U.S. Providing Modest Support to Rebels in Southern Syria - Michael Weiss (Now Lebanon)
Western efforts to consolidate, arm, and train Syrian rebels have had the greatest impact in the south of the country.
An ongoing military operation, known as the Battle of Geneva Houran, has yielded a series of tactical rebel victories in the last fortnight as U.S.-financed and Saudi-purchased weapons have begun pouring across the Jordanian-Syrian border.
Based on sources involved in the battle, the most that can be expected from it is a secure buffer zone that stretches from Deraa to Quneitra to parts of the southern Damascus countryside - a zone in which not only the regime's military presence is minimized, but jihadist and al-Qaeda elements are deterred.
Within two days of receiving an American subsidy, rebels launched Geneva Houran, and sources in Deraa and Rif Dimashq told The National [Abu Dhabi] that they now have funding to pay salaries for nine months.
Although the Islamic Front, the biggest consortium of mainly-Salafist rebels, has a heavy presence in southern Syria, so far relations between the Front and the Houran Joint Military Operations Command have remained "good."
This is because the Free Syrian Army "is a lot stronger in the south than in the north and there is not much of a risk of the Front's strong-arming the FSA," said Feras, a Syrian rebel source based in Deraa.
Even Jabhat al-Nusra's presence close to the Jordanian and Israeli borders is less of a threat, according to Feras, since the jihadists are fewer and "pragmatic."
See also Iraqi Official: ISIS Seeks Foothold along Jordanian-Iraqi Border (Ammon News-Jordan)
Escaped Inmates from Iraq Fuel Syrian Insurgency - Tim Arango and Eric Schmitt (New York Times)
A series of daring breakouts from Iraqi prisons has freed hundreds of hardened militants who are now among the leaders and foot soldiers of the radical Sunni groups operating in neighboring Syria and in Iraq itself.
The surging demand for experienced fighters led to a concerted effort by militant groups, particularly the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, to seek them in the one place where they were held en masse - Iraq's prison cells.
In all, American officials estimate, a few hundred of the escapees have joined ISIS, several in senior leadership roles.
"The influx of these terrorists, who collectively have decades of battlefield experience, probably has strengthened the group and deepened its leadership bench," an American counterterrorism official said.
Hizbullah Cancels Annual Beirut Rally after Bombings (Ynet News)
Hizbullah will not hold its annual public rally in Beirut in mid-February marking the death of three of the group's leaders.
The cancellation appears related to ten bombings since July in Hizbullah strongholds in Lebanon that left scores dead.
On Thursday, Jordanian Islamist cleric Abu Qatada, on trial in Amman for terrorism, said, "I support the bombings in Beirut. The leader of Hizbullah sent fighters to Syria to back the regime. He is responsible for those killed in Lebanon."
Japan's Rakuten Acquires Israeli Tech Company Viber for $900 Million (Reuters)
Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten said on Friday it will buy instant messaging app provider Viber Media Ltd. for $900 million.
Rakuten said the purchase of Viber Media, run from Cyprus by Israeli entrepreneur Talmon Marco, will add 300 million users to its existing 200 million users.
The Arab World Learning Barometer (Brookings)
About 8.5 million children and youth are out of school at the primary and secondary level (having never enrolled or dropped out prematurely). Many are girls from poor, rural communities often living in regions affected by conflict.
Even those who do attend and stay in school are not receiving a good-quality education. 56% of primary students and 48% of secondary students cannot read or write fluently or perform basic numeracy functions.
In the Middle East and North Africa, only about 18% of working-age Arab women actually have jobs.
Walt Disney's Egyptian Donald Duck Fired for Anti-Israel Twitter Rant - Robert Tait (Telegraph-UK)
The Walt Disney company has sacked Egyptian radio personality Wael Mansour, who provides the voice for the Arab version of Donald Duck, after he issued a virulently anti-Israel tweet calling for the Jewish state's destruction.
Mansour declared himself "proud" of his sacking.
What Israel Means to Natalie Portman: A Touching Description of Her Homeland (JewsNews)
Where I was born. Where immigrating to Israel is called "ascending" and emigrating from Israel is called "descending." Where my grandparents were not born, but where they were saved.
Where laughter is the currency; jokes the religion. Where the language in which Abraham spoke to Isaac has been resuscitated to include the words for "chemical warfare" and "press conference."
Where there will one day be peace but never quiet.
Video: Watch Half a Billion Birds Find Peace in the Middle East - in Israel's Hula Valley (GlobalPost)
Half a billion birds stop at Israel's Hula Valley as they migrate every fall and spring between Europe and Africa. Israel lies directly on the Syrian-African Rift Valley, its territory a bridge between Europe, Asia and Africa.
Hula functions as a much-needed way station for cranes, which fly about 6,000 miles from Finland or Russia to southern Africa, crossing about a quarter of the world's surface.
In the surrounding areas of the Mediterranean, the birds are shot at for sport, and in some cases for food.
"Israel is the only place along the entire route where it is safe for them to land now," says Nadav Israeli, one of the reserve's managers. "In places where humans are killed, who cares about birds?"
Israel hosts about 400 species of birds, and, in the last decade, a growing flock of birdwatchers.
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- Syrian Airstrikes, Shelling Kill 51 in Aleppo as Peace Talks Falter - Barbara Surk
At least 51 people, including 13 rebels, died in a single day of Syrian government airstrikes and shelling of opposition-controlled districts of Aleppo, activists said Thursday, as international mediators were trying to salvage faltering peace negotiations in Geneva. A second round of talks started on Monday, but the discussions quickly became mired in acrimony, failing to even agree on the talks' agenda.
From the outset, the talks have been accompanied by a sharp rise in violence on the ground. The Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights said at least 4,959 people died in Syria in the three weeks since Jan. 22 when the first round of talks began.
- Egypt Arrests Local U.S. Embassy Employee Responsible for Contacts with Muslim Brotherhood - Tamer El-Ghobashy
Ahmed Aleiba, an Egyptian employee of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, has been detained by authorities for more than two weeks without charges, an embassy spokesman said on Wednesday.
Egyptian media said Aleiba was responsible for contacts between U.S. officials and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egyptian media have frequently insinuated that the U.S. government has backed the Muslim Brotherhood against the military, leading to conspiracy theories about American meddling in Egyptian politics and national security. Independent rights groups estimate more than 21,000 people have been arrested since the July coup.
On Wednesday, Egypt's top prosecutor said there aren't any political detainees in Egypt and that the arrests fall within the bounds of the nation's criminal procedures. (Wall Street Journal)
- Al-Qaeda Announces Its Presence in Gaza - Khaled Abu Toameh
It's official: al-Qaeda has begun operating in Gaza. A video posted on YouTube this week showed terrorists belonging to the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), announcing plans to wage jihad against the "infidels, traitors and Crusaders."
The video features 10 heavily-armed, masked terrorists declaring allegiance to ISIS, whose men are responsible for most of the atrocities in Syria and Iraq over the past few years. In the video, a spokesman for the group announces that it now has "lions and armies in the environs of Jerusalem."
"The presence of al-Qaeda in Gaza is bad news not only for Hamas, but for all Palestinians," said a Palestinian journalist from Gaza City. "Palestinians see the crimes and massacres perpetrated by al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria and fear that they could be repeated in the West Bank and Gaza." (Gatestone Institute)
View the Video (YouTube)
- Palestinians Busy Repairing Gaza Smuggling Tunnels - Christa Case Bryant
Egypt's crackdown on tunnels used by smugglers in Gaza have wrecked havoc on its economy.
Unemployment has risen to more than double that of the West Bank. At the same time, costs are rising steeply. Since Egypt's crackdown in August, cement prices have nearly tripled. Dependent on taxes on tunnels for half its revenues, Hamas is now virtually insolvent.
At first glance, the Gaza-Egypt border still appears to be humming, with dozens of Palestinian tunnelers working tirelessly.
The workers are not busy transporting goods, however. They are transferring mud that poured in after Egyptian bombings triggered landslides.
"Around 5% of the tunnels are working," says Abu Ahmed, the owner of two tunnels who is overseeing their restoration.
(Christian Science Monitor)
- Presbyterian Study Guide Equates Zionism with Racism - Lauren Markoe
Major Jewish civil rights groups are denouncing a new publication distributed by the Presbyterian Church (USA) that rejects the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.
"Zionism Unsettled," a study guide published last month by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, a group chartered by the church, writes of the "pathology" of Zionism, the movement undergirding the founding of Israel as a Jewish homeland.
The publication laments that the major streams of Judaism - Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist - have included the "Prayer for the State of Israel" in their prayer books.
Rev. Chris Leighton, executive director of the Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies, wrote in an open letter to the church: "to suggest that the Jewish yearning for their own homeland - a yearning that we Presbyterians have supported for numerous other nations - is somehow theologically and morally abhorrent is to deny Jews their own identity as a people."
(Religion News Service-Washington Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Myths and Facts in Israeli-Palestinian Water Conflict - Haim Gvirtzman
Currently there is almost no difference in per capita
consumption of natural water between Israelis and Palestinians.
The large difference in water usage that existed in 1967, when the
West Bank passed from Jordanian to Israeli rule, has been
reduced over the last 40 years and is now negligible.
As well, the per capita domestic
water consumption of the Palestinians is significantly higher than the minimum human
needs defined by the World Health Organization. Israel has fulfilled all
of its obligations according to the agreements it signed in 1995 with the Palestinian
Authority, and in fact has exceeded them.
At least one-third of the water being pumped
out of the ground by the Palestinians is
wasted through leakage and mismanagement. No recycling of water takes place and no
treated water is used for agriculture.
95% of the sewage produced by the Palestinians
each year is not treated. Only one sewage plant has been built in the West Bank in
the last 15 years, despite there being a $500 million international donor fund available
for this purpose. The Palestinians refuse to build sewage treatment plants. The writer is a professor of hydrology at the Institute of Earth Sciences at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
(Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies-Bar-Ilan University, Jan 2012)
Read the Full Report (BESA Center-Bar-Ilan University)
- Hamas Rejects UN Textbooks for Teaching Non-Violence - Elhanan Miller
The Hamas government in Gaza accused UNRWA on Tuesday of unlawfully printing and disseminating school textbooks dealing with human rights in a way that offends Palestinian cultural sensitivities. Education Ministry spokesman Mu'tasim Al-Minawi said, "The vast majority of examples [in the books] refer to [Mahatma] Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Helen Suzman, the Soweto Uprising, the Magna Carta and Apartheid," and focused on "peaceful resistance as the only way of achieving freedom and independence."
Al-Minawi charged that the entire curriculum is dedicated "to domesticate the psyche of the Palestinian pupil, fostering negative feelings toward armed resistance." The ministry called on UNRWA to stop teaching its current human rights curriculum and called on all teachers to refuse to teach the material, which "contaminates the minds of our dear students." (Times of Israel)
- Palestinians Hurl Firebomb at Israeli Bus in West Bank - Yaakov Lappin
Palestinians hurled a firebomb at an Israeli bus traveling near Madama, southwest of Nablus in the West Bank, on Thursday.
The bus was damaged but no passengers were injured.
- Leaked Details Show Modest Goals for Kerry's Mideast Peace Plan - Patrick Martin
Since the current round of peace talks began last July, a tight lid had been kept on negotiations until now. The publicity transformation reflects the change in U.S. Secretary of State Kerry's strategic goals. Faced with failure in his ambitious aim of getting Israelis and Palestinians to agree on a framework for permanent peace within nine months, Kerry opted to pursue a more modest goal of a set of principles the two sides could accept, albeit with reservations.
With the contours of the new document beginning to emerge, so too is the opposition, the very thing Kerry hoped to avoid by keeping a cone of silence over the talks. Responding to reports that Kerry's set of principles includes recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, former Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath said, "If Mr. Kerry thinks this is the sum of his brilliant intelligence, the document will go nowhere." (Globe and Mail-Canada)
- John Kerry's Peace Plan to Recognize Israel as "Jewish State"
According to a leaked report published in an Israeli newspaper on Tuesday, an outline Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement being drawn up by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will include the recognition of Israel as a "Jewish state."
The development may represent a major gain for the Israeli leadership, which has demanded such recognition as a condition of any peace agreement, but runs the risk of an outright Palestinian rejection of the document.
The document is expected to gloss over some contentious issues such as the status of Jerusalem and security arrangements for the Jordan Valley.
- Kerry Framework: Compensation for Jewish Refugees from Arab Lands - Ben Barber
U.S.-brokered Middle East peace talks have suddenly focused on the long-ignored escape of more than 700,000 Jewish refugees from North Africa and the Middle East to safety in Israel since 1948. While the 700,000 Palestinian refugees who left Israel since 1948 have been cared for by UN programs from Gaza to Damascus, the Jewish refugees from Arab lands have never won UN support or obtained restitution of their properties left behind.
A senior U.S. State Department official told Jewish leaders in January that the draft peace "framework" would include compensation for the Jews who fled Arab lands, the New York Times reported. These Jewish communities had been deeply rooted for centuries: in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Iraq; they predated the rise of Islam in the 7th century. (McClatchy)
- A European Boycott of Israel? - Steven J. Rosen
In July 2012, the EU took unprecedented measures to enhance its relations with Israel in sixty trade and diplomatic policy areas, including increased access to its single market, closer cooperation on transport and energy, and enhanced ties with nine EU agencies. However, in July 2013, the EU promulgated a new directive that could encourage a boycott of Israeli banks operating in Jewish communities in east Jerusalem and anywhere beyond the pre-1967 lines.
Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief peace negotiator, said, "True, [the European boycott] starts with settlement [goods], but their problem is with Israel, which is seen as a colonialist country. Therefore, it won't stop at the settlements, but [will spread] to all of Israel."
Israel is a very good customer for European products: In 2012, it imported 46% more from the EU than it exported. Enhanced trade between Israel and the EU is creating more jobs in Europe than in Israel. The writer, who served as foreign policy director of AIPAC, is now director of the Washington Project of the Middle East Forum.
(Middle East Quarterly)
- BDS on a Roll? Not So Fast - Evelyn Gordon
Last week, Britain's Supreme Court issued a major ruling against BDS when it upheld a trespassing conviction against four activists who chained themselves in an Ahava shop in London to protest the Israeli cosmetics firm's West Bank plant. The court rejected the claim that Ahava was "aiding and abetting the transfer of Israeli citizens to the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories]," and thereby violating the Geneva Convention. The company was doing no such thing, the court said.
The court also rejected the claim that Ahava had mislabeled its goods by labeling them "made in Israel" when they were made in the West Bank - another precedent of obvious value.
The label isn't misleading, it said, because "a consumer willing to buy Israeli products would be very unlikely not to buy Israeli products because they were produced in the OPT." In short, the court understood that most boycotters aren't just "anti-occupation"; they have a problem with Israel, period. That understanding is crucial to unmasking BDS for what it is.
Two weeks earlier, BDS suffered another loss in a French court. The French distributor for the Israeli firm SodaStream, which also has a West Bank plant, had sued a local pro-boycott group for claiming that SodaStream products were being sold fraudulently because they were labeled "made in Israel." The court found the claim that the distributor was deceiving customers to be baseless.
Moreover, many recent BDS "victories" are actually optical illusions. Take the announcement by Denmark's largest bank that it's divesting from Bank Hapoalim. As Hapoalim pointed out, "Denmark's Danske Bank has no investments, of any kind, with Bank Hapoalim." (Commentary)
- Russian-Egyptian Meeting in Moscow Does Not Signify a Foreign Policy Realignment in Cairo - Adel El-Adawy
While Egyptian Field Marshal Abdul Fatah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy's trip to Moscow is significant, there is no foreign partner that can replace Washington. The decades-long U.S. investment in the Egyptian military has served as an anchor. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called Sisi more than twenty times in the past few months, with some calls lasting more than an hour. Washington and Cairo's mutual strategic security interests remain the central pillar in their relations.
The holdup in U.S. military aid shipments in October - while the Egyptian military was fighting major terrorist cells in the Sinai and tackling serious border security threats - led to the current rapprochement with Moscow. U.S. policy toward Egypt has made Cairo open to offers of weapons sales from other countries, and Russia was quick to seize the opportunity. Yet Egypt's move should not be interpreted as a step toward abandoning Washington.
The writer is a Fellow at The Washington Institute.
(Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
- Israel Desalination Shows California Not to Fear Drought - Alisa Odenheimer and James Nash
Six decades of providing water in a country that's 60% desert have made Israel a technological leader in the field.
Desalination of sea water, reuse of treated sewage for agriculture, software creating an early-warning system for leaks, computerized drip irrigation and careful accounting of every drop have become the norm in Israel, the world's 40th biggest economy.
North of San Diego, Israel's IDE Technologies Ltd. is helping to build the largest seawater desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere. The facility, when finished in 2016, will provide 50 million gallons of potable water a day. In Israel, desalination now provides one-quarter of the country's water supply.
- Revealed: How Syrian Rebels Seek Medical Help from Israel - Phil Sands and Suha Maayeh
When a rebel was shot and severely wounded during a new offensive on Syria's southern front, his colleagues knew the only hope of saving his life was to get him to Israel. After the rebels took the injured fighter to a crossing point, they pulled back and Israeli soldiers checked the patient for booby-traps and weapons, then rushed him to hospital. This scenario has played out more than 200 times in the past six months, rebels in southern Syria said.
Syria and Israel have officially been at war since 1948, and Syrians have grown up with state propaganda blaming the country's problems on Israel.
However, rebels engaged in combat near Israel have begun to reassess who is friend and who is foe.
"More than 250 of our people have gone across, they get amazing medical care there," said a rebel commander in Deraa. "We've had wounded people taken across and get airlifted to specialist facilities far inside Israel. We couldn't dream of getting that kind of treatment here." (National-UAE)
- Arab, Muslim and Pro-Israel - Abdel Bioud
I was born and raised in Algeria during a brutal civil war where Islamists were trying to take over the country to impose their worldview on everyone else. Friends and family members were killed. Individual liberty and freedom are values that I cherish very dearly.
By applying that freedom filter to the Israeli-Arab conflict, you get the following:
All Arab countries are dictatorships, with ruling gangster families on top, who use their monopoly of violence to kill/imprison anyone who questions them.
On one hand, you have the families in power who are trying to steal as much money as possible, while using violence against their own people. On the other hand, you have the by-product of this insanity - the Islamists - confused people who had their vision of reality completely distorted by the system they were born in.
If you're a citizen of Israel, your basic freedoms are respected. You can live peacefully, raise a family, and send your kids to competitive and globally recognized universities. This puts them light-years ahead of any Arab state. Israel is a force of good for that region and for the world. And this is coming from someone with a Muslim name and an Arab face.
Even if you drop any rational judgment and go tribal on this issue, the Jewish people are the Arabs' cousins! If your cousins were being slaughtered and discriminated against all over the world, wouldn't you welcome them with your arms wide open?
The writer is a graduate student and vice president of communication for McGill Students for Israel.
(Times of Israel)
The Cost of the "Peace Process" - Elliott Abrams (Council on Foreign Relations)
- Once upon a time, the U.S. worked hard to give Yasser Arafat, a terrorist and thief, a state to rule. That policy was changed in the George W. Bush administration, when we began to care not only about the borders of the new Palestine but what was within those borders. Bush said he would not support establishment of a Palestinian state if that state would just be another dictatorship, another kleptocracy, another home for terrorism.
- It is widely believed that corruption in the Palestinian Authority has exploded since the departure of former prime minister Salam Fayyad, who fought it. For example, the Sunday Times of London reported in October that "billions of euros in European aid to the Palestinians may have been misspent, squandered or lost to corruption, according to a damning report by the European Court of Auditors, the Luxembourg-based watchdog."
- Has the U.S. reverted to the position we had in the 1990s, when Yasser Arafat visited the White House 13 times and our policy goal was to hand him a state, no questions asked? How can it possibly contribute to the building of a decent, peaceful, democratic Palestine for the U.S. to be indifferent to the actual conduct of the Palestinian Authority?
- State Department spokesmen issue statement after statement about Israeli settlement activity, seemingly whenever one brick is laid atop another, yet ignore these serious issues. What kind of Palestine is it that the U.S. is seeking to create?
The writer, former deputy national security adviser in the administration of President George W. Bush, where he supervised U.S. policy in the Middle East, is a Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at CFR.
See also Report on Violations of Human Rights and Freedoms in the Palestinian-Controlled Territory,
January 2014 (Independent Commission for Human Rights-ICHR)
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