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No Truce in Israel-Hamas Violence

No Truce in Israel-Hamas Violence
July 22, 2014
French riot police confront anti-Israeli demonstrators on
Sunday in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles. (Getty Images)

France’s Jewish community is reeling after a week of looting and anti-Semitic violence linked to Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza . . . on Sunday, mobs chanting “Death to the Jews” attacked a synagogue and Jewish-owned businesses in Sarcelles, a Paris suburb, where police arrested 18 rioters . . . one week earlier, mobs attempted to storm a pair of Paris synagogues, and the government responded by banning demonstrations over Gaza in the French capital . . . there was also an attempt to firebomb a synagogue outside Paris . . . on Saturday, mobs violated the demonstration ban and took to the streets in Paris, with some rioters throwing stones and bottles at the police . . .
modern France has a dark history of anti-Semitism dating back to World War II, in which close to 90,000 Jews – one-quarter of France’s Jewish population – died in the Holocaust, many as a result of the active collaboration of their fellow countrymen . . . figures from the first three months of this year, well before the past week’s rioting, showed that Jews were emigrating from France at a rate four times higher than in 2013 . . . Jewish anxieties have been heightened by a series of high-profile attacks by local Islamists, targeting them in recent years, including the March 2012 massacre of three soldiers, a rabbi, and three Jewish schoolchildren by French jihadist Mohamed Merah in Toulouse . . . the anti-Semitic rioting of the past week will help reinforce Jews’ suspicions that they are unwelcome in France and spur more emigration from the country.

July 22, 2014
Relatives and friends grieve at the funeral Tuesday for
an Israeli soldier killed in Gaza. (Getty Images)

The U.S. State Department is urging Americans to avoid all travel to Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip because of continuing hostilities between Hamas and Israel . . . long-range rockets launched from Gaza since July 8 have reached many locations in Israel, including Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, Hebron and throughout the south of the country . . . on July 17, Israel launched offensive ground operations in Gaza . . . the department also urged Americans already in Israel to learn the locations of bomb shelters in case they find themselves under a rocket attack . . . the Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday afternoon issued a 24-hour ban on all U.S. flights to Israel . . . that decision followed Delta Air Lines' decision to cancel all flights to Israel after a Delta Boeing 747 on route to Tel Aviv from New York cited a rocket attack at Ben Gurion Airport . . . the airliner turned around and flew to Paris . . . US Airways later cancelled its flight one daily flight to Israel . . . LIGNET has provided ongoing situation reports of the conflict in Israel and ground invasion of Gaza.

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July 22, 2014

An Israeli C-130 Hercules (L) and a Super Hercules C130J (R) perform during a graduation ceremony of Israeli pilots at the Hatzerim base in the Negev desert, near the southern city of Beersheva, on June 26, 2014. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Witnesses in Sudan reported that Israeli forces destroyed a weapons warehouse in Khartoum . . . the strike took place a few hours after Israel accused Sudan of storing long range missiles for Hamas . . . Sudan reported that the explosion was the result of a fire at the weapons arsenal and that it happened last Friday, not on Monday . . . two weeks ago, Sudan’s President al-Bashir met with Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal in Qatar . . . Sudan is an ally of Hamas, and in November 2012, the two sides pledged to support each other . . . during the 2012 military clash between Israel and Hamas, Israel bombed an arms factory in Khartoum, apparently believing it was supplying Hamas . . . Sudan has repeatedly denied supplying weapons to Hamas, but vocally supports the militant group . . . Sudan also has ties to Iran, and Iranian warships have made high-profile visits to Sudanese ports, raising speculation that Sudan may be a conduit to transfer Iranian arms to Hamas.

Hamas Leverages War for World Support, Political Survival
July 21, 2014

As the death toll from the fighting in the Gaza Strip shoots higher, neither Israel nor Hamas is showing any sign of softening. Israel remains determined to eradicate Hamas weapons stockpiles and destroy its smuggling tunnels, while Hamas continues to reject any talk of a truce that fails to grant it concessions.
July 20, 2014
An Israeli tank moves patrols along the border with the
Gaza Strip on July 20, 2014.

Israel announced today that Hamas militants have fired more than 130 rockets since Israel started its ground offensive on Friday . . . the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) reported that two Israeli residents were killed in rocket attacks on Saturday, and two soldiers also died in fighting . . . the IDF announced that tanks and bulldozers focused on a one-mile area on the eastern frontier Saturday in an effort to destroy tunnels and rocket stockpiles . . . according to Israel, the IDF intercepted Hamas militants attempting to enter Israel through a tunnel, killing one gunmen, but that the rest escaped back in to Gaza . . . since fighting between the two sides started 11 days ago, approximately 340 people have died and 2,400 were wounded . . . so far, there is no indication that Hamas is backing down or that it is open to a cease fire . . . international efforts to calm the tensions are likely to increase as the death toll rises, especially because of the high number of civilian casualties . . . however, Israel is unlikely to consider the original Egypt-sponsored plan that Hamas rejected last week, and will instead attempt to exact terms that include harsher terms on Hamas, including severely reducing rocket stockpiles . . . while Israel’s goal is to cripple the Hamas military effort, Hamas has international allies such as Iran that will likely continue to supply the militants even if Isral and Hamas eventually agree to a truce.

Hamas Rockets Inflicting Severe Damage — on Hamas
July 18, 2014
The Hamas campaign of firing rockets into Israel from Gaza has had little practical effect, other than severely degrading the Islamist group’s own image across the region. The Hamas rejection of an Egyptian cease-fire initiative (which Tel Aviv respected) will infuriate the Egyptians and end any chance of loosening their blockade, while retaliatory airstrikes by Israel have significantly degraded Hamas arsenal, storage and rocket-manufacturing facilities.
Israel Targets Hamas Rocket Threat in Ground Invasion of Gaza
July 18, 2014

After negotiations and a brief cease-fire failed to bring about a settlement agreement in the 10-day Israel-Gaza conflict, Israel Thursday night began a ground invasion of Gaza to wipe out Hamas’ rocket capabilities and dismantle an extensive network of tunnels used by the militants to infiltrate Israel.
July 17, 2014

Israeli soldiers stand on their Merkava tank on July 17, 2014 at an army deployment area near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel announced yesterday it would halt air attacks for five hours on Thursday to allow aid into the Gaza Strip . . . the Israeli military said it was responding to a request by Robert H. Serry, the United Nations Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process . . . Serry said he would ask Hamas to reciprocate . . . Israel warned it will “respond firmly and decisively” if Hamas “exploits” the cease-fire to attack Israel . . . however, the truce corresponds with increasing suggestions of a ground invasion . . . the government called up an additional 8,000 reservists, bringing the total to 50,000, and an Israeli military official told the New York Times the likelihood of a ground invasion was “very high” . . . Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said an invasion of Gaza was “definitely an option” and both the Foreign Minister and the Minister of Strategic Affairs called for more direct action against Hamas . . . if Hamas respects the five-hour truce, it could provide some basis to build toward a long term cease fire and avoid an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza . . . Israel almost certainly would like to avoid a costly and internationally unpopular ground invasion, but any breach of the suspension by Hamas will likely force Israel’s hand to send at least some ground forces into Gaza . . . even if Hamas respects the truce, Netanyahu is likely to face increasing pressure to take more decisive action against the militants unless the group agrees to a full ceasefire soon.

July 16, 2014

Israeli soldiers from an Infantry Brigade clean their weapons at an army deployment area near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, on July 16, 2014. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel resumed air strikes on Gaza today, after dropping leaflets warning Palestinians to leave the targeted areas . . . one of the targets was the home of Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar . . . Palestinian groups reported that the death toll has now passed 200 . . . Israel reported its first death in the crisis yesterday, when a civilian was hit by shrapnel from a rocket near the border crossing between Israel and Gaza . . . meanwhile, Turkey has stepped up rhetoric against Israel, calling its actions ‘state terrorism’ . . . Israel is increasing its pressure on Hamas since the militant group rejected the Egyptian-proposed truce yesterday . . . the situation inside Gaza is becoming critical, with air strikes damaging water and sewer infrastructure, and disrupting power throughout the area . . . Israel is unwilling to unilaterally end the attacks, and Hamas continues to refuse to back down, making further escalation likely . . . despite its bellicose rhetoric, Turkey is also throwing its hat in the ring as a potential mediator for the conflict, although Israel is unlikely to work with Ankara because of strained ties . . . fissures are also beginning to develop inside Israel’s government, with hard-liners openly criticizing Prime Minister Netanyahu for failing to launch a full-fledged attack against Gaza and urging an even stronger response.

Gaza Braces for More Violence as Hamas Rejects Truce
July 15, 2014
Updated: July 15, 2014, 0700

Hamas rejected a cease-fire proposal presented by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry Monday night, further escalating violence in the Gaza Strip. Israel’s Security Cabinet accepted the plan, but Hamas militants said the proposal “wasn’t worth the ink it was written with” while another arm of the terrorist group called it “an initiative of kneeling and submission.” Israel warned it will “intensify” its military campaign as a result of the Hamas rejection, and Hamas countered that “our battle with the enemy continues, and will increase in ferocity and intensity.”

July 14, 2014
A poster of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (Getty Images)

Israel’s military operation in Gaza illustrates how isolated Hamas has become in the Arab world . . . Arab state support for the terrorist group has been relatively muted, while Iran has emerged as Hamas’ strongest supporter in confronting Israel and glorifying attacks on its civilian population . . . Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been harshly attacking the “Zionist regime,” and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has taken to Twitter to praise Hamas for launching rockets “into the heart of the cities in Israel,” firing missiles which “are falling on Tel-Aviv every morning,” and directing missile fire at Ben-Gurion Airport . . . Press TV, an English-language Iranian propaganda organ, has been making similar declarations . . . on Monday, nearly a week into the current round of fighting, Arab League foreign ministers met in Cairo to discuss “finding a solution to stop the shedding of Palestinian civilians’ blood and to formulate a common Arab stance on the issue,” the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said . . .
aside from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has formed a political coalition with Hamas, the jihadist group is receiving negligible support from Arab countries . . . Hamas’ situation today is dramatically different from a year or two ago, when Egypt was led by President Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, which includes Hamas as its Palestinian affiliate . . . since ousting Morsi last July, Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, now Egypt’s president, has declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization and gone to war against it with the support of Gulf Arab states, which are deeply alarmed by Tehran’s nuclear program and efforts to project power in the region . . . Sisi has also worked with Israel to cut off the smuggling of weapons into Hamas-ruled Gaza.

July 11, 2014
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and Arab American Institute President James Zogby debated on Newsmax TV about the crisis between Israel and Hamas. Dershowitz insists that Hamas is “100 percent at fault. Zogby acknowledged the rocket fire by Hamas was "inexcusable," but that the response of both sides was "stupid." Zogby insisted the real cause for the latest outbreak of violence is due to Israel "oppressing brutally" the Palestinians, and its "horrific blockade" of Gaza.
July 11, 2014
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. (Getty Images)

While the Israeli military tries to avoid civilian casualties during its military campaign in the Gaza Strip, the same cannot be said for Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group that controls the region . . . Israel is telephoning Palestinians living in or near strategic military targets to urge them to evacuate, while Hamas is doing the opposite: exhorting them to stay where they are – even if they will be wounded or killed by Israeli strikes aimed at ending Hamas rocket and missile fire into the Jewish state . . . Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri on Tuesday praised “jihad-fighting people” in Gaza who “defend their rights and their homes with their bare chests and their blood” . . . there are reports of Palestinians ignoring Israeli warnings and going back into buildings in an effort to either deter Israeli military strikes or to ensure as many dead and wounded Palestinian civilians as possible . . . Israel insists that Zuhri’s comments are just one part of a larger Hamas strategy of encouraging Palestinian civilians to “martyr” themselves in order to score political propaganda points . . . on Thursday, the Israel Defense Force posted a video showing an Israeli airstrike on what it called a rocket-launching site concealed in a residential neighborhood in Gaza . . . the Israeli military has also produced photos of Palestinian civilians acting as “human shields” gathered on the roof of a home of a Hamas operative targeted by the Israeli military . . .
while Hamas and, at times, reporters for many Western media outlets have depicted the Israeli military strikes as largely responsible for Palestinian civilian deaths, Jerusalem is busily amassing evidence that the blame really lies with Hamas, which employs military tactics aimed at causing maximum civilian suffering on both sides.
July 10, 2014
Israel children hide in a concrete pipe used as a bomb
shelter during a Palestinian rocket attack Thursday on
the village of Nitzan. (Getty Images)

Iran’s purportedly moderate regime has played a substantial role in arming the Gaza-based Palestinian terrorists who have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel this week . . . in March, Israeli commandos intercepted a Panamanian ship called the Klos C in the Red Sea off the coast of Sudan with a cargo that included hundreds of mortar shells and surface-to-surface rockets along with 400,000 rounds of ammunition hidden under bags of Iranian cement . . . the United Nations Security Council investigated and concluded that the weapons originated from Bandar Abbas, a port in southern Iran . . . Israeli analysts say the intercepted weaponry is just a small portion of the Iranian weapons supplied to Gaza-based terrorist groups . . . weapons trafficking has been aided by the fact that Iran and Hamas, the terrorist group controlling the Gaza Strip, appear to have patched up differences resulting from the in Syria where they supported different sides in the civil war . . . much of the weaponry has gone to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the group responsible for most of Gaza rocket fire targeting Israel . . .
the current explosion of violence is another reminder of the importance that the Iranian regime has long placed on fomenting terrorism out of Gaza . . . in January 2002, the Israeli Navy intercepted the Karine-A, a Gaza-bound freighter carrying 50 tons of sophisticated Iranian weaponry for Yasir Arafat’s Palestinian Authority . . . the current rocket and missile attacks on Israeli cities ensure that in the months ahead, the Israel Defense Force will make keeping Iranian weapons out of Gaza a top priority.

July 10, 2014
Palestinians inspect the damage of a building hit by an
Israeli air strike on July 10, 2014 in the Gaza Strip.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday that he is willing to continue to mediate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas . . . on Wednesday, Egypt urged Israel and Hamas to end the violence . . . however, an Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman downplayed Egypt’s efforts, saying, "There is no mediation, in the common sense of the word” . . . meanwhile, Turkey on Tuesday called on Israel to “immediately halt its attacks on Gaza” and called on the international community to warn Israel to stop its attacks . . . with tensions between Hamas and Israel escalating and increasing fears that the situation could rapidly deteriorate,  international actors are likely to step-up efforts to intervene in the situation . . . Egypt has previously negotiated ceasefires between Hamas and Israel, but appears to be taking a less direct role in the current conflict . . . Egypt’s influence with Hamas has waned since the election of Sisi and his crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, a Hamas ally, although Sisi retains close ties to the Palestinian Authority . . . Turkey’s response is not surprising, as Ankara is a key ally of Hamas and the leader of Hamas lives openly in Turkey.

July 8, 2014
Jordanian soldiers stand guard against ISIS attacks on
the border with Iraq. (Getty Images)

Jordanian officials are becoming increasingly concerned about the spread of the violent ideology represented by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) . . . The Hashemite Kingdom’s military has sent reinforcements to the border with Iraq as a precautionary measure to prevent cross-border infiltration . . . analysts say a growing number of Jordanians have come to regard Iraqi militants as honored defenders of Sunni Muslim identity, and reports of clashes between pro-Islamist demonstrators and security forces across the country are on the upswing . . . Mohammed al-Shalabi, a Jordanian Salafist Muslim with reported al-Qaida links, told the Associated Press that “Jordan is not immune to what is happening in neighboring countries “ . . . Shalabi, who spent more than a decade behind bars on charges that included plotting to attack a U.S. military base, expressed concern that ISIS’s demand for creation of a caliphate would divide the global jihadist movement . . . in Shalabi’s hometown of Maan, a town in southwestern Jordan just 65 miles from the Israeli city of Eilat, residents have marched with jihadist banners and signs congratulating Iraqi militants on their victories, while black militant flags adorn walls . . .
jihadist sympathies in Jordan had appeared to be waning after Iraq-based radicals bombed three Amman hotels on Nov. 9, 2005, killing at least 67 people . . . but more recently there have been growing indicators of support for radical Islam . . . an estimated 2,000 Jordanians out of a national population of about 6.3 million are believed to be fighting alongside jihadists in Iraq and Syria . . . although Jordan does not appear to be in any immediate danger, Israeli officials have said privately that their government would be prepared to intervene if radicals threatened to destabilize the kingdom . . . during Jordan’s 1970-1971 war against local Palestinian terror groups, the threat of Israeli military action deterred Syria from intervening on the side of the militants.

July 8, 2014
Smoke from Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip today. 

Hamas launched dozens of rockets at southern Israel yesterday in retaliation for air strikes by Israel against Hamas targets in Gaza . . . Hamas claimed the Israeli attacks killed five fighters, while Israel said the individuals died after explosives they were handling detonated in a tunnel . . .  a Hamas spokesman accused Israel of a "grave escalation" and promised they would "pay a tremendous price” . . . usual tensions between Hamas and Israel have escalated in recent weeks, after the murders of three Israeli teenagers in Hamas-controlled territories and a retaliatory killing of a Palestinian teenager . . . the situation has also caused conflict inside the Israeli government, with some members condemning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not responding more forcefully against Hamas after the killings . . . the situation could easily lead to a full-fledged conflict with wider implications, including threats to both Netanyahu and the recent alliance between Hamas and the more moderate Fatah Palestinian faction.

July 4, 2014
Israel yesterday increased troops around the Gaza Strip, after more than 30 rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel . . . Israel launched airstrikes Wednesday night at Hamas targets . . . also yesterday, authorities found the burned body of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy who had been forced into a vehicle in a Jerusalem forest . . . Gaza is on precariously close to descending into chaos . . . tensions escalated after the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers last month and the replacement of Hamas unpaid civil servants by the Palestinian Authority . . . Israel blames the militant group Hamas for the kidnappings, and is cracking down on Hamas targets . . . Palestinians, however, resent the Israeli crackdown and are retaliating . . . escalating violence is threatening to erupt into a full-blown confrontation, and any new attacks on teenagers would likely push Gaza over the edge.

June 29, 2014
US Secretary of State John Kerry sits with U.S. Special
Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations Martin Indyk
in Paris on September 8, 2013.

U.S. Mideast envoy Martin S. Indyk resigned his position yesterday, saying he is leaving to join a think tank . . . Indyk was appointed special envoy last summer, while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was stepping up his peace efforts in Israel and Palestine . . . according to Indyk, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority  were to blame for the failure of the peace talks earlier this year . . . in addition to his experience at the think tank, Indyk had been an ambassador to Israel under President Bill Clinton and was heavily involved in the Camp David peace talks in 2000 . . . Indyk’s resignation is yet another sign that officials currently have little hope of brokering a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine . . . any new effort at talks will likely have to start from scratch, and there is no indication even preliminary talks are currently taking place . . . Indyk’s move echoes that of one of his predecessors, former Sen. George Mitchell, who resigned in 2011 after break down of another set of peace efforts.

With Iraq in Chaos, Israel Strengthens Ties to the Kurds
June 26, 2014
Israel accepted a first shipment of oil last week from Iraq’s Kurdistan region, throwing the Kurds a lifeline in their conflict with the Iraqi central government over oil resources. But it’s not likely that Kurdistan, given the politics of the Middle East, will ever be a reliable ally of Israel.
June 24, 2014
A protester at a rally in New York Tuesday holds a sign
demanding the release of the kidnapped Israeli teens.
(Getty Images)

Israeli security forces have arrested more than 350 Palestinians during “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” a rescue operation launched to find three teenage Jewish seminary students who disappeared June 12 while hitchhiking in the West Bank . . . the overwhelming majority of those arrested are members of Hamas, a terrorist organization linked to attacks that have killed hundreds of Israelis over the years . . . Hamas on Monday denied that it had information about Israeli teens but applauded their abduction, calling them “soldier-settlers" . . Israeli troops have seized computers and funds linked to charities connected to Hamas, which Israel says carried out the abductions … at least two Palestinians have died in clashes with Israeli troops combing the West Bank in search of Eyal Yifrah, 19, and Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaer, both 16 . . . the search for the teenagers has rekindled the ongoing debate within Israel over releasing imprisoned terrorists in exchange for hostages . . . those rearrested by Israeli security forces searching for the teens reportedly include 55 of the Palestinian security prisoners released in the 2011 swap that freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been kidnapped by Hamas, in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners . . .
in tandem with the search for the missing teens, Israel has launched a new campaign aimed at crippling the West Bank infrastructure of Hamas . . . Jerusalem also wants to drive home a message to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that his decision to form a coalition government with Hamas, which is dedicated to the destruction of Israel, is a path that will lead to more suffering for the Palestinians.

June 23, 2014
Mourners carry the coffin of an Arab-Israeli teenager
killed by a missile from Syria. (Getty Images)

Israel threatened to strike more targets inside Syria if there are further attacks against civilians inside its borders . . . Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday, “Last night we operated with great force against Syrian targets that acted against us, and if needed we will use additional force” . . . the Syrian government said four troops were killed and nine others wounded in the strikes . . . Syria called the Israeli strike a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty . . . Israeli fighter jets struck nine Syrian military targets destroying army hardware and a headquarters compound and killing a number of Syrian troops, according to the British Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group . . . Israel launched the strike in response to the killing of an Arab-Israeli teenager in a cross-border attack in the Golan Heights on Sunday . . . the Israeli military said a civilian’s car was struck by an anti-tank missile from Syria, killing the teenager and injuring two others . . . it is still unclear if the Syrian military or Syrian rebels carried out the attack . . . Israel holds the Syrian government responsible for any spillover violence inside its borders that result in the death of Israeli citizens . . . some reports suggest Hezbollah may be responsible for the attack . . .
the cross-border violence on Sunday and Israel’s quick response underscores Netanyahu’s long-standing policy of showing no tolerance for spillover violence from Syria’s conflict and holding the Syrian regime responsible . . . the attack was likely carried out by Hezbollah militants that are involved in the Syrian conflict providing support to the regime with backing by Iran . . . the strikes will increase tensions along the Israeli-Syrian border adding to an already volatile region.

June 16, 2014
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
(Getty Images)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for the first time in months on Monday, with Netanyahu telling the Palestinian leader that Jerusalem expected his help in ensuring the safe return of three Israeli teenagers missing since they disappeared in the West Bank Thursday night . . . Israel believes that Hamas, the terrorist group that joined a coalition government with Abbas’ Fatah organization in April, kidnapped the youths . . . One of the three, 16-year-old Naftali Frankel, has dual Israeli-U.S. citizenship . . . The current Israeli assessment is that the missing youth were kidnapped but are still alive somewhere in the West Bank . . . The Israel Defense Force has closed an area around Hebron along with border crossings into the Gaza Strip to prevent the youths from being smuggled there . . . In the West Bank, the Israeli military has carried out house-to-house searches and rounded up many Hamas members and their associates . . . Palestinian officials said several hundred people had been barred from leaving the West Bank . . . Israeli forces are investigating whether a burnt-out car found near Hebron on Friday may have been used to transport the kidnapped youths . . . According to Netanyahu, the kidnappers were members of Hamas, and Abbas’ coalition with that group “has severe repercussions” . . . Hamas denied the claims, terming them “foolish” . . .
this underscores Netanyahu’s warning that the West cannot trust a Palestinian government that includes Hamas . . . Hamas will likely use the kidnapping to demand the release of scores of Palestinian prisoners, and Israel could well accede to their demands it has done in the past . . . this event will further deepen mistrust on both sides, making a U.S.-brokered peace deal impossible.

June 12, 2014

Members of a Yemeni family eat dinner on candle light in Sanaa late on June 10, 2014 after Yemen suffered a total blackout. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Yemen’s Electricity Ministry reported Tuesday unknown militants had damaged power lines connecting Yemen’s capital Sanaa with the oil-rich Marib province a day earlier . . . the entire country was left without power following the attack . . . Yemen is “one of the most forgotten crises in the world,” the United Nations said earlier this week . . . the country is the poorest in the Middle East and continues to suffer from attacks by militants . . . attacks in Yemen continue despite a ceasefire with rebels last week following clashes that left at least 120 dead . . . Yemen faces an armed uprising from the separatist Southern Movement as well as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and an Iran-backed Shi’ite insurgency in the north . . . the Yemeni army claims to have killed over 500 fighters from AQAP since April, but those efforts have had little impact in stopping terrorist attacks in the country. 

Dealing With Terrorists Places US on a Precarious Path
June 10, 2014
Hamas, which has been declared a terrorist organization by both the United States and the European Union, is now a party to the new Palestinian Authority government sworn in last week. Both Washington and Brussels say they will do business with the PA leadership, outraging Israel and members of Congress.
June 10, 2014
Pope Francis (2nd R) meets Israeli President Shimon
Peres (L), Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R),
and Orthodox Church Patriarch Bartholomaios I (2nd L)
for a peace prayers on June 8, 2014 in Vatican City.

The presidents of Israel and the Palestinian Authority met to pray with Pope Francis last Sunday in what is being hailed as an unprecedented event . . . Pope Francis received Shimon Peres from Israel and Mahmoud Abbas from the Palestinian Authority in the Vatican guest house where he is staying in lieu of the traditional papal apartment . . .  Francis extended the invitation to the two presidents last month while traveling in the Holy Land . . . the leader of the Orthodox Church, Patriarch Bartholomew, also joined them . . . although the meeting is unlikely to produce any immediate, concrete outcomes, it is significant in bringing together the two presidents for the first time in over a year . . . the meeting is particularly important because of strained relations between the two sides after the Palestinian Authority announced a unity government with the Palestinian group Hamas, causing Israel to pull out of peace talks.

June 6, 2014

Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish settlement in the mainly Palestinian eastern sector of Jerusalem. (Getty Images)

Israel announced plans on Thursday to construct more than 1,500 new settlement homes in response to the new Palestinian government backed by Islamist militant group Hamas, which is dedicated to the destruction of Israel . . . Israel’s housing minister, Uri Ariel, warned the new settlement plans are “just the beginning” and will include 900 more homes in the West Bank and 500 in east Jerusalem . . . the international community, especially the United States, criticized the new plans as Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have come to a halt . . . Israel has urged the international community to refuse to recognize the new unity government Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas swore in on Monday . . . Abbas emphasized that Hamas will play no formal role in his new Cabinet . . . the United States and Europe said they will give the new government a chance and continue to send aid to the Palestinians . . . Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “deeply troubled” by the U.S. position . . . the Chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat said the new settlement plans are “a clear sign that Israel is moving toward a major escalation” and promised a response . . . Israel’s Chief peace negotiator Tizipi Livni called the housing plan a “political mistake” that “will only distance us from the ability to recruit the world against Hamas” . . . the United States, European Union and Israel list Hamas as a terrorist group . . .
the new settlement plans will further escalate tensions between Palestinians and Israelis, creating an impossible environment for a peace deal between the two sides . . . the U.S. and Europe decision to support the new Palestinian government and condemnation of the Israeli settlement plan will deepen mistrust and tensions between Israel and the West . . . the tit-for-tat responses by all sides increase the risk of further destabilization in the region, which would require more international assistance to defuse the tense security and political environment.
June 2, 2014

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas greets members of the new Palestinian government on June 2. (Getty Images)

Israel urged the international community over the weekend “not to run to recognize” the new Palestinian government, which includes Hamas members who threaten to destroy the Jewish state . . . the new Palestinian government sworn in Monday is the result of a reconciliation pact between both Hamas and the Fatah Palestinian factions after talks in April . . . Hamas and Fatah split violently in 2007, leaving the West Bank in control of the Palestinian Authority and the Gaza strip under control of Hamas . . . the April 23 reconciliation prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stall U.S.-led peace talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas . . . Israel also withheld tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority because of the unity government . . . the United States will send $440 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority this year, but the unity government will complicate that aid because Washington is prohibited from sending any aid to Hamas or its members . . . Abbas dismissed Israel’s concerns, saying his new Cabinet and unity government will recognize Israel and refrain from violence . . . during the swearing in ceremony, Abbas said, “Today we restore our national unity, restore the unity of institutions” . . . Israel responded to rocket fire from Gaza and Syria on Monday by striking targets in central and southern Gaza as well as exchanging fire in the Golan Heights near the Syrian border . . .
the new interim government under the Palestinian Authority will further complicate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process because Israel will likely increase sanctions against the Palestinians for incorporating Hamas . . . the United States will have to reconcile its policy of sending aid to Palestine and Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace plan because of Israel’s fears of an emboldened Hamas within a unified Palestinian government.

May 31, 2014
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas officially tasked Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to form a unity government that includes members of Abbas’s Palestinian Liberal Organization and Hamas, the Islamic militant group that control Gaza . . . the request is the next step in the agreement the two sides reached last month to join the opposing factions . . . the government will rule until elections, which are expected in about six months . . . the unification of Hamas and the PLO is extremely popular among Palestinians, but has disrupted peace talks with Israel, and the unity government is likely to further increase those divisions . . . Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organization, and will not negotiate with any Hamas representatives . . . Israel is likely to increase pressure against the Palestinian areas, potentially halting tax revenue to the Palestinian Authority, to demonstrate its stance against Hamas, which will significantly hurt the economy of the Palestinian-controlled areas . . . although both the PLO and Hamas are optimistic about the union, there are likely to be difficulties over the selection of the cabinet and other issues as the agreement moves forward.

Pope's Secret Mission: Reunite Catholic, Orthodox Churches
May 28, 2014
Pope Francis recently completed a three-day trip to Jordan, the West Bank and Israel, impressing his Israeli hosts as a cordial, modest and deeply spiritual man. It could turn out, however, that the most important meeting the Pope held during his visit was not with the Palestinians or the Jews but with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, symbolic head of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians.
May 21, 2014

Peru's Ollanta Humala, Chile's Sebastian Pinera, Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos, Mexico's Enrique Pena Nieto and Costa Rica's Laura Chinchilla at the convention center in Cartagena, Colombia on February 10, 2014 during the VIII Pacific Alliance presidential summit. (LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images)

The Israeli government approved a $14.5 million plan Sunday to boost business and economic ties with Costa Rica and the four-member Pacific Alliance, which consists of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru . . . the five countries comprise 40 percent of Latin America’s gross domestic product . . . Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu described the initiative as a “strategic and … very promising effort” . . . Israel became an observer state on the Pacific Alliance earlier this year and Costa Rica is approaching full membership in the bloc . . . Israel will also expand ties with Paraguay . . . the breakdown of peace talks with the Palestinians appears to have led the Israeli government to expand its relationship with Latin America and Asia . . . Netanyahu seems worried about the threat of boycotts from European countries and is hoping to diversify its economy . . . Israel has long embraced the so-called 'Periphery Doctrine,' which requires the country to develop strategic relationships with surprising and unlikely partners around the world.

May 16, 2014
US Secretary of State John Kerry met yesterday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in London . . . it was the first meeting between Kerry and Abbas since peace talks failed last month . . . a state department official stated that the meeting “is more about our ongoing relationship with the Palestinian people” than about peace talks, and noted that Kerry is in London for meetings on Ukraine and Syria . . . despite U.S. protest, the meeting was almost certainly an effort to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which fell apart after Israel refused to negotiate with the newly aligned Fatah-Hamas integration agreement . . . Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist group by the U.S., the EU and Israel, refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and has traditionally taken a hard line in terms of relations with Israel . . . while the talks officially failed after Fatah and Hamas announced they were unifying, the discussions had made little progress, and were already moribund over prisoner releases and questions about new settlements . . . it is unlikely either side will return to negotiations without substantial concessions and guarantees, making it unlikely new talks will take place in the near term.

May 13, 2014

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo. (Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived to Tokyo on Sunday for a five-day visit . . . Netanyahu met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday to discuss strengthening Japanese-Israeli relations, especially on defense and security matters . . . Netanyahu standing by Abe at a press conference said, “Alongside our hopes for a more peaceful and prosperous world, we also know Japan and I face common challenges… the threat posed by rogue states arming themselves with nuclear weapons” . . . Abe and Netanyahu agreed to increase defense cooperation, especially in cybersecurity, and to deepen bilateral economic cooperation in investment and in industrial research and development . . . Abe urged Israel to resume peace talks with the Palestinians, and Netanyahu underscored concerns about Iran’s nuclear program . . .
the shared experiences of regional tensions and security threats will increase the solidarity between Israel and Japan, allowing for a formidable bilateral defense relationship . . . the meeting between the two strong U.S. allies underscores Abe’s plan to expand Japan’s defense capabilities and reevaluate Tokyo’s anti-war constitution.
May 5, 2014
Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa in Tunis on April 24.

Tunisia's interim parliament on Saturday passed new electoral laws, allowing officials to set dates for the first election under the country's new constitution . . . the vote, held three years after the country ousted Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, was 132 to 11 . . . the parliament also rejected a measure to restrict former members of Ben Ali's office from running again . . . after approving the constitution, Ennahda handed power over to caretaker Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa . . . Jomaa will not run in the next elections . . . the provisions set the stage for an election and the final thrust for Tunisia’s democracy . . . elections likely will not take place for six to eight months, however, during which Ennahda and the opposition Nidaa Tounes will maneuver for support . . . the candidates are likely to emphasize security and decreasing government spending in the campaign . . . there is also some concern that Islamic militants may attempt to disrupt the vote.

Doomed PeaceTalks End With an Interesting Twist
April 28, 2014
On April 23, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sent his emissaries to make peace with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. That effectively killed the U.S.-brokered peace effort, since Washington has declared Hamas a terrorist organization. Yet in the strange calculus of Middle East politics, the PA olive branch to Hamas may lead to a change in Palestinian leadership that benefits the West and Israel.
April 28, 2014
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during
a meeting with the Palestinian Central Council at his
headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah,
April 26, 2014.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on April 26 he is committed to peace talks with Israel, although Israel insists it will not negotiate with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas . . . last week, the Palestinian Authority announced it will form a unity government with Hamas, which Israel considers a terrorist group . . . Abbas has agreed to recognize Israel to re-start stalled talks, and said that a unity government will also recognize Israel . . . Abbas also
publicly denounced the Holocaust as "the most heinous crime" of the modern age . . .  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared unmoved, saying "He cannot speak out of both sides of his mouth" . . . Netanyahu also said that "It just doesn’t make sense” to negotiate with "an enemy", and stated that the United States, which has been trying to facilitate peace talks, would never do such a thing . . . representatives from the U.S. State Department are remaining publicly optimistic about the peace talks . . . the already troubled peace talks have been seriously jeopardized by the Fatah-Hamas alliance, and it is unlikely that discussions will continue beyond the April 29 deadline if the alliance goes forward . . . Israel almost certainly will continue to refuse to negotiate with Hamas, regardless of efforts by Abbas to save the talks . . . while Washington will attempt to save the discussions, the two sides will likely take at least a hiatus while Palestinians finalize the unity government and Israel evaluates the situation. 

April 26, 2014
Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa revealed Wednesday his government had altered its visa policy to allow Israelis to enter the North African country without a special permit . . . according to Jomaa, “The aim is that the tourist season be a success” . . . Tunisia has no diplomatic relations with Israel . . . the Synagogue of Ghriba on the Tunisian island of Djerba is a popular destination for Jews during the holiday of Lag B’Omer in May . . . tourism provides 7 percent of the economy of Tunisia and employs 400,000 people . . . however, around 85 Tunisian lawmakers condemned the decision and demanded to question the Tunisian interior minister and tourism minister . . . Jomaa welcomed the inquiry as long as it is held in an “objective and transparent manner, absent any political interests” . . . Tunisia’s interim government appears to be desperately trying to revive its weak economy, which has struggled following the country’s Arab Spring revolution in 2011 . . . using the cover of economic improvement, Tunisia’s secularist old guard seems to be trying to take advantage of the waning fortunes of Islamist party Ennahda to covertly improve relations with Israel.

April 24, 2014

Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, left, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, in Gaza City in 2006. (Getty Images)

Palestinian leaders from both Hamas and Fatah announced on Wednesday reconciliation talks were successful and the two sides will form a unity government . . . Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Azzam al Ahmed with the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas issued a joint statement on the reconciliation . . . the two sides plan to hold negotiations and form the unity government within five weeks and schedule general elections “at the earliest six months after forming the government” . . . both the United States and Israel denounced the talks . . . Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Abbas of sabotaging current Mideast peace talks by forging renewed ties with Hamas, which calls for the destruction of Israel . . . Israel cancelled a round of peace talks with Palestinian negotiators Wednesday evening after the announcement . . . Israel, the United States and the European Union have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization . . .
Israel will not seriously engage in peace talks with Palestinians if the Hamas-Fatah unity government is formed because Israel views Hamas as a national security threat . . . despite Palestinians’ belief that reconciliation is a positive step for internal security, both Hamas and Fatah remain divided on many fundamental issues making a sustainable, unified Palestinian government unlikely in the short-term.
April 24, 2014
A young Israeli Arab Christian celebrates Easter mass. 
The Israel Defense Forces announced Tuesday it would take a proactive approach toward recruiting the nation’s Arab Christian minority for the military by sending voluntary enlistment notices to youths of conscription age . . . while just 100 Arab Christians join the IDF annually, the IDF estimates the numbers will rise to 1,000 under the new policy . . . all Israeli Jews are drafted into the military at 18, as are Druze Arabs and Bedouin Arabs, but ultra-Orthodox Jews can be exempted from service in exchange for religious study . . . Lieutenant Colonel Amir Hai pledged, “No [unit] will be closed to [Arab Christian] ahead of time, unless there is criteria that limits the recruit's ability to serve” . . . Israel’s 160,000 Arab Christians make up about 2 percent of the country’s population . . . as the safest country in the Middle East for Christians, Israel hopes service in the IDF will help to promote greater integration with the Arab Christian minority . . . the Israeli government appears to be trying to include the Arab Christian community in the country’s politics to offset its traditionally allies — Israeli Arab Muslims and Palestinians . . . rising enlistment numbers could prove an important symbolic victory for the IDF.


April 22, 2014
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during
a press meeting on April 22, 2014 in the West Bank.
(Getty Images)

The two Palestinian rival factions, Hamas and Fatah, announced on Monday that both sides agreed to renew reconciliation talks in Gaza this week . . . Hamas released 10 Fatah prisoners ahead of the meetings as a gesture of goodwill between the two groups more than seven years after the outbreak of an armed power struggle for control of the Palestinian movement . . . “We are going to address the formation of a national consensus government, elections and restructuring the PLO in order to maintain Palestinian unity,” said top Fatah official Azzam al-Ahma, referring to the Palestine Liberation Organization . . . both sides hope to set a deadline for forming a unity government . . . the division among Palestinians began in 2007 when Hamas gained control of the Gaza Strip from the Fatah movement under Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas . . . past attempts for reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah have failed . . .
the renewal of reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah will bolster international support that views a unified Palestinian Authority as more stable for the region . . . however, a unified Palestinian Authority will increase concerns in Israel that Abbas will abandon current peace talks and further pursue international recognition for a Palestine state . . . the reconciliation talks will take more time than the estimated two-week timeline because leaders within both Fatah and Hamas differ on specifics of reconciliation and power-sharing agreements.
April 19, 2014
Thai authorities say they obtained a confession from two Lebanese nationals plotting to carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli tourists in Thailand during the Jewish Passover holiday April 14-22, which coincides with the Thai New Years festival Songkran this year . . . the two men arrived in Thailand earlier this month and have been in police custody since April 13 . . . Israeli intelligence tipped off their Thai counterparts, which believe about nine members of the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah had infiltrated the country and were conspiring to target a major tourist attraction in Bangkok . . . Iranian terrorists botched a planned attack in Thailand in February 2012, one day after bombs were placed on the vehicles of Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia . . . it appears that Thailand remains a target for Iran and its proxy Hezbollah to carry out terrorist attacks, partially because the country is a popular tourist destination for Israelis . . . additionally, Thai passports are easy to forge, and the large number of Lebanese and Iranian migrants in the country make it relatively easy for members of Hezbollah to travel without attracting attention . . . Hezbollah has a lengthy history of organizing terrorist attacks outside the Middle East against Jews and Israeli citizens, and Passover attacks would bring particularly high press for the group.

April 18, 2014
A Palestinian man holds pictures of relatives held in
Israeli jails during a rally marking Palestinian Prisoner
Day in the West Bank city of Ramallah on April 17, 2014.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met yesterday in Jerusalem, a day after peace talks were postponed after the killing of an off-duty Israeli police officer in the West Bank . . . the two sides are attempting to extend negotiations beyond April 29, the deadline they agreed on last summer . . . earlier this month, Israel balked at further talks after Abbas signed international agreements, which Israel said violated the conditions of the talks . . . the Palestinians say Israel is undermining talks by refusing to release prisoners, which it promised to do when talks started last year . . . both the Israelis and the Palestinians are frustrated over the lack of progress and what they see as intransigence by the other side . . . both sides also recognize the cost of abandoning talks, and extending the deadline carries little political risk . . . however, high distrust and lack of political will are likely to continue to hamper major breakthroughs, and incidents such as the killing of the Israeli police officer will harden the stance of both sides in talks.

Will Kerry Abandon His Middle East Peace Effort?
April 14, 2014
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s growing frustration over Israeli-Palestinian peace talks may soon lead him to give up on this effort. The likely collapse of the talks became more apparent last week when Kerry said that the moment for a peace settlement went “poof” after Israel did not release a group of Palestinian prisoners on March 29 and Israeli officials said 700 new Israeli homes would be built in East Jerusalem.
Middle East Peace Talks Die Quietly as Larger Issues Loom
April 10, 2014
Despite frantic last-minute gambits by the United States, efforts to resuscitate the corpse of a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are effectively over. Both parties have admitted as much and have taken actions that confirm its demise, including Wednesday’s order by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to limit contacts with Palestinian negotiators.

April 10, 2014
Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday signed documents to allow the Palestinians to join 10 international conventions . . . Ban said the documents will be processed within a month, allowing the Palestinian Authority (PA) to sign the global treaties by May 2 . . . Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sent an appeal to the United Nations on April 1 after Israel refused to release the last group of Palestinian prisoners previously agreed upon as conditions for peace talks . . . the request to join the conventions breaks the PA’s commitments for peace talks with the Israeli government . . . in response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered all Israeli officials to cut ties with PA representatives and leveled sanctions against the PA . . . Netanyahu exempted his top peace negotiator from the ban . . . the PA joined the UN with observer status in November 2012 . . . the Arab League pledged on Wednesday to give the PA $100 million in monthly aid in anticipation of a possible Israeli cutoff of funds to the PA from taxes collected on imported goods to the Palestinians . . . top negotiators for the PA and Israelis agreed to meet on Thursday to try to renew the negotiations . . .
the Mideast peace talks seem to be at a point of no return after both sides breached commitments this week and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington is reconsidering its role in the negotiations . . . Ban’s statements will prompt even more backlash from the Israel . . . the breach of commitments will perpetuate mutual distrust and harden each side’s stance, making it impossible to reach a deal between the Palestinian Authority and Israel any time soon.

April 10, 2014
A new Israeli air force military cargo plane the 'Samson'
C-130J Super Hercules (C) arrives at the Nevatim base
for an unveiling ceremony April 9.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon vowed on Tuesday to “deal with violent activity to the fullest extent possible,” hours after Jews living in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar attacked the Israel Defense Forces camp in the town while rioting after the demolition of five illegal structures . . . the clashes injured two settlers and six policemen . . . Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged “zero tolerance” towards the “reprehensible” violence . . . the Israeli government faces opposition from the hardline Jewish settlers who refuse to stop building in the region . . . the IDF seemed unprepared to defend their base from the angry mob . . . the settlements are just one of many issues holding up the U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

April 4, 2014

US Secretary of State John Kerry (Getty Images)

Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that the Obama Administration is re-evaluating its role in Middle East peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians . . . “This is not an open-ended effort, it never has been. It is reality check time, and we intend to evaluate precisely what the next steps will be,” he said . . . Washington is losing patience after both sides broke previous commitments this week, causing further delays in negotiations . . . Israel refused to release the final group of Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinian Authority responded by seeking more recognition and membership in 15 international agencies . . . Kerry, speaking during a visit to Morocco, will return to Washington later Friday to discuss the U.S. role in the talks with President Obama . . . the peace talks are scheduled to conclude by next month . . .
Kerry’s statements are meant to place public pressure on both the Israelis and Palestinians to seriously commit and follow through with negotiations . . . the United States will likely have to submit a new deadline for the talks to reach a framework deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority . . . however, the deep distrust between Palestinians and Israelis and tit-for-tat actions by both sides will further complicate talks and make forming a deal in the short-term nearly impossible.

April 3, 2014
Israeli protesters call for the U.S. government to release Jonathan Pollard (portrait on right) during a rally in Jerusalem on January 2, 2014.

The United States is considering releasing convicted spy Jonathan Pollard to keep Israel engaged in Middle East Peace Talks, according to Associated Press sources . . . the sources say in exchange for the release, Washington wants Israel to make major concessions to the Palestinian Authority, potentially including more prisoner releases, a halt to new settlements and a willingness to extend talks beyond the April deadline . . . Pollard was a civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy who was convicted of providing thousands of classified documents to Israel . . . Israel has consistently lobbied the US to release Pollard . . . floating the idea of releasing Pollard shows how frantic Washington is to keep the sagging peace talks alive . . . the Israeli’s and the Palestinian Authority remain skeptical of each other, and the current refusal of Israel to release another round of prisoners as promised has increased distrust and stalled current efforts . . . although Pollard’s release is controversial and has been opposed by US military and intelligence officials, the proximity to his possible release date in November 2015, his ill health, and US desperation to save talks may influence the decision.  

March 31, 2014

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. (Getty Images)

Israel sent a proposal to extend peace talks past the April 29 deadline to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday . . . the move was intended to demonstrate Israel’s good will after the country reneged on a commitment to free 26 Palestinian prisoners on March 29 . . . the Palestinian Authority responded to Israel’s decision by saying talks could not be extended without the prisoners being released . . . U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry changed his travel schedule for the second time in a week on Monday to return to Israel and attempt to salvage the peace effort . . . the planned March 29 prisoner release would have been the fourth release agreed to by Israel in return for Palestinians ending their pursuit of unilateral diplomatic actions in international institutions and forums . . . Israel has released 78 of 104 prisoners the government agreed to free in the peace talks . . .
as the April deadline approaches, Kerry will likely maintain a steady presence in Israel to push either side to form a framework deal . . . there is a distinct willingness by Palestinians and Israelis to form a peace deal, but both sides struggle to concede on tough issues regarding borders and security, signaling that the April deadline may pass without a deal despite Kerry’s efforts.

March 30, 2014
Palestinian demonstrators clash with Israeli police in
the old city of Jerusalem today.

Palestinian National Authority officials warned over the weekend that they may walk out of peace talks with Israel if Tel Aviv continues to refuse to release two dozen Palestinian prisoners . . . the deadline for a peace deal is now less than a month away . . . the prisoners were supposed to be released March 29 . . . Israel told an American mediator that it does not plan on releasing the prisoners as originally agreed . . . in initial negotiations over the talks, Israel agreed to release 104 prisoners whom they have held since the 1993 Oslo accords, and whose imprisonment is a major issue in Palestine . . . in return for the prisoners, the Palestinian National Authority agreed to stop seeking statehood through the U.N. during this period . . . the statement by the Palestinian delegation and Israel’s reluctance to release the prisoners reflects the continued distrust between the two sides and the difficulties of cobbling together any type of accord . . . the United States will almost certainly try to save the process, possibly attempting to extend the deadline for the prisoner’s release and pressure Israel to meet its original promises . . . however, the Palestinians would likely demand additional concessions from Israel to show good faith, which could also jeopardize the process. 

March 26, 2014
Qatar's Emir (L), Kuwait's Emir (C) and Arab League
Secretary General (R) attend the 25th Arab League
summit at Bayan palace in Kuwait City.

The Arab League met in Kuwait on March 25 for an annual summit amid deep differences and tensions among its 22 members . . . problems splitting members range from Syria's civil war, Egypt’s military government, destabilization of the Lebanese state, and criticism of Qatar’s foreign policies . . . the United Nations peace mediator for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, urged the league to end arms shipments to rebel groups inside Syria . . . Saudi Arabia and Qatar reportedly are supplying the most assistance to groups in Syria . . . Kuwaiti Sheikh Sabah reportedly offered to mediate the ongoing policy dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar . . . the only issues members agree on are the collective support for Palestinians in peace negotiations with Israel and collective action to stabilize regional security . . . Syria’s seat remained vacant at this week’s summit . . .
political disintegration in Egypt has left the Arab League without a clear leader . . . Sunni-Shiite divisions were revealed in leaders’ opening speeches, indicating their divisions will likely harden as conflicts continue to rage in the Arab world.

March 20, 2014
Former Palestinian Authority official Mohammed Dahlan.
(ABBAS MOMANI/ AFP/ Getty Images)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accused one of his principal political rivals, Mohammed Dahlan, of involvement in the deaths of former leader Yasser Arafat other Palestinian Fatah figures . . . Abbas also accused Dahlan of hiding large sums of state money . . . Dahlan, a former Palestinian interior minister and national security adviser who now lives in exile in Dubai, denied the accusations . . . Dahlan is considered a potential candidate for president of the Palestinian Authority . . .
Abbas’ accusations reveal political divisions inside the Palestinian Authority at a time when they need to be unified during peace negotiations with Israel and the United States . . . Abbas’ comments also support LIGNET analysis that Israel was not responsible for Arafat’s death . . . LIGNET reported in November that although Israel had a clear motive, Israel probably did not kill Arafat since polonium 210 poisoning would have been detected in an autopsy and immediately blamed on Israel. . . . Israel also would have needed Palestinian accomplices inside Arafat’s compound to poison his food without getting caught . . . the lack of an autopsy suggests that Arafat’s doctors were confident that he died of natural causes or he was killed by Fatah or Hamas rivals.

Read LIGNET’s Nov. 13, 2013, analysis: Evidence of Arafat Poisoning Complicates Peace Talks

March 20, 2014
Israeli Army unit deployed near Syrian border in Golan
Heights (MENAHEM KAHANA/ AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli airstrikes targeted several Syrian military targets in the Golan Heights on Wednesday, killing one Syrian soldier and wounding seven others in a direct response to a roadside bomb attack that wounded four Israeli soldiers on Tuesday . . . the strikes hit a Syrian army training facility, military headquarters and artillery batteries inside Syria . . . Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said the Syrian government was responsible for the bomb attack and would pay a “high price” for aiding groups that attack Israel . . . the Syrian army claimed the Israeli strikes were a breach of the separation-of-forces agreement set up after a cease-fire ended the 1973 Arab-Israeli war . . . Syria warned Israel against further “hostile acts” that would “endanger the security and stability of the region” . . .
Israel’s swift retaliation and subsequent warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad underscore Israel’s intention to safeguard its borders against incursions by the Syrian regime, which is supported by Israel’s longtime enemy Hezbollah . . . the airstrikes may provoke counterattacks by rebel forces, especially Hezbollah, that are fighting for Assad in Syria’s three-year civil war, raising the security threat along Israel’s borders and increasing tensions in the volatile region.

March 19, 2014

Malaysia’s Minister of Defense Hishammuddin Hussein and Director General of Civil Aviation Department Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, right, at a press conference. (Getty Images)

The Malaysian government reportedly is investigating the possibility that missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 avoided radar detection and landed in Pakistan near the Afghanistan border inside Taliban-controlled territory, according to the UK Independent . . . investigators confiscated a homemade flight simulator from the pilot’s home to see if it reveals any useful information . . . the Malaysian foreign minister told reporters that Malaysia asked several Asian countries for assistance in its investigation, including Pakistan . . . Pakistan dismissed the idea that a Boeing 777 could land undetected inside the country but promised to work with the Malaysian government in its search for the missing plane . . . Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority stood by the government’s denial that Flight 370 was in Pakistan, saying Tuesday that “we have checked the radar recording for the period but found no clue about the ill-fated flight” . . . retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Friday and again on Tuesday that his connections have led him to believe that Flight 370 landed in Pakistan with the help of the flight’s two pilots . . . McInerney said, “When the U.S. Navy quits their search, their ship search, they must know something in the Indian Ocean. When the Israeli Defense Forces, when they increase their defense alert, they must know something” . . . a LIGNET analyst received information from a source at Boeing that the company believes the plane did land in Pakistan . . . Boeing spokesman Sean McCormack denied that Wednesday, telling LIGNET that “the Boeing Company does not have information that substantiates your claim” . . . Israel is taking the possibility of a terrorist attack seriously by mobilizing air defenses and giving extra scrutiny to approaching civilian aircraft, according to the Times of Israel . . . a Boeing 777 requires a lengthy, 7,500-foot runway, and Pakistan has many of them, meaning Flight 370 could conceivably be hidden in a hangar inside the country . . . U.S. surveillance of the area may be able to shed light on the theory through satellite imagery or signal intelligence.
March 18, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) meets with Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas (L) in the Oval Office of the
White House March 17, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Palestinian officials said Monday the chances for reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement before the deadline on April 29 is “disappearing day by day” . . . Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with President Barack Obama in Washington March 17, where Obama urged Abbas to “take risks for peace” . . . Obama has also told Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu that both sides must compromise. . . U.S. officials originally hoped to reach a final peace agreement by April, but are now hoping the two sides will agree to a framework and extend the process beyond the deadline . . . so far, there has been little sign of progress . . . Israel and the Palestinian Authority blame each other for the slow process, but neither side has offered any concrete compromise . . . the next test for the process is a release of 26 Palestinian prisoners by Israel before March 29, which was part of a deal that allowed talks to start last summer . . . if Israel fails t release the prisoners, it will be a set-back for talks and will likely lead to at least a suspension in negotiations.

March 15, 2014
British Prime Minister David Cameron declared his faith in Israel “unbreakable” Wednesday and denounced Iran’s “despotic regime” for its “despicable” attempt to provide rockets to Palestinian militants during his first trip to Israel since he assumed the United Kingdom’s top job in 2010 . . . Cameron also rejected efforts to “delegitimize” Israel through boycotts . . . the Conservative British leader met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the following day and urged him to work with Israel as “partners for peace” in spite of the “difficult and unpalatable and sometimes unpopular decisions [necessary] to achieve that settlement” . . . Cameron’s government is among the most pro-Israel in Europe and his visit strengthens bilateral relations between the two countries . . . Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is aggressively pursuing new business, science, and technology deals with Israel’s close allies in order to offset international attempts to isolate and demonize the world’s sole Jewish state.

March 14, 2014
Palestinians inspect the damage following Israeli air strikes on smuggling tunnels in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.


Gaza Strip militants believed to be from Islamic Jihad launched at least 41 rockets into Southern Israel Wednesday . . . the barrage did little damage in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, but it broke a cease fire that had been in place since the last uprising from Gaza in November 2012 . . . Islamic Jihad, which receives funding from Iran, is reportedly frustrated that Hamas has not taken the fight to Israel lately according to the Christian Science Monitor on March 12 . . . Islamic Jihad called their rocket attack “Operation Breaking the Silence,” a revenge attack for Israel’s latest mortar fire against Gaza that killed three of its terrorists Tuesday . . . the Israeli military sent artillery fire and air strikes toward “29 terror sites” Wednesday night . . . it is difficult to predict how Hamas responds to Islamic Jihad’s audacity . . . Hamas is still considered by Israel to be the number one terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip, but the group is facing a new era in some ways – most likely because it is suffering from the Egyptian security forces’ clampdown on its smuggling operation in the Sinai . . . the Muslim Brotherhood is also no longer in power in Egypt, a political reality that is suffocating Hamas . . . the Israelis seized forty M-302 surface-to-surface rockets from a ship in the Red Sea last week, and they blamed Iran and Hamas for executing the shipment . . . these events have encouraged hawks in the Israeli government such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman to call for a “full takeover” of Gaza by the defense forces.

Kerry’s Middle East Talkathon Lacks Exit Strategy
March 13, 2014
As with virtually every U.S. administration, the Obama White House is engaged in the Sisyphean task of trying to bring about an Arab-Israeli peace agreement. Prospects are dim, yet Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts have been more successful than some critics had predicted. While neither side has the political room to actually reach a deal, a framework agreement could keep talks going for another nine months.
March 12, 2014
Israeli soldiers monitor the road as Palestinian protesters throw stones towards an Israeli military tower in Bethlehem on March 11.

Israeli troops fatally shot a 38-year-old Jordanian judge of Palestinian descent on Monday after he charged at the guards at the checkpoint between Jordan and the West Bank while “yelling 'Allahu Akbar' [and] attempting to seize their weapons,” the Israeli military said . . . the Palestinian Authority and Jordanian government condemned the killing and are demanding an immediate investigation . . . Israel and Jordan have a 20-year-old peace deal . . . while violence at the border is extremely rare, the shooting highlights the myriad of security challenges facing Israel . . . Jordan has a large Palestinian population, which has the potential to destabilize the poor nation . . . conflict between Israel and Jordan may spillover to hurt the U.S.-brokered peace process.

March 10, 2014

Nabil El-Araby, Secretary-General, League of Arab States

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish state was rejected by both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Arab League . . . Arab League Chief Nabil Elaraby backed Abbas’ rejection on Sunday at a meeting with fellow Arab foreign ministers in Cairo . . . Elaraby spoke to the audience in Cairo saying Arab countries should take a “firm stand” against Netanyahu’s demands . . . both Abbas and Elaraby claim Israel’s demand for recognition as a Jewish state was not included in previous negotiations . . .
Netanyahu’s demand for recognition as a part of peace talks, and subsequent rejection of that demand by Abbas and the Arab League, make it increasingly unlikely that Washington will meet its deadline for a framework deal next month.

March 10, 2014
Mortars and rockets found on the Panamanian-flagged Klos-C, which was allegedly transporting arms from Iran to Gaza.

A senior Israeli minister criticized the European Union's decision to send their foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, to visit Iran just days after Israel claims to have apprehended a smuggled arms shipment traveling from Iran to the Gaza Strip . . . Israel found the ship in the Red Sea March 5, and said it contained advanced M-302 rockets . . . Ashton is the first EU foreign affairs chief to visit Iran since 2008 . . . relations between the West and Iran have thawed somewhat since Iran entered a preliminary deal last year to regulate its nuclear program in exchange for lighter sanctions, but many in the West remain skeptical of Iranian intentions . . . Israel, an outspoken opponent of Iran’s recent deals with the West, likely sees the shipment as a renewed indication of Iran’s true motivations, and more proof that Tehran is not trustworthy . . . however, Ashton’s visit suggests the West remains focused on obtaining an agreement with Iran, and that the weapons shipment will not derail talks.

March 7, 2014
Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will meet with President Barack Obama in Washington on March 17 following Obama’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week . . . Abbas said this week that he would refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or compromise on a deal with Palestinians receiving only a small portion of East Jerusalem for their capital . . . Netanyahu maintains that recognition is critical to demonstrate Palestinian good will for a peace agreement . . . reports show Palestinians are losing faith in Abbas’ ability to achieve specific goals in the framework deal . . . Abbas has threatened to pursue wider recognition of Palestine in the United Nations or resist Israeli authority if peace talks fail . . . demands by both Palestinian and Israeli negotiators are making U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s April 29 deadline for a framework deal look less realistic.

March 7, 2014
Libyan authorities confirmed that Niger transferred Saadi Gaddafi, the son of former Libyan dictator Mohamar Gaddafi, to Tripoli yesterday . . . Saadi Gaddafi is accused of shooting protesters during the uprising against his father, as well as several other crimes . . . Niger previously refused to extradite Saadi, saying he would likely face the death penalty in Libya . . . Niger had granted him entry into the country on humanitarian grounds after the opposition overthrew the government . . . the return of Saadi Gaddafi is a victory for the weak interim government which has attempted to win extradition of several members of the Gaddafi government . . . however, continued delays in his trail or any security breaches, such as attempts by militias to gain physical control of Saadi, will be another blow to the government . . . while the government has attempted to portray the trials of Gaddafi loyalists as necessary to heal divisions in the country, it could instead inflame tensions between Gaddafi loyalists and other militias, spreading still more insecurity in the country.

March 6, 2014

A ship intercepted on its way to the Gaza Strip. (Getty)

The Israeli navy said Wednesday its forces seized a Panamanian cargo ship in the Red Sea bound for the Gaza Strip that was filled with rockets . . . Israeli officials claim the weapons are Syrian-made M-302 rockets sent from Iran to militants in Gaza . . . an Israeli spokesman said the “M-302 in its most advanced model can strike over 100 miles, and if they would have reached Gaza, ultimately that would have meant millions of Israelis under threat” . . . Israeli and American intelligence revealed the rockets were flown from Syria to Iran, shipped to Iraq, and were on their way to Sudan in an attempt to smuggle the arms to Gaza via the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt . . . the successful operation is a victory for intelligence-sharing between the United States and Israel, but it also validates Israel’s demands for the United States to act more decisively to deter Iran from pursuing nuclear enrichment and other activities that undermine Israel’s national security.

March 5, 2014

A member of the Palestinian security forces, loyal to Hamas, stands guard along the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip on March 5. (AFP/Getty Images)

An Egyptian court banned all activities by Hamas in Egypt on Tuesday and ordered the group’s offices and assets to be seized . . . the Cairo court also classified Hamas as a terrorist organization after an Egyptian lawyer filed a lawsuit against the group, citing the Palestinian Islamist movement’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood . . . Hamas has been accused of assisting attacks in Egypt and attempting to help former President Mohammed Morsi escape from prison and be reinstated . . . “The decision harms the image of Egypt and its role towards the Palestinian cause,” a Hamas spokesman said Tuesday . . . the court ruling is in line with government efforts to rid Egypt of groups that support Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood . . . Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said the ruling was an effort to increase national security, the decision may serve to radicalize groups that are being marginalized in the country and will further isolate the Gaza Strip, inciting extremist groups to lash out at Egyptian government and military targets.

March 4, 2014

Israeli soldiers on the outskirts of Jalazun refugee camp, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama issued a direct warning ahead of his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday of Israel’s inevitable isolation if it continues to build settlements in the West Bank . . . just as this warning was circulated, a report released by Israel’s central bureau of statistics revealed that the number of West Bank settlements doubled in 2013 from 2012 . . . the report states 2,534 housing units were built in 2013 compared with 1,133 units in 2012 . . . the report demonstrates the divergence between Washington’s requests and Israel’s actions that has strained the relationship between the allies . . . the fact that Netanyahu planned to discuss Iran’s nuclear enrichment program during this week’s meeting, while Obama expected to discuss the Palestinian peace process, will further complicate the relationship.

March 3, 2014
President Barack Obama

Ahead of a Monday meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, President Barack Obama warned Israel against abandoning peace talks . . . Obama cautioned Israel that it will further isolate itself if the government spoils talks with the Palestinians or jeopardizes the Iran nuclear talks . . . in an interview with Bloomberg News published Sunday, the president stressed the difficulty Washington will have defending Israel if both of these talks fail, saying there will be “international fallout” . . . Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz and senior Israeli cabinet ministers said the United States should not pressure Israel, insisting the government is ready for peace as long as the agreements ensure Israeli security . . . Obama’s statements underscore growing tensions between Israel and the United States . . . despite Obama and Netanyahu’s meeting on Monday, Israel is not likely to change its stance on West Bank settlements or Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.
February 27, 2014
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after a joint
press conference on February 25, 2014 in Jerusalem. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Jerusalem Tuesday ahead of the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two nations in 2015 . . . Merkel, accompanied by 16 German cabinet ministers, held a joint meeting with their Israeli counterparts and signed six agreements, including a pact granting German consular assistance to Israelis, the Associated Press reports . . . Germany is among Israel’s closest allies in Europe and the latest visit seems intended to strengthen the bilateral friendship . . . while Merkel has some objections to Israeli settlements and does not take as harsh of a stance toward Iran’s nuclear program, her government is committed to ensuring the continued security and prosperity of the world’s sole Jewish state.

Israel’s Sizzling Tech Sector Seeks Arab Participation
February 26, 2014
Nicknamed “startup nation,” Israel is leveraging its technological expertise to open long-closed doors in the region and could even facilitate the assimilation of its growing Arab minority. However, many challenges remain before Nazareth — the primary center for Israeli-Arab entrepreneurialism – can rival Tel Aviv for its position as a global hub for innovation.
February 25, 2014
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Getty Images)

Israeli military jets targeted an alleged Hezbollah stronghold in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border on Tuesday . . . the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed the strike on the remote village of Nabi Sheet zeroed in on a Hezbollah “missile base” . . . Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters that Israel’s policy has always been to take all “necessary” measures to “defend the security of Israel” . . . Hezbollah militants were reportedly killed in the strike . . . in the past year, the Israeli government has hit targets in Syria at least three times to prevent Hezbollah from smuggling weapons past the porous Lebanese border . . . Tuesday’s air strike is consistent with the Israeli military’s policy of targeting Hezbollah’s routes through Lebanon into Syria, where militants smuggle in Iranian and Russian weapons . . . neither Syria or Hezbollah has retaliated for the airstrike, which represents ongoing regional expansion of the Syrian civil war . . . the potential for escalation among neighboring countries remains high.

February 21, 2014
File photo of the former head of the Israeli spy agency Mossad Danny Yatom arriving for a meeting with the Egyptian foreign minister.

Egyptian prosecutors said Tuesday they will pursue prison terms against an Egyptian man and a woman for spying for Israel . . . suspects Ramzy al-Shebbeny and Sahar Salamah have reportedly confessed to being spies . . . Shebbeny allegedly reached out to Mossad on a trip to Italy in 2009 . . . he then visited his Israeli case officers in several European countries in the years that followed, and he also recruited Salamah for the plot . . . Egyptian authorities said the pair earned at least $125,000 for selling classified military information to Israel . . . Israel almost certainly watches the situation in Egypt carefully, and gathering information on activities on the border are likely a priority for Tel Aviv . . . Egypt has vastly improved intelligence cooperation with Israel since the ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi, and Israel likely welcomes the crack-down of the interim government on the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas operations in the Sinai and cross-border smuggling . . .  however, the political situation in Egypt continues to shift and it is imperative that Israel maintain a handle on the future of Egypt’s military chain of command and its national security orientations as new presidential and parliamentary elections are planned for this year.

Obama Policies Will Undermine US Influence in Middle East
February 14, 2014

While the Middle East is the current focus of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, some states in the region have been extremely critical of Obama’s Mideast diplomacy for not holding Syria accountable for crossing a chemical weapons “red line” and for a deal on Iran’s nuclear program that they believe is too weak. As a result, the United States will likely lose prestige and influence in the region in 2014 despite its sponsorship of peace efforts.

February 8, 2014
Israeli police clashed with thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews across the country on Thursday protesting the government’s decision to end their exemption from the national military draft last year . . . at least 30 demonstrators were arrested, although there were no injuries . . . Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid suspended funds to Orthodox religious schools Wednesday after the country’s Supreme Court ordered the government to cease payments if the students continued to refuse to comply with their draft notices . . . while the Israeli government mandates military service for all citizens at age 18, the ultra-Orthodox youths had been exempt from the law for decades provided they were engaged in religious study . . . conscription is an extremely divisive issue in Israeli politics, and more protests against the ruling are likely . . . an inability to overcome the controversy could leave the coalition government’s cohesion at risk . . . the continuing protests and clashes may grow more frequent in the months ahead.

Saudi Arabia Plots Its Escape from US Alliance, to No Avail
February 7, 2014
Left out of secret U.S. negotiations with Iran and struggling to aid rebel forces in Syria without much help, Saudi Arabia is feeling mugged by the reality of the new Middle East security situation. Secretary of State John Kerry has visited the Saudis three times since he came on board, but it has been years since President Barack Obama set foot in Riyadh.
Sisi’s Call for Reform of Islam Signals Shift in Arab Attitudes
February 6, 2014
Egyptian interim President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sent out shock waves last week by declaring that it is time for Islam to join the 21st century. A significant shift in public attitudes in the Arab world, among scholars and the media but also at the highest reaches of political power, suggests a potential for fundamental change to come.
Three Mideast Talkfests, No Signs of Statecraft
February 5, 2014
At the present time there are three negotiations in process concerning the Middle East: one is bringing together some of the rebel groups in Syria and the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. The second involves Iran on one side of the table and six world powers on the other. The third theoretically will eventually involve Israel negotiating with the Palestinian Authority, although at the moment both parties are negotiating with the United States.
January 31, 2014
The Jerusalem District Court sentenced 47-year-old Yitzhak Bergil, a member of the virulently anti-Zionist Natorei Karta sect of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, to 4.5 years in prison after he offered to spy on behalf of Iran in 2011 . . . he was charged with contacting a foreign agent and intent to commit treason . . . Israel’s domestic security service Shin Bet arrested Bergil in July 2013 and he confessed his actions were driven by “a hatred for the State of Israel and in exchange for financial compensation” . . . Natorei Karta rejects the legitimacy of Israel because it asserts a Jewish state cannot be established until the return of the Messiah . . . the sentence for Bergil appears relatively light, although the government almost certainly planned to use the case to dissuade other would-be spies . . . the government likely maintains close tabs on the fringe ultra-Orthodox sect, which frequently works to undermine Israeli security.

Israeli-Palestinian Talks Raise Risk of Government Collapse
January 24, 2014
Contentious negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority may not be going anywhere in terms of progress toward a settlement, but the process itself is clearly having a negative effect on the cohesion of Israel’s fragile coalition government, increasing the possibility of political collapse. Various political “red lines” make a breakthrough leading to talks highly unlikely in any case, despite an enormous U.S. effort.
January 23, 2014

The US Embassy in Tel Aviv. (Oliver Weikan/EPA)

Israeli security officials announced Wednesday that they arrested three Palestinians from Jerusalem who had been recruited by al-Qaeda to carry out mass-casualty attacks . . . the three, who were recruited online, allegedly planned attacks on targets including the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv; a bus traveling from Jerusalem to Ma’ale Adumim, a large Jewish settlement near the Israeli capital; and the International Convention Center in Jerusalem . . . senior sources with Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency identified the recruiter as a Gaza-based al-Qaeda operative named Ariv al-Sham, who they believe was receiving orders directly from Ayman al-Zawahiri, the terror group’s global leader . . .
The arrests are clear evidence that the Gaza Strip is becoming a recruitment base for al-Qaeda as well as Hamas and Islamic Jihad . . . al-Qaeda has long sought a direct border with Israel and may be expanding cells in the Gaza Strip in conjunction with its operations in Syria.
January 23, 2014
The jersey of the Palestino first division football club.

Authorities with Chile’s primary soccer league unanimously voted Monday to fine the Palestine Football Club about $1,300 for wearing a uniform portraying a map of Israel to represent Palestine in three games . . . the National Association of Professional Football of Chile (ANFP) claimed its penalty was necessary as it was opposed to “any form of political, religious, sexual, ethnic, social or racial discrimination” . . . Chile is believed to have one of the largest Palestinian communities outside the Middle East . . . Chile is among Israel’s few allies in Latin America . . . the Israeli government is increasingly fighting back against international efforts attempting to delegitimize the Jewish state, and Chile appears to be backing that move.

January 22, 2014

Israeli Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom speaks at
the World Bank in Washington, DC on December 9, 2013.

Israeli Infrastructure Minister Silvan Shalom visited the United Arab Emirates to attend the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) conference Jan. 18 . . . the visit was the first Israeli delegation to travel to the UAE in four years . . . Kuwait was the sole country to boycott the conference due to the Israeli participation . . . even Iran and Iraq remained to hear Shalom’s talk on renewable energy, although it did move to the back row in symbolic protest . . . subsequently Shalom called for full diplomatic representation in the UAE by virtue of its membership the 123-country organization . . . the UAE severed ties with Israel and forbade Israelis from entering the Persian Gulf country in 2010 after the assassination of a senior Hamas military commander in Dubai. . . Israel’s technological expertise appears to have won over even the most skeptical members at the IRENA conference . . . the oil-reliant Arab and Muslim countries opted to hear Shalom’s views on renewable energy rather than to make a diplomatic statement by avoiding the Israeli delegation . . . for Israel, the visit appears to be another successful victory in its charm offensive, warming ties with previously cool countries in the region.

— December 17, 2013

January 17, 2014
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, listens to Jordan's
King Abdullah II as thy meet at the Royal Palace in Jordan Jan. 16, 2014.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordanian King Abdullah II met on Jan. 16 to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks . . . the meeting was not announced ahead of time and was only announced after it ended . . . King Abdullah emphasized the need to protect Jordan’s interests while meeting the aspirations of the Palestinian people . . . Israel said any peace accord will take into consideration the peace treaty signed between Jordan and Israel signed 20 years ago . . . Jordan and Israel maintain cordial but distant ties, and meetings between the two leaders are rare . . . Jordan is not directly involved in peace talks, but is significantly impacted by discussions because it borders Israel . . . Israel was likely seeking support for strengthened security agreements, which is a significant concern for Jordan . . . Jordan is also likely concerned about retaining custodian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, securing water supplies and rights and compensation for Palestinian refugees living in Jordan.

Russian Anti-Ship Missiles Present New Danger to Israel
January 16, 2014
Just as Israel’s security situation appeared to be improving due to the deployment of new missile defense systems, as well as offensive operations to prevent the supply of advanced missile systems to Hezbollah in Lebanon, a new and serious security challenge is developing that has the potential to further destabilize the regions already precarious status quo.
Israel Split as Arab Christians Sign Up for Military Service
January 13, 2014
Israel's tiny but growing population of Arab Christians is trying to play a greater role in the country’s political affairs. However, the community’s controversial effort to persuade its adherents to join the military could fuel tensions and open new questions of identity and patriotism in the world's sole Jewish state. 
January 9, 2014
Palestinians mourn their ambassdor to the Czech
Republic, Jamal al-Jamal, during his funeral in the
West Bank city Ramallah on January 8, 2014. 
The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Jan. 6 condemned 12 illegal weapons discovered at the Palestinian embassy in Prague last week as a severe breach of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations . . . authorities found the firearms during its investigation of the premises following the death of the Palestinian Ambassador to the Central European country who was killed on Jan 1 after an embassy safe accidentally exploded . . . a Palestinian official claimed the guns had “been in the embassy for a long time — going back to the former regime of Czechoslovakia — and these guns were either licensed in the embassy or were given as gifts to the ambassador” before adding they were “not in use,” reports the Associated Press . . . the residents of the surrounding neighborhood have formally asked for the embassy to be relocated . . . the latest controversy will likely further strain ties between the Czech Republic and Palestinian Authority . . . the Czech Republic has been a close ally of Israel since throwing off the shackles of communism in 1989, and the official condemnation will help secure those ties.

January 9, 2014
Bedouin women ride their donkeys in Be'er Sheva,
Israel on October 10, 2013.
Unidentified Bedouin tribesmen living in the Negev Desert pelted a bus carrying Israeli ambassadors and foreign ministry officials with rocks on Tuesday, reports the Times of Israel . . . the Bedouin are angry over a government plan to relocate their unauthorized settlements to recognized villages provided with services and economic opportunities . . . Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman deplored the incident as a “grave national problem” as well as “another illustration of the intolerable lawlessness of the Bedouin residents in the region that began with violations of the construction laws, and continues with violence and a refusal to accept the authority of the state,” according to the Jerusalem Post . . . the conflict prompted a wave of public sympathy for the semi-nomadic Bedouin last month that forced the government to table the
Begin-Prawer proposal that would have recognized the villages of about 60,000 Bedouin in the sparsely-populated Negevwhile resettling an additional 30,000 to cities, the Times of Israel explains . . . the violence seems likely to convince conservatives such as Liberman to ramp up their efforts to evict the Bedouin from their unauthorized shantytowns . . . while the government’s plan was not perfect, it had attempted to improve the quality of life for the Arab Bedouin, which are the most impoverished community in Israel.
Peace Process Scores Direct Hit on Israeli Missile Test
January 8, 2014
For a few minutes last week, all was right in Israel’s missile defense world. An Israeli missile defense agency, in a joint project with the United States hailed for its engineering prowess, successfully guided a missile interceptor outside the Earth’s atmosphere. But the triumph was short-lived as Israel’s prime minister, the White House and Congress quickly returned to political maneuvering over the Arab-Israeli peace process.
January 6, 2014
US Secretary of State John Kerry leaves Tel Aviv on Jan. 6
after four days of negotiating on a framework peace deal.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returned to the United States on Monday after failing to rally the Israelis or the Palestinians to commit to a framework peace deal as the first round of negotiations in 2014 concluded  . . . the trip marked Kerry’s 10th visit to the region as secretary of state . . . Kerry also made two surprise trips to Jordan and Saudi Arabia on Jan. 5 to garner support for his deal . . .  both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refuse to meet for talks, leaving Kerry to negotiate with each side separately . . . the framework deal outlined the two-state approach defining specific borders and criteria on jurisdiction over Jerusalem . . .  the inability of Kerry’s negotiating team to achieve a grand bargain for a framework peace deal will increase doubts that a binding deal can be reached by the April deadline . . . the backing of Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah may help increase momentum for the talks, but skepticism on both sides will perpetuate the deadlock. 

January 6, 2014
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israeli hardliners yesterday said they would topple the government if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepts U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s proposal to use the 1967 borders as the base line for peace talks with the Palestinian Authority . . . the hardline Jewish Home party said, “A government that accepts the 1967 lines is committing national suicide. We will not be part of it and will try to replace it,” . . . although the participants refuse to discuss the substance of talks, media speculates that Kerry is pressuring Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish homeland in exchange for Israel’s acceptance of the pre-1967 borders . . . Netanyahu so far has refused to accept the proposal, and Israeli hardliners strongly oppose returning to the 1967 border . . . if Netanyahu agrees to the 1967 lines, he almost certainly will lose at least some of his coalition partners, potentially jeopardizing his parliamentary majority . . . however, more moderate parties could step in to stabilize Netanyahu and allow peace talks – and Netanyahu’s government -- to continue . . . conservatives could then lose much of their leverage in government, which may make them re-think their ultimatum.

December 30, 2013

A UN soldier spots shells fired by the Israeli army into
southern Lebanon.

Lebanon yesterday launched rockets across the Israeli border, and Israel responded with more rockets fired into Lebanon . . . there were no immediate reports of injuries in the skirmish . . . just two weeks ago, a similar spat of border violence occurred and several Lebanese and Israeli soldiers were killed . . . Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Israel's response and blamed Lebanon for tolerating Hezbollah's "war crimes" . . .Israel also was engaged in cross-border rocket fire with the Gaza Strip last week . . . the violence of the last two weeks is relatively rare, but demonstrates the broadening of the Syrian conflict and the heightened tensions in the region . . . additional attacks, including terrorist attacks, between Israel and Lebanon are likely, although the skirmishes are not likely to explode into full-fledged war.

December 28, 2013
Six people died, including an outspoken opponent of Hezbollah and the Syrian regime, in a Beirut terror bombing Dec. 27 . . . Mohamad B. Chatah, a former ambassador to the United States, was killed by the car bomb . . . the blast wounded 70 holiday shoppers in a ritzy section of downtown Beirut called the Starco Center plaza . . . no group has taken responsibility and Hezbollah denied it was involved  . . .  Chatah was a senior leader of the Sunni faction “Future Bloc” that supports the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad . . . Future Bloc blamed Hezbollah for Chatah’s slaying . . . this is the first time conflict in the proxy war between Sunnis and Shias in Lebanon has taken place in this gentrified section of Beirut since Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in 2005 . . .  Hariri also led Future Bloc and the political faction may now struggle as it seeks a path to become the ruling party for Lebanon . . . the loss of Chatah is a blow to Western governments who are looking for any moderate voice in Lebanon to reduce the influence of Sunni and Shia extremists.   
December 27, 2013
Israeli protesters hold a portrait of an assassinated soldier.
Israel today attacked a weapons manufacturing plant and a weapons storage facility in the Gaza Strip after a rocket from Gaza exploded in Israel . . . Israeli officials said an earlier rocket from Gaza also entered Israeli territory and a Qassam rocket fired from Gaza landed near a school bus stop in Israel . . . earlier this week, a sniper killed an Israeli civilian on the border, which prompted Israel to target Gaza with airstrikes and artillery . . . the latest clashes are the heaviest fighting between the two sides in over a year and the events illustrate the ongoing tension between the two sides . . . the new fighting will complicate U.S.-led peace talks and increase mistrust between the two sides.

Israeli Charm Offensive Aims to Avoid Geopolitical Isolation
December 17, 2013
The Israeli government is expanding its search for dependable allies amid a wave of disturbing incidents that reveal the increasing isolation of the lone democracy in the Middle East. While Israel’s Periphery Doctrine — its policy of cultivating a steadfast albeit unusual collection of friends — has helped produce some diplomatic victories, the need for additional outreach is assuming a heightened level of urgency.
December 12, 2013

Route of the Red Sea-Dead Sea pipeline

Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority agreed Dec. 9 to build a pipeline that would transport water from the Red Sea to a desalination plant in Jordan and replenish the rapidly drying Dead Sea as well as supply fresh drinking water and electricity to Jordan and the Palestinian territories . . . Israeli Water and Energy Minister Silvan Shalom hailed the deal as “no less than a historic agreement” . . . the first phase of the project will cost $900 million . . . the deal is a significant step toward overcoming persistent water shortages facing Jordan and the West Bank . . . while official peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority7 have largely stalled, the water pact amounts to a breakthrough for regional cooperation . . . the pro-U.S. Jordanian government, which signed a 1994 peace agreement with  Israel, is a novelty in the Middle East but showcases the many benefits that would accompany regional peace.

December 4, 2013
The al-Qaeda-affiliated radical Islamist group Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen, also known as the Holy Warriors' Assembly, said in a published statement on Dec. 1 that it has established a presence in the West Bank . . . the militants, who have vowed to wage war against the Jews, Christians, infidels and the Palestinian Authority, said three of their Salafist fighters were killed by Israeli security forces last week . . . the group opposes ongoing negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, adding, "We are serious about fighting the aggression against religion by the blaspheming Jews and the hypocritical collaborators” . . . while the West Bank has been less violent than the Gaza Strip, terrorism poses a persistent security threat in the Palestinian territories . . . Palestinian anger with Israel and disenchantment with the Palestinian Authority creates fertile recruiting grounds for al-Qaeda, supplying jihadists to fight not only in the West Bank but also in other areas in the region . . . the militants will also likely use the West Bank foothold as a base to launch and plan attacks against Israeli targets.

December 2, 2013
Bedouin Arabs in Israel held a “day of rage” on Dec. 1 over the government’s intention to resettle them . . . thousands gathered  in the Negev desert, Jerusalem, the West Bank, and other areas to protest the plan . . . some protesters clashed with police officers who used tear gas and water cannon against them, and over two dozen have been arrested . . . the resettlement has not yet passed parliament, but would relocate the Bedouins from their currently unrecognized villages to new government-built towns . . . the protests showcase Israel’s tense relations with the Bedouins, who have lived in the Negev since before the creation of the state of Israel . . . although Israel claims that the plan would allow many Bedouins to stay where they are, the reaction so far suggests that any intervention will not be met peacefully . . . the negative reaction by the Bedouins is the latest headache for Jerusalem as it attempts to negotiate with the Palestinians and counter the recent deal between the international community and Iran. 

November 30, 2013
Despite being openly vilified across the Middle East, Israel is carrying out a silent campaign of providing medical assistance to the fleeing victims of the 32-month-old Syrian civil war . . . at least three hospitals in northern Israel have been informally treating refugees injured during the conflict since the Israel Defense Forces began transporting the wounded from the border by ambulance in March . . . Dr. Oscar Embon, the director of the Sieff hospital in the Israeli city of Tzfat recently told the BBC, “I don't expect them to become lovers of Israel and ambassadors for what we do here, but in the interim I expect they will reflect on what was their experience here and that they will reflect differently on what the regime tells them about Israelis and Syrians being enemies. . . while Israel and Syria technically have been in a state of war since Israel gained its independence in 1948, the latest covert humanitarian initiative is likely doing more to undermine over six decades of hostility than could any diplomatic effort . . . since the injured return home after receiving treatment, Israel is planting the seeds of goodwill among the Syrian population.

November 26, 2013
Israel announced plans for more than 800 new settlements in the West Bank on November 25 . . . the Israeli Defense Ministry said the plan for the new housing project was approved earlier this month and has now progressed . . . construction is not expected to start for several months . . . the settlements will be built in the Givat Zeev, Nofei Prat, Shilo, Givat Salit and Nokdim settlements north of Jerusalem . . . Israel’s announcement for pushing ahead new settlement projects is likely a rebuff to the United States over the the P5+1 brokered deal with Iran on its nuclear enrichment program last weekend . . .  Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who previously asked for a halt on settlement plans during peace talks with the Palestinians, deemed the Iranian deal a “historic mistake”. . . the US-backed peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis will now face more barriers as the Palestinians are sure to negatively react to the plans, which leaves the outlook for the peace talks with little room for optimism.

Saudi-Israeli Attack Rumors Spread as Iran Talks Progress
November 22, 2013
Persistent rumors allege that Saudi Arabia and Israel have a secret agreement to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities if talks between the P5+1 powers and Iran result in an unacceptable deal. These rumors suggest that Mossad agents made arrangements with Saudi leaders to carry out a joint attack if the negotiations that resumed on Wednesday produce an agreement that is not acceptable to the Saudis and Israelis.
November 18, 2013
French President Francois Hollande made his first visit to Israel on Nov. 17 since becoming president . . . Hollande will also meet with Palestinian President Abbas during the trip . . . the timing of Hollande’s trip is likely an effort to reinforce France’s agreement with Israel in order to reduce any sanctions on Iran . . . with another round of nuclear talks between Iran and international actors set to start soon in Geneva, Hollande wants to make his position even more clear, and the visit almost certainly will result in hardline statements against Iran . . . Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likely opposes Hollande’s visit with Abbas, which confers legitimacy on the Palestinian Authority.

November 14, 2013
Yesterday marked a new low in the ongoing US-brokered peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians . . . Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that his negotiating delegation had resigned due to the slow progression of the peace talks . . . tensions escalated earlier this week when the Israeli Housing Ministry disclosed long-term plans to build more than 20,000 new housing settlements in the West Bank . . . Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for a halt in the settlement plans amid criticism from the international community . . . peace talks are scheduled to continue  and are planned to conclude in April 2014 . . . the peace talks will likely be stalled due to the high tensions despite Netanyahu’s call to halt the settlement plans . . . the peace talks have also been negatively affected by the ongoing negotiations between the West and Iran on its nuclear enrichment program . . . tensions between the United States and Israel on the Iranian deal is likely going to affect Secretary of State John Kerry and the US peace delegation’s ability to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. 

 Evidence of Arafat Poisoning Complicates Peace Talks
November 13, 2013
Nine years after his death, a Swiss forensic team has announced that it found trace amounts of the radioactive isotope polonium-210 in the remains of Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, suggesting that he may have died of poisoning. The Swiss team did not definitively determine Arafat was poisoned. A Russian team that did its own investigation said its findings were inconclusive. Nevertheless, these reports raise troubling questions that could add to regional tensions.
November 9, 2013
Israeli officials yesterday expressed opposition over a potential deal with Iran over its nuclear program . . . Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the agreement would give up “too much, too early” and that it threatens Israel’s security . . . the statements came after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iranian and other leaders in Switzerland to hammer out a deal . . . Israel leaves no doubt over its opposition to any agreement, and almost certainly will ignore any accord the U.S. reaches with Iran . . . the strong reaction by Netanyahu will again test Israeli-U.S. relations, which were strained under President Obama’s first term . . . difficult relations between the U.S. and Israel could also impact Arab-Israeli peace talks, as the U.S. has headed the effort to renew those discussions.

November 8, 2013
A Jerusalem court unanimously cleared Israel’s controversial former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of all charges on Nov. 6 . . . he had been facing one count of fraud and breach of trust . . . last December, Lieberman, the chairman of the secular ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, resigned from the government to fight the corruption allegations . . . Yisrael Beitenu forged an alliance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s center-right Likud party ahead of elections earlier this year . . . Netanyahu had held the position of foreign minister until the conclusion of the trial . . . Lieberman’s acquittal and looming reinstatement bolsters his political influence in the country . . . his return could put ongoing U.S.-led peace negotiations in jeopardy as Lieberman is highly skeptical of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who he said was “not a partner for peace” last month . . . in addition, Lieberman faces a tough choice: deepen his partnership with Netanyahu to position himself as the prime minister’s eventual successor or fight for leadership of the country’s conservative voters and challenge Netanyahu from the right.

Israel's Government in Crisis as Clock Ticks Down in Iran
November 6, 2013
The governing coalition Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cobbled together less than a year ago is in the throes of its first major crisis. It couldn’t come at a worse time for Israel, now under pressure from the United States to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority and rapidly running out of time to stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb.
West Frets as Iran’s Nuclear Bomb Timeline Keeps Shrinking
October 30, 2013
Many in the media were shocked by three recent estimates that Iran could make enough nuclear fuel for one nuclear weapon in two to four weeks, and not the six months to a year that had been generally assumed. But the real issue is not some dramatic Iranian technological development but why certain Iran watchers have been understating Iran’s nuclear weapons timeline.
While these estimates are consistent with LIGNET assessments, they contradict the Obama administration’s claim that Iran is about a year away from a nuclear bomb and will complicate its proposal to allow Tehran to retain its large stockpile of reactor-grade uranium.
October 29, 2013
Israel Defense Forces said Oct. 28 that batteries from the Iron Dome missile defense system shot down two rockets fired from militants in Gaza . . . Israeli warplanes raided two rocket-launch sites in Gaza on Oct. 27 believed to be responsible for earlier rocket and mortar fire into Israel over the weekend . . . the military operations coincide with the planned release of 26 Palestinian prisoners today that are preliminary conditions for new Israel-Palestine peace talks set up by the United States . . . a total of 104 Palestinians will be freed by Israel in the next nine months according to the latest peace road map . . . the prisoner release has been a controversial decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with many Israelis questioning the wisdom of sending convicted terrorists back into the general population of the West Bank and Gaza . . . critics point to the continued rocket fire from Gaza as a reason not to agree to the prisoner release . . . violence is also still part of life in the West Bank . . . Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian who reportedly tried to run a bulldozer into a checkpoint near Aram this month and two Israeli soldiers were killed in shootings in the West Bank in September . . . complicating the issue for American diplomats is the Israeli decision to build more settlement blocs in the West Bank that could keep the Palestinians from making any concessions.

October 29, 2013
Israel has condemned a recent report claiming that Iran could amass enough weapons-grade uranium to produce a nuclear bomb within a month . . . the report notes that Iran would also have to build a warhead to use the bomb . . . Israel warned once again that it would take military action to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon . . . Iran maintains that its uranium is merely for energy programs and that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons . . . meanwhile, the United States still hopes to influence Iran to participate in international nuclear monitoring through negotiations . . . the issue of Iran’s nuclear program continues to dominate Israel/US/Iranian discussions . . . Israel remains highly skeptical of Iranian intentions and is unlikely to support loosening sanctions in reward for Iran’s positive gestures on the program . . . the United States is attempting to take a balanced approach of cautious optimism, while retaining pressure on the Iranian government . . . more sanctions would demonstrate continued concern with the program, but could also empower Iranian hardliners and undermine any possibility of talks on the program.

US Retreat Adds New Dimension to Middle East Chess Game
October 28, 2013
Dramatic decisions and statements from Saudi Arabia in mid-October underscore the extent to which the relative withdrawal of the United States from direct involvement in Middle Eastern affairs is changing the complexion of the region diplomatically, politically and economically. Coupled with the stand-down in Syria over congressional opposition to attacking the Assad regime’s chemical warfare facilities and what seems to some a rush to court new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, countries in the region are confronted with new and difficult decisions.
How Hamas Tunnels Undermine Israel's Security
October 25, 2013
The recent discovery by Israel of a surprisingly long and well-made tunnel that could have allowed Hamas terror squads passage from Gaza into Israeli territory is evidence of the desperation of the militants and their inability to lead an uprising against Israel. But it has also succeeded in instilling a great fear in Israeli settlers and will force Israel to divert soldiers and supplies to the Gaza border area.
Egypt, Israel Likely to Join Hands to Tackle Threats From Sinai
October 24, 2013
Egypt and Israel are both at risk from Salafi jihadists operating in the Sinai, and have a mutual interest in stabilizing the desert peninsula. If they proceed in signing a peace treaty, it would be an important foundation for expanded cooperation between the two countries that could have a big impact on the stability of the Middle East.
October 23, 2013
The mayors of Israel’s three largest cities — Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa — won another five-year term in municipal elections yesterday despite a relatively low voter turnout, according to preliminary results . . . Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat narrowly defeated his main rival Moshe Lion . . . Lion was backed by the ultra-Orthodox parties and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman . . . turnout was highest among religious communities . . . 70 percent of the 689 mayoral candidates were running for reelection . . . with incumbents dominating the vote, many Israelis largely appear to have endorsed the status quo . . . in particular, the narrow re-election of Barkat provides a much needed boost to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as it could help ward off a leadership challenge from Lieberman.

October 14, 2013

The Israeli army yesterday claimed to have uncovered a mile-long tunnel running between Gaza and Israel . . . the tunnel spans from a house to a kibbutz, and was exposed after some living in the kibbutz heard noises  . . . Israel now suspects that the tunnel was used to orchestrate attacks on them, and it has stopped transporting construction materials to Gaza in retribution . . . this is not the first tunnel of this kind to have been dug, and Hamas has already insinuated that underground digging will continue . . . the Israeli retaliation will likely deepen the tension between the two regions.

Israel Warns West: Don't Be Seduced by Iran's 'Soothing Rhetoric'
October 2, 2013
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mounted a vigorous rebuttal to Iran’s public relations offensive at the United Nations on Tuesday, warning that Tehran is attempting to use negotiations as a method of legitimizing its pursuit of nuclear weapons. In his speech, Netanyahu expressed skepticism about the motives of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and suggested that Iran is trying to buy time to develop nuclear weapons. Netanyahu also continued to espouse the benefits of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, yet warned that for peace to be achieved, Israel’s security needs must be met.
October 1, 2013
Israeli Shin Bet internal intelligence agency said Sept. 29 they arrested a Belgian national and accused him of spying for Iran . . . Ali Mansouri, 55, was reportedly caught at Ben Gurion International Airport earlier this month with a digital camera that allegedly contained photos of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv . . . Shin Bet officials believe Mansouri “made three trips to Israel over the past two years and was working to make business contacts here and establish a covert base of operations, including a front company to market windows and roofing materials” . . . Mansouri is suspected of being an agent for the Iranian Quds force, a special warfare branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been skeptical of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s recent “charm offensive” at the United Nations General Assembly last week . . . Netanyahu dismissed Iranian diplomacy and described recent actions as “sweet talk and the onslaught of smile,” in a veiled reference to Obama and Rouhani’s telephone conversation Sept. 27 . . . the Israeli prime minister will give his own speech to the UN this week and will likely point out that Iran is still a state sponsor of terrorism and is using diplomacy to deceptively stall for time as Tehran continues its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

How Israel’s Energy Reserves Could Change the Middle East
September 27, 2013
Israel’s vast offshore reserves of natural gas offer a novel opportunity to soothe long-standing tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean. With Cyprus, Greece and Turkey desperate to gain access to the Israeli gas, Jerusalem could find itself in a strong position to push for peace and harmony across the region.
September 26, 2013
A small riot between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police and security forces in Jerusalem’s Old City broke out Sept. 25 . . . it happened on the Temple Mount holy ground in the courtyard of the Al-Aqsa Mosque  . . . Israeli media reports said the Palestinians were throwing rocks at Israeli security forces who then used stun grenades against the rioters . . . seven Palestinians were reportedly hurt . . . more West Bank clashes in Hebron have cropped up since two Israeli soldiers have been killed in a span of three days . . . Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Israel “would never be forced from (Jerusalem)” and he approved new settlements for Jews in the West Bank . . . this prodded Hamas to call for more protests against the Israelis . . . these tensions come at a bad time for U.S. efforts to encourage an Arab-Israeli resumption of peace talks . . . hardliners in Israel and the Gaza Strip will bitterly cling to historical disputes such as the release of Palestinian prisoners, re-drawing West Bank borders and the issue of Jewish settlements . . . more clashes are expected in Hebron in the coming days since the city has holy Jewish sites and a high number of Islamist extremists. 
Mideast Peace Talks Imperiled by EU-Israeli Research Rift
September 23, 2013
A widening diplomatic tiff between the European Union and Israel over cuts to research funding threatens to stall peace talks with the Palestinians, leading U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene this month to ask the EU to resume payments. Should Kerry fail to convince the EU, it would undercut the extensive effort that has gone into restarting talks after a three-year hiatus.
September 13, 2013
The Israeli government increased security in Jerusalem and closed its borders with the Palestinian territories for 48 hours as Jews prepare to celebrate the solemn Yom Kippur holiday, also known as the Day of Atonement, tonight at sundown . . . on September 10 the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade — the military division of the Fatah party, which rules the West Bank — gave its fighters a “green light” to carry out terrorist attacks as part of a “Day of Rioting” . . . Jerusalem police are on high alert and have restricted access to the Temple Mount . . . while many of the enhanced security measures occur each year during the important holiday, the Israeli government appears to be especially concerned by the latest threats . . . any violence could mar ongoing peace talks between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel Girds for Threatened 'Imminent Destruction' over Syria
August 31, 2013
Israel placed on heightened alert its forces and Iron Dome anti-missiles on the border with Syria and in central Israel, preparing to respond to a threat from Iran of "imminent destruction" with "thousands of missiles" in retaliation for an expected U.S. attack on Syria.
LIGNET Exclusive: Terror Leaders on Conference Call Weren't Just Planning an Attack
August 28, 2013
The evacuation of U.S. embassies across the Middle East in early August followed the interception of a conference call of more than 20 al-Qaeda leaders, and LIGNET has now learned that terror leaders on that phone call were plotting to bring down one particular country on the Arabian Peninsula. If they had not been stopped, they would have gained a substantial foothold in the Middle East and a new base from which to wage their war on the West.
Israel Forges a New Foreign Policy for a New Middle East
August 27, 2013
Countries greatly prefer friendly neighbors. Failing that, they prefer weak ones. The Middle East offers Israel little in the way of friendly neighbors — religion and history have seen to that. However, the present upheavals present Israel with the prospect of weakened neighbors, perhaps even fragmented ones.
August 26, 2013
Israel believes Lebanese militants sent a volley of rockets into the northern part of the country August 22 . . . Israeli Defense Forces reported no casualties but the rocket launch from the vicinity of a Palestinian refugee camp set off alarms and prodded many people to head to bomb shelters . . . a cell from the Abdullah Azzam Brigade said on social media that it carried out the attack, rather than the usual suspect Hezbollah . . . this lesser known Sunni Salafist group is reportedly linked to al-Qaeda . . . the Israelis air force then bombed what military officials described as a “terrorist site” between Beirut and Sidon August 23 . . . Lebanon is becoming increasingly unstable due to sectarian conflicts sparked by the civil war in Syria . . . since the rocket fire came from al-Qaeda sympathizers near a Palestinian camp, it stands to reason that Sunni extremists may be emboldened by new recruits and an influx of foreign terrorists who are attracted to Lebanon’s lawless refugee camps that are not patrolled by Lebanese security forces.

August 23, 2013
Hamas officials today asked Egypt to reopen the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip . . . Egypt closed the border this week after more than 20 Egyptian police were killed near the crossing . . . thousands of Palestinians, including students and medical patients, are now stranded according to Hamas . . . approximately 1,200 people used the crossing every day while President Mohammed Morsi was in power in Egypt, but that number dropped to about 50 people a day after he was removed . . . Egyptian authorities blame Hamas for interfering in domestic Egyptian politics and backing Islamist groups in the country . . . Cairo also has alleged that Hamas supports Islamist militants in the Sinai . . . the military-backed interim government is likely to limit Palestinian access to Egypt as long as internal turmoil continues . . . the move further isolates Hamas, which lost an ally when Morsi was deposed.
Out of Egypt, a Realignment Emerges in the Middle East
August 19, 2013

The Arab Spring is only two years old, but in that brief period there have been myriad seismic events, from Libya to Iraq in the northern crescent, coups and counter-coups, massive demonstrations, elections held and elections nullified, horrific violence and civil war, sectarian confrontation and dozens of terrorist acts. For a long time no identifiable pattern could be discerned. Recently, however, evidence of a strategic realignment taking place in the Middle East has emerged, especially in the southern crescent from Egypt through Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states. Should this emerging pattern be consolidated, the region will look very different than it did before the Arab Spring. U.S. interests: In the absence of a strong set of U.S. policies in the region, traditional allies may be forming their own alliances, even if not so stated, with limited input from Washington. These new alignments can serve U.S. interests in the Middle East by preserving a core group of stable and politically moderate nations even as Washington’s influence in the region is weaker than at any time since the end of World War II.
Why Israel Is Working Quietly to Support Egypt’s Army
August 16, 2013
The Israeli government is watching the deteriorating situation in Egypt closely, and especially the Sinai Peninsula, where Islamist militants have congregated. Israel appears to be collaborating with the Egyptian military in strikes on militants in the desert border area. But Israel has a lot to lose if these missions became public knowledge. Its goal is to appear to be only sitting on the sidelines and watching to see if Egypt’s 30-day state of emergency leads to a civil war.
August 16, 2013
LIGNET Director and senior intelligence expert Dr. Jack Caravelli warned there is little chance that current Israel-Palestinian peace talks will yield results. Caravelli noted the extreme distrust on both sides will continue to taint discussions. He further explained that divisions on the Palestinian side and skepticism from Israel will hamper negotiations. He also said that if this round of talks falters, tensions and suspicions will deepen, hurting prospects for future talks.
August 12, 2013
Israel has approved the construction of 1,200 new Israelis settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, angering Palestinians . . . these areas have remained disputed since Israel occupied them in the 1970s, with both Israel and Palestine maintaining that they retain the rights to the land . . . the move comes just before scheduled peace talks between the two, and just after Israel agreed to the release of Palestinian political prisoners . . . Israel's decision is essentially a slap in the face to Palestine, although it may also have been intended to placate right-wing Israelis angered by the release of Palestinian prisoners . . . the settlements will play a large role in peace talks, and may further jeopardize the success of their meetings. 

Violence Mounts as Egyptian Army Tries to Pacify Sinai
August 7, 2013

A sharp increase in violence and lawlessness in the Sinai since the overthrow of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi presents a new threat to regional security and Egypt’s transition to democracy. The violence, however, also reflects well-founded fears by radical Islamists in the Sinai that Egypt’s interim military government will conduct a major campaign to cleanse the peninsula of Islamist fighters who have been making it into a regional haven and terrorist base of operations.

US-Saudi Nuclear Talks Stir Proliferation Worries
July 31, 2013
U.S. and Saudi negotiators are hammering out the details of a groundbreaking agreement that would give Saudi Arabia access to substantial American nuclear know-how. When completed, the agreement also would provide the U.S. nuclear industry an opportunity to compete for lucrative contracts supporting the kingdom’s ambitious nuclear plans. But the support of Congress is uncertain, and vocal opposition from certain quarters could easily derail it.
July 29, 2013

Israel and Palestine will begin negotiations this evening in Washington despite both sides already squabbling over the format and parameters of the initial discussions . . . Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced July 28 that Israel would release 104 Palestinian inmates in phases over nine months . . . these prisoners were convicted 20 years ago for crimes related to terrorism that led to the deaths of Israeli citizens, police and soldiers . . . Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni will face off with the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Saeb Erekat . . . issues expected to be discussed include the Palestinian demand for no new Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; that borders be revised to what they were before 1967; and that Palestinians have a right to return to land they once lived in . . . Israel is demanding much better security guarantees that would ban Palestinian terror attacks . . . even though Netanyahu agreed to freeing the Palestinian inmates, he has already rejected stopping new construction of houses and schools in the West Bank and he told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that 1,000 planned construction sites will not be halted in the coming months . . . returning to pre-1967 borders is not realistic since around 500,000 Jews live in the occupied territories and East Jerusalem which is over 8 percent of Israel’s entire Jewish population (not counting Arabs who live within its borders) . . . even if Israel agreed to pull out of the West Bank and Jerusalem, these concessions would go to a national vote and citizens would decide whether to veto any peace plan agreed upon with the Palestinians.


Why Jordan’s King Is Likely to Survive the Arab Spring
July 29, 2013
Since 2010, the Arab Spring has toppled governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria. With unrest brewing, Jordan is considered by many analysts to be the next country on that list. But how likely is it that the nearly hundred-year-old monarchy there could be overthrown?
July 28, 2013
Israel's cabinet approved a bill that makes any peace deal with Palestine subject to a referendum . . . Netanyahu emphasized his belief that every citizen should vote on such a "historic" decision . . . Palestine also plans to put any peace deal to a referendum . . . Netanyahu is now attempting to persuade cabinet members to vote for the release of Palestinian prisoners, a Palestinian condition for peace talks . . .  right-wing Israelis who are reluctant to make compromises with Palestine are pleased by this bill . . . the move to release Palestinian prisoners, on the other hand, is highly contested, and may prove a significant stumbling block to the proceedings unless Netanyahu can convince his cabinet that their agreement on this is for the good of the country.

Mideast Peace Talks Would Proceed Amid Distrust, Skepticism
July 26, 2013
Secretary of State John Kerry’s dramatic announcement last Friday that Israeli and Palestinian officials had agreed to resume peace negotiations might look like an opportunity to break a long political stalemate, but the reality of the region’s politics indicates otherwise.
July 20, 2013
Lela Gilbert offers a unique portrait of Israel as seen through the eyes of a Christian who came for a visit and has stayed on for more than six years. While most people see Israel as an abstraction centering on international conflicts of epic proportions, Gilbert reflects on the vibrant country that she found – a story of the real Israel and of real Israelis.
July 20, 2013
Israel has agreed to release some Palestinian political prisoners as a condition to facilitate peace talks with Palestine . . . the agreement is a result of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent “shuttle diplomacy”, where he has been flying back and forth between Israel and Palestine to hash out conditions for beginning talks between the two states . . . they plan to release the prisoners in stages and have not specified any certain number, but claim that they will be “heavyweight” prisoners who have been imprisoned for decades . . . although this is a significant concession, Israel has not agreed to some of Palestine’s most contentious requirement for peace talks, regarding  how to address settlements in the West Bank . . . it remains to be seen whether these negotiations will actually become formalized and produce peace talks, or dissolve into another Israel-Palestine stand-off.

July 18, 2013
The U.S. government confirmed July 16 that an air strike from the Israeli Air Force destroyed a Hezbollah arms cache at the beginning of the month – an installation that reportedly included sophisticated Russian hardware . . . a July 10 report that featured satellite imagery from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) linked the Israelis to the aerial bombardment at Latakia, a coastal city in Syria, on July 5 . . . this would be the third time that the Israelis have engineered an attack inside Syria since the civil war there began two years ago . . . the DIA concluded that the Israeli bombs wrecked a number of highly-capable Russian Yakhont anti-ship missiles . . . if the intelligence from the DIA is correct, it shows that Israel is gravely concerned about spillover from the civil war from Hezbollah and Sunni extremists linked to al-Qaeda . . . Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said in no uncertain terms that he will not allow arms transfers to terror groups, and if these missile were indeed Russian-made, it appears that Netanyahu has made good on his warnings . . . it also sends a message to the Assad regime that Israel will engage in unilateral pre-emptive strikes against the Syrian military if it endangers Israeli interests.
July 17, 2013
Israel’s Delek Group Ltd. (Tel Aviv: DLEKG) and Avner Oil & Gas Exploration alongside Texas-based Noble Energy [NYSE: NBL] announced July 14 that the Karish natural gas field located about 62 miles off the coast has surprise reserves of 12.7 million barrels of condensate, which can be converted into Brent crude oil, as well as a potential 1.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas . . . the condensate is estimated to be worth up to $1.3 billion and were equivalent to those found at the massive Tamar find, which is five times larger . . . Israel has a combined estimate of 60 million barrels of condensate between its Karish, Leviathan, and Tamar gas fields . . . the announcement is great news for Israel, which plans to devote the majority of its reserves for domestic use and sell 40 percent abroad . . . the condensate discovery highlights the viability of Israel’s new domestic energy industry, which is likely to help the country reduce its dependency on energy supplies from other potentially hostile Middle Eastern nations.
July 14, 2013
Israel commanded an air strike against Syrian anti-ship cruise missiles near the port city of Latakia earlier this month, according to reporting in press from anonymous US officials today . . . the missiles were "Yakhont" missiles manufactured and sold by Russia . . . this is believed to be the fourth Israeli strike in Syria . . . nevertheless, Israel does not identify itself as involved in the Syrian conflict, except to halt arms transfers . . . although not officially fighting in Syria, these acts by Israel play a significant role in the conflict . . . the strikes also show that Israel is not afraid to step in to Syria when they believe their interests demand it.

July 12, 2013

The Israeli army announced yesterday that it plans to set up a new territorial regional division for the strategically important Golan Heights to “address emerging threats” fromLebanon and Syria, such as militants associated with the terrorist organization Hezbollah . . . the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said the troops will be in place by the end of the year, as part of a five-year plan to restructure the country’s military . . . the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which consists of about 1,000 troops that supervise the narrow 45-mile-long demilitarized zone dividing Israel and Syria, has also been the victim of the unrest . . . Israel is highly concerned about the dangers of spillover violence caused by the nearly 28-month Syrian civil war as well as from Hezbollah, which has joined the fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad . . . the region has been particularly tense since Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed in May to turn the Golan Heights into a new front against Israel in response to the IDF reportedly striking a number of sensitive military targets within Syria.


See Also: UN Playing a High Stakes Game in the Golan Heights

UN Playing a High-Stakes Game in the Golan Heights
July 5, 2013
A United Nations force of 1,000 troops from just three countries has a risky mission to enforce a demilitarized zone in the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria – a mission that would be harrowing even in the most peaceful times. Now, the UN peacekeeping endeavor is even more dangerous with spillover from the Syrian civil war in which government and rebel forces have fired on or kidnapped the blue-helmeted troops.
June 29, 2013
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has spent the weekend in “shuttle” diplomacy, flying between Palestine and Israel to hold talks with Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu . . . Abbas has said that he will not hold talks with Netanyahu until Israel ends its illegal settlements in the West Bank . . . nevertheless, Kerry aims to negotiate talks ahead of the United Nations General Assembly in September, which will essentially recognize Palestine as a state . . . Palestine is also currently encouraged to hold talks by a $4 billion economic plan from English prime minister Tony Blair . . . few details have been released from the talks, but the back-and-forth meetings demonstrate some measure of confidence from Kerry that he can accomplish something . . . at this point he is likely searching for concrete conditions from both sides that could guarantee talks in the future. 

June 23, 2013
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas officially accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah today . . .  Hamdallah declared earlier this week that he wished to resign, after being in office for only two weeks . . . Palestinian officials cited a dispute with the deputy prime minister for economic affairs as a reason for his resignation . . . this resignation is a blow for Abbas, who strategically chose Hamdallah in an effort to strengthen his government . . . Abbas needs political stability as he faces talks with Hamas and the prospect of forming a unity government.

June 11, 2013
Austria announced yesterday its 377 United Nations peacekeepers will depart from the Golan Heights beginning June 12 . . . non-essential support staff will come home first and the frontline troops manning the observation posts on the critical terrain between Israel and Syria will leave last . . . Austria’s foreign minister hinted June 9 that the government would consider sending its forces back if the overall combat situation stabilizes or the mandate of the mission is amended . . . these changes to the mandate could include better weapons for the peacekeepers . . . Croatia withdrew its peacekeepers in March and the Philippines and India still have over 500 UN troops in the Golan Heights, but full strength capacity for the mission requires at least 1,000 peacekeepers . . . the Austrian withdrawal places the UN in a difficult situation, reducing  the strength of peacekeepers at a time when fighting from the Syrian Civil War is intensifying in Lebanon and near the Israeli border . . . the UN can ask governments in India and the Philippines to supply more soldiers, but since the chance of casualties is now greater, it may be politically unpalatable for these counties to provide reinforcements . . . and if any of the remaining forces are killed or wounded during their tour of duty, the UN may be faced with more withdrawals.

June 3, 2013
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday appointed Rami Hamdallah Prime Minister, following the resignation of Salam Fayyad last April . . . Hamdallah is a British-educated political independent and newcomer, considered close to Abbas and the Fatah party . . . Hamdallah will now attempt to create a new government . . . while the appointment fills a political vacuum, Hamdallah faces extreme difficulties including budget deficits, divisions with the Hamas faction, and US-led peace efforts with Israel . . . the conflicting Fatah and Hamas factions had announced plans to form a cohesive government by August, but Hamas condemned the new appointment, further complicating reconciliation . . . Israeli commentary describes Hamdallah as “moderate” and “pragmatic with all that has to do with Israel,” but his lack of political experience could make already difficult peace negotiations with Israel even more problematic.

May 29, 2013
Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Itamar Rabinovich told LIGNET that although Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is playing the settlement issue "perfectly,” he is not optimistic about Secretary of State Kerry’s mission to restart Arab-Israeli peace talks. Given the disarray in the Palestinian Authority leadership, Rabinovich said,“I’m doubtful that the quest for a final status agreement is feasible right now.”
Rabinovich Not Optimistic About Arab-Israeli Peace
May 28, 2013
Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Itamar Rabinovich told LIGNET in an exclusive interview last week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is playing the settlement issue "perfectly" by quietly limiting settlement expansion in consideration of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s mission to encourage peace, while not publicly declared this as policy.
World Politics Playing Out on Syrian Stage, Says Ambassador
May 23, 2013
Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Itamar Rabinovich told LIGNET in an exclusive interview that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has raised tensions with Israel in order to portray the Syrian conflict as one in which Syria is battling outside forces, rather than its own people. Israel and Syria are “not engaged in a war,” he says.
China Pursues New Role in Arab-Israeli Conflict
May 20, 2013
China’s growing interest in the Middle East peace process reflects its desire to expand its profile in the region. By offering to broker a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during their visits to China last week, President Xi Jinping is cleverly turning the visits into an opportunity for China country to gain more influence in the Middle East.
May 18, 2013
Egyptian police have closed the border to the Gaza Strip, after seven policemen were kidnapped at the border in Sinai by Islamist gunmen two days ago . . . the gunmen were seeking the release of jailed Islamist militants, and captured the policemen and soldiers working at the border . . . the Egyptian police now refuse to open the border until their colleagues are returned and the interior minister listens to their requests to secure the border . . . a spokesman from Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, called the closure unjustified . . . this border is the only exit from Gaza available to over a million Palestinians, and its closure may cause dire situations . . . Sinai was thrown into unrest after Mubarak's fall, and some fear that it is becoming a harbor for terrorists, making this incident a sign of growing security concerns in the region.

Syria Unlikely to Retaliate for Israeli Airstrikes
May 10, 2013
Israeli airstrikes last weekend delivered a devastating blow to Syrian military units and undermined the regime’s attempts to transfer sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah. But despite repeated threats by Syrian officials, Damascus is unlikely to engage in any direct retaliatory military action against Israel, at least in the near term.
May 9, 2013
The Israel Defense Forces said they captured suspects from a West Bank terrorist ring who were plotting to kidnap and murder Israeli soldiers according to the Long War Journal on May 8 . . . the terror cell, located near Ramallah, reportedly took orders from Hamas in the Gaza Strip before security forces learned of its activities earlier this year . . . two individuals in their twenties from the West Bank are in custody and had previously been recruited by Hamas according to authorities . . .  the suspects were believed to be in the process of carrying out the attacks before their arrest – perhaps staging the abductions this week . . . Israeli security agency Shin Bet has reportedly stopped these types of terrorist kidnapping schemes 33 times this year . . . these groups operating in the West Bank appear to be so numerous that even Shin Bet, an agency that clearly is vigilant in countering terror, may not have the wherewithal to stop forever . . . Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit got taken hostage by Hamas and held for over five years . . . a similar kidnapping and ransom operation carried out by Hamas would embolden the group to demand a large prisoner swap to free hundreds of Palestinian inmates and allow it to score a public relations coup.
May 8, 2013
The Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad has given the Damascus-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) militant group a “green light to set up missile batteries to directly attack Israeli targets,” according to a representative of the PFLP . . . the decision to retaliate against Israel comes in response to alleged Israeli air strikes last weekend intended to prevent Syrian and Iranian weapons from falling into the hands of the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah . . . although the likelihood of an all-out confrontation between Syria and Israel remains low, Assad appears to have enlisted his Palestinian proxies to help strike back against the Israeli attack . . . heightened tensions in the region could have dangerous repercussions if the unrest continues to spill over into neighboring countries.
May 4, 2013
The US Department of Defense announced yesterday that it is awarding Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) a $20.1 million fixed-price advance acquisition contract to begin purchasing "long-lead" parts, materials, and components necessary to build two low-rate, initial production Lot II F-35 fighters for the Israeli military . . . the announcement came a week after Israeli state-owned Israel Aerospace announced a 10-15 year deal with Lockheed Martin to produce wings for the next-generation F-35 fighter jet worth approximately $2.5 billion . . . the new F-35s will replace the old F-16 fighters, and can be customized to incorporate Israeli electronics and weapons systems . . . Israel hopes the F-35 will help it maintain military superiority in the region . . . the sale has been controversial, with Japan opposing it because Tokyo says it violates Japanese laws against exports that fuel conflicts . . . the sale also reinforces ties between the United States and Israel.
April 29, 2013
Hamas is committed to requiring a military training curriculum for 37,000 male Palestinian students aged 15 through 17 in the Gaza Strip . . . the martial program, called “Futuwwa,” focuses on teaching boys combat skills such as Kalashnikov marksmanship and first aid along with the use of grenades and improvised explosive devices, according to UK’s Telegraph on April 28 . . . human rights groups have condemned of this type of schooling, but Hamas has refused to discontinue the instruction . . . the militant group claims no live ammunition is used and that Hamas is simply “providing information,” but the Telegraph found evidence that the course is connected to the al-Qassam Brigades – the military wing of Hamas . . . 5,000 school boys can also choose to attend a summer camp for additional tactical training . . . instruction videos reportedly include effigies and mock-ups of Israeli soldiers and installations that the Palestinian students target in drills . . . some Hamas education officials claim Israeli secondary students are receiving the same training . . . high schools in Gaza also teach a course called “Know Your Enemy,” that focuses on beginning Hebrew . . . the education ministry is eliminating integrated learning between males and females in Gaza and human rights organizations are taking notice . . . schools will soon have separate classes for boys and girls beginning next school year . . . educators in Gaza have previously said there is no time for athletics, even though the boys reportedly physically train at least once a week in obvious military-style uniforms climbing ropes and maneuvering through obstacle courses.

April 17, 2013
Israeli police report two rockets from the Egyptian-controlled Sinai hit the southern Israeli city of Eilat today, but caused no damage or injuries . . . officials have closed the airport in the city and tightened security . . . the Islamist militant group Magles Shoura al-Mujahddin claimed responsibility for the attack . . . the Israeli military said the Iron Dome anti-rocket battery positioned near Eilat was not deployed in the attack . . . militants and criminal gangs have increased their presence in the Sinai since the Egyptian revolution overthrew Hosni Mubarak in 2011 . . . Israel has expressed concern over the lack of Egyptian authority in Sinai, and Egypt previously stepped-up its military presence in the peninsula after attacks on Egyptian soldiers in the area . . . the latest attacks will further complicate delicate relations between Israel and Egypt, but are unlikely to undermine ties.
April 14, 2013
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority resigned last week after increasing tensions with President Mahmoud Abbas . . . Abbas accepted Fayyed’s resignation yesterday but asked him to remain in his position until a new government can be formed . . . Western officials reportedly urged Abbas to retain Fayyed, warning that international aid could be at risk if he was replaced . . . Fayyed’s resignation will undercut international confidence in the Palestinian Authority and could complicate development efforts and at least temporarily impact international funding . . . while Fayyed is popular with the international community, West Bank residents blame him for recent economic difficulties, including rising prices and high unemployment . . . Abbas will attempt to calm international concerns by naming a new Prime Minister quickly, potentially another US-educated official with economic experience . . . Fayyed’s departure could also hasten reconciliation efforts between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which has insisted that Fayyed not serve in a unified government because they view him as too close to the United States.
April 8, 2013
Middle East expert Matthew Levitt explained to LIGNET that the terrorism conviction of a Hezbollah member in Cyprus shows Hezbollah's extensive actions in the EU, and will pressure Europe to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Levitt also discussed the partnership between Hezbollah and Iran and how that alliance is guiding Hezbollah activities. Hezbollah has global capabilities, says Levitt, which intelligence organizations need to monitor.
April 6, 2013
Tammam Salam, a Sunni Lebanese politician from a prominent political family, was officially named prime minister of Lebanon today . . . Lebanon's previous prime minister resigned last month after a political deadlock over the country's upcoming parliamentary elections . . .  Salam considers himself an independent and aims to establish a national unity government of technocrats . . . Salam received surprising backing from Hezbollah, despite his reputation as a supporter of the Syrian rebels, while Hezbollah backs Syrian President Assad . . . the Syrian conflict has affected Lebanon with spillovers of violence and an influx of refugees . . . the country has large pro- and anti-Assad factions  . . . support from Hezbollah, which was partially responsible for the exit of the previous prime minister, and Salam's influential family, may help him maintain control more successfully than his predecessor . . . he now must manage to form a cabinet and maintain unity in a country with sharp political divides. 
April 4, 2013
Israel launched a retaliatory air strike in Gaza on April 2 after extremists sent at least two rockets toward Israel . . . the mission appeared to be a warning, since the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said the air raid caused no damage . . . more rocket fire from Gaza again on April 3 near the Israeli border village of Sderot, with no injuries reported . . . a Gaza-based Islamist terror group called the “Mujahadeen Shura Council – Environs of Jerusalem” reportedly started the rocket launches as a show of solidarity with Palestinians who are locked up or have died in Israeli jails according to the New York Times . . . meanwhile, an IDF tank blew up a Syrian position last night in response to Syrian gunfire . . . a mortar round had also landed in an open area on the Israeli side of the Syrian border earlier that day . . . Gaza militants and Syrian forces are probably not coordinating these clashes, but Israeli leaders are being forced to keep their military on alert and watch for simultaneous threats in the north and south . . . the cease-fire between and militant groups in Gaza reached earlier this year has so far been violated three times, but tensions have not yet reached a level threatening all-out war . . .  the issue of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails is extremely contentious, and is one of the many items blocking peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. 

Syria Crisis Jumpstarts Turkish-Israeli Relationship
March 25, 2013
Shared concerns over the deteriorating situation in Syria, including the possible use or transfer of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, led to last week’s rapprochement between Turkey and Israel. The restoration of full diplomatic relations could help facilitate greater intelligence and military cooperation between the two countries at a critical time given the region’s multiple sources of instability.
March 23, 2013
Moody’s Investors Service this week lowered Egypt’s sovereign foreign currency credit rating from B3 to Caa1, seven levels below investment grade . . . Moody’s said the downgrade was due to an unstable political climate in Cairo and a higher risk of default . . . Egypt’s economy has been shaky since President Mohammed Morsi took the helm last June with high inflation and a ballooning budget deficit dogging his administration. . . when calculating sovereign debt ratings, credit agencies also look at GDP growth and per capita income . . . Moody’s explained that a Caa1 rating historically means a 40 percent chance of default during a five-year time period . . . Egypt’s credit rating has been downgraded six times since 2011 and the country has not been able to secure a lending agreement from the International Monetary Fund . . . while a country’s credit rating determines the borrowing costs for the government to service its debt, in terms of political risk, inflation may be a more immediate concern for Egypt . . . food and fuel prices make up a majority of the country’s consumer price index and the high cost of living combined with recent bread rationing is often cited by protesters as a big reason they are unhappy with the government.  
Saudi Arabia Looks at Shale Gas
March 21, 2013
Saudi Arabia is set to start drilling for shale gas this year, but a lack of water and proper infrastructure will slow this effort. The desert kingdom is experiencing fast-growing domestic energy demand and hopes to diversify its energy production over the long term to prevent demand at home from impeding oil exports.
Israel: Netanyahu Forced to Exclude Religious Parties From New Government
March 14, 2013
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today finalized an agreement to form a fractious governing coalition with centrist and far-right parties that excludes religious parties that have been his close allies. The new government, the result of weeks of difficult negotiations, is likely to be unstable because of major differences over questions such as draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox, West Bank settlements, and negotiations with the Palestinians.  The agreement does, however, buy time for Netanyahu to rebuild his support and recover from a series of political misjudgments that have undermined his popular support.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Policy Tilts East and West
March 11, 2013
Senior Saudi Arabian officials used U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s early March visit to reaffirm the pro-Western aspects of their foreign policy, but the Kingdom’s underlying positions on a range of issues are radically different than those of Washington. Developing close ties with China is a rising priority, beginning with growing economic ties. New Saudi-China ties will benefit both states, but also suggest Saudi foreign policy is tilting in new directions.
Israel’s Missile Defense is Changing the Rules
March 7, 2013
Reports that Iran has sent some of its best engineers to help Islamist terrorists in the Gaza Strip improve their missile capabilities for renewed attacks on Israel have raised alarms. But Israelis can probably rest at ease. The rockets Hamas launched from Gaza last November helped Israel test and fine-tune its Iron Dome defense system and led to significant advances in Israel’s grand plan for a missile shield that will be able to stop all rockets and missiles that are headed its way.
Israel: Netanyahu Faces Turmoil Forming New Government
March 3, 2013
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won a two-week extension to form a new governing coalition yesterday in the midst of hardening political divisions and an unexpected alliance that looks likely to exclude religious parties. While this deadlock is in part due to the prima donna approaches to forming a coalition by two runner-up party leaders – Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid party and Naftali Bennett of the far-right Jewish Home – Netanyahu and his coalition appear to have mismanaged negotiations with these parties and probably will emerge significantly weakened.
February 21, 2013
Hatnuah party leader and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was appointed Israeli Justice minister on February 19 . . . her mandate will be to help revive the peace process with the Palestinians . . . Livni, whose party did very poorly in last month’s Knesset election, campaigned against Netanyahu and called for him not to be named Prime Minister again after the election . . . however, unlike the Labor Party and other opposition parties, she did not rule out joining Netanyahu’s coalition during the election campaign . . . Livni’s decision shows her pragmatism and a realization that after her party’s devastating defeat last month, she risked becoming politically irrelevant if she did not take a government portfolio . . . there is no love lost between Netanyahu and Livni, but his decision to welcome her into his coalition probably was calculated to improve his bargaining position to forge a governing alliance with the Yair Lapid party, which came in second in last month’s election and favors intensified negotiations with the Palestinians . . . the move may also be intended to score points with the United States, since Livni is well known and liked by Obama officials.
February 19, 2013
Israeli President Shimon Peres yesterday announced plans to present President Barack Obama with the Presidential Medal of Distinction when he visits Israel next month . . . Obama will be the first sitting American president to receive the award . . . Peres called Obama a ‘true friend to Israel’ and lauded his unique contributions to strengthening Israel and its security . . . the award is likely an attempt to improve ties between Washington and Jerusalem after tensions between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the last two years . . . the award also reciprocates for the Presidential Medal of Freedom Obama presented to Peres last year.

February 6, 2013
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not yet formed a ruling coalition, two weeks after elections . . . Netanyahu’s Likud Party reportedly has failed to reach an agreement with the centrist Yesh Atid party lead by Yair Lapid, which won the second most seats in the Knesset . . . Likud officials say Lapid is “arrogant” and is making excessive coalition demands . . . in response to statements by Likud about his resistance to a coalition, Lapid said he would go into opposition and that such a move would topple the Likud government . . . despite the delay, Netanyahu almost certainly will cobble together a coalition in the next few weeks . . . if he is unable to reach an agreement with Lapid, he could ally with the conservative Jewish Home Party and the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party . . . while that coalition would be less stable due to the larger number of parties involved and tensions between the two conservative parties, it likely would prove less difficult than an alliance with Lapid, who will challenge Netanyahu for the spotlight and political leadership.
Syria: Israeli Strike Raises Concerns of Wider Conflict
January 31, 2013
Situation Report
Israel's strike on convoys that were reportedly carrying SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles from Syria to Lebanon underscores its long-standing commitment to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to terrorist groups like Hezbollah. But while it was likely undertaken with the hope that the strike would discourage further provocative actions by the Assad regime, the fact that Syria was attempting the transfer raises troubling concerns about the stability of the regime and the potential that Syria may in fact want to instigate a broader regional conflict.
January 30, 2013
Israel yesterday refused to participate in a review of its human rights situation by the UN Human Rights Council . . . this is the first time any country has boycotted the Council's universal periodic review . . . the Council unanimously agreed to attempt to persuade Israel to reconsider and resume cooperation, and said it will reschedule Israel’s review . . . Israel’s unprecedented decision to end cooperation is the result of what it considers repeated unfair criticism from the Council, capped by its decision last year to investigate Jewish settlements in the West Bank . . . Israel’s refusal to cooperate jeopardizes is another symptom of what the farce many believe UN human rights discussions have become because of their bias against Israel and the West but regular omission of serious human rights violations in other countries like Iran, China, and Cuba . . . Venezuela, Pakistan, Russia, and Kazakhstan were recently elected to the UN Human Rights Council. 
January 29, 2013
Iran yesterday denied media reports of an explosion at its underground Fordow uranium enrichment site . . . some Western and Israeli media outlets claimed last week that there was an explosion within the site that caused extensive damage . . . Iran said the false report was an attempt to influence upcoming nuclear negotiations . . . US officials announced they have no indication that there was any type of explosion . . . it is hard for experts outside of Iran to assess whether or not there was an explosion at the Fordow nuclear facility because it is underground and Iran has granted UN inspectors limited access to this site and probably won’t let them near it now . . . since the Fordow facility contains several hundred uranium centrifuges operating in a closed space, it is possible that a catastrophic failure of one or more of these machines occurred that caused a fire and explosion . . . there has been some press speculation that the alleged explosion was the result of sabotage by the United States or Israel . . . such reports are unconfirmed and Israeli and American officials are not talking about them.

Al-Qaeda in Sinai Growing Stronger, Threatening Egypt, Israel
January 14, 2013
Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, a lawless desert between Israel and the mainland of Egypt, is increasingly populated with al-Qaeda-linked militants who are likely to pose a bigger security threat to both countries in 2013. More worryingly, Egypt’s domestic political problems and Israel’s preoccupation with the West Bank and Gaza will likely limit the ability of both to deal with the threat.
January 13, 2013
Israeli troops forcefully removed Palestinian protesters who built a tent city in the West Bank area known as "E-1" early this morning, in spite of an Israeli Supreme Court injunction forbidding their eviction. . . . the Palestinians were protesting plans to build Jewish apartments in E-1, and calling attention to Israel's controversial settlements in the West Bank. . . Palestinians claim this area as crucial for their statehood, but Israel announced plans to construct on the site after the UN granted Palestine a non-member observer state status in November . . . Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu declared the area a military zone last night and blocked access to it, while today announcing plans to move ahead with the settlement . . . Israeli officials will probably be called to court to defend their decision to defy the injunction . . . the controversy over this area is aggravated by upcoming Israeli elections . . . some question whether Netanyahu really plans to build the settlement or whether this is political muscle-flexing.
Miller: Egypt’s Situation in 2013 'Very Chaotic and Very Dangerous'
January 10, 2013
Veteran journalist and terrorism expert Judith Miller sees a difficult road ahead for Egypt in 2013 because of an ailing economy and political turmoil. While she is very concerned about the direction of President Mohammed Morsi's government, Miller does not believe the United States should cut off military aid to Egypt as long as it continues to support the peace treaty with Israel. She also gives credit to Morsi for his efforts to mediate the recent Israel-Hamas war, but believes he acted out of self interest to promote Egyptian security.
Why Hamas and Fatah Won't Unite in 2013
January 9, 2013
After years of bickering and jealous rivalries that have sometimes led to violence, Hamas and Fatah are returning to the bargaining table to discuss a political reconciliation. The two factions of Palestinians have made some in-roads toward cooperation and are enjoying momentum after Hamas stood up to Israel’s military and Fatah’s Palestinian Authority won a diplomatic breakthrough at the United Nations. But LIGNET doubts a full unification of the two groups can happen.
Gulf States to Step up Domestic and Arms Spending in 2013
January 8, 2013
With Iran moving closer every day to building a nuclear weapon, its Arab neighbors in the Persian Gulf spent heavily on advanced weapons last year, a trend that is expected to continue in 2013. Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT), Raytheon (NYSE: RTN), and BAE Systems (London: BAE) benefited from large arms purchases by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states in 2012 and are likely continue to do so this year. However, GCC states will also spend heavily in 2013 on something else – domestic programs to protect themselves against Arab Spring-like uprisings and unrest.
Israel: Netanyahu Likely to Lead More Conservative Coalition
January 6, 2013
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party are likely to score a solid victory in January 22 Knesset elections and form a more conservative governing coalition. Iran’s continuing progress in developing a nuclear weapons capability, Gaza and Palestinian issues as well as Netanyahu’s strained relations with U.S. President Barack Obama will dominate the new Israeli government’s attention in coming months.
January 2, 2013
Violence in the West Bank broke out yesterday between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, leaving 30 Palestinians injured . . . Israeli soldiers raided the village of Tamoun to arrest members of Islamic Jihad, a radical Islamist terrorist group, who allegedly were planning a terrorist attack . . . Palestinian youths threw stones at the soldiers and a riot broke out . . . Israeli soldiers disbursed the crowd with rubber-bullets and tear gas . . . there have been minor violent incidents against Palestinians  in recent weeks, but there is no indication of a coordinated uprising in the Palestinian territories . . . Israeli leaders allegedly ordered the raid to stop a terrorist attack but it may also have been intended to help tamp down violence ahead of Knesset elections on January 22.
December 30, 2012
Al-Qaeda in Yemen has announced a reward for the killing of the American ambassador and for the murder of any American soldier in Yemen . . . in an audio tape released by the communications wing of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, the al-Malahem Foundation, a bounty of 3 kilograms of gold or nearly $160,000 was offered for the killing of US Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein . . . in addition, Al-Qaeda offered a bounty for the murder of any American soldier in Yemen with a reward of $23,000 . . . the purpose of the bounty, as explained in the audiotape, is to “inspire and encourage our Muslim nation for jihad” . . . Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is the most capable and dangerous offshoot of the terrorist organization, so these threats against Ambassador Feierstein will be taken seriously . . . the bounties could indicate that the murder last September of US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens has emboldened Al-Qaeda affiliates and inspired them to target high ranking US officials and ambassadors.
December 26, 2012
Israel earlier this week approved a fast-track plan for development of another 1,200 settlement units around Jerusalem, bringing the total number of new approvals to 5,500 in a little over a week . . . the total number of new approvals for new settlement units is the largest expansion in recent history . . . the new plan was announced amid growing pressure for prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to abandon his two-state solution commitment platform for elections in January . . . the release of another Israeli plan for new settlements around Jerusalem and growing pressure from the Israeli right to abandon a two-state solution is backlash in Israel against Palestine de-facto statehood recognition from the UN last month . . . Israel is confronting the development with a shift to the right and a hard-line approach to issues dealing with Palestine . . . moderation from Israel is unlikely, especially with elections scheduled for early 2013.

Holy Land Tourism Falls, Hurting Both Israelis and Palestinians
December 25, 2012
Many lives have been lost in the violent conflict between Israelis and the Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza, but the cost to both sides is even greater when the lost economic opportunity is factored in. With roughly 2 billion Christians in the world, a large religious-related tourism industry could be created if a peace settlement were ever reached. Unfortunately, this is a distant hope, as LIGNET explains.
December 24, 2012
France-24 discusses how this Christmas some Christians in majority-Muslim countries risk their lives to practice their faith. In the face of growing Islamist radicalism in the Muslim world, Christians are struggling to find their place. Some are raising the alarm, while others believe dialogue is still possible.
Kuwait: Crackdown on Islamist Opposition Looms
December 23, 2012

Simmering unrest in Kuwait could boil over as the government takes an increasingly hardline approach toward its Islamist opposition, which boycotted recent elections. A crackdown appears imminent; security forces confronted more than 1,000 protestors seeking to disrupt the inauguration of the country’s new parliament on December 16, and authorities four days later revoked the license of an opposition-affiliated television station.

December 23, 2012

Israel’s UN representative claims Hezbollah has huge stocks of missiles that are capable of hitting Israel and other countries in the Middle East . . . Ron Prosor, Israel’s UN ambassador, sent a letter to the UN Security Council stating that Hezbollah has hoarded as many as 50,000 missiles and rockets in Lebanon in violation of a 2006 UN cease-fire and arms embargo resolution . . . last week, a faulty stored missile exploded in Tair Harfa, Lebanon  . . . while much of the international community has focused on Israel’s conflict with Hamas in November, Hezbollah has stockpiled a robust missile arsenal in numbers that could overwhelm Israeli missile defense systems if the terrorist group ever launched an attack on Israel.

December 20, 2012
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, along with all but one of the other members of the Security Council (the U.S.), denounced Israel’s plans for new settlements near Jerusalem . . . the Secretary General warned that Israel’s move is severely threatening prospects for a two state solution . . . Ban also said the Israeli settlement policy severely hampers any opportunities that the Palestinians may have for creating a state . . . the United States opposed taking any action in the UN against Israel over this issue . . . the push for more settlements by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has the dual purpose of demonstrating continued Israeli authority over the Palestinian territories despite recent UN recognition and attempting to build support for his Likud party prior to January’s elections . . . Israel appears to be  impervious to international criticism on the issue and is unlikely to reverse its stance in light of condemnation by UN members . . . the new settlements are likely to further heighten Arab-Israeli tensions and eliminate opportunities for a negotiation between the Palestinians and Israel, at least in the short term.
December 19, 2012
Palestinian government employees began a two-day strike today to protest a delay in receiving wages due to recent Israeli economic sanctions . . . around 50,000 workers engaged in the strike . . . Bassam Zakarneh, chief of the government employee’s union, said “This strike is against Israel’s piracy” . . . Israel is currently withholding around $100 million in monthly customs revenues from Palestine after their de-facto statehood recognition at the United Nations . . . workers received their salaries for October, but have yet to receive November or December wages . . . Israel’s move to withhold revenues from the Palestinian government is deepening an already serious financial crisis in the West Bank and heightening Arab-Israeli tensions . . . protests today were peaceful, but workers may soon turn toward more violent protests as the economic sanctions take a toll on the Palestinian public . . . the Israeli sanctions coupled with the announcement of new settlement projects is also likely to draw criticism from the international community.
December 18, 2012
Israel announced yesterday plans to build roughly 1,500 settler homes in east Jerusalem . . . Washington denounced the plan, and the Palestinian Authority said it is considering calling a UN Security Council meeting on the issue . . . the settlement, Ramat Shlomo, is in the predominantly Arab sector of eastern Jerusalem which was annexed after 1967 and is not recognized by the international community as Israeli territory . . . the new settlements would be located in the "E1 area," an extremely controversial area, and Abbas has warned Israel that he would bring appeal to the International Criminal Court if Israel builds new homes in this area . . . Israel continues to flex its muscles over the Palestinian territories following the UN General Assembly vote last month to recognize the Palestinian Authority as a non-member state . . . the newest plan for settlers comes a month after Israel announced it will build another 3,000 settler homes, which rankled the Palestinian Authority and drew international criticism . . . negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are unlikely in the near term, as the Palestinians require a freeze in settlements before reopening talks, and Israel appears uninterested in halting new construction.
December 15, 2012
Israel's foreign minister and deputy prime minister Avigdor Lieberman stepped down Friday, facing allegations of breach of trust and fraud . . . Lieberman denied the charges but said he stepped down in order to clean up the affair and clear his name . . .  Lieberman did not step down, however, from his position as chairman of the secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, which recently formed a coalition with Prime Minister Netanyahu's Likud Party, and he hopes to still run in the January elections . . .  Lieberman, who lives in a West Bank settlement and has a notoriously harsh stance towards Palestine, was considered a contender for Netanyahu's current position as leader of the right wing party . . . Israel’s attorney general called the case "intricate" and said his guilt could not yet be ruled out . . .  it is unlikely that a case that is truly "intricate" will be cleared up in the next month . . . Lieberman will have to rely on his popularity and reputation in order to retain a high position in the Israeli government. 
December 12, 2012
Israel announced that it will withhold $400 million in tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority until at least March in response to the Palestinian statehood campaign at the United Nations . . . under current peace agreements, Israel collects around $100 million monthly on behalf of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which is needed to pay public sector employees . . . Israel cites a violation of peace accords as the reason . . . Israel has already held back the transfer scheduled for this month and claims to be using it to pay off $200 million in Palestinian debt to the Israel Electric Corporation . . . Israel’s clear retaliation against Abbas for the Palestinian bid for recognition is likely to draw further international condemnation . . . despite criticism, however, Israel is unlikely to halt its campaign to undercut Palestinian legitimacy . . . tensions between Israel and the Palestinians are likely to increase when Israel begins construction of 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank territory and if the Palestinian Authority appeals to international bodies such as the International Criminal Court. 
December 11, 2012
Israeli soldiers searched the offices of three civil society organizations today in Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital in the West Bank . . . the targeted organizations were the Women’s Union, the Palestinian NGO Network and Addameer, which advocates for Palestinians in Israeli jails . . . the raid is the first since the Palestinian Authority won recognition as a non-member state by the UN General Assembly on November 29 . . . Arab-Israeli tensions remain high since the eight-day conflict in Gaza, UN recognition of the Palestinian Authority, and Israel’s decision to pursue more settlements around Jerusalem in the West Bank . . . the raids today will further unsettle the already volatile situation in the region and increase fears of an escalation of violence . . . Palestinian leaders are likely to file complaints against Israel in the International Criminal Court (ICC) or in response to the raids, while Israel will continue to take actions that show Israeli authority over Palestinian areas despite UN recognition.

December 7, 2012
Khaled Meshaal, an exiled Palestinian Hamas political leader, will make his first visit in 45 years to Gaza tomorrow . . . his visit coincides with Hamas’ 25th anniversary and Meshaal will hold a rally tomorrow to honor the organization . . . Israel, the United States, and the European Union recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization . . .  Meshaal is expected to discuss the organization’s future strategy towards Israel and approaching reconciliation with the moderate Palestinian Fatah faction that rules part of the West Bank . . . Meshal stated his hopes for Palestinian unity, saying in an interview that “there is a new mood that allows us to achieve reconciliation” . . . Meshaal’s visit is largely a symbolic political move to celebrate what Hamas calls a victory in the recent fighting with Israel and to capitalize on the increased status granted by UN-recognition of Palestine as an “observer state” . . . despite the conciliatory tone, Hamas likely hopes Meshaal’s visit will increase the groups clout over Fatah among Palestinians . . . Meshaal is head of Hamas’ decision-making political bureau and probably is using the visit as a campaign trip to gain support for re-election.

Despite Rising Anti-Semitism, Europe Still Friend to Israel
December 6, 2012
Rising anti-Semitism in Europe, as well as strong support from European nations for the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) bid to gain observer status in the United Nation, are raising fears that Israel is being abandoned by its friends. As disturbing as these developments are, LIGNET believes Israel’s position is in many ways growing stronger as it is increasingly seen as a rock of Western stability in an ocean of regional chaos triggered by the Arab Spring.
December 3, 2012
The UK and France are both set to meet with Israeli ambassadors today to protest the Israeli decision to continue construction of 3,000 new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem . . . Israel authorized the new settlements a day after the UN decided to upgrade Palestine's UN member status . . . the UK has stated that the new homes would be a near fatal blow to peace hopes and show a lack of commitment to a two-state solution . . . London is thought to also be considering recalling its ambassador to Tel Aviv, which would be a dramatic and unprecedented move against Israel . . . Israel’s decision to build the new settlements is probably  retaliation for the UN decision on Palestine and international criticism is unlikely to sway its actions . . . other EU countries that supported the Palestinian bid are also likely to register concern over the settlements.

December 2, 2012
Some US lawmakers are threatening to slash US aid to Palestine after the UN General Assembly granted Palestine non-member observer status this past week over the objections of Israel and the United States . . . Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Palestine's new status a violation of peace accords. . . the Israeli government cut off tax revenues to Palestine and announced plans to build 3,000 new settlements in the West Bank this week, a move which will infuriate Palestinians, who consider such construction an illegal violation of their territory . . . Palestine is expected to use its new non-member status to file a case against Israel over the West Bank settlements in the International Criminal Court (ICC) . . . if Palestine attempts to sue Israel, this will lead to a backlash from the U.S. that could cost Palestine significant aid money . . . nevertheless, Palestine is not likely to easily back off from the new diplomatic opportunities that this huge moral victory now affords them.    
Ben-Dor: Europe Supports Palestine at UN to Offset Hamas
November 30, 2012
In an exclusive interview with LIGNET, Dr. Gabriel Ben-Dor, Director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, said the Palestinian Authority’s win at the UN yesterday gained significant European support due to fears that Hamas boosted its standing due to the recent conflict in Gaza. Ben-Dor also expressed serious concerns about the role that Iran played in the recent Israel-Hamas conflict.
November 29, 2012

Despite opposition from Israel and the United States, the UN General Assembly is set to grant Palestine non-member state observer status today . . . the move is a end-run around the UN Security Council where the U.S. has threatened to veto admitting Palestine as a UN member-state . . . Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stated he would not reconsider his bid for acknowledgement as a UN observer state even though leaders such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed him to re-evaluate and threatened to reduce economic support . . . following the eight-day conflict in Gaza this month, many European and other states pledged to vote yes for the resolution, which is projected to pass . . . UN acknowledgement of Palestine is a symbolic win for Abbas but will do little to resolve his faction's (Fatah) differences with Hamas which controls Gaza and scored major propaganda victories with Gazans due to the recent conflict with Israel . . . recognition of the Palestinian Authority will position it to sue Israel in the International Criminal Court (ICC) concerning the West Bank and other issues.

Israel: Racing to Improve Missile Shield Against Iran
November 28, 2012

Israel is aiming to build on the recent success of its Iron Dome counter-rocket system to take out larger missiles that outclass Iron Dome interceptors, including some that could be fired from Iran.  These new missile defense systems are extremely sophisticated and some must have a 100 percent kill rate because they need to be capable of intercepting future Iranian missiles that could carry nuclear warheads. 

November 26, 2012

Two separate explosions in the city of Rafah, along the border with the Gaza Strip and in Quseima damaged security bases yesterday . . . one of the bombings targeted an Egyptian border outpost in Rafah and heavily damaged a security base wall . . . in Quseima, an explosion targeted members of Egypt’s Central Security Forces who are responsible for protecting a pipeline exporting gas to Jordan and Israel, injuring at least three. . . violence and lawlessness has been on the rise over the past several months with a series of bombings in the Sinai Peninsula as Islamists have grown bolder and a power vacuum has emerged as a consequence of the ousting of former Egyptian President Mubarak . . . efforts to impose security in the area is increasingly difficult, especially as Bedouin populations in the area seek to counter efforts by the Egyptian government to centralize control . . . while Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has pledged to restore order to the area, Islamist militants continue to defy Cairo’s efforts and will likely remain a domestic security concern moving forward.

November 21, 2012

Over the past several days, prices for the benchmark Brent crude oil have risen by about two dollars a barrel, a direct response to the fighting in Gaza . . . the fighting has not damaged any oil or related facilities . . . oil is perhaps the commodity most sensitive to price fluctuations resulting from political events, and while the price rise is sharp it is hardly unprecedented . . . barring any significant additional escalation in the fighting, the price should stabilize although it will remain vulnerable to additional changes if the fighting becomes protracted or spills into other nations.

November 19, 2012

Syrian rebels today took control of a strategic army base in Aleppo that has been under attack for several weeks . . . rebels captured 25 soldiers and heavy weapons during clashes at the base . . . regime forces also clashed with rebels near the capital over the weekend and dropped explosive-filled barrels on rebel-held areas outside Damascus . . . meanwhile, Israel fired artillery into Syria after Syrian troops fired into the Golan Heights . . . the Syrian conflict remains effectively in stalemate . . . so far, the new Syrian opposition coalition has had little impact on fighting inside Syria . . . the spill-over of Syrian fighting into Israel and Israel’s retaliation are the latest indications that the conflict is spreading beyond Syria’s borders . . . regionalization of the conflict is likely to renew international attention to the area and increase calls for efforts to end the fighting.

Israel: An Emerging Energy Giant
November 16, 2012

The old saying that “Israel may be the land milk and honey, but the Arabs got the oil” is no longer true following the discovery of vast deposits of natural gas and shale oil in the eastern Mediterranean. It's still uncertain whether Israel will be able to exploit its new energy resources, but if it does, it will dramatically increase its standing in the region and potentially alter its relationship with the United States, as LIGNET explains.

November 14, 2012

Senior Hamas Military Commander Ahmed Jabari was killed today by an Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip when missiles hit his car. . . Israel suspects Jabari of being the architect behind the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006 . . . Hamas had launched scores of rockets into Israel this week and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) then proceeded with an intense military operation, called Pillar of Defense, featuring surgical air raids against Hamas leaders and rocket sites throughout Gaza . . . eight people have been killed with 30 wounded according to Israeli news outlet Haaretz . . . an IDF  spokesperson delivered this statement via Twitter today:  “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead”  . . . Jabari, 52, has been a prime target for the IDF for years . . . he engineered the release of hostage Gilad Shalit in exchange for the freedom of at least 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in 2006 . . . Operation Pillar of Defense also included attacks from Israel’s navy and could extend into a ground operation in Gaza if Hamas continues rocket launches against Israel.  

November 12, 2012

The Israeli Defense Forces fired a warning shot on Sunday at Syria after two stray mortar strikes occurred in the last few days . . . this was the first time that Israel has directed weapons towards Syria since the 1973 Yom Kippur War . . . Israel also sent a warning message to the United Nations, claiming that further breaches of Israeli security will result in “a real response” . . . Defense Minister Ehud Barak threatened that Israel would not tolerate continued stray Syrian attacks in the Golan region, which has heightened international concerns that the Syrian conflict could initiate a broader regional dispute . . . Israel has little patience with violations of the demilitarized zone, and tensions between Israel and Syria will escalate regardless of whether or not the Syrian spill-over is accidental . . . expansion of the Syrian conflict to other countries in the region will increase pressure on the United Nations to take action in Syria, but Russia and China remain opposed to any direct intervention, frustrating UN efforts.

November 11, 2012

Plans to hold an international conference in Finland next month to discuss the creation of a Mideast nuclear weapons free zone (NFWZ) were cancelled yesterday . . . Iran planned to attend the meeting along with Arab states . . . the United States, the UK  and Russia in 2010 agreed to support holding this conference . . . while the stalemate of  the Arab-Israeli peace process and the Syrian civil appear to be the official explanation for the cancellation, the real reason appears to be Israel decision not to attend . . . Israeli officials have long viewed the Middle East NWFZ concept with deep suspicion, claiming that it is aimed at  isolating Israel . . . Israeli officials have also said that  questions surrounding Iran’s nuclear program must be resolved before Israel would participate in NWFZ  talks.

Israel and Cyprus Move Toward Offshore Gas Production
November 9, 2012

Israel and Cyprus have made significant progress over the last two months toward beginning natural gas production from huge offshore reserves in the Mediterranean.  Cyprus has been the most aggressive.  Ignoring Turkish objections, Cypriot officials recently awarded gas exploration licenses for four offshore blocks with Eni SpA (NYSE: E), Gazprom (NYSE: OGZD) subsidiary GPB Global Resources BV, Korea Gas Corp. Total SA (NYSE: TOT), and Novatek OAO (London: NVTK).

November 8, 2012

Rockets from Syria strayed into Israeli-controlled Golan today, following several similar incidents earlier this week . . . last weekend, Syrian tanks entered the demilitarized zone in the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria . . . Israel also reported that a round of mortar bombs and stray bullets have crossed into the Golan in the last several days . . . Israel asked the United Nations Security Council to act on the “dangerous escalation” . . . although Syria’s regime is not targeting Israel, the accidental military actions will escalate tensions with Jerusalem . . . the Syrian conflict continues to spill over its borders into neighboring countries, including Lebanon and now Israel . . . the expansion of the Syrian conflict and threat to neighbors will raise pressure on the United Nations and western countries to take action to stop the fighting or risk individual action by neighboring states that could increase the violence. 

Morocco: Regime Vigilant Against Radical Islamist Threat
November 7, 2012

Morocco is increasing counterterrorism efforts as King Mohammed VI fights to maintain his power by staying several steps ahead of Islamist protests that intensified in the country due to the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. Stability in the country depends on how it deals with high youth unemployment and whether minor concessions made by the King to Parliament will be enough to satisfy his political opponents. 

November 6, 2012

On November 4, Israel’s Defense Ministry announced it has successfully tested an upgrade version of its anti-rocket shield known as Iron Dome . . . the upgraded system is Israel’s fifth defensive battery and the improvements enable the new system to take down in-bound rockets at a greater range than previous systems . . . Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister, called the new Iron Dome “significant progress toward the completion of a multi-layered defense system” . . .  with financial resources provided by America, Israel’s Iron Dome system continues to mature and become a power defensive countermeasure . . . the success of Israel’s anti-rocket system, which is the first of its kind and has intercepted more than 100 rockets, is making it increasingly difficult for terrorist groups to target civilian populations within Israel.

November 1, 2012

The Iranian Corvette Admiral Naghdi is seen docking in the Red Sea Sudanese town of Port Sudan on October 31, 2012. (TASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images)

Two Iranian naval ships left Sudan yesterday, after spending three days in port . . . the two countries said the visit was routine, and denied that it was related to an explosion at an arms factory in Yarmouk last week . . . Sudan accuses Israel of attacking the factory . . . although Israel refused to comment on the explosion, the country accuses Sudan of smuggling weapons to Palestinian militants . . . Iran and Sudan are long-time allies, and increased military ties in 2008 . . . after the Yarmouk factory exploded, there was speculation that Iranian weapons were either stored or manufactured there . . . the Iranian visit was likely a symbolic show of support for Sudan against Israel . . . Washington will continue to monitor the relationship between Sudan and Iran, not only for military weapons and technology transfers, but also for indications Sudan is helping Iran avoid sanctions.   

October 29, 2012

A new outbreak of fighting in the Israel-Gaza region yesterday ended an Egyptian-brokered truce that was agreed to last week . . . the cease-fire was ruined when seven rockets were fired into Israel yesterday in retaliation for the killing of a Gazan associated with Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed unit of Hamas . . . the Israeli Air Force targeted “a terror activity site” in both the northern and southern Gaza Strip today in response . . . Israel leaders largely hold Hamas responsible for the rocket attacks and violence in the cross-border fighting . . . the truce was an attempt by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to flex his regional diplomatic muscles, especially in the Arab-Israeli conflict . . . however, long-standing distrust between the two sides will continue to hamper any cease-fire agreements . . . over the next week small cross border attacks and strikes probably will continue in the Gaza region.