Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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  DAILY ALERT Wednesday,
March 20, 2013

In-Depth Issues:

Israeli Official: Chemical Weapons Used in Syria - Ian Deitch (AP-ABC News)
    A senior Israeli official said Wednesday that it is "apparently clear" that chemical weapons were recently used in Syria, and that the attack will be a main topic of conversation with visiting President Barack Obama.
    The statement by Yuval Steinitz, the newly appointed minister of intelligence and strategic affairs, conflicts with U.S. assessments that there is no evidence behind accusations traded the day before between Syrian rebels and the Bashar Assad regime.
    A senior defense official told AP that he concurred chemical weapons had been used, basing that on intelligence reports.

IDF Provides Medical Aid to Wounded Syrians (Israel Defense Forces)
    On Wednesday, four wounded Syrians arrived at the Israeli-Syrian border and received medical treatment on site from IDF soldiers.
    Two are being treated adjacent to the border fence and will be returned to Syria afterwards. Due to the severity of their injuries, two of the Syrians were transferred to Israeli hospitals for further treatment.

Islamic Law Comes to Rebel-Held Syria - Liz Sly (Washington Post)
    The Syrian revolution is moving toward an organized effort to institute Islamic law in areas that have fallen under rebel control.
    Islamist units are asserting their authority over civilian life, imposing Islamic codes and punishments and administering day-to-day matters such as divorce, marriage and vehicle licensing.
    The dominant role is falling to Jabhat al-Nusra - the al-Nusra Front. The group has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. for ties to al-Qaeda but is widely respected by many Syrians for its battlefield prowess and the assistance it has provided to needy civilians.

PA's Welcome to Obama: Americans Behind 9/11 Attacks - Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik (Palestinian Media Watch)
    On March 18, the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida printed a column by Hassan Ouda Abu Zaher, who wrote:
    ""Our history is replete with lies... [including] the lie about al-Qaeda and the September 11 events, which asserted that Muslim terrorists committed it, and that it was not an internal American action."

Video: The Amazing Israeli Innovations Obama Will See - Tom Gross (Mideast Dispatch Archive)
    During his visit, Obama will see a special exhibit highlighting Israeli technological breakthroughs in renewable energy, the fight against traffic accidents, medicine, search and rescue, and robotics.
    See videos of the innovations that Obama will see.

Egypt Army Soldiers Get New Uniforms to Combat Impersonation (Ahram-Egypt)
    Soldiers in Suez have been issued new uniforms after fabric used to make army uniforms was discovered in a tunnel on the Egypt-Gaza border.
    On Sunday, General Osama Askar, head of Egypt's Third Army, called on local people to remain alert to "fake" soldiers.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Obama, Arriving in Israel, Seeks to Offer Reassurance - Mark Landler
    President Obama landed in Israel on Wednesday to begin a highly symbolic two-day visit, the first of his presidency, hoping to reassure a wary Israeli public of the support of its American ally as Israel faces threats from Iran and uncertainty in its roiling neighborhood. After a formal arrival ceremony, Obama was to inspect a battery of the Iron Dome air-defense system. The system, built by Israeli companies but largely financed by the U.S., is credited with intercepting more than 400 rockets fired from Gaza at Israeli towns. (New York Times)
  • 77 Senators Call on Obama to Stand by Israel Ahead of Trip - Julian Pecquet
    More than 3/4 of the U.S. Senate have signed on to a letter urging President Obama to stand by Israel ahead of his visit. The letter, led by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), and spearheaded by AIPAC, asks the president to warn the Palestinians against using their new status as a UN observer state to take action against Israel, and that their relationship with the U.S. would be jeopardized if they seek action against Israel at the International Criminal Court. "It is important to re-emphasize that the United States will not tolerate efforts to isolate or delegitimize Israel," the letter states. (The Hill)
        See also below Observations: Obama in Israel: It's Not about the Lobby - Walter Russell Mead (American Interest)
  • Nobel Peace Laureate Tells UN Council: "Your Report Undermines Peace, Stop the Selectivity Against Israel" - Lord David Trimble
    During the debate on a commission of inquiry report on Israeli settlements, Nobel Peace Laureate Lord David Trimble told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday: "The report is inconsistent with Security Council Resolution 242, endorsed by the Council decision establishing this commission. It could lead to the utterly grotesque consequence that the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem should be returned to the desolate condition that existed between 1948 and 1967."
        "The very idea of this inquiry is wrong. Negotiations can only be by the Israelis and the Palestinians. Others at best can play a helpful role. But outside bodies purporting to make authoritative pronouncements on major issues over the heads of the parties can only undermine and subvert the peace process."
        "The United Nations and its human rights bodies should all be working with others to advance the cause of peace, not to hinder it. I regret to say that the Council displays the same selectivity that led to the abolition of the earlier Commission. I urge you to heed the criticism by successive UN secretary-generals of this Council's habit of singling out only one specific country, to the exclusion of virtually everything else."  (UN Watch)
        See also Biased UN Report on Israeli Settlements - Amb. Alan Baker (ICA-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel: U.S. Has Pinpoint Attack Ready on Iran - Amos Harel
    A senior Israeli security official has said the Americans are planning for possible military action against Iran "very seriously." "Obama's administration, as opposed to that of his predecessor, George Bush, has prepared a pinpoint military option in the event that the United States decides to attack in the end. The Americans, if they choose, will be able to mount a focused operation on the Iranian nukes without necessarily sparking a comprehensive regional war."  (Ha'aretz)
  • Palestinian Anti-Obama Protesters, Police Clash - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Dozens of Palestinians protested in Ramallah Tuesday against President Obama's upcoming visit to the West Bank. Some carried pictures of Obama dressed in an IDF uniform with an Israeli tank in the background. Others carried placards that read: "Obama, we will never forget Iraq" and "America is the head of the snake."
        The demonstrators tried to march toward PA President Mahmoud Abbas' compound, but were pushed back by Palestinian anti-riot policemen. A senior PA official in Ramallah said there was growing concern over plans by Palestinians to escalate protests against Obama. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Obama Wants to Renew Peace Process - Shlomo Cesana, Yoni Hirsch, and Yori Yalon
    Senior Israeli diplomatic officials say that while a peace plan isn't on Obama's agenda for this week's trip, the American president wants to renew the Israel-Palestinian peace process, a task he has given to John Kerry, his secretary of state. (Israel Hayom)
        See also Kerry May Try to Kick-Start Peace Initiative - Asher Zeiger
    According to a report in Yediot Ahronot Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrived in Israel on Tuesday, is in the region to kick-start peace talks between Israel and the PA, using the 2002 Saudi Peace Initiative as the starting point of future talks. Former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said that when it was first proposed, the Israeli government didn't like the fact that the proposal was on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, with no room for discussions, but indicated that it could serve "as a basis for negotiations in the future."  (Times of Israel)
        See also The Arab Peace Initiative: A Primer and Future Prospects - Joshua Teitelbaum (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • With Obama's Israel Visit, an Opportunity - Ehud Barak
    President Obama's visit to Israel offers the opportunity for new strategic thinking. Over the past two years, a geopolitical earthquake has shattered a generations-old regional order. What is replacing that order are unstable, transformational regimes or, even worse, failed states.
        One important lesson: It is unwise to rely on "the world" to act when a man-made disaster is unfolding. Consider Syria. More than 70,000 have been killed. Yet the international community has shown neither unity of purpose nor the political will to act.
        The root cause of the problems in the Middle East is not the failure to solve the conflict with the Palestinians. Even if a peace agreement with the Palestinians had been signed and sealed a long time ago, the Muslim Brotherhood would still have come to power in Egypt, Syria would still be mired in a bloody civil war, and Iran would still be pursuing nuclear capabilities and hegemony in the Persian Gulf. The writer was Israel's minister of defense from 2007 until this week. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Obama's Visit to Reset Relations with Israel - Herb Keinon
    Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, said that the relationship between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "started off on the wrong foot" four years ago due to "assumptions that were moving in the political systems of both countries." One of the assumptions in Washington, Gold said, was that the sides were just a hairbreadth away from an agreement, and with just a little push they could be pushed over the ledge to an agreement.
        When Netanyahu met Obama in the Oval Office in May 2009, the president linked Iran and the Palestinian issue, saying that progress on the Palestinian track would make it easier to enlist the Arab world in getting behind efforts to stop Iran. Netanyahu took the opposite approach: First, neutralize Iran's nuclear program - thereby dismissing Tehran's ability to gain hegemony in the region - and then it will be much easier to deal with the Palestinians. As long as Iran felt that it was riding high in the saddle in the region, it would never let a diplomatic process get off the ground, and it had two players it could send onto the field to gum up the works whenever it wanted: Hamas and Hizbullah.
        There was another major conceptual difference regarding the Palestinians. Obama, at the time, was under the sway of those who felt that if Israel would just give a little more, concede a little more land, then peace would be attainable. Netanyahu, however, said the land for peace equation never worked in the past - not in Lebanon, nor in Gaza - and there was no reason to believe it would work now.
        As time passed and reality began to bite, the gaps in these conceptual differences began to narrow. Few in the administration still believe that solving the Palestinian issue would impact on efforts to stop Iran, and many in Washington have been disabused of the notion that a settlement freeze will bring about gestures from the Arab world leading to a comprehensive agreement. No one is there anymore. As the conceptual gaps narrowed, the tensions between the two governments lessened. (Jerusalem Post)

Obama in Israel: It's Not about the Lobby - Walter Russell Mead (American Interest)

  • The world continues to marvel at American support for the frequently isolated Jewish state.
  • Recent Pew polls found that Americans sympathize more with the Israeli cause than with the Palestinian one by a margin of 49% to 12%, and they have consistently favored a "pro-Israel" foreign policy. When the House and the Senate overwhelming endorse pro-Israel resolutions, and when they tell presidents that they can't cut Israel's aid, those politicians are responding to the will of their constituents.
  • Especially since 9/11, American public opinion has become significantly more pro-Israel. Most see Israel as an important strategic ally in a dangerous part of the world. Most think Israel isn't doing so badly considering its unique and difficult circumstances, and that Israel has every right to defend itself from terror attacks by any means necessary.
  • The American public tunes out the "blame Israel" narrative. The public likes Israel, thinks it is a good thing, and rejoices when it does well.
  • When President Obama lands in Israel, he will be representing a nation that has long seen the existence and security of a Jewish state as an important international achievement, as a step forward on humanity's long march to a better world.
  • When he speaks to Israelis about America's commitment to their security, he will be speaking for one of the strongest and most durable points of consensus in all of American foreign policy. When he tells Israel that America stands with it, a solid majority of the American people are ready to back that up.

    The writer, Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College, was until 2010 a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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