Press International.

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