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  DAILY ALERT Tuesday,
September 10, 2013

In-Depth Issues:

Polls: U.S. Opposition to Syria Strikes Increasing - Aaron Blake (Washington Post)
    Two new polls show U.S. public opinion increasingly opposed to the White House push for military action in Syria.
    According to a CNN/Opinion Research poll, 59% say Congress should vote against a "use of force" resolution.
    A USA Today/Pew Research Center poll shows opposition to the use of force increasing from 48% last week to 63% today.

Dismantling Syria Chemical Weapons Arsenal Could Take Years - Phil Stewart (Reuters)
    Any deal with Syria to hand over its chemical weapons in the middle of a civil war would be difficult for inspectors to enforce and destroying them would likely take years, U.S. officials and experts caution.
    Syria's chemical arms cache is believed to be spread over dozens of locations and it would be difficult to shield arms inspectors from violence.
    Brig.-Gen. Mustafa al-Sheikh, a Syrian army defector, said that most of the chemical weapons have been transported to Alawite areas in Latakia and near the coast, though some chemical munitions remain in bases around Damascus.

How Assad Could Win without Chemical Weapons - Avi Issacharoff (Times of Israel)
    If Assad agrees to Moscow's suggestion to hand over the chemical weapons he has, not only could he avoid a U.S. military strike, he'll also preserve the current situation in Syria, which gives him and his army an advantage over the disorganized and fragmented opposition.
    Over the past year Assad has used chemical weapons around 13 times, mainly for tactical reasons - like conquering an area and clearing it of opposition fighters and local population.
    The incident outside Damascus on Aug. 21 was an exception. Assad can reach similar results using conventional weapons alone.

Israeli Archeologists Strike Gold at Temple Mount - Daniel K. Eisenbud (Jerusalem Post)
    Hebrew University archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar on Monday unveiled the "Ophel Treasure," a collection of 36 gold and silver coins, and a large gold medallion believed to date back to 614 CE, unearthed 50 meters from the Temple Mount's southern wall, where she has directed the "Ophel Excavation" since 2009.
    The 10 cm. medallion was engraved with a seven-branched menorah, shofar and Torah scroll.
    "It was buried in a small depression in the floor, along with a smaller gold medallion, two pendants, a gold coil and a silver clasp - all of which are believed to be Torah scroll ornaments," she said.
    "The 36 gold coins can be dated to the reigns of different Byzantine emperors, ranging from the middle of the 4th century CE to the early 7th century CE," said Lior Dandberg, a numismatics specialist at the Institute of Archeology.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Obama Calls Russian Offer on Syrian Chemical Weapons a Possible "Breakthrough" - Michael R. Gordon and Steven Lee Myers
    President Obama called a proposal by Russia on Monday to avert a U.S. military strike on Syria over chemical weapons use "a potentially positive development," but said he would continue to press for military action to keep the pressure up. "It's possible, if it's real," the president said of the Russian proposal that Syria put its stockpiles of chemical weapons under international supervision and eventually destroy them. (New York Times)
        See also Obama Push to Hit Syria Takes Detour - Carole E. Lee and Janet Hook (Wall Street Journal)
  • 1967 Lines a Source of Strain in Israeli-Palestinian Talks - Jodi Rudoren
    Signs of strain emerged Monday around the nascent Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, as a senior Palestinian official said Secretary of State John Kerry had "guaranteed us in writing" that negotiations would start from the 1967 lines, and American officials suggested he was not telling the truth. Nabil Shaath said the Palestinians had agreed to enter the talks only because of the guarantee, but American officials denied there was such a document. (New York Times)
  • Egyptian Tanks, Helicopters Push through Sinai - Maggie Michael and Ashraf Sweilam
    Egyptian troops and tanks backed by helicopter gunships swept through villages in northern Sinai near the border with Gaza on Monday, the third day of a major offensive against Islamic extremists, a military official said. So far, 20 suspected militants have been killed and 20 captured in the operation. Mustafa Hegazy, a political adviser to Egypt's interim president, told the Egyptian TV station Al-Hayat that under Morsi's rule, the number of militants in Sinai had jumped to 7,000.
        On Sunday, Ansar Jerusalem, an al-Qaeda-inspired militant group, claimed responsibility for last week's failed assassination attempt on Egyptian Interior Minister Gen. Mohammed Ibrahim, describing the Cairo attack as a "suicide" car bomb. (AP)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel: Egypt Fighting Serious Battle Against Sinai Terror - Gili Cohen
    Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, the head of the Israel Defense Ministry's diplomatic-security bureau, told a conference at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya on Sunday that the Egyptian military is now waging a determined battle against terrorism in Sinai, sparked by Islamic militants' attacks on Egyptian forces.
        "Israel is not connected to this struggle, which stems from internal conclusions that have been made by the Egyptians. It was once possible to smuggle Iranian weapons in Sinai to Hamas, but today it is very difficult to do that," he said. "It is very important that the Egyptians are carrying out a broad campaign against terror, and what they are doing is impressive."  (Ha'aretz)
        See also Amos Gilad: Strong Arab Sunni Bloc Doesn't See Israel as Enemy - Yaakov Lappin
    A powerful Middle Eastern axis of Sunni states has taken form in the region, which "does not view Israel as a sworn enemy" and has successfully kept extremist jihadi terrorism at bay," Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad said Sunday. Gilad described Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as a leader whom "history will remember," noting that the Muslim Brotherhood has not swerved from its ideological commitment to Israel's destruction and to toppling all of the region's regimes. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Palestinians Urge EU to Stick with Settlement Boycott - Elhanan Miller
    Palestinian officials expressed concern on Monday that the EU would rescind its policy of banning cooperation with Israeli entities located beyond the pre-1967 lines. The EU dispatched a team to Israel this week in an effort to assuage concerns over its funding ban. PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi confirmed that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was pressuring the EU to revoke, postpone, or "water down" an EU decision on the matter. (Times of Israel)
  • IDF Sees Increase in West Bank Terror Cells - Yaakov Lappin
    The past year has seen an increase in planning and setting up cells for terror attacks in the West Bank, Binyamin Regional Brigade Commander Col. Yossi Pinto said Monday. "There is a rise in the quality of the infrastructure and the planning [of terror attacks]."  (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Are Non-Al-Qaeda Syrian Rebels "Moderate"? - Jonathan Spyer
    The main element of the so-called "moderate" bloc among the Syrian rebels is the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front, whose 20 constituent units are loyal to the Western-supported Supreme Military Council (SMC), headed by former Syrian Army Major General Salim Idris. All of its units pledge allegiance to some form of Sunni Islamism.
        The Americans are being told by pro-rebel mouthpieces that these Muslim Brotherhood-oriented militias are "moderate" and "democratic." In reality, they resemble Morsi and Hamas. (GLORIA Center-IDC-Herzliya)
  • Syrian Measures to Mitigate the Effects of a U.S. Strike - Jeffrey White
    The Assad regime is instituting passive defensive measures to protect high-value assets and forces from outside military action. Such measures include dispersing key units, moving headquarters to densely populated civilian areas, and concealing weapons systems. By the time a U.S. strike takes place - if it actually does - the Syrian regime will have had several weeks to prepare its defenses.
        The regime likely hopes that passive defensive measures can reduce the direct effects of a strike, make the U.S. appear weak and ineffectual, and produce civilian casualties and other collateral damage that could be exploited for propaganda purposes. Although passive defensive measures cannot defeat a U.S. strike, they could reduce its effectiveness and complicate its execution. The writer, a defense fellow at The Washington Institute, is a former senior defense intelligence officer. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Manufacturing and Exploiting Compassion: Abuse of the Media by Palestinian Propaganda - Philippe Assouline
    In the struggle for hearts and minds, feelings trump facts. Imagery and accusations that automatically trigger public compassion are incomparably more compelling than dry, defensive argumentation. We are "wired" by evolution to support those we perceive as innocent victims in distress, even when the facts do not mandate such support.
        The portrayal of Palestinians as innocent victims in distress has been the key to Palestinian propaganda's popular success. Through the mass-production of heartrending imagery centered on children, staged "news," manipulative rhetoric, and rigid censorship, Palestinian propaganda has successfully used the media to recast Palestinians as entirely blameless victims. Israel must fight Palestinian propaganda's exploitation of public compassion with a touching but morally correct narrative of its own. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

Syria's Chemical Weapons - The Terrorism Threat (International Institute for Counter-Terrorism-IDC Herzliya)

  • Syria has one of the largest chemical weapons arsenals, including traditional chemical agents, such as mustard, and more modern agents, such as sarin, and persistent nerve agents, such as VX. Syria has accumulated a stockpile of approximately 1,000 tons of chemical weapons.
  • Since 2009 Syria has been amassing a larger chemical weapons arsenal and engineering more complex chemical compounds.
  • Syria has a variety of platforms it can use to deliver its chemical weapons including aerial bombs, artillery shells and rockets, and ballistic missiles.
  • Much of Syria's chemical weapons designed for large-scale military use are binary, or stored as two separate ingredients that must be combined before lethal use, making it hard for its detonation by non-professional elements.
  • Besides the use of chemical warfare by the Syrian government, there is a real and immediate threat that chemical weapons, agents or precursors could fall into the hands of terrorist organizations, be it Hizbullah, pro-Syrian Palestinian organizations, the Free Syrian Army and its local units or the various Islamist and jihadist factions like Jabhat al-Nusra.
  • Al Arabiya TV reported on May 4, 2013, that, according to a Free Syrian Army spokesperson, Hizbullah, along with forces loyal to the Syrian president, used mustard-gas artillery shells during the fighting around the strategic town of al-Qusayr.

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