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  DAILY ALERT Wednesday,
March 19, 2014

In-Depth Issues:

Palestinian Negotiator: Obama, Abbas Talks "Difficult" (AFP)
    U.S. President Barack Obama and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas held "long" and "difficult" talks on the Middle East peace process on Monday and no document was presented by the U.S. side, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told the Wilson Center in Washington on Tuesday.

Livni: More Palestinian Prisoners Will Not Be Released Unless a Framework Deal Is Reached - Barak Ravid (Ha'aretz)
    Israeli peace negotiator Justice Minister Tzipi Livni warned Tuesday that the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners - set to be freed at the end of March as part of the agreement to resume negotiations - will not be released if Israel and the Palestinians have not reached a broad framework agreement by then.
    "The prison keys are in the hands of [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas and the decisions he makes over the next few days," Livni said.
    "There was never an automatic commitment that was not connected to the state of the talks and what would happen by the release date," she said.
    "Israel does not want barren talks whose only purpose is to play for time and avoid making decisions."

U.S. Orders Syria to Close Embassy in Washington - Paul Richter (Los Angeles Times)
    The Obama administration on Tuesday ordered Damascus to close its embassy in Washington, expelling its diplomats.
    Secretary of State John Kerry said, "We've all seen the pictures of the emaciated corpses. You can't believe you're in 2014. And so we just felt the idea that this embassy is sitting here with representation that we could take seriously is an insult, and we closed it."
    See also The Syrian Civil War: A Nightmare of Barbarity and Carnage - Richard Spencer (Telegraph-UK)
    You do not see the full horror of the Syrian civil war, I can assure you. Our editors could show you the reality, but they preserve a conventional sense of decency.
    As I write, the great and glorious city of Aleppo, one of the oldest beacons of human civilization, is being destroyed. Its Great Umayyad Mosque is already in ruins, its suburbs flattened daily by barrel bombs.
    At one point in January, 30 of these barrels stuffed with TNT and shrapnel were raining down on civilian areas of the city each day. Thousands of people have been killed.

Freed Palestinian Prisoner Planned New Attack - Lilach Shoval (Israel Hayom)
    A 26-year-old Palestinian freed in the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner swap deal was arrested on Monday with a knife at the Kalandiya crossing north of Jerusalem.
    The man told authorities he had planned on entering Israel to carry out an attack.
    The man had been sentenced previously to three years in prison in Israel after being convicted of shooting toward a settlement.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Bomb Injures Israeli Soldiers along Border with Syria - Batsheva Sobelman
    An explosive device detonated on the Israeli side of Israel's border with Syria, injuring four Israeli soldiers Tuesday, according to the Israeli army. The soldiers, who were patrolling the area of the Druze village Majdal Shams, got out of an armored vehicle to inspect suspicious movements.
        Speaking in the Knesset Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the border with Syria was "filling up with Jihadists and Hizbullah elements," posing a new challenge for Israel. Last week, a bomb went off along the border with Lebanon, injuring three Israeli soldiers. Earlier this month, the Israeli military fired at suspects trying to plant a bomb along the border with Syria. (Los Angeles Times)
        See also Israel Targets Syrian Army Positions which Abetted Attack on IDF Soldiers
    The IDF on Wednesday targeted several Syrian army positions which aided and abetted the attack against IDF soldiers Tuesday. Among the targets were a Syrian army training facility, military headquarters, and artillery batteries. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Iran, World Powers Resume Nuclear Talks Amid Ukraine Crisis - Laurence Norman
    Iran and six major powers sought to inject fresh momentum into nuclear talks that resumed in Vienna on Tuesday, ahead of a July deadline for a deal. Western officials brushed off concerns that the mounting tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine would complicate talks.
        One concern was recent Iranian comments that Russia was looking to build new nuclear plants in Iran in exchange for oil. Such a move could undercut sanctions the West believes were vital to drawing Tehran back into talks and revive concerns in Washington that Iran can use the spent fuel from power plants to develop a nuclear weapons capability. (Wall Street Journal)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Nasrallah Seeks Revenge without Fingerprints - Ron Ben-Yishai
    The explosive device which wounded four IDF soldiers Tuesday has Hizbullah's fingerprints all over it. The radical Shiite terror group was seeking to avenge an attack on a weapons convoy two weeks ago which was carrying advanced rockets from Syria toLebanon, which it attributes to Israel. More than a year ago, Hizbullah set up a field base in the northern side of the Syrian Golan Heights, to aid forces fighting for Syrian President Bashar Assad and launch attacks against Israel. (Ynet News)
        See also High Alert on Syrian Border: "Next Attack Is Only a Matter of Time" - Yoav Zitun
    Israeli army officials estimate that another attempt to harm IDF forces in the vicinity of the Syrian border will be carried out and the level of alert in the region will remain high. The region in which the attack occurred is under Syrian army control. Al-Arabiya reported that the aim of the attack was to kidnap an Israeli soldier. The explosive device used Tuesday contained thousands of fragments. In order to rule out a kidnapping attempt, IDF cannon immediately fired heavily to mask the area. Within minutes, tanks shelled towards Syrian outposts, and Tamuz missiles hit more distant positions. (Ynet News)
  • Don't Cancel Sale of Apache Helicopters to Egypt, Israel Urges U.S. - Barak Ravid
    Israel is urging Washington not to stop the supply of 10 advanced Apache combat helicopters to the Egyptian army. A high-ranking official in Jerusalem said Israel clarified that the helicopters were crucial to Egypt's fight against jihadist groups in Sinai and will improve regional security. However, there is considerable opposition in Congress to renewing military aid to Egypt until the army transfers the reins to an elected democratic government.
        The senior Israeli official said that Israel's ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, talked about the matter with high-ranking American officials last week. Last week a delegation of top Egyptian army officers and officials from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs visited Israel. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Congress Threatens Showdown over Military Aid to Egypt - Julian Pecquet
    Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer met with the Republican pro-Israel caucus recently and sang the praises of the new Egyptian leadership. "I have my reservations too about the instability of the Egyptian government," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East. "But when I hear from our closest ally, who has got a lot at stake for her survival - and they have high standards for who has been a good partner - then I feel a lot better about helping Egypt."  (Al-Monitor)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • The Case for Zero Enrichment in Iran - Michael Singh
    In the November 24 first-step nuclear accord, the P5+1 all but concedes that Iran will be permitted to enrich uranium in perpetuity. U.S. negotiators now characterize their previous position that Iran should halt enrichment as "maximalist." Yet this shift away from a zero-enrichment negotiating position, which represents a significant diplomatic victory for Iran, is misguided and unnecessary.
        Iran has no practical need for uranium enrichment, unless its actual desire is to build or preserve the option to build a nuclear weapon. Allowing Iran to enrich complicates the task of verifying that Iran is not diverting ostensibly safeguarded material to a parallel, covert nuclear weapons program.
        If Iran is permitted to enrich, by implication it also will be permitted to mine, convert, and stockpile uranium. In addition, it will be permitted to manufacture centrifuges and possibly import centrifuge components and related materials. Under the joint plan, Iran is even permitted to continue to research and test advanced centrifuges.
        Zero enrichment is hardly a maximalist position; it entails offering Iran something it deeply needs (sanctions relief) in exchange for something it does not (enrichment). There was no tactical need for the P5+1 to walk away from zero enrichment. The writer is managing director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Arms Control Today)
  • Hizbullah's Advances in Syria Expose Its Frailties in Lebanon - Sharif Nashashibi
    The fall of Yabroud on Sunday to Hizbullah and Syrian regime forces is a significant setback for rebel fighters. The Syrian city, which had been under opposition control for much of the revolution, was their last stronghold near the Lebanese border and its fall leaves nearby rebel-held towns and suburbs of Damascus, the capital, more vulnerable to attacks that are reportedly imminent. It also enables President Assad to secure the land route linking his coastal stronghold with Damascus.
        However, the description of this as "a continuation of the successes made by the Syrian army" is fanciful. This, and a string of previous battlefield gains, would not have been possible without the direct involvement of Hizbullah fighters. The fact is that the regime owes its survival to foreign intervention.
        Yet the more Hizbullah advances in Syria, the more unstable its position at home. Attacks against it in Lebanon are increasing in scale and frequency. Hizbullah is now widely viewed as a killer of fellow Arabs in support of a dictator whose regime is guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. (National-UAE)
  • PA Recognizes that Israel Exists But Not Its Right to Exist - Itamar Marcus
    Abbas' refusal to recognize the Jewish state reflects a fundamental element of PA policy to deny Jewish history - especially in Jerusalem. When Israeli archeologists in 2013 displayed gold artifacts with Jewish symbols, such as a menorah and a shofar, found 50 meters from the Western Wall in Jerusalem, former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei immediately denied its authenticity on official PA TV: "I think all this is a forgery, forgery of the truth. It's all an attempt to make claims. They did not find anything." (Official PA TV, September 11, 2013).
        The PA's refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is not a mere technicality, but part of an overarching policy of denying thousands of years of Jewish history in Israel, and thereby denying Israel's right to exist. Although in the Oslo Accords in 1993 the PLO recognized the existence of Israel, the PA differentiates between recognizing that Israel exists and recognizing Israel's right to exist. The writer is director of Palestinian Media Watch. (Jerusalem Post)

Iran's Fortunes Rising in a Middle East Vacuum - Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

  • On March 12, 2014, Israel was hit by massive rocket fire from Gaza by Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). PIJ is completely dependent on Iran for its funding and equipment, and some of its operatives have also undergone training in Iran for the manufacture of rockets and explosives and for guerrilla warfare. There have also been recurring attacks on IDF border forces in Israel's north as well - including along the Syrian border - where Hizbullah's ties with Iran are well-known. All of these attacks on Israel come in the wake of the green light given by Iran against the backdrop of changing power equations in the broader Middle East.
  • Iran has been leading an "axis of evil" as it devises and implements an ambitious plan to increase its influence across the Middle East and mold it in line with its revolutionary Islamic ideology. Central to that plan is ejecting the U.S. and the West from the region, along with what remains of their influence.
  • The change in Iran's behavior reflects its growing self-confidence since the recent rounds of nuclear negotiations with the West began, along with America's rapidly declining regional and international status (vivid in the Ukrainian crisis as well). The more the United States' regional and international status sinks, the more Iran's self-confidence rises.
  • Iran regards the U.S., and the West in general, as lacking the capacity to use military force to stop its nuclearization, or to curtail Iran's assertive measures against the Gulf States and in the Middle East generally. Iran sees an opportunity to continue driving the U.S. and the West out of the region.
  • Iran views Hizbullah and the Palestinian terror organizations as major components in its national security strategy, part of its long arm. Iran acts ceaselessly to provide these actors with rockets and the knowledge to manufacture them, along with other weapons. The latest developments, coupled with Iran's growing realization that it is immune to a Western military attack, could lead it to make even bolder moves by itself and through its proxies.
  • U.S. policy is increasingly impelling states in the Middle East to alter their framework of alliances. They view the U.S. as less and less reliable, and are seeking an alternate power instead. Possibilities include Russia, China, or - closer to home - Iran.

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