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  DAILY ALERT Wednesday,
March 26, 2014

In-Depth Issues:

Iran Resumes Monetary Aid to Hamas - Adnan Abu Amer (Al-Monitor)
    Gaza sources say that Iranian financial support has resumed to Hamas, but at a level lower than before.
    A source close to Hamas' political leadership said that Qatar was mediating with Iran to restore ties with Hamas.
    Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal will soon meet with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Hamas is optimistic that Meshaal's visit will result in increasing Iran's financial support.

The Threat from Iranian Mini-Subs in the Persian Gulf - Awad Mustafa (Defense News)
    "The Iranian Revolutionary Guards [Corps] threaten every state in the region," said Matthew Hedges, a military analyst with the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai.
    "The IRGC possess mini-subs and are a constant menace to not only the UAE Navy, but to all naval trade passing through the Strait of Hormuz as they are particularly hard to trace."
    "Anti-submarine operations are causing a real challenge to our units in the Arabian Gulf waters due to the small subs that are being used in shallow waters, which creates a challenge for sonar systems to detect them," UAE Navy Chief Rear Adm. Ibrahim Musharrakh told the Gulf Naval Commanders Conference on Nov. 6.
    The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) reports that Iran has deployed from 10 to 19 small Ghadir-class submarines for use in shallow coastal waters since 2007.
    The operational capabilities of the subs include firing torpedoes, laying mines, and insertion of special forces into enemy territory.

New York Bomb Plotter Gets 16-Year Term - Christie Smythe (Bloomberg)
    Jose Pimentel, 29, also known as Muhammad Yusuf, an al-Qaeda sympathizer who pleaded guilty following a police sting operation after trying to build pipe bombs to detonate in New York City, was sentenced to 16 years in prison on Tuesday.
    Pimentel had the makings of at least three pipe bombs when he was arrested. Pimentel said he wanted to "effectuate the withdrawal of the United States forces from Arab countries in the Middle East."

U. of Michigan Student Government Votes to Reject Israel Divestment Resolution - Will Greenberg and Kristen Fedor (Michigan Daily)
    The University of Michigan Student Government voted early Wednesday not to pass a divestment resolution aimed at Israel in a 25-9 vote with five abstentions.

More than Ten Firms Bid for Israel-Turkey Gas Pipeline - Amiram Barkat (Globes)
    More than ten bids were submitted for the export of natural gas to Turkey from Israel's Leviathan field.
    The deal would include laying a pipeline to Turkey from Leviathan's proposed floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) ship.

Israel's Unemployment Rate Drops to Record Low - Zeev Klein (Israel Hayom)
    Israel's unemployment rate dropped to a record low of 4.9% in February, down from 5.4% in January, according to data released Monday by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S. Scrambles to Salvage Ailing Israeli-Palestinian Talks - Ron Kampeas
    Martin Indyk, the peace process envoy for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, is in Israel and the West Bank this week attempting to salvage the talks ahead of Saturday's deadline for a fourth release of Palestinian prisoners by Israel. Israeli officials have said that if PA President Mahmoud Abbas does not agree to an extension of the talks, the planned release on March 29 of 26 long-term Palestinian prisoners will not take place. Indyk and Kerry have abandoned for now their hopes of unveiling a U.S.-drafted framework for a final peace agreement. Instead, Indyk is simply seeking the extension of the talks for another nine months.
        Analysts said the Israeli-Palestinian talks would probably survive the current crisis. Analyst Yossi Alpher said if the EU is serious about threats to cut subsidies to the PA should Abbas walk away from talks, Abbas "will have no choice except to fold."
        Ghaith al-Omari, the director of the American Task Force on Palestine, said the alternative for the Palestinians of seeking statehood status in world forums is not an attractive one. "It is costly," he said, referring to the cuts in assistance from the U.S. that such action would likely bring. Additionally, al-Omari said, Abbas already played out the statehood recognition gambit in 2012. "When you go to the General Assembly the first time, you have TV screens. By the seventh time, when you're at the World Health Organization, it won't get much attention."  (JTA)
        See also With Mideast Peace Talks Faltering, Kerry Will See Abbas - Michael R. Gordon (New York Times)
  • Qaeda Militants Seek Syria Base, U.S. Officials Say - Eric Schmitt
    Dozens of seasoned militant fighters, including some midlevel planners, have traveled to Syria from Pakistan in recent months in what American intelligence and counterterrorism officials fear is an effort to lay the foundation for future strikes against Europe and the U.S. "We are concerned about the use of Syrian territory by the al-Qaeda organization to recruit individuals and develop the capability to be able not just to carry out attacks inside of Syria, but also to use Syria as a launching pad," John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, told a House panel.
        Syria is an appealing base for these operatives because it offers them the relative sanctuary of extremist-held havens - away from drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan - as well as ready access to about 1,200 American and European Muslims who have gone there to fight and could be potential recruits to carry out attacks when they return home.
        New classified intelligence assessments conclude that al-Qaeda's senior leadership in Pakistan, including Ayman al-Zawahri, is developing a long-term plan to recruit and train these Westerners. The new assessment raises the possibility that Syria could become the next Afghanistan. (New York Times)
  • White House Protests Saudi Visa Denial to Israel Reporter - David Jackson
    As President Obama prepares to visit Saudi Arabia, the White House is objecting to the Saudi denial of a visa to an Israel newspaper reporter seeking to cover the event. Michael Wilner, the Washington bureau chief for the Jerusalem Post, was the only journalist denied a visa.
        "We are deeply disappointed that this credible journalist was denied a visa," said Bernadette Meehan, spokesperson for the National Security Council. "We will continue to register our serious concerns about this unfortunate decision." "Wilner, a Jewish American...does not hold Israeli citizenship and has never lived in the Jewish state."  (USA Today)
        See also White House Thinks Anti-Semitism Is "Disappointing" - Tom Wilson
    The only member of the White House press corps to be denied a visa by Saudi Arabia for the upcoming visit by President Obama is Michael Wilner, a Jewish American. In response the White House has expressed its "deep disappointment." We all know what this is on Saudi Arabia's part: it's the most open form of politically motivated anti-Semitism. This is an outrage, and the administration should describe it as such. Mr. Wilner is an American citizen; the discrimination at work here is clear. (Commentary)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel Navy Fires at 2 Smuggling Boats Off Gaza Coast
    Israel Navy forces fired overnight Tuesday on two smuggling boats off the Gaza coast, the army announced Wednesday. Palestinian reports cited four wounded from the Israeli fire. As the Navy was escorting the boats back to Gaza, gunmen on the coast opened fire on the Israeli forces. (Jerusalem Post)
  • IDF Finds Two Bombs on Gaza Border - Yaakov Lappin
    The IDF uncovered two bombs planted along the Gaza-Israel border on Tuesday. (Jerusalem Post)
  • IDF Preparing for Ground Offensive to Defeat Hizbullah in Lebanon - Yaakov Lappin
    In the event of another war, only a full-scale ground offensive will achieve a convincing defeat of Hizbullah in Lebanon, a high-ranking IDF source said on Tuesday. "It's clear to the general staff that a ground maneuver is what's needed" to extinguish the threat of mass rocket attacks, the source said.
        Ground Forces planners are aiming to inject units deep into Hizbullah's territory. "It's clear to us that we have to shorten a conflict. A ground maneuver will accomplish that," the source said. "We have to get to the enemy and strike its ability to fire on us."  (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
  • The U.S.-Saudi Relationship Really Is Too Big to Fail - Aaron David Miller
    As President Obama heads off to Riyadh this week, the list of issues on which U.S. and Saudi leaders don't agree has gotten pretty long. Riyadh opposed Mubarak's fall; we sounded like we welcomed it. They saw the Morsi Muslim Brotherhood government as a threat; we were prepared to live with it. They fully supported the Egyptian military coup and backed it with billions; we waffled and conditioned our military assistance to Egypt.
        They backed the Khalifa family in Bahrain; initially we supported reform in their backyard. They remain worried that a Shi'a government close to Iran rules just across their border in Baghdad; we enabled it. Indeed, the Saudis see the Middle East as a struggle between good Sunnis and bad Shi'a; we refuse to take sides.
        Yet the U.S.-Saudi relationship really is too big to fail. Key linkages - billions in recent U.S. weapons sales, counter-terrorism cooperation, and all that oil - will keep Riyadh and Washington together for some time to come. (American Interest)
  • Textbook Diplomacy: Why the State Department Shelved a Study on Incitement in Saudi Education Materials - David Andrew Weinberg
    With President Obama poised to visit Saudi Arabia at the end of this month, there is a looming counterterrorism problem: Saudi Arabia's ongoing sponsorship of religious hatred in its public education system. In 2011, the State Department commissioned a comprehensive study on Saudi Arabia's government-published textbooks, which are widely distributed both inside the country and abroad. However, when the study was ready for release in 2012, U.S. government officials decided not to publish it.
        Current and former officials assert that the study was withheld because of how bad it makes the Saudis look. Passages continue to dehumanize Jews and Christians, promote the murder of homosexuals, and sanction violence against Muslims who do not follow the Wahhabi brand of Islam sponsored by the Saudi state. (Foundation for Defense of Democracies)
        Read the Report (Foundation for Defense of Democracies)
  • New Sunni Insurgency in Iraq - Jonathan Spyer
    Iraq today stands on the brink of a renewed Sunni insurgency. Over 9,000 people were killed in fighting in Iraq in 2013, the highest since 2007. The two main insurgent groups are ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and the Naqshbandi Army. ISIS experienced a resurgence during the Syrian civil war, and today it controls much of Raqqa province in eastern Syria.
        The Naqshbandi Army is headed by Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, a former high official in Saddam Hussein's regime, and many of the Naqshbandi commanders and fighters are former members of the Ba'ath party. They support the Naqshabandi Sufi Muslim sect, from which their name derives, while the Ba'athist and pan-Arab element is dominant.
        The dawning insurgency is related to the increasing marginalization felt by the Iraqi Sunni Arab minority as a result of the sectarian policies pursued by the Shia-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. (GLORIA Center-IDC, Herzliya)

The Saudis See Iran Trying to Encircle Them - Dennis Ross (Los Angeles Times)

  • The Saudis believe that America's friends and interests are under threat, and the U.S. response has ranged from indifference to accommodation. The Saudis see Iran trying to encircle them with its Quds Force active in Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and their own eastern province.
  • The Saudis see an Iranian effort to shift the balance of forces in the region dramatically in Tehran's favor, whether by killing Sunni Muslims in Syria, mobilizing Shiite Muslim militias in Iraq, providing arms to the Houthi rebels in Yemen or fomenting unrest among Saudi Shiites.
  • Unlike the Israelis, who see the Iranian nuclear program as an existential threat, the Saudis perceive Iranian encirclement in existential terms. Like the Israelis, they are convinced Iran is determined to acquire nuclear arms but see it as an instrument in its pursuit of regional hegemony.
  • Saudi leaders see the Iranians using the nuclear program negotiations to buy time, and fear that the U.S. is refusing to compete with the Iranians in the region or to back U.S. friends as they do so.
  • They see the Egyptian military involved in a life-and-death struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood and jihadi terrorists in Sinai, both of whom are also perceived as a threat to Saudi Arabia. And they see the U.S. withholding of Apache helicopters, which are effective as a counter-terror weapon for the Egyptian military, as inexplicable.
  • The Saudis have offered to pay for the $2-3 billion arms package Egypt is seeking from the Russians.

    The writer served as a senior Middle East advisor to President Obama.

        See also Iranian Aid to Fighters in the Gulf Peninsula - Lori Plotkin Boghardt
    U.S. intelligence assesses that Iran is in fact providing arms and more to Bahraini and other fighters in the Arabian Peninsula. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

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