News Resources Updates on the Middle East News Stories
- U.S. Tries to Head Off UN Vote Against Israeli Settlements - David E. Sanger
The Obama administration was trying to head off a vote in the UN Security Council on Friday that would declare Israel's settlement construction in the West Bank illegal. President Obama called PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday in an effort to delay the vote or offer a compromise. (New York Times)
See also Arabs Insist on UNSC Vote on Settlement Draft Text Despite Brazilian Compromise Proposal (Kuwait News Agency)
See also Clinton: UN Resolutions Wrong for Mideast Peace
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday: "Our focus is on doing what is best to advance negotiations between the parties that will lead to a two-state solution" for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "And we have consistently - over many years - said that the United Nations Security Council, and resolutions that would come before the Security Council, are not the right vehicle to advance that goal." Her comments came after Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said the Palestinians had refused a compromise offered by Washington to withdraw a UN resolution condemning Jewish settlements. (AFP)
See also Secretary Clinton's Remarks (U.S. State Department)
See also Congressional Leaders Urge U.S. Veto - Bridget Johnson
House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) put out a joint statement Thursday saying: "The Palestinian leadership's decision to reject the difficult but vital responsibility of making peace with Israel through direct negotiations, and instead to advocate for anti-Israel measures by the United Nations Security Council, is counterproductive and unacceptable."
"Instead of negotiating directly with Israel to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict, Palestinian leaders continue to seek to circumvent the negotiating process by advocating anti-Israel measures at the UN Security Council, UN General Assembly, and UN Human Rights Council. The U.S. should not condone or reward this behavior by supporting their resolutions. We strongly urge the Administration to veto this resolution and to uphold our longstanding commitment to Israel's security." (The Hill)
See also Criticism on Israel Move Builds on Hill - Ben Smith (Politico)
See also below Commentary: U.S. Fails to Convince the Palestinians, and Offers a Rebuke to Israel - Richard Grenell (Huffington Post)
- Strikes Send Egyptian Economy Reeling - Anthony Shadid
Suez Canal workers this week joined striking workers at textile mills, pharmaceutical plants, chemical industries, the Cairo airport, the transportation sector and banks, sending the Egyptian economy reeling and defying the military's attempt to restore a veneer of order. "For 30 years, there were no protests at all...and now that's all there is," said Ibrahim Aziz, a merchant in downtown Cairo. "The situation's a mess." (New York Times)
See also Muslim Brotherhood Role Rising in Egypt - Sherine El Madany and Patrick Werr
The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood is playing an increasingly important role in preparing for post-Mubarak elect ions promised within six months. The Brotherhood has a member on the committee redrafting the constitution, is on a council set up by activists to protect the revolution, and has said it will set up as a political party as soon as laws are changed to let it do so. The Brotherhood's spokesman appeared on state television a few days ago, a first for a movement banned in the Mubarak era. Having been timid in the early days of the revolt, it clearly thinks it is safe to come out.
In another sign of the transformation of Egyptian politics, al-Gama'a al-Islamiya (Islamic Group), which took up arms against Mubarak's administration in the 1990s and was crushed by security forces, held its first public meeting in 15 years. "Our position is to turn a new page with the new regime," said Assem Abdel-Maged, a group member who spent years in jail for his role in the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat. (Reuters)
- CBS Reporter's Cairo Nightmare - Michael Shain, Don Kaplan and Kate Sheehy
"60 Minutes" correspondent Lara Logan was repeatedly sexually assaulted by thugs yelling, "Jew! Jew!" as she covered the chaotic fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo's main square last Friday, CBS said Tuesday. Logan is not Jewish. "It was a mob of more than 200 people whipped into a frenzy. In the crush of the mob, [Logan] was separated from her crew. She was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers," CBS said in a statement. (New York Post)
- Palestinians Continue Pursuit of Unilateral Declaration through South America - Juan Forero and Janine Zacharia
With peace talks with Israel frozen, the Palestinian Authority is now focusing on using the momentum from South America, where eight countries recognized Palestinian statehood in December and January, to win recognition in Europe. Palestinian diplomats contend that would provide a critical mass of support to propel the UN General Assembly to offer recognition later this year. "Our next target is Western Europe," said Nabil Shaath, who is in charge of foreign affairs for Abbas' Fatah party.
In interviews, top Israeli diplomats played down the significance of the South American gestures, calling them largely symbolic. Far from pressuring Prime Minister Netanyahu' s government, they said, the recognitions instead demonstrated that the Palestinians were foregoing peace talks. About 100 countries around the world have recognized an independent Palestinian state, most in 1980s before the Oslo accords. (Washington Post)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
- U.S. Sending Mixed Signals on Muslim Brotherhood - Hilary Leila Krieger
The Obama administration is sending mixed messages on its position toward the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and its assessments of the group's goals. "It is hard, at this point, to point to a specific agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood as a group," U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Wednesday, when asked about its stance on Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. Pressed on the last point, Clapper finally said, "They are not in favor of the treaty."
At the same time, CIA Director Leon Panetta said, "Within the Muslim Brotherhood, there are extremist elements that we have to pay attention to....We have to watch very carefully to make sure that they are not able to exert t heir influence on the direction of governments in that region." FBI Director Robert Mueller said some members in the Muslim Brotherhood have "supported terrorism." The U.S. has stated that its policy is not to speak to members of the Islamist organization, of which the U.S. terror-designated Hamas is an offshoot, at the same time that it calls for nonsecular groups to be included in conversations about a new, fully representative Egyptian government. (Jerusalem Post)
- Jews in Turkey Fear Attacks - Carmel Gat
Turkish Jews expressed fear Thursday of retaliation by Hizbullah, which has threatened to avenge its former commander, Imad Mughniyeh, on the third anniversary of his death. Earlier this week Israel temporarily shut down a number of its diplomatic missions due to fears of an attack, and a local Turkish paper revealed Thursday that these included the Israeli consulate in Istanbul and the embassy in Ankara.
A Jewish merchant from Istanbul told Ynet: "Turkey is a dictatorship. They attack newspapers and there are raids against anyone who dares speak out against the government. Those who talk too much find themselves under investigation." "Friendships are being developed here with states hostile to Israel. This concerns us, because we don't know if we wi ll be protected as before. Though police guard all Jewish institutions, we still don't really feel safe." (Ynet News)
- Report: Syrian Embassy in Cairo Aided Hizbullah Prisoner's Escape
The Syrian embassy in Cairo aided Hizbullah terrorist Mohammed Yousef Mansour, known as Sami Chehab, in leaving Egypt by issuing him a false passport, a Syrian source told the Kuwaiti daily Al-Seyasseh Wednesday. Chehab, exploiting the chaos that had erupted in Egypt, escaped the prison where he was serving a 15-year sentence for planning terrorist activities on Egyptian soil. Chehab used the new passport to travel to Khartoum, from where he flew to Syria, and crossed over into Lebanon. Chehab appeared in a Beirut rally Wednesday, waving Hizbullah flags and raising his hands in a V-victory sign. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think- Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- U.S. Fails to Convince the Palestinians, and Offers a Rebuke to Israel - Richard Grenell
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice announced to the UN's Arab group that she will support their statement condemning Israel for its settlement construction after failing to convince the group to support her language. Rice previously offered the Arab group a plethora of U.S. government compromises in exchange for different language - language they rejected outright. The incentives Rice offered included a harsh condemnation of Israeli settlements in a future statement from the Mideast Quartet negotiators and an official UN-organized tour of the Middle East. But as foreign policy experts hail the region's recent democracy movement, Rice is at the UN agreeing to condemn the Middle East's s trongest democratic government.
Arab leaders have spent considerable capital trying to convince their publics and Americans that Israeli settlements and Palestinian border issues are the highest priority. But the recent tumult in Tunisia and Egypt have proven that Arab youth, like their counterparts in America and elsewhere, want, first and foremost, economic and political freedom. Washington must stand solidly with the strongest democracy in the region, Israel, and make clear that economic freedom, individual human rights and security are our priority goals. The writer is a former U.S. Spokesman at the UN. (Huffington Post)
- The Wrong Message from the U.S. - Editorial
In a worrying move this week, the U.S. reportedly informed Arab governments and the Palestinians that it would support a statement by the president of the UN Security Council censuring Israel for "settlement activity." The U.S. reportedly agreed to back a statement that "does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, which is a serious obstacle to the peace process."
The reported U.S. willingness to diverge from what Israel regards as its interests and to cave in partially to Palestinian demands to censure Israel, its closest ally in the Middle East, contrasts sharply with its stated willingness to "engage" with, rather than punish, its enemies. U.S. failure to robustly protect its friends or punish its enemies sends out a particularly problematic message to leaders in this ruthless region about its future inclination, or lack thereof, to protect Israeli interests. The message that Washington should be sending out right now is that Israel is the U.S.' only stable, dependable and democratic ally in the fast-destabilizing Middle East.
As regards the specific issue of settlements, the U.S. should have internalized and should urge others to internalize that the Jewish people has religious, historical and security claims in the biblical Judea and Samaria. Israel has been ready to contemplate far-reaching territorial compromise there in the context of a genuine process of reconciliation. That remarkable willingness to compromise should be appreciated by its allies, who should signal their resolute support for Israel in the face of its enemies, and should strive to press those enemies toward normalized relations with Israel amid a viable security framework. (Jerusalem Post)
- Abbas' Intifada: Isolating Israel and Unilateral Steps - Khaled Abu Toameh
Palestinian President Abbas has reached the same conclusion as his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, that he will not get all of what he wants from Israel at the negotiating table, so he has instead decided to take the battle to the international arena. To convince the U.S. and the Europeans to support their unilateral declaration of statehood, Abbas and Fayyad have chosen to embarrass and isolate Israel through a diplomatic uprising, designed to force Israel to submit to all Palestinian demands.
First, they are seeking to convince countries to back PA efforts to press war crimes charges against Israeli political and military leaders. Second, the PA is making huge efforts to have the UN Security Council condemn settlements as illegal. Third, Abbas and Fayyad have been working hard to persuade countries to declare their recognition of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 lines, with east Jerusalem as its capital.
When Arafat reached the conclusion that he would never get what he wanted from Israel through negotiations, he resorted to violence, unleashing the "second intifada" in September 2000. His successor, Mahmoud Abbas, knows that the violence has been counterproductive and has caused the Palestinians huge damage. So he has chosen a different approach, a diplomatic offensive, ultimately aimed at circumventing the Oslo Accords by winning the international community's recognition of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 lines. (Hudson Institute-New York)
- The U.S. Must Empower Iran's Green Movement - Ray Takeyh
As Iran's streets erupt with pro-democracy demonstrations, it is all too obvious that the only option the U.S. has in altering the Islamic Republic's behavior is to support the Green Movement. The key challenge for the U.S. is to find ways to connect with the Green Movement. As important as social media or rhetorical declarations may be, such measures are limited. The model of Eastern Europe is instructive, as the West managed to covertly use a range of institutions, such as the Catholic Church and labor unions, to funnel assistance to dissidents. Several parts of Iranian civil society - labor syndicates, savvy youth, clerical dissidents, liberal protesters and universities - exist in a state of perpetual rebellion; they deserve to be beneficiaries of American advice and assistance.
The demise of the Islamic Republic is inevitable. Should the Middle East move toward realizing the aspirations of its citizens, and embrace pluralism and accountability, it is hard to see how a retrogressive clerical tyranny can persist in the region. The writer is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. (Washington Post)
- The Iranians Head for the Suez Canal - Dore Gold
Iran wants to demonstrate that its naval power is not just confined to the Persian Gulf, but that its warships can reach as far as the Mediterranean Sea. According to a report by the Office of U.S. Naval Intelligence, the Iranian Navy is preparing itself to project its power beyond the Strait of Hormuz with new naval bases in the Gulf of Oman that will be ready in 2015.
The dispatch of Iranian ships to the Suez Canal is a case of naval diplomacy. Up until this month, Egypt led the Sunni Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia and Jordan, which have been seeking to contain the spread of Iranian power. However, with Egypt neutralized for now, the Iranians want to send a signal that they are prepared to fill the vacuum created by the fall of President Mubarak by dispatching warships through the Suez Canal for the first time.
The Iranian naval move is a simple signal: wherever the U.S. withdraws from, Iran will be there to enter. Should Iran cross the nuclear weapons threshold, this kind of assertiveness will only increase. (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
- Prudence Required on Egypt - Yuli Edelstein
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman takes time out from his Cairo reportage to castigate the government of Israel for not urging the American government to hasten the departure of Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak, after all, merely made Egypt's American alliance and its peace treaty with Israel the cornerstones of his foreign policy for thirty years. One could wish that Mr. Friedman's enthusiasm for democracy in the Arab world were consistent and principled. If it were, he might have warned, as some Israelis did, against importing Yasser Arafat and the PLO to the West Bank and imposing his dictatorial rule upon the Palestinians.
Like democrats everywhere, I wish for the Egyptian people to enjoy the blessings of liberty, and hope that their popular revolution leads to it. But I do not delude myself that the path is likely to be either quick or certain. The Egyptian people's uprising creates hope for the eventual emergence of democracy, but it also opens the door for demagogues who, as in Iran and Lebanon, will fan hatred and fanaticism and try to ride them to power. The writer is Israel's Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs. (Huffington Post)
See also A Postcard from Israel - Eddie Yair Fraiman
Columnist Thomas Friedman recently attacked Israel's government, claiming the current Israeli cabinet is the most "out-of-touch" in the nation's history. But in actuality, the Israeli public - which elects its government democratically - supports the government at higher approval rates than we've seen in the past 20 years. Contrary to Friedman's view, the current cabinet is very much i n tune with the real and legitimate concerns of the Israeli people.
Israel obviously does not oppose liberal democracy in Egypt. It does, however - and with good cause - oppose an Islamist or radically anti-Western regime in Egypt. Israel also opposes any regime - secular or religious - which would tear up the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty. Many in Egypt oppose peace with Israel. A radical regime may emerge that will choose to act on that opposition. The writer is an advisor to a cabinet minister in the Israeli government. (Ynet News)
- The Maestro's Israel Bonds - David Mermelstein
The Bombay-born, Vienna-trained conductor Zubin Mehta, 74, was appointed music adviser of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 1969. He was named its first music director in 1977, and since 1981 he has held the title of music director for life. Their latest tour together, which heralds the orchestra's 75th anniversary in December, begins Saturday in Naples, Fla., and concludes at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles on March 1.
"When I started, it was an orchestra of the Hapsburg monarchy," he said. "There were Viennese, Poles, Hungarians, Czechs and some German Jews, but basically all Yiddish speakers. Then the sabras (Jews born in Israel) started coming in. And now, since the emigration from the Soviet Union, it's become a Russian orchestra, but one continuing with the Central European sound." (Wall Street Journal)
- Israeli Legal Eagle Gets Her Talons into Terrorist Groups - Barney Zwartz
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner says her Israel Law Center has collected $120 million for victims of terrorism, put liens on $600 million more, and won judgments for more than $1 billion against such groups as Hamas, Hizbullah, the governments of Iran and North Korea, and banks that service terrorists. ''We go after the funds of terrorist groups, taking away their oxygen. If you stop the flow of money you can stop the flow of terrorism,'' she says.
Darshan-Leitner modeled her non-profit legal center on the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama, which crippled white supremacist groups in the U.S. She has about 100 cases active at the moment and recently won a $378 million judgmen t against the government of North Korea for funding and supporting the terrorists who killed 26 people at Israel's Lod airport in 1972.
A vital case was against the Arab Bank, begun in New York in 2004. The bank was paying rewards of up to $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers, and she sued them on behalf of Israeli victims. ''Right after we filed the case the banks stopped transferring money to designated terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad." (The Age-Australia)
- Soldier Shares Experiences, Defends Israel's Military Actions - Nicholas Zanetti
Benjamin Anthony, a reserve sergeant in the Israel Defense Forces, has been touring college campuses nationwide, hoping to dispel what he views as inaccuracies in the mass media portrayal of the Israeli army. Anthony founded an organization called "Our Soldiers Speak," which "works to separate fact from sensationalism." Anthony described the Israeli motivation for armed interventions as strictly defensive. "We fight not out of a desire to wage war....We have no other choice."
Soldiers in the IDF are not motivated by religious ideology, political fervor or political identification, but merely by a basic human desire to survive. He said the Israeli army is one of the most humane fighting forces in the world, protecting the lives and well-being of Palestinian and Arab civilians in war zones. Israel has a strong desire for peace, but a peace that is meaningful and lasting will take time, he said. (Elon [NC] University Pendulum)
Iran and Libya Feel the Heat from Within - Con Coughlin (Telegraph-UK)
- All of a sudden, the leaders of the Middle East's rogue states appear to have lost their appetite for upholding the protests that have already accounted for the governments of Tunisia and Egypt.
- In Iran, the opposition Green Movement made a dramatic reappearance on the streets of Tehran to demand the overthrow of President Ahmadinejad's regime. Once the crowds of demonstrators and chants of "Death to the Dictator" appeared on the doorstep of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he rapidly backtracked. Within a few hours, the order had gone out to the broadcast media to halt all coverage of unrest elsewhere in the Middle East.
- Iranian opposition groups estimate that the majority of the 89 people executed in January were anti-government activists. They included Sahra Bahrami, a 46-year-old Dutch-Iranian woman, detained during the 2009 protests. She was hanged on bogus drug-smuggling charges, causing the Dutch government to freeze all ties with Iran.
- There are fresh signs of a split within the ranks of the Revolutionary Guards. In a letter to Mohammad Ali Jafari, the Guards' hardline commander, seen by the Daily Telegraph, senior officers seek reassurance that "we will not [have to] shoot nor beat our brothers seeking to express legitimate protest against the policies and conduct of their leaders."
- Any suggestion that the guardians of the Islamic Revolution might be unwilling to fight their own countrymen raises serious questions about the ability of both Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to survive a renewed bout of protests.
Hamas Sees Opportunity in Change in Egypt - Edmund Sanders (Los Angeles Times)
Under Mubarak, Egypt sealed its border with Gaza for prolonged periods, constructing an underground barrier to block smuggling tunnels and arresting numerous Hamas leaders.
Mubarak said he feared that Hamas, an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, would spread Islamist extremism into his nation.
With the Brotherhood, which had been officially outlawed in Egypt for decades, now a strong force in the nation's politics, Hamas is hoping for warmer ties with Cairo, including an open border and free trade.
The War on Israeli Goods (Ynet News)
A growing movement uses demonstrations and media outlets to promote the boycott of Israeli products across Europe.
Its effects on the Israeli economy are marginal, but it has been far more damaging when it comes to the negative image that it spreads.
The British Trade Union Movement, Israel, and Boycotts - Ronnie Fraser (Institute for Global Jewish Affairs)
Over the past thirty years the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and member unions have regularly adopted resolutions containing anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian rhetoric.
At its 2010 Congress the TUC decided to strengthen ties with the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) and reinforce its boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
The majority of the motions on Palestine that are submitted to annual union conferences in the UK tend not to represent the views of the general membership, but instead the poli tical positions of activists who are usually ideologues.
The writer, director of the Academic Friends of Israel, which he founded in 2002, is a doctoral student at Royal Holloway College in London.
Israel Through the Lens of University of Maryland Birthright Participants (University of Maryland Hillel)
Every winter and every summer, the University of Maryland Hillel takes at least two buses of students on the Taglit-Birthright Israel trip.
This winter, our staff asked the students to each submit a picture representing Israel through their eyes.
The transformation of students who started out as Jewish American Terps to students who now proudly proclaim that they are American Jews is a beautiful thing to see in photographs.
Golan Heights - Beautiful and Strategic - David Abel (Boston Globe)
The Golan Heights was a battleground for years between Syria and Israel, which seized the strategic highlands during the Six-Day War in 1967 and parried a Syrian effort to retake the area in 1973.
Over the last three decades, this windswept territory of 500 square miles has been transformed into a breadbasket of Israel, giving rise to kumquat and apple groves, spicy cabernets and tangy olive oil, sweet milk chocolate and dainty pastries. There are now artist colonies and multimillion-dollar industries, hot springs and ski slopes.
Dozens Reported Killed in Libyan Crackdown - Alan Cowell (New York Times)
At least 24 people have died in protests in Libya against Col. Muammar Gaddafi, according to Human Rights Watch, and demonstrations were reported continuing on Friday in what seemed the most serious challenge to his 41-year rule.
See also Gaddafi Turns Helicopter Gunships on Anti-Government Demonstrators - Damien McElroy (Telegraph-UK)
In Libya, Col. Muammar Gaddafi's regime turned helicopter gunships and snipers on protesters Thursday.
A heavy turnout of pro-regime sup porters bearing sticks and placards praising the "brother leader" failed to deter protests in Tripoli.
The Gaddafi family's billionaire lifestyle and playboy reputations are a liability in a region where unemployment and corruption are provoking demonstrations.
Outsiders Assist in Bahrain Crackdown - Janine Zacharia (Washington Post)
Bahrain has witnessed a crackdown by a police force heavily composed of foreign nationals and controlled by a widely despised prime minister, as the country's Shiite majority, dissatisfied over their place in a Sunni-led monarchy, followed the mood of protest in other Arab countries and pushed for reform.
The Bahraini security forces, including riot police, are filled with Pakistanis and other foreign-born troops and officers "who are happy to do whatever they have to do to keep law and order," said Bruce Riedel, a former Middle East CIA analyst now with the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Rights Group Wants Funds Cut to Palestinian Forces - Daniel Estrin (AP-Boston Globe)
The U.S. and the European Union should cut off funds to Palestinian security services in the West Bank until the Palestinians investigate accusations of abuse against protesters, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.
The U.S. and EU have poured millions of dollars into training Palestinian security forces in the West Bank.
Since January 2009, Palestinians have filed more than 360 allegations of torture against Palestinian security agencies with the official Palestinian ombudsman for human rights abuses, but no PA security official has been convicted of torture or other abuses .