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August 2, 2013

In-Depth Issues:

Terror Threat Prompts U.S. Middle East Embassy Closures - Chris Lawrence and Barbara Starr (CNN)
    A terror threat prompted the State Department on Thursday to direct its embassies in key Middle East nations, including Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Iraq and Kuwait, to close on Sunday.
    A U.S. official called the threat "credible and serious."

Iranian Presence in the Western Hemisphere - Matthew Levitt (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
    In testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Thursday, Matthew Levitt, director of the Washington Institute's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, said:
    Iran not only continues to expand its presence and bilateral relationships with countries like Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, but also maintains a network of intelligence agents specifically tasked with sponsoring and executing terrorist attacks in the Western Hemisphere.
    In fact, Iran and Hizbullah both have worked long and hard over many years to build up their presence and influence in Latin America.
    Iran and Hizbullah colluded in the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994.

Rocket Fired at Sinai Hotel (Al-Ahram-Egypt)
    Assailants fired a rocket-propelled grenade which struck the rear entrance of the Sinai Sun Hotel in El-Arish at midnight on Thursday. There were no casualties. Eyewitnesses said the explosion left a huge hole in the building.
    Earlier in the day, a policeman was shot dead in a similar attack on the same hotel. Most of the hotel guests are said to be security personnel.
    See also Egyptian Army Destroys Underground Fuel Tanks in Sinai (MENA-Egypt Independent)
    The Egyptian armed forces has destroyed 38 underground tanks used to store fuel at the northeastern border in Sinai before it reaches Gaza, an armed forces spokesperson said.

Defense Secretary Hagel Continues Strong Ties with Israel - Gordon Lubold (Foreign Policy)
    U.S. Defense Secretary "Chuck Hagel heads an establishment that over past years has developed a very strong relationship with our counterparts," said Nimrod Novik, a former advisor to Israeli President Shimon Peres.
    "The mood around him is very strong camaraderie, they speak the same language, they understand each other...the degree of candor and openness is unprecedented."

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Hizbullah Runs Counterfeit Medicine Business - Ariel Ben Solomon and Benjamin Weinthal (Jerusalem Post)
    Hizbullah runs a complex network of front companies in Lebanon, the Gulf states and Europe that trade in counterfeit medicine, the Kuwaiti daily Al-Seyassah reported on Tuesday.
    The business "facilitates the group's terrorist operations," the report stated, and includes Iranian citizens.

Blue-Eyed Jihad - Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa (Foreign Policy)
    Two European jihadists working with al-Qaeda inside Syria explained to us why they are doing battle there and what future they imagine for the country.
    One is an ethnic European who converted to Islam, while the other is ethnically neither European nor Arab, and was born a Muslim.
    With kidnappings of journalists and aid workers by rebels spiking in recent months, we chose to stay along the border with Turkey and send a trustworthy Syrian middle-man on our behalf who carried our questionnaire, a camera, and conducted the interviews in English.
    Estimates of Westerners currently fighting in Syria range from 600 to 1,000. Their primary motivation is religion - the vast majority are white converts to Islam or naturalized immigrants with a Muslim background.

Israel Slated for Refurbished U.S. Army Rocket Launchers - Barbara Opall-Rome (Defense News)
    The Israeli Army is slated to receive a large quantity of used, excess U.S. Army M270 rocket launchers that will be upgraded by a U.S. firm before their delivery to Israel.
    The refurbishment program by a U.S. contractor could reach $100 million, to be funded through future-year U.S. military aid.
    The program may be structured along the lines of an earlier transfer in which Israel obtained 2,400 used Humvees from excess stocks, which were refurbished by AM General of South Bend, Ind.

In Egypt, the Perils of Growing a Beard - Maha Ezzat Elkholy and Lorenzo Kamel (IDN News)
    Every man in Egypt is now forced to think twice over having a beard.
    In the wake of President Morsi's ousting, it has become increasingly common to hear bus drivers and passengers who associate beards with problems such as fuel shortages and rising prices.

Turkey Clears Bird of Spying for Israel - Justin Vela (Telegraph-UK)
    Authorities in eastern Turkey have cleared a small bird detained on suspicions of spying for Israel.
    The kestrel was discovered by residents of Altinavya in Elazig province wearing a metallic ring stamped with the words "24311 Tel Avivunia Israe."
    Intensive medical examinations - including X-rays - determined that the bird was, indeed, just a bird, and the kestrel was allowed to fly off.
    The incident shows the degree of paranoia and xenophobia regarding Israel that exists among large segments of Turkish society.

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Israel Campus Beat
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Iran's New President Calls Israel a "Wound on the Body of the Islamic World" that "Should Be Removed"
    Iran's new president Hasan Rowhani said Friday, "The Zionist regime has been a wound on the body of the Islamic world for years and the wound should be removed," Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency reported. (AP-Washington Post)
        See also Iranians Stage Anti-Israel Rallies on International Quds Day
    Iranians are holding massive anti-Israel rallies on the last Friday of Ramadan. International Quds Day was started by the founder of the Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeini, in 1979 as a way of expressing solidarity with the Palestinians. Demonstrators voice the Iranian nation's readiness to remove the cancerous tumor from the face of the world. (Fars-Iran)
  • Iran's "Jerusalem Day": Behind the Rallies and Rhetoric - Siavash Ardalan
    The slogans chanted during the rallies organized on Jerusalem Day are primarily "Death to Israel." Jerusalem Day rallies are a must for Iranian politicians. Any politician who hopes to establish their credentials has to be seen and heard delivering a tirade against Israel. It confirms their identification with what has become an unshakable tenet of Iran's foreign policy.
        Apart from annual rallies in some Western and Asian capitals, usually organized and financed by Iran, the ritual never took root among Muslims at large. (BBC)
        See also Iran Foreign Ministry Urges Nation to Condemn Peace Talks on Quds Day
    The Iranian Foreign Ministry Thursday called on the Iranian nation to condemn U.S. attempts to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in the Quds Day rallies on Friday. (Fars-Iran)
        See also Days of Zionists Numbered - Syed Zafar Mehdi
    Last year on Quds Day, Iranians waved Palestinian flags and chanted slogans like "Death to Israel and America," "Israel your days are numbered," "Zionism must go" and "From the river to the sea Palestine will be free." Iranian President Ahmadinejad called Israel an "insult to humanity" and said the "Zionist black stain" will soon be washed off. (Press TV-Iran)
  • Obama Phones Abbas, Netanyahu to Keep Up Momentum for Negotiations.
    President Obama spoke separately by phone on Thursday to Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the White House said, as the U.S. seeks to keep up the momentum for peace negotiations. (Reuters)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • 10,000 Islamist Radicals in Golan Opposite Israel-Syria Border - Amos Harel
    According to Brig. Gen. Tamir Haiman, the outgoing commander of the IDF's 36th Division in the Golan Heights, there is a growing enclave of radical Islamic terror on Israel's border with Syria. In the summer of 2012, the most radical of the rebels, described as al-Qaeda-inspired global jihadists, established an enclave in the southern Golan, the largest of three rebel enclaves opposite the Israeli border.
        According to Haiman, the number of global jihadist rebels in the southern Golan has gone from 300 to almost 10,000. "They have a clear set of priorities: toppling the Assad regime and making sharia, religious Muslim law, the law of the land in every location they control. Israel is currently fairly low on their agenda, but who's to say they can't operate simultaneously and target us too?"
        Israel's preparations have included rebuilding the border fence (more than 60 of 84 km. have already been completed), the addition of observation posts and other intelligence-gathering means, and upgrading the quality of Israeli forces deployed along the border. (Ha'aretz)
        See also below Observations: Al-Qaeda's Comeback - Dore Gold (Israel Hayom)
  • Livni: Agreement Reached on Format of Peace Talks - Shlomo Cesana
    The first working meeting of the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams will take place in the second week of August, after the end of Ramadan. The talks will alternate between Jerusalem and Ramallah. The head of the Israeli negotiating team, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, said on Wednesday that agreement had been reached on how the negotiations would be run. (Israel Hayom)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

    Peace Process

  • Ramallah vs. the "Peace Process" - Khaled Abu Toameh
    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's strenuous efforts to resume peace talks between Israel and the PA led two Israeli Arab businessmen to take the initiative and open the first Fox clothing store in the West Bank, with PA permission. After investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovations and the training of employees, the two businessmen soon found themselves at the center of a protest organized by "anti-normalization" activists and journalists. Facing daily threats, including calls for fire-bombing the store, the two entrepreneurs called off the project, which would have provided jobs to nearly 150 Palestinians.
        This incident is an indication of what awaits Abbas if he dares to reach any agreement with Israel. The same "anti-normalization" movement which Abbas supports will be the first to turn against him if he strikes a deal with Israel.
        The U.S. needs to understand that Abbas has failed to prepare his people for the possibility of peace with Israel. Moreover, he is backing campaigns that promote boycotts and hatred of Israel. It is important to talk peace. But it is even more important to educate people about peace - something that neither Yasser Arafat nor Abbas, his successor, have done for the past two decades. (Gatestone Institute)
  • Does John Kerry's Peace Process Have a Chance? - Aaron David Miller
    Neither Abbas nor Netanyahu wants to say no to America's top diplomat and take the blame for the collapse of negotiations. This proved sufficient to get them back to negotiations, but more will be required to keep them there, let alone to reach an accord. Right now, neither has enough incentives, disincentives, and an urgent desire or need to move forward boldly.
        Unfortunately, right now, the U.S. owns this one more than the parties do. This is not an ideal situation. It would have been better had real urgency brought Abbas and Netanyahu together rather than John Kerry. The writer is vice president for new initiatives and a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. (Politico)
  • The Outrage Gap - Gil Troy
    Mahmoud Abbas recently told journalists: "In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli - civilian or soldier - on our lands." Imagine the outrage if Benjamin Netanyahu had said such a thing about Arabs. Yet few mainstream media outlets decided this was news.
        This Outrage Gap, this magical ray that renders Palestinian bigotry and hate-mongering invisible, has perverted the peace process for decades. This outrage gap holds democratic Israel, with all its imperfections, to an impossibly high standard, while rarely holding Palestinians up to even the most minimum standards when it comes to judging their undemocratic procedures, their appalling human rights record, their hostile attitudes toward gays, women, Jews, or any non-Palestinian non-males.
        I hold Palestinian politics and society up to high standards out of respect. Giving Palestinians a free pass, be it when they terrorize or demonize, shows contempt for them, assuming that somehow they cannot live up to basic standards of decency. Just as many critics of Israel insist they are true friends trying to save Israel's soul, true friends of the Palestinians in the West would start by publicizing Abbas' remarks - and then repudiating them as contrary to the kind of country he should be trying to build and the kind of tone he should be trying to set in negotiations. The writer is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Institute research fellow in Jerusalem. (Daily Beast)
  • Time for U.S. to Recognize Western Jerusalem as Israel - Eugene Kontorovich
    In its decision on the lawsuit challenging the U.S. State Department's refusal to write "Israel" on passports of Americans born in Jerusalem, the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia was right as a matter of constitutional law to affirm the president's primacy in recognizing foreign governments. The court stressed that no U.S. government has ever recognized western Jerusalem as part of Israel - or any other country. Thus, the capital of the Jewish state has an absolutely unique status in U.S. law.
        There is no serious question that Jerusalem is as much part of Israel as Ashkelon or Beersheba. American presidents know that. They simply wish to avoid the threatened wrath of the Muslim world that would come from formally acknowledging Israeli sovereignty.
        Secretary of State Kerry is currently shepherding a diplomatic process aimed at securing negotiations that would commit Israel to return "back" to the 1949 Armistice Line, or the 1967 lines, as they are known. Yet the U.S. never fully recognized Israel's sovereign rights within those lines. Before Israel could go "back" to the 1949 lines, America should go "up" to them - recognizing western Jerusalem as the sovereign territory and political capital of the Jewish state. The writer teaches constitutional and international law at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Jerusalem Is Part of Israel - Editorial (Washington Jewish Week)

  • Gaza

  • Signs that Hamas Is Losing Its Grip on Gaza - Ehud Yaari
    Hamas is in the throes of one of its most testing crises ever. Over the past year, all of its major pillars of support have eroded to one degree or another, while internally, the movement is split by acute policy differences. The most painful loss for Hamas came next door in Egypt, where President Morsi was ousted and the group's parent movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, was defeated in the struggle for power. Top Brotherhood figure Khairat al-Shater - a millionaire, now imprisoned - made significant financial donations to the Gaza government, while Morsi allowed Hamas to open offices in Cairo.
        The new authorities in Cairo now treat Hamas as a hostile adversary, accusing it of fomenting rapid security deterioration in the Sinai Peninsula. The Egyptian military has effectively closed hundreds of smuggling tunnels and Egyptian helicopters are gathering intelligence over Gaza's southern sector after receiving a quiet nod from Israel. Meanwhile, the Egyptian media has adopted a fiery anti-Hamas tone.
        Earlier, by siding with the uprising against the Assad regime, Hamas was forced to evacuate its large headquarters in Damascus, while Hizbullah suspended all bilateral military arrangements - including weapons supplies, training, and intelligence exchange.
        Even more devastating for Hamas is its strained relationship with Iran, which for years served as the group's primary financial sponsor and main provider of long-range missiles. Tehran has substantially reduced its monthly subsidy to the Gaza government. Turkey and Qatar have failed to comply fully with their past pledges as well.
        Internally, power is quickly shifting from veteran leaders to the Hamas members released from Israeli jails last year in exchange for hostage Gilad Shalit. The writer is a fellow with The Washington Institute and a Middle East commentator for Israel's Channel Two television. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Closed Tunnels Plunge Hamas into Financial Crisis - Theresa Breuer
    Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, is dependent on Egypt. It smuggles food, building materials - and weapons - through underground tunnels into Gaza. Since the outbreak of unrest in neighboring Egypt, smuggling activity has come to almost a complete standstill. After several attacks by Islamists on army and police posts in Sinai, Egypt sealed off the border indefinitely.
        If the delivery of goods via the tunnels is discontinued, it will also spell financial disaster for Hamas, since taxes on smuggled goods account for 40% of its revenue. Hamas Economy Minister Alaa al-Rafati said, "Gaza has lost around $225 million during the past month due to the halt of imports, namely, fuel and crude materials for construction, such as cement, gravel and steel." He also pointed out that 20,000 Palestinian construction workers have lost their jobs in the wake of the building material shortage. (Der Spiegel-Germany)

  • Other Issues

  • Syria Lies in Pieces and It Will Not Be Fixed - Shashank Joshi
    The Khaldiya district of Homs resembles Stalingrad, gutted and pocked. Its streets are flattened, grey smears of dust and rubble. There are no people. Homs stands between Damascus and Alawite-dominated loyalist enclaves on the coast. This is why Assad threw his best divisions and half of his special forces at the city. Assad is indeed winning where he is fighting, but reports of his impending victory are misleading. He is fighting, meaningfully, only in a narrow strip of Syria, having diluted forces in the north and east.
        This patchwork Syria, torn into fiefdoms, replete with international brigades on both sides, may come to represent the "new normal" in the Levant for a long while yet. The writer is a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. (Telegraph-UK)
  • The Unpleasant Truth about European Anti-Semitism - Gary Rosenblatt
    Anti-Semitism in Europe, often in the guise now of anti-Israel rhetoric and actions, has become too big a problem to ignore or rationalize away. According to recent polls, Israel is considered by Europeans as the most dangerous nation in the world, more of a threat to world peace than Iran or North Korea. Israeli economist and author Manfred Gerstenfeld notes how "Israelis are blamed for whatever measures they take to defend themselves," while "Palestinian responsibility for suicide bombers, murderous missile attacks, glorification of murderers of civilians, and promoting genocide is reduced, at best."
        His new book, Demonizing Israel and the Jews, includes 57 interviews with academics, politicians, journalists and others in Europe, America and Israel who offer testimony of a variety of factors contributing to negative views among Europeans about Jews and Israel. Only Israel among the nations of the world must defend its right to exist, and is the subject of more critical UN resolutions than any other country.
        Ignoring the situation won't make it go away. Increased attention to the problem, a calm recitation of the facts, and efforts to educate the population are a start on the long path toward righting an awful wrong. (New York Jewish Week)
  • Why Europe Is an Enemy of Israel - Guy Milliere
    Today, hatred of Israel is one of the most shared and prominent feelings in Europe. Any terrorist attack against Israel is almost unanimously described as a fruit of the "cycle of violence" and of "Israeli intransigence," never mind that it is actually the Palestinians who historically have been intransigent. An Israeli response to a terrorist attack is immediately criticized by European diplomats as "disproportionate." A Palestinian attack is never criticized at all.
        When the "Palestinian cause" appeared, it immediately became a sacred cause in Europe, never mind what sort of values or governance it espoused. When it seemed possible to accuse Jews of "behaving like Nazis," the opportunity was not missed. The writer is a professor at the University of Paris. (Gatestone Institute)

  • Weekend Features

  • More Israeli Arabs Signing Up for National Service - Daniel Siryoti
    There has been an upsurge in young Israeli Arabs interested in national service. Fire-fighting, working as medical assistants, or helping social workers are among the most sought after roles for young Arabs. Zeidan Baha, 18, a Muslim from Jish, was seriously injured in a car accident. His life was saved by the fire and rescue services who extricated him from his vehicle. A year after his injury Baha joined the Acre fire station as a national service volunteer.
        Amal Abbas, 23, a Muslim woman from Jadeidi-Makr, has been working as a medical secretary in the Maccabi Health Fund for the past seven months. She said, "When I finish my year of service, I will be able to restart my life as an adult with a more promising future. I always recommend to women I meet that they volunteer for national service because it opens doors to life in Israel."
        Anet Haskia is a Muslim Israeli Arab with three children who have served in the IDF. Her two sons are combat soldiers and her daughter serves in the Education Corps. "I am an Arab Muslim and a proud Israeli," Haskia wrote. "As a social activist for the full integration of Israeli Arabs into the State of is clear that serving in the IDF and serving in national-civic service is a basic component of the Israeli melting pot." "My children get equal treatment in the army and they have not encountered racism or discrimination....This is true integration into society, in the only country in the Middle East that provides genuine human and civil rights."  (Israel Hayom)
        See also Some Israeli Arab Schools Refuse to Accept Arab National Service Volunteers - Shlomo Cesana
    While there has been a significant rise in the number of Israeli Arab volunteers within the national service program, some Arab schools in Israel are refusing to accept Arab national service volunteers, including all schools in Nazareth. There are now more than 3,000 Israeli Arab volunteers, and on Sunday the cabinet approved a goal to have 6,000 volunteers in national service by 2017. (Israel Hayom)
  • Webydo's Success - Richard Behar
    A unique outfit called Webydo (based in Tel Aviv, and with an office in New Jersey) is enabling professional graphic designers to create websites cheaper and faster. Founders Shmulik Grizim and Tzvika Steinmetz sought to build a powerful code-generator that could convert any graphic design into a functioning website that's also fairly easy to update and manage by the designers themselves - or their clients. In 2012, they released the first version of their new technology. It was an instant hit. Today, 10,000 designers (mainly the U.S.) have created more than 60,000 websites using this online software.
        Webydo's first investor is an Israeli-Arab, Hisham Adnan Raya, who made a small fortune building homes in Israel's north. His accountant suggested he diversify some of his profits and introduced him to the men behind Webydo. The three men have since become close friends, taking holidays together and hanging out in Raya's lavish home in the Arab town of Sakhnin. He says that Israeli-Arab politics simply doesn't interest him. "In general," he says, "if people are intelligent and hardworking, they tend to get along." "At the end of the day, if you want to make money, you have to work with Jews, and with everybody."  (Forbes)

Al-Qaeda's Comeback - Dore Gold (Israel Hayom)

  • A coordinated attack by Al-Qaeda's Iraqi affiliate against two high security prisons led to the escape of at least 500 Al-Qaeda members. Over 1,000 Iraqis were killed in May, the highest number in five years. The New York Times ran an editorial on July 29 which conclued that the "attacks showed the fearsome and growing strength" of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
  • According to Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution, who served for years as a CIA analyst on the Middle East, Al-Qaeda in Iraq set up Jabhat al-Nusra La'al al-Sham (the Assistance Front to the Residents of Greater Syria, known as the Al-Nusra Front) as its Syrian affiliate. The Al-Nusra Front quickly became the leading military force fighting the Assad regime, responsible for the most daring bombing attacks in the heart of Damascus.
  • There are important implications for Israel that come from Al-Qaeda in Iraq reconstituting its power. First, since it was formed, Al-Qaeda in Iraq has been a direct threat to Jordan. In November 2005, it attacked three Jordanian hotels in Amman, killing nearly 60 people.
  • Second, the revival of jihadist organizations in Syria, like the Al-Nusra Front, can evolve into a challenge for Israel. In a speech to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on June 18, Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon, head of the IDF Central Command, explained that part of his mission was to make sure that the Al-Nusra Front did not go through Jordan and enter the West Bank.
  • A book in Arabic outlining the plan of action of the Al-Nusra Front, called The Regional War Strategy for the Land of the Levant, stresses that "Syria is the key to a change in the Levant, including in occupied Palestine, and the Levant is the key to change in the Arab world and afterwards the Islamic world."
  • The return of Al-Qaeda is just another reminder of how the security environment along Israel's borders can rapidly change. Anyone who delivered a eulogy for Al-Qaeda in the Middle East has been proven wrong by recent developments.

    The writer, a former Israeli UN ambassador, is president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
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