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March 15, 2013

In-Depth Issues:

Hizbullah, Jabhat al-Nusra Set for Showdown in Syria - Jamie Dettmer (Daily Beast)
    A new development could bring sectarian conflict that much closer to Lebanon and have wider repercussions for the entire Arab region: the likelihood of a confrontation between Lebanon's Shiite Hizbullah and Sunni fighters with Jabhat al-Nusra, the jihadist militia that has evolved into the most effective rebel formation fighting to oust Assad in Syria.
    In recent weeks, al-Nusra fighters drawn from across the Middle East have been moving into Shiite villages on the Syrian side of the border in the mountainous al-Nabk area about 50 miles north of Damascus, say Lebanese intelligence sources.
    Syrian army units have vacated the villages, presumably leaving them to be policed by the pro-Assad Hizbullah, whose heartland is just across the border in the Lebanese part of the Bekaa Valley.
    Hizbullah has argued recently that its militiamen have been fighting in Aleppo as a forward defensive move to prevent them having to fight al-Nusra on Lebanese territory.
    Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said: "If Hizbullah is forced to retreat into the Bekaa Valley, will al-Nusra and other Syrian rebel factions pursue them into Lebanon? It is a key question and was always the risk Hizbullah courted by fighting for Assad."

Palestinians Arrested for Hurling Rocks at Vehicles, Injuring Israeli Civilians (Israel Defense Forces)
    IDF forces arrested ten Palestinians for hurling rocks at Israeli vehicles near Ariel on Thursday evening.
    The rock hurling caused a car accident in which an Israeli infant was severely injured, while three other civilians were moderately injured. Rocks were also hurled at an Israeli bus, injuring 3 Israeli civilians.
    See also Israeli Infant Critically Hurt in Traffic Accident Caused by Stone-Throwing Palestinians - Chaim Levinson (Ha'aretz)

Video: Miss Israel to Tell Obama - Free Pollard (Israel TV Channel 2-IMRA)
    Q: What will you tell Obama when you meet him?
    Miss Israel Yityish Aynaw: That he is a role model for me.
    Second, that he should free Jonathan Pollard.
    I personally know this story since when I was in school and headed the student council, we led all kinds of things related to Jonathan Pollard. So if I have the opportunity, why not?

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Egypt Intensifies Destruction of Gaza Tunnels - Ariel Ben Solomon (Jerusalem Post)
    The Egyptian army continued destroying tunnels from Gaza over the past few days with sources reporting that larger numbers of army forces have moved to the border region, according to the Palestine News Network website.
    The Egyptian army is using modern technologies, surveillance cameras, and dogs in order to find the tunnels.
    There has been a decrease of fuel reaching Gaza because of the Egyptian army's actions.

UK MP Suspended for Blaming Road Accident on Jews - Jonny Paul (Jerusalem Post)
    Lord Nazir Ahmed, a British politician who complained of a Jewish conspiracy after being jailed for his part in a fatal car crash, has been suspended by the Labor Party.

Israel Is Not Isolated - Efraim Inbar (Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies - Bar-Ilan University)
    A close look at Israel's interaction with countries near and far, as well as with international institutions, belies the claim that it is isolated.
    In fact, Israel is increasingly acknowledged as a world player in view of its social, economic, technological, financial, and diplomatic achievements.
    Continued high Jewish fertility rates, immense new energy reserves, innovative water technologies, and a frenetic pace of cultural production are all prominent features of modern Israel.
    There are significant parts of the world that appreciate what Israel is doing and try to emulate its successes.
    The writer is director of the BESA Center.

Flocks of Tourists Return to Israel - Ilan Gattegno and Zeev Klein (Israel Hayom)
    Despite the heated military conflict with terrorist groups in Gaza in November, some 184,000 tourists and 49,000 day visitors entered Israel in February, similar to the record-breaking February 2012 numbers and 7% higher than in 2011.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Obama Says Iran a Year Away from Nuclear Weapon - Aron Heller
    Iran is about a year away from developing a nuclear weapon and the U.S. remains committed to doing everything in its power to prevent that from happening, President Barack Obama told Israel's Channel 2 TV in an interview aired Thursday. Obama said that while he still prefers diplomacy over force, a nuclear Iran is a "red line'' and all options remain on the table to stop it. "Right now, we think it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon, but obviously we don't want to cut it too close."  (AP-Boston Globe)
        See also Video: Obama Interview (ITV2News-YouTube)
  • Israel Forms New Coalition Government - Robert Berger
    Israeli political parties have reached a coalition agreement, clearing the way for a new government and some top-level international diplomacy as U.S. President Barack Obama prepares to visit. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won national elections in January. Netanyahu says Iran will top the agenda when President Obama visits Israel next week.
        Israeli analyst Gerald Steinberg believes the prime minister will tell President Obama that if international diplomacy and sanctions fail, Israel is prepared to take military action against Iran on its own. "As we get closer to the summer, and if we see progress towards an Iranian nuclear weapon, Netanyahu's going to say, 'If the Americans don't act, if there's no international military action, we're going to have to act unilaterally,' and he will get broad support from the Israeli public and most of the Israeli political system, including within his own coalition."
        Domestic issues and Iran have pushed the Palestinian issue to the back burner. "We're certainly going to go see some sort of negotiating effort because Obama is going to push for it; it's something that for PR reasons the Israelis have to show that they're interested," Steinberg said. "So we'll see some movement in that direction, but probably not much substance."  (VOA News)
  • Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Warns Giving Women Some Rights Could Destroy Society - Michelle Nichols
    Egypt's ruling Muslim Brotherhood warns that a UN declaration on women's rights could destroy society by allowing a woman to travel, work and use contraception without her husband's approval and letting her control family spending. Egypt has joined Iran, Russia and the Vatican in threatening to derail the women's rights declaration, on which the UN Commission on the Status of Women is racing to negotiate a consensus deal by Friday. Egypt has proposed an amendment that would allow countries to avoid implementing the declaration if it clashed with national laws, religious or cultural values. But some diplomats say this would undermine the entire declaration. (Reuters)
        See also Muslim Brotherhood Statement Denouncing UN Women's Declaration for Violating Sharia Principles (Ikhwanweb-Muslim Brotherhood)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • IDF Military Intelligence Chief Surveys Middle East Threats - Yoav Zitun
    IDF Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi said Thursday that "some senior Iranian officials are saying that maybe the nuclear program ought to be reconsidered due to the sanctions." He added that "the nuclear program is progressing, but Iran is making sure not to cross any internationally perceived 'red lines.' Their chief goal is to preserve the regime."
        Referring to the Palestinian issue Kochavi said: "We see signs from the Palestinian street that Palestinians are reaching a boiling point which stems from the economic situation, but also from the prisoners issue. Still, most of the incidents are of a limited nature, and there was no event with more than 4,000 participants. We estimate there's no energy for a third intifada."
        The MI chief warned that "For the first time in dozens of years Israel has four borders threatened by terrorist breaching." Regarding the Syrian civil war, he said: "In many ways, the country is disintegrating with 60,000 killed so far, among them 50,000 civilians and 13,000 soldiers....Syria shouldn't be treated as a unified state. It should be referred to as Assad's state and the rebels' state, as two-thirds of Syria's habitable areas are under rebel control."
        Kochavi noted that "for the first time in many years the four main [regional] powers - Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt - are controlled by religious leadership.... The State of Israel is considered by them as unacceptable, so it will be increasingly difficult in the coming years to reach agreements and normalization."  (Ynet News)
  • U.S. Official Explains Obama's Israel Trip - Yitzhak Benhorin
    Deputy U.S. National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes said Thursday in Washington that President Obama's upcoming visit to Israel "is not about trying to lay down a new initiative or complete our work on a particular issue; that, frankly, there's value in traveling precisely at a time when there is a new government in Israel and a new government in the United States and just having a broad strategic conversation."
        "With a new government, you don't expect, again, to close the deal on any one major initiative. But you, on the other hand, want to begin a broad conversation about all these issues where we're cooperating on a day-to-day basis. And there are obviously going to be significant decisions in the months and years ahead about Iran, about Syria, about Israeli-Palestinian peace.... That's the way in which the President is approaching the trip."  (Ynet News)
  • Hamas Accused of Masterminding Murder of Egyptian Border Guards
    Egyptian lawyer Samir Sabry filed a complaint on Thursday with the prosecutor general, accusing the Hamas government in Gaza of masterminding the murder of 16 Egyptian border guards in Sinai on August 5, 2012. Sabry described the incident as premeditated murder and a breach of Egypt's sovereignty.
        According to Al-Ahram Al-Arabi weekly and MBC Masr TV, Ra'ed al-Attar, a key member of the group that kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006, was the chief orchestrator of the attack. Ayman Nofal, a leader of Hamas' Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade, was also involved. Senior Hamas leader Mohamed Ibrahim Salah Abo Shamalla was also named. Ashraf Badr, chief editor of Al-Ahram Al-Arabi, said the information came from a prominent figure in Hamas and added, "We double checked this information with security sources in Egypt."  (Al-Masry Al-Youm-Egypt)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

    President Obama's Upcoming Visit

  • If a Palestinian State Were Established - Khaled Abu Toameh
    As President Obama prepares to visit the region, he would do well to take the following facts into consideration: Any agreement reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority would be rejected by a large number of Palestinians, especially Palestinian refugees who continue to insist on the "right of return" to their former villages inside Israel. A majority of Arabs and Muslims would also reject such a peace agreement, especially in the wake of the "Arab Spring."
        Even if a Palestinian state were established in the West Bank, Hamas and other groups would work to take control of it and, with the help of Iran and al-Qaeda, turn it into a launching pad for attacking Israel and other neighbors. The PA is in power thanks to the presence of the IDF in the West Bank. Ironically, ending Israeli "occupation" would also bring an end to Abbas' rule.
        Any agreement reached under the auspices of the U.S. would be received with utmost suspicion. Already, many Palestinian activists are waging a campaign on Facebook and Twitter to "prevent Obama from desecrating the land of Palestine." Activists have called for "huge demonstrations" in the West Bank to protest against Obama's visit; they are even preparing shoes to throw at his motorcade. (Gatestone Institute)
  • Close the Peace Gap - David M. Weinberg
    The best thing that President Obama can do to advance Middle East peace is to press the Palestinians to close the "peace gap" - to help Palestinian leaders bring their own constituency towards the levels of compromise and moderation that Israeli leaders have successfully achieved. Over the past thirty years, Israelis have gone from denying the existence of a Palestinian people to recognition of Palestinian peoplehood and national aspirations. Israel has even withdrawn altogether from Gaza, and allowed a Palestinian government to assume authority over 95% of West Bank residents.
        The Palestinians, however, have utterly failed to move themselves away from rejectionism and towards peace with Israel. Many Palestinian political and religious figures still deny the historic ties of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, and refuse to accept the legitimacy of Israel's existence in the Middle East as a Jewish state.
        There is an enormous gap between the two peoples in their readiness for peace. The Palestinians are light years away from being ready to settle amicably with Israel, whereas Israelis are desperately eager to cut a fair deal with the Palestinians. Without a serious attempt to address the peace gap, any new diplomatic initiative will fail and will sink into the quicksand of Palestinian rejectionism. (Israel Hayom)

  • Other Issues

  • Syria's Bloody Anniversary - Editorial
    Two years ago this week, protests erupted against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Most likely, as the regime slowly loses ground to the rebels, Syria will crack into pieces controlled by rival authorities - including a regime remnant in Damascus or along the Mediterranean coast, backed by Iran, and an al-Qaeda-controlled zone along the border with Iraq. Fighting along sectarian lines, and between extremist and moderate Sunnis, will continue to spread into Lebanon and Iraq, destabilizing both those countries. Eventually the regime may resort to using chemical or biological weapons or attempt to transfer them to its Lebanese or Iranian allies. (Washington Post)
  • The Media's True Failure in Gaza - David Brog
    Earlier this week, the UN confirmed that the tragic death of 11-month-old Omar al-Mishrawi, previously blamed on Israel, was actually the result of a Hamas missile that fell short of its target. Here's how the Washington Post's Max Fisher explained away his rush to implicate Israel in this death: "It's difficult to see how knowing whose rocket or missile killed Mishrawi would resolve the larger questions for which that debate is a proxy....These are notoriously thorny debates. As with so many protracted geopolitical conflicts, neither side comes out looking as angelic or demonic as its partisans might wish."
        Fisher is wrong. The conflict between Hamas and Israel is not a "thorny debate." Hamas is a terrorist organization, and is recognized as such by both the U.S. and EU. Just as responsible journalists reject a moral equivalence between the U.S. and the al-Qaeda terrorists who seek to kill Americans, they should likewise shun such equivalence between Israel and the Hamas terrorists determined to kill Israelis. The writer is executive director of Christians United for Israel. (Daily Caller)
  • Turkey, Israel and International Law - Orhan Kemal Cengiz
    When Turkey starts to use international law to deal with Israel, there is a great chance that the same mechanisms will be used against Turkey. Despite calls from the EU, Turkey does not recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court because it is afraid that three major issues would be brought to the court.
        The day Turkey recognizes the jurisdiction of the ICC, Cyprus may bring a case alleging that Turkey has committed the crime of aggression due to the border changes of 1974. Likewise, the case of the missing Greek soldiers on the island in 1974 could be taken to the ICC. In addition, there is a risk for Turkey that it may face some criminal complaints in relation to the Kurdish issue.
        To what extent could a Turkey that is unable to confront the crimes committed against the Kurds in the past offer a remedy for the Palestinian people? Given that Turkey is unable to try the security officers who burned 3,500 Kurdish villages in the 1990s, is it possible that it could sincerely hold Israel accountable? (Zaman-Turkey)

  • Weekend Features

  • Israel Ramps Up Its Cyberdefense Training - Gwen Ackerman
    Twice a week about 200 Israeli high school students in seven separate locations meet after school for six hours of extra classes. The students ace two exams to qualify for the extra tutelage, which is taught by veterans of the Israel Defense Forces. The students are training to become the best cyberwarriors in the world. Israel's government networks are among the most highly attacked anywhere, with daily assaults numbering in the tens of thousands.
        "[Iran is] conducting a brazen campaign of cyberattacks against everyone - against Israel, against the United States. This is the unseen attack, but it's felt and it will be felt more and more," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Feb. 18. The high school program teaches the students to perform such tasks as containing a wild computer virus in what's called a "cyber-sandbox" so they can learn how to tame it. For their final project, the teenagers must set up a virtual orchestra by connecting terminals to a central computer that acts as the conductor, assigning instruments and melodies to different terminals. (Business Week)
  • IDF Reserve Duty: A Stone's-Throw Away from Home - Avi Zimmerman
    My reserve service, being situated in the vicinity of Ariel, passing by my home on a regular basis, clarifies what every single Israeli is aware of - that he would not be able to sleep soundly at night if not for the IDF. By the same token, IDF soldiers occasionally experience a profound sense that, "wow, I'm really protecting my country."
        I've been asked, time and again, to place myself in the shoes of the terrorists whose actions we seek to prevent. But I will never understand how someone can strike innocent civilians in an attempt to advance a political goal - especially when those civilians are people that I know and love. The writer is executive director of the City of Ariel Development Fund. (Times of Israel)

Arad: Obama Not Coming to Press Israel on Palestinians - Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)

  • Uzi Arad, who sat in on Obama-Netanyahu meetings as Netanyahu's national security adviser for the first two years of the prime minister's second term, is not among those who believe that foremost on President Obama's mind will be pressing Israel on the Palestinian issue.
  • "There is nothing much to push hard on," he said. "It is clear that the realities allow for only so much maneuvering space." According to Arad, the U.S. administration has largely abandoned the sentiment that a final status agreement is lurking just around the corner, with Hamas' consolidation of power in Gaza and the resulting "hardening" of the Palestinian camp major reasons for the jettisoning of this assumption.
  • The new Palestinian reality - Fatah in the West Bank, Hamas in Gaza - has altered the viability of the 2001 Clinton parameters. When Clinton presented his parameters calling for an Israeli withdrawal from some 95% of the West Bank and Gaza, and the division of Jerusalem, no one imagined Hamas would rule Gaza and "be armed to the teeth. That would have been considered a nightmare at the time." That this nightmare is now reality makes things look significantly different.
  • He recommended limited, reciprocal steps for any peace process to work. "No one can expect Israel to take steps, but that the Palestinians do not. Unilateral steps will not fly, people are wiser and older. This should be a two-way street."
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