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May 23, 2014

In-Depth Issues:

Egypt: Top Militant Leader Killed in Sinai (AP-Washington Post)
    Shadi el-Manaei, who heads the al-Qaeda-inspired Ansar Beit al-Maqdis militant group, and three of his associates were killed on Thursday when gunmen sprayed their vehicle with bullets on a road in central Sinai, three senior Egyptian security officials said.
    15 men in vehicles and armed with automatic weapons attacked el-Manaei's car to avenge the killings of tribesmen by his terror group.
    The U.S. has designated Ansar Beit al-Maqdis a foreign terrorist organization.
    See also Head of Sinai Terror Group Behind Rocket Fire, Attacks on Israel, Killed (Times of Israel)

Increasing Russian, Iranian Involvement Helps Assad in Syria - Ron Ben-Yishai (Ynet News)
    Western intelligence believes that the main reason for Assad's recent successes in the civil war raging in Syria is the increasing involvement of Iran, Russia and Hizbullah.
    For the first time in over a decade, Russian advisors have been seen among Syrian army units in the midst of actual fighting.
    Russian mercenaries are guarding oil fields in eastern Syria which are under Assad control.
    Russian involvement on such a scale hasn't been seen in Syria since the 1980s.
    The Iranians as well have become more directly involved in the fighting. Some 300 Iranian Guard soldiers are currently fighting in Syria, likely in Aleppo.
    In southern Syria, on the border with Jordan, hundreds of Hizbullah fighters are aiding the Syrian army's current assault on Daraa and Nawa.

Russia, China Veto UN Bid to Refer Syria to International Court - Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau (Reuters)
    Russia and China vetoed on Thursday a resolution to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the country's civil war.
    This was the fourth time Russia and China have blocked UN Security Council action on Syria.

Russia May Build Eight Nuclear Reactors for Iran (Reuters)
    "Russia and Iran may sign an...agreement this year on building from four to eight nuclear reactors, and, under the deal, the contract for the construction of the first two reactors as additions to [the] Bushehr [reactor]," a source said Thursday.

Libyan Muslim Brotherhood Condemns "Renegade" General's Coup (Asharq Al-Awsat)
    The Muslim Brotherhood in Libya has strongly condemned statements made by former army chief Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who pledged to "purge" Libya of Muslim Brotherhood members, describing the group as a "malignant disease that is seeking to spread throughout the bones of the Arab world."

Video: Palestinian Child Recites Poem on Hamas TV: "I Shall Buy a Bullet" (MEMRI)
    The Hamas TV children's show "Pioneers of Tomorrow" recently hosted a very young Palestinian girl who recited the poem, "I shall buy a bullet, at any price."
    Nahoul, the giant bee character co-hosting the show, cried words of encouragement on the show that aired on Al-Aqsa TV on May 16.

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After Break with Qatar, Egypt Faces Natural Gas Shortages - Erin Cunningham (Washington Post)
    When Egypt's military ousted President Mohamed Morsi last summer, it also broke political ties with his chief financial patron, natural gas-rich Qatar.
    Now, dwindling natural-gas supplies are expected to trigger nationwide blackouts. In a bid to avoid a crisis, Egypt's government has raised the price of natural gas, which generates at least 70% of the country's electricity.
    Egyptian leader Sissi's new Persian Gulf benefactors - oil giants Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, all Qatari rivals - don't have the gas exports that Egypt needs.
    Under agreements with Egypt's state-run energy companies, foreign firms exploit and produce the country's gas reserves.
    Because Egypt heavily subsidizes the gas it distributes to domestic consumers, international oil companies send some of the gas they produce in Egypt to the more lucrative global market, where they can sell it for much higher prices.
    But the Egyptian reserves have been steadily declining and are now insufficient to generate power and also supply the foreign firms.

New Israeli Rocket Can Hit Target 150 Km. Away - Yoav Zitun (Ynet News)
    Israel Military Industries has developed the Extended Range Artillery (EXTRA) rocket with a maximum range of 150 km. and an accuracy of up to ten meters.
    EXTRA has already been purchased by a number of foreign armies.

Elbit's New Spear Promises Heavy Mortar Punch for Light Vehicles - Nick Brown (IHS Jane's Defence Weekly)
    Israel's Elbit Systems has unveiled a 120 mm mortar system for unstabilized lightweight vehicles.
    The new Soltam Spear features a soft-recoil system that enables the mortar to be mounted and fired from the back of light utility vehicles.

Life Expectancy of Israeli Men Ranks Fourth Highest in the World - Ido Efrati (Ha'aretz)
    The average life expectancy of Israeli men is 80.2 years, the fourth highest in the world, after Iceland (81.2), Switzerland (80.7) and Australia (80.5), according to a new World Health Organization report.
    The life expectancy of women in Israel is 84 years.

Israeli Team Designs Prosthetic Fin to Save Turtle - Alon Bernstein (AP)
    A badly injured green sea turtle, whose two left flippers had to be amputated, has a new prosthetic fin designed by an Israeli team and modeled after the wings of a U.S. fighter jet.
    The sea turtle, named "Hofesh," the Hebrew word for "freedom," will never be able to return to the wild, said Yaniv Levy, director of Israel's Sea Turtle Rescue Center. But he shares a tank with a blind female turtle named Tsurit, and researchers are optimistic the pair will mate.
    "Their offspring will be released the minute they hatch and go immediately into the sea and live normally in the wild," Levy said.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • West Says Rifts Remain over Iran Nuke Pact
    Two Western diplomats said Thursday that Iran and the West are not much closer than they were in February on an agreement aimed at putting constraints on Tehran's nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
        The West wants to limit Iran to 3,000 centrifuges to churn out enriched uranium. Iran last week insisted it needs 100,000. The West wants Iran to reconfigure a nearly finished reactor that would produce substantial waste plutonium, another pathway to nuclear arms. Iran is refusing. The U.S. wants a heavily fortified underground enrichment facility shut or repurposed. Iran says no. (AP-Washington Post)
        See also Centrifuges Emerge as Key Sticking Point in Iran Nuclear Talks - Parisa Hafezi and Louis Charbonneau
    Despite the smiles and handshakes at photo opportunities, there have been fierce exchanges behind closed doors at Vienna's Coburg palace touching on the yawning divide over enrichment capacity, diplomats and senior Iranian officials said. "We need at least 100,000 IR-1 (first-generation) centrifuges to produce enough fuel for each of our nuclear plants. We have informed the International Atomic Energy Agency about our plans to build 20 plants," a senior Iranian official said. (Reuters)
  • Netanyahu: Iran Built Its Secret Nuclear Facilities When It Was Under Inspection - Jeffrey Goldberg
    In an interview last Friday, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said: "The Americans say, 'We will not let Iran have nuclear weapons.' We say we should not let Iran have the capability to produce nuclear weapons. There's a difference. If Iran is allowed to maintain what is called a threshold capability, then in all likelihood, they will break out."
        "On the matter of inspections that are promised, [the Iranians] built their underground bunkers when they were under inspection!...Intelligence did not prevent enrichment sites from being built without anyone knowing for years. Everybody in the region - everybody - shares my assessment that what you have to do is dismantle Iran's enrichment capability."
        Commenting on the failed peace talks, Netanyahu said: "Look at what I've done. I gave the speech at Bar-Ilan University, a religious university, five years ago recognizing the two-state solution. Second, I tried a 10-month [settlement] freeze, and Abbas did nothing. Then I did something that was the toughest of all - I released terrorist prisoners, killers of innocent people. That was the hardest decision."
        "And what has Abbas done? Nothing. He's refused to entertain Kerry's efforts to try and lock horns on the core issues. He internationalized the conflict. He went to the UN organizations in express violation of Oslo and all the interim agreements. And now he's embracing Hamas."
        I asked about the deal struck last year to remove chemical weapons from Syria. "It's not complete yet," Netanyahu said. "We are concerned that they may not have declared all of their capacity. But what has been removed has been removed. We're talking about 90%. We appreciate the effort that has been made and the results that have been achieved."  (Bloomberg)
  • House Bill Calls for U.S. Firms to Share in Israel's Iron Dome - Julian Pecquet
    The Defense Authorization bill that cleared the U.S. House of Representatives on May 22 ties funding for Israel missile defense to increased participation by American firms. The bill almost doubles next year's funding for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense program, adding $175 million to the $176 million requested in President Obama's fiscal year 2015 budget proposal.
        The Armed Services Committee report accompanying the bill, however, conditions the extra funding to assurances that American defense firms get a slice of the action and that the U.S. government gets technical know-how from the program. "Coproduction of parts and components should be done in a manner that will maximize U.S. industry participation in interceptor and battery deliveries for Israel's defense needs," the report states.
        Last year's defense bill included initial funding to establish a U.S. production facility and U.S. arms maker Raytheon is set to start partnering with Iron Dome's Israeli maker, Rafael, this year for co-production of the battery's Tamir missiles.
        A senior official at a pro-Israel group said the push for increased involvement by U.S. firms can only benefit the Iron Dome partnership. "From the Israeli side, it gives the United States a stake in continued production. From the U.S. side, it's a response to defense lobbies that want a piece of the action."  (Al-Monitor)
  • On Middle East Visit, Pope Will Find a Diminished Christian Population - Nicholas Casey
    Pope Francis arrives in the region on Saturday for a three-day tour. The pope arrives on Saturday in Jordan, visits Bethlehem in the West Bank on Sunday, and goes on Monday to Jerusalem.
        Pope Francis will find a Middle East where "moderation and stability that existed for Christians for centuries is now gone," said Justus Weiner, a human-rights lawyer and scholar at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. "People now look over their shoulder and see if their relatives have decamped, and that creates a panic," he said.
        Pope Francis has spoken out a number of times in defense of Christians in the region, calling for the right of Christians to "live peacefully in the places where they were born."  (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Middle Eastern Christians: Battered, Violated, and Abused, Do They Have Any Chance of Survival? - Justus Reid Weiner
    Throughout the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, Christians are facing pervasive and systematic persecution that is steadily increasing in its intensity and scope. A century ago, Christians represented some 20% of the population of the Middle East; today, that figure is estimated at 4%. If Muslim states continue to violate the basic human rights obligations incumbent upon them, Christian life may cease to exist in the very place of its birth. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Palestinian Arrested in Israel for Trying to Kidnap Israelis - Yaakov Lappin
    The Israel Security Agency arrested Murad Hassan Ali-Hassin, a resident of the West Bank town of Kabatia, who confessed to plotting to kidnap an Israeli in the village of Avtalion in northern Israel last month. He is affiliated with Islamic Jihad and had been jailed in the past.
        "On April 19, 2014, he attempted to enter a house in Avtalion, near Karmiel, armed with a knife, in order to kidnap one of the home's residents, for the purpose of negotiating the release of Palestinian prisoners. The plot failed after he was chased away from the area by the residents," the ISA said. He also confessed to hurling firebombs at Israeli vehicles and of attempting to set fire to a forest. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Israelis Fight Off Kidnapper's Attack - Ahiya Raved
    Murad Hassan Ali-Hassin, armed with a knife, tried to enter an Israeli house in Mitzpeh Avtalion in order to kidnap anyone who was at home. Israel and Ela Shay were the Israeli couple faced with Murad's attack. Ela described the attack: "We were just the two of us at home and there were hard knocks on the door....When we opened the door he just burst in." Israel pushed him outside. Then Ela saw the knife. "I yelled that he has a knife, so Israel fought with him and I ran upstairs to get the gun and call the police," said Ela.
        "She brought the gun," Israel continued. "I was leaning my shoulder on the door so that he couldn't break in. When there was a moment of calm I cocked the gun and went out after him. At that point he tried to get in through the second door to the house, which is made of glass. I went to the other door, going through the house, and I stood one meter from him and aimed the pistol at him. He was holding a big rock in his hand and...when he saw the gun he dropped the rock, turned around, and ran."  (Ynet News)
  • Chinese Officials Are Embracing Israel - David Shamah
    According to Yongjie Chen, deputy general secretary of the China Center for International Economic Exchanges and a member of the Chinese Communist Party's ruling body, the Politburo, Israel is "the best place in the world for China to invest." In an interview, Chen said there had been a significant change in the Chinese approach to the Middle East in the past 10 years.
        "It's true that, in the past, the government favored the Arab side more, but in recent years the emphasis of the government has been on rapid technology development, and that is why cooperation with Israel, which has that technology, is growing....You can see that, in recent years, we have conducted a much more positive political policy towards Israel." Chen and nearly two dozen other Chinese government officials were here for the first-ever Israel-China Economic Summit. (Times of Israel)
        See also Israel Welcomes Tech-Hungry Chinese Investors, If Somewhat Warily - Tova Cohen (Reuters)
        See also Tnuva CEO on China Sale: Tnuva Has Dreamed of Having an Owner of This Quality
    Tnuva Food Industries CEO Arik Shor told IDF Radio that the sale of the company to China's Bright Food Group "is evidence of the soundness of the Israeli economy and Israeli agriculture."
        "A long-term strategic partner has come, and together we will develop many products and we'll be able to sell and expand outside Israel - to China and other countries where Bright Food operates. For 88 years, Tnuva has dreamed of having an owner of this quality....I think that this is a good move for Tnuva which opens horizons that it did not have before."  (Globes)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):


  • Iran: The Psychology of Sanctions - Mark Dubowitz
    Economic sanctions are Washington's preferred instrument of coercive statecraft for confronting challenges to the international order, including from Iran's revolutionary regime. Their psychological impact should never be underestimated. Too rapid a shift from fear to greed in the international business community, and from despair to hope in the Iranian market, can blunt the effectiveness of sanctions. Unfortunately, the sanctions environment for Iran has changed in the past year.
        Tehran has been on a modest recovery path since the second half of 2013. Western sanctions pressure has de-escalated since the last U.S. congressional sanctions came into effect in mid-2013. The decision to de-escalate the economic pressure reduced the once overwhelming Iranian and international fear of sanctions and buoyed hopes of an Iranian economic recovery.
        Iran has nearly halved its 40% plus inflation rate, is stabilizing its previously plummeting currency, and is projected for positive growth after losing 6-7% in GDP between 2012 and 2014. Positive shifts in the perceptions of Iran globally - as well as inside the country itself - are fueling a recovery beyond what the interim agreement intended.
        By changing the sanctions environment, Western negotiators may have inadvertently triggered indirect economic relief to Tehran that is much greater than the U.S. government estimate of $7 billion - and decreased pressure on the regime in the process. The writer is executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. (National Interest)
  • Iran's Latest Nuclear Gamble Seems Safe - Jonathan S. Tobin
    The interim deal fundamentally altered the dynamic of the negotiations in Iran's favor. Tehran is currently negotiating as if both the potential use of force by the West and the impact of sanctions are not major factors.
        The two sides are not negotiating about whether the Iranians will have the capacity to build a bomb. That was already substantially conceded in the November interim deal when the West tacitly granted Iran the "right" to enrich uranium. The only variable is how long it will take for Iran to reactivate their stockpile of nuclear fuel any time they like - a breakout.
        Iran knows the only two possible outcomes of the talks are a breakdown that will let them get to a bomb or an agreement that will allow them to get to their nuclear ambition a bit more slowly. (Commentary)
  • Hizbullah's Iranian Origins - Tony Badran
    In an interview with Al-Mayadeen TV last Friday, Hizbullah's second in command, Naim Qassem, offered details about the group's genesis and Iran's role in it. Its genesis is related to the network of Iranian revolutionary cadres loyal to Imam Ruhollah Khomeini who were operating in Lebanon in the 1970s. They worked to recruit young Shiites who would submit to Khomeini's leadership and religious authority.
        In 1978-79 these cadres in Lebanon formed "committees in support of the Islamic Revolution." The Iranian committees were organized by the Association of Militant Clergy, among whose founding members were Ali Khamenei. The Association was likewise cloned in Lebanon as the "Militant Clergy in Lebanon," which organized pro-Khomeini rallies. Explaining how Hizbullah got its name, Qassem said, "The name was in emulation of Hizbullah which existed in Iran." The writer is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. (NOW-Lebanon)

  • Other Issues

  • What Pope Francis Can Do for Mideast Peace - Einat Wilf
    According to the pope's itinerary, after Jordan, and before Israel, he will be visiting the State of Palestine. In using this language, the pope and the Vatican are demonstrating their view that the State of Palestine exists. The pope's itinerary also says that while in the State of Palestine, he will visit a Palestinian refugee camp.
        This means that, according to his itinerary, the pope is in the State of Palestine, and yet he visits refugees from Palestine. In all other international circumstances, this would not be possible. So why are there people living in Palestine called refugees from Palestine?
        The answer is that these people are called refugees due to the belief that Palestine is not limited to the State of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza, but that it includes the State of Israel.
        Just as the pope has made it clear he visits the State of Palestine, so should he send a clear message to the Palestinians that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination in the Land of Israel. Former Knesset member Dr. Einat Wilf is a Washington Institute for Near East Policy adjunct fellow and a senior fellow with the Jewish People Policy Institute. (New York Post)
  • The Jewish State - Michael Oren
    In spite of unspeakable pressures, Israeli society has managed to stay democratic, open, creative, self-correcting (frequently to a fault), self-defending, ultra-literate (in Hebrew), and Jewish. It is the only place on the planet in the last 2,000 years where Jews could take responsibility for themselves - for their governance, their protection - as Jews.
        Young people, even if they're not religious, get married and have children, giving us the fastest-growing population per capita in the industrialized world. There's universal health care, a citizens' army, and world-class universities charging less than $10,000 for a BA. Since 1989, we've successfully absorbed more than a million immigrants - the equivalent of about 50 million Americans.
        A two-state solution is unfortunately unlikely and not because of Israel. Our identity exists entirely independently of theirs; theirs cannot exist without denying ours.
        We're surrounded by a sea of supremely armed insanity. There is no solution for the regional madness other than to gird ourselves against it.
        Americans are tired after two wars in which the vast majority didn't fight. Try dealing with eight or so, one every few years, together with thousands of rockets raining on your cities, countless bombs blowing up buses and malls, and an absolutely relentless total threat. Nobody in Israel hasn't lost loved ones or hasn't been deeply scarred. We should be amazed that the country exists at all, and astonished that our young people still want to serve in the army.
        Israel is not about to leave a vacuum in the West Bank to be filled with Hamas or accept a nuclear-enabled Iran just to gain international favor. The writer was Israel's ambassador to the U.S. from 2009 to 2013. (Foreign Policy)
  • How to Win the Political War - Danny Ayalon
    In recent days a video where two Palestinian teens are supposedly seen collapsing in front of cameras next to Camp Ofer has been spreading across the social networks. Palestinian commentators explain that the boys were intentionally shot, for no reason at all, by IDF soldiers.
        This isn't the first time that the Palestinians have used hard-to-watch videos of the supposed deaths of innocent children in their campaign of incitement against Israel. In many of the cases, we learned in retrospect that the videos and photographs were edited or fabricated. The most notable case is the story of the child Muhammad al-Durra from Gaza, who despite accusations against IDF soldiers, was proven to have been shot and killed by Palestinian bullets.
        These propaganda videos are a part of the Palestinian campaign of delegitimizing Israel on the international scene. The writer is a former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. and Deputy Foreign Minister. (Ma'ariv-Truth about Israel)
  • Why Don't University Administrators Act When the Victims of Campus Bullying Are Zionist Jews? - Abraham Cooper and Aron Hier
    A pressure group purportedly speaking for the "progressive" grassroots wants to impose on UCLA students a loyalty oath of sorts - a pledge foreswearing going on trips to Israel sponsored by certain Jewish organizations. Issued by five pro-Palestinian groups, the call demanded that candidates for student government take the pledge.
        Leading the charge is Students for Justice in Palestine, which is funded in part by two organizations dedicated to the destruction of Israel, American Muslims for Palestine and Al-Awda.
        Unfortunately, what's happening at UCLA is part of a national trend. A coast-to-coast report compiled by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a founder of the AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit group that combats campus anti-Semitism, lists case after case.
        Why is it that so many university administrators and academics seem paralyzed to act if the victims of campus bullying are Zionist Jews? Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance. Aron Hier is the center's director of campus outreach. (JTA)
        See also UCLA Students' Israel Visit Not Wrong, School Judges Rule - Rebecca Shimoni Stoil
    The University of California Los Angeles' Judicial Board ruled Wednesday that two students who had visited Israel on American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League tours had done no wrong in failing to disclose their participation before participating in a vote on divestment. The complaint was filed by the UCLA chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. UCLA's Judicial Board ruled in a 4-0 vote with two abstentions that it does not constitute a conflict of interest for student government officers to take sponsored trips to Israel.
        AJC Los Angeles Region president Dean Schramm said Wednesday that Lauren Rogers, who had participated in an AJC-sponsored tour, "was subjected for months to a hurtful and threatening environment on the very campus she has served with distinction....While the members of the Judicial Board proved to be conscientious, Ms. Rogers should not have been hauled before it in the first place to answer to this baseless complaint."  (Times of Israel)

  • Weekend Feature

  • Bloomberg, in Israel, Wins a $1 Million Prize, and Then Gives It Back - Jodi Rudoren
    Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman who served three terms as mayor of New York, on Thursday received - and then returned - the first-ever $1 million Genesis Prize, which honors achievement steeped in "Jewish values." Returning the prize, Bloomberg and the Genesis organization announced a global competition with 10 prizes of $100,000 available to entrepreneurs ages 20 to 36 with big ideas, also based on Jewish values, to better the world.
        Bloomberg, 72, visited Israel frequently while in office, and he has donated millions of dollars to Jerusalem institutions, financing a hospital wing named for his mother and an ambulance center named for his father. On Thursday, he called the international movement for a boycott against Israel "an outrage" that is "totally misplaced."  (New York Times)

Britain, Lawfare and the ICC - Richard Kemp (Gatestone Institute)

  • The British government should deny its enemies the opportunities for exploitation presented by the International Criminal Court and withdraw now from the process. Any other course would represent an unprecedented and historic betrayal.
  • Today the United Kingdom sits alongside Libya, Darfur and Sudan as the International Criminal Court (ICC) launches an investigation into alleged war crimes by the British Army in Iraq. ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's preliminary examination will look into allegations that British troops abused detainees during the Iraq conflict between 2003 and 2008.
  • The allegations in front of Bensouda are contained in a 250-page file of supposed evidence of the "systematic use of brutal violence, that at times resulted in the death of detainees, while in the custody of UK Services personnel." British troops are accused of "brutality combined with cruelty and forms of sadism, including sexual abuse and religious humiliation."
  • These allegations have been made jointly by Phil Shiner of the British law firm Public Interest Lawyers and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), a pressure group that has in the past sought to indict American politicians for war crimes, including President George W. Bush. Shiner has made a career of lawfare against British forces. With tiresome predictability, he has also had Israel in his sights.
  • On the basis of thirty years' service with the British armed forces, I very much doubt that there was systematic abuse of prisoners by British soldiers in Iraq. And the idea that generals or politicians in London would have sanctioned any such abuse is equally improbable.
  • If anything, the UK Ministry of Defence has usually erred too far on the side of caution and the rigid application of human rights law in its direction of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan - sometimes to the extent that British troops have felt their own lives to be at undue risk.

    Col. Richard Kemp is former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan.
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