MIDEAST MIRROR 06.07.15, SECTION A (ISRAEL)
Two stories dominate the front pages of Israeli newspapers' Monday editions: the suicide of the country's top fraud squad detective and the Greek referendum result.
All the papers lead with the suicide of Deputy Commissioner Ephraim Bracha, whose name had been linked to that of serial briber Rabbi Yoshuha Yosef Pinto. According to a recently filed indictment against Pinto, the rabbi – who is based in the United States and Israel – offered Bracha a $200,000-bribe in exchange for information about a criminal investigation into a foundation Pinto was running. Bracha reported Pinto's actions to his superiors and then continued with the investigation. Since then, sources close to Pinto – including former and current police officers, as well as journalists and politicians – have been casting aspersions on Bracha's integrity, despite the fact that he had been considered one of the 'cleanest' officers on the force.
The newspapers also report that the Greek people voted 'No' in a referendum on Sunday over whether to accept the terms of a bailout package.
With little movement in the Vienna nuclear talks between Iran and the six world powers, the Israeli press is forced to resort to quoting warnings from Israeli officials – named and unnamed – over the deal with the Islamic Republic. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu set the tone at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. 'What's coming out of the nuclear talks in Vienna is not a breakthrough, it's a breakdown,' the prime minister told ministers, adding that the world powers were conceding more and more with each passing day. The emerging deal 'will pave Iran's way to produce the cores of many atomic bombs and it will also flood Iran with hundreds of millions of dollars that will serve it in its aggression and its mission of terror in the region and the world,' the prime minister warned.
Netanyahu claimed that the emerging deal with Iran was worse than the nuclear deal that had been signed with North Korea which led to Pyongyang obtaining an arsenal of nuclear weapons. 'However, here we are talking about a very big conventional and non-conventional threat against Israel, against the countries of the region and against the world,' he stated.
Yedioth Ahronoth adds that, working under the assumption that a deal will be signed, Jerusalem is preparing for its next battle: preventing congressional approval for the deal. Officials in Jerusalem are preparing to exert pressure on the U.S. Congress to prevent it from signing the deal. If a deal is submitted to Congress before July 9, the vote would be held within 30 days due to the upcoming congressional recess. If the deal were to be submitted after July 9, the vote would only take place after 60 days. If a majority votes against the Iran deal in Congress, President Obama can veto the move. If the president does use his veto, however, it would allow him to decide when to return the motion for a revote in Congress – in which case a two-thirds majority in both houses would be needed to bypass the presidential veto.
Israel is pressuring Congress members to scuttle the deal in the first vote. If the deal goes to the floor, Israel will make a concerted diplomatic effort to achieve a two-thirds majority in order to bypass a possible veto. Officials in Jerusalem estimate that Obama will have enough support to approve the measure in the first vote, thanks to fears among members of Congress that denying the measure while other powers begin trading with Iran will come at a great economic cost to U.S. industry. There are, however, officials in Israel who believe the battle is not over yet, and that with the right work a majority can be achieved against the measure in the first vote.
Finally, Israel Radio reported Sunday that the Palestinian Authority claims that its security forces apprehended a large Hamas cell that was planning attacks against the Palestinian security apparatus. Palestinian Security Forces spokesperson Adnan Dhamiri said that Hamas had established a cell in the region to undermine security, according to the report. Dhamiri added that members of the cell – who were arrested in the northern West Bank, most likely near the PA governmental seat of Ramallah – admitted to planning an attack and training to be able to carry it out.
Hassan Yousef, a senior Hamas member in the West Bank who was recently released from jail by Israel, denied the claims.
THE EGYPTIAN TEST: Writing on the News 1 website, Dvir Mor warns that Egypt's helplessness and inability to tackle ISIS and other terror groups in the Sinai is becoming a major concern for Israel, which is worried that the Gaza Strip will fall into even more fundamentalist hands.
"Many Knesset members, especially on the left of the house, have their heads firmly in the sand; they are not willing to see the grave dangers to Israel's security posed by handing over the Gaza Strip and its environs to the PLO. They keep their heads in the sand and say: 'We had to try; we had to give Gaza back to the Arabs.' But none of them is willing to talk about the price of that mistake. None of them takes into account the fact that it was an irreversible step.
Speaking in 1994, a decade before the disengagement, Pini Badash – mayor of the Gaza-envelope town of Omer and former Knesset member – asked whether Israel would ever be able to retake the Gaza Strip if the need arose. 'I am not talking about whether Israel has the military means,' he clarified. 'I am talking about whether the international community would ever allow us to retake Gaza. And the answer is no. The vast arsenal that Hamas has amassed there will be a major problem for Israel in the years to come. If we withdraw from Gaza, I promise you that we will live to regret it.'
Until Israel handed over responsibility to the Palestinian Authority in November 2005, as part of Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan, the Rafah border crossing was controlled by Israel. A decade later, ISIS is threatening to capture the Gaza Strip and liberate it from Hamas.
The terrorist attacks committed by ISIS in the Sinai, in which at least 60 Egyptian soldiers were killed, were the worst such incidents that the province has known in recent years, perhaps ever. Even the rapid response of the Egyptian army, which was already deployed in large numbers in the northern Sinai, was unable to prevent it from happening. This state of affairs obligates Israel to seriously weigh up all its military and strategic options. Reports in the foreign press suggest that the motivation behind last week's attacks in the Sinai was, in part, to allow ISIS easier access to Rafah and to the Gaza Strip. ISIS wants to 'liberate' Gaza from Hamas, which it sees as an infidel movement that does not adhere to the strict rules of Sharia law.
The Egyptian troops in the Sinai have been failing to do their job since 2011 and have allowed countless incidents to occur: the pipeline transporting gas from Egypt to Israel and Jordan has been attacked many times by jihadi groups; terrorist raids and guerrilla operations have inflicted heavy losses on the Egyptian forces.
According to the peace deal between Israel and Egypt, Cairo is obligated not to deploy troops in the Sinai, which is supposed to be a demilitarized zone. The only forces Egypt is allowed to deploy there are police officers. That relevant clause of the peace deal was altered in the aftermath of the disengagement, allowing Egypt to deploy 750 troops along the Philadelphi Route between the Gaza Strip and the Sinai.
The erection in 2010 of a border fence between Israel and Egypt – ostensibly to tackle the problem of illegal migrants from Africa entering Israeli territory – is also supposed to prevent terrorists crossing the border. Unless Egypt gets to grips with the Sinai-based terror organizations, it will be easy for them to reach and then cross the Rafah border and to enter Gaza.
Since the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace accord almost four decades ago, the Sinai border has been relatively quiet. Until the revolution in Egypt, the regime in Cairo took great pains to abide by the demilitarization terms of the peace agreement. Egyptian troops were kept out of the Sinai and there was close cooperation with the IDF. There have been countless breaches of the border by smugglers, terrorists and asylum seekers – which taught Israel that it could not rely on Egyptian security forces, which were overly complacent about the situation in the Sinai.
The best example of Israeli antiterrorism activity along the border with Egypt came in August 2012, when there was a cross-border attack involving Egypt, Israel and the Gaza Strip. During the course of the incident, armed jihadi terrorists wearing explosive belts entered Israeli territory on an armored personnel carrier that they had obtained after attacking an Egyptian army position close to the border, killing 16 soldiers who were stationed there. Almost immediately after they crossed the border, the terrorists were killed in an Israeli airstrike, backed by artillery fire and ground forces.
The 2011 revolution in Egypt was followed by a tacit agreement between Cairo and Jerusalem, which allowed the Egyptians to increase their troop presence in the Sinai. Nonetheless, the Egyptians failed to stamp out terrorism in the Sinai, in large part because the measures that they implemented were worthless. In fact, even today the main thrust of Egypt's counterterrorism activity is to increase the number of roadblocks on the northern coastal road. In practice, top officers remain safely ensconced in their headquarters, while the roadblocks are manned by NCOs who cower behind military vehicles. The Special Forces which the United States funds and arms with advanced weapons are only deployed in and around Cairo.
The troops that Egypt has sent to the Sinai are those that were previously stationed in the Nile Basin. They are equipped with outdated weapons, old APCs and antiquated tanks manufactured in the former Soviet Union. It is easy for a well-trained jihadi cell to take control of an Egyptian APC and to start driving toward the Israeli border.
In addition to ISIS fighters who have set up shop in the Sinai, there are also local Bedouin tribesmen, with occasional reinforcement from members of the Muslim Brotherhood – who would be delighted to extract revenge against Egyptian President Abdelfattah el-Sissi for overthrowing Mohammed Mursi as president. These terrorists are better acquainted with the topography and geography of the Sinai than the Egyptian troops. They withdraw quickly back into the depths of the desert after each attack and they find shelter in the Bedouin encampments until the storm passes.
The Egyptian army must rethink its strategy regarding Sinai – otherwise it will continue to lose soldiers, terrorist entities will strengthen their grip on the area and – if the worst happens – ISIS will take full control of the peninsula. If Egypt remains helpless, Israel will have to ready itself for the possibility that ISIS and its affiliated terrorist organizations will enter the Gaza Strip, from where they will pose an even greater threat to the security of the Jewish state."
FATEH VS. HAMAS: Writing in Israel Hayom, Reuven Berko says that the rift between Fateh and Hamas is growing wider – especially in the aftermath of the weekend's mass arrest of Hamas activists by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
"There's a proverb in Arabic that goes like this: Strike a scoundrel with another scoundrel and no scoundrel shall prevail.
Over the weekend, the Palestinian Authority conducted a series of arrest raids, in which more than 100 Hamas activists in the West Bank were arrested and interrogated. Among those detained were some Hamas members recently released from Israeli prisons. The arrest operation took place shortly after a Shin Bet operation in Nablus a few days earlier, which came in response to a series of terror attacks against Israelis, in which two people were killed.
During the course of the Palestinian security forces' operation, dozens more Hamas activists were arrested and questioned – and a broad network was uncovered. That network contains an advanced local hierarchy, the goal of which was to undermine Israel's presence in the West Bank and, at the same time, to assume greater control over the Palestinian territories.
According to Israeli sources, this massive terrorist network got its instructions from two sources – Turkey and Qatar – which are jointly directing and funding the wave of terrorist attacks against the Egyptian government, as well as the Islamist terror organizations in Syria and Iraq. According to one senior member of the Palestinian security forces, Adnan al-Dhamiri, this terrorist Hamas network planned to attack the Palestinian Authority and to use the infrastructure it had established to drag the PA into a pointless and destructive conflict with Israel.
'We will not allow Hamas to turn the relatively normal live that we are living – despite the occupation – into a living hell,' al-Dhamiri insisted. 'They will not be allowed to do in the West Bank what they have already done in Gaza.'
In response to the arrest of so many Hamas members in the West Bank, senior Fateh officials in Gaza were summoned for questioning by Hamas officials. A spokesman for Hamas, Mushir al-Masri, slammed the PA and claimed that the security apparatus in the West Bank was being used – once again – to do the dirty work of the Zionist enemy. According to one member of Hamas political wing in Gaza, who also criticized the Palestinian Authority, the arrest of Hamas members was a response to Israel's allegations that Hamas is behind the recent spate of attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Therefore, he said, 'it is a stab in the back – during the holy month of Ramadan – and it serves the interests of the occupation.'
Despite the fact that Hamas has been deterred from launching attacks against Israel from the Gaza Strip, it has claimed responsibility for the attacks against Israeli civilians in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. This is part of its efforts to replicate the conflict with Israel to the areas controlled by the PA, to critically damage the rule of the PA and to destroy it – as it did in Gaza in 2007. The arrest operations over the weekend by the PA has thwarted Hamas' renewed efforts to carry out a putsch against Fateh – which is exactly what Hamas planned to do before Operation Protective Edge, when it established a fictitious unity government with Fateh and then kidnapped and murdered three Israeli youths.
The Palestinian Authority is learning the lessons of Operation Protective Edge, too, and this is what has created an inevitable coming together of interests between Israel and the Palestinian security forces regarding the need to eradicate Hamas' terrorist presence in the West Bank. Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas and his people don't dare to return to Gaza, since they know that their lives would be in danger. And since the PA has no influence over events in Gaza – and is unlikely to have any such influence in the foreseeable future – Abu Mazin is now busy putting together a new government, to the chagrin of his erstwhile partner Hamas. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malaki even went so far as to accuse Hamas of helping ISIS kill Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai."
BIBI'S WAR: Writing in Maariv, Karni Eldad says that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is continuing to fight against the Iranian nuclear program, in the hope that he can win with words, rather than turn to the military option.
"According to reports coming out of the nuclear talks in Vienna, both sides have expressed optimism that a deal can be reached. For U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the optimism is cautious; for his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the optimism level is sky high.
As much as we would like to join the party, we Israelis have too much experience with making deals with bitter enemies; we know that 'optimism' usually means that big trouble is heading our way. We will have to turn down the invitation to the Viennese cocktail party, thank you very much.
What we want to see is a lot of worried faces; we want people to bang their fists on the table. We want wall-to-wall pessimism. If that were to happen, there would be no deal. And don't believe Kerry when he says that the United States will not allow a bad deal to be reached, because, at the moment, the only thing on the table is a bad deal. It's all a question of perspective. The difference between us and the six world powers that are negotiating with Iran is that when we look at the proposal on the table, we see a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead coming our way. They don’t.
In September 2012, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations and displayed a diagram highlighting just how close Iran is to obtaining a nuclear bomb; he spoke at length about what the international community must do to prevent that from happening. Netanyahu's gimmick got the message across, but no one was very impressed. Netanyahu, however, did not give up; he still hasn’t given up.
This is Netanyahu's war and he is running it. He may be using diplomatic means, but he is fighting tooth and nail. I don't know what the prime minister is thinking. Maybe he assumes that Israel can always launch military action against the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, but he prefers to rely on rhetoric for the time being. Maybe he thinks that he can still win this war using words, rather than bombs. I certainly hope he's right."
SATISFACTION: Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Ben-Dror Yemini says that, one year after Operation Protective Edge, Israel can and should be satisfied with the outcome.
"Many countries in the world are currently dealing with terrorist organizations or paramilitary groups. Pakistan and Afghanistan are fighting against the Taliban, Nigeria is trying to deal with Boko Haram and it seems that half the world is currently fighting against ISIS. Israel, for its part, has a headache known as Hamas. Has any sovereign state ever managed to defeat organizations of this type in the past few decades? Sri Lanka is the only country that can claim to have defeated a terrorist organization – the Tamil Tigers. The price it paid was 40,000 fatalities and almost total destruction. Russia failed in Chechnya, the United States failed in Fallujah. And those are the two largest powers on earth today. Israel cannot emulate Sri Lanka – and thank God for that. Despite the patently false and biased reports that have been published against Israel, and despite the dubious evidence provided by Breaking the Silence, morality on the battlefield is an integral part of the Israeli story.
This means that 'victory' in the battle against terrorists – in which the rules of moral combat are observed (at least on the Israeli side) – can never be absolute. There were those who, in the days and weeks before Operation Protective Edge, demanded that the government allow the IDF to 'crush' Hamas. Following Sri Lanka's example, that could have been done. But it was never really an option for us. Given the circumstances in which the IDF fought Operation Protective Edge, the results of that campaign can be seen as largely positive for Israel.
At the moment, Hamas is fighting with all its might to prevent rival groups from firing rockets at Israel. Who would have believed that? The organization's leaders hoped – they were praying, in fact – that Israel would kill far more civilians than it actually did. That would have turned Israel into a pariah state. But their hopes were dashed. True, the David Commission – which was established by the least enlightened organization in the world, the United Nations Human Rights Council – published a fallacious report accusing Israel of committing war crimes. Within a week, that report was largely forgotten. It certainly did not create the kind of international backlash that the previous report, compiled by Goldstone and his cronies, created. On this issue, too, Hamas failed to achieve its goals.
The significant blow that Hamas was given during Operation Protective Edge has left its mark. Hamas hoped for massive international aid. Most of the promised money remains just that: a promise. The current Egyptian regime despises Hamas. Indeed, all the talk of a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas is the direct result of the battering that Hamas was given during Operation Protective Edge. The age of victories like the Six-Day War is over. In this new and tough era, the events of the past year prove that Israel should be satisfied with the outcome of Operation Protective Edge."
A BIRD IN THE HAND: Writing in The Jerusalem Post, Dan Feferman says that, despite his best efforts, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was not successful in convincing the U.S. to regroup and return with an aggressive agenda aimed at dismantling Iran’s very capability to produce a nuclear weapon.
"Since the interim framework deal between the U.S.-led P5+1 and Iran was announced in April, Israel has come out strongly against what it views as a 'bad deal,' one that grants international legitimacy to Iran’s nuclear program. As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu remarked time and again, Israel is not against a diplomatic solution. In his speech in March to Congress, Netanyahu noted that 'the alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal' and that 'no country has a greater stake than Israel in a good deal that peacefully removes this threat.' Rather, Israel sees in the emerging deal a capitulation to Iranian bargaining tactics when the U.S. position was at its strongest, and a grave misunderstanding of the Iranian regime’s intentions.
Despite his best efforts, Netanyahu was not successful in convincing the U.S. to regroup and return with a more aggressive agenda aimed at dismantling Iran’s very capability to produce a nuclear weapon. Although the June 30 deadline has passed, an agreement is expected within the course of the next month. The details of the impending deal are mostly familiar by now.
As retired Israeli general Mike Herzog noted in the Financial Times, 'The choice [now] is not between a good deal and a bad deal. A good deal – permanently rolling back Iran’s nuclear capacity... is no longer possible.' Herzog and others go on to say that what is left is the choice between an 'acceptable' deal and an outright 'bad deal.'
To be fair, the American negotiators were more determined and sober than most critics expected. Despite its flaws, the emerging deal does have some positive elements, which include a far-reaching verification and inspection regime, removal of most of Iran’s enriched uranium with a limit on future enrichment (at least for the next decade), a freeze on roughly half of Iran’s 10,000 working centrifuges (20,000 total) and the neutralization of Iran’s nascent plutonium track in Arak. Moreover, U.S. President Barack Obama made clear he will 'snap back' sanctions if Iran is found to be violating its end.
At this point, it is far too late in the game for Israel to influence the outcome of the agreement. To be sure, insiders involved in Israel’s efforts against Iran’s nuclear program over the past decade believe the U.S. folded too soon to Iran’s bluff. However, given the lack of resolve in Washington, Israel would be wise to make the most of the current situation and take the bird in the hand rather than look for that elusive second bird in the bush. This means working closely with the U.S. to help maintain a broad and galvanized coalition to enforce the agreement over the next 10-15 years. Easier said than done.
So what will this include?
Proper verification: Obama talked a tough game regarding the inspection regime, but as those of us who’ve done this professionally know, it’s really hard, and the Iranians will inevitably cheat. The U.S., UK, France, Canada, Germany, Israel and others, who worked to build the pressure on Iran, must stay the course as far as inspections and continue to produce detailed intelligence to expose Iranian foul play.
Stand strong with sanctions: The carefully crafted linchpin of the Obama-led soft war to pressure Iran to the table is the only leverage left (military action being off the table). The U.S. must insist sanctions only be lifted pending real cooperation and progress by Iran in fulfilling its part of the deal.
Snap-back sanctions: 'Snapping back' sanctions will be much harder than it sounds. The U.S. should devise a process now, together with allies, to be able to put sanctions back in place on three levels should Iran be caught cheating: the unilateral U.S. level, which were the most biting; the multi-lateral level led by America’s key allies around the world, also highly effective; and the UNSC level, which gave legitimacy for the other two levels. This will be difficult to achieve with China and Russia involved.
Rebuild deterrence: The U.S. must rebuild a credible military deterrence, eroded by President Obama’s own policies and rhetoric. If the U.S. isn’t willing to consider a strike, Israel should convince the U.S. to float its own military option, a 'good-cop/ bad-cop' routine used with great utility by previous U.S. administrations.
Re-build U.S.-Israel relations: Relations between the two countries were severely damaged on a strategic level by both sides. Israel serves as a natural balance against Iranian aggression in the region and Israel was crucial over the years to helping the U.S. prevent Iran from producing a bomb. If the two countries have any daylight between them, Israel loses influence over U.S. policy and the U.S. loses a crucial ally that supplies significant intelligence, interception capability and creative ideas adopted by the U.S. over the years to counter Iran.
If Israel works on these levels with the U.S., the current Iran deal, which may never be two birds, can at least be a bird in the hand and not just a few tail feathers."
LIMITED WAR WON'T DETER HAMAS: Writing in Haaretz, Moshe Arens says that terrorism can only be halted by destroying the ability to commit terror acts – therefore disarming Gaza’s terror groups must always be on the table.
"It is now almost 10 years since the tragic uprooting of 10,000 Israelis from Gush Katif in southern Gaza, from the settlement bloc at the Strip’s northern tip, and from the settlements in northern Samaria. Over the following 10 years, the move brought in its wake three major operations by the Israel Defense Forces.
It is one year since the last of these operations, Operation Protective Edge. It’s time to take stock of a policy that violated the civil rights of thousands of Israelis, ended up bringing most of Israel under rocket fire from Gaza, and resulted in extensive loss of life in both Israel and the Strip.
Ariel Sharon, who launched these developments with the uprooting of Israeli settlers, claimed that this move would 'improve Israel’s security.' He found a sufficient number of MKs, including some Likud members, to win the Knesset’s approval for his 'disengagement plan.' Even the Supreme Court went along with this unparalleled violation of the settlers’ civil rights.
A radical move advertised as improving Israel’s security resulted in a drastic deterioration of Israel’s security. Already a day after the completion of the disengagement, rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. It foreshadowed what was in store for Israel’s civilians in the coming years.
It was left to Sharon’s heirs, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, enthusiastic supporters of his fatal mistake, to deal with the consequences. Less than three years after the disengagement, persistent rocket launches against Israel from Gaza forced the Olmert government to react with Operation Cast Lead, which lasted 22 days and saw the IDF enter Gaza. During that operation, over 750 rockets and mortar rounds were fired on Israel from Gaza, some reaching as far as Be’er Sheva, Ashdod, and Gedera.
The operation resulted in the death of over 1,000 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. It ended with the withdrawal of Israeli forces and a unilateral cease-fire declared by Jerusalem. Olmert was under the impression that this demonstration of military might would be sufficient to deter Hamas from renewing its attacks against Israel. He was mistaken.
Less than four years later, in November 2012, it was Binyamin Netanyahu’s turn to deal with the attacks from Gaza against Israeli civilians; he launched Operation Pillar of Defense. During an operation that lasted eight days, over 1,500 rockets were fired at Israel, some reaching as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Over a hundred Palestinians and six Israelis lost their lives. Israel’s strategy was the same: Give them a good dose of air power and they’ll understand that these rocket attacks on Israel have to cease.
It didn’t work, terrorist rocket attacks continued. A year ago the Netanyahu government launched Operation Protective Edge, a 51-day operation against Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza involving ground troops, tanks, aircraft and ships. Over 4,500 rockets were launched against Israel, Ben-Gurion Airport was closed for a day, millions in Israel ran for shelter, and 72 Israelis and more than 2,000 Palestinians lost their lives. When it was over, Netanyahu declared victory, convinced that this time the Gaza Palestinians had been taught a lesson and Israeli 'deterrence' had been restored. Now a year later it’s not at all clear that this objective was attained.
The time has come to reexamine the theory that terrorists can be deterred and that therefore there is no need for the IDF to enter Gaza and disarm the terrorist organizations there. With this theory proven wanting three times, it should be clear that deterring terrorists is in the realm of wishful thinking. Terrorists can be halted only by destroying their ability to commit acts of terror. Entering Gaza to accomplish this task is preferable to having all of Israel’s civilian population living under the threat of rocket fire."
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