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  DAILY ALERT Wednesday,
January 4, 2012

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IDF: Syrian Opposition May Soon Topple Assad - Yaakov Katz (Jerusalem Post)
    There are growing signs that the Syrian opposition is stabilizing and will succeed in the coming months in toppling President Bashar Assad's regime, a top IDF officer predicted on Tuesday.
    The IDF has learned of the defection of thousands of Syrian soldiers, including dozens of officers, among them a number of colonels.
    The IDF also has detected an increase in the number of Syrian troops patrolling the border with Israel in the Golan Heights.

France's Sarkozy Says Syrian President Must Quit after "Massacres" Committed by His Regime (AP-Washington Post)
    French President Nicolas Sarkozy issued a new call Tuesday for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down because "the massacres being committed by the Syrian regime rightly arouse disgust and revolt in the Arab world, in France, in Europe and everywhere in the world."

UK Envoy Retracts Criticism of Jerusalem Construction - Herb Keinon and Melanie Lidman (Jerusalem Post)
    British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould took Israel to task Tuesday for announcing new building projects beyond the "green line" in Jerusalem, but then retracted the criticism after learning there had been no such declaration.
    There had been publication by the Israel Lands Authority of tenders for 312 housing units in the existing Pisgat Ze'ev and Har Homa neighborhoods, which had already been announced a week ago.
    Gould issued a statement saying that the Israeli government "has made clear to us that there has been no new announcement of tenders for building in east Jerusalem today, and that reports of such new tenders were incorrect."
    One official said the incident reflects confusion over how Israel's planning process works, with each project going through numerous steps on its way to final approval.

Rafsanjani's Daughter Sentenced in Iran (UPI)
    Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was arrested last year for taking part in anti-government protests, was sentenced to six months in prison for making anti-government statements, the Mehr News Agency reported.

15 Growing Israeli Startups to Watch in 2012 - Ben Lang (Business Insider)
    Any.DO - organize your life. Wibbitz - transforms text content into interactive short videos. Onavo - monitors your data usage. Tawkon - lets users know how much radiation is being emitted from their cellphone.
    BillGuard - detects fraud and hidden charges on your credit card. Shaker - created a beautiful virtual world in Facebook. Bizzabo - networking made easy. Soluto - a virtual help-desk for PC users.
    Waze - a community-based traffic and navigation app. Face - face recognition platform. Magisto - video editing. Mobli - photo sharing. Fooducate - eat better. Gigya - make your website social. Wisestamp - revolutionizes email signatures.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • As Israelis and Palestinians Talk, the Rise of a Political Islam Alters the Equation - Ethan Bronner
    Israeli and Palestinian officials met in Amman, Jordan, on Tuesday, their first encounter in more than a year, and while little emerged, the meeting said a great deal about the crossroads facing the Palestinians - and the entire Middle East - as political Islam emerges as a potentially transformative force in the region.
        Dore Gold, a former ambassador and adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said he saw in the meeting "a set of interests coalescing." President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority "has lost his Egyptian backing because of the fall of Hosni Mubarak, so is turning to Jordan....King Abdullah would like to see Israeli-Palestinian relations more stabilized, and Israel would like to revive dialogue with the Palestinians and strengthen King Abdullah."
        The Israelis say they have competing interests that prevent them from yielding territory now to a future Palestinian state. In particular, they say, every time they have withdrawn from land - from southern Lebanon in 2000, from Gaza in 2005 - Islamist forces hostile to Israel have taken power. The Sinai, yielded to Egypt in 1982, is now becoming another area of instability dominated by anti-Israel and Islamist forces. Given the rise of Islamism more widely, another territorial concession without ironclad security guarantees makes no sense, the Netanyahu government says. (New York Times)
  • White House: Iran Warning on Persian Gulf Shows "Weakness" - Kent Klein
    President Barack Obama's press secretary, Jay Carney, brushed off Iran's warning to keep a U.S. aircraft carrier out of the Persian Gulf, saying it shows the Iranian government's "weakness." "Iran is isolated and is seeking to divert attention from its behavior and domestic problems," he said. "This is simply a measure of the impact that sanctions have been having on Iran and the broad international support for putting pressure on Iran and isolating Iran because of its refusal to live up to its international obligations."  (VOA News)
        See also Iran: Foreign Warships Will Need Iran's Permission to Pass through Strait of Hormuz
    All foreign warships will soon be unable to pass through the Strait of Hormuz unless they first receive permission from the Iranian Navy, Iranian parliamentarian Nader Qazipour told the Fars News Agency. (Fars-Iran)
  • U.S. Overtures to Muslim Brotherhood Reverse Longtime Policy - David D. Kirkpatrick
    With the Muslim Brotherhood pulling within reach of an outright majority in Egypt's new parliament, the Obama administration has begun to reverse decades of mistrust and hostility toward an organization once viewed as irreconcilably opposed to U.S. interests. The reversal also reflects the administration's growing acceptance of the Brotherhood's repeated assurances that its lawmakers want to build a modern democracy that will respect individual freedoms, free markets and international commitments, including Egypt's treaty with Israel.
        At the same time it underscores Washington's increasing frustration with Egypt's military rulers, who have sought to carve out permanent political powers for themselves and used deadly force against protesters seeking an end to their rule. (New York Times)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Abbas Warns of "Hard Measures" If Israel Doesn't Accept PA Demands - Herb Keinon and Khaled Abu Toameh
    PA President Mahmoud Abbas warned, before the Quartet-sponsored talks in Amman on Tuesday, that Israel's failure to accept Palestinian demands would prompt him to take "hard measures." Speaking in Ramallah, Abbas said the peace process would not be revived unless Israel agreed to freeze settlement construction and accept the pre-1967 lines. "If Israel does not accept the Palestinian demands, we will take other measures which we cannot detail. These measures could be hard," he said. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Israeli, Palestinian Envoys Agree to Meet Again in Jordan Next Week - Barak Ravid and Natasha Mozgovaya
    After a meeting that lasted more than three hours in Amman, Jordan, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's envoy Yitzhak Molcho agreed on Tuesday to meet again next week in the Jordanian capital. The meeting began with Quartet Mideast envoy Tony Blair and senior U.S., Russian, UN, and EU diplomats. After about an hour the Quartet representatives left the room. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Palestinians Hand Israelis Proposals on Security, Borders
    Palestinian negotiators attending a Quartet meeting in Amman on Tuesday submitted proposals on security and borders to their Israeli counterparts, who promised to respond to the proposals in future meetings, according to Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. (WAFA-PA)
        See also Jordan "Seeks Image Boost" by Hosting Mideast Meet - Randa Habib (AFP)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Israel's National Security Council Questions U.S. Stance on Muslim Brotherhood - Shlomo Cesana
    The U.S. needs to face up to the threat presented by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood across the Middle East, Israel's National Security Council concluded during a strategic discussion several days ago. The council, responsible for providing the prime minister with strategic assessments, said it was concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood's pronouncements, repeated this week, that call the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty into question. The Brotherhood's second-in-command, Dr. Rashad Bayumi, said on Sunday that the Muslim Brotherhood, which is set to dominate Egypt's new parliament, will never recognize Israel and will even work to amend the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
        In its assessment, the council, headed by Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, concluded that Israel needed to accept the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood would eventually assume power in most Arab countries, with Egypt first and foremost. The council believes that the Muslim Brotherhood is not just a religious and cultural force, but also a reincarnation of the totalitarian fascist movements seen in Europe over the past century.
        Nevertheless, council members believe that the U.S. and key European countries can still exert influence over Muslim Brotherhood governments through economic leverage. The council also stressed that Egypt, regardless of which government is in power, is united with Israel in its opposition to Shiite Iran's nuclear program through which it plans to control the region. (Israel Hayom)
  • A Small Sign of Progress toward Mideast Peace - Editorial
    Something surprising happened Tuesday in a Middle East diplomatic landscape that most people assumed was frozen over: Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met face-to-face for the first time in 16 months. Encouragingly, the session ended with an agreement to continue the low-level contact. Unfortunately, the odds remain high against real movement toward a peace deal. Palestinian President Abbas dispatched his negotiator to Tuesday's meeting to avoid being blamed by the Quartet for causing the stillbirth of its latest peace plan. But his disinterest in dealing with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is manifest in his continuing preconditions for formal negotiations. (Washington Post)
  • Iran's Self-Defeating Saber-Rattling - Amir Taheri
    Could Iran close the Strait of Hormuz? Maybe. The strait is a 34-mile-long choke point dotted with islands, separating mainland Iran from the tip of Mussandam Peninsula, which belongs to Oman. The northern half, known as the Clarence Strait, belongs to Iran and is hardly ever used by foreign oil tankers. Iran shares the southern part, the main route for tankers, with Oman, which owns the island of Beit al-Ghanam at the southern entrance.
        To close the channel, Iran would have to invade and occupy Beit al-Ghanam, thus declaring war on Oman - which would amount to war with all six Gulf Cooperation Council members. Moreover, the southern part of the strait is recognized as international waters, with the right of "innocent passage" guaranteed for all. Closing it would be an act of war against the United Nations.
        By March, Arab exporters will be using pipelines connecting them with the Arabian Sea through the emirate of Fujairah, bypassing Hormuz. Furthermore, Tehran's hopes of provoking global shortages may be exaggerated. World oil stockpiles, now at the highest level ever, could be released to prevent sharp price rises. Also, Russia, Norway and Angola have plans for more production in 2012. (New York Post)

The Real Iranian Threat in the Gulf - Michael Singh (Foreign Policy)

  • Could Tehran close the Strait of Hormuz? As many analysts have observed, the answer is no - not for a meaningful period of time. Would Iran even try? The answer to that question is also "no" - even the attempt would have devastating strategic consequences for Iran.
  • Less than 25% of U.S. oil imports came from all the Gulf countries combined in October 2011. China, on the other hand, would find its oil supplies significantly threatened by an Iranian move against the strait. Thus a move to close the strait would backfire strategically by harming the interests of - and likely alienating - Iran's most important patron and cutting off Iran's own economic lifeline, while doing little to imperil U.S. supplies of crude. It is perhaps no coincidence that China quickly dispatched Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun to Tehran in the wake of Iran's bellicose statements.
  • The real danger in the Gulf is lower-level activity by Iran to harass shipping and confront the U.S. Navy. The U.S. should indicate clearly to Iran that we are prepared to use selective military force in response to further provocations.
  • It is frequently observed that the consequences of military action are unpredictable, and rightly so; it should only ever be used with caution and deliberation. However, excessive risk aversion which results in a failure of deterrence and feeds Iran's sense of impunity may, paradoxically, be just as risky.

    The writer, a former senior director for Middle East affairs at the U.S. National Security Council, is managing director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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