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September 27, 2013

In-Depth Issues:

Largest Syrian Rebel Groups Reject Moderate Leadership - Liz Sly and Karen DeYoung (Washington Post)
    On Wednesday, 11 of the biggest armed rebel factions in Syria repudiated the Western-backed opposition coalition and announced the formation of a new alliance dedicated to creating an Islamic state.
    The al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., is the lead signatory of the new group.
    The formation of the "Islamist Alliance," which claims to represent 75% of the rebels, is expected will complicate U.S. efforts to provide lethal aid to "moderate" rebels.
    See also A New Islamist Alliance among Syria's Rebels - Daniel Nisman (Wall Street Journal Europe)
    The creation of the Islamic Alliance has the potential to make anti-Assad moderates extinct.
    The Alliance is a potent concoction of some of the most popular and combat-effective units, which have united under a dangerously anti-Western banner - a merger of the moderate-Islamist stream and the Salafist stream.
    While numbering 30-40% of Syria's rebels, their units are among the most well-trained, organized and combat-effective.

Hizbullah's Role in the Syrian Civil War (Reuters)
    Security officials in the region say there are now 2,000-4,000 Hizbullah fighters, experts and reservists in Syria.
    One Lebanese security official said a central command in Iran led by the Revolutionary Guards directs Hizbullah operations in Syria in close coordination with the Syrian authorities.
    Another source said Hizbullah had "hit squads" in Syria whose task is to assassinate military leaders among the Sunni rebels.
    Sheikh Subhi al-Tufayli, who led Hizbullah from 1989 to 1991, said the decision to intervene in Syria was Iranian. "The alternative would have been a confrontation with the Iranians."
    Hizbullah's main task is to prevent Sunni jihadis linked to al-Qaeda, such as the al-Nusra Front, from entering the heart of Damascus, said one military observer.

Egypt Warns Hamas over Sinai Border (Reuters)
    "If we feel that there are parties in Hamas or other parties trying to violate Egyptian national security, our response will be severe," Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy told the London-based al-Hayat, increasing tension over what Cairo says is support from Gaza for Islamist militants operating in the Sinai Peninsula.
    Egypt's army says militants from Hamas-run Gaza have staged joint attacks with hardline Islamists in northern Sinai.

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Israeli Security Units May Be Asked to Protect Jewish Hubs in India - Mateen Hafeez (Times of India)
    Besides increasing security at Jewish establishments in the city, the anti-terrorism squad (ATS) and Mumbai police are now trying to rope in Israeli agencies to provide cover to the institutions facing terror threat.

Israeli Scientists Develop Springy Fibers to Mend Hearts - Ben Coxworth (gizmag)
    When a heart attack occurs, the resulting dead heart tissue is replaced with scar tissue that's incapable of expanding and contracting, leaving the victim with a permanently weakened heart.
    Scientists at Tel Aviv University are seeking to replace the dead tissue with lab-grown tissue created using springy fibers to enable it to expand and contract.
    The scientists noticed that the extracellular matrix fibers in the hearts of rats were actually spiral-shaped, and set about creating artificial versions of those fibers, using electrospinning techniques to create what looked like tiny telephone handset cords.
    Tissue made by seeding those curly fibers with cardiac cells was found to outperform tissue grown with straight fibers, when it came to functioning like natural heart tissue.

Israeli Maternal Health Videos a Big Hit in Arab World - Yaron Kelner (Ynet News)
    Six months ago, Clalit Health Services, an Israeli health maintenance organization, uploaded a series of YouTube training videos in Arabic for the Israeli Arab community on breastfeeding, pregnancy monitoring, early detection of diseases, preparation for routine checkups and physical therapy.
    Recently, Clalit officials discovered that out of 1.1 million views, only 45,000 were from Israel, while the rest were from neighboring Arab countries.
    Saudi Arabia lead with 560,166 views, followed by Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Algeria, and Jordan.

The CuBox-I, Israel's $45 PC Marvel - David Shamah (Times of Israel)
    SolidRun, a start-up headed by two Israeli Arabs, has developed a $45 PC that can do almost anything a full-size PC can do - with all design and manufacturing done in Israel.
    The CuBox-I weighs 91 grams (0.2 lb), with a size of 2x2x2 inches and is especially useful to commercial users who want to stream music or video to TVs for displays.
    "Our goal is to supply anyone, anywhere, who needs one with a low-cost, high-capability computer that has a low carbon footprint and can do just about anything the average person would need," said Kossay Omary, CEO of SolidRun.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Iran: CNN "Fabricated" Rouhani Translation on Holocaust - Jessica Chasmar
    A CNN interview with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani quickly made international headlines after the new president reportedly recognized the Holocaust. On's home page Wednesday, the main headline for Christiane Amanpour's interview with Rouhani read, "Iran's New President: Yes, the Holocaust Happened." However, the semi-official Iranian FARS News Agency said Wednesday the report is "fabricated." CNN "added to or changed parts of his remarks when Christiane Amanpour asked him about the Holocaust," FARS said. FARS said the word "Holocaust" and the statement "Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews, we condemn" are the "worst parts of the fabrications."  (Washington Times)
        See also Iranian President Softens Condemnation of Holocaust - Rick Gladstone
    When President Hassan Rouhani of Iran was asked again on Thursday to state his stand on the Holocaust, he said: "We condemn the crimes by the Nazis during World War II," but added that many people had been killed, including "a group of Jewish people."  (New York Times)
        See also below Commentary: Holocaust Denial in Translation - Editorial (Wall Street Journal)
  • Kerry: Deal Possible Quickly If Iran Forthcoming - Scott Pelley
    Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview:
    Q: Give me an example, one concrete step, one thing that they [the Iranians] can do to assure the world that they're giving up their ambitions.
    Kerry: "They could immediately open up the inspection of the Fordow facility - a secret facility and underground in the mountains, fortified and unquestionably not something that a peaceful program would be doing. They could immediately sign the additional protocols of the international community regarding inspections. They could offer to cease voluntarily to take enrichment above a certain level, keep it at a very low level because there's no need to have it at a higher level for a peaceful program."
        "Providing that the Iranians take concrete steps, I'm confident they would have an expectation that the United States is going to respond by perhaps adjusting the sanctions regime....The United States is not going to lift the sanctions until it is clear that a very verifiable, accountable, transparent process is in place, whereby we know exactly what Iran is going to be doing with its program."
    Q: Rouhani said he'd like to have a deal in three to six months. Is that possible?
    Kerry: "Sure, it's possible. It's possible to have a deal sooner than that."  (CBS News)
        See also Iran, U.S. Launch Nuclear Talks - Laurence Norman and Jay Solomon
    The U.S. and Iran held their highest-level talks in 36 years on Thursday, in what some officials present described as a substantial meeting over Tehran's nuclear program. Secretary of State John Kerry met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in the UN Security Council's consultation chamber. They were joined by the foreign ministers of the UK, France, Russia, China and Germany. Both sides agreed to hold more detailed discussions on Oct. 15 and 16 in Geneva and discussed the possibility of a one-year time frame with which to resolve the issue. (Wall Street Journal)
  • U.S., Russia Agree on Syria UN Chemical Arms Measure - Joe Lauria
    The five permanent members of the UN Security Council agreed Thursday to a draft resolution that requires the Syrian government to surrender its chemical weapons, but in a concession to Russia makes no threat of enforcement. The resolution would implement a U.S.-Russian deal on the destruction of the Syrian arsenal by the middle of next year. In another concession to Russia, the resolution doesn't blame the Syrian government for the Aug. 21 chemical-weapons attack outside Damascus. (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Most of Syria's Toxins Can Be Destroyed More Easily than Initially Thought - Joby Warrick
    U.S. and Russian officials now believe that the vast majority of Syria's nerve agent stockpile consists of "unweaponized" liquid precursors that could be neutralized relatively quickly, lowering the risk that the toxins could be hidden away by the regime or stolen by terrorists. A confidential assessment by the U.S. and Russia also concludes that Syria's entire arsenal could be destroyed in about nine months.
        In private briefings, White House officials said analysts had concluded that Syria possesses more than 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, of which about 300 tons are sulfur mustard, the blister agent used in World War I. Nearly all of the remainder consists of chemical precursors of nerve agents in "liquid bulk" form. Weapons experts noted that it is far easier to destroy precursor chemicals than battlefield-ready liquid sarin or warheads already loaded with the toxin.
        The U.S. prefers to remove all chemical weapons from Syria as quickly as possible, while Russia wants the weapons destroyed on Syrian soil. A senior Russian official said Thursday in Moscow that Russia was prepared to provide troops to guard the chemicals as they are being destroyed. (Washington Post)
  • U.S. Seeks to Intensify Involvement in Israeli-Palestinian Talks - Anne Gearan
    Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday regarding the Israeli-Palestinian talks, "We have agreed now to intensify these talks, and we have agreed that the American participation should be increased somewhat in order to try to help facilitate" discussions. Kerry also said Wednesday, "We are not seeking an interim agreement; we are seeking a final status agreement."  (Washington Post)
        See also Quartet Reveals Economic Plan for Mideast Peace
    The Middle East Quartet published a plan Thursday to revive the ailing Palestinian economy, in an effort to support peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The three-year "Palestinian Economic Initiative" would focus on private sector growth. Key sectors targeted for development include construction and building materials, agriculture, energy and water, and tourism. (AFP)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israeli Minister: Don't Stop Sanctions on Iran - Tovah Lazaroff
    Israeli Home Front Minister Gilad Erdan said Wednesday: "The worst thing would be to stop the sanctions" on Iran. Israel is not opposed to diplomacy, said Erdan, but warned that Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, wants to lull the West into believing that negotiations can eliminate the threat of his country's nuclear weapons program - even as Iran continues to build such weapons. "What we see since he was elected is not only that nothing stopped, but exactly the opposite: They got better centrifuges that work faster."
        "The guy who decides everything is [Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah] Khamenei, and he [Rouhani] is the pretty face that Iran is sending." A few days before heading to the UN, Rouhani participated in a military march in which missiles on trucks bore words about destroying Israel, Erdan said.
        Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with President Barack Obama in Washington on Monday and address the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Charm Offensive? Hostile Iranian Messages on the Eve of Rouhani's UN Visit (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Israeli Minister: Abbas UN Speech "Was Not a Speech of Peace" - Rebecca Shimoni Stoil
    Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, responding to PA President Abbas' UN speech, said "the speech was not a speech of peace. Instead of condemning terror, it condemns those who struggle against terror....Instead of recognizing Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, he speaks about the establishment of Israel as a tragedy."
        Steinitz accused the Palestinian leader of "lying to the world when he said that in 1948 and in 1967, Israel attacked the Palestinians when in fact, the opposite was true." Steinitz, who was not present for Abbas' speech Thursday, rejected accusations that the Israeli delegation had boycotted the address, saying that the Jewish holiday of Simhat Torah had taken precedence. (Times of Israel)
  • Hamas, Islamic Jihad Call for a Third Intifada - Khaled Abu Toamh
    Palestinian groups called for launching a third intifada against Israel in protest against visits by Jewish groups to the Temple Mount. Hamas' armed wing, Izaddin Kassam, also threatened to resume suicide bombings against Israel. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Despite Apology, Turkey Blocking Israel-NATO Cooperation - Herb Keinon
    Six months after Israel's apology to Turkey for the Mavi Marmara incident, Ankara continues to completely block any NATO cooperation with Israel, Greece's Ambassador Spiros Lampridis told the Jerusalem Post. Turkey has adamantly opposed Israeli involvement in any NATO programs, he said, including joint exercises, intelligence exchanges, and research and technological development programs. "We were hoping that after the arrangement between Netanyahu and Erdogan in the spring, Turkey would pull back a little and allow some of the programs," he said. "But there is nothing."
        Lampridis said he was surprised by the continued Turkish opposition, especially since every week hundreds of Turkish trucks arrive via ferry to Haifa, carrying millions of dollars worth of goods to Jordan and onward to the Gulf. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):


  • Holocaust Denial in Translation - Editorial
    According to CNN's translation of Rouhani's remarks, the Iranian president insisted that "whatever criminality they [the Nazis] committed against the Jews, we condemn." Yet as Iran's semi-official news agency Fars pointed out, Rouhani never uttered anything approximating those words. Nor, contrary to the CNN version, did he utter the word "Holocaust." Instead, he spoke about "historical events." Our independent translation of Rouhani's comments confirms that Fars, not CNN, got the Farsi [Persian] right.
        Rouhani insisted that "I am not a history scholar," and that "clarification of these aspects is a duty of the historians and researchers." Pretending that the facts of the Holocaust are a matter of serious historical dispute is a classic rhetorical evasion. Holocaust deniers commonly acknowledge that Jews were killed by the Nazis while insisting that the number of Jewish victims was relatively small and that there was no systematic effort to wipe them out. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Netanyahu Must Urge a Suspension of Iran's Nuclear Program - Ari Shavit
    The last decade's diplomacy has failed, the recent years' sanctions have failed and Iran is very close to its goal. Iran has crossed every red line the world has put before it since 2010 - and the world is paralyzed. The Iranian nuclear demon is a real demon that can soon break loose and change everything.
        The statesmen meeting at UN headquarters in New York this week represent a feeble policy of whitewashing the situation and deceiving oneself. The world lacks proper management or spine; it lacks the vision to stand up to the Iranian nuclear program. So it ignores the fact that Israel is right and drives Israel into a corner.
        If Rouhani is ready to renounce the nuclear program for economic prosperity, he should have no problem agreeing that while he and the powers conduct talks, the uranium enrichment and centrifuge construction should be completely suspended. Not one enriched kilogram more. Not one centrifuge more. The suspension initiative is vital - it's the only thing that will put the Iranians and the international community to the test of truth. If it's rejected, it will be clear to everyone who and what we're facing. (Ha'aretz)
  • Can Rouhani or Obama Deliver on any Deal? - Fareed Zakaria
    Hassan Rouhani wants to end his country's isolation. But it remains unclear whether he has the authority to act on behalf of his government. Consider what happened Tuesday, when the Iranians turned down a White House offer of a brief meeting with President Obama. Rouhani explained that such steps have to be taken with proper preparation. One has to wonder: If Rouhani does not have the freedom to shake Obama's hand, does he have the freedom to negotiate a nuclear deal?
        Iran has dozens of layers of sanctions arrayed against it. The most onerous by far are the sanctions passed through acts of Congress, and those will be the most difficult to lift. Obama can unilaterally lift only sanctions based on presidential executive orders, which are the least burdensome. (Washington Post)
  • Clearing the Iranian Nuclear Fog - Amir Taheri
    President Obama told the UN on Tuesday: "the Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons." While the exact text of this fatwa remains a mystery, a fatwa is an opinion, not binding the umma (the community of Muslims). There is no mechanism through which fatwas issued by Khamenei can be legally binding on any Iranian, let alone Iran as a nation-state.
        There is a mechanism called khat-e-hokumati (state decision), but Khamenei has issued no such thing on the nuclear issue. He has just expressed an opinion that he or any other mullah can contradict or cancel anytime.
        For 18 years Iran has been engaged in researching, designing and building capabilities for which it has no peaceful use, and thus can only be for building nuclear weapons. If Iran complies with the five UN Security Council resolutions on the nuclear issue, the dispute will be over; if it doesn't, the dispute will continue. Whether or not Rouhani ever shakes Obama's hand, and whether or not he shows "moderation and flexibility" on American TV, are beside the point. (New York Post)

  • Other Issues

  • What If Insurgents Close the Suez Canal? - David Schenker
    Shootings, kidnappings and bombings have become routine occurrences in Sinai and the burgeoning Islamist insurgency is spreading to other parts of Egypt. On Aug. 31, two militants fired rocket-propelled grenades at a Chinese-owned cargo vessel traversing the Suez Canal. Sooner or later the militants will succeed in damaging, disabling or scuttling a ship in the canal, a development with potentially catastrophic implications for Egypt and international commerce. In 2012, more than 17,000 vessels transited the canal. The writer is director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Tackle Incitement, Stop the Killing of Israelis - David Horovitz
    Palestinians are again killing Israelis - an off-duty soldier last Friday, an on-duty soldier on Sunday. We won't have compromise and viable coexistence with the Palestinians without tackling incitement. Most Israelis have long since come to terms with the fact that there are Palestinians as well as Jews in this land, and that we are all going to have to find a way to somehow live alongside one another. On the Palestinian side, there is no such recognition.
        Arafat bequeathed his people a pernicious narrative that claimed there was no Jewish temple in Jerusalem and, therefore, no historic Jewish sovereign legitimacy in these parts. His successor, Mahmoud Abbas, has shown little appetite to challenge the Arafat legacy. Incitement against Israel's very existence remains widespread - in Palestinian schools and summer camps, newspaper articles and caricatures, TV shows and advertisements, where Israel has no place, where Israeli cities have Arabic names, where the Jews have no Middle East history. (Times of Israel)
  • EU: What's Fine for Spain Is Unacceptable for Israel - Evelyn Gordon
    Spain is now committing virtually every "abuse" the EU sanctimoniously accuses Israel of, without a peep of protest from its European peers. Spain recently erected checkpoints along its border with Gibraltar that are creating real hardship, lengthening travel times from 45 minutes to two hours. European officials who repeatedly demand Israel's immediate withdrawal from the West Bank haven't said a word to support Catalonia, where hundreds of thousands formed a 250-mile human chain this month to demand independence from Spain. Then there are the Basques who have often proclaimed a desire for independence. (Commentary)

The Iranian "Moderate" - Charles Krauthammer (Washington Post)

  • The search, now 30 years old, for Iranian "moderates" goes on. The latest sighting is in the form of Hassan Rouhani. Strange resume for a moderate: 35 years of unswervingly loyal service to the Islamic Republic as a close aide to Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei. Rouhani is Khamenei's agent, but with a smile and style.
  • The test of moderation is what you're willing to give. After all, sanctions were not slapped on Iran for amusement. It was to enforce multiple UN Security Council resolutions demanding a halt to uranium enrichment.
  • Yet in his Washington Post op-ed, his UN speech and various interviews, Rouhani gives not an inch on uranium enrichment. Indeed, he has repeatedly denied that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons at all. Or ever has.
  • Such a transparent falsehood - what country swimming in oil would sacrifice its economy just to produce nuclear electricity that advanced countries such as Germany are already abandoning? - is hardly the basis for a successful negotiation.
  • The mullahs are seeking to buy time. On the threshold of going nuclear, they need just a bit more talking, stalling, smiling and stringing along of a gullible West. Rouhani is the man to do exactly that.
  • Detente is difficult with a regime whose favorite refrain, fed to frenzied mass rallies, is "Death to America." Detente is difficult with a regime officially committed, as a matter of both national policy and religious duty, to the eradication of a UN member state, namely Israel.
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