Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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May 13, 2013

In-Depth Issues:

Israel's Strategic Clarity in Syria - Tony Badran (NOW-Lebanon)
    The Israeli raids provide much needed strategic clarity to the conflict in Syria: Israel is not about to let the balance of power with Iran change. In addition, Iran's ability to strike back has been shown to be decidedly limited.
    According to a well-informed source in Washington, "Israel can see anything that moves in Syria with all-weather satellites."
    Iran has seen Israel take out some of its key assets from Sudan to Gaza and Lebanon.
    Now, it watches as its strategic systems and personnel in Syria become targets for Israeli operations - not to mention exceptional intelligence penetration - which had no problems bypassing the Russian defense systems which Iran financed (and acquired for itself to protect its nuclear sites).
    The writer is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Egypt Says Thwarts Suicide Attack on Foreign Embassy - Tom Perry and Yasmine Saleh (Reuters)
    Egyptian security forces have thwarted a plan by an al-Qaeda-linked cell to carry out a suicide attack on a foreign embassy, capturing three militants, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said on Saturday.
    The men, whom he said were linked to militants in the Middle East and Pakistan, were found in possession of 10 kg. of aluminum nitrate, which is used to make bombs.
    Ibrahim said one of the suspects had traveled to Pakistan and Iran to receive training, and was a member of al-Qaeda in Algeria.

Massive Anti-Mine Exercise in Persian Gulf - Ben Farmer (Telegraph-UK)
    Naval forces from more than 41 countries gathered in Bahrain - across the Gulf from Iran - on Monday to prepare for a massive minesweeping exercise that will run until the end of May, the U.S. Fifth Fleet said.
    The International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX) "is the largest exercise of its kind in the region and will exercise a wide spectrum of defensive operations designed to protect international commerce and trade; mine countermeasures, maritime security operations and maritime infrastructure protection."
    IMCMEX took place for the first time last year at a time of Iranian threats to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

1,500-Year-Old Mosaic Discovered in Southern Israel - Yanir Yagna (Ha'aretz)
    A magnificent 1,500-year-old mosaic floor has been uncovered by archeologists near Kibbutz Beit Kama in southern Israel in a Byzantine-era village unearthed prior to construction of a highway, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Sunday.
    The village, which thrived from the 4th through 6th centuries CE, was discovered under the fields of the kibbutz.
    The colorful mosaic includes geometric motifs and features wine containers in the corners, as well as a pair of peacocks and a pair of doves pecking at grapes on grapevines.
    See also Byzantine Mosaic Discovered Near Kibbutz (Israel Antiquities Authority)

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Rallies Against Israel - Maggie Michael
    Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood staged an anti-Israel rally in Cairo on Friday, the first such protest since the 2011 uprising. Emerging from weekly services at Al-Azhar mosque - the centuries-old seat of Sunni Muslim learning - demonstrators chanted, "the people want the destruction of Israel," in protest of recent Israeli airstrikes in Syria and the detention of a Palestinian Muslim cleric.
        At one point, leading Brotherhood member Mohammed el-Beltagy took the microphone and shouted: "we will repeat it over and over, Israel is our enemy." One organizer whipped up the crowd in a chant urging the army to launch a war against Israel to "liberate Palestine...from the sons of monkeys and pigs."  (AP)
  • Turkey Says Bombing Suspects Linked to Syria - Liz Sly
    Twin car bomb explosions in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli on Saturday killed 46 people and injured 155. Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler said nine Turkish citizens detained in connection with the blast had ties to Syrian intelligence agencies. "This incident was carried out by an close contact to pro-regime groups in Syria and, I say this very clearly, with the Syrian mukhabarat."
        Reyhanli, five miles from a key border post with Syria, has become an important hub for the Syrian opposition, hosting aid outfits, rebel fighters, arms dealers and refugees. But the vast majority of the victims of the blasts, which targeted the post office and the municipal headquarters, were Turkish. (Washington Post)
  • Former President Rafsanjani and Top Ahmadinejad Aide Announce Bids for Iran Presidency - Jason Rezaian
    Two-term former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 78, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's top aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, announced Saturday that they are seeking to be candidates to replace Ahmadinejad as Iran's president. Rafsanjani, one of Iran's wealthiest people, has also become a symbol of the corruption that has long afflicted politics there. Other candidates include Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati. (Washington Post)
        See also Rafsanjani Suspected in Buenos Aires Jewish Center Bombing - Matthew Levitt
    Argentina has long sought the extradition of eight Iranians - including former President Rafsanjani - for their alleged roles in the 1994 bombing of the Israeli-Argentine Mutual Aid Association (AMIA) that killed 85 and wounded 300. The writer directs the program on counterterrorism and intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Jewish Chronicle-UK)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel Opens New Diplomatic Mission in Gulf - Barak Ravid
    Israel has opened a diplomatic mission in one of the Persian Gulf states, according to a Finance Ministry paper that does not name the location of the new mission. (Ha'aretz)
  • EU Moving toward Ban of Hizbullah's Military Wing - Benjamin Weinthal and Jonny Paul
    The European Union has moved toward a consensus on outlawing the armed wing of Hizbullah, with its inclusion on the EU terror list slated for later this year. The EU will continue to recognize Hizbullah's political arm as a legal organization, sources said. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Netanyahu's Secret Talks with the Palestinians - Avi Issacharoff
    Israel and the Palestinian Authority tried to initiate backchannel negotiations in late 2010 and early 2011 in a series of secret meetings between the prime minister's envoy, attorney Yitzhak Molcho, and the head of the PLO Executive Committee, Yasser Abed Rabbo, who revealed these contacts in an interview in Ramallah last week. Abed Rabbo said he and Netanyahu met for 2 1/2 hours in mid-February 2011. Abed Rabbo said, "Molcho emphasized in the meetings the importance of the Jordan Valley, settlement blocs, and early-warning stations on West Bank mountains. I ruled this option out."  (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Rafsanjani Is No Moderate - Michael Rubin
    When former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani first won the presidency back in 1989, the West was optimistic. There was hope that Iran would turn a new page, and that the revolutionary ayatollahs would move to normalize relations with the international community. But it was not to be.
        While Rafsanjani spoke publicly of pragmatism, privately he revived Iran's covert nuclear program - of which he claims to be the father today - and played a crucial role in ordering the assassinations of Iranian dissidents abroad. Some of the most spectacular Iranian terror attacks - such as the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires - not only occurred under Rafsanjani's watch but also with his direct authorization.
        It was Rafsanjani who, on Dec. 14, 2001, suggested that an Iranian nuclear strike on Israel might be foreseeable, since one nuclear weapon could annihilate Israel, while Iran would be large enough to absorb any retaliation. The problem in the Islamic Republic today is not one personality or another, but rather the system of government and the ideology to which it subscribes. The writer is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. (Commentary)
  • Assad Forces Gaining Ground in Syria - Liz Sly
    Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are beginning to gain ground in the country's war, bolstered by a new strategy, the support of Iran and Russia and the assistance of fighters with Lebanon's Hizbullah. A series of modest, scattered gains by government forces in recent weeks has produced no decisive breakthrough. But the advances have been made in strategically important locations and point to a new level of direction and energy previously unseen in the army's performance.
        The ranks of the conventional Syrian army - weary, depleted and demoralized by defections, casualties and more than a year of continuous fighting - are being swelled by the deployment of some 60,000 mostly Alawite militia irregulars in the National Defense Force, trained at least in part by Hizbullah and Iranian advisers. Furthermore, instead of stretching its forces thin by trying to fight on multiple fronts across the country, the regime is focusing on a few key "nodes" considered essential to sustaining its hold on power. They include the Damascus suburbs, along with an arc of territory stretching to the ports of Latakia and Tartus.
        Hizbullah fighters are proving a tougher foe than the troops of the Syrian army, said Hussam Muhabeldeen, an activist in besieged Quseir. "The fighters tell us that battling Hizbullah is very difficult compared to the army," he said. "Hizbullah is more professional than the army."   (Washington Post)
  • Hawking's Boycott of Israel Is Intellectually and Morally Disreputable - Editorial
    Brilliance in one sphere does not guarantee sense in another. So it is with Professor Stephen Hawking, who revealed this week that he had withdrawn from a conference in Israel after being lobbied by Palestinian groups. His conduct is alien to the spirit of critical thinking on which science and academic inquiry depend. Professor Hawking is entitled to express political views. Unfortunately his views on this subject are drearily simplistic and the inferences he draws from them are pernicious.
        The campaign for an academic boycott of Israel is not only about the condition of Palestinians in the West Bank or Israel's security policies in Gaza. The boycotters are hostile to the Jewish state. Israel has many flaws but a central and vital characteristic. It is a democracy in a part of the world where liberal political rights and free inquiry are scarce.
        There is no serious analogy between Israel and apartheid. Professor Hawking should never have put his name to this campaign. It is an example of intellectual obscurantism masquerading as humanitarian concern. (Times-UK)

After the Damascus Attack - Amos Yadlin (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)

  • While until 2000, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad limited the supply of arms to Hizbullah, his son Bashar Assad has provided Hizbullah with every form of advanced modern arms. The financing, knowledge, and training almost all hail from Tehran; some of the weapon systems are Iranian-made, others are manufactured in Syria, and still others come from Russia. Weapons transported from Iran arrive by air to Damascus, and from there are shipped to Lebanon.
  • The legitimacy for Israeli action was bestowed by Security Council Resolution 1701 in 2006, prohibiting the supply of weapons to Lebanon to any body other than the Lebanese government. When late in the last decade it became clear that Bashar Assad had broken every arms supply rule in the book, Israel identified four weapon systems that it sought to prevent reaching Hizbullah, even at the risk of escalation: advanced aerial defense systems, long-range surface-to-surface missiles, the Yakhont shore-to-sea missile, and chemical weapons.
  • Israel's assumption that its deterrence is very strong, given that the Syrians, Hizbullah, and Iran are preoccupied with more important challenges, and therefore will not risk an immediate military confrontation, proved correct. Israel also did not claim responsibility for the attack, leaving the Syrians plausible deniability. In addition, the targets were not Syrian assets, only Hizbullah and Iranian assets that pose a risk to Israel's security.
  • The Israeli attack enjoyed a relatively high degree of legitimacy, from Western recognition of the move as one of self-defense (President Obama) to the Sunni world's pleasure at the distress of the Syrian and Iranian regimes and Hizbullah. The satisfaction with the attack in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia was hard to hide.

    Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin is director of INSS.

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