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by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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April 29, 2013

In-Depth Issues:

Iran Likely Behind Drone that Israel Intercepted - Amos Harel (Ha'aretz)
    The unmanned aircraft sent from Lebanon on Thursday and intercepted by Israel 10 km. west of Haifa seems to have been launched by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon.
    The last drone from Lebanon, in October 2012, was eventually believed to have been launched by the Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon with Hizbullah as the host.
    It seems that Iran wished to openly demonstrate its potential ability to damage essential facilities in Israel, at a time when they are feeling pressure over their nuclear program.

U.S. Officials: Canada Train Plot Suspect Traveled to Iran - Mark Hosenball (Reuters)
    Investigators believe Chiheb Esseghaier, a Tunisian-born doctoral student who is one of two suspects charged in Canada with plotting to blow up a railroad track carrying passenger trains, traveled to Iran within the past two years, U.S. law enforcement and national security officials said on Thursday.
    Canadian police said Esseghaier and Raed Jaser had received "direction and guidance" in the plot from "al-Qaeda elements in Iran."

Hamas Teaches Palestinian Schoolboys How to Fire Kalashnikovs - Phoebe Greenwood (Telegraph-UK)
    Palestinian schoolboys are learning how to fire Kalashnikovs, throw grenades and plant improvised explosive devices as part of a program run by Hamas' education ministry.
    Hamas authorities introduced the "Futuwwa," or youth program, into the state curriculum last September for 37,000 Palestinian boys aged between 15 and 17, to initiate a new generation of Palestinian men in the struggle against Israel.
    Izzadine Mohamed, 17, attended the weekly school classes and signed up for an optional two-week camp held at a Hamas military base. "I was excited to learn the right way to use a weapon," he said.
    A YouTube video posted on April 5 shows a mock Israeli military post erected in a school playground, where Palestinian militants enact a battle during which an Israeli soldier is killed and another captured. A shoulder-held rocket launcher is then fired at the military post, leaving only a smoking metal frame.

French Court: Jerusalem Light Rail Project Legal (JTA)
    A French court ruled that Israel did not violate international law by building a light rail line in eastern Jerusalem.
    The ruling on March 22 by the Versailles Court of Appeals came in response to a lawsuit filed in 2007 by the Palestine Liberation Organization and the France-Palestine Solidarite association against three French firms that participated in the construction of the light rail network.
    The judges ruled that international treaties applied to lands Israel captured in 1967 and that those conventions - including the Hague Convention of 1907 - state that the ruling power "can and even must establish normal, public activity" in that territory.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Syrian Prime Minister Escapes Assassination Bid - Anne Barnard and Alan Cowell
    Prime Minister Wael Nader Al-Halqi of Syria survived an assassination attempt in an upscale Mezze neighborhood of Damascus on Monday when a car bomb exploded near his convoy. A bodyguard was reported killed but the prime minister was unhurt. Video on state television showed a car reduced to a charred skeleton and a bus with its windows shattered. (New York Times)
  • Israel Wary Quiet on Syrian Front about to End - Aron Heller
    The Israeli military is preparing for the worst - a power vacuum in Syria in which rogue groups could get their hands on the country's large stockpile of chemical weapons. In many ways, a new era has already begun. The Syrian villages along the border change hands between the military and the rebels in daily battles. Their mortar shells and bullets frequently land on the Israeli side, in some cases narrowly missing soldiers and civilians.
        Israeli officials say the military's present deployment on the Golan Heights is its most robust since 1973, with a new border fence, 6 meters (20 feet) tall, topped with barbed wire and bristling with sophisticated anti-infiltration devices.
        "Syria is not a regular is the biggest warehouse for weapons on earth," warned Gal Hirsch, a reserve Israeli brigadier general who is involved in the military's strategic planning and operations. "The fighting in Syria gives [Hizbullah] an opportunity to open a new front against Israel," said Hirsch. "We must be ready for turbulence. We must be ready for Iranian involvement inside Syria. We must be ready to be able to fight against radical fundamentalist activities that will come from Syria, and that is what we are doing."  (AP)
        See also Israel's Approach to Syria - Ehud Eilam
    The writer served as an academic instructor at the IDF's Staff and Command College. (National Interest)
  • U.S. Weighs Syria Response - Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes
    The White House is weighing its response to Syria's chemical-weapons use against a sobering fact: Damascus has developed a world-class air-defense system - built, installed and maintained, largely in secret, by Russia's military complex.
        Some advocates of military action have cited Israel's successful bombing in January that targeted a suspected SA-17 antiaircraft missile shipment. However, as Pentagon officials later learned, the Israeli planes never entered Syrian airspace. Instead, the Israeli warplanes were flying over Lebanon when they executed a sudden burst of speed and altitude to catapult a bomb across the border to the target about 10 miles inside Syria, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. account of the Israeli operation. (Wall Street Journal)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel Didn't Ask for U.S. Military Action in Syria - Sam Sokol and Michael Wilner
    Assertions that Israel recently asked the U.S. to take military action in Syria are "false," Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Sunday. "We never asked and never encouraged the U.S. to take military action in Syria," Steinitz said. He added that Israel would "do its utmost to prevent delivery" of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles to "terrorists and Hizbullah."
        Israeli Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren said, "We are not recommending, we are not pressuring [and] we are not urging the United States to take any specific action in Syria, with one exception," he said. "If the United States does decide to provide lethal weaponry to the rebels, we would ask that the recipients of that aid be very closely vetted, because we have had bad experience with that."
        "Israel and the United States are sovereign countries, and whether it's with Syria or Iran, each country has the right to determine how best to act and defend itself," Oren said. He added that, for the past week, he had to deal with "categorically untrue" reports from American outlets such as The New York Times and NBC News that Israel was encouraging action to demonstrate that strategic red lines held weight in Washington. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Obama Understands that Abbas Doesn't Want Peace Deal - Shlomo Cesana
    "U.S. President Barack Obama understands today that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not interested in reaching an agreement with Israel," a senior Israeli diplomatic source has said. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is willing to make significant progress toward a peace deal, but "everybody knows there is no partner for that at this time."
        Since Obama visited Israel in March, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been trying to renew negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Kerry's efforts have led nowhere because neither side believes talks would continue after an opening summit. Obama rejected preconditions for the renewal of peace talks, yet the Palestinians continue to insist on a number of preconditions. (Israel Hayom)
  • Israel Air Force Strikes Two Gaza Terror Sites in Response to Rocket Fire - Gadi Golan
    The Israel Air Force targeted a terrorist facility and a weapons storage site in southern Gaza early Sunday in response to a rocket fired from Gaza into Israel on Saturday night. The "Code Red" rocket warning sounded as hundreds of children were celebrating the Lag B'Omer holiday with bonfires. Following the rocket attack, security officers instructed area residents to return to their homes.
        Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Sunday's cabinet meeting, "We will not permit a policy of drizzle. A drizzle of missiles or a drizzle of rockets will encounter a very firm response and we will take all required steps to protect the safety of our citizens."  (Israel Hayom)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Pushing Back the Red Line on Syrian Chemical Weapons - Zvi Bar'el
    Israel and the U.S. agree that Syrian President Assad has used sarin chemical weapons at least twice. While it is clear the ban on the use of chemical weapons has already been violated, the weapons stockpiles are still in the hands of the regime. This is the reason for Western wariness of a military attack. In light of the threat of an external attack, estimates are that as long as the rebels do not gain a decisive advantage in the civil war, Assad will make no further use of chemical weapons.
        At the same time, an immediate attack on the chemical weapons stockpiles could well create an even more dangerous situation, freeing Assad of any constraints on using his chemical weapons. Another possibility is that bombing the bases where the chemical weapons are produced or the munitions are installed on the warheads of Scud missiles would spread toxic gases that will harm civilians and even cross Syria's borders. Furthermore, an aerial bombardment of the chemical weapons stores would scatter the Syrian battalions guarding them and allow the rebel militias, one of which is an al-Qaeda affiliate, to take control of the remaining chemical weapons left unguarded.
        It is also assumed that Israeli and American intelligence agencies know exactly where the chemical weapons stockpiles are located. But this assumption is not necessarily realistic. About a year ago, the Syrian army moved some of these chemical weapons stores, and there is no certainty that the intelligence agencies in the West and Israel know where they are stored now. (Ha'aretz)
  • No Good Military Options for U.S. in Syria - Phil Stewart and Peter Apps
    Despite President Obama's pledge that Syria's use of chemical weapons is a "game changer," he is unlikely to turn to military options quickly and would want allies joining him in any intervention. "There's a lot of analysis to be done before reaching any major decisions that would push U.S. policy more in the direction of military options," a senior U.S. official said.
        "The most proportional response (to limited chemical weapons use) would be a strike on the units responsible, whether artillery or airfields," said Jeffrey White, a former senior official at the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency who is now a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "It would demonstrate to Assad that there is a cost to using these weapons."
        Another option involves the creation of humanitarian safe areas that would also be no-fly zones off limits to the Syrian air force. This would involve taking down Syrian air defenses and destroying Syrian artillery from a certain distance beyond those zones, to protect them from incoming fire.
        The U.S. fears anti-Assad Islamist rebels affiliated to al-Qaeda could grab the chemical weapons, but a U.S. intervention into Syria to get the arms would require tens of thousands of American troops. (Reuters)

The Failure of "Engagement" with Iran - Ephraim Asculai (Jerusalem Post)

  • The "engagement" process, the diplomatic effort to achieve at least a short halt in Iran's nuclear progress, has been failing for more than a decade, and the increasing sanctions levied by the UN Security Council, the EU and the U.S. have done very little to assist the futile diplomatic process.
  • Economic sanctions have a rather poor record of success. A different trend of stronger sanctions should hit Iranian pride and dignity. They should include ostracism from the world community and suspension from international fora and sports events. Such measures could get Iran's attention more than the slow-moving economic sanctions with their extensive waivers and persistent world trade in oil and commodities.
  • A 2013 paper from The Iran Project, by 35 dignitaries, former U.S. officials and outside experts, says "a strengthened diplomatic track that includes the promise of sanctions relief in exchange for verifiable cooperation could help to end the standoff and produce a nuclear deal."
  • Yet, given the urgency of the issue due to the rapid progress of the Iranian nuclear program, it is very unfortunate that these officials behave as if there were all the time in the world to restart the diplomatic process, reduce the pressure on Iran and put all the cards on the diplomatic front.
  • The suggested combination of sanctions easements, the very mild and only hinted-at U.S. threat of military action, and the obvious military nature of Iran's nuclear ambitions is alarming.

    The author is a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

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