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December 20, 2013

In-Depth Issues:

Mandela Received Weapons Training from Mossad Agents in Ethiopia - Ofer Aderet and David Fachler (Ha'aretz)
    Nelson Mandela, the former South African leader who died earlier this month, was trained in weaponry and sabotage by Mossad operatives in 1962, a few months before he was arrested in South Africa, though the operatives were unaware of Mandela's true identity, according to a document in the Israel State Archives labeled "Top Secret."
    Mandela "showed an interest in the methods of the Haganah and other Israeli underground movements....He greeted our men with 'Shalom'  [and] was familiar with the problems of Jewry and of Israel."

Report: Palestinian Group Carried Out Lockerbie Bombing - David Horovitz (Times of Israel)
    25 years after Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, with the loss of all 259 passengers and crew and 11 people on the ground, a former senior member of the Israeli security establishment said he was certain the bombing was carried out by Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.
    The Israeli source said Israel was "listening in" during the months prior to the December 21, 1988, bombing on preparations for what "we thought was a plan to target an Israeli plane" and that it was "clear that Jibril prepared the operation."
    He said there was a "huge alert" in the Israeli security establishment in the months before the bombing, because of indications that the PFLP-GC was about to strike.
    "We told the British and the Americans what we knew....We didn't warn about a British or an American plane because we didn't know that."
    The Israeli source did not dispute that Col. Muammar Gaddafi's Libya had commissioned the attack.

Iran to Hold Air Force Drill over Strategic Oil Route (AP-Washington Post)
    Gen. Ali Reza Barkhor, the acting chief of Iran's air force, told state TV on Thursday that Iran will hold a military drill over the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the waterway for one-fifth of the world's oil tanker traffic, as part of annual exercises meant to show off Iran's air defense capabilities and military readiness.
    The two-day drill is to begin on Friday.

Iran Spy Chief Runs Military Ops in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen (Kuwait Times)
    Informed Gulf intelligence sources said Iran's Revolutionary Guard intelligence chief General Qasim Suleimani runs the military operations in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas reported.
    Hizbullah and its branches in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and the Arabian Gulf receive instructions directly from Suleimani.
    Suleimani directly supervises two brigades of Iraqi and Iranian volunteers in Syria: the Jerusalem Legion (Iran) and the Abu Al-Fadl Al-Abbas (Iraq).
    The sources said that the number of Hizbullah men killed in Syria has reached more that 650 so far.

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Gaza Floods Worsened by Human Element - Amira Hass (Ha'aretz)
    Last week's floods in Gaza were worsened by a human element. In a few places, the metal grates that prevent solid debris from clogging the drainage system disappeared.
    They were probably stolen - the price of metal turning public property into a source of income.

Forced Exodus: Christians in the Middle East - Roland Flamini (World Affairs)
    The Christian population in the Middle East is shrinking at a faster rate than ever before, through emigration and wholesale killings, as well as a lower birthrate than its Muslim counterparts.
    63% of Arab Americans are descended from Christian immigrants.
    See also Once Protected, Christians Have Become Fair Game in Iraq and Syria - Zvi Bar'el (Ha'aretz)
    According to Western estimates, about 45,000 Christians out of a total Christian population of about 2 million have fled Syria, and the pace is increasing.
    In Iraq, out of a population that numbered about 1.2 million in the 1990s, only between 200,000 and 500,000 Christians remain in the country.

1,800 Palestinians Have Died in Syrian Civil War - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    1,807 Palestinians have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the violence nearly three years ago, the Working Group for Palestinians in Syria said Wednesday.
    Moreover, tens of thousands of Palestinians have fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey.

Sunnis and Shia in the Middle East (BBC News)
    There are more than 1.5 billion Muslims and about 20% of them live in the Middle East and North Africa.
    The majority of Muslims are Sunnis - estimates are between 85% and 90%, with Shia roughly 10% of all Muslims.
    Iran has the largest Shia majority, with more than 66 million making up nearly 90% of the population.

Germany Poised to Charge Auschwitz SS Guards - Tony Paterson (Independent-UK)
    German state prosecutors are preparing to prosecute more than two dozen surviving former German SS guards, in their 80s and 90s, who worked at the infamous Auschwitz death camp during the Nazi Holocaust.
    The decision follows a legal precedent set in 2012 when former Ukrainian death camp guard John Demjanjuk was found guilty of war crimes by a Munich court. His mere presence at the Sobibor extermination camp was enough to convict him.

Project Knits Wool Hats for IDF Soldiers - Nitzi Yaakov (Israel Hayom)
    When Channah Koppel began knitting hats for her son's paratrooper platoon six years ago, she didn't expect it to become a worldwide project leading to thousands of wool caps knitted for combat soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces.
    Now women from all over the world are knitting hats for the IDF. "I receive about 100 hats each week," Koppel said.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Defying Obama, 26 Senators Push New Iran Sanctions - Bradley Klapper
    More than a quarter of the Senate defied President Barack Obama on Thursday by introducing legislation that could raise sanctions on Iran, and compel the U.S. to support Israel if it launches a pre-emptive attack on the Iranian nuclear program.
        The bill, sponsored by 13 Democrats and 13 Republicans, sets sanctions that would go into effect if Tehran violates the nuclear deal it reached with world powers last month or lets it expire without a long-term accord. The measures include a global boycott on Iranian oil exports within one year and the blacklisting of Iran's mining, engineering and construction industries. (AP-ABC News)
        See also White House Threatens to Veto Iran Sanctions Bill (AP-ABC News)
  • UN: Secret Detentions by Government Fuel Syrian "Campaign of Terror" - Stephanie Nebehay
    Syrian activists and other citizens have vanished into secret detention as part of a "widespread campaign of terror against the civilian population" and a tactic of war by the Damascus government, UN investigators said on Thursday.
        The state-run practice of enforced disappearances in Syria - abductions that are officially denied - is systematic enough to amount to a crime against humanity. The UN team of 25 experts documented 100 cases to date, but believes the real number is likely to be in the thousands. (Reuters)
        See also Amnesty International: Syria Islamists Perpetrating "Cruel and Inhuman" Abuses - Dominic Evans
    Islamist militants are perpetrating "a shocking catalogue of abuses" in secret jails across northern Syria, including torture, flogging and killings after summary trials, Amnesty International said on Thursday. It said the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), one of the most powerful jihadi groups, is operating seven clandestine prisons in rebel-held areas.
        Urging world powers to halt the flow of arms to ISIL and other armed groups accused of war crimes, Amnesty said Turkey in particular should prevent jihadi fighters and weapons from crossing its border into northern Syria. (Reuters-NBC News)
        See also Jihadist Group Expands Rapidly in Syria - Christoph Reuter (Der Spiegel-Germany)
  • Russia Blocks UN Action Against Syria Air Attacks
    Russia objected to a proposed UN Security Council statement expressing outrage at Syrian government airstrikes, especially this week's indiscriminate use of Scud missiles and "barrel bombs" in Aleppo that have killed more than 100 people, UN diplomats said Thursday. The statement, proposed by the U.S., required approval from all 15 council members. Russia wanted all references to the Syrian regime stripped from the statement, so the U.S. decided to drop it. (AP-Washington Post)
  • Jihadist Leader Envisions an Islamic State in Syria - Anne Barnard
    Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, leader of the Nusra Front, one of the most powerful jihadist groups in the Syrian insurgency, told Al Jazeera that he believed victory was near, and that his organization sought to establish an Islamic state. He viewed the peace talks set to begin in Switzerland next month as a plan to resuscitate the government of President Assad, and vowed that the Nusra Front would fight to prevent the negotiations.
        After carrying out numerous car bombings, the Nusra Front was blacklisted in 2012 by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. But in recent months Nusra has been eclipsed in many areas of the country by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, another group dominated by foreign jihadists that has tried to impose religious rule on civilians. (New York Times)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel Serious in Its Intention to Reach Agreement with Palestinians
    Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Thursday praised U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for his efforts to advance negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, saying that Israel was serious in its intentions to reach an agreement. Speaking after a meeting with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Lieberman called on the Palestinians to do their part to advance the peace talks and abstain from taking unilateral actions in international bodies that only serve to hurt efforts to reach a diplomatic accord. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Two Palestinian Gunmen Killed in West Bank
    On Wednesday night Israeli counter-terror forces entered the Jenin refugee camp to arrest an Islamic Jihad operative who had planned attacks on roads in the West Bank. Palestinians opened fire on the Israeli soldiers, who returned fire, wounding several Palestinians, one of whom was Hamas operative Nafa Jamil Saadi, 22, who died en route to the hospital. The soldiers were also attacked with improvised explosive devices.
        Early Thursday morning, Israeli troops killed a wanted Palestinian man in Kalkilya who opened fire on them as they attempted to arrest him. The wanted man, Saleh Yasin, 28, had fired at Israeli troops several times in recent weeks. Yasin was an intelligence officer in the PA security forces. (Israel Hayom)
  • Egyptian Security Forces Outgunned by Islamic Terrorists in Sinai - Amos Harel
    The Egyptian security forces' battle against Islamic terrorist organizations in Sinai has resulted in 260 fatalities for the security services, compared to only 131 for the terrorists since July. Israeli officials believe that Cairo intends to continue the campaign for at least the next several months.
        The Egyptians have repeatedly arrested terrorists in Sinai who underwent training at bases in Gaza. They have also seized arms, including mortar bombs, that they claim were manufactured in Gaza.
        While Egyptian forces have destroyed hundreds of tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, a small number of tunnels are still operating. These tunnels are being used to smuggle arms into Gaza, including components used in manufacturing the medium-range rockets held by both Hamas and Islamic Jihad. (Ha'aretz)
  • Firebomb Thrown at Bus near Hebrew University in Jerusalem - Noam Dvir
    A firebomb was thrown at a bus near the Hebrew University Mount Scopus Campus in Jerusalem. There were no injuries or damage. (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

    Anti-Israel Boycott

  • ASA Boycotts Israel Because It Is Pro-American - Martin Kramer
    One of the American Studies Association's central ideological prisms appears to be that the U.S. is an aggressive empire. Just scan the program of last year's annual conference, titled "Dimensions of Empire and Resistance," which was billed as a reflection "on indignity and dispossession," the "course of U.S. empire."
        The U.S. has a range of allies in the Middle East - but only Israel is viewed positively by a large majority of Americans, while Israelis themselves are overwhelmingly pro-American. For the ASA, that appears to be the bill of indictment right there. Israel is to be boycotted for its "special relationship" with the U.S. (Foreign Policy)
  • The ASA's Boycott of Israel Is Not as Troubling as It Seems - David Greenberg
    It has been a while since the American Studies Association commanded wide respect as a heavyweight professional organization, and its politics are no bellwether of prevailing ideas in higher education. Like the high-school delinquents who from time to time spray swastikas on a Long Island synagogue wall, occasioning transient alarm and winding up on the local news, the ASA boycott ringleaders are by and large a fringe of malcontents - thugs with credentials, vandals in tweed. The writer is a professor of history and journalism at Rutgers University. (New Republic)
  • Abbas Undermines Anti-Israel BDS Movement - Khaled Abu Toameh
    The international campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel received a slap in the face last week from PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who stated that he does not support the boycott of Israel. Many Palestinians continue to do business with Israelis on a daily business, and Palestinians and Israelis continue to hold joint seminars and conferences in Israel and elsewhere in the world. (Gatestone Institute)
  • The Anti-Israel Boycott Movement Is Losing - David Rosenberg
    This week four major port operators, including three European companies, bid to operate marine terminals in Israel. Israel was admitted to the European nuclear research consortium CERN as its first non-European full member. The Irish company Covidien offered to buy the Israeli medical device company Given Imaging. Apple bought PrimeSense, an Israeli high-tech startup. Carefusion, a San Diego company, bought 40% of Caesarea Medical Electronics.
        Foreign direct investment in Israel stood at $9.4 billion in the first 10 months of the year, matching the total for all of 2012, and is likely to exceed 2011's $10.8 billion. (Ha'aretz)

  • Other Issues

  • Jordan Valley Now at Center of Talks - Joshua Mitnick
    Control of the Jordan Valley has moved to the forefront of the current U.S.-sponsored peace talks initiated by Secretary of State John Kerry. Israel has made clear in the talks that it wants to retain control of the border region with Jordan, focusing on blocking militant infiltrations between Jordan and the West Bank.
        Israeli officials and analysts said that just because the conventional threat to the country has diminished, doesn't mean that the Jewish state doesn't face a frightening strategic threat from the potential build-up in the West Bank of rocket armories like those amassed in Gaza and Lebanon. Moreover, Israel can't be sure that the rising chaos in the Arab world won't eventually destabilize Jordan's monarchy and affect its military's (so-far effective) control of the border region.
        If that were to happen, Israel would face a smuggling threat on a border 50 times the size of the border between Gaza and Egypt, said former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren. "Were we to leave the border unguarded, there's a possibility the West Bank would fill up with hundreds of thousands of rockets" near Israel's economic heartland.
        "We are told that they found the answer to all of our security problems.... We can place cameras, lasers, helicopters, and especially rely on international forces and the security guarantee of our friends," wrote Economics Minister Naftali Bennett. "The world can give a guarantee, but it is unsolidified, flexible and always evaporates when we really need it. So, no thanks."  (New York Jewish Week)
        See also Why Israel Opposes International Forces in the Jordan Valley (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Hizbullah Is Caught in an Al-Qaeda Vise - Michael Young
    In the car bomb in the Bekaa Valley, near the village of Sbouba, a large quantity of explosives was used and the blast occurred near a Hizbullah base, which must have been under observation for some time. This indicated a level of professionalism similar to the one evident in the bombings at the Iranian Embassy in October. Such operations are taking place in a wider context of al-Qaeda's reaffirming itself regionally, especially in a swathe of territory stretching from Iraq to Syria and now extending increasingly to Lebanon.
        Hizbullah now finds itself transformed into cannon fodder in a battle against al-Qaeda, when its initial goal was merely to defend Assad rule. (Daily Star-Lebanon)
  • Israel Is Caught in a Tragic Situation - David Brooks
    Israel is caught in a tragic situation. It's surrounded by an Arab world that is largely hostile to its existence. No Arab leader has enough legitimacy to make peace. It is in a region marked by failed states, decentered radical Islam and rampant turmoil.
        Over the decades, Israelis have collectively adapted to their circumstances with some reasonable degree of success. They didn't recoil from the drama they were caught in. They are nothing if not critical of one another. The society moves forward on a great wave of fevered argument.
        The failure to deal with ambiguity is one of the great disorders of the age. It's a flight from reality. Often, good people, with high ideals take a dappled society in a tough situation, like Israel, and they want to judge it according to black and white legal abstractions. They find an error and call for blanket condemnation. As critics or pundits, it's worth keeping in mind what psychologists call the fundamental attribution error: don't blame character when the problem is the situation. (New York Times)
  • The Unique Tragedy of the Palestinian Refugees - Avi Jorisch
    The Palestinian refugees have an emotional hold in the Muslim world unlike any other refugee group. Yet by any measure, the scale of the Palestinian refugee problem is dwarfed by numerous other refugee events. Most were forgotten because after one generation, or two at most, the refugees were integrated into other countries. But the Palestinian problem is unique because it has lasted for generations.
        Imagine if the Palestinians had been allowed to integrate into neighboring Arab countries - often less than 20 miles away from their original homes? But the Arab League has instructed Arab states to deny citizenship to Palestinian refugees and their descendants. The result is that six decades later, Palestinians languish in camps throughout Lebanon, Jordan and Syria - instead of becoming productive citizens, as they have in other countries where they have emigrated.
        History is replete with refugee suffering. It is hard to see what good can come from this false sense of uniqueness. Arguably, it causes even greater pain and trauma. It also makes it harder for Palestinians to envisage peacemaking rather than revenge, and strengthens extremists who feed on hatred and oppose any prospect for peace. The writer is a Senior Fellow for Counter-Terrorism at the American Foreign Policy Council. (Al-Arabiya)
  • Israel, China Economic Cooperation in Focus - Joshua Levitt
    "Our two economies are highly complementary, and the mutually beneficial cooperation between us enjoys a very bright future," visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday. Closer ties between Israel and China make sense, experts say.
        "The reality is the ideas, the joint ventures, the high technology, is all coming from the Chinese working with Israeli companies," said Dr. Joseph Pelzman of George Washington University and Ben-Gurion University, who spent the past year as a Fulbright Scholar in Beijing. "The Chinese are fully aware that all the inputs, the microprocessors, the semi-conductors, are coming from Israel, and Israel is more than willing to help them innovate."
        "China doesn't need [Arab] oil - they get all they need from the Russians, and the fields in Kazakhstan are close enough if they need more. And Israel has natural gas. The Arabs, except for the Emirates, have no technological innovation, anywhere. Meanwhile, the Chinese don't have the long historical, European-based, anti-Jewish sentiment, while the Muslims in China have their own worries, so it's not a question of having to appeal to any domestic concerns."  (Algemeiner)
  • Arab Spring: Unpredicted Outcomes - Kevin Connolly
    The royal families in Jordan, Morocco and the Gulf have had a pretty good Arab Spring so far - rather better than some of them might have feared. America is still a superpower, but it doesn't dictate events in the Middle East anymore. The speed with which protests against authoritarian government morphed into a vicious civil war with sectarian overtones between Sunni and Shia Muslims in Syria has shocked everyone.
        The people of Iraqi Kurdistan are starting to look like winners. They live in a region which has oil and is developing independent economic links with its powerful neighbor, Turkey. The property market in Dubai has spiked as wealthy individuals from destabilized countries like Egypt, Libya, Syria and Tunisia seek a safe haven for their cash - and sometimes their families. (BBC News)

  • Weekend Features

  • The Last Living Witnesses to Nazi Terror - Wesley Pruden
    An exhibit of photographs of the Nazi era, with the faces of human evil, is on view now in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. The Topography of Terror, a museum of the Hitler time built at what was once the most feared address in Berlin, the headquarters of the Gestapo, is one of the most popular sites with visitors to Germany. So, too, the Jewish Museum, with its history of the Jews. But none work with more dedication and enthusiasm for keeping the dark memories alive than a dwindling group of survivors of Hitler's death camps, some of them well into their 90s.
        A prisoner who was 20 when Auschwitz, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen and other death camps were liberated in 1945 would be 88 now. Very few prisoners survived the relentlessly efficient Nazi killing machine. Of 67 who survived at Treblinka, where 850,000 prisoners, nearly all Jews, were slain, only two survivors are alive today. Of the 250,000 scheduled for execution at Sobibor, only 50 survived and only four remain. Seven of the doomed 165,000 at Chelmo survived, but are no longer alive. Two of the 500,000 scheduled for extermination at Belzec survived, but none remains alive today. (Washington Times)
  • Support the Palestinians Who Want to Live in Peace - Marissa Young
    On a field trip to Palestinian villages as part of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs Israel-Arab conflict program, I had the opportunity to meet leaders of a small Palestinian village near Bethlehem, sit in their living rooms, and discuss their relationships with the Jews in the settlement next door. I was moved by the story of how these Palestinians formed their own small school so that their children would not be indoctrinated in the hostile environment of the school in a nearby town. I have seen how Israeli Jews have worked with the military authorities to ease building restrictions for the village.
        Recently, three men from this village were arrested by the Palestinian Authority for the crime of forming friendships with their neighbors. While the PA makes motions towards negotiating, it is cultivating an environment in Palestinian society that does not promote the peaceful coexistence any solution must include. (Jerusalem Post)

The Syrian Regime's Military Solution to the War - Jeffrey White (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

  • A regime victory is possible in Syria. The outlines of a regime strategy for winning the war are visible. This strategy hinges on the staying power of the regime and its allies, the generation of adequate forces, operational success, and continued divisions within rebel forces.
  • The regime fights its war under broad strategic principles. The first entails using whatever level of violence it believes is necessary to defeat the armed opposition and break the will of its civilian supporters. After seizing an area formerly under rebel control, the regime engages in reprisal attacks on area civilians: executions, looting, the burning of homes and businesses.
  • With the assistance of its allies, especially Russia and its UN Security Council veto, the regime has successfully fended off every diplomatic threat from the West. It has played along with various ceasefire initiatives as long as they did not impede its military operations. Syrian officials may well travel to Geneva, but they will not be there to surrender the keys to Damascus - but rather both to keep the rebels' backers entangled in fruitless negotiations and to deepen divisions among the rebels.
  • Another regime principle is to keep telling its story. In the regime's narrative, its forces are winning a war against "terrorists" and the regime remains strong and cohesive. To further this narrative, the regime has increasingly succeeded in advancing perceptions of a growing terrorist threat in Syria and focusing attention on its own battlefield victories.
  • While the regime is not certain to win the kind of victory it seeks, and may have to settle for less, the war is now moving in its favor and prospects for a reversal do not look good.
  • Regarding the Geneva talks, the regime's approach to the war suggests that it will not negotiate seriously with the rebels. And given its increasing success on the battlefield, the continued support of its allies, and a divided and feckless opposition, there is no reason why it should.

    The writer is a defense fellow at The Washington Institute.
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