Latest News and Opinions from the Middle East
Pro-Israel Lobby Backs Sanctions on Iran Central Bank - Donna Cassata (AP)
In a letter to lawmakers on Wednesday, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said the sanctions on Iran's Central Bank would contribute to the U.S. effort to pressure Tehran economically and could dissuade Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon.
Separately, the American Jewish Committee wrote to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta backing the penalties that would target foreign financial institutions that do business with the Central Bank.
Tension Rises at Turkey-Syria Border - Marc Champion (Wall Street Journal)
A Syrian blockade has left hundreds of Turkish vehicles stranded at the border, as Syria's state news organs accused Turkey of preparing a Western invasion and of harboring insurgents.
On Wednesday, the Free Syrian Army confirmed that one of its units did stage an attack on a Syrian police station close to the border. However, their spokesman said the unit wasn't from Turkey but rather was based inside Syria.
In a further sign of Syrian anger, the state-run Tishreen newspaper on Tuesday ran an op-ed that said: "Turkey today is ruled by Jews."
U.S. Closely Monitoring Syria's Chemical Weapons Stockpile - Rachel Oswald (Atlantic Monthly)
The U.S. is quietly but closely monitoring the status of Syria's large chemical-weapons stockpile amid fears that Bashar al-Assad could use the warfare agents to quell continued political protests or divert the materials to extremist groups.
Twilight in Damascus - Anonymous (New York Review of Books)
Over the last couple of weeks the mood in Damascus has rapidly blackened. More people appear to have lost faith in the regime.
There are increasingly frequent power cuts, and suddenly, lines of people with plastic containers snaking around petrol stations as supplies of heating oil run low.
Prices of all household products are rising. A canister of cooking gas has risen to 1000 SYP from 250 SYP.
Damascus has not been a hub of support for the regime as is often portrayed. Behind closed doors in the suburb of Harasta, just ten minutes from the center, young men lift t-shirts and roll up trouser legs to reveal bruises and cuts. Many are beaten during demonstrations or detained in security cells for days at a time.
There is widespread feeling of amazement that the revolt has lasted this long. Older men chastise themselves for having silently put up with this regime for four decades until taught by their sons and daughters that enough was enough.
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
- Stealth Drone Highlights Tougher U.S. Strategy on Iran - Joby Warrick and Greg Miller
The CIA's use of surveillance drones over Iran reflects a growing belief within the Obama administration that covert action and carefully choreographed economic pressure may be the only means of coercing Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, current and former U.S. officials say. The stealth drone that came down in eastern Iran last week was part of a fleet of secret aircraft that the CIA has used for several years in an escalating espionage campaign targeting Iran's nuclear facilities.
While endorsing the increased use of sanctions, U.S. officials also are growing increasingly aware of the limits of such measures. A con gressional study released this week suggested that Iran has managed to limit the damage to its economy from international sanctions - in part because of immense profits gained from near-record oil prices in recent years. The study warns that harsher sanctions targeting Iran's petroleum and banking industries could drive oil prices still higher. (Washington Post)
See also The Efficacy of U.S. Sanctions Against Iran - Kenneth Katzman (Congressional Research Service)
- Military Flexes Its Muscles as Islamists Gain in Egypt - David D. Kirkpatrick
Egypt's military rulers said Wednesday that they would control the process of writing a constitution and maintain authority over the interim government to check the power of Islamists who have taken a commanding lead in parliamentary elections. Gen. Mukhtar al-Mulla of the ruling council asserted that the initial results of elections for the People's Assembly do not represent the full Egyptian public, in part because well-organized factions of Islamists were dominating the voting .
"Do you think that the Egyptians elected someone to threaten their interest and economy and security and relations with the international community?" General Mulla asked. "Of course not." The Muslim Brotherhood has demanded that the Parliament take over the right to name or dismiss a prime minister; General Mulla insisted that the prime minister would continue to report to the military council. (New York Times)
- Holy Land Foundation Hamas Support Convictions Affirmed - Terry Baynes
A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld the convictions of five leaders of an Islamic charity on charges of funneling money and supplies to Hamas. a designated "terrorist" group. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit pointed to "voluminous evidence" that the foundation had long-running financial ties to Hamas. (Reuters)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
- Israel Warns Russia Against Weapons Supplies to Syria - Herb Keinon
Russian arms sales to Syria during the current unrest there could have consequences unwanted by anyone, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Wednesday. He may have been referring to Moscow's recent delivery of Yaknot cruise missiles it sold to Damascus in 2007. Israel has expressed concerns that some of the missiles would fall into Hizbullah's hands.
Regarding the Palestinian issue, Lieberman said Russia's support for unilateral Palestinian moves does not bring an agreement closer or improve relations between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel's position is that the type of support Russia has articulated for the PA's recent moves at the UN only increases the Pal estinians' belief that they can get the world to impose a solution on Israel, thus making it more difficult to lure them to return to the negotiating table. (Jerusalem Post)
- Jewish Birthrate Rising in Israel - Telem Yahav
The common perception that in a few years there will be more non-Jewish Israeli newborns than Jewish ones appears to be detached from reality. According to population data published by Yediot Ahronot on Wednesday, the number of Jewish newborns in Israel has increased by nearly 20% since 2001, while during this time the number of Muslim and Christian newborns dropped by 5% and 10%, respectively.
Since the beginning of 2011, 107,207 Jewish babies were born, compared with 30,341 Muslims and 1,864 Christians. In 2001, 69% of all newborns in Israel were Jewish, while 28% were Muslim and 1.9% Christian. In 2010, 76% of babies born in Israel were Jewish, while only 22% were Muslim and 1.3% Christian. (Ynet News)
- Sarkozy Says Anger with Netanyahu Caused by France's Exclusion from Shalit Release - Barak Ravid
French President Nicolas Sarkozy was angry with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after Israel refused to include France in the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, the French leader recently explained to Jewish leaders, after he was overheard calling Netanyahu a "liar" last month. Sarkozy offered to fly Shalit from Egypt to Israel in a French helicopter upon his release from Hamas custody, but Netanyahu rejected the offer. He also requested that the French ambassador to Israel participate in the welcoming ceremony in Israel for Shalit, who also holds French citizenship. An official said Sarkozy was frustrated by the fact that France did not get any credit for Shalit's release. (Ha'aretz)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Assad in Complete Denial - Andrew J. Tabler
President Bashar al-Assad's interview with ABC's Barbara Walters portrays a Syrian leader in complete denial of the situation in his country. With the gap between the regime's perception of reality and that of the Syrian people and opposition (backed up by literally thousands of online videos and journalist reports), Assad's negotiated exit seems unlikely.
Assad said that "We don't kill our people....No government in the world kills its people, unless it's led by a crazy person." It's now clear that Assad meets his own definition of crazy. (CNN)
See also Interview with Syrian President Assad - Barbara Wal ters (ABC News)
- After Arab Spring, Dangers Arise - Jeff Jacoby
The Islamist ascendancy - in Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt - bodes ill for the region's moderate and tolerant Muslims. The credo of the Muslim Brotherhood is explicitly illiberal and theocratic: "Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope."
It takes more than voting to sustain decent democratic values. Totalitarians from Hitler to Hamas, after all, have come to power via the ballot. Revolts and demonstrations may topple Arab dictators, and their replacements may be chosen in elections. But there will be no Arab Spring worthy of the name without pluralism, freedom, and tolerance. (Boston Globe)
Arabs Scared of the Truth - Nizar Amer (Ynet News)
- Many Arab leaders utilize the Palestinian issue as a means to sowing fear among their own peoples. The greater the oppression and deprivation of human rights, the greater the scaremongering. The media under these dark regimes refer to the Jewish state as the "Zionist enemy," lest the simple folk get confused and perceive Israel as a friendly, peace-seeking state.
- The historical truth shows that Israel fought wars that were forced upon it by those who convinced themselves that Israel is simply fiction, a fleeting phenomenon that shall quickly disappear from the Middle East's map. In practice, this tiny state scored one victory after another, proving that it is entrenched deep in this soil.
- Israel is being accused of drawing out the negotiations and lacking a genuine, honest will to secure peace among its leaders and citizens. But don't Israel's peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan attest to its serious intentions? Israel gave up, for peace, the Sinai Peninsula (an area three times Israel's size and rich with natural resources).
- In an Egyptian TV interview, after five and a half years in captivity, Gilad Shalit chose to express his hope that the conflict shall end. On the other hand, released Palestinian prisoners announced their commitment to continuing terrorism and bloodshed.
- The Arab world is still in love with zealous words and mindless attacks: impassioned calls, baseless threats, and the flexing of muscles. The time has come to abandon the path of hatred and exploit the opportunities for peace via negotiations, because there is no other way.
The writer is Spokesman and Director of Public Affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Ankara, Turkey.