Posted by Joshua on Sunday, February 1st, 2009
Some 1,000 new immigrants and foreign-language-speaking Jews volunteer to army of bloggers set up by Absorption Ministry and Foreign Ministry with the stated objective of flooding blogs with pro-Israel opinions…
The Absorption Ministry is recruiting new immigrants and Jews living abroad who have access to a computer and who speak a second language to a volunteer effort to improve public relations for Israel on the internet. The campaign was launched last week.
In the cross hairs are problematic blogs, talkbacks, online social networks, online polls, Youtube videos, and more.
The ministry was amazed by the massive response to the effort. More than 1,000 interested applicants contacted them, of which 350 are Russian speakers, 250 English speakers, 150 Spanish speakers, 100 French speakers, and 50 German speakers.
A range of other European languages are also represented among the volunteers: Portuguese, Swedish, Dutch, Italian, Romanian, Hungarian, Polish, Greek, Bulgarian, and Danish. Persian-, Turkish-, and Arabic-speaking Jews also offered their services. The ministry even got an application from a Chinese speaker.
Some 60% of the applicants are immigrants, old and new. The rest are Jews living in the Diaspora, Israelis living abroad, and even non-Jews who support Israel and want to help out.
The Absorption Ministry forwarded the volunteers’ details to the Foreign Ministry, which briefed them via email and provided up-to-date material on the situation, including video clips that could help them in the field.
While the Absorption Ministry is tasked with recruitment, the Foreign Ministry will be responsible for directing the volunteers online. Each time the ministry identifies an anti-Israel trend on a foreign-language blog, news site, or other website, it will immediately put out a message to the volunteers to flood the site with pro-Israel opinions.
Absorption Ministry Director-General Erez Halfon commented, “This provides an important opportunity for new immigrants, who have always been a strong Zionist nucleus, to feel like they are contributing to improving Israel’s image in the world. The foreign-language-speaking immigrants are a real asset, and it is important to take advantage of this. From our perspective, it was like an emergency call up, and I am thrilled that the response was so great.”
Noam Katz, director of the Foreign Ministry’s PR department, said, “We are in the process of thinking how to utilize these volunteers not only during conflict, but also during regular times as well.”…
Saturday, January 31, 2009; A15
Tensions between Israel and Turkey broke into the open at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan blasted Israel for its offensive in Gaza.
Do you expect President Barack Obama to play a more even-handed role between the Palestinians and the Israelis?
There is no justice right now. We expect justice from now on.
And did Bashard Assad agree?
President Assad from the start had a very positive attitude toward these talks. On that night, we were very close to reaching an agreement between the two parties. It was agreed they were going to talk until the end of the week to come to a [positive] outcome.
So you felt you were close to coming to an agreement?
These talks on that night went on for five or six hours. . . . When I was talking with Prime Minister Olmert, I said regarding the Palestine-Israeli talks it would not be correct not to include Hamas in the negotiations. They entered the election in Palestine and won the majority of seats in the parliament. But Prime Minister Olmert said he could not do something like that. Moreover during that talk, I said . . . that I believed I could be successful in freeing the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Why do you have such a close relationship with Hamas, which is an arm of Iran and is run by Khaled Meshal, who lives in Damascus?
First of all, Hamas is not an arm of Iran. Hamas entered the elections as a political party. If the whole world had given them the chance of becoming a political player, maybe they would not be in a situation like this after the elections that they won. The world has not respected the political will of the Palestinian people. On the one hand, we defend democracy and we try our best to keep democracy in the Middle East, but on the other hand we do not respect the outcome of . . . the ballot box. Palestine today is an open-air prison. Hamas, as much as they tried, could not change the situation. Just imagine, you imprison the speaker of a country as well as some ministers of its government and members of its parliament. And then you expect them to sit obediently?….
Turkey Urges Obama to Redefine Mideast Terrorism
by Edith M. Lederer (The Associated Press)
Turkey’s prime minister had a message Thursday for U.S. President Barack Obama: redefine terror and terrorism in the Middle East and use it as the basis for a new American policy.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country has played a key role in trying to mediate among Israel and Syria and the Palestinians, said Obama’s new Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, will be in Turkey for talks Sunday.
Hamas must be brought into peace process, says Tony Blair
Hamas must somehow be brought into the Middle East peace process because the policy of isolating Gaza in the quest for a settlement will not work, Tony Blair has told The…
During Operation Cast Lead, Israel warned Syria that it would bomb sites and facilities in Damascus if Hizbullah fires rockets on Israeli towns and communities in the North, Egyptian paper Al Ahram reported Tuesday.
The report said Israel conveyed the warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad through a European interlocutor.
Israel warned Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah against entering a confrontation with the Jewish State and even demanded he make an official statement on the matter, according to Al Ahram.
The Jerusalem Post could not independently verify the report.
Syria denies French envoy’s statements on its role towards Hezbollah
www.chinaview.cn 2009-01-31 02:49:38 Print
DAMASCUS, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) — Syria denied on Friday statements made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Envoy Philippe Marini in Beirut that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had played a positive role in Hezbollah’s self-restraint during the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip.
A Syrian official source denied the statements by Marini in which “he said he understood from President Assad during a meeting in Damascus that Syria has played a positive role towards Hezbollah for self-restraint during Gaza acts,” said the official SANA news agency.
“During the meeting, President Assad didn’t refer to the Hezbollah issue and he has never mentioned it,” the source told SANA.
According to the Lebanese As-Safir daily on Thursday, Marini said in Beirut that Assad told him “he used his influence to make sure that Hezbollah shows restrain and adopts a responsible attitude during the Israeli war on Gaza.”
The Syrian role was “positive” and the conflict did not expand, added the French envoy, noting that the Lebanese rival leaders, who are involved in the national dialogue, have expressed their appreciation for Hezbollah’s performance during the Gaza war.
U.S., Arab Allies Nix Israeli Airstrike on Syrian Site
By RICHARD SALE (Middle East Times Intelligence Correspondent)
Published: January 30, 2009
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal was, along with a dozen top Hamas leaders, the target of an aborted Israeli assassination plan to decapitate the group’s leadership as they held a meeting in Syria during the recent war on Gaza. Meshaal has survived two earlier assassination attempts by Mossad. In one he was injected with poisoned hypodermic needles by two Israeli agents.
An Israeli plan to launch an airstrike against a Palestinian camp in Syria during its recent invasion of Gaza was vetoed by the George W. Bush administration using pressure from allies like Egypt and Turkey, according to administration officials.
“There was zip support for expanding the war,” one State Department official said.
The targeted was the Hamas camp in the town of Yarmouk, Syria, some 15 kilometers east of Damascus, where Hamas opened an office in 1991 and which quickly became the operational nerve center for the group’s military wing, these sources said.
More than a dozen senior Hamas leaders were to attend a meeting at the refugee camp, and the Israeli strike was designed to decapitate the group’s top leadership at a single stroke including Khaled Meshaal, chief of the movement’s political bureau, these sources said.
The United States got wind of the operation through its human sources in Israel as well as by technical means, former U.S. intelligence officials said. The National Security Agency (NSA) and other U.S. groups stepped up scrutiny of Israel during “Operation Cast Lead,” launched in late December.
The NSA has a Ground Remote Listening Facility or GROF based on Cyprus which sends data in real time to the agency’s headquarters at Ft. Meade, MD. Flights of Rivet Joint flights consisting of RC-135s, an extension of the former Senior Stretch program, which fly from Athens, were also stepped up. Such aircraft contain Hebrew linguists who send their take to Menden Hill in England where it is forwarded to the U.S. embassy in London.
Other NSA resources included Six Fleet ELINT aircraft and RC-135s based in Spain, these sources said.
The joint-run NSA/CIA listening post in the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv was also utilized, they said.
Since Syria had assisted the United States in killing a senior al-Qaida official in Lebanon recently, U.S. opposition materialized quickly.
“Syria was acting in strict neutrality during Cast Lead,” suppressing any attempt by Hezbollah in Lebanon to aid Hamas, a U.S. official said.
Soon, Turkish President Abdullah Gul, a friend of Israel, and Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak bluntly told Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that extending the war to Syria would be “reckless,” according to one U.S. official.
Although some in the administration warmly supported Israel’s mauling of Hamas, several former U.S. intelligence officials expressed disapproval. “The Hamas-Israel cease-fire was not a useless cease-fire,” said former U.S. Ambassador David Mack.
Hamas was exercising some restraint even though there were violations of it on both sides. For example, Hamas did fire rockets, and last November, Israel sent in a sizeable ground force into southern Gaza to destroy tunnels used for smuggling weapons, U.S. officials said.
But Mack blamed the severity of the Israeli economic blockade as a key cause of the Israeli-Hamas breakdown. “When you drive legitimate commerce underground and make it difficult for people to earn a living, it’s clear the population will turn to other things like weapons smuggling. Israel never eased its economic blockade.”
Meshaal has proved a particularly embarrassing thorn in Israel’s side. On Sept. 25, 1997, in Amman, the capital of Jordan, Meshaal was attacked by two men as he got out of his car. One of them jabbed a hypodermic needle behind his ear and the other stuck a needle in his arm. Meshaal, gravely poisoned, soon found himself in an emergency room fighting for his life, and Israel was frantically trying to dig its way out of a mountain of embarrassment.
Meshaal’s two attackers were agents of Israel’s Mossad, and both had been captured by Meshaal’s bodyguards in Jordan, a country with which Israel had a peace treaty. Jordan’s King Hussein quickly announced that the Israeli agents would be executed if an antidote wasn’t sent to Amman in 48 hours. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly sent the antidote that would save Meshaal’s life.
Jordan then pressured Israel into releasing Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas who had spent eight years in prison for ordering killings of Israeli soldiers and executing Israeli spies among the Palestinians. A few years later, Israel assassinated Yassin.
As for Meshaal, Israeli had no intention of letting go. In 2004, Israel sent five agents into the camp at Yarmouk, where all were captured by the Hamas leader’s bodyguards and interrogated. They confessed they had been assigned by Mossad to assassinate Meshaal and had entered Syria through Jordan.
In July of 2006 again Mossad sent agents into Syria, disguised as aid workers, to kill the Hamas leader, but Meshaal was tipped off and escaped.
The foiled airstrike would have been the third attempt on Meshaal’s life.
“A massive terror attack against an Israeli target in Europe has been thwarted in recent weeks, Channel 2 quoted security officials as saying Wednesday. The attack, linked to the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, was foiled thanks to intelligence sharing between Israel and an undisclosed European country.
Israeli officials believe that as the one year anniversary of the February 14 assassination of Hezbollah second-in-command Imad Mughniyeh approaches, attempts to attack Israeli targets around the world will intensify. Hezbollah’s 1800 Unit is reportedly working on possible attacks inside Israel. Hezbollah leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, said: “The Zionists will discover that the war they had in July was a walk in the park if we compare it to what we’ve prepared for every new aggression,” the Times reported. The report also stated that the Egyptian intelligence broke up a Sinai-based Hezbollah cell headed by Sami Shehab, a Lebanese citizen. The cell, which also included Palestinians members, had allegedly planned to attack Israeli targets.”
Obama’s al-Arabiyya interview. Many found this interview refreshing and promising. I did. All the same, Obama’s statement that Israel’s security is “Paramount for America,” suggests that Obama can change the tone and style of American foreign policy but will continue the main thrust of Middle East policy.
After the Crusader
With one outstretched hand, Obama can start to heal Bush’s malevolent legacy in the Middle East
By Rageh Omaar, The Guardian, Saturday 31 January 2009
I could not have been in a better place to witness Barack Obama elected president of the United States. I may have been thousands of miles away from that windswept Chicago park where he made his victory speech to a delirious multicoloured and multi-faith crowd, but the Middle East is where much of the “change” he has promised to America and the rest of the world will be first tested.
I was in northern Syria, close to the border with Lebanon, filming a documentary about the impact of the Crusades on relations between the west and the Islamic world. The five Syrians I was with, Muslims and Orthodox Christians and, like most people in the Middle East, still in their 30s, each said they had prayed for an Obama victory. But when I asked them if they really thought he would deliver meaningful change in US policy in the Middle East, every one said it was unlikely. What mattered, they said, was a change in attitude and language; a belief that conflict need not be the only basis for a relationship between the US and the Arab and Muslim world – the legacy of George Bush’s administration….
…. It is hard for the authorities to make the ideals of the Islamic revolution relevant for such a generation; an American president who says “let’s talk”, therefore, is a challenge. Refusing Obama is a tough proposition domestically – and it’s not just in Iran that this is true: Obama is also a challenge for Syria and Hamas.
As a CIA official admitted last week, Bush was “the perfect foil” for groups and countries as diverse as Iran, Syria, al-Qaida and Hamas. Obama may represent their hardest challenge. One that hopefully involves ideas, rather than bullets.
• Rageh Omaar’s Crusades, the fourth film in the series Christianity: a History, is broadcast on Channel 4 at 7pm tomorrow
Thomas Strouse [email@example.com]a US student in Damascus writes:
….From this anecdotal evidence from the streets of Damascus, it seems to me that there is a clear window of opportunity for Obama to shape U.S. relations with Syria and other Arab states in the region, even if this window is small and shrinking with time. I’ve noticed that Syrians often conclude this discussion by saying “Obama is good, Inshallah” (God Willing). The people here have actually been quick to ask me what I think about Obama, soon after discovering that I’m an American and living in Washington D.C. Several people have needed to be convinced that Obama actually is a Christian, which has been interesting to discuss. “He has a Muslim father and his middle name is Hussein. He is Muslim!” many have argued. I’ve already met a handful of Christians that are skepitcal that Obama holds Christian values and that his true Muslim colors might come out in the next few months. Many Syrians are also fascinated that the U.S. would elect a black man as president, expressing hope that Americans may be tolerant toward others after all. It’s hard to imagine that this is a bad thing.
In Damascus earlier today, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with a U.S. delegation of seven members of Congress led by Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA). Assad reportedly pointed to the “importance of opening a positive and constructive dialogue between Syria and the United States based on common interests and mutual respect,” according to the official SANA news agency. Before leaving Damascus this evening, Rep. Smith told reporters that the delegation had a very positive meeting with President Assad, who was “very open, frank, and sincere.” He went on to say that Assad listened to the delegation, answered their questions, and that the delegation feels that this is a very good start…..
…. Large posters of President Hosni Mubarak can also be found throughout Egypt, but it’s nothing like what can be found in Syria. Thus far, I’ve heard nothing negative said about Assad and I’ve only heard praise. While there may be some self-censorship and ingrained beliefs, this praise appears to be quite sincere. Large posters of Assad can be found in homes, in businesses, at the University, on windows of cars, on giant billboards, in bathrooms, and on everything in between…..
DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Syria wants to have a constructive dialogue with the United States after years of tension, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told a visiting U.S. congressman Saturday.
Syria and the United States are on poor terms because of Damascus’s support for the Palestinian group Hamas and the Lebanese movement Hezbollah.
But Damascus sees new U.S. President Barack Obama as less ideological than George W. Bush and as more likely to engage Syria, possibly bringing about a thaw in relations.
Assad stressed the importance of “constructive dialogue between Syria and the United States based on mutual respect and common interest,” the official news agency quoted him as telling Adam Smith, the first U.S. lawmaker to visit since Obama took office on January 20.
Assad presented Smith with an assessment of Middle East politics in the wake of Israel’s 22-day offensive against the Gaza Strip, the agency said. Syria backed Hamas during the conflict.
Smith, a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, said the United States and Syria had thorny issues to solve but that a process had to begin.
“We also believe that we have common interest. We all want peace in this region and we all want to fight terrorism. We are hoping that these common interests lead to more dialogue,” Smith, who headed a seven-member delegation, told reporters.
The Syrian capital’s long-awaited stock exchange began its first operations in Damascus on Thursday, giving what investors hope will be a much-needed jolt to the country’s sluggish economy after decades of socialist-style policies.
The fledgling market is due to trade on a tentative trial basis for three weeks before being officially inaugurated in early March.
The interim operations of the Damascus Securities Exchange included five large Syrian companies: the International Bank for Trade and Finance, Bank of Syria and Overseas, Arab Bank-Syria, Banque Bemo Saudi-French, and Al-Ahliah Company for Transport.
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The companies and others that hope to list their stocks have yet to obtain final government approval to trade once the stock market becomes officially operational.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a decree establishing the bourse’s operator in October 2006. It is meant to operate as an independent entity responsible for regulating and developing financial markets and related activities.
The official inauguration of the stock market will be on March 9.
Assad has taken some steps toward liberalizing the economy since taking power in 2000, including allowing private ownership of banks and currency exchange bureaus.
Rateb Shallah, head of the bourse’s board, praised the tentative operations, calling the stock market “a big chance for ambitious businessmen.
Life in the Gaza Strip is not ‘back to normal’
By Amira Hass
GAZA – “Only aerial photographs of the Gaza Strip will make it possible to show and to comprehend the extent of the destruction,” a number of Western civilians said this week.