Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is rejecting a key demand of the United States and Israel as part of ongoing peace talks that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.
"They are pressing and saying, 'no peace without the Jewish state,'" Abbas said in remarks released Friday by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA. "There is no way. We will not accept."
Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state is believed to be part of the blueprint for an agreement developed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. He hoped to win endorsements from Israel and the Palestinians on an outline for a peace agreement by the end of next month.
President Obama has repeatedly referred to Israel as the Jewish state, most recently in his State of the Union speech in January. Still, in an interview with journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama cast Abbas as a political moderate and put the onus on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sign on to the proposals.
"There comes a point where you can't manage this [conflict] anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices," Obama said.
Abbas' statement shows that Obama's message was misdirected.
Abbas is scheduled to visit the White House March 17. Many Palestinians and their supporters believe that yielding on Israel's Jewish identity would forfeit leverage on any Palestinian "right of return." Kerry's blueprint reportedly includes provisions allowing thousands of Palestinians to live inside Israel, but not near the tidal wave Palestinians demand. The volume that Palestinians seek could threaten Israel's Jewish majority.
In his remarks, Abbas indicated Palestinians might turn to "popular resistance" to gain concessions. And he would again try for recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations.
Israel's foes also promise a more aggressive campaign to boycott Israel products and try to force institutions to divest from companies doing business in Israel. It is significant to remember, therefore, who is saying "no way" to the new proposals.
In a speech Monday at the American-Israel Public Affairs Council's annual meeting, Netanyahu praised the U.S.-led effort, spoke of the mutual benefits peace could bring the region and challenged Abbas to respond in kind.
"Just as Israel is prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, the Palestinians must be prepared to recognize a Jewish state," Netanyahu said. "President Abbas, recognize the Jewish state, and in doing so, you would be telling your people, the Palestinians, that while we might have a territorial dispute, the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own is beyond dispute.
"You would be telling Palestinians to abandon the fantasy of flooding Israel with refugees, or amputating parts of the Negev and the Galilee. In recognizing the Jewish state, you would finally making clear that you are truly prepared to end the conflict. So recognize the Jewish state. No excuses, no delays, it's time."
Israeli commandos seized control of a cargo ship carrying dozens of medium range rockets early Wednesday that officials say was bound for Gaza.
The ship carried Syrian-made M-302 rockets with a range of up to 200 kilometers – or about 125 miles, Israel Defense Forces say. They would have been capable of reaching nearly all of Israel had they reached Gaza. Hizballah fired similar rockets at civilian communities during the 2006 conflict with Israel.
The IDF tracked the shipment as it moved from Syria to Iran, where they were hidden under bags of cement and loaded onto a ship flagged in Panama. Commandos intercepted that ship early Wednesday as it sailed toward Sudan. From there, officials believe the cargo would have been loaded onto trucks to try to reach Gaza through the Sinai Peninsula.
"At a time when Iran is talking with world powers, is smiling and uttering pleasantries, it is also sending deadly weapons to terrorist organizations – via an elaborate network of secret operations around that world that aim to funnel rockets, missiles and other deadly weapons to be used to harm innocent civilians," said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "This is the real Iran, and this country must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. We will continue to do everything we must to protect the citizens of Israel."
The IDF quickly released a video showing its forces examining the ship's haul.
The ship now is sailing toward Israel's Port of Eilat.
Israel's interception of this weapons cache comes a day after a House subcommittee examined Iran's role as the world's leading state-sponsor of terrorism. Former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, now a Shillman Senior Fellow with the Investigative Project on Terrorism, testified about the need for the United States to speak with a strong, unified voice against Iranian terrorism.
"What happens in Iran doesn't stay in Iran," he said. "It has global ramifications."
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said the intercepted shipment proved Iran was exporting terror "with the express purpose of destabilizing the Middle East."
Pete Hoekstra, Shillman Senior Fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism, testified Tuesday at a Joint Subcommittee hearing titled, "Iran's Support for Terrorism Worldwide." The hearing, sponsored by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, highlighted Iran's role as the world's foremost sponsor of terror and emphasized that negotiations to roll back the Islamic Republic's nuclear program should not ignore its support for global terror through its elite Quds Force and proxy Hizballah.
Hoekstra, a former nine-term congressman who served as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, focused on the threat from the "increasing sophistication of Iran's cyber program and capability to conduct cyber warfare." He cited recent examples where Iran hacked into networks of U.S. financial institutions and the Navy and mentioned reports of possible Russian collaboration with Iran to bolster its cyber capability.
"Only a few years ago most experts rated Iran at tier two or tier three cyber capabilities. Today many are surprised and believe that Iran has dramatically closed the gap and ranks closely behind tier one cyber powers such as the U.S., Russia, China, and Israel," Hoekstra said. He suggested a "unified U.S. strategy to protect cyberspace" to guard against similar attacks from rogue states such as Iran in the future.
Hoekstra's testimony cautioned against the growing partnership between Iran and Russia that could create "a dangerous new dynamic" for U.S. policymakers. In addition to enhanced collaboration in the cyber field, both Iran and Russia are providing arms to the brutal Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
Hoekstra also raised the possibility that Iran and its proxies might join hands with Sunni extremist groups such as Hamas and al-Qaida to attack American and Western interests. He predicted that the efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran were doomed in light of Russia's recent intervention in Ukraine. While an interim agreement relaxed economic sanctions against Iran, his own "preference would have been to maintain the sanctions in place."
"Iran is just buying time here," Hoekstra said, adding, "We gave away our most effective tool with sanctions and our ability to impose them."
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, pointed out that the full terms of the interim agreement have not been released by President Obama. There's no reason for the secrecy, she said, "other than the administration doesn't want the American people to see how badly we got suckered."
To read Hoekstra's prepared testimony, click here.
Saudi-style religious police now patrol the area of Syria controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). A picture of a minivan belonging to the terrorist group's religious police was posted Monday on a Twitter account called "Al Dawala al-Islamiya."
Arabic script saying "al-Hisba" was visible on the vehicle. The name is used by a newly established committee in Syria. It exists to enforce the group's rigid interpretation of Islamic law.
In Saudi Arabia, the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice is known for patrolling the streets enforcing dress codes and a strict separation of men and women. It also beats people who have alcohol and forces people to pray.
"Thanks to Allah, we were able to equip the al-Hisba car and we were able to enforce the Sharia, and to promote the virtue and prevent the vice, and we were able to take out three shrines that being worshiped instead of Allah," ISIS said on its Twitter account.
ISIS has been besieged by rival jihadist and secular rebel factions. It was denounced last month by al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who said ISIS had no connection with his terrorist movement.
Another Twitter account belonging to an al-Qaida supporter said the minivan came from Raqqa, a Syrian city controlled by ISIS.
"This al-Hisba car urges praying and promoting virtue, and the prevention of vice. You will die from your rage. You enemies of sharia," the supporter wrote.
Al-Hisba is believed to be involved in enforcing the submission treaty that ISIS recently imposed on Syrian Christians, requiring them to pay the jizya tax and avoid non-Islamic behavior outside their churches.
Reports abound of similar actions having been taken by other Islamist factions since Syria's civil war erupted in 2011.
The Free Syrian Army's Revolutionary Military Council in Aleppo reportedly had a similar police force in a December 2012 report in Lebanon's al-Akhbar newspaper. It said the FSA commanders banned women from driving, and that a YouTube video showed a prominent member of Saudi Arabia's virtue police calling Muslims to prayer.
Days after an Israeli airstrike hit a purported convoy of advanced missiles, Hizballah is promising to "choose the time and place and the proper way to respond to it."
If the past is any indication, the Iranian-backed "resistance" movement will respond to a direct attack on its military capability by trying to kill Jews elsewhere in the world. After Hizballah's lead bomb-maker, Imad Mughniyeh, was blown up in a 2008 car bombing in Syria, the terrorist group tried to exact revenge by plotting to kill Israeli diplomatic officials and civilians in Europe and Asia.
Israel has not officially commented on Monday's strikes, which targeted an area considered a Hizballah stronghold. Time magazine cited an unidentified Israeli official, who said the target was a shipment of missiles "heavier and more dangerous than almost all of the tens of thousands of missiles and rockets Hizballah now has pointed toward Israel."
Hizballah has provided substantial support to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's effort to demolish rebels trying to oust him, but Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah reportedly told followers that the group "may be forced to wage a battle on three fronts at the same time: in Syria, inside [Lebanon], and against the [Israeli] enemy."
Israel is believed to have made six similar bombing raids on weapons convoys heading to Hizballah control. But those were done in Syrian territory, notes Yossi Melman in the Jerusalem Post.
Israel tries to intercept shipments with "weapons that tilt the strategic balance," he writes. Given the ferocity of the Syrian conflict, Israel has assessed that responses to such surgical strikes would be less likely to follow. Monday's attack inside Lebanon might change that calculus.
Hizballah was mocked at home by Daily Star writer Michael Young. While it cast itself as "a protector of the Lebanese state," he writes, the vaunted terrorist group isn't even able to protect its own after bringing violence from Syria's civil war into Lebanon. Attacks by Sunni terrorists in retaliation for Hizballah's propping up of Assad "are being rigged in the Syrian town of Yabroud before passing through" Hizballah-controlled areas.
Jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have imposed a treaty on Christians in the Syrian city of Raqqa requiring them to pay the jizya tax.
The jizya is a discriminatory poll tax proscribed by the Quran that allows them to keep their lives and their religion in exchange for subordinating themselves to Islam. The verse tells Muslims to fight those who do not believe in Allah unless they are "humbled" and pay the jizya.
Christians in the north-central Syrian town were given three options: convert to Islam; remain Christian and pledge submission to Islam; or "face the sword," according to the Times of Israel.
Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri disavowed any connections between the jihadist group and his global terrorist movement earlier this month.
Al-Zawahiri also surprised many last month when he called on Egyptian jihadists to avoid fighting Christians and Shia.
"We must not seek war with the Christians and thus give the West an excuse to blame Muslims, as has happened before," al-Zawahiri reportedly said.
Nonetheless, the document signed by Christian leaders purportedly also bears al-Qaida's stamp.
Christians are forbidden from renovating their churches or monasteries; displaying crosses or other religious symbols in public. They are not to read the Bible indoors loud enough for Muslims who are standing outside to hear; cannot prevent Christians from converting to Islam; cannot saying anything offensive about Muslims; and must pay the jizya tax twice annually.
"If they adhere to these conditions, they will be close to God and receive the protection of Mohammed his prophet … none of their religious rights will be detracted nor will a priest or monk be wronged. But if they disobey and of these conditions, there are no longer protected and the ISIS can treat them in a hostile and warlike fashion," the document concludes.
This is not an isolated case of the jizya being imposed on Christians in Syria by jihadists.
A report last June indicated that jihadists were driving Christian villagers from their homes due to excessive taxation. Thirty Christian families in a village near Idlib who could not pay the tax were murdered by jihadists.
Jabhat al-Nusra imposed a similar demand on Assyrian Christians in the village of al-Thawrah in August, telling them to convert to Islam or die.
The Egyptian army is conducting a wide military operation in the Sinai to crack down on Islamic movements that use the area as a launching pad for terrorist operations.
As part of that campaign, soldiers have exchanged fire with a man named Yousef Mohamad Hamads Hassan, who belongs to "the extremely dangerous and takfiri group, Ansar Bait Al Maqdis,"an army spokesman wrote on Facebook, according to the Egyptian daily Al Masry Alyoum.
The army has confiscated arms, bullets and military uniforms from Hassan's home. The army, according to the newspaper, destroyed six tunnels that were used to send arms and assistance to the terrorist groups.
Ansar Bait Al Maqdis, or "Supporters of Jerusalem," is a militant group that is active in Sinai which has attacked Israeli and Egyptian soldiers. Among its more infamous operations was an August 2012 attack against the Egyptian army in Rafah which left 16 soldiers dead. One month later, the group claimed responsibility for killing Israeli soldier Netanel Yahalomi.
The group escalated its attacks against the Egyptian government after the ousting of the former Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi last July, killing members of the army, police, and civilians.
The group was also responsible for killing Lt.-Col. Mohamed Mabrouk, who was shot near to his home in Cairo. Mabrouk was involved in drafting criminal charges against Morsi.
Nabil Naeem, who was the leader of al-Qaida affiliated group "The Egyptian Islamic Jihad" between 1988-1992, claimed last fall that Bait Al Maqdis has been recently funded by the Muslim Brotherhood through a deal struck with Brotherhood Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat Al Shater.
The group was founded in 2012; the majority of its members are Bedouins with some foreign fighters.
Sunday's assassination of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri's representative in Syria underscores an ongoing power struggle among jihadist movements there.
Abu Khalid al-Suri was killed in a suicide bombing conducted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Ahrar al-Sham leader Hassan Aboud announced in a Twitter posting that Abu Khalid al-Suri, whose real name was Mohamed Bahaiah, had been killed. Al-Suri co-founded Ahrar al-Sham, a leading Salafi-jihadi group in Syria, according to the Daily Mail.
Zawahiri sent him Syria as his personal representative in the region last May, the Long War Journal reports. He was supposed to mediate divisions between ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. That didn't work.
"Direct your car bombs at the infidels and do not busy yourself with fighting the mujahedeen and killing them," al-Suri said in a recording aimed at ISIS last month. Both were al-Qaida affiliates before Zawahiri announced that ISIS had no connection with the global terrorist movement on Feb. 3.
Al-Suri had been a trusted courier of Osama bin Laden's. A 2003 New York Times story cited a Spanish judicial official as saying that he was "the person who was totally trusted by many different people in the various countries and was able to coordinate and transmit orders from bin Laden." The report said that he had been a key intermediary between the top al-Qaida leadership in Pakistan and jihadists in Spain and the United Kingdom.
He also had ties with Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, better known in intelligence circles as Abu Musab al-Suri, a prominent Syrian al-Qaida theorist who championed decentralizing the terror group. Nasar's name surfaced as a suspect in the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombing.
Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic Front have been fighting ISIS with increasing ferocity since the beginning of the year. Infighting between the various jihadist factions will worsen as a result of al-Suri's assassination, Islamic Front spokesman Akram al-Halabi told the Associated Press.
While Israel and the Palestinian Authority engage in peace negotiations, Hamas continues to bolster its military capabilities for the next round of fighting with Israel. Al-Monitor is reporting that Palestinian terrorists had conducted a field test, firing an anti-aircraft missile at an Israeli airplane circling above Gaza's eastern border last month.
The missile missed its intended target and was briefly reported by pro-Hamas media; however, the incident went unreported by Israeli newspapers. Israel lodged a formal complaint with the United Nations after rockets fired following former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's funeral, but Gaza sources claim that it was an anti-aircraft missile test, Al-Monitor reports. The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military wing, have bragged in the past that their anti-aircraft capabilities have changed the balance of power with Israel. The terrorist organization claims that they have damaged an Israeli helicopter and downed an armed surveillance drone.
Even if these reports are fabricated, it is clear that Hamas is desperately attempting to bolster their military capabilities. In September, the al-Qassam Brigades revealed that their fighters possessed SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles. Israeli military sources were aware of this significant development, blaming the collapse of the Gadhafi regime in Libya for the proliferation of such advanced weapons into Gaza.
The SA-7 missiles were displayed at a military parade along with light machine guns, sniper rifles, rocket propelled grenades and heavy weapons fixed on four-wheel-drive vehicles.
In addition, Al-Monitor reviewed a military document from the "Air Defense Unit" of one of Gaza's factions, which claims the primary objective of acquiring anti-aircraft weapons is to neutralize the Israeli air force. But the flow of such weapons has been slowed since Egypt destroyed summing tunnels along its border with Gaza.
Earlier this week, the Times of Israel reported that Hamas used an intermediary to tell Jerusalem it "has no interest in furthering its conflict with Israel and seeking restraint on Israel's part." For now. All other signs show Hamas remains more committed to preparing for the next confrontation with Israel than it is to improving life for Palestinians in Gaza.
A New York man pleaded guilty Wednesday to plotting an attack on American police and soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. Jose Pimentel (a/k/a Muhammad Yousuf), a Dominican convert to Islam living in Harlem, wanted to use homemade pipe bombs in the attack.
According to the original criminal complaint, Pimentel's website, .trueislam1.com, advocated violence against Americans. For example, an article titled, "Why Usamah Ibn [sic] Laden is the Leader of the Believers," said that "People have to understand that America and its allies are all legitimate targets of warfare. This includes, facilities such as army bases, police stations, political facilities, embassies, CIA and FBI buildings, private and public airports, and all kinds of buildings where money is being made to help fund the war."
In recorded conversations with a government informant, Pimentel discussed targeting Americans using explosive devices, including killing returning marines and soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. He suggested buying bomb components from Home Depot. "That is what I really want to get into because it's so cheap and it could do a lot of damage," Pimentel said in a September 2011 conversation. "[A]nd then that's something worth going to jail for, you know. Like, if you get caught because you blew up half of a side of a police station."
A month later, he said Muslims in the West "don't have any excuse for not blowing shit up, and being, doing like how we do bro. At the end of the day, you know what I'm saying, when you can make a bomb with like 20 to 30 to 40 dollars."
Pimentel is the second person prosecuted under New York State's anti-terror law passed in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Ahmed Ferhani, who plotted to blow up New York synagogues, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to terror-related charges.
"Manhattan continues to be the symbol of much that terrorists hate about the United States, so we remain a principal world target for terrorist attacks, both at home and from abroad," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., said in a press release announcing Pimentel's plea.
Pimentel's sentencing is scheduled for March 25. His plea deal proposes a sentence of 16 years in prison followed by five years of supervised release. He has already served two years in jail.