U.S. Intelligence: Syria's Assad Used Chemical Weapons - Amos Harel (Ha'aretz)
Intelligence officials in the West have concluded that Assad's forces in Syria used chemical weapons against rebels in two incidents in the Damascus area on March 19.
Assad Forces Push Back at Rebels across Syria - Hania Mourtada (New York Times)
The embattled Syrian government mounted attacks on rebel positions across the country on Sunday, according to opposition activists.
Syrian warplanes hit Aleppo, Latakia, the eastern province of Deir Ezzor and other locations in an effort to counter recent territorial gains by the rebels.
In a video posted online by activists, one man said that more than 75 government missiles had hit Mleeha, a town in the suburbs of Damascus.
Israeli Imams Pray at Residence of Israeli Ambassador to France - Itamar Eichner (Ynet News)
A delegation of imams from Israel is visiting France, sponsored by the Israeli embassy.
During the visit, the imams met with their French counterparts in the house of Israel's ambassador, Yossi Gal, and prayed for peace.
However, a video showing the prayer that was posted online has created a storm of controversy in France's Muslim community.
Argentinian Jewish Groups File Petition Against Iran Pact (JTA)
Jewish organizations in Argentina petitioned the country's federal court to order the government to stop its joint probe with Iran of the 1994 terrorist attack on the Buenos Aires Jewish center AMIA.
An Argentinian judge and the country's former president have blamed Iran for the attack which left 85 dead and hundreds injured.
UC Riverside Student Leaders Revoke Israel Divestment Policy - Larry Gordon
(Los Angeles Times)
University of California Riverside's student government has reversed itself and revoked a prior resolution that urged the UC system to divest from companies that have contracts with Israel's military.
Student leaders moved to drop the divestment policy after approving it just a month ago because they came to see how it made Jewish students feel "marginalized," according to Armando Saldana, the Associated Students' executive vice president.
The vote Wednesday was 10 in favor of dropping the divestment issue and two opposed. Last month, it was 11 in favor of divestment and five opposed.
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- Iran Inaugurates Uranium Mine, Production Plant
Iran has inaugurated two new nuclear-related projects. State TV said Tuesday that operations are now underway at Iran's biggest uranium mine at Saghand and a uranium ore concentrate production plant in Ardakan. The facilities give Iran greater self-sufficiency in making the raw materials for enrichment to nuclear fuel and, potentially, for warhead-grade material as Iran is looking to dramatically expand its enrichment program.
- U.S. Efforts to Revive Middle East Peace Process Appear to Run Adrift - Robert Tait
Palestinian sources said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during his current visit to Israel and the West Bank suggested reviving the Arab Peace Initiative - first proposed by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2002 - as a basis for re-starting talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which have been stalled for the past three years. Kerry was said to have proposed wording that would soften the initiative's demand for Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 borders, saying they could be modified by mutual agreement, while inserting stronger security guarantees for Israel.
"Kerry asked us to change a few words in the Arab Peace Initiative but we refused," said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator.
The plan, which calls for Israel's complete withdrawal from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, has been accepted by the Arab League but rejected by Israeli leaders on the grounds that it would leave the county with indefensible borders.
- Turkish Court to Pursue Prosecution of Israeli Soldiers Despite Apology - Ayla Jean Yackley
In a rapprochement brokered by U.S. President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu apologized to his Turkish counterpart, Prime Minister Erdogan, on March 22 over the 2010 killing of nine Turks aboard the Mavi Marmara. As part of the agreement, Israel wants lawsuits against its soldiers to be dropped. However, Israel's apology to Turkey did not go far enough and Israeli soldiers will be pursued in court. "Our efforts are for the full lifting of the [Gaza] blockade. Nobody wants compensation, and while an apology may have diplomatic meaning, it means nothing to the victims," Ahmet Varol, a journalist who was on the ship, said Monday.
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Kerry Pledges Support for Israel Against Iran Threat - Tovah Lazaroff and Greer Fay Cashman
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Iran on Monday that his country would not hesitate to take military action if the diplomatic process failed to prevent Tehran from continuing its drive for nuclear weapons. "No option is off the table. No option will be taken off the table," he said. "Our eyes are open, and we understand that the clock is moving. And no one will allow the diplomatic process to stand in the way of whatever choices need to be made to protect the world from yet another nuclear weapon in the wrong hands." (Jerusalem Post)
- Report: Anti-Semitism Worldwide Up by 30 Percent in 2012 - Yael Branovsky
A new report published Sunday, the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, noted a 30% increase in anti-Semitic violence and vandalism worldwide in 2012.
The report, by Tel Aviv University's Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, said the past year had seen "an alarming rise in the number of terrorist attacks and attempted attacks against Jewish targets, and an escalation in violent incidents against Jews worldwide."
686 anti-Semitic incidents took place in 2012, compared with 526 in 2011. There were 273 cases involving physical assaults against Jews, 50 involving firearms. 190 synagogues, Jewish monuments and tombstones were vandalized in 2012, as were 200 buildings in Jewish communities worldwide. France experienced the highest rise in anti-Semitic incidents. Neo-Nazi parties have become legal and hold parliament seats in Hungary, Ukraine and Greece.
- Margaret Thatcher Devoted Her Life to Protecting Western Values - Amb. Ron Prosor
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who passed away Monday, was a great admirer of the State of Israel. The Iron Lady had the ability to see Israel for what it was: a bastion of liberty in the world's greatest hotbed of tyranny. As she herself once put it, "the political and economic construction of Israel against huge odds and bitter adversaries is one of the heroic sagas of our age."
The international community could use a healthy dose of her moral courage today. As Bashar Assad slaughters his people with impunity, the UN continues to inexplicably single out, scrutinize, and demonize the liberal democracy to Syria's south. As terrorists in Gaza rain rockets down upon Sderot and Ashkelon, the UN Security Council only finds its voice to condemn Israel when it defends itself. As the West spins around in circles on the Iranian nuclear program, the centrifuges in Iran are simply continuing to spin.
It is our generation's responsibility to pick up the torch of moral clarity that Thatcher set down. We must protect her legacy - and speak out on behalf of the values of Western civilization to which she devoted her life.
The writer is Israel's ambassador to the UN and former Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom.
- Iran Beyond Oil? - Patrick Clawson
Iran is in the midst of a non-oil export boom. While still important, oil is becoming a smaller part of Iran's trade. The country's largest trading partners are Iraq, China, the UAE, Afghanistan, India, and Turkey.
In short, even with reduced oil income due to sanctions, Iran's government finances are doing as well as (or better) than those of the U.S. and most other industrial countries.
Iran is therefore unlikely to be crippled by any sanctions the West could impose.
Thus, it would be imprudent to rest one's hopes for resolution of the nuclear impasse on such a possibility.
The writer is director of research at the Washington Institute.
(Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
- Re-election of Hamas Leader Will Not Change Islamist Movement - Khaled Abu Toameh
The re-election last week of Khaled Mashaal as Hamas leader has been interpreted by some Arab and Western analysts as a sign of the radical Islamist's desire to march toward "moderation and pragmatism." Their argument is apparently based on remarks made by Mashaal [in English, of course, but not in Arabic] to the effect that Hamas is prepared to accept the two-state solution.
However, Mashaal has asserted that acceptance of the two-state solution does not mean recognizing Israel's right to exist. Mashaal is, in fact, saying that Hamas will accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem without giving up its struggle to eliminate Israel. "Hamas refuses to recognize the Zionist entity and the legitimacy of its occupation of Palestine," said Hamas spokesman Ezat al-Risheq.
Iran Heeds Israel's Warning of Uranium "Red Line" - Editorial (Washington Post)
- The latest round of negotiations on Iran's nuclear program was, by all accounts, a disappointment. Tehran's negotiators did not spell out a full response to a proposal by the U.S. and five partners for limiting its enrichment of uranium, and what they did say revealed a wide gulf between the two sides.
- The international coalition is offering Iran a partial lifting of sanctions in exchange for a freeze on the production of medium-enriched uranium, while Iran wants a complete lifting of sanctions in exchange for token steps that would leave its nuclear work unfettered. The Obama administration and its allies rightly refused Iranian requests to schedule further meetings.
- Proponents of diplomacy over war with Iran can thank Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader's explicit setting of a "red line" for the Iranian nuclear program in a speech to the UN General Assembly in September appears to have accomplished what neither negotiations nor sanctions have yielded: concrete Iranian action to limit its enrichment.
- A host of commentators scoffed at what they called Mr. Netanyahu's "cartoonish" picture of a bomb and the line he drew across it. The prime minister said Iran could not be allowed to accumulate enough 20% enriched uranium to produce a bomb with further processing, adding that at the rate its centrifuges were spinning, Tehran would cross that line by the middle of 2013.
- But then the regime began diverting some of its stockpile to the manufacture of fuel plates for a research reactor. According to the most recent report of international inspectors, in February, Iran had converted 40% of its 20% uranium for this purpose. As a result, Iran has remained distinctly below the Israeli red line.
- The lesson here is that clear red lines can help create the time and space for diplomacy that President Obama seeks.
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