Intelligence Survey: Assad Losing Ground in Syria; Egypt Pushing Jihadists Out of Sinai - Amir Rapaport (Israel Defense)
Contrary to the impression one may get from the world press, Assad continues to lose ground in Syria and must call in Hizbullah reinforcements from Lebanon to assist him in the primary battles.
The Israeli defense community has already rejected the American suggestion to settle for Israeli presence at the border crossings in the Jordan Valley and rely on satellite and ground surveillance technology that would replace their physical presence on the ground.
Israel's previous defense minister, Ehud Barak, was willing to "consider" such ideas. The present minister, Moshe Yaalon, has bluntly declined.
The military regime in Egypt is gaining momentum in its war against the Jihad organizations. The Jihadists are being pushed out of Sinai and are shedding blood in their confrontations with the Egyptian Army.
Egyptian forces have almost completely "dried out" the underground tunnels that enabled free movement of terrorists and arms between Sinai and Gaza.
Israel still regards Iran as the no. 1 danger.
According to the Israeli perception, Iran is fooling the entire world and will continue to strive for the Bomb clandestinely.
Has the option of an Israeli attack against Iran's nuclear facilities been taken off the table? Absolutely not. Of all things, it is the prevailing sense in Jerusalem that the U.S. is willing to reach an agreement with the Iranians at almost any price which could push Israel to stage an attack on its own.
Top Qaeda Operative Killed in Syria Suicide Bombing (Al Arabiya)
Abu Khalid al-Suri, al-Qaeda's representative in Syria, was killed Sunday in a suicide bombing amid intensifying infighting between rival Islamist fighters.
Suri was a commander of Ahrar al-Sham, one of the main rebel groups in the Islamic Front alliance. He was killed along with six al-Qaeda comrades when a jihadist from the rival ISIS group blew himself up at an Ahrar al-Sham post in al-Halq.
Hizbullah Channels European Mercenaries to Syria - Antoine Ghattas Saab
Eastern European mercenaries, recruited with the help of Hizbullah, have been arriving in batches at Beirut Airport on their way to join Assad's forces in the war in Syria.
According to one Eastern European country's intelligence unit, most of these fighters have professional military experience and have fought in Chechnya.
The fighters wear Hizbullah military uniforms as well as yellow bands on their heads to show their loyalty.
According to a European intelligence report, some 5,000 European citizens have joined hard-line groups in Syria and Iraq to conduct "jihad."
PA Blocks Hamas Mosque Takeover Bid in Hebron - Avi Issacharoff (Times of Israel)
Recently, Hamas forces tried to take over several mosques in the city of Hebron in the West Bank and control the wording of the sermons, but PA forces prevented them from doing so.
This is all the more noteworthy since Hebron is thought of as a Hamas stronghold.
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- Syrians Seek New Delay in Export of Chemical Arms - Rick Gladstone
The Syrian government has sought a new delay, until mid-May, for the export of its chemical weapons arsenal and is balking at a deadline looming in three weeks to destroy the 12 facilities that once produced the munitions, Western diplomats said Friday. The announcement is a new indication that Syria's pledge to eradicate the banned arsenal - under a timetable already weeks behind schedule - is fraying.
(New York Times)
- Israel Boycott? Exports to Europe Up 6 Percent in 2013 - Crispian Balmer
The EU is Israel's largest trading partner and it is the only place where murmurings of sanctions have been raised outside the Arab world. According to the latest Bank of Israel data, direct investment in Israel was $10.51 billion in the first nine months of 2013, up from $9.5 billion for the whole of 2012. Exports to Europe rose 6.3% last year.
"The truth is that Israel is a world leader in water technology, next-generation agriculture, cybersecurity, healthcare innovation and start-ups," said Jonathan Medved, CEO of a platform providing venture capital to Israeli companies.
"What sane person is going to walk away from that?" (Reuters)
- U.S., Allies Agree on Standards for Opposition Groups in Syria to Receive Aid - Karen DeYoung
The U.S. and its principal European and Arab allies have agreed on a unified way of providing Syrian rebel groups with aid.
Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, France and the U.S. have often disagreed over how to bolster the opposition and undermine Syrian President Assad.
After a U.S.-led meeting of intelligence chiefs in Washington last week, there has been a substantive shift toward a more aggressive U.S. posture and a willingness by others to follow that lead.
It was unclear whether the reassessment would cause the administration to move beyond its policy of aiding only the Free Syrian Army or if it was focused primarily on stopping aid to those it sees as extremists. Most of the arms to the southern front will continue to come from Saudi Arabia, which is supplying rocket launchers, some antiaircraft capability, heavy machine guns and armored vehicles in addition to small arms and ammunition.
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- After Briefing by U.S. Iran Negotiator: Israel Reserves Right to Act Independently - Herb Keinon
Israel reserves the right to assess the Iranian situation and make the necessary decisions independently, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said Sunday after five hours of talks with Wendy Sherman, Washington's top Iran negotiator. "Israel reiterated and made clear its position that an agreement with Iran must include dismantling its ability to progress toward a nuclear weapon," Steinitz said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Cabinet Sunday that he was concerned Iran believed it could "realize its plan to be a nuclear threshold state, with an enrichment capability that it thinks cannot be touched, and with the ability to develop both nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles.... This combination of enrichment, weapons, and launch capabilities means that Iran is, in effect, receiving everything and giving almost nothing."
Any long-term agreement must "dismantle the Iranian ability to either produce or launch nuclear weapons, and this has yet to be achieved, and without the insistence of the major powers, it will not be achieved," Netanyahu said. (Jerusalem Post)
- Gen. Gantz: Iran "Handing Out Torches to Pyromaniacs" - Adiv Sterman
Iran and its surrogates are ceaselessly attempting to destabilize and compromise Israel's borders, with Iran directly involved in every conflict in the countries surrounding Israel, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz said Sunday.
Iran "is handing out torches to pyromaniacs...ammunition, rockets, and is heavily involving itself in the fighting."
"Each and every one of our fronts is in a tense state right now," he said. "Quiet, I would say, yet tense, every day." (Times of Israel)
- Palestinians Stage Armed Procession Near Jerusalem
Dozens of Palestinians brandishing AK-47 and M16 rifles as well as hand grenades and pistols, while clad in military gear, staged a procession over the weekend in Abu Dis, just outside the Jerusalem municipal boundaries, to mark the 45th anniversary of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Israel Radio reported. A number of shots were fired in the air during the festivities. (Jerusalem Post)
- France and the BDS Movement - Michael Curtis
Over the last year, France has displayed courage and initiative in dealing with the threat of Islamic fundamentalism in African countries. Now it is taking the lead in using legal means to counter and punish those participating in the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, which the French legal system views as an expression of anti-Semitism and as a crime.
By the Gayssot Law, enacted on July 13, 1990, France made it a criminal offense to question the existence or the number of crimes against humanity on the basis of the category of crimes prosecuted at the Nuremberg Tribunal.
France has gone beyond the Gayssot Law. It realized that the BDS movement against Israel is the latest weapon being used in the attempt to destroy Israel and is implicitly anti-Semitic because of its concentration on Jews. The Lellouche law, promulgated on February 3, 2003, extends the definition of discrimination to include members of national groups and has been applied in a number of cases against boycotters.
In 2009 and 2010, twelve activists who had entered a supermarket in Mulhouse and put stickers with anti-Israeli slogans on vegetables imported from Israel were arrested and fined. The leader of the group, Farida Trichine, wore a "boycott Israel" shirt during the activity. On December 1, 2013, the Court of Appeals of Colmar fined each of the twelve boycotters individually for activity that it considered "provocation to discrimination." The ruling, based on the Lellouche law, overturned a lower court verdict that found the twelve not guilty.
- Ayatollah Khamenei: Pessimistic Negotiator, Optimistic Strategist - Mehdi Khalaji
Although Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has officially permitted the government to negotiate with the P5+1 on the nuclear program, he has expressed his disappointment about the interim Joint Plan of Action signed in Geneva in November.
Indeed, while the Supreme Leader supports the negotiation team in public, he does not miss any chance to reiterate his pessimism about reaching a final resolution or decry the fundamentally deceptive nature of the "enemy," especially U.S.
Khamenei does not seem to believe that the U.S. or Israeli military threat is credible. This belief is based on four perceptions within the main power circle: first, that the chaos in Syria has made the West fearful of spillover to neighboring countries in the event of an attack on Iran; second, that the West is extremely concerned about Iran's potential reaction to an attack; third, that Israel cannot strike Iran without either waiting for a green light from Washington or jeopardizing its relations with the U.S.; and fourth, that an attack would give Iran enough legitimacy to militarize its nuclear program, which the West and Israel want to avoid most.
The writer is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute.
(Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
- Back into an Embrace with the Russian Bear - Zvi Mazel
By pressuring the new regime in Cairo to demonstrate its commitment to democracy, the U.S. is driving it straight into the willing embrace of one of the least democratic countries in Europe. An unprecedented arms deal is about to be concluded in which Moscow will supply Cairo with $3 billion worth of such sophisticated weapons as MiG-29 warplanes, anti-aircraft systems, Kornet anti-tank guided missiles and combat helicopters. It follows that Russian experts will be sent to Egypt to train and advise in the use of these weapons, as well as help with maintenance. Egyptian officers and technicians will be sent to Russia. Members of the intelligence services of Egypt will probably be next.
The new regime in Cairo, which has its hands full fighting radical Islam, desperately wants closer ties with the West but has to be content with the embrace of the Russian bear - an embrace which is not limited to military assistance. Russians make up most of the tourists coming to Egypt these days,
and Egypt feeds its masses on mainly Russian wheat. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has offered help in building the first nuclear plant in Egypt. Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said that Egypt had submitted to the U.S. several detailed proposals for greater dialogue - and was still waiting for an answer. The writer, a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former Israeli ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden. (Jerusalem Post)
Don't Let Up on Iran - Michael Kassen and Lee Rosenberg (New York Times)
- Like all Americans, we strongly hope that the Obama administration's diplomatic efforts lead to the peaceful dismantling of Iran's nuclear weapons program.
Diplomacy that is not backed by the threat of clear consequences poses the greatest threat to negotiations - and increases prospects for war - because it tells the Iranians they have nothing to lose by embracing an uncompromising position.
- We also know the Iranians have worked to deceive us in previous rounds of negotiations. In 2003, when Mr. Rouhani was Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Tehran issued a declaration that it was suspending uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities. Last year, as he ran for president, Mr. Rouhani even boasted that Iran had flouted the agreement.
- The partial recovery of Iran's economy in recent weeks, thanks to the relaxation of sanctions, in tandem with its continuing advanced research and development of centrifuges, highlights our concerns. If Iran can achieve such progress without dismantling any part of its nuclear program, why should it make concessions?
- The acceptable terms of a final accord must include, at a minimum, the dismantling of Iran's nuclear program, so that it has neither a uranium nor a plutonium pathway to a nuclear weapon.
Michael Kassen is the president, and Lee Rosenberg is the chairman of the board, of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
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