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by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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  DAILY ALERT Tuesday,
July 17, 2012

In-Depth Issues:

Russia's Endgame in Syria - Ariel Cohen (National Interest)
    Moscow has become increasingly pessimistic that the Assad regime can survive.
    In June, Russian military officials were reported to be entertaining the possibility that it will be necessary to send the "naval infantry," as marines are known in Russian, to Syria to protect infrastructure and evacuate approximately 30,000 Russian citizens.
    As much as Moscow would hate to see the Assad regime go, Russians are realizing that power transition is the only way to avoid even more tragic outcomes.
    That's why last week Moscow hosted representatives from the opposition Syrian National Council.
    The writer is senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

The Reason Syria's Chemical Weapons Are So Dangerous - Sara Sorcher (Atlantic Monthly)
    Syria is believed to harbor one of the world's largest stockpiles of chemical weapons.
    The U.S. cannot rely on the divided and untrained Syrian rebels to control the stockpiles, but there's little appetite in Washington for military intervention to secure them.
    The nightmare scenario is that the custodians of the chemical-warfare facilities might defect and sell the materials to the highest bidder, potentially to Hamas and Hizbullah.
    See also Assad Regime "Ready to Use Chemical Weapons," Senior Defector Warns (Telegraph-UK)

Abu Dhabi Opens Oil Pipeline Bypassing Hormuz Strait - Anthony DiPaola and Ayesha Daya (Bloomberg)
    Abu Dhabi started exporting its first crude from a new 423-km. (263-mile) pipeline that bypasses the Strait of Hormuz.
    Abu Dhabi built the pipeline to avoid Hormuz, a narrow waterway that Iran has threatened to block.

Gaza Christians Protest "Forcible Conversions" - Diaa Hadid (AP)
    Dozens of Gaza Christians staged a rare public protest Monday, claiming two congregants were forcibly converted to Islam and were being held against their will.
    The number of Gaza Christians has shrunk from some 3,500 to about 1,500 in recent years.

Confessions of an Assad "Shabiha" Loyalist - Ruth Sherlock (Telegraph-UK)
    Sitting in the dark, fetid cave that served as his makeshift prison, Mohammed confessed with the frankness of a man who knew he had no escape from death.
    For the equivalent of £300 a month, plus a £100 bonus for every victim, he had become a hired killer for President Bashar al-Assad, he said.
    What was more, he had enjoyed every minute of it.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Pentagon Bulks Up Defenses in the Gulf - Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes
    The Pentagon is building a missile-defense radar station at a secret site in Qatar and organizing its biggest-ever minesweeping exercises in the Persian Gulf, as preparations accelerate for a possible flare-up with Iran, according to U.S. officials. The radar base in Qatar is slated to house a powerful X-Band radar, and supplement two similar arrays already in place in Israel and Turkey.
        Together, the three radar sites will be able to detect missile launches from northern, western and southern Iran. Intelligence agencies believe Iran could have a ballistic missile as early as 2015 that could threaten the U.S. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Clinton: U.S., Israel "On Same Page" Regarding Iran
    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a visit to Jerusalem on Monday: "The United States and the international community look to the new leaders of Egypt to play a constructive role in advancing regional peace and security, in particular by upholding their international agreements, including the peace treaty with Israel."
        "We also discussed our commitment to bring about a comprehensive regional peace in the Middle East, peace among Israel, the Palestinian people, and Israel's Arab neighbors....Only through negotiation, not through international venues or unilateral acts...peace can be and will be secured."
        "As President Obama has said, the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons....We will use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."
        "The proposals we have seen from Iran thus far within the P-5+1 negotiations are nonstarters....We are pressing forward in close consultation with Israel....I think that it's absolutely fair to say we are on the same page at this moment trying to figure our way forward to have the maximum impact on affecting the decisions that Iran makes."
        "America's commitment to Israel is rock-solid; by strengthening Israel's security, we strengthen America's security."  (State Department)
        See also Mideast Peace Slips to Second Billing for U.S. - Bradley Klapper and Josef Federman
    Mideast peace was just a postscript Monday as Hillary Clinton made perhaps her final visit to the region as secretary of state. The U.S. administration no longer sees the failing Arab-Israeli peace efforts with the same immediacy. U.S. interests are focused now on Iran and Syria. (AP)
  • Heavy Fighting Continues in Damascus - Babak Dehghanpisheh and Will Englund
    Neighborhoods across Damascus were rocked Monday with intense fighting. The fighting in Damascus on Sunday and Monday was concentrated primarily in southern neighborhoods, but residents said it appeared to be moving closer to the city center. One activist in Damascus said, "We are now expecting more fighting inside Damascus and more escalation," as the sound of gunfire and explosions could be heard in the background. (Washington Post)
        See also Syria Using Helicopter Gunships to Battle Rebels in Damascus (AP-Washington Post)
        See also Defector: "The Battle for Damascus Is Coming" (CNN)
        See also below Observations: Moment of Truth Approaching in Damascus - Jonathan D. Halevi (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Palestinian Plot to Kidnap IDF Soldiers Foiled - Gili Cohen
    Israeli security services uncovered a Palestinian terrorist cell that planned to kidnap an IDF soldier. According to the Israel Security Agency, the cell was led by Rajab Salach Saladin, 52, of the West Bank village of Hizma, affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The group planned to use the kidnapped soldier as a bargaining chip in a possible deal to release Palestinian prisoners. (Ha'aretz)
  • Hamas Improves Rocket Range Capabilities after Successful Test Launch - Daniel Siryoti
    Egyptian media reported Sunday that Hamas test-fired a rocket from Gaza into Sinai two weeks ago. The rocket, modeled after missiles smuggled into Gaza from Libya, can reportedly travel farther than any other missile in Hamas' rocket arsenal. (Israel Hayom)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Exclusion of Israel at Counter-Terror Conference Raises Concern - Michael Widlanski
    The U.S. did not invite Israel to a counter-terror conference in Turkey last month, nor to a similar parley in Madrid last week, apparently to placate the Islamist government of Turkey. The U.S. was so concerned about offending Turkey, it seems, that Undersecretary of State Maria Otero did not mention Israel among the countries that have been victims of terror attacks.
        "Israel has been one of the key counterterrorism allies of the United States for 30 years," observed Dr. Dore Gold, Israel's former ambassador to the UN. "Its absence from an American-sponsored counter-terror conference raises questions that need to be answered."
        Top U.S. administration officials have said they think Egypt's Brotherhood is moderate. In response, IDF Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad observed, "[Egyptian President] Morsi says 'I want an Islamic caliphate (empire) whose capital is Jerusalem,' and what do they [the Americans] say: 'Don't believe him. He doesn't really mean it.' Well, he does mean it."  (Algemeiner)
  • In Egypt's Sinai Desert, Islamic Militants Gaining New Foothold - Ernesto Londono
    Vast areas of Egypt's Sinai desert have descended into lawlessness in recent months, providing fertile ground for small cells of extremist militants that have quietly established training camps near the Israeli border. The militants include men who have fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as Islamists who were released from prison in Egypt after the 2011 popular revolt.
        Ibrahim el-Meneey, a powerful Bedouin tribal elder who lives a few miles from the Israeli border, said around 150 fighters set up a training facility about three miles from his home earlier this year. He does not share their goal of creating an Islamic caliphate. For the time being, there is little support for the budding jihadist cells among the members of his tribe, the Sawarka. (Washington Post)
  • Israel Is in Good Shape - Barry Rubin
    On the surface, the surge of revolutionary Islamism certainly looks bad for Israel, but there are short-term implications. Internal battles will disrupt Arab armies and economies, reducing their ability to fight against Israel.
        As for Iran, it has lost virtually all of its non-Shia Muslim assets, notably Hamas. In general, Arab Sunni Islamists don't like either Iran or Shia Muslims and are certainly not going to follow Tehran's lead. The big Middle East conflict of the future is not the Arab-Israeli but the Sunni-Shia one.
        The Palestinians threw away the greatest opportunity they've ever had. The Obama administration was ready to become the most pro-Palestinian government in American history. Instead, the Palestinians refused to cooperate with Obama, rejecting his initiatives and refusing even to negotiate with Israel. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the PA repeatedly showed the U.S. government that it was the intransigent party. The writer, a professor, is the director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center. (Jerusalem Post)

Moment of Truth Approaching in Damascus - Jonathan D. Halevi (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

  • The Free Syrian Army has shifted to an offensive in Damascus and Aleppo, intending to induce an attitudinal change in the Syrian army and cause the quick collapse of the regime.
  • In a video uploaded to YouTube on Monday, Free Syrian Army commander Riad al-Asaad ordered rebel forces in southern Syria and the rural part of Damascus to wage the final battle against Assad's forces in the capital. Rebel forces in the northern and eastern parts of the country were told to go to Aleppo, the economic capital of Syria.
  • Asaad's statements reflect growing confidence among the rebels, who have destroyed a large number of armored vehicles and helicopters, killed thousands of soldiers while taking many others prisoner, striking a lethal blow to the Syrian army's morale.
  • Many Syrian army troops now appear to be exhausted, lacking resolve or belief in the justice of their cause. Desertions keep mounting and now include senior officers and circles close to the regime.
  • The rebels now have the momentum and see their goals as within reach, given their wide support among the Sunni population, which was joined unequivocally this week by the Palestinians in the Damascus refugee camps.
  • Syria today is actually under the Assad regime's military occupation, which is being gradually removed by the Free Syrian Army.

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

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