Report: Hizbullah Training Shiite Fighters in Syria (Asharq Al-Awsat-UK)
Syrian Shiite sources have revealed the presence of "Hizbullah training centers in [Lebanon's] Bekaa Valley to train young Syrian Shiites, paying them salaries to fight in Syria."
Syrian opposition figures confirmed that there are 1,500 Hizbullah elements in Syria, and the same number of Iranians assisting the Syrian regime, but said talk of 5,000 elements is an exaggeration.
Syrian Shiites have confirmed the presence of Hizbullah in Shiite-inhabited areas of Syria, in addition to its clear contribution to the protection of the famous Sayyidah Zaynab shrine in the suburbs of Damascus.
Fahad al-Masri, a Free Syrian Army spokesman, said that "approximately two weeks ago, Hizbullah sent dozens of its elements to Mount Qalamoun."
He also pointed out that Hizbullah operatives are deployed in Zabadani and Homs, and in the Christian town of Dabla alongside the regime's Shabiha forces.
The Dangers of Syria's Bio-Warfare Complex Should Assad Fall - Interview with Dr. Jill Bellamy van Aalst by Jerry Gordon
(New English Review)
Israeli officials are concerned that the collapse of the government in Syria, like that of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi last year, could allow Syrian rebels to obtain the Syrian government's bio-weapons.
Dr. Jill Bellamy van Aalst, a former consultant to NATO and CEO of Warfare Technology Analytics, noted that Jihad Makdissi, the Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, has confirmed that Syria possesses biological weapons.
The trend we see is an increase in scientific cooperation as well as joint training operations. This applies as well to the Iranian BW complex, a primary contributor to the Syrian BW complex along with Russia and the DPRK (North Korea).
Of increasing concern is collaboration between the Al-Assad regime and that of Sudan. The recent bombing of the Yarmouk industrial complex in South Khartoum is probably a good indicator of the level of concern Western allies and Israel have regarding Sudan's continued cooperation with not only Syria but Hizbullah.
Middle East threat reduction requires a far more aggressive and comprehensive approach to deter the proliferation of biological weapons.
Any new threat reduction paradigm must have a component wherein ultimately we take out their scientific teams as has been done in Iran with several of their nuclear scientists.
We need to prepare to systematically take out sites in Damascus, Cerin, Tal Snan, Sjinsjar, Latakia, Palmyra, and many others, should the Assad regime fall.
It is imperative that we don't let that opportunity slip by as we could immediately face an array of bio-chem armed terrorist organizations.
Hamas University Grooms Hebrew Teachers - Diaa Hadid (AP)
There are 19 students enrolled in the first one-year Hebrew diploma course offered at the Islamic University in Gaza City.
Gaza's Hamas rulers want to produce qualified teachers as the government gradually introduces Hebrew studies in its high schools. The aim is to teach Palestinians their enemy's language.
Some students said they were studying Hebrew to understand Israeli TV and radio broadcasts, which are easily accessible in Gaza.
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- Panetta: No U.S. Troops in Syria If Chemical Weapons Used - Kristina Wong
No U.S. ground troops will be sent to Syria to secure chemical weapons if the Syrian regime falls, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday.
"We're not working on options that involve boots on the ground." He said the greater challenge is deciding what steps the international community can take to ensure those weapons do not fall into the wrong hands.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, "The act of preventing the use of chemical weapons would be almost unachievable." (Washington Times)
- Iran Finding Ways to Evade Sanctions, U.S. Warns - Rick Gladstone
Iran is still finding ways to bypass sanctions, the U.S. Treasury Department said Thursday. Adam Szubin, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which supervises American enforcement of the sanctions, said the Iranians were using private exchange houses and trading companies in other countries, masking transactions with fake identities and relying on the paperless practice known as hawala, in which money is transferred informally and often illegally through couriers.
On Wednesday, Iran's Central Bank said the annual inflation rate reached 27% at the end of 2012, but private economists say that figure vastly understates the real inflation rate. Steve H. Hanke, a Johns Hopkins University economics professor, calculated that Iran's inflation rate last year was 110%.
(New York Times)
- Egyptian President Morsi: I Want Abdel-Rahman to Be Free - Wolf Blitzer
In an exclusive one-hour interview, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi revealed his plans to visit the U.S. before the end of the first quarter of this year.
Blitzer asked the Egyptian president about Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric who is serving a life sentence in the U.S. for his connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
"I want him to be free but I respect the law and the rule of law in Egypt and the United States," Morsi said, adding that he will discuss the issue with President Obama when they meet.
See also Will Omar Abdel-Rahman, "the Blind Sheik," Be Released from Prison? - Ed Krayewski
Egypt's president Mohamed Morsi made the release of Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind sheik convicted of "seditious conspiracy" related to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a cornerstone of his presidential campaign. Morsi called for Abdel-Rahman's release in his first public address as president-elect, at Tahrir Square in June.
- Iran Foreign Minister on Charm Offensive in Egypt - Maria Golovnina and Tom Perry
Shi'ite Iran, increasingly isolated over its nuclear program, tried to improve ties with Egypt on Thursday. In Cairo, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi praised Egypt's revolution and its new, Islamist-led government. He also met Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University, where he stressed that there were no differences between Muslims, whether they were Sunnis or Shi'ites.
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Palestinians and IDF Clash in West Bank - Stuart Winer
Palestinians clashed with Israeli soldiers in a number of incidents in the West Bank on Thursday.
Near Yitzhar and Itamar in Samaria, dozens of Palestinians threw stones toward homes and at IDF soldiers.
Stone-throwing Palestinians also engaged security forces near Esh Kodesh.
(Times of Israel)
See also "Soft Escalation" in the West Bank - Alexander Bligh
In the West Bank rock throwing is becoming more prevalent and acts of terror are on the rise. These incidents occur with the implicit, and sometimes explicit, approval of the Palestinian Authority, with a sense that this "soft escalation" is well orchestrated. Abbas says he doesn't want another armed intifada, but he won't oppose a popular uprising by the masses.
The official Palestinian position is not yet focused on support for a third, violent intifada. However, drawing Israel into a violent campaign at home would facilitate Arab efforts to portray Israel to the Americans as the aggressors and to divert Israel's focus from attacking Iran. The writer is director of the Middle East Research Center at Ariel University.
- Road along Egypt Border Closed to Civilian Traffic - Philip Podolsky
The Israel Defense Forces on Thursday closed a stretch of Route 10, the highway running parallel to the Egyptian border, to civilian traffic for a year, citing security concerns.
(Times of Israel)
- Fatah Militants Demand Probe into Arrests by PA - Khaled Abu Toameh
Dozens of masked Fatah gunmen held a press conference in Nablus Thursday to demand an inquiry into the arrest of Fatah activists by PA security forces in the West Bank in the past few months. A spokesman for the gunmen claimed that hundreds of Fatah activists have been arrested by the PA.
This was the first time in several years that Fatah gunmen appeared in public.
See also Fatah Militants March in West Bank - Jack Khoury
Masked men from the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades carrying automatic weapons marched through Balata refugee camp near Nablus on Thursday, Palestinian sources said. Sources said some of the militants who took part in the march were Palestinian security prisoners released last year from Israeli prisons. The armed men said the march was meant to send a message to the PA's security services, whose commanders' authority they don't recognize.
See also Fatah Gunmen Form New Organization - Elior Levy (Ynet News)
- The Meaning of Hagel - Charles Krauthammer
Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel has called the Pentagon "bloated" and needing "to be pared down." Just the man you'd want to carry out a U.S. disarmament that will shrink America to what Obama thinks is its proper size on the world stage; i.e., smaller.
Hagel won't make foreign policy. Obama will run it out of the White House even more tightly than he did in the first term. Hagel's importance is the message his nomination sends about where Obama wants to go. Iran's official media have already cheered the choice of what they call this "anti-Israel" nominee. And they fully understand what his nomination signals regarding administration resolve about stopping them from going nuclear.
The rest of the world can see coming the Pentagon downsizing - and the inevitable, commensurate decline of U.S. power. Arab countries will understand that the current rapid decline of post-Kissinger U.S. dominance in the region is not cyclical but intended to become permanent.
Hagel matters only because of what his nomination says about Obama.
See also About Chuck Hagel - Aaron David Miller
In our 2006 interview, his writings and his voting record on military aid to Israel, Hagel has been clear that Israel is a small, democratic ally in a dangerous neighborhood worthy of support.
Obama is the most controlling foreign policy and national security president since Richard Nixon. He dominates, not delegates, foreign policy decisions. Hagel would manage the drawdown and extrication from Afghanistan. But Obama wouldn't delegate much high policy to him.
Hagel is certainly not a pacifist. He takes enormous pride in the U.S. military. He clearly is wary of getting involved in military adventures abroad in which the U.S. might end up owning faraway places that it can't control, let alone fix (see Syria). This isn't being soft, it's being smart. On Iran, Hagel hasn't ruled out the use of force, but he believes in going to great lengths to avoid it.
See also Obama Pentagon Pick Calls Senators, Clarifies Views on Iran - Phil Stewart (Reuters)
- Ramallah and Riyadh - Elliott Abrams
PA Prime Minister Fayyad notes that Arab countries, which in December promised the Palestinians a $100 million a month safety net, are not helping. At the same time, Saudi Arabia reports a $102.9 billion budget surplus in 2012.
From FY2008 to the present, annual U.S. bilateral assistance to the West Bank and Gaza has averaged nearly $600 million. In September the EU announced that it was doubling its 2012 aid package from $150 million to $300 million. In this context, the Saudi gift of $100 million in the summer of 2012 isn't generous and isn't enough. Not in a year when the Saudi budget surplus will run one hundred billion dollars.
(Council on Foreign Relations)
- Who Really Wants Mideast Peace? - Lawrence Grossman
As pollsters have found, Israelis dearly want peace. But they know they can't trust the Palestinian Authority. For more than four years, the PA avoided the negotiating table; then it went to the UN General Assembly to obtain nonmember observer-state status.
In making his case before that body, PA President Mahmoud Abbas called Israel a racist, apartheid state that practices ethnic cleansing - hardly the words of someone eager for a peaceful two-state solution.
Worst of all, Israelis know that even an agreement with the PA won't placate the Hamas regime in Gaza, which officially promotes anti-Semitism, preaches the destruction of Israel and views indiscriminate missile attacks on Israeli civilians as all in a day's work.
The writer is the American Jewish Committee's director of publications. (New York Post)
Abbas Reinstates a Radical Political Doctrine - Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
- Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority and leader of the PLO and the Fatah movement, presented a radical political doctrine in his speech on January 4, 2013, honoring the anniversary of Fatah's establishment. The messages Abbas conveys express the political and national vision that he bequeaths to the Palestinian people.
- In his speech Abbas avoids all mention of a historic compromise with Israel that would bring the conflict to an end. Nor does he mention the land-for-peace formula or the establishment of a Palestinian state beside Israel. Instead, Abbas chose to reemphasize that the Palestinian people remain on the path of struggle to realize "the dream of return" of the Palestinian refugees and their millions of descendants.
- Abbas pledged to continue the path of struggle of previous Palestinian leaders, mentioning the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, who forged a strategic alliance with Nazi Germany, and heads of Palestinian terror organizations who were directly responsible for the murder of thousands of Israeli civilians. All are equal and suitable partners in the Palestinian struggle, and their ideological platform, even if it is terrorist and/or radical-Islamist, is a source of inspiration for the Palestinian people.
- In honor of the anniversary of the founding of the Fatah movement, at the end of December the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, the military arm of Fatah, held parades of armed men in the city of Hebron, the town of Bani Na'im, and the Kalandia refugee camp just north of Jerusalem. In Hebron and Bani Na'im, scores of activists armed with assault rifles participated.
- Anyone who expected that Abbas would follow a more moderate course after the UN General Assembly resolution of November 29, 2012, upgrading the status of the PLO's Observer Mission to that of an observer state, was undoubtedly disappointed with Abbas' remarks. He was not preparing the Palestinian people for making peace, but rather reverting to rhetoric perpetuating and even escalating the conflict.
The writer is a former advisor to the Policy Planning Division of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
See also What's Behind Abbas' New Tone - Dore Gold
What happened to Mahmoud Abbas? Wasn't he always regarded by Israeli leaders for the last twenty years as a moderate who was interested in reaching a peace agreement? What is important is not the vapid debate over whether Abbas can still be regarded as a partner for peacemaking, but rather to internalize that the political environment in 2013 no longer resembles what the Middle East looked like when Israel began talking to the Palestinians in 1993.
The next Israeli government must accept the fact that given what is going on in the Middle East, it is completely unrealistic to propose a negotiation to reach a full-blown final status agreement with the Palestinians.
Given the regional dangers on the horizon, any political arrangement in the future must have a much stronger security component than what was proposed in the past. More than ever, Israel needs to preserve the ability to defend itself, by itself, no matter how the declared intentions of its neighbors change.
The writer is president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
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