Syrian Pilot Defects, Bombs Army Positions (DPA-Ha'aretz)
A Syrian pilot who defected used his jet to bomb government forces in an area outside Damascus, opposition activists said Saturday.
The pilot was ordered to bomb civilian areas east of Damascus, but he refused to obey orders.
Le Monde: Non-Lethal Chemical Weapons Used in Syria (Reuters)
Syrian forces fired four rockets on Dec. 23 that contained non-lethal chemical weapons against rebels in the town of Homs, according to intelligence sources cited by the French daily Le Monde on Saturday.
Video Appears to Show Hizbullah and Iraqi Shiites Fighting in Syria - Nicholas Blanford (Christian Science Monitor)
A slickly-produced video is being circulated around Shiite areas of Lebanon showing Shiite combatants fighting in Syria.
According to Lebanese sources, the combatants in the video are a mix of Hizbullah members and Iraqi Shiites. The video was clearly made with the consent of the combatants.
The video shows fighters in the Sayyida Zeinab quarter of southern Damascus, the site of the tomb of Zeinab, the Prophet Mohammed's granddaughter and daughter of Imam Ali, the founder of the Shiite sect.
Report: Assad's Mother in Dubai (Naharnet-Lebanon)
Anisa Makhlouf, the mother of President Bashar Assad, has joined her daughter Bushra, Bashar's sister, in Dubai, Syrian expatriates in the United Arab Emirates said Sunday.
Bushra's husband, Gen. Assef Shawkat, an army deputy chief of staff, was killed in a July 18 bombing at the National Security headquarters in Damascus.
Palestinian Security Forces Shoot Protesters - Elior Levy (Ynet News)
Palestinian security forces shot three Palestinian rioters in Ramallah on Sunday.
At least 15 police officers were hurt by stones hurled by protesters while trying to clear a major road that was blocked by burning tires.
Report: Egypt Seizes Explosives Headed to Sinai (AP-Washington Post)
A senior Egyptian security official said Sunday that police have seized a ton of explosives at the Suez Canal headed to the Sinai Peninsula.
Israel Chemicals Signs 3-Year China Potash Supply Deals (Reuters)
Israel Chemicals has signed framework agreements to supply 3.3 million tons of potash to China over the next three years.
Israel's potash comes from the Dead Sea and is exported through the Red Sea port of Eilat, giving Israel a logistical advantage for shipping potash to southeast Asia compared to most of its competitors.
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- More Than 80 Dead in Algeria Siege - Lamine Chikhi
Algerian special forces have found the bodies of two Canadian Islamist fighters after a bloody siege at a desert gas plant, a security source said on Monday, as the death toll reached at least 80 after troops stormed the complex to end the hostage crisis. Veteran Islamist fighter Mokhtar Belmokhtar claimed responsibility for the attack on behalf of al-Qaeda.
On Sunday Algerian troops found the bodies of 25 more hostages, raising the number of hostages killed to 48 and the total number of deaths to at least 80. Six militants were captured alive. Hostage deaths among foreigners included 9 Japanese and 6 Filipinos. Nearly 700 Algerian workers and more than 100 foreigners escaped.
Belmokhtar tied the desert attack to France's intervention against Islamist rebels in Mali. However, U.S. and European officials doubt such a complex raid could have been organized that quickly.
See also Escaped Hostages Recount Horrors in Algeria - Michael Birnbaum and Anthony Faiola (Washington Post)
- Al-Qaeda Branch's Image Soars after Algeria Hostage Drama - Joby Warrick
A week of violence in Algeria and Mali has transformed al-Qaeda's North Africa branch into a cause celebre for militant Islamists around the globe, boosting recruitment and fundraising, and spurring fears of further attacks. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is being lionized in Internet chat rooms and in official statements by extremist groups, some of which are urging reprisal campaigns against Western interests. (Washington Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- U.S. Watchdog Ranks Israel as Region's Only "Free" State - Herb Keinon
Israel is the Middle East's only "free" state, the U.S.-based Freedom House wrote in its annual report last week, a ranking in stark contrast to claims by the country's critics who argue that the Jewish state's democratic values are steadily eroding.
The report, which ranks the world's countries by political rights and civil liberties, characterized Jordan and Syria as "not free," and Egypt and Lebanon as "partly free." Both the West Bank and Gaza are classified as "not free."
Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen were also rated "not free," while Tunisia, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, and Turkey were defined as "partly free." (Jerusalem Post)
Read the Report: Freedom in the World 2013 (Freedom House)
- Two Negev Bedouin Confess to Plotting Terror Attacks - Yoav Zitun
Two Bedouin brothers from the Negev are being indicted for plotting to carry out terror attacks on Israel, according court records unsealed on Sunday.
Mahmoud Abu Quider, 24, has confessed that he and his brother, Samah, 21, planned to fire rockets, mount a suicide bombing at the Beersheba central bus station, and attack other targets. He also admitted to devising pipe bombs using instructions he found on the Internet. Police found instructions on how to make rockets on his computer, as well as the required materials at his home.
Officials in the defense establishment stressed the severity of the case, which exposed a conspiracy by Israeli citizens to carry out attacks against civilians and security services in Israel.
- Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman, 70 - Tovah Lazaroff
Mayor Ron Nachman, 70, the founder of Ariel, was laid to rest on a ridge overlooking the West Bank city after a four-year battle with cancer. Nachman first pitched a tent on the city's then barren hills in 1978. He devoted the rest of his life to developing it into a world-class place to live; building a cultural center, a sports complex and an accredited university.
Even as he lay dying in the hospital, Nachman called Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz to receive assurances that Ariel would be hooked up to the nation's largest sewage treatment plant, Steinitz recalled at the funeral attended by thousands of mourners including the prime minister. (Jerusalem Post)
- The Hostage Kidnapping in Algeria Was Planned Before France's Mali Intervention - Ely Karmon
The hostage-taking at the Algerian BP facility has only indirect connection with the French intervention in Mali, and was planned many weeks or even months before the Mali incident. The attack is connected with the in-fighting among the various factions of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Mokhtar Belmokhtar, head of AQIM's southern Sahara unit, is in conflict with the present emir of AQIM, Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud, who refused to nominate him as emir. It was reported that Belmokhtar split from AQIM, or was expelled from the organization, in the last months of 2012.
In spite of AQIM's and its allies' advances in northern Mali, Algerian military forces have been successful in killing and arresting some 200 militants and leaders on Algerian territory since August 2012.
It is possible that the main goal of Mokhtar Belmokhtar in this major terrorist operation was to enhance his position in the fight for the leadership of AQIM. If successful, the operation could have brought him an important ransom to finance his group's future activities.
The decision by the Algerian government to act so quickly was in order to hamper any attempt by the terrorists to blow up this important gas field, as gas and oil exports are the main source of revenue for the government. Another factor was the desire to show the Algerian people the determination of the government to fight the Islamist terrorists at any price to stop the advance of the Islamist wave. The Algerian military's long war against the Islamists since 1992 has cost the lives of 100,000-150,000 Algerians. The writer is a senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
- Jihadists' Surge in North Africa Reveals Grim Side of Arab Spring - Robert F. Worth
The Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi warned that if he fell, chaos and holy war would overtake North Africa: "Bin Laden's people would come to impose ransoms by land and sea." In recent days, that unhinged prophecy has acquired a grim new currency as a one-eyed Islamist bandit organized the brazen takeover of an international gas facility in Algeria, taking hostages that included more than 40 Americans and Europeans.
Four months ago an American ambassador was killed by jihadists in Libya.
"It's one of the darker sides of the Arab uprisings," said Robert Malley, the Middle East and North Africa director at the International Crisis Group. "Their peaceful nature may have damaged al-Qaeda and its allies ideologically, but logistically, in terms of the new porousness of borders, the expansion of ungoverned areas, the proliferation of weapons, the disorganization of police and security services in all these countries - it's been a real boon to jihadists."
And it comes as world powers struggle with civil war in Syria, where another Arab autocrat is warning about the furies that could be unleashed if he falls.
The dauntingly complex jihadist landscape across North Africa belies the easy label of "al-Qaeda," with multiple factions operating among overlapping ethnic groups, clans and criminal networks.
Although there have been hints of cross-border alliances among the militants, such links appear to be fleeting. And their targets are often those of opportunity, as they appear to have been in Benghazi and at the gas facility in Algeria.
Gaddafi acted as a lid, keeping volatile elements repressed. Once that lid was removed, and the borders became more porous, there was greater freedom for various groups - whether rebels, jihadists or criminals - to join up and make common cause.
(New York Times)
- Al-Qaeda, Again - Editorial
The terrorists don't seem to agree that they've been defeated. With the hostage mess at a remote gas plant in Algeria, it is impossible to blink from the reality that the post-bin Laden al-Qaeda is still with us and an active threat to U.S. interests. It's still a dangerous world, and the U.S., whether we like it or not, remains that world's lead power.
(Wall Street Journal)
Time for Obama to Clarify U.S. Policy on Iran - Emily B. Landau and Shimon Stein (Ha'aretz)
- We are at a very late stage in the game, after repeated and unsuccessful attempts to deal with Iran through diplomacy; time is about to run out. Either Iran finally accepts a deal now, or it leaves the other side no choice but to pronounce negotiations to have failed.
- Iran has no interest (as of yet) in a negotiated deal which would mean giving up on its goal of nuclear weapons, which it can achieve on its own. Further pressure is the only thing that might make Iranian leaders finally alter their calculation, and come to the table genuinely looking for a deal. Thus, reduction of the pressure of sanctions - before a final deal is reached - would be the best way to ensure failure, not success.
- The direction of international efforts for 2013 critically depends on U.S. determination and strategy, and whether Obama even wants 2013 to be the year of decision.
- Either we will see a continuation of past failed attempts to negotiate, with increasing Iranian demands to adopt an ever more lenient approach, international actors inching away from the demands they put to Iran in April 2012, and Iran continuing to advance its program. Or we will see a determined U.S. leadership that continues on the path begun in 2012, significantly increasing the pressure on Iran until it comes to the table serious about making a deal.
- At some point, the administration must also determine the criteria for pronouncing the failure of negotiations and to consider seriously a move to military force.
Dr. Emily Landau is director of the arms control program at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. Amb. Shimon Stein is a senior fellow at INSS.
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