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by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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  DAILY ALERT Wednesday,
August 28, 2013

In-Depth Issues:

Israel Braces for Fallout from U.S. Attack in Syria - Joshua Mitnick (Wall Street Journal)
    Israel braced for fallout from a potential U.S. attack in Syria, as Prime Minister Netanyahu held special consultations with defense chiefs and cabinet ministers on the Syria war at its border.
    Israeli security experts assess the prospect of Syria retaliating against Israel in the wake of any U.S. attack is low because Assad is fully engaged in battling rebels.
    Netanyahu reiterated Tuesday: "If we detect any sort of attempt to attack us, we will respond, and respond forcefully.''
    Former chief of Israeli military intelligence Amos Yadlin told Israel Radio: "Until Bashar Assad thinks his regime is facing a collapse from an American attack - and I don't foresee one on such a scale - the chance of him trying to involve Israel is very low....[Yet] we still need to prepare for that possibility.''

For Israel, U.S. Response on Syria May Be Harbinger on Iran - Ben Sales (JTA)
    In Jerusalem, Washington's resolve in Syria is seen as a crucial litmus test for its readiness to confront Iran over unconventional weapons.
    Eyal Zisser, a senior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, believes "the U.S. [will] do something, but it will be something symbolic."
    "I don't see American interest in a complex intervention, war or sending forces. They need to do something, but not something deep."

Israel's Efforts to Normalize Relations with Turkey Falter - Shlomo Cesana (Israel Hayom)
    Israeli government officials have signaled that Israel's efforts to normalize its diplomatic relations with Turkey have failed, even after Prime Minister Netanyahu apologized for the deaths of Turkish citizens during the Marmara incident in 2010.
    The two issues that caused talks between the two countries to deadlock were the amount of compensation the Turkish victims' families would be paid and the very definition of the restitution payment. Turkey insisted on calling the payments "punitive damages" and not "compensation."

In Egypt's Sinai, Rising Militancy Threatens Peacekeeping Force - Ernesto Londono (Washington Post)
    A dramatic rise in militancy and violence in the Sinai desert is increasingly threatening a peacekeeping force there that includes nearly 700 U.S. troops acting as guarantors of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
    Heavily armed locals have blockaded bases and convoys of the Multinational Force and Observers, and, in a few instances, launched attacks against the peacekeepers, raising concerns about the long-term stability of their mission.
    The peacekeeping force, which includes American, Colombian, Fijian and Uruguayan troops, operates out of two main bases and a network of 30 small outposts.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S., Allies Prepare to Act as Syria Intelligence Mounts - Adam Entous, Sam Dagher and Siobhan Gorman
    U.S. officials said a flood of previously undisclosed intelligence, including satellite images and intercepted communications, erased any administration doubts that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons against its own people. One crucial piece of evidence came from Israeli spy services, which provided the CIA with intelligence from inside an elite Syrian unit that oversees Assad's chemical weapons, Arab diplomats said. The intelligence, which the CIA was able to verify, showed that certain types of chemical weapons were moved in advance to the same Damascus suburbs where the attack took place a week ago.
        The Pentagon and the CIA have focused on tracking special Syrian forces that control the country's chemical stocks, using spy satellites and allied spy networks on the ground. That tracking effort, aided by Israeli and Jordanian agents, expanded in recent months. (Wall Street Journal)
  • U.S.: Intercepted Calls Prove Syrian Army Used Nerve Gas - Noah Shachtman
    Last Wednesday, hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike. Those conversations were overheard by U.S. intelligence services, and that is the major reason why American officials now say they're certain that the attacks were the work of the Assad regime. But it is unclear whether the attack on Aug. 21 was the work of a Syrian officer overstepping his bounds or explicitly directed by senior members of the Assad regime. (Foreign Policy)
        See also IDF Intercepted Syrian Regime Chatter on Chemical Attack - Adiv Sterman
    An IDF intelligence unit listened in on senior Syrian officials discussing a chemical attack on the outskirts of Damascus that left hundreds of Syrian civilians dead last Wednesday, the German magazine Focus reported Saturday. The report, which cited an ex-Mossad official, said the intercepted conversation proved that the Assad regime was responsible for the use of nonconventional weapons. (Times of Israel)
  • Obama Weighs "Limited" Strikes Against Syrian Forces - Thom Shanker, C.J. Chivers and Michael R. Gordon
    President Obama is considering military action against Syria that is intended to "deter and degrade" President Assad's ability to launch chemical weapons, but is not aimed at ousting Assad from power, administration officials said Tuesday. A wide range of officials characterized the action under consideration as "limited" strikes aimed at military units that have carried out chemical attacks, the headquarters overseeing the effort, and the rockets and artillery that have launched the attacks. The goal of the operation is "not about regime change," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Tuesday. (New York Times)
        See also Britain, France Weigh Joining U.S. in Possible Strikes Against Syria - Anthony Faiola and Loveday Morris
    British forces are drawing up contingency plans for a "proportionate" response to a chemical weapons attack in Syria, the prime minister's office said Tuesday, while France said it is ready to "punish" those responsible, raising the possibility that the European nations could join a possible U.S.-led military strike. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the BBC that U.S. forces are "ready to go," and reiterated that the U.S. wants to work "in concert" with the international community. (Washington Post)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Syria Said to Clear Out Security Installations Ahead of Attack - Michal Shmulovich
    Al-Arabiya reported Wednesday that Syria was abandoning command centers and government security offices that it suspects will be targeted in Western airstrikes. New facilities were being set up in secret locations, some of which were reportedly in schools. (Times of Israel)
  • Norway: World Will Not Bankroll Palestinian State-Building Forever - Herb Keinon
    "Donors will not be ready to keep funding Palestinian state-building much longer if we are not seeing a political horizon," Norway's Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide told the Jerusalem Post Tuesday. Norway heads the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, the international donors group.
        "I think this is important for the Palestinians to know, because if anyone there thought they could sort of just fall back to the comfort of an internationally subsidized state-building endeavor, that may be wrong," he said. "And I think that it is important for some people on the Israeli know that this cannot continue forever."
        The Norwegian foreign minister stressed that the release of 26 Palestinian terrorists was a "very important and very difficult concession which I know was hard to make." He added: "I also think that the Palestinians must now be ready to make some concessions, first and foremost on contributing a sense of security for the people of Israel."  (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Questions on Syria for the U.S. and its Allies - James Blitz
    In the aftermath of a chemical weapons attack on the eastern suburbs of Damascus, the U.S. is clearly contemplating military action. Many military experts suggest a one-off intervention by the U.S. and its allies which signals that they will not tolerate the continued use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in this conflict.
        Brig.-Gen. Mike Herzog, a former senior figure in Israel's Ministry of Defense, says the U.S. should conduct what he calls a "stand-off air strike" on a Syrian military establishment. "You could target airfields, air assets, helicopters. Hitting any of these in a single strike would do a lot of damage. If it is big enough Assad will take notice. It could deter Assad from allowing chemical weapons to be used in this way again."
        Failure to take any meaningful action would give the Assad regime the green light to use chemical weapons attacks on civilian population with even greater impunity. (Financial Times-UK)
  • The Poison Gas War on the Syrian People - Hans Hoyng and Christoph Reuter
    What happened last Wednesday in the suburbs of Damascus was mass murder, a crime against humanity that is outlawed for good reason. Poison gas doesn't just target soldiers, it affects civilians, including women and children - giving them no opportunity to defend themselves or flee.
        One of the rockets, which struck near the town of Zamalka, left no crater and remained largely intact. It was the same type of rocket that had been used in earlier presumed chemical attacks. Rescuers later pulled only dead bodies out of undamaged houses near the impact site. Barns contained dead chickens and in the gardens, dead sheep.
        A volunteer from Douma had already taken 13 wounded and dead victims to the hospital in his pickup truck when he too collapsed. "I was wearing a gas mask, but I didn't know that skin contact can also be deadly. Men wearing gloves tore off my clothes, hosed the others and me down with the hose from a fire truck, and gave us atropine injections. I was unconscious for an hour."
        According to a general in Syrian intelligence who fled to Jordan a few months ago, the Wednesday gas attack "happened for internal reasons. For weeks, the rebels have threatened Assad's home province of Latakia, where they have captured several villages....Many of the irregular fighters, which the government has used instead of the army, are Alawites from the region. Now they're going back to protect their villages." According to the general, the gas attack helped the regime hold the thinned-out front around Damascus. (Der Spiegel-Germany)
  • Rouhani Picks a "Moderate" Nuclear Negotiating Team - Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall
    Iran's new president Hassan Rouhani has been making major changes in the institutions and officials dealing with Iran's nuclear program and nuclear negotiations as part of Iran's preparations for renewed talks with the West. The aim is to give the West an appearance of seriousness and moderation in opening yet another round of talks. As Iran seeks to gain time for more rounds of talks with the West, it will demand concessions and compensation for any willingness to compromise on the quantity of 20-percent-enriched uranium it possesses. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

Choosing the Right Options in Syria - Anthony H. Cordesman (Center for Strategic and International Studies)

  • Even if the U.S. does intervene militarily in Syria, the time window for its best option has already passed. The U.S. did not intervene when the rebels were strongest, the Assad regime most fragile, and limited U.S. support to the then dominant moderate rebel factions might well have pushed Assad out of power without dividing Syria along sectarian and ethnic lines.
  • Assad is now far stronger and the rebels are fractured and have strong Sunni Islamist extremist elements. This means there is no way the U.S. can quickly use any amount of force to destroy the Assad regime with any confidence that Syria will not come under Sunni Islamist extremist control.
  • The U.S. has also chosen the wrong red line. The key challenge in Syria is scarcely to end the use of chemical weapons. The real challenge is some 120,000 dead, another 200,000-plus wounded, and as many as 20% of its 22.5 million people have been displaced inside the country or are living outside it as refugees.
  • If the U.S. is to intervene in Syria, its options must have some strategic meaning and a chance of producing lasting success. They must have a reasonable chance of bringing stability to Syria, of limiting the growth of Iranian and Hizbullah influence, of halting the spillover of the Syrian struggle into nearby states, and helping to deal with the broader humanitarian crisis.
  • There is no point in fighting a war against chemical weapons. There is no point in U.S. military symbolism or massive unilateral military action. There is a point in trying to use force to end the suffering, the fighting, and repression - and serve our national interest while we meet the needs of the Syrian people and our allies.

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