Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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  DAILY ALERT Thursday,
February 16, 2012

In-Depth Issues:

Report: Attempt on Israeli Defense Minister Barak's Life Foiled in Singapore - Roi Kais (Ynet News)
    Kuwait's Al-Jarida newspaper reported Thursday that Israel - in collaboration with Singapore authorities - was able to prevent an assassination attempt on Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak during his visit to the Singapore Air Show.
    It quoted Israeli defense officials who said Israel told Singapore authorities that "a cell comprised of Iranian and Hizbullah operatives was planning to assassinate the Israeli defense minister."
    The assassination was to take place in Barak's hotel. Three suspects were arrested.

Thai Police Say Iranian Bomb Suspects Planned to Target Israeli Diplomats (AP-Washington Post)
    Iranians detained after accidentally setting off explosives in Bangkok were planning to attack Israeli diplomats, Thailand's top policeman said Thursday.
    National police chief Gen. Prewpan Dhamapong said that Thai authorities now "know for certain that (the target) was Israeli diplomats."
    The plot in Bangkok was discovered Tuesday only by accident, when explosives stored in a house occupied by several Iranian men blew up by mistake.
    See also Third Iranian Bomb Plot Suspect Targeting Israelis Arrested in Malaysia (New York Post)

Napolitano: Hizbullah Attack on U.S. Possible - Jeff Bliss (Bloomberg)
    U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she is concerned that Iran-backed Hizbullah will attempt a terrorist attack on American soil.
    The Homeland Security Department last week held a conference call with Jewish groups "who have been the intended targets in the past," Napolitano told the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday. "We're constantly monitoring" the Hizbullah threat.
    See also Heightened Security in U.S. over Iran Threat - Richard Esposito (ABC News)
    With Iran striking out at Israeli citizens around the world, Israeli and American security officials in the U.S. are on high alert.
    Israeli officials said the level of personal security on Israeli officials in the U.S. is at its highest in at least five years, a response to what they called "a coordinated series of attacks."
    When Israeli officials travel to and from events, ABC News has observed a notable increase in the security presence.

Turkey vs. Iran - Soner Cagaptay (New York Times)
    Hardly a day goes by that an Iranian official doesn't threaten Turkey. Turkish-Iranian rivalry goes back centuries, to the Ottoman sultans and the Safavid shahs, and Ankara is the main challenger to Tehran's desire to dominate the region today.
    The uprising in Syria put Ankara and Tehran at opposite ends of the spectrum. It is a zero-sum game: Either Assad will win or the demonstrators will triumph. Hence, all is fair game now between Ankara and Tehran.
    Turkey is now supporting, hosting, and reportedly arming the Syrian opposition. Iran's response has been to strike at Turkey by once again supporting the PKK, which has launched dozens of deadly attacks, killing more than 150 Turks since the summer of 2011.
    The writer is director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Iran Claims Major Steps in Nuclear Fuel - Ali Akbar Dareini and Brian Murphy
    Iran said Wednesday it is dramatically closer to mastering the production of nuclear fuel. In a live TV broadcast, President Ahmadinejad was shown overseeing what was described as the first Iranian-made fuel rod inserted into a research reactor in Tehran. Separately, the semiofficial Fars agency reported that a "new generation" of Iranian centrifuges - used to enrich uranium toward nuclear fuel - had gone into operation at Natanz. In addition, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Abbasi, said Iran will open a new facility to produce "yellowcake," which is concentrated natural uranium, the foundation material in the process to make nuclear fuel. (AP)
        See also Iran Nuclear Claim Met by Skepticism - Patrick J. McDonnell and Ramin Mostaghim
    Western observers generally downplayed Iran's claims of nuclear "achievements" Wednesday as more hype than substance. "This is not big news; in fact, it seems to have been hyped," said Victoria Nuland, the chief State Department spokeswoman. (Los Angeles Times)
        See also Israeli Defense Minister: Iran's Claim of Dramatic Nuclear Advancement Is Exaggerated (AP-Washington Post)
  • U.S. Closely Watching Syrian Chemical Weapons - Douglas Birch
    The U.S. and its allies are closely monitoring Syria's large stockpiles of chemical arms and portable anti-aircraft missiles, Thomas A. Countryman, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, said Wednesday amid concerns that the country's unconventional weapons could fall into the hands of terrorist groups. Countryman estimated that Syria has "tens of thousands" of the portable missiles, which are considered a threat to commercial aviation. Assad is also believed to have nerve agents as well as mustard gas and Scud missiles capable of delivering these lethal chemicals. (AP-Miami Herald)
        See also Syria Chemical Weapons Alarm Grows - James Blitz (Financial Times-UK)
        See also Russia and Iran Still Arming Assad - Josh Rogin (Foreign Policy)
  • Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Backs Military in Dispute with U.S. over Pro-Democracy Groups
    Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood on Wednesday threw its weight behind the country's military-backed government in an escalating dispute with the U.S. over the funding of pro-democracy groups. Cairo has referred 16 Americans and 27 others to criminal court. Six Americans are barred from leaving the country. On Wednesday, the Brotherhood praised officials carrying out the crackdown and said it supported their "nationalist position."  (AP-Washington Post)
        See also U.S. Bets on Muslim Brotherhood's Peaceful Intentions - David Ignatius (Washington Post)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu Embarks on Historic Visit to Cyprus - Itamar Eichner
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embarked on a historic visit to Cyprus on Thursday, the first Israeli leader ever to visit the nearby island nation. (Ynet News)
        See also Israeli Leader's Visit to Cyprus Reflects Shifting Regional Ties
    Ties between Israel and Cyprus have long been chilly. Nicosia looked on warily as Israel built military and trade relations with regional powerhouse Turkey, which doesn't recognize Cyprus as a sovereign state and has occupied its north since 1974. But Israel's relations with Turkey have deteriorated dramatically, while Cyprus has been looking to cement ties with neighbors as a bulwark against Ankara's growing regional influence. Also, Cyprus can't rely as before on top ally, Greece, which is grappling with crushing financial problems.
        Another potential bridge between Israel and Cyprus is the discovery of huge offshore natural gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea. The same U.S. company, Noble Energy, is leading the exploration efforts in both countries. (AP-Washington Post)
        See also Turkey Warns Greek Cyprus on Gas Exploration ahead of Israeli PM Visit (Hurriyet-Turkey)
  • Israeli Physician Acquitted of Libel against Mohammed al-Dura's Father - Avi Issacharoff
    A French appeals court Wednesday overturned the libel conviction of Dr. David Yehuda, an Israeli physician who was sued by the father of Mohammed al-Dura, the boy whose shooting death in September 2000 became a powerful symbol of the second intifada. Jamal al-Dura had displayed to international media outlets scars on his body he claimed were caused by bullets fired by Israel Defense Forces soldiers.
        In a 2008 interview with a French Jewish weekly, Dr. Yehuda, an orthopedic surgeon, said the scars were the result of an assault on Dura by Hamas militants who accused him of collaborating with Israel, as well as subsequent surgery performed by Yehuda himself in 1994.
        The photos of the Duras, father and son, taking cover behind a barrel during an exchange of gunfire between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in Gaza, remains one of the most enduring images of the second intifada. Israel initially apologized for the boy's death but issued a retraction when subsequent investigations indicated the boy was most likely killed by Palestinian fire. (Ha'aretz)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Bashar al-Assad vs. the Syrian People - Jeffrey White
    Although the regime has a large number of forces - up to several hundred thousand military and security personnel - it cannot conduct large-scale multi-brigade/divisional offensives in all areas of unrest simultaneously. The regime has had limited success during the current offensive. Yet these gains have been made at significant cost in terms of casualties and damage, and without demonstrating that the regime can clear and hold areas for longer than the time troops are sitting on top of them.
        Moreover, the army is showing signs of strain. The increased use of field artillery suggests that it is concerned about fighting the FSA up close in difficult urban environments. It also seems worried about the FSA's antitank capabilities. In addition, ground forces have shown evidence of declining combat spirit, with reports of infantry units unwilling to advance. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Iran's Designs on Yemen
    There has been much recent talk of the attempt to establish an Iranian presence inside Yemen. Iran has worked on improving its ties to the leaders of the Zaidi/Jaroudi [Shiite offshoot] sect in Yemen. A large number of professors at Sana'a University and Yemeni high school teachers who were on contract in Iraq during the 1990s have worked on implementing the Iranian policy with the aim of transforming Zaidism into a faction that is committed to the doctrine of velayat-e-faqih [Islamic governance] as practiced in Iran. The result of these efforts have included the establishment of the "Believing Youth Movement" which was later transformed into what came to be known as Ansarollah; the Houthis' military arm which has followed the same path as Hizbullah in Lebanon.
        A considerable number of Houthis' supporters have gone to Iran via Damascus to receive training at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's camps. They were taken to Iran using travel documents issued by the Iranian Embassy in the Syrian capital without having to use their Yemeni passports, thereby avoiding Iranian visas being stamped on their passports which could be seen upon their return to Sana'a. (Mideast Mirror, 15Feb12)
        See also Yemen Has Become a Focus of Iranian-Saudi Arabian Strife (Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center )

Containment Won't Work Against Iran - Daniel Schwammenthal (Wall Street Journal Europe)

  • As concerns grow that diplomacy and sanctions - including the recent European oil ban - may not stop Iran's nuclear program, it is becoming popular to invoke the Cold War, when the policy of containment managed to avoid all-out war with a nuclear Soviet Union. But the analogy fails on several grounds. Mutually assured destruction (MAD) might be more of an incentive than a deterrent for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and those around him.
  • In addition, Iran lacks second-strike capability and Israel is too small to absorb a nuclear attack. The temptation to launch a preemptive attack will therefore be far greater than that faced by the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Add to that the much shorter flight times for missiles between Iran and Israel than between the U.S. and the Soviet Union - giving both sides much less time to think and react - and the chances for conflict or mishap spiraling out of control grow exponentially.
  • And unlike during the Cold War, in which there were only two main nuclear players, an Iranian bomb would inevitably lead other neighboring states to follow suit, producing a fragile standoff between several actors.
  • Will any country rely on Western promises to protect them from a nuclear Iran after the same promises failed to curtail a conventionally armed Iran?
  • Furthermore, the Iranian regime can circumvent the logic of MAD by passing on a nuclear device to terrorists. Following an atomic attack against a Western city, it would take investigators weeks, if not months, to determine the culprits, who may never be identified beyond reasonable doubt.

    The writer is director of the AJC Transatlantic Institute in Brussels.

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