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December 26, 2011

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Will Hizbullah Get Syria's WMD if Assad Goes Down? - Dan Ephron (Daily Beast)
    Israel is deeply concerned that Syrian chemical weapons could end up in the hands of Hizbullah should Bashar al-Assad's regime collapse.
    "The danger is that the situation in Syria will deteriorate to a point where there will be an absence of an orderly transfer of authority from one power base to another," says former Mossad intelligence chief Efraim Halevy. "In this kind of situation, the immediate danger is that concentrations of weaponry, including chemical weapons, will fall into Hizbullah's hands."
    Experts say Syria's arsenal includes thousands of chemical-laden artillery shells and missile warheads.

Israeli Offshore Gas Search Plagued by Pirates - Amir Ben-David (Ynet News)
    Israeli companies searching for oil and natural gas in the Mediterranean have recently encountered fishing boats disrupting their sea expeditions whose owners demand payment in exchange for allowing them to operate.
    By blocking the vessels' sailing route or creating loud noise they disrupt their work and then demand money to leave the area.
    Ships that perform seismic surveys to trace the best location for drilling are the ones being targeted by the extortionists. Using their fishing boats' engines they create loud noise which disrupts the survey ships' sonar images.

PA Negotiator: We May Withdraw Recognition of Israel - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    Mohammed Shtayyeh, member of the Fatah Central Committee and a PA negotiator with Israel, was quoted Sunday by the London-based Asharq Al Awsat as saying that the Palestinians may cancel the agreements signed between the PLO and Israel.

100,000 Visitors in Bethlehem on Christmas - Dalia Nammari (AP)
    An estimated 100,000 visitors streamed into Manger Square in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, up from 70,000 the previous year.
  Today, only about 1/3 of Bethlehem's residents are Christian, while just 60,000 Christians live in the Palestinian territories, less than 2% of the population.
    Israel allowed about 500 members of Gaza's tiny Christian minority to travel through its territory to the West Bank to celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem.
    See also Gaza Christians Long for Days before Hamas Cancelled Christmas - Phoebe Greenwood (Guardian-UK)
    Since the Palestinian Authority left Gaza in 2007, festive celebrations and displays of crucifixes have become taboo.
    Of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza, fewer than 1,400 are Christian and those who can are leaving.
    "People here do not celebrate Christmas anymore because they are nervous," said Imad Jelda, an Orthodox Christian who runs a youth training center in Gaza City.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Egypt Islamist Parties the Big Winners in Second Round of Voting - Amro Hassan
    Islamist parties have solidified their lead in Egypt's historic parliamentary elections, capturing about 70% of the seats in the second phase of a three-part poll, according to results released Saturday. The Muslim Brotherhood said it won about 47% of 180 seats in the second round. The al-Nour party, part of the more religiously conservative Salafi movement, won 20%. The last round of voting is scheduled for January. Secular parties garnered less than 10%. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Inside Syria's Death Zone: Assad's Regime Hunts People in Homs
    The regime in Damascus is using snipers to hunt down its own people. Beginning in the afternoon and continuing throughout the night, the wide street that separates the Khalidiya and Bayada neighborhoods in Homs becomes a death zone. Snipers working for Syrian intelligence, who are nothing more than death squads, and the Shabiha killers, mercenaries who are paid daily wages and often earn a little extra income by robbing their victims, shoot at anything that moves.
        In Homs, anywhere from five to 15 people die every day, most as the victims of snipers. The insurgents have counted more than 200 sniper positions in Homs, from which people are being shot arbitrarily and without warning - not because they are protesting, but merely because they are there. Some 200 to 300 tanks of the "Assad army" have been posted outside Homs for weeks. Residents anticipate an attack any day now. Everyone wonders what is making Assad hesitate. (Der Spiegel-Germany)
        See also Assad's Lebanese Invasion - Mitchell Prothero
    The Syria revolt has spilled over into Lebanon. Over the last few months, Syrian troops have repeatedly crossed into Lebanese territory in a bid to stop smugglers and deter both refugees from leaving and armed opponents of the regime from mounting operations. Hizbullah, which has stood firmly behind the Syrian regime, has been Assad's primary Lebanese ally in this crackdown. Hizbullah's internal security apparatus engages in harassment, kidnapping, and cross-border rendition of Syrian anti-regime activists. (Foreign Policy)
  • Palestinian Rapprochement Leaves Israel Unimpressed - Matthew Kalman
    Following talks in Cairo with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas announced that a joint committee would prepare for elections in May to the Palestine National Council, the ruling body of the PLO. Khaled Abu Toameh, a Palestinian commentator, said the agreement by Hamas to join the PLO did not necessarily mean they had finally accepted the idea of peace with Israel. "Joining the PLO does not mean Hamas will necessarily change its strategy or give up on armed struggle," he said. "They ran in the 2006 election held under the Oslo peace accords but still refused to recognize the accords."  (Independent-UK)
        See also Hamas: We'll Join PLO to Keep It True to Its Mission - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Hamas is joining the PLO not as a result of a change in its ideology but because it wants the PLO to stick to its original platform - liberating Palestine and achieving the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees. Hamas "foreign minister" Osama Hamdan stressed, "Anyone who thinks Hamas has changed its positions and now accepts the PLO's defeatist political program is living in an illusion."  (Jerusalem Post)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel Will Not Renew Talks If Hamas Joins PA - Herb Keinon
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel will not engage in any negotiations with the Palestinian Authority if it enters into a unity government with Hamas. He said that Israel is "not prepared to allow a Palestinian state to turn into Gaza or Lebanon," meaning a territory from which thousands of rockets are launched into Israel. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Israel: Palestinians Are Not Working toward Peace - Barak Ravid
    Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday that the Palestinians are not working toward peace but rather trying to internationalize the conflict. Therefore, Israel must work to manage the conflict and not solve it. "No territorial concession will solve the real issues: refugees, security arrangements, and Jerusalem." "The only change that would happen here if we return to 1967 borders would be that the Kassam and Grad rocket fire will not only come from Gaza into southern Israeli cities but also from Kalkilya [in the West Bank] into central Israel."
        "The countries who criticized us need to understand that construction in the West Bank is not an obstacle to peace and those who pose an obstacle to negotiations, and the opportunity for peace, are the Palestinians who refuse to negotiate with us."  (Ha'aretz)
        See also Ya'alon: U.S. Shifted from Resolving to Managing Israeli-Palestinian Conflict - Gil Hoffman
    Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon suggested Sunday that Israel had persuaded President Obama to change his strategy from trying to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to merely managing it. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Archeologists Discover 2nd Temple Seal in Jerusalem - Melanie Lidman
    Archeologists have discovered a 2,000-year-old clay seal from the Second Temple period that was used to show that payment had been made for offerings to the Temple. The 1 cm.-by-1 cm. ancient seal with the words "Pure for God" written in Aramaic was found near the Shiloah Pool in the City of David. Similar seals were mentioned in the Mishnah (Tractate Shekalim 5:1-5): "Whoever required libations would go to Yohanan who was in charge of the stamps and give him money and would receive a stamp from him in return."
        "This shows the connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount," said Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat. "And [the discoveries] don't stop - we are always finding more and more."  (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Was the Arab Spring a Victory for Extremism? - Jeffrey Goldberg
    Just a few months ago, we were told that battalions of tweeting secularists were steering the revolution and that the people of Egypt did not want sharia, or Islamic law, to govern their lives. They simply wanted freedom. This was Selma on the Nile. A dozen years ago Mubarak told me, "My people expect a firm hand. If we don't lead strongly, they will turn to the mosque for leadership." It turns out Mubarak was right. The only thing standing between Egypt and the rise of fundamentalist Islam was Mubarak.
        The Muslim Brotherhood and its more radical cousins are, generally speaking, anti-Western, anti-Semitic, hostile to Christians in their midst, and have a view of women that most Westerners find abhorrent. (Bloomberg)
  • The Rise and Fall of the Iranian Revolutionary Model - Raz Zimmt
    The internal developments in Iran and the upheavals in the Arab world pose significant challenges for the Iranian regime. The erosion in the status of the clerics, the growing resistance to the concept of rule by the Supreme Leader, and the increasing difficulty to present the Islamic revolution as a successful model to be imitated by Muslim societies cast doubts on the future of the regime.
        In the short term, the Iranian leadership may be able to eliminate any threat to the stability of the regime and take advantage of new opportunities to advance its influence in the Arab world. However, the increasing power of alternative ideological views at home, coupled with the emergence of competing Islamic government models in the Arab world, may make it even more difficult for Iran to realize its long-term objectives. The author is a researcher at the Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University. (Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center)
  • Minding the Gaps: Territorial Issues in Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking - Michael Herzog
    Since 2000, Israel has essentially agreed to regard the 1967 lines as a reference point - even if not a "baseline" - for territorial deliberations without prejudice to its call for significant adjustments to these lines. The Palestinians have come to accept Israeli retention of some settlement blocs. And both sides have agreed to bridge gaps through territorial exchange. But the basic narratives guiding their territorial viewpoints are still deeply at odds.
        Efforts to relaunch direct talks have focused almost exclusively on how to get the parties to the table, sidestepping the question of how to proceed if and when they get there. Instead, talks should be preceded by serious preparatory work on territories and borders. Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog (ret.) was personally involved in all of Israel's negotiations with the Palestinians from 1993 to 2010. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

Are Egypt's Islamic Parties Planning to Nullify the Peace Treaty with Israel? - Jonathan D. Halevi (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

  • The prevailing optimism in media reports concerning the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist party's readiness to adhere to the peace treaty with Israel is based on general statements made by senior officials in both parties. These statements maintain that Egypt must honor the international treaties that it signed.
  • Yet a more rigorous examination of the two parties' stances identifies a markedly different tendency. Both seek a way to cast off the Camp David agreement in a manner that will incur minimal diplomatic and economic damage to Egypt, and restore Egypt to its leading role in the circle of states confronting Israel.
  • The Muslim Brotherhood has set a number of criteria for examining international agreements, including the Camp David agreement: the considerations of Islamic canon law (Sharia), the position of the Egyptian people, and the degree of Israel's compliance with the agreement from Egypt's perspective.
  • The strategic objective of the Egyptian Islamic movements is to transform Egypt into a prime regional force that will lead the diplomatic and military battle against Israel. This means re-examining the Camp David agreement and submitting it to the decision of the new parliament that will be controlled by the Islamic parties or to a referendum - thereby alleviating the responsibility of any future Egyptian government for canceling the peace treaty.
  • These developments can be averted if the U.S. and its allies take a firm position against any initiative to undermine the Treaty of Peace between Israel and Egypt, and all echelons of the Egyptian establishment are made to understand the implications of any such action.

    Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former advisor to the Policy Planning Division of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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