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January 4, 2013

In-Depth Issues:

Iran Says Talks with Big Powers to Be Held in January (Reuters)
    Iran has agreed to hold talks with six major powers about its atomic program in January but the date and venue has yet to be decided, the country's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, said on Friday.

Emirates' Arrest of Egyptians Raises Ire in Cairo - Leila Hatoum, Margaret Coker, and Matt Bradley (Wall Street Journal)
    Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi dispatched top aides to the United Arab Emirates to quell a diplomatic dispute sparked after UAE authorities arrested 11 Egyptians as part of what one security official described as a "Muslim Brotherhood-linked" terrorism cell.
    The latest arrests underscore the mistrust that many Gulf Arab nations feel toward the new Egyptian leadership and stand to complicate the Egyptian government's attempts to raise funds from the Gulf monarchies as it grapples with an acute economic crisis.

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U.S. Drone Strike Kills Pakistan Taliban Commander (NBC News)
    A U.S. drone strike killed Taliban commander Maulvi Nazir, also known as Mullah Nazir, and his deputy, Ratta Khan, on Wednesday in Angoor Adda in northwest Pakistan near the Afghan border, Pakistani officials said. At least six other people were killed, security officials told NBC News on Thursday.
    Nazir, 46, favored attacking American forces in Afghanistan, but is believed to have struck a nonaggression pact with Pakistan.
    Nazir outraged many Pakistanis in June when he announced that he would not allow any polio vaccinations in territory under his control until the U.S. stops drone attacks in the region. Nine workers helping in anti-polio vaccination campaigns were killed last month by militant gunmen.

PA Financial Crisis Could Be Obstacle to Joining International Bodies (Ma'an-PA)
    The Palestinian Authority's financial crisis may prevent it from joining several international and UN institutions following Palestine's recognition as a non-member state in November, a legal official said Friday.
    Hassan al-Ouri, President Abbas' legal adviser, said the PA is studying several initiatives to join multilateral institutions but may be restricted from joining several bodies due to the high financial cost of membership.

Tunnel Collapse Creates Crater in Egyptian Border Town (Ma'an-PA)
    Part of an underground tunnel collapsed on Thursday in the Egyptian town of Rafah, bordering Gaza, creating a seven-meter wide hole in the road.
    A public transport vehicle fell into the crater, which engineers said was caused by the tunnel network used to transport goods to Gaza.

Israel's Jobless Rate Drops to 6.7 Percent in November (Reuters-Ynet News)
    Israel's unemployment rate was 6.7% in November compared to 6.9% in October.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Syria: Government Airstrikes on Rebel-Held Suburbs Show Limits of Opposition Push to Take Damascus
    A wave of attacks on rebellious districts of Damascus on Thursday were part of the government's efforts to keep rebel fighters out of President Bashar Assad's seat of power. Rebel forces are currently fighting the government in areas on three sides of the capital. The opposition's advance on the capital has bogged down because the rebels lack the firepower to challenge Assad's forces and remain helpless before his air force. (AP-Washington Post)
        See also Report: Al-Qaeda Affiliate Leading Syrian Rebels' Fight for Key Damascus Area - David Enders
    The Nusra Front, which the Obama administration last month declared to be an affiliate of al-Qaeda in Iraq, is at the forefront of the fighting in Syria's capital, say residents of the southern Damascus neighborhood of Yarmouk. They also said the government increasingly has deployed pro-government militiamen drawn from the Alawite sect to offset losses by the Syrian military, another sign of how the conflict has forced Syrians to choose sides or flee. (McClatchy-Miami Herald)
  • Iran Spy Network 30,000 Strong - Bill Gertz
    Iran's intelligence service includes 30,000 people who are engaged in covert and clandestine activities that range from spying to stealing technology to terrorist bombings and assassination, according to a report produced by the Pentagon's Irregular Warfare Support Program and published last month by the Library of Congress. The report concluded that Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) is "one of the largest and most dynamic intelligence agencies in the Middle East."
        "MOIS provides financial, material, technological, or other support services to Hamas, Hizbullah, and al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), all designated terrorist organizations," the report said. The spy service operates in the Americas, including the U.S., as part of "Iran's strategy of establishing a presence in the backyard of the United States for purposes of expanding Shi'a and revolutionary ideology, establishing networks for intelligence and covert operations, and waging asymmetrical warfare against the United States."
        Israel also is a major target of the MOIS and support for Hizbullah in Lebanon is a major Tehran intelligence objective. "To advance its goals, MOIS recruits individuals regardless of their beliefs, including Arabs or Jews, to spy in Israel," the report said. "Two Iranian-Syrian [signals intelligence] stations funded by the IRGC reportedly have been active since 2006, one in the al-Jazirah region in northern Syria and the other on the Golan Heights," the report added. (Washington Free Beacon)
        Read the Report - Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security: A Profile - Federal Research Division (Library of Congress)
  • Al-Jazeera Buys U.S. Cable Channel
    While the pan-Arab news network Al-Jazeera doesn't have a significant presence in the U.S., that is about to change as Al-Jazeera is spending $500 million to acquire Current TV, the cable news network co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore. The deal gives Al-Jazeera access to about 50 million U.S. homes. Al-Jazeera, which is owned by the government of Qatar, gave voice to Osama Bin Laden in the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
        The network will be rebranded Al-Jazeera America in 90 days. Time Warner Cable Inc., the nation's second-largest TV operator, said it will drop Current TV. (AP-Washington Post)
  • Turkey Will Not Accept Iran Possessing Nuclear Weapons
    "Turkey will not accept a neighboring country possessing weapons not possessed by Turkey herself," President Abdullah Gul said in an interview. Gul insisted that any solution to the dispute over Iran's nuclear program should involve the eradication of all nuclear weapons from the region. "What we need is a more comprehensive solution and approach to this problem. What matters here is to guarantee the security of Israel in the region, and once that is guaranteed, then the next step must be to eradicate all such weapons from the region."
        "What matters is to put yourself in the shoes of Iran and consider how the Iranians perceive the outside threat." Asked if this meant the key to stopping the Iranian nuclear program is Israeli disarmament, Gul said, "That is the way I see it, because that route will help us solve the fundamental problems in the Middle East that affect the whole world."  (Zaman-Turkey)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu: Iran Remains the Number One Threat - Herb Keinon
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of Israel's ambassadors serving abroad on Thursday that "Iran remains the number one threat," and Israel remains determined to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
        Addressing the issue of construction in the E-1 area near Jerusalem, he said that what was stopping progress along the diplomatic front with the Palestinians was not an announcement of construction plans there but the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state within any borders.
        Netanyahu warned that Hamas could take control "any day" of the Palestinian Authority, and therefore "concrete security arrangements" needed to be included in any agreement, as well as a recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, an end to the "right of return" claim, and an honest declaration of an end to the conflict.
        The envoys also heard from Israel Security Agency head Yoram Cohen, who said he did not believe Israel was on the brink of a third intifada. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Report: Egyptian Forces Capture American-Made Anti-Tank, Anti-Aircraft Missiles Headed for Gaza - Joshua Davidovich
    Egyptian security forces say they captured a store of American-made anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles in a secret depot south of el-Arish that were headed for Gaza, the Palestinian Ma'an news agency reported Friday. (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Is Al-Jazeera a News Network? - Elliott Abrams
    Al-Jazeera is not a news channel, even if it broadcasts news. It is wholly owned by the Qatari royal family, whose interests it will pretty obviously protect. Henceforth, tens of millions of Americans will receive Al-Jazeera English in their homes.
        It would be nice if the channel carried a little warning label to viewers, clarifying who owns Al-Jazeera so that they understand they are getting all the news that the Qatari government wants them to have. If Al-Jazeera were called Voice of Qatar, and clearly labeled as that nation's international broadcaster, the situation would be clear to its viewers. (Council on Foreign Relations)
  • Who Won in Gaza? - Ephraim Kam
    At the end of Operation Pillar of Defense both sides claimed victory. Israel dealt a heavy blow to the rocket systems of Hamas and the other organizations in Gaza. Many of the commanding officers and fighters were killed or injured. The IDF proved that it has high-quality intelligence, helping it avoid unnecessary civilian casualties.
        Hamas' view underscores its survival despite its losses, its actualization of the threat of rockets reaching Tel Aviv, as well as its rocket system's residual capability, the support it received from the Gaza population, and its political successes.
        As Hamas and the other organizations succeed in rebuilding their rocket capabilities, they will increasingly be tempted to provoke Israel once again. Hamas cannot ignore the impact of the other organizations in Gaza. Given Iran's ties with Islamic Jihad and Hamas' growing dependence on Iran's promised military and economic aid, Iran will stir the pot in Gaza and will likely push for radicalism. Dr. Ephraim Kam, Deputy Director of the Institute for National Security Studies, served as a colonel in the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence. (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)
  • Ahmadinejad Lashes Back at Revolutionary Guard over Iran's Economic Plight - Zvi Bar'el
    Elections in Iran will bring a new president to power in another half a year. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not entitled to run again, owing to constitutional restrictions that prohibit a president from serving more than two consecutive terms. But he is making every effort to leave a political base of supporters behind him - and to clear himself of the accusation that he has destroyed the country.
        His target is the Revolutionary Guard, an enormous military organization which controls about two-thirds of Iran's economy. Iranian economists and politicians decry the tax exemption enjoyed by civilian ventures run by the Revolutionary Guard. (Ha'aretz)

  • Weekend Feature

  • The Afghan Geniza - Aron Heller
    A trove of ancient manuscripts in Hebrew characters rescued from caves in a Taliban stronghold in northern Afghanistan is providing the first physical evidence of a Jewish community that thrived there a thousand years ago. On Thursday Israel's National Library unveiled the cache of recently purchased documents that include biblical commentaries, personal letters and financial records.
        Researchers say the Afghan Geniza marks the greatest such archive found since the Cairo Geniza, a vast depository of medieval manuscripts, was discovered in an Egyptian synagogue more than 100 years ago. The Afghan collection gives an unprecedented look into the lives of Jews in ancient Persia in the 11th century. The paper manuscripts, preserved over the centuries in the dry caves, include writings in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Judeo-Persian, which were written in Hebrew letters. (AP)

How Will Israel Protect Its Offshore Gas Rigs? - Arie Egozi (Israel Defense)

  • Underwater threats are becoming more severe. Seaport and offshore oil and gas drilling rigs have become targets for terrorists. Elta, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), realized years ago that state-of-the-art sensors are required in order to spot underwater threats.
  • Ram Agadi of Elta, a leading manufacturer of radar systems, explains: "While a standard radar sensor cannot detect a submarine traveling even a few meters under the sea surface, a SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) sensor can do it easily. In other words, what could not be achieved using the old sensors can now be achieved using SAR sensors of the type installed on airborne vehicles as well as on Israel's spy satellites."
  • In order to protect seaports and maritime installations all over the world, Elta develops smart sensors based on optics, sonar and radar technologies. It manufactures an underwater net that constitutes an elaborate sensor. If anyone touched or attempted to cut it, it would trigger an immediate alert. "We manufacture this high-tech net ourselves and have already delivered a few, which now guard the entrances of several harbors around the world."
  • Elta has also developed a system of underwater loudspeakers. When a swimmer or diver is detected in the water, he may be addressed in the style of "you have been spotted, surrender!"
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