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  DAILY ALERT Wednesday,
July 18, 2012

In-Depth Issues:

Syria's Plan B: An Alawite State? - Hugh Macleod and Annasofie Flamand (GlobalPost)
    Last Thursday's massacre of rebel fighters and residents in the Sunni village of Tremseh, 20 miles northwest of Hama, fit a geographic pattern of attacks by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad that are attempting to carve out a breakaway Alawite state.
    Regime insiders said policy in Damascus is shifting from crushing the rebellion to Plan B: drive Sunnis away from Alawite land.
    Alawite militiamen known as shabiha have in recent months conducted a series of massacres on Sunnis living in the traditional Alawite heartlands of the mountainous west coast of Syria, home to the ports of Latakia and Tartous.
    The regime increasingly sees the Orontes River plain as a buffer zone between the Alawite-dominated region to the west and the two big Sunni cities of Homs and Hama.
    "The massacres in the Sunni villages are to clean the west bank of the Orontes from Sunnis and the military operations in the area are to drive Sunnis eastward," said Haider, 30, an Alawite whose father is a senior security official.

Israeli Named to Top UN Counterterrorism Post - Colum Lynch (Washington Post)
    Former Israeli government attorney David Scharia has been appointed legal coordinator for the Counter-Terrorism Committee executive directorate.
    As the UN Security Council's top counterterrorism lawyer, he is the only Israeli national serving in a senior security position within the UN Secretariat, Israeli and UN officials said Tuesday.
    Of the 44,000 UN employees, 124 are Israeli. None serve in the top ranks of the most sensitive political jobs.

Spain to Withdraw Half Its Troops from UNIFIL in Lebanon (Fox News)
    Spain will withdraw by year's end up to half of the 1,100 troops Madrid is contributing to the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon due to the country's difficult economic situation, Defense Minister Pedro Morenes said Tuesday.

Palestinian Journalists Call to Boycott Meeting with Israeli President Peres - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate in the West Bank has called for boycotting a meeting planned for Wednesday between President Shimon Peres and Arab journalists.
    Abdel Nasser Najjar, chairman of the Fatah-affiliated syndicate, warned that punitive measures would be taken against journalists who attend the meeting in Jerusalem.
    Last month, the syndicate banned Palestinian journalists from meeting with their Israeli counterparts under the pretext that such encounters are designed to promote normalization with Israel.

Persian Gulf Incident Unrelated to Iran - Luis Martinez (ABC News)
    An American Navy ship fired on a boat in the Persian Gulf Monday after it rapidly approached the U.S. ship, killing one person and injuring three others aboard the craft, U.S. naval officials said.
    UAE officials said it was a fishing boat with four Indians and two Emiratis on board. An Indian fisherman was killed.
    A Navy official said it's not uncommon for Iranian speed craft to harass U.S. ships in the region, but in this case the boat wasn't Iranian.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Syrian Defense Minister Killed in Damascus Blast - Sam Dagher
    Syria's Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Dawood Rajha was killed in a massive bombing in central Damascus on Wednesday, Syrian state media said. Rajha, who is a Christian, was killed in an attack at the national security building in Rawda Square while he and other senior security and defense leaders were meeting inside. (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Syrian Intelligence Chief Killed in Damascus Blast
    Syrian intelligence chief Assef Shawkat, President Assad's brother-in-law, was killed Wednesday in a suicide attack in Damascus, Lebanon's Al-Manar reported. (Daily Star-Lebanon)
        See also Damascus Bomber Was Bodyguard for Assad's Inner Circle
    A suicide bomber who detonated explosives at a meeting of ministers and President Assad's top security and military officials on Wednesday was a bodyguard for the president's inner circle, a Syrian security source said. (Reuters)
        See also Intense Fighting Rocks Syrian Capital, Fueling Perceptions of a Turning Point - Babak Dehghanpisheh and Joby Warrick
    Syrian opposition groups said their fighters were converging on Damascus, where fierce clashes with security forces stretched into a third day on Tuesday. The rebels are staging more attacks nationwide and inflicting significantly more casualties than they were even a month ago, said Jeffrey White, a former analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency, now a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "It's gone from intermittent clashes to sustained fighting in key provinces."
        Casualties among Syrian troops have soared over the past few weeks to about 150 killed and wounded each day, White said. Heavy shelling of residential areas of Damascus continued Tuesday as the army deployed armored vehicles and helicopters in an effort to root out the rebels. (Washington Post)
        See also 525 Syrians, Including Army Officers, Flee to Turkey
    525 Syrians, including several military officers who defected from the Syrian army, fled to Turkey on Monday. (Zaman-Turkey)
  • Iran's Revolutionary Guards "Overseeing Huge Expansion of Nuclear Program" - Con Coughlin
    Iran's Revolutionary Guards are overseeing a massive expansion of the country's nuclear weapons program in an attempt to bring forward the date when the regime can produce its first warhead, according to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which previously revealed the existence of Iran's top-secret uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. A specialist team of 60 nuclear scientists has been seconded to a specially-designated unit called the New Defense Research Organization which answers directly to the Revolutionary Guards.
        The unit, based at Mojdeh, in the Lavizan region, was established to work on key areas of the weapons program that still need to be completed before Iran can assemble a nuclear weapon. The unit is conducting research on the fissile material used for making a nuclear weapon, the different metals used for making a warhead, and developing a detonator for such a device. (Telegraph-UK)
  • Clinton Warns Sinai Could Turn into Jihadist Haven - Elise Labott
    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Monday that Egypt's Sinai desert next to Israel could become an "operational base" for jihadists if security is not maintained. In an interview with CNN, Clinton said, "We think this is a dangerous situation for both Egypt and Israel. It is also dangerous for Americans. We have Americans who are part of the multinational force that observes the continuation of the monitoring (of the) Camp David Accord."  (CNN)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • IDF Thwarts a Dozen Attacks from Sinai - Lahav Harkov
    The IDF has stopped nearly a dozen attacks from Sinai, IDF intelligence chief Aviv Kochavi told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday.
        Regarding Syria, Kochavi said, "There is a sense of despair from the Syrian Army, because they have not found an efficient way to stop the rioting." Kochavi said it is unlikely for Assad to provoke a conflict with Israel as his "last chance" to remain in power. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Israel: Syria Moving Troops from Golan to Damascus
    "Assad has removed many of his forces that were in the Golan Heights to the areas of (internal) conflict," Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi said Tuesday. "He's not afraid of Israel at this point, but mainly wants to augment his forces around Damascus."
        Kochavi warned that Syria was undergoing a process of "Iraqization," with militant and tribal factions controlling different sectors of the country. "We can see an ongoing flow of al-Qaeda and global jihad activists into Syria," he said. (AFP)
  • Syrian Refugees Buy Freedom for $750 - Micha and Natan Odenheimer
    Some 130,000 desperate Syrians have entered Jordan over the last year, several thousand in the past two weeks alone. Muhamad snuck across the border with his wife and children in the middle of the night through the mountains, braving possible sniper fire from Syrian soldiers.
        There are two ways to cross the border: at night, through the wilderness, risking one's life, or during the day, by bribing Syrian border officials. The price the Syrian border police exact for the privilege of passage is $750. The Jordanians let people in for free.
        One of his friends in the refugee camp, a soldier in the regime, defected 17 days ago with most of his platoon mates, says Muhamad. They were spotted by the regime's soldiers near the border and shot at. Out of 20, only five made it to Jordan.
        Hisham, who escaped a year ago, says Iran now has 15,000 soldiers in Syria. Fighters from Hizbullah are also deeply involved. "One of my friends, part of a rebel group, captured a group of 11 Lebanese Hizbullah soldiers," he tells us. (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Iran's Latest Missile Exercise: A Message of Force Projection - Lt.-Col. (ret.) Michael (Mickey) Segall
    On July 2-4, 2012, the Aerospace Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) conducted a missile exercise, dubbed Great Prophet 7, which involved firing dozens of missiles at a target that resembled a U.S. airbase situated in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, or Saudi Arabia.
        Iran is signaling that it is prepared for a military clash with the West and Israel, and possesses a devastating "second-strike" response capability against any attack on its nuclear sites. IRGC Aerospace Force commander Brig.-Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh claimed Iran had already amassed information on 35 U.S. bases in the region and had deployed missiles to destroy them within minutes of an attack on its soil.
        Iran is dispersing its missiles throughout the country - deep in the interior, along the coast, at sea, and even beyond Iran's borders. Iran has a broad doctrine of the use of force that also encompasses missiles located in Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza.
        Beyond deterrence, the exercise constitutes a message of force projection to the Sunni Arab states of the region, particularly the Gulf States that host U.S. bases and depend on Washington. Tehran is determined to fill any void left in the region and seeks to project Islamic power as U.S. influence in the Middle East wanes. The writer is a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Jihad in Syria: The Penetration of Radical Islam in the Syrian Conflict - Jonathan Robinson, Tal First, and Einav Yogev
    Recent reports of dozens of Kuwaiti jihadists traveling to fight in the Syrian conflict further highlight the stronger foothold radical Islamic groups are gaining in Syria. Since January 2012, Syria has been transformed into a major battleground of the jihad world. At least ten different notable foreign and Syrian groups with varying ideologies are waging militant jihad in Syria.
        For the main Syrian opposition, the radical Islamic elements are currently a necessary but problematic partner in its fight against the Syrian government: By keeping these radical Islamic groups at arm's length, making alliances with some, and denouncing others (especially al-Qaeda), they are hoping to utilize these groups' fighting power without damaging their credibility in the eyes of the Syrian people and the international community. (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)
  • A Nuclear-Armed Iran Would Have No Hotline to Avert Catastrophe - Alan Elsner
    The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran facing a similarly-armed Israel is far more dangerous than the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. For one thing, there would be no nuclear hotline their leaders could use to stave off a crisis or resolve a misunderstanding. Unlike the U.S. and the Soviet Union back then and India and Pakistan today, there are no contacts between Tehran and Jerusalem. In an Israeli-Iranian confrontation, there may be backchannels but these are slow and unreliable. The danger of a catastrophe would be high. (Algemeiner)

Regarding Iran, U.S. and Israel Are Not on the Same Page at All - Amos Harel (Ha'aretz)

  • For outward consumption, American and Israeli officials are downplaying differences of opinion regarding actions to be taken, or not taken, regarding Iran's nuclear program. However, the Obama administration continues to sanctify sanctions, whereas Israeli officials have become increasingly skeptical about their efficacy.
  • MK Roni Bar-On (Kadima), chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, claimed on Monday that Iran is capable of dealing with sanctions imposed on it for another year, at least.
  • Israel insists it cannot wait such a long time, that the Iranians will exploit a year to complete nuclear work and pass the "threshold" - the point at which they could produce nuclear weapons without Israel being able to stop them militarily. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has warned that Tehran could reach this threshold in another few months.
    See also Clinton's Message to Israel: Don't Jump the Gun - Raphael Ahren
(Times of Israel)

  • The U.S. sees sanctions as having a biting impact. It is preparing more. It regards Iran as having tried in vain to divide the P5+1 nations. And it therefore emphatically feels the point of no return, the moment that would justify the use of military force, has not been reached.
  • Brig. Gen. (ret.) Uzi Eilam, who served as director-general of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, said the Americans feel sanctions are working but need to be intensified. "There's some more mileage to go before they give up."

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