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February 20, 2015

In-Depth Issues:

ISIS Militants Cross into Turkey, Planning Attacks (Zaman-Turkey)
    Turkish intelligence has warned that Islamic State militants crossed into Turkey after retreating from the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani near the Turkish border and that they might be planning attacks on foreign diplomatic targets in Ankara and Istanbul.
    A Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT) memo to the police and military on Feb. 3 identified some of the militants who have entered Turkey as Syrian and Palestinian nationals, who may be seeking to cross into Bulgaria in an effort to travel to other European countries to carry out terrorist attacks there.

Iran Flexes Muscles with Warships in Indian Ocean - Guy Taylor (Washington Times)
    Two Iranian warships headed Thursday from Sri Lanka toward Indonesia to show that Iran is "active and powerful" in the Indian Ocean, Iranian officials said.
    The Iranian Navy's 33rd flotilla is comprised of a destroyer and a logistic warship.
    Col. Ebrahim Rouhani, Iran's military attache in Sri Lanka, said the "Indian Ocean is a stage for the big powers to display the power of their fleets, and the presence of this flotilla shows that we are active and powerful on this stage too," Iran's state-run Fars news agency reported.

CIA Said to Have Bought and Destroyed Iraqi Chemical Weapons - C.J. Chivers and Eric Schmitt (New York Times)
    The CIA, working with American troops during the occupation of Iraq, repeatedly purchased nerve-agent rockets from a secretive Iraqi seller, part of a previously undisclosed effort to ensure that old chemical weapons did not fall into the hands of terrorists, according to American officials.
    The arms purchase plan in 2005-6 destroyed at least 400 Borak rockets, some of which contained the nerve agent sarin.

Saudi King Unleashes a Torrent of Money to the Masses - Ben Hubbard (New York Times)
    Saudis are very happy with their new monarch, King Salman. Since ascending to the throne last month, he has ordered giant payouts to a large chunk of the Saudi population that will ultimately cost more than $32 billion.
    These included grants to professional associations, literary and sports clubs; and bonuses worth two months of salary to all government employees, soldiers, pensioners and students.
    With more than $700 billion in foreign reserves, the Saudi government faces no immediate crunch.

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French Journalist Worked with Mossad and CIA - Lior Zilberstein (Ynet News)
    In a sensational autobiography released after his death, French journalist Roger Auque reveals that in 1989 he "established very close ties with Israel."
    "The Israeli intelligence services paid me to complete certain missions, such as secret missions in Syria under the cover of a reporter."
    "I traveled to Damascus a number of times in order to make contact with the local elite, doctors, researchers and others."
    The French intelligence services also enjoyed the fruits of his labor and later on so did the CIA.
    While working as a reporter in Beirut, he was taken captive in 1987 by Hizbullah and held for 391 days. His release was paid for by Libya's Gaddafi.

How Egypt Sees the Islamic State Threat in Libya - Jane Kinninmont (BBC News)
    Unlike its Western allies, Egypt's leaders emphasize the view that all forms of political Islam are a threat to international security.Since overthrowing Morsi, they have banned the Muslim Brotherhood, calling it a terrorist organization.
    By contrast, the U.S. and Europe differentiate between forms of political Islam that they can potentially work with, and more radical violent groups.
    Islamic State's targeted violence has prompted cross-border military action by Arab armies.This is a marked contrast with al-Qaeda, which was targeted primarily by international forces or, within specific countries, by the domestic security services.
    The writer is Deputy Head and Senior Research Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Program, at Chatham House.

31 Countries Face More Terrorism than Israel (Institute for Economics and Peace)
    17,958 people were killed in terrorist attacks last year, 61% more than the previous year.
    31 countries rank higher than Israel (ranked 32) in the 2014 Global Terrorism Index, including the UK (27) and the U.S. (30).
    The GTI, published by the Institute for Economics and Peace, measures the direct and indirect impact of terrorism in terms of lives lost, injuries, property damage and the psychological after-effects.

Israel Encourages Israeli Arab Hi-Tech - Kate Shuttleworth (USA Today)
    Today there are 2,000 Arab engineers in Israel's high-tech industry, up from just 350 in 2008. The strongest leap is in Nazareth where 600 Arab software developers lead the sector, up from just 40 in 2008.
    Israel's Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab, Druze and Circassian Sectors receives $45 million to ignite the Arab tech sector.
    Aiman Saif, who heads the group, said, "In the last month, we've approved seed funding for 11 Arab-led start-ups in Nazareth."

Israeli Per Capita GNP Leaps in Past Decade - Guy Bechor (Ynet News)
    Few are aware of the leap Israel made in its gross national product (GNP) per capita in the past decade.
    While the GNP was $15,600 in 2003, it jumped to $40,620 per capita by December 2014, while the overall product jumped from $104 billion to $300 billion during that period.
    Ahead of Israel are Britain ($44,330), France ($43,500) and Germany ($47,350), while behind it are Italy, Spain and Greece. Japan's GNP stands at $39,140.
    This leap completely disconnects Israel from such countries in the region as Egypt ($3,700), Jordan ($4,870) and Iran ($6,070).

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Iran and West Narrow Gap in Nuclear Talks - Sam Jones and Geoff Dyer
    World powers and Iran are making progress towards a nuclear deal. "The gap is narrower than before" [on key areas], Yuval Steinitz, Israel's strategic affairs minister, said in Munich. "I can see progress on two or three central items." Steinitz outlined four key areas of concern in the talks: the number of centrifuges Iran is permitted to continue operating; its stockpile of enriched uranium; its research into more advanced centrifuges; and the storage and dismantling of mothballed centrifuge arrays.
        "On the first issue of the number of centrifuges...there is some progress or gaps which have been narrowed. But this is mainly because the P5+1 made too many concessions," Steinitz said. Tehran initially wanted a minimum of 9,000 centrifuges, and the P5+1 is considering 4,500 and possibly 6,000. On its stockpile of uranium, Steinitz said, "There is some progress here also - the Iranians [are] agreeing to deliver most of the stockpile abroad."
        Israel's chief remaining concern, on which there had been "no real progress," was centrifuge research. Without a comprehensive ban, Iran could - completely and legally - undermine any deal. Talks on the heavy water reactor at Arak are almost complete and diplomats say Iran is likely to accept a 15-year deal rather than the 10 it originally wanted.
        Philip Hammond, UK foreign secretary, said: "There has been some progress. There has been movement. I said to Mr. Zarif we need a clear, unambiguous signal from the Iranians that we are close on the area of enrichment in order to create the momentum that is needed to get significant progress on some of the other areas that are still facing questions." Whatever agreements Iranian ministers make, consent is still needed from Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader. (Financial Times-UK)
        See also IAEA: Iran Still Stalling UN Nuclear Inquiry - Shadia Nasralla
    Iran has still not addressed specific issues that could feed suspicions it may have researched an atomic bomb, a UN watchdog report showed on Thursday. The confidential report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said, "Iran has not provided any explanations that enable the agency to clarify the outstanding practical measures," referring to allegations of explosives tests and other activity that could be used to develop nuclear bombs. (Reuters)
  • Obama Urges Global United Front Against Extremist Groups Like ISIS - Kevin Liptak
    At a summit meeting in Washington on Wednesday on countering violent extremism, President Obama called on more than 60 nations to counter the ideology of the Islamic State. He said undercutting the Sunni militant group's message and blunting its dark appeal was a "generational challenge" that would require cooperation from mainstream Muslims.
        "We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam," Obama said. "If we're going to prevent people from being susceptible to the false promises of extremism, then the international community has to offer something better." "When governments oppress their people, deny human rights, stifle dissent or marginalize ethnic and religious groups, or favor certain religious groups over others, it sows the seeds of extremism and violence."  (New York Times)
        See also U.S. Muslims Take On ISIS' Recruiting Machine - Laurie Goodstein (New York Times)
  • Israeli Military Not Concerned about ICC Probe - Tia Goldenberg
    The Israeli military's advocate general, Maj.-Gen. Danny Efroni, said on Thursday that he is not concerned about a possible investigation by the International Criminal Court into Israel's conduct during last year's Gaza war because Israel's own internal probes are sufficient. "I am not concerned because I think I am doing my job," Efroni said. The quality and professionalism of the internal investigations being carried out were "sufficient enough" to stave off a probe by the international court. (AP-ABC News)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel, India Set Up Joint Venture to Produce Defense Systems - Yuval Azulai
    Israeli government-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. and the Indian Kalyani Group on Thursday announced an agreement to establish a joint venture to produce missile systems, remotely-controlled weapons positions, and advanced systems for the protection of tanks and APCs. The agreement was signed during the Aero India weapons exhibition in Bangalore, in which 15 Israeli defense companies are taking part. "We have always wanted to contribute to the modernization of the Indian armed forces," said Rafael chairman Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Gat, referring to the agreement. (Globes)
  • IDF to Upgrade Rocket Warnings - Yaakov Lappin
    By mid-2016, the IDF Home Front Command will make operational an improved rocket warning system to warn residents in specific neighborhoods - and even individual blocks - while the surrounding areas will be left to continue as normal. Every warning siren will act separately. Moreover, some sirens will send back data from cameras and other sensors to provide initial damage assessment data from areas under fire.
        During last summer's clash with Hamas, Israel suffered a casualty for every 700 rockets launched, while in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, a casualty occurred for every 100 rockets. (Jerusalem Post)
  • On the Frontline with Gaza, IDF Fence Menders Face Nightly Peril - Mitch Ginsburg
    Sgt. First Class Reuven Tautang is a career IDF soldier who, in the line of service, has been targeted by mines and anti-tank missiles, and been struck in the arm and chest by sniper fire. He is deputy commander of the Kometz unit, part of the IDF Ordnance Corps. His task as a frontline fix-it man - tending to the northern half of the Gaza border fence - is unremittingly dangerous, laborious and crucial.
        For Israel, the fence is the frontline against terror infiltration. And the men tasked with its upkeep are prime targets for sniper fire and IED ambushes. Sgt. Maj. Ran Shlomo, the Kometz unit commander, said he has seen a terror tunnel packed with so much explosives that it blew an empty jeep high into the air, and an RPG anti-tank missile that exploded a few dozen feet from him. (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

    Anti-Semitism in Europe

  • Parliamentary Report Said Britain Must Take "Urgent Action" to Address "Disturbing Rise" in Anti-Semitism - Henri Stein
    A recent report by the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism said Britain must take urgent action to address a "disturbing rise" in anti-Semitism recorded last year, including providing public funds for security at synagogues, giving better education on the Holocaust, and introducing a clearer definition of the term "anti-Semitism" that would reduce the prominence of hate crimes at public demonstrations against Israel.
        Labour MP John Mann, who heads the Inquiry, said, "Anti-Semitism is not just a problem for the Jewish community but for us all. The second All-Party Inquiry report reinforces the obligation of non-Jews, working on a cross-party basis, to take a lead. This approach needs to be emulated on a local level and across Europe."
        According to the Community Security Trust, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Britain has reached the highest level ever recorded, with reports of violence, property damage, abuse and threats against members of Britain's Jewish population more than doubling in 2014, with 1,168 anti-Semitic incidents compared to 535 incidents in 2013. (European Jewish Press)
  • Anti-Semitism in Europe: Fear of a New Darkness
    At memorial rallies for victims of the weekend shootings in Copenhagen, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the prime minister, proclaimed that "an attack on the Jews of Denmark is an attack on Denmark." Since medieval times, Jews have appealed to sovereigns for protection against violent bigotry. The police can provide physical security, but congregating inside heavily guarded synagogues, schools and community centers is not the same as openly exercising one's religious identity. (Economist-UK)
  • The Threat to the Jews of Europe - Melanie Phillips
    Europe has been discovering to its horror that once again Jews are being made victims in its midst. The fact that every single UK Jewish communal event has to be guarded is accepted as a fact of life. The fact that there are Jewish schools that look like fortresses and Jewish schoolchildren being taught self-defense to protect themselves against street attack is considered normal.
        Jew-hatred is not a prejudice like any other. Jews are the conscience of the world. Those who want to destroy the Jews want to tear out their own heart, as Judaism's moral codes lie at the very core of Western civilization. Will Europe summon the will to identify, reaffirm and fight to defend the core values it has spent years undermining. The Jews gave it those values. If it fails to protect its Jews, it will have also failed to protect itself. The writer is a columnist for The Times (UK). (Jerusalem Post)
  • Failing to Confront Violent Anti-Semitism - Rod Liddle
    Western European Jews are flooding to Israel because of homicidal Muslim attacks -in France, Denmark, Sweden and here in the UK too. Jihadis are opening fire on synagogues and Jewish shops -not on Israeli embassies, but on ordinary Jews.
        Can you imagine the response from the politicians if these sorts of attacks had been committed by white Christians against Muslims? Or indeed by Christians against Jews? And yet when it happens to be Muslims murdering Jews there is no great furore; instead it is swept to one side: simply a case of "extremists" versus "ordinary people." No, that is not what it is. (Spectator-UK)

  • Arab World

  • Is Hamas Nearing the Breaking Point? - Benedetta Berti and Zack Gold
    Since the end of the summer 2014 Gaza war, Egypt has increased the political and economic pressure on Hamas. The moves are in line with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's crackdown on Islamist opposition at home. To neutralize the Muslim Brotherhood at home, Egypt's Gaza policy aims to undermine the group's potential allies elsewhere, including by breaking Hamas' hold on the Strip.
        Since last summer's war, the Egyptian government has restricted outflows of goods and people from Gaza through the Rafah crossing, and is creating a new buffer zone, destroying homes, buildings, and agricultural land within a kilometer of the border. Under Mubarak, Cairo had provided Gaza a hidden lifeline with hundreds of tunnels stretched under the Egypt-Gaza border. Almost six months after the war, postwar reconstruction is proceeding at a glacial pace. (Foreign Affairs)
  • The ISIS Theater of Cruelty - Hussein Ibish
    The latest snuff video by the Islamic State shows the murder of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian hostages in Libya. Each new release must trump the last in spectacular sadism. But the primary audience for Islamic State propaganda is not foreign governments. The group is recruiting Sunni tribesmen and foreign fighters faster than coalition airstrikes can deplete its forces.
        Islamic State rhetoric promises Muslim redemption from a history of humiliation. Its message posits the group as a radical alternative to Western-inflected, modern global culture, as well as to the prevailing regional order in the Middle East. It mines the reservoir of collective Muslim cultural memory when it declares its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the new caliph.
        Most Muslims are appalled by the Islamic State's savagery and spectacles of glorified sadism. But its conflation of millenarian yearning and contemporary grievance, of a mystical desire to redeem history with more profane appeals such as Yazidi sex slaves or child brides, is proving potent with a disturbingly large constituency of angry, alienated young men. The writer is a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine. (New York Times)
        See also What ISIS Really Wants - Graeme Wood (Atlantic)
  • Egyptian President Sisi Calls for Reform of Islam - Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah
    The implementation of jihadist ideology today has unleashed fierce military and terrorist assaults against most Arab regimes; the application of the most severe interpretations of Islamic penal law; expressions of despicable cruelty on the battle field against Shi'a combatants in Syria and Iraq; ethnic cleansing; and persecution of Christian populations.
        Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi confronted the issue of jihadism in an address to Islamic scholars at Al-Azhar University on Jan. 1, 2015. "Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world's inhabitants - that is 7 billion - so that they themselves may live? Impossible!...We are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world is waiting for your next move."
        True reform requires scholars of Islam, not "strong" politicians. Islam is in need of innovators who can cope with the reality of the 21st century and repudiate its misinterpretation carried out by jihadi Islam. Sisi is not likely to be that reformer. The writer was formerly Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Deputy Head for Assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Yemen and the Saudi-Iranian "Cold War" - Peter Salisbury
    The competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia for regional power continues to exacerbate the conflict in Yemen. Interviews with people who have been granted rare access to the Houthis' inner circle of leaders suggest that the core leadership is in many cases genuinely committed to the Islamic revolutionary principles set out by Hussein Badr al-Deen al-Houthi, which in turn borrow heavily from those of Iran.
        Saudi Arabia perceives the Houthis as an Iranian proxy. However, while the group has some support from Iran, this is not the same as taking orders from it. Domestically, the Houthis are unlikely to be able to govern the country and deal with its multiple insurgencies alone. Yemen will also require the financial backing of its much wealthier neighbors, above all Saudi Arabia, to prevent its economic collapse. (Chatham House-The Royal Institute of International Affairs-UK)

  • Other Issues

  • Those Calling for a Boycott of Israel Are Ignoring Some Painful Truths - Yair Lapid
    This past weekend, 700 British artists had a letter published in the Guardian in which they called on others to boycott Israel until what they term the "colonial occupation" ends. As someone who supports the creation of a Palestinian state, it has been a long time since I saw a letter so shallow and lacking in coherence. The fact that the majority of the signatories are unaware of the reality here in the Middle East doesn't reassure me.
        I wonder if anyone told the signatories that in 2000 and in 2008 Israel offered the Palestinians the chance to build an independent state on over 90% of the territories, and on both occasions the Palestinians refused? Do they know that Gaza is ruled by Hamas, a terrorist organization that punishes homosexuality with hanging?
        As artists - who by definition are people with imagination let's imagine the IDF puts down its weapons and stops protecting the people of Israel for 24 hours. What do they think would happen? Radical Islamists would kill us all. Women and children first. That's what they're doing to their brethren across the Islamic world.
        To end the conflict Israel only has one demand: security for our citizens. We don't believe that's unreasonable. In 2005, Israel pulled out of Gaza without any demands, took down the settlements and removed the army. The Palestinians kicked out the Palestinian Authority and brought in Hamas - a fundamentalist Islamist terror group of the worst kind. And after a few months they began building terror tunnels into Israeli territory and started massive rocket and mortar fire upon Israel's innocent civilian population. The writer served as Israel's finance minister and was a member of the security cabinet. (Guardian-UK)
  • Why Israel Matters to America - Mike Huckabee
    Israel is a mirror image of America in its commitment to religious liberty, education, women's rights, free speech, democratic governance and free-market capitalism. While a Jewish state, Israel also protects all religious shrines and provides Christians, Muslims and Jews universal access to all religious sites. (How many churches or synagogues are equally protected by the Syrians or the Iranians?)
        Their military also takes extraordinary measures to prevent civilian casualties. I witnessed the elaborate steps they take to protect noncombatants - even those used as human shields to protect terrorists. No nation, not even the United States, takes greater care to protect civilians. While we may offer them arms and military hardware, Israel has never asked us to provide American personnel to fight their battles.
        We are equally targeted for annihilation by Islamic jihadists. The forces that toppled the Twin Towers; flew an airplane into the Pentagon; behead Christian children, journalists and relief workers; and burn alive a captured pilot - have vowed to kill every Jew and every American. The writer is a former Arkansas governor who first visited Israel 42 years ago at age 17. (Washington Examiner)
  • While Anti-Israel Activity on Campus Is Rising, So Is Pro-Israel Activity
    In the wake of the 2014 Gaza war, the number of U.S. campuses with anti-Israel activity jumped by 51.4%, the Israel on Campus Coalition notes in its Fall 2014 Campus Activity Report. Yet ICC data reveals an even larger surge in pro-Israel activism on campuses. Pro-Israel students and organizations are mobilizing to prevent Israel's detractors from taking campuses hostage. During the last school year, the pro-Israel movement succeeded in defeating 14 out of 18 divestment resolutions. Even in instances where anti-Israel resolutions have passed, campus communities have demonstrated broad support for Israel.
        During the fall 2014 semester, ICC tracked 759 anti-Israel events at colleges and universities nationwide and 1,531 pro-Israel events. The number of pro-Israel student groups also rose from 362 in 2012 to 484 in 2014. (Israel on Campus Coalition)

Why Netanyahu Broke Publicly with Obama over Iran - David Ignatius (Washington Post)

  • Yuval Steinitz, Israel's minister of intelligence, said Wednesday in an interview that the public rift between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu over the Iranian nuclear issue has been building for more than two years and reflects a deep disagreement about how best to limit the threat of a rising Iran.
  • He said that the nuclear agreement contemplated by Obama would ratify Iran as a threshold nuclear-weapons state, and that the one-year breakout time sought by Washington wasn't adequate.
  • "From the very beginning, we made it clear we had reservations about the goal of the negotiations," he explained. "We thought the goal should be to get rid of the Iranian nuclear threat, not verify or inspect it."
  • Netanyahu's skepticism reached a tipping point last month when he concluded that the U.S. had offered so many concessions to Iran that any deal reached would be bad for Israel. He broke with Obama first in a private phone call on Jan. 12.
  • "The temptation [for Iran] is not now but in two or three or four years, when the West is preoccupied with other crises," Steinitz said. If Iran chose to "sneak out" at such a moment, it would take the U.S. months to determine the pact had been violated, and another six months to form a coalition for sanctions or other decisive action. By then, it might be too late.
  • What the U.S. is saying to Iran, in effect, is "if you agree to freeze for 10 years, that's enough for us." But that won't work for Israel. "To believe that in the next decade there will be a democratic change in leadership and that Iran won't threaten the U.S. or Israel anymore, I think this is too speculative."
  • "Iran is part of the problem and not part of the solution - unless you think Iran dominating the Middle East is the solution," Steinitz concluded. People who think that a nuclear deal with Iran is desirable, as I do, need to be able to answer Steinitz's critique.
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