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by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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May 20, 2013

In-Depth Issues:

Intifada Poster Child Al-Dura Was Alive at End of Video - Attila Somfalvi (Ynet News)
    The report of a special Israeli government inquiry committee into the death of the Palestinian boy Muhammad al-Dura during the Second Intifada was presented to Prime Minister Netanyahu on Saturday.
    The report focuses on a Sept. 2000 France 2 broadcast in which the boy is seen hiding behind his father and concludes that al-Dura was still alive at the end of the video.
    According to the committee findings, there was no evidence that the boy or his father were even injured at the time the video was shot.
    Committee chairman Yuval Steinitz said, "This was a blood-libel against Israel. The French report was simply false."
    In September 2007, a French court instructed the TV channel to hand over the entire, unedited footage shot that day.
    In the full video, Muhammad al-Dura can be seen waving his hand, moving his leg and without any visible bloodstains, despite claims made during the news report that the boy had died.
    See also Why the Al-Dura Blood Libel Still Matters - Jonathan S. Tobin (Commentary)
    Why should anyone bother with such an old story? Because there is something profoundly wrong with the way our culture has accepted Palestinian lies as either reasonable assertions or even truths.
    It's not just that the Israelis didn't kill al-Dura; it's that the fault for the continuation of the conflict rests almost completely on the people who have elevated al-Dura to sainthood and used his mythical spilled blood to justify boycotts of Israel.
    So long as the Arab and Muslim world clings to its blood libels, all talk about peace is futile.
    Unless and until the Palestinians give up their campaign of incitement against Israelis and Jews and stop seeking to depict this conflict as one in which they are the victims of a Zionist plot, there is no hope for any solution.

France in Talks with U.S., Israel to Buy Drones (Reuters)
    France is in talks with the U.S. and Israel to buy intelligence-gathering drones to build up a modern fleet, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Sunday.
    France's existing hardware is outdated and its military intervention in Mali this year has exposed its shortage of surveillance drones suitable for modern warfare.
    "We need this capacity in the short term. There are currently two countries in the world that build drones, the United States and Israel," Le Drian said.
    "We are in discussions with each to buy some straight away."
    See also Study: Israel Is World's Largest Exporter of Drones - Gili Cohen (Ha'aretz)
    Israel is the world's largest exporter of unmanned aircraft, in terms of the number of systems sold, according to a study by the business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.
    Over the last eight years Israel has exported $4.6 billion worth of unmanned aerial vehicles.
    Over half of Israel's UAV exports from 2005 through 2012 were to Europe, with a large number of aircraft supplied to Britain's Watchkeeper program, based on Elbit's Hermes 450 UAV.
    Drones were also sold to Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and Spain.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S. Decries Russia Weapons Sale to Syria - David S. Cloud, Paul Richter and Sergei L. Loiko
    The Obama administration on Friday condemned Russia's delivery of advanced antiship missiles to Syria and its buildup of warships in the eastern Mediterranean. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Russia's military moves would "embolden" Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces and extend the suffering in the widening conflict. "So it's ill-timed and very unfortunate," he said.
        The White House also called on Russia to halt the planned delivery of sophisticated S-300 surface-to-air long-range missiles. "We have consistently called on Russia to cut off the Assad regime's supply of weapons, and in particular we point to air defense systems that are particularly destabilizing to the region," said Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the National Security Council at the White House. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Hizbullah Aids Syrian Military in Key Battle - Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad
    Syrian government forces backed by Lebanese Hizbullah fighters pushed Sunday into parts of Qusayr, a strategic city long held by rebels. Residents said rebels kept fighting into the night, killing a number of Hizbullah and government fighters. In southern Lebanon, Ali, a local resident related to a Hizbullah fighter sent to Qusayr, said that 14 Hizbullah fighters had died on Sunday, the group's most costly action since it entered the Syrian conflict. (New York Times)
  • South Korea Deploys Israeli Missiles to Protect Border Islands - Yoo Li-an
    High-tech Israeli-made missiles were recently dispatched by the Korean military to protect border islands in the West Sea. A military official said on Sunday that "dozens of Spike missiles and their launchers have recently been deployed to the Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong islands, and they can destroy underground facilities and pursue and strike moving targets." In 2010, North Korean shelling of Yeonpyeong Island killed four South Koreans. The satellite-guided Spike missile has a range of 25 km. and can even hit artillery hidden in caves. (Arirang-Korea)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Netanyahu Refutes London Times Report that Israel Prefers Assad to Rebels - Barak Ravid
    A Friday report in the London Times, according to which Israel prefers the regime of Bashar Assad to a takeover by rebel Islamist militants, does "not represent the Israeli government's position," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday. He stressed that Israel is not intervening in the Syrian civil war and is not taking a position concerning who should rule the country. (Ha'aretz)
  • Livni: Israel Can't Reach Peace Deal with Hamas - Tamara Zieve
    There is no chance that Israel could reach a peace agreement with Hamas, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told Army Radio Saturday evening. Livni was referring to remarks by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan on Friday that Fatah-Hamas reconciliation is imperative to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. She said, "Hamas represents an Islamic ideology that does not recognize Israel's existence. Hamas prefers to isolate itself rather than to say that Israel has the right to exist or to renounce violence."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Report Documents 28 Cases of Torture in PA Prisons Last Month - Khaled Abu Toameh
    A report released by the Independent Commission for Human Rights documented 28 cases of torture in PA prisons in the West Bank last month. Mohamed Abdel Karim Dar of Hebron, who was hospitalized after being tortured by the Palestinian Authority security forces while in detention, lost the ability to speak as a result, the report said. The organization said it had received another 23 complaints of torture and mistreatment at the hands of the Hamas police force in Gaza. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Will Israel Destroy Russian Missiles? - Ron Ben-Yishai
    Iran and Syria want to intensify and hasten the arming of Hizbullah. Tehran apparently believes the West's patience is running out and that by the end of 2013, Washington or Jerusalem - or both - will decide on a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. The Iranians want to deter Israel and the West from making such a decision by threats of mass casualties and devastation in the Israeli home front. Particularly important for the Iranians is Hizbullah's arsenal, deployed in the heart of a supportive population in south Lebanon.
        Israel apparently has no intention of allowing Khamenei and Assad to intensify the threat already posed to the Israeli home front, and it does not plan on allowing Hizbullah to diminish the IDF's ability to quickly neutralize this threat if needed. This "red line" has reportedly been implemented by Israel three times as of late.
        The West estimates Israel will be forced to attack additional arms shipments making their way from Iran to Hizbullah via Syria, and that Assad would have to respond. Yet if the Syrian army fires missiles toward Israel's home front, Israel will destroy most of the Assad regime's military assets, and other assets, which are crucial for its continued survival.
        It is safe to assume that Syria and Hizbullah will not rush to act against Israel in the Golan Heights or along the Lebanese border, mainly because Iran has an interest in keeping Hizbullah and Syria's rocket arsenals ready for action to deter Israel and the U.S. from attacking its nuclear facilities. Therefore, Iran will advise Assad to act with restraint, for now, even if Israel strikes Hizbullah-bound arms convoys. (Ynet News)
  • Will Assad Retreat to an Alawite Coastal Stronghold? - Elizabeth O'Bagy
    Many analysts have argued that the Syrian regime has been setting the stage for a retreat to Syria's coastal mountains, the traditional homeland of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawi sect, and that sooner or later Assad will abandon Damascus for the coast. This narrative followed reports that regime forces were conducting repeated clearance operations in coastal Sunni enclaves. However, a retreat to an Alawi stronghold would represent failure for the regime, and Assad has made it clear that he will live or die in Damascus.
        In addition, conditions on the ground contradict assertions that Assad is creating an Alawi rump state. Thousands of Syrians, regardless of sect, have fled the violence in their communities and sought refuge on the coast. This geographic displacement has shifted demographics in the area considerably. Tartous, which was 90% Alawi at the start of the uprising, is only 60% Alawi following the intense fighting in Aleppo and Idlib provinces in 2012. The International Strategic Research Organization reports that Sunnis comprise 50% of the population in Latakia, and around 70% in Latakia's outskirts.
        Anti-Assad stirrings have occurred among the Alawi community, particularly in Qardaha, the hometown of the Assad family, where an open rift has developed among the Alawi elite. Clashes first broke out in the fall of 2012 when a number of prominent Alawi families participated in anti-regime street protests, ultimately leading to an exchange of gunfire in which many Alawites were killed. Many Alawites in the area resent the policies of Assad and his militias, or shabiha, who have tormented the coastal region. (Institute for the Study of War)
  • Lapid: East Jerusalem Must Stay Israeli - Jodi Rudoren
    Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid, a popular television host with no political experience, stunned Israel in January by making his new Yesh Atid party the second largest in the Knesset. In an hour-long conversation, Lapid said that Israel should not change its policy on Israeli settlements in the West Bank in order to revive the stalemated peace process, and that Jerusalem should not serve as the capital of a future Palestinian state. He also questioned whether Palestinians truly wanted a state.
        He said he had found Netanyahu "more willing" and "more prepared than people tend to think" to make peace with the Palestinians. Indeed, there was little daylight between the two men's positions. Lapid said he would not stop the "natural expansion" of settlements in the West Bank. He also said east Jerusalem must stay Israeli. "Jerusalem is the capital of the Israeli state."  (New York Times)

Israeli Thinking on the Future of the Assad Regime - Itamar Rabinovich (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)

  • Early on, Israel calculated, correctly, that its ability to affect the outcome of Syria's civil war was limited. It has no influence on Syria's domestic politics and if it were to extend any support to the opposition, the regime would seize the opportunity to embarrass them by pointing to any Israeli link or support.
  • At the same time, Israel made it clear that it had its own red lines vis-a-vis Syria. It announced that it would interrupt the transfer of sophisticated, game-changing weapon systems into the hands of terrorist groups, be they Hizbullah or the jihadi groups, as Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah were clearly upping the ante.
  • Israel may find itself in a cycle of violence in which it acts again and again against arms transfers via Syria to Hizbullah, eventually triggering a response. It was in this context that an Israeli official stated last week to the New York Times that should Assad retaliate, Israel will topple his regime, meaning that the destruction of Assad's air force and armor by Israel would lead to an opposition victory.
  • There is a debate within the Israeli defense establishment as to the desirable outcome of the Syrian civil war. Some argue that, given the strength of the jihadi and Islamist elements among the militias fighting against the regime, a jihadi or Islamist takeover or a state of anarchy with jihadi elements free to launch terrorist activities is the most severe threat to Israel's security. Others argue that the continuation of Assad's regime in the service of Iran and in close partnership with Hizbullah presents a graver threat to Israel's national security.
  • This latter school of thought is the more convincing. Bashar al-Assad demonstrated his ability to take radical dangerous actions when he built a nuclear reactor in league with North Korea. He demonstrated his willingness to brutalize his own population and use missiles and chemical weapons against it. He is now purely a tool in the service of Iran.

    The writer, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., was Israel's chief negotiator with Syria under the Yitzhak Rabin government.

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