Israeli Jet Shoots Down Hizbullah Drone (Sky News-UK)
Israel shot down an unmanned drone from Lebanon off its northern coast on Thursday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "I see this attempt to breach our borders as extremely grave - we will continue to do whatever we must to protect the security of Israel's citizens."
See also Hizbullah Drone a Dangerous Publicity Stunt - Yaakov Lappin (Jerusalem Post)
Hizbullah's attempt - likely Iranian-backed - to fly a drone into Israeli air space on Thursday is a dangerous publicity stunt designed to distract attention from its large-scale involvement in the Syrian civil war.
See also Where Was that Lebanese Drone Headed? - Amos Harel (Ha'aretz)
Haifa is full of vulnerable strategic infrastructure. Nevertheless, Israel must face the possibility that this was a first attempt to strike the natural gas fields in the Mediterranean.
However, Iran and Hizbullah understand very well that Israel will consider any attempt to damage its gas infrastructure an act of war.
Militant Group Sought to Make Sinai an "Islamic Emirate" - Ahmed Eleiba (Al-Ahram-Egypt)
Egyptian military prosecutors are questioning 11 men arrested last week after attempting to bomb a military installation in the northern Sinai city of Rafah.
Members of the group - which includes six Egyptians, three Palestinians and two Lebanese - were found in possession of automatic weapons, remote-control explosive devices, satellite telephones, and maps of Sinai showing military zones.
During questioning, members of the "New Jihadist" cell said they were not affiliated with any foreign organization.
They said the group was formed with the aim of driving the Egyptian military and UN peacekeeping forces out of Sinai and declaring the territory an "Islamic emirate."
Iran Told Hizbullah to Join Syria War - Donna Abu-Nasr (Bloomberg)
Iran pressed Hizbullah to join the civil war in Syria, according to Sobhi al-Tofaili, a disaffected former leader of the group.
He said at least 138 of its fighters had died in Syria and scores had been wounded.
Iran Parks Millions of Oil Barrels on Tankers as Buyers Retreat (Reuters-New York Times)
Iran is storing millions of barrels of oil on tankers in its territorial waters as Tehran struggles with tougher Western sanctions, ship industry sources say.
Iran's oil revenues have fallen 50% since tough EU and U.S. measures were imposed last year.
Data from maritime intelligence publisher IHS Fairplay estimated 10 of Iran's supertankers, each able to carry up to 2 million barrels of crude, were storing oil.
Saudi Center Aims for Life After Jihad - Ellen Knickmeyer (Wall Street Journal)
In Saudi Arabia's ground-breaking program for drawing convicted jihadists and other violent extremists back into the mainstream, the kingdom's top-of-the-line rehab centers show that "life after jihad" can be surprisingly comfy.
The Mohammed bin Nayef Care and Counseling Center included an outdoor pool, a professional-size soccer pitch, a gym with sauna and steam room, dining halls, dorms, and classrooms.
Rehab instructors and counselors work "to correct the thoughts of these people, and bring equilibrium to their thinking," said Said Bishi, who directs the centers.
PA Honors Palestinian Murderer - Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik (Palestinian Media Watch)
In the past month, senior Palestinian Authority officials including Mahmoud Abbas, and PA TV, have honored murderer Issa Abd Rabbo.
On October 22, 1984, Abd Rabbo killed two Israeli university students, Ron Levi and Revital Seri, who were hiking south of Jerusalem. At gun point he tied them up, put bags over their heads and then shot and murdered both.
He is serving two life sentences in an Israeli prison. Last month, Abbas sent the secretary-general of his office, Tayeb Abd Al-Rahim, to the home of Abd Rabbo's family to honor him.
Iran Seeks to Spark Baby Boom - Alistair Dawber (Independent-UK)
Some 150,000 Iranian health officials have been deployed door-to-door to persuade couples to have more children and single people to get married.
Iran's population currently stands at approximately 75 million. Last year, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered an end to the $15 billion national family planning budget and called for the population to double from 75 million to 150 million.
The average age at which men get married is 40, and is 35 for women.
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- White House: U.S. Believes Syrian Regime Used Chemical Weapons - Kristen Welker
The White House said Thursday that the U.S. believes the Syrian government has used chemical weapons - specifically the nerve agent sarin - against its own people. (NBC News)
See also Defense Secretary Hagel Says Syria Has Used Chemical Weapons - Alexander Marquart (ABC News)
See also Syrian Blood Tests Positive for Sarin Gas, U.S. Spies Say - Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman
The U.S. intelligence community has uncovered strong evidence that chemical weapons have been used in Syria. Several blood samples, taken from multiple people, have tested positive for the nerve agent sarin, an American intelligence source said. The samples are authentic, and the weapons were almost certainly employed by the Assad regime, which began mixing up quantities of sarin's chemical precursors months ago for a potential attack.
- Obama Faces Difficult
Decision on Syria Action - Scott Wilson
In informing Congress Thursday that Syria's government may have used chemical agents against the population, the Obama administration stated that "no option is off the table" should future evidence confirm the mounting suspicions. On Thursday, Miguel Rodriguez, Obama's chief liaison to Congress, said the administration will continue to seek a UN investigation to determine definitely whether chemical weapons have been used and to what extent.
Doing so buys the administration some time to decide a course of action.
"Given our own history with intelligence assessments, including intelligence assessments related to weapons of mass destruction," a senior administration official said Thursday, "it's very important that we are able to establish this with certainty."
President Obama must weigh his potential action or inaction in Syria against his policy toward an Iranian government on the lookout for signs of faltering American resolve. A U.S. military action in Syria would open up a new front in the Islamic world, but it could also serve notice to Iran that Obama means what he says when he draws red lines.
See also U.S. Has Range of Military Options in Syria after Revelation of Chemical Weapons Use
U.S. commanders have laid out a range of possible options for military involvement in Syria, but they have made it clear that any action would likely be either with NATO backing or with a coalition of nations. The military options could include establishing a no-fly zone or a secured area within Syria, launching airstrikes by drones and fighter jets and sending in tens of thousands of ground forces to secure the regime's chemical weapons caches.
There are currently no U.S. aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean. In testimony to Congress last week, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked whether he was confident that U.S. forces could secure the chemical weapons caches within Syria.
"Not as I sit here today, simply because they've been moving it and the number of sites is quite numerous." (AP-Washington Post)
- Exiled Muslim Brotherhood Plans Return to Syria - Roula Khalaf and Abigail Fielding-Smith
The Muslim Brotherhood is set to open offices inside Syria for the first time since the organization was crushed there decades ago, Riad al-Shaqfa, the movement's exiled leader, said in an interview.
At the same time, some in the opposition fear the Brotherhood's efficiency, strong organization and superior fundraising networks could enable them to dominate a fractured Syrian opposition.
Dozens of small brigades of armed rebels calling themselves "shields of the revolution" have emerged over the past year and are supported by the Brotherhood.
- Arab Bank Must Face Trial Over Terror Attacks, Judge Says - Christie Smythe
Arab Bank, Jordan's largest lender, lost a bid to avoid a U.S. trial in a lawsuit brought by terrorism victims who accuse it of supporting attacks in Israel.
U.S. District Judge Nina Gershon in Brooklyn, New York, on Wednesday rejected the bank's request to throw out the case, sending it toward trial.
The victims claim in their lawsuit that Arab Bank, based in Amman, "knowingly and purposefully supported" foreign terrorist organizations from 1995 to 2004 by providing financial support to terrorists, including administering payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.
A lead plaintiff in the case is Courtney Linde, whose husband, John Linde Jr., was killed Oct. 15, 2003, while guarding diplomats traveling in Gaza. The case, brought under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act, would cover claims brought by 296 people, including victims of 24 separate attacks and their family members.
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Netanyahu: Israel Is Facing Direct Threats from Syria - Herb Keinon
Israel faces two direct threats from Syria - the "leakage" of chemical weapons, and terrorist infiltrations over the border - Prime Minister Netanyahu said Thursday.
In addition, Jerusalem is concerned about rocket attacks on Israeli communities from Syria.
- Defense Minister Ya'alon: Diplomacy, Sanctions Have Not Stopped Iranian Centrifuges
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon told visiting Canadian Chief of Staff Gen. Thomas J. Lawson on Wednesday, "The diplomatic channel is not bringing the Iranian nuclear program to a halt and the economic sanctions have yet to stop the centrifuges. A viable military option is required, even if it is the last resort." (Israel Hayom)
- U.S. Denies Plan to Convene Mideast Summit in June - Chemi Shalev
The Obama administration Thursday denied a Ha'aretz report about plans to convene a Middle East peace summit.
- Why Iran Is Trying to Save the Syrian Regime - Alireza Nader
Iran is the Syrian regime's biggest supporter. Tehran views Syria as a strategic gateway to the Arab world, a bulwark against American and Israeli power, and a crucial link to Lebanese Hizbullah. Iran will do its best to keep Bashar Assad in power. But Tehran is smart enough to realize the Syrian regime could be overthrown sooner or later. Hence, Iran has stepped up its support of Alawite and other minority militias to maintain a physical connection to Hizbullah if Assad is overthrown.
The Alawites are often referred to as an offshoot of Shia Islam, but religion's importance as a bond between Iran and Syria should not be overstated.
Their close ties are based on geopolitics rather than religion.
Iran and its Revolutionary Guards have played a large role in fighting insurgents seeking to overthrow Assad. The fall of the Assad regime would degrade Iran's ability to sustain Hizbullah militarily, as most of the weapons that Tehran routes to Hizbullah are shipped through Syria.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei believes the Syrian regime to be a crucial part of the "axis of resistance" against Israel and a frontline in Iran's struggle with the U.S.
The writer is a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation.
- Syria's Sarin Stockpile - John Hudson
Sarin is an odorless, colorless gas that's 500 times more toxic than cyanide and deadly in doses of 0.5 milligrams and larger. Besides potentially killing you within 10 minutes of inhalation, the gas can cause paralysis. Syria has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the Middle East and the fourth-largest stockpile in the world.
"By the mid-1990s it was estimated that Syria had developed between 100 and 200 warheads filled with sarin for its Scud-B and Scud-C missiles, and thousands of chemical bombs filled with the nerve agents VX and sarin," said Dina Esfandiary of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "Presumably, these numbers will be higher today."
"Nerve agents are effective in open spaces (battlefields)...and as a terror weapon," said James Lewis of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. "Strategically, they are not particularly useful in urban warfare."
Esfandiary adds, "Sarin in particular is very volatile (evaporates easily), which means it presents an immediate but short-lived threat." (Foreign Policy)
- Hamas Losing Popularity among Egyptians - Ahmed Eleiba
According to Moussa Abu Marzouq, deputy-director of Hamas' political bureau, Omar Suleiman, the former director of the Egyptian General Intelligence service, was a "patriot who assisted and aided the Palestinian resistance." Since last year's election of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi, relations between Egypt and Hamas can be described as a "strategic embrace," with both groups sharing similar origins. Yet those who follow Egyptian public opinion can easily detect a harshly negative tone towards the Palestinian factions, especially Hamas.
According to some opinion polls, many Egyptians believe Hamas has become a burden on Egypt. A long list of accusations has been made against Hamas, including the security threat represented by the underground tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. Maj.-Gen. Alaa Ezzeddin, former director of the Egyptian Armed Forces Strategic Studies Department, said, "There is the problem of the tunnels, which is now being dealt with....We do not want to work against the Palestinian cause, but we must bring matters under control, which is what we are doing now." (Al Ahram-Egypt)
- The Honey-Trap of Moral Equivalence - Douglas Murray
People love to lay the blame for the Palestinian-Israeli stalemate equally on both sides. But the facts do not support this. Israeli schoolbooks do not teach children to hate and destroy Palestinians, as the Palestinian schoolbooks do of Israelis. Even the most extreme Israeli politician does not threaten to wipe out the Palestinian people, as even mainstream Palestinian politicians do of Israelis.
- Has Turkey Betrayed the West? - James Kirchick
On Jan. 25, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan announced that his government was interested in joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which includes Russia, China, and the four post-Soviet Central Asian republics. But SCO members cannot simultaneously be members of NATO. As Turkey's campaign to join the EU remains stalled, Erdogan's gaze has turned eastward. In January, he said that if Russian President Putin chooses to "include us" in the SCO, "we will forget about the EU." (The Tower)
- The Beginning of the End for Hizbullah - Michael J. Totten
According to Nadim Koteich, a Lebanese Shiite whose political talk show on Future TV is one of the top-rated in the country, if Assad falls in Syria, the effect on Hizbullah "will be huge. For decades they've had this powerful state behind them, along with a corridor for weapons coming out of Iran. They've had this enormous machine and all its tools at their back, and it will be a tremendous blow when they lose it."
Hanin Ghaddar, managing editor of the online magazine NOW Lebanon, said, "Hizbullah is dragging Lebanon into the sectarian war in Syria and dragging the Shia into another war they don't want. Resisting Israel is one thing, but fighting the region's Sunnis is something else." It's a fight they can't win. There are twenty million people in Syria and most are Sunnis. (World Affairs)
See also Lebanon's Silent Hizbullah Funerals - Hazem al-Amin
There are silent funerals of young men from southern Lebanon and Beqaa towns. The funeral processions pass through these towns quietly and are only attended by some family members and friends. Silent funerals indicate Hizbullah's incapability to publicize their fight. What is the extent of Shiite toleration for more of these silent funerals?
- Azerbaijan: An Unusual Partnership between Muslims and Jews - Nasimi Aghayev
Israeli President Shimon Peres on Monday praised Azerbaijan for taking "a clear stand" against war and terrorism, on the occasion of a visit to Israel by Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, accompanied by a large delegation of Azerbaijani Jews, including a Jewish member of the parliament.
Azerbaijan, a secular country with a predominantly Shiite Muslim population, has had a close relationship with Israel since the beginning of its independence from the Soviet Union a generation ago. It supplies some 40% of Israel's oil, shares a border with Iran, and has a close partnership with Israel in the defense sector.
The writer is Azerbaijan's consul general to the western U.S.
- British Officials Predicted War - and Arab Defeat - in Palestine in 1948 - Richard Norton-Taylor
The British government knew from the moment it planned to withdraw its forces from Palestine more than 60 years ago that partition of the territory and the founding of the State of Israel would lead to war and defeat for the Arabs, secret documents released at the National Archives make clear.
By early 1948 British officials were reporting that "the Arabs have suffered a series of overwhelming defeats." They added: "Jewish victories...have reduced Arab morale to zero and, following the cowardly example of their inept leaders, they are fleeing from the mixed areas in their thousands." A few days later, British officials spoke of the "steady influx of Arab volunteers" from neighboring countries. (Guardian-UK)
- An Israeli Arab Military Prosecutor for the IDF - Christa Case Bryant
Arin Shaabi, a military prosecutor in the Israel Defense Forces, is one of 94 Arab Christians in the IDF.
Arabs like Shaabi are exempt from military service, but she volunteered, and even fought against cultural and bureaucratic resistance, to get a job in which she is responsible for prosecuting Palestinians.
Shaabi comes from the Arab city of Nazareth. Her maternal grandmother was born Jewish, but converted to Christianity when she got remarried to an Arab Christian man in the late 1950s. Her mother was raised Christian, and raised Shaabi that way.
"I grew up with the idea that this is where we live, this is our country. And in the same way that we have rights, we have responsibilities," she says. "So I felt that even though it's not mandatory for me to join [the IDF], it's my responsibility to do it." (Christian Science Monitor)
- Bedouin Army Trackers Scale Israel's Social Ladder
Lt.-Col. Magdi Mazarib, a Bedouin Muslim Arab from northern Israel, is the Israeli army's highest-ranking tracker and commands a small unit of Bedouin soldiers who use their fieldcraft skills to serve as the Jewish state's gatekeepers.
Mazarib is at ease protecting his country's borders from other Arabs, fellow Muslims.
"This is our country," he states simply in perfect Hebrew with a light Arabic accent. And its Jewish symbols, such as the Star of David, do not perturb Mazarib.
"The flag of England also has a cross on it, and the Jews there are fine with it," he says during a tour of the Bedouin Heritage Center which houses a memorial to the 182 Bedouin killed fighting for Israel.
Mazarib believes that his fellow Bedouin across the Middle East are envious of the way those in Israel live.
"The state of Bedouin in Israel is better, as far as the respect we get, our progress, education," he says. "It's a different league." (Agence France-Presse)
Lessons of the Syrian Reactor - Bruce Riedel (National Interest)
- In April 2007 at the White House, Stephen Hadley, the U.S. national security adviser at the time, welcomed Meir Dagan, head of the Mossad, who came with a special briefing for his American host. Dagan revealed a secret nuclear reactor in the final stages of construction in the Syrian desert, developed with the help of North Korea. Knowledge of this project constituted a stunning intelligence coup for Israel.
- Later that year, on September 6, 2007, the Israeli Air Force destroyed Syria's nuclear facility at Al Kibar along the Euphrates River.
It was a dramatic demonstration of intelligence success - all the more so given the ongoing civil war in Syria. The world does not need to worry about a Syrian nuclear reactor under threat of capture by Islamic radicals. Israel took that concern off the table.
- The Israelis tentatively identified the reactor for what it was in late 2006. According to former CIA director Michael Hayden, the CIA saw the construction as suspicious but did not recognize it as a nuclear reactor until "a report from a foreign partner initially identified the structure at Al Kibar as a nuclear reactor similar to one in North Korea."
- The Israelis supplemented their data with soil and plant samples acquired by an IDF commando mission in August 2007. Soldiers from the IDF's elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit were covertly flown in by CH-53 helicopters to the Al Kibar region to acquire the samples.
- Israeli accounts also stress the role of General Mohammed Suleiman, who was in charge of the reactor's construction and security. Suleiman was Assad's chief adviser on all WMD projects and dealt extensively with the North Koreans and Iranians. Suleiman was assassinated in August 2008 at his seaside home near Tartus, Syria.
The writer, director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution, was a career CIA officer and served on the staff of the National Security Council.
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