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November 1, 2013

In-Depth Issues:

Secret Nevada Base Hosted Tests for Soviet Fighter Jets on Loan from Israel - Amanda Holpuch (Guardian-UK)
    The U.S. government "secretly acquired" Soviet aircraft during the Cold War and tested them at Area 51, according to documents released Tuesday on the once-classified base deep in the Nevada desert.
    From January 1968 to April 1968, Israel loaned the U.S. Air Force a MiG-21, originally obtained by Israel in August 1966, to examine the plane's technical characteristics and evaluate its performance.
    The CIA in August confirmed the existence of Area 51 when it released declassified documents through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Hizbullah Deploys 15,000 Troops in Syria for Anticipated Qalamoun Battle (Al Arabiya)
    Hizbullah has deployed 15,000 fighters for an expected offensive in the al-Qalamoun area north of Damascus, Syrian opposition sources said.
    The Syrian regime is also building up its forces in the area. The Damascus-based Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas brigade, a close Hizbullah ally comprised of Iraqi Shiite fighters who have been fighting alongside Assad's army for months, said it also will take part in the expected battle.
    Asharq al-Awsat reported that both the U.S. and Russia are trying to prevent the al-Qalamoun battle from happening.

Hagel: U.S. to Fast-Track V-22 Aircraft Sale to Israel - Marcus Weisgerber (Defense News)
    The Pentagon plans to fast track the sale of six Bell-Boeing V-22 Ospreys to Israel, which will begin receiving the tilt-rotor aircraft in two years, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday.
    Israel is the first foreign purchaser of the aircraft, which can take off and land like a helicopter, and fly fast like a fixed-wing plane.

Palestinians Celebrate Prisoner Release with Bursts of Automatic Fire - Avi Issacharoff (Times of Israel)
    At the Palestinian Authority's Muqata headquarters there were celebrations for the release of the 21 long-term Palestinian prisoners coming home to the West Bank.
    PA President Mahmoud Abbas escorted the men to the grave of Yasser Arafat to lay memorial flowers and from there to the balcony in view of the crowd.
    After the Muqata's courtyard emptied, the sound of celebratory shooting could be heard in the streets of Ramallah, at first just single shots, then bursts of automatic fire.
    The PA may have imposed a ban on shooting at celebrations, but not when it comes to prisoner releases.

    See also No Public Welcome for Released Palestinian Prisoners in Gaza - Shlomi Eldar (Al-Monitor)
    On Oct. 30, Israel released 26 Palestinian security prisoners, five of whom returned home to Gaza.
    Hamas chose to ignore their return. Hamas TV did not report on their release, Palestinian journalists were forbidden from documenting their return, and their families were asked to "celebrate quietly and discreetly."

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Amazon Opening Center in Israel - Assaf Glad (Al-Monitor)
    Retail giant Amazon's CTO, Werner Vogels, announced during a visit to Israel on Oct. 15: "We are setting up an entity in Israel to support our cloud activity in Israel, which, up till now, has been supported from Europe."
    The Amazon service and sales center, to open in early 2014, will also service the Middle East and Africa.

Israel's HelioFocus Signs $340M Chinese Energy Deal - Nadav Neuman (Globes)
    The Israel Corporation unit HelioFocus Ltd. has signed a memorandum of understanding with Chinese energy company Taiqing to build a 200-megawatt solar boosting system for coal-fired power stations in Inner Mongolia for $340 million. The project is scheduled to begin in 2015.

Heroes to Heroes in Israel - Yardena Schwartz (Ha'aretz)
    Heroes to Heroes is an American non-profit group that brings traumatized U.S. veterans to Israel for a journey of spiritual healing.
    The group has organized and financed three Birthright-type trips designed for non-Jewish American war vets - of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
    One of the important elements of the trip is the inclusion of disabled Israeli veterans who accompany the Americans during their 10 days of intensive touring.
    "I've had more people thank me for my service here [in Israel] than I have just about anywhere in America," said Greg Grutter, who did four deployments in Iraq and three in Afghanistan and was medically discharged a year ago after 19 years of service.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S. Official: Israeli Planes Strike Syrian Military Base - Barbara Starr
    Israeli planes struck a military base near the Syrian port city of Latakia this week, an Obama administration official told CNN on Thursday. An explosion at a missile storage site was reported in the Middle Eastern press. According to the Obama administration official, the target was missiles and related equipment the Israelis felt might be transferred to Hizbullah.
        Israel's military has long said it would target any transfer of weapons to Hizbullah or any effort to smuggle Syrian weapons into Lebanon that could threaten Israel. (CNN)
        See also Israel Strikes Russian Weapons Shipment in Syria - Zeina Karam and Mike Corder
    A security official said the attack in Latakia occurred late Wednesday and the target was Russian-made SA-125 missiles. Israel has struck shipments of missiles inside Syria at least twice this year. Israel has never officially confirmed taking action inside Syria to avoid embarrassing Assad and sparking a potential response. (AP)
  • U.S. Feels Pressure to Show Progress in Peace Talks between Israelis and Palestinians - Anne Gearan and William Booth
    The Obama administration is feeling pressure to show progress in U.S.-sponsored peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians that both sides say have not made much headway. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Jerusalem and the West Bank next week to prod both sides, which have been meeting for three months. Kerry insisted last month that he wants a full, final deal, not an interim agreement.
        Netanyahu has honored his promise to release Palestinian prisoners, a precondition urged on him by Kerry to get Abbas to return to negotiations. The first 52 of 104 prisoners have been released on schedule. Freeing prisoners is an unpopular gesture in Israel - all of them were convicted of murdering Israelis. (Washington Post)
  • Syria's Chemical Weapons Plants Destroyed - But Actual Weapons Remain - Chelsea Sheasley
    Syria has destroyed its declared chemical weapons production and mixing facilities, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Thursday. The OPCW now faces the more challenging task of destroying Syria's chemical weapons stockpile - thought to include more than 1,000 tons of mustard gas, as well as the nerve agent sarin.
        The international community is still struggling to come to agreement on where and how the chemical weapons will be destroyed. In 1947, Britain and the Soviet Union disposed of 65,000 tons of German chemical weapons by dumping them into the Baltic Sea, where today the corroding containers pose a health risk to surrounding nations. (Christian Science Monitor)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • 4 Palestinian Gunmen Killed as IDF, Hamas Clash on Gaza Border - Yaakov Lappin
    IDF soldiers who were carrying out work to destroy a tunnel built by Hamas for terrorism on the Israel-Gaza border were attacked by a Palestinian terrorist cell early Friday. Five IDF soldiers were injured, one seriously. The soldiers were operating on both sides of the security fence. Hamas said militants fired mortar shells at IDF tanks on the Gaza side of the border.
        In response to the attack, the IDF fired a shell at terror suspects in the nearby Gazan district of Khan Yunis. One Palestinian gunman was killed and a second was wounded, according to Palestinian medical sources. IAF aircraft also struck an attack tunnel in southern Gaza. Three members of the Hamas Kassam Brigades were killed in the strike, according to the Palestinian news agency Ma'an. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Hamas Attacks Soldiers as IDF Destroys Two Gaza Terror Tunnels
    The IDF detonated a segment of the terror tunnel from Gaza exposed on Oct. 7, 2013, in order to prevent future terror attacks from the tunnel. In its offensive actions against Israel, Hamas has breached the arrangements reached following Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Netanyahu: Maintain the Pressure on Iran - Stuart Winer
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday warned against the consequences of letting up on international sanctions against Tehran. Speaking at an official ceremony in Jerusalem marking 40 years since the Yom Kippur War, Netanyahu said: "If the pressure is kept up, Iran will give up its military nuclear capability. If the pressure wavers, it will continue in its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons." "In any case, the IDF needs to be ready for every eventuality in every place, all of the time."
        Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, also speaking at the ceremony, said: "Our enemies realized that they can't win on the battlefield so instead they moved to the field of rockets and terror." Ya'alon accused Iran of funding terror against Israel and spreading terror in the region and the world. "The nations of the world should not give up the pressure until Iran decides between survival or the bomb," he added. (Times of Israel)
  • Israel to UN: Abbas' Incitement "Poisoning the Next Generation" - Daniel Siryoti and Shlomo Cesana
    Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor filed a complaint Wednesday at the UN about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' condolence letter to the family of terrorist Mohamed Aatzi, who was responsible for the November 2012 bus bombing in Tel Aviv. Prosor said: "Terrorism begins when its perpetrators are indoctrinated with words and thoughts of hate." Abbas' letter was "just the most recent example of the incitement poisoning the next generation....Palestinian children are being taught hate instead of peace; violence instead of tolerance; and martyrdom instead of mutual understanding."  (Israel Hayom)
  • Only Turkish Planes Fly between Turkey and Israel - Raphael Ahren
    Turkish Airlines has become the second-largest aviation company flying out of Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport, with 53 weekly flights from Tel Aviv to Istanbul. Pegasus Airlines and other Turkish charter companies together offer an additional 59 weekly flights, making a total of 112 Turkish flights.
        Until 2007, Israeli companies operated 30 weekly flights to and from Turkey. But then Turkish authorities refused to allow Israel security personnel "to perform the security checks on passengers boarding flights to Israel," according to "It is not the first time that a country has been uncomfortable with the presence of armed Israeli security personnel in its airports. Russia and Denmark have taken a similar stance in the past, but eventually agreed to lift the restrictions."
        "On merit, we should ban Turkish flights to Israel tomorrow," a senior Israeli official said. "But currently we don't want to open another front with the Turks," although "Israel has become a goldmine for Turkish companies."
        As long as Erdogan is in power, Israeli-Turkish relations will not be as cordial as they were under his predecessors, Israeli officials assess. "He really hates us - the honeymoon is over," a senior diplomatic official said. (Times of Israel)
  • Ethiopian Jews Gather in Jerusalem to Celebrate Return to Israel on Sigd Holiday - Daniel K. Eisenbud
    Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis gathered in Jerusalem Thursday to celebrate Sigd, a holiday marked 50 days after Yom Kippur. Officially designated a national holiday in Israel in 2009, it is said that Sigd was observed for 2,500 years by Jews in Ethiopia. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • Syria Becomes Largest Home to Al-Qaeda; Jihadists Find Safe Haven to Plot Attacks - Kristina Wong
    Syria has become al-Qaeda's largest safe haven, with more than 10,000 fighters who outnumber the terrorist network's core organization in Pakistan and its affiliates in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The development, analysts say, provides al-Qaeda with a new base from which to attack Western targets, attract recruits to its jihadist doctrine, finance its operations and expand its influence throughout the Middle East.
        In addition, the terrorists are consolidating their hold in Syria - generating revenue by selling oil confiscated from wells in the eastern part of the country, setting up Islamic courts and other means of government, and enforcing borders with neighboring countries, U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday.
        "No matter where the Syrian conflict ends up going, no matter who ends up winning, al-Qaeda will stay in Syria for a long period of time," said Charles Lister of the global security analysis firm IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center in London. "Syria represents the biggest and best opportunity al-Qaeda has had for a very long time to establish a truly concrete presence anywhere in the Muslim world."
        An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 members of al-Qaeda and its affiliates are in Syria, said a U.S. government official. There are an additional 800 to 2,500 affiliated jihadists on the country's border with Iraq. Al-Qaeda forces in Iraq and Syria are so linked that U.S. officials now consider that al-Qaeda in Iraq has essentially become one entity with the self-styled ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). Another al-Qaeda affiliate is fighting in Syria - Jabhat al-Nusra. (Washington Times)
  • The Kurds Get a Second Chance - Fouad Ajami
    More than 200,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees have moved into Iraqi Kurdistan - in the Kurdish world view, a passage from one part of their homeland to another. The Kurds disregard the frontiers imposed almost a century ago by Anglo-French power.
        A new life is stirring in Kurdistan. Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, is a booming city of shopping malls, high-rises and swank hotels. Oil and natural gas have remade the city, as has its political stability, remarkable when set against the mayhem of the rest of Iraq. The Kurdish regional government and almost 5 million people who are officially part of Iraq in reality belong to an independent nation.
        The Kurds inhabit fragments of Syria by the Turkish and Iraqi borders, in the northeast; their lands contain the bulk of Syria's oil. The writer is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. (Bloomberg)
  • The Palestinian Refugee Problem Resolved - Shaul Bartal
    During the 1948 war, some 600,000 Palestinian Arabs fled their homes to the neighboring Arab states or to parts of mandatory Palestine occupied by Arab states (the West Bank and Gaza). Likewise, within a few years after the establishment of the State of Israel, nearly all of the 850,000-strong Jewish population living in Arab states was either expelled or escaped with just their lives, about 550,000 of whom were resettled in Israel. The resettlement of most of the Palestinian refugees in the host Arab countries created a de facto population exchange.
        According to UNRWA data, only a quarter of the descendants of the Palestinian refugees still live in camps, the majority of these in Lebanon. The descendants of the refugees who arrived in Gaza have been resettled in the quasi-independent area governed by Hamas, while the descendants of the refugees in the West Bank are settled, for the most part, in the area of the autonomous Palestinian Authority.
        This means that Israel has no responsibility whatsoever toward the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian refugees and no obligation to aid them other than out of purely humanitarian concerns, together with the rest of the enlightened world. Any attempt to argue otherwise stems from misplaced political considerations and the rewriting of history. The writer is a lecturer in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at Bar-Ilan University. (Middle East Quarterly)

  • Weekend Features

  • General Motors Looks to Israeli Developers - David Shamah
    For General Motors, much of the technology needed for the vehicle of the future is being developed at its Israel research and development facility, where they are working on a smart, self-driving, self-parking car that, equipped with a wealth of sensors and communications equipment, aims to make auto accidents a thing of the past.
        "The technologies that will power autonomous vehicles include smart sensing, vision imaging, human machine interface, wifi and 4G/LTE communications, and much of that is being done at our Herzliya facility, in conjunction with GM's other R&D facility in Silicon Valley," said Gil Golan, director of GM's Advanced Technical Center in Israel. "We started working in Israel nearly 20 years ago with some limited projects, but we ramped up activities here in 2007, and have been going strong ever since," Golan said. (Times of Israel)
  • Outside of My Israel "Comfort Zone" - Daniella Greenbaum
    The Leadership Program in Arab-Israel Studies, taught by Yitzhak Mansdorf and sponsored by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, became a huge part of my year in Israel and changed my way of thinking about the conflict.
        His classes often feature discussion/debates between well-known guests who oppose each other on topics like a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, the tension between human rights and Zionism or the status of non-Jews in Israel. In addition, Mansdorf took us on field trips to experience what it's like to go through a checkpoint in Jerusalem or to meet young Arabs critical of Israeli policy. "I want students to grapple with the issues, including seeing the imperfections in Israeli society," Mansdorf says, "but recognizing their responsibility to do something about it."
        I have been involved with a number of Israel advocacy programs, most of which taught us conclusions, not the process of coming to them. The process was not as neat or pleasant as digesting the already-formulated beliefs of others. But in the long run, I can tell it's going to be much more beneficial. (New York Jewish Week)
  • Israeli Bedouin Diplomat Visits SF State - Guadalupe Gonzalez
    Ishmael Khaldi was Israel's first Bedouin diplomat, serving as deputy consul in San Francisco from 2007 to 2009, and came to speak at SF State about his experience as a minority in Israel. He said a lot of the younger Arab population is participating more in Israeli society and spoke about the Israeli government's attempts at integrating the Bedouin into modern society. "You can't make a shepherd who is a nomad living in a tent into a high-tech engineer overnight," he said. (Golden Gate Xpress)
  • Israeli Health Monitor Hopes to Spur Medical Innovation - Ben Rooney
    The Tel Aviv-based startup Angel is a product that aims to predict heart attacks. Angel is an open-source hardware wrist sensor that measures heart rate, temperature, blood oxygen, and activity. There are other health wristbands, but none are open-source. The sensor is not a medical product. It is about prevention. "We want to be able to detect that slight irregularity in your heart beat five years before it is a problem," said Eugene Jorov, CEO of Seraphim Sense Ltd., maker of Angel.
        "The first goal is to break the monopoly of hospitals and experts in research to allow people to innovate in this space," he said. "We want to spur a wave of innovation in health. That is why Angel is open [source]."  (Wall Street Journal)

Settlements Aren't the Problem - Editorial (Jerusalem Post)

  • The U.S., UN and PA - among others - castigated the Israeli government's decision this week to move forward with building plans for 1,500 residential units beyond the 1949 armistice line.
  • Israeli building is not an obstacle to peace. Most of the announced projects are slated for places such as Ma'ale Adumim, Betar Illit and eastern Jerusalem. In any two-state solution that would conceivably receive broad Israeli support, these places would remain part of the Jewish state.
  • For U.S. administrations at least since the Clinton era, the notion that Israel must retreat to the 1949 armistice lines and that east Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria - the cradle of Jewish history - must be made judenrein is hardly a given.
  • The 2000 Clinton parameters, President George W. Bush's 2004 letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, negotiations Prime Minister Ehud Olmert conducted in 2008, all were based on the principle that Israel would retain major settlement blocs in any two-state solution.
  • The idea that Jewish settlements are "an obstacle to peace" is based on the morally repugnant premise - supported by the international community - that the very presence of Jews in these territories is an affront to the Palestinians, while in Israel there are 1.6 million Arabs with Israeli citizenship.
  • The real obstacle to peace remains Palestinians' rejection of the very idea of a uniquely Jewish state. To this day Palestinians deny the Jewish people's ties to the Land of Israel; they refuse to see the Jews as a distinct people that has a right to its own state. Peace will come the day that the Palestinian people recognize the Jewish people's right to national self-determination in its historical homeland. Blaming settlements misses the point.
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