News From Israel and the Middle East
This Week in the News : Highlights and Analysis. Please let me know if this weekly breakdown is of interest to our readers.
- U.S., Allies Press Iran for Action at Talks - Jay Solomon
The U.S. and other world powers began a second round of negotiations with Iran in Istanbul on Friday, vowing to press Tehran to take concrete steps to ensure its nuclear activities are peaceful and to justify the continuation of an eight-year diplomatic track that has yielded few gains. Iran came to Turkey offering no signs that it is willing to respect UN Security Council resolutions and suspend its production of nuclear fuel. "There is nothing to discuss" about Iran's nuclear program, an Iranian official said Thursday. "In Istanbul, we will speak about something else."
On Thursday, Iranian President Ahmadinejad maintained a defiant tone, saying in a televised address that Western powers "tried their best so Iran doesn 't become a nuclear nation, but we achieved this goal because there is no turning back the clock." Tehran is also viewed as having secured a diplomatic victory just by getting the international community to accept Istanbul as the venue for the talks.
Iran is also coming to Istanbul in a strengthened position regionally. In Lebanon, Tehran's close ally Hizbullah forced the collapse of the pro-Western government last week. Efforts by Washington's allies in Saudi Arabia and France to mediate the crisis have fizzled. (Wall Street Journal)
See also Iran Nuclear Talks in Istanbul Start - Steven Erlanger
Iran had agreed in October 2009 to send 2,645 pounds of low-enriched uranium to Russia and France to be manufactured into fuel rods - at the time about 75% of Iran's known stockpile of low-enriched uranium, which is enriched to between 3.5 and 5%. The deal was meant to leave Iran with less low-enriched uranium than it would need to build a bomb. But the deal fell apart because of disagreements in Iran, including the reported opposition of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Today, Iran has known stockpiles of about 7,700 pounds of low-enriched uranium and about 90 pounds of uranium enriched to 19.75%, which is about halfway to bomb grade, officials said. So any new deal for a fuel swap will have to include much bigger amounts if it is to accomplish the same end of confidence-building. (New York Times)
See also Iran Nuclear Talks Begin, Expectations Low - Simon Cameron-Moore
"We're not expecting any big breakthroughs but we want to see a constructive process emerge that...leads to Iran engaging with the international community in a credible process and addressing the international community's concerns a bout its nuclear program," U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Thursday.
Bruno Tertrais, an Iran expert at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, said the best that should be hoped for from the meeting was an agenda for future talks, which would require a positive gesture from the Iranian side. "The expectations are fairly low," Tertrais said. (Reuters)
- Palestinians Defy U.S. with Security Council Request - Karin Laub and Dan Perry
The Palestinian request to have the UN Security Council condemn Israeli settlements looks at first like another declarative gambit that changes little on the ground. But much more is at stake. Palestinians hope their Security Council initiative will give them an idea of how much support they have for future moves. These include seeking international recognition of a Palestinian state as early as this fall.
U.S. officials, who urged the Palestinians not to turn to the Security Council, argue that Israelis and Palestinians should settle their disputes directly instead of taking it to the world body. "We're working to keep the focus where we think it needs to be and that is not in New York," Sec retary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said that in going to the Security Council, the Palestinian leadership violated its promise to deal with all disputes in direct negotiations. "This sort of action will in no way contribute to peace and reconciliation," he said.
U.S. officials acknowledge that a vote on the resolution will put them in a difficult spot but are warning the Palestinians that the move may backfire, urging them and members of the Security Council to put the effort on indefinite hold. Palestinian political activist Mustafa Barghouti said he viewed the resolution as a test run for a push for worldwide recognition of a Palestinian state, which he said was "one of several steps that will follow if nothing changes." (AP-Washington Post)
- Rising Food Prices Spell Trouble for Arabs
Rising food prices, which triggered the downfall of the Tunisian regime and rioting in Algeria, threaten further trouble across the Middle East and North Africa, a region heavily dependent on food imports. The food crisis along with mushrooming populations, expanding desertification, dwindling water resources and growing unemployment create an explosive mix. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported Jan. 5 that its worldwide food price index hit a record high in December, exceeding the 2008 peak. The FAO index was up 25% from the same period in 2009.
The World Bank observed in a recent report that "Arab countries are very vulnerable to fluctuations in international commodity markets bec ause they are heavily dependent on imported food. Arab countries are the largest importers of cereal in the world...and most import at least 50% of the food calories they consume." Arab states' population growth rates are among the highest in the world. The population of the Arab world was 73 million in 1950. Now it's more than 333 million, and the World Bank expects that to double by 2050 to around 600 million. (UPI)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
- U.S. Seeks to Map Out Israel's Security Requirements
White House adviser Dennis Ross and U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell's top aide David Hale arrived in Israel Thursday for discussions Jerusalem said were aimed at charting Israel's security needs under any future accord. The goal, according to a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office, was to preserve Israel's qualitative military edge after any future agreement.
One of the main obstacles hindering a renewal of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations has been the Palestinian insistence to first talk about settlements and borders, and Israel countering that security should be discussed first, because no decisions on borders could be made without knowing precisely what security arrangements would be put into place. The U.S. efforts t o map out precisely Israel's perception of its security requirements after the establishment of a Palestinian state is widely seen as a U.S. effort to bridge the gaps between the two sides' positions, with the U.S. talking with Israel about what Jerusalem wants to talk about first.
Netanyahu has said in the past he would agree to a Palestinian state only if that state would be demilitarized, meaning - in part - that Israel needed to retain a security presence on the Jordan River to prevent the type of arms smuggling that takes place from Syria to Hizbullah in Lebanon, and from Egypt into Gaza. (Jerusalem Post)
See also Israel's Critical Security Needs for a Viable Peace - Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Moshe Yaalon, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Aharon Ze'evi Farkash, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Udi Dekel, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, Dr. Dore Gold, and Dan Diker (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
See also Imagining the Border: Options for Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Territorial Issue - David Makovsky
A new Washington Institute report analyzes the intersection of demography and geography in the West Bank in order to demystify the territorial dimension of the conflict and facilitate peacemaking. Detailed maps and in-depth population data show how the parties can use land swaps to meet some of their most important goals, such as minimizing dislocation, ensuring security, and establishing a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
- Israel: PA Hostility in International Forums Can't Continue
"While Israel last week approved 5,300 additional jobs for Palestinians inside Israel, the PA presented a resolution to the UN Security Council condemning Israel for all possible sins," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told visiting French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie on Thursday. "This gap cannot remain forever and will lead to a breakdown of ties between the sides." Israel would not sit back and perpetually absorb Palestinian "criticism and insults," he said.
Lieberman pointed to Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan speech adopting the two-state program, the removal of roadblocks, a 10-month settlement freeze, and providing the Palestinians with a frequency for a cellular phone network. The Palestinians, on the other hand, have brough t Israel to the UN Human Rights Council and the International Court in The Hague, condemned Israel at the UN Security Council, and named streets and squares in Palestinian cities after terrorists. "Israel can't allow this situation to continue," he said.
Lieberman also highlighted the hypocrisy of the Arab League, which he said worked "with great energy to condemn Israel," but did not show the same energy in dealing "with issues...such as the situation in Tunisia, Lebanon, Iraq and other places."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Alliot-Marie that Israel would work toward "disengaging" from Gaza's infrastructure, starting with removing the area from Israel's water and electricity grids. (Jerusalem Post)
See also Israel "Won't Tolerate Palestinian Insults Forever" (AFP)
- IDF: Palestinian Killed Near West Bank Settlement Was Islamic Jihad Terrorist
A Palestinian shot and killed by Israel Defense Forces soldiers near the settlement of Mevo Dotan on Tuesday was a member of the Islamic Jihad terrorist group, military sources said on Friday. The man had opened fire at an army post in the northern West Bank. Military sources identified the Palestinian as Salem Mohammad Sami Samoudi, a "recognized Islamic Jihad operative" who had "been arrested by the IDF twice in the past for his involvement in terrorist activities."
The sources also indicated that a Palestinian killed two weeks ago after a failed stabbing attempt at the Bekaot checkpoint in the Jordan Valley was also a member of Islamic Jihad, id entifying him as Khaldoun Majed Ahmed Samoudi. (Ha'aretz)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- How Justice for Rafiq Hariri's Killers Could Help the Middle East - Editorial
The UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon may be the strongest card held by the U.S. and its allies in a crucial power struggle with Syria and Iran. On Monday, the tribunal's prosecutor delivered a sealed indictment against suspects in the February 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri. The indictment is widely believed to name senior officials of the Hizbullah movement.
Convincing evidence that the massive car bomb that killed Hariri and 22 others was planted with the help of Hizbullah could badly damage a group that claims its militancy and massive arsenal is directed entirely at Israel. That evidence could be laid out at a trial in the Netherlands this year or next. That is why Hizbullah has been seeking for months to force the Lebanese government headed by the slain man's son, Saad Hariri, to renounce the tribunal.
The Obama administration has rightly encouraged Hariri to stand his ground, though neither Hariri nor the U.S. has the capacity to disarm Hizbullah or to end the threat it poses to Lebanon, Israel and the broader Middle East. By insisting that the tribunal proceed, however, the U.S. and its allies have the opportunity to expose the movement's homicidal terrorism, directed at fellow Arabs and Muslims, and its dependence on the Syrian and Iranian dictatorships. (Washington Post)
- Can Syria Accept a Hizbullah-Dominated Lebanon? - Michael Young
Syria cannot any more accept formal Hizbullah hegemony over Lebanon than it could a Lebanon ruled by the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1976, when it intervened militarily to prevent such an outcome. A Hizbullah-led government would substantially heighten the prospect of war between Lebanon and Israel, leading to an Israeli intervention that could drag Syria into a conflict not of its choosing. Ceding to Hizbullah the power of governance in Lebanon would mean effectively surrendering the country to Iran. Instead, Assad wants Lebanon to be surrendered to Syria.
Assad sees opportunities ahead. When the Special Tribunal's indictment is confirmed, Assad will contrive to step in and brok er a settlement allowing him to seize a large share of the Lebanese pie. Hizbullah may escalate its actions, but making Lebanon ungovernable will not sway the Special Tribunal. (Daily Star-Lebanon)
- Where Is Tunisia Heading? - Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah
Iran has maintained a presence in the Tunisian arena for years. In 1987, documents found in the possession of an official of the Iranian Embassy arrested in Europe testified to the ties that Iran maintains with Tunisian fundamentalists. That same year, a Tunisian named Lutfi, who had been recruited by Iran and underwent training there prior to joining a local network in Tunisia, unveiled to French police precise information regarding Iran's subversive activity in Tunisia.
Many Tunisians have joined the ranks of Islamic extremists in Algeria and Afghanistan, and trained in camps in Pakistan before they returned to North Africa or were dispatched to Europe. Since 2008 Tunisia has becom e a target for Islamic terrorists. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
See also The Toppling of the Tunisian Regime: Ramifications for the Arab World - Shlomo Brom
The popular uprising in Tunisia was waged mainly by Western-educated young people who were led by activists from the democratic opposition. In fact, this was an uprising by the social class that was essential to the regime in its struggle against the Islamic movement. In contrast, in other Arab countries such as Egypt and Jordan, the democratic opposition does not have a great deal of influence in the local society, while the Islamic movements have a wide circle of supporters and wield much influence. (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)
- Europe's Muslim Lobby - Soeren Kern
Europeans often fantasize about America's so-called Jewish lobby. But few Europeans like to talk about the growing influence of Europe's Muslim lobby, a conglomeration of hundreds of Muslim political and religious organizations - many of which are media-savvy mouthpieces for militant Islam that openly pursue anti-European, anti-Western and anti-Semitic agendas and often receive financial support from Islamic fundamentalist countries like Saudi Arabia. In a Europe where the number of Muslims has tripled over the past 30 years, Europe's Muslim lobby is becoming increasingly assertive and skilled at pressuring European policy-makers into implementing countless pro-Islamic policies, especially ones that institutionalize Islamic Sharia law. Muslim lobby groups are also exerting significant i nfluence on European policy in the Middle East, resulting in a notable hardening of official European attitudes toward Israel.
A report commissioned by the EU's Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (now called the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights) found that Muslim immigrants are largely responsible for the sharp increase in anti-Semitic violence in Europe. Predictably, Muslim lobby groups pressured the EU into preventing that report from being released to the general public. (Hudson Institute-New York)
- Double Standard at the Organization of the Islamic Conference - Jacob Mchangama
Pope Benedict XVI's call last week for increased protection of Christians targeted by sectarian violence in the Middle East was met with a furious response by the Egyptian government, which complained that the pope's comments constituted "unacceptable interference" in Egyptian affairs. Yet when in 2005 a Danish newspaper published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, the Egyptian government coordinated the campaign of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to pressure the Danish government into apologizing for the cartoons.
The increasing extremist violence is the logical outcome of the institutionalization of a particular religious identity rather than pluralism, equal rights, a nd individual freedom as the basic framework of society. The efforts of OIC countries to promote Islamic values have legitimized and fanned the fundamentalism that now threatens to tear apart those societies.
There is an urgent need to confront the OIC about its double standard. The plight of religious minorities and the denial of human rights in OIC countries must be put firmly on the agenda. The writer is director of legal affairs at the Danish think tank CEPOS. (National Review)
- Intel's Sandy Bridge Computing Revolution Engineered in Haifa - Shmulik Shelah
Intel is developing Sandy Bridge architecture for next-generation PCs, to help PCs and laptops cope with new challenges from tablets. A line of new processors that rely on Sandy Bridge architecture to link the components that form the computer's brain was unveiled at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The new architecture will be installed in all standard computer product lines.
Shlomit Weiss, the chief architect of Sandy Bridge at Intel Israel Ltd. over the past four years, oversaw one of the most impressive development efforts in the global processor market. She says the project included more than 1,000 software engineers at the peak. Most of the development took place in Haifa at Intel's Israeli development center.
This is the second time that the capabilities of Intel's Israeli development center have been at the heart of a strategic development of such a scale. Intel developed a new architecture for PCs and laptops in Israel with the Duo Core 2, introduced in 2006. Before that, the Israeli development center's importance was seen in the Centrino processor, introduced in 2003. (Globes)
Dagan's Comments Show World Still Has Time to Stop Iran Nukes - Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)
- Government officials in Jerusalem dismissed on Thursday the notion that former Mossad head Meir Dagan relieved pressure on Iran by saying two weeks ago that Tehran would not have the bomb at least until mid-decade. Dagan's comments did not lead to complacency, one official insisted. On the contrary, what he said should show the international community, which had believed that an Iranian bomb was a fait accompli, that a nuclear Iran was not imminent, and that there was still time to act.
- Another official said that Dagan had not taken the military option off the table by saying Israel should attack only if the "dagger was at its neck." Rather, he said, what Dagan did was step away from the portrayal of a crazy and irresponsible Israel that needed to be stopped from carrying out an action that could endanger the world. "The problem with that tactic is that then the international community thinks they have to stop Israel, not Iran, and that is the wrong focus."
- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told NBC's "Today" show on Wednesday that the new Israeli estimates were "very significant." The delay, she said, "gives us more of a breathing space to try to work to prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon."
See also No Let-Up on Iran - Editorial
With new forecasts pushing back the date for a nuclear-capable Iran, the sense of urgency in thwarting the Islamic Republic might dissipate. This must not be allowed to happen. Iran is bent on obtaining the bomb. That the danger may have been delayed by a year or two does not make it any less of an existential threat.
As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it, "I don't know that it gives much comfort to somebody who is in the Gulf, or who is in a country that Iran has vowed to destroy, that it's a one-year or a three-year time frame." (Jerusale m Post)
French Foreign Minister Accosted on Her Way into Gaza (AP-Washington Post)
A crowd of furious Palestinian protesters tried to block the French foreign minister on her way into Gaza on Friday, jumping on her vehicle and lying on the road.
Dozens of protesters surrounded Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie's convoy at the Erez Crossing from Israel.
They were angry about comments made by Alliot-Marie on Thursday in support of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held by Hamas militants in Gaza since 2006.
Hamas police eventually dispersed the protesters and allowed her through.
See also Gaza Protesters Block France FM (AP-Ha'aretz)
On Thursday, Alliot-Marie met Aviva and Noam Shalit, Gilad Shalit's parents, in Jerusalem, where she said that Shalit had "been held hostage for over four years. His complete isolation and preventing any sign of life from him is completely inhumane. We demand his immediate release."
Shalit is a French citizen, and France "is using all its ties in the region to advance his release," she said.
UK Will Not Recognize Unilateral Palestinian State, Official Says (AP-Ha'aretz)
Wrapping up a Mideast tour, Parliamentary Undersecretary of State Alistair Burt said in Jordan on Thursday that Britain would not recognize a Palestinian state unless it emerged from a peace deal with Israel.
Speaking with the Palestinian Ma'an news agency, Burt said London could not "recognize a state that does not have a capital, and doesn't have borders."
Chinese Academic Delegation Visiting Israel (Ynet News)
A delegation of ten prominent Chinese academic leaders and officials is visiting Israel this week for intensive dialogue and briefings with their Israeli counterparts in government, academia and policy-making circles.
The visit was sponsored by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and Project Interchange/AJC.
See also Chinese Academics Learn about Israeli Innovation - Ben Hartman (Jerusalem Post)
See also China, Israel Ink Contracts Worth $100 Million (People's Daily-China)
Al-Qaeda's Online English-Language Magazine Provokes Mayhem - Arnaud de Borchgrave (Washington Times)
The latest issue of Inspire, al-Qaeda's online English-language magazine, singles out Roshanara Chaudry, sentenced to life in prison last year for stabbing a British member of Parliament who backed the Iraq War.
"A woman has shown [Islam's] men the path of jihad! A woman, my brothers! Shame on all the men for idling while one of our women took up the individual jihad. She felt the need to do it simply because our men gave all too many excuses" for not doing it.
American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki appealed to Islamists to steal Western money to fund al-Qaeda.
Offering tips for bombing Western buildings, would-be terrorists were advised to rent apartments on the lower floors from where they could dynamite "the pillars of the structure."
Western volunteers are instructed to focus on targets in their own countries.
The Abuse of Holocaust Memory: Distortions and Responses (243pp.-pdf) - Manfred Gerstenfeld (Institute for Global Jewish Affairs-ADL)
The Holocaust is likely to continue to play an important role as the metaphor of absolute evil. Over the past several decades, awareness of the Holocaust in the Western world has increased greatly.
The broad superficial familiarity with the subject, however, also makes it prone to a multitude of distortions. Its history and terminology are abused for a variety of purposes, including using it as a tool against one's enemies and, in particular, Jews and Israel.
Denial of the Holocaust is the best-known distortion of its memory. Other categories include Holocaust justification, deflection, whitewashing, de-Judaization, equivalence, inversion, an d trivialization, as well as obliterating Holocaust memory.
This book analyzes the categories of distortion and the responses to them.
Israel a New Target for Shale Gas Exploration (Petroleum Economist)
Exploration for on-shore shale-gas deposits in Israel is underway. Canada's Adira Energy is targeting the Hula Valley, in the north of the country. The company says its assessment should be finished by year-end, when it will start drilling three wells.
Drilling near the head of the Jordan River would take three to four months, with coal deposits also a possible resource.