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Iran Claims it Successfully Test Fired Missile That Could Reach Israel

By Reuters

Iran said on Tuesday it had successfully tested medium-range missiles capable of hitting Israel as a response to threats of attack, the latest move in a war of nerves with the West.

Israel said it could attack Iran if diplomacy failed to secure a halt to its disputed nuclear energy program. The United States also has military force as a possible option but has repeatedly encouraged the Israelis to be patient while new economic sanctions are implemented against Iran.

The Islamic Republic announced the "Great Prophet 7" missile exercise on Sunday after a European embargo against Iranian crude oil purchases took full effect following another fruitless round of big power talks with Tehran.

Iran's official English-language Press TV said the Shahab 3 missile with a range of 1,300 km (800 miles) - able to reach Israel - was tested along with the shorter-range Shahab 1 and 2. "The main aim of this drill is to demonstrate the Iranian nation's political resolve to defend vital values and national interests," Revolutionary Guards Deputy Commander Hossein Salami was quoted by Press TV as saying, adding that the tests were in response to Iran's enemies who talk of a "military option being on the table." On Sunday, Iran threatened to wipe Israel "off the face of the earth" if the Jewish state attacked it.

Analysts have challenged some of Iran's military assertions, saying it often exaggerates its capabilities.

Senior researcher Pieter Wezeman of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said Iran's missiles were still relatively inaccurate and of limited use in conventional warfare. With conventional warheads, "their only utility is as a tool of terror and no more than that", he said by telephone. He added, however, that they could be suitable for carrying nuclear warheads, especially the larger ones.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies, said in a 2010 report that all Tehran's ballistic missiles were "inherently capable of a nuclear payload," if Iran was able to make a small enough bomb.

Iran denies Western accusations that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons capability. The world's No. 5 oil exporter maintains that it is enriching uranium only to generate more energy for a rapidly growing population.

Iran has previously threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which more than a third of the world's seaborne oil trade passes, in response to increasingly harsh sanctions by the United States and its allies intended to force it to curb its nuclear research program.

Fars said dozens of missiles involved in this week's exercises had been aimed at simulated air bases, and that Iranian-built unmanned drones would be tested on Wednesday.

Tests Suggest Arafat was Poisoned


A Swiss laboratory that tested late PLO leader Yasir Arafat's clothing and body fluids found high doses of radioactive Polonium-210. The research released Tuesday suggests Arafat was poisoned with polonium in 2004. Francois Bochud, head of the Institute of Radiation Physics at the University of Lausanne, told Al-Jazeera, "The conclusion was that we did find some significant polonium that was present in these samples."

Arafat died on November 11, 2004, following several weeks of treatment for deteriorating health. He had been airlifted to France from his besieged headquarters in Ramallah. At the time of his death at the age of 75, Palestinian Authority officials charged he had been poisoned by longtime foe Israel, but an inconclusive PA investigation in 2005 ruled out cancer, AIDS or poisoning.

However, French officials are restricted by privacy laws and have refused to reveal the precise cause of death or the nature of his condition, fuelling a host of rumors and theories as to the cause of his illness. To confirm the theory that he was poisoned by polonium it would be necessary to exhume and analyze Arafat's remains, Bochud said.

"If (Suha Arafat) really wants to know what happened to her husband (we need) to find a sample - I mean, an exhumation... should provide us with a sample that should have a very high quantity of polonium if he was poisoned," he said.

However, Bochud said an analysis of Arafat's belongings indicated he was poisoned. "I can confirm to you that we measured an unexplained, elevated amount of unsupported polonium-210 in the belongings of Mr. Arafat that contained stains of biological fluids," said Bochud. The study of Arafat's medical file and belongings was carried out at the University Hospital Centre in Lausanne, Switzerland, which is considered one of the best forensic pathology labs in the world.

Polonium is a highly radioactive element used, among other things, to power spacecraft. Animal studies have found similar symptoms, which lingered for weeks - depending on the dosage – until the subject died. "The primary radiation target… is the gastrointestinal tract," said an American study conducted in 1991, "activating the `vomiting centre' in the brainstem."

The lab's results were reported in millibecquerels (mBq), a scientific unit used to measure radioactivity. Polonium-210, the isotope found on Arafat's belongings, has a half-life of 138 days, meaning that half of the substance decays roughly every four-and-a-half months, when naturally occurring polonium only registers a few millibecquerels, usually fewer than 10, at a time.

But Arafat's personal effects, particularly those with bodily fluids on them, registered much higher levels of the element. His toothbrushes had polonium levels of 54mBq; the urine stain on his underwear, 180mBq. Further tests, conducted over a three-month period from March until June, concluded that most of that polonium – between 60 and 80 percent, depending on the sample – was "unsupported," meaning that it did not come from natural sources.

However, even though the tests indicate Arafat was in all likelihood poisoned, they do nothing to suggest who may have been behind it.

Netanyahu on U.S. Independence Day: There's Reason for Hope


Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu released on Tuesday a special message to President Barack Obama and to the citizens of the United States, in honor of the Fourth of July holiday. His speech was taped and sent to the annual July 4 celebration at the home of the United States Ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro.

"As Israel's Prime Minister, I appreciate deeply all that America has done for Israel, and as the leader of one of the world's most vibrant democracies, I appreciate all the great sacrifices that America has made in order to advance liberty and democracy throughout the world," said Netanyahu.

Speaking about the transformations in the Middle East, Netanyahu said, "All those who value freedom should remember that to be a real democracy, it is not enough to have a government that represents the majority of the people. Real democracy also means having a government that respects the rights of each and every individual in it. Real democracy is not merely about holding popular elections. It is about what happens between elections. It means ensuring that no one is above the law. It means protecting free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion. It means upholding the rights of women, minorities, gays, children, everyone.

"By ensuring both popular sovereignty and individual rights, the nations of the region can join America and Israel in being genuine democracies." He said that "In the near term, I think we'll all agree, there's ample reason for skepticism…But in the long term, in the long term I believe there's reason for hope. Because with the spread of information technology, it will become increasingly difficult to keep young minds closed, cloistered in darkness. Ultimately, the power of freedom is bound to prevail.

"Ultimately, people throughout the Middle East will enjoy the rights that we in free societies too often take for granted." He concluded by saying, "On behalf of the people of Israel, let me wish President Obama and all the American people a Happy Independence Day."

U.S. Presbyterian Church Committee Votes in Favor of Israel Divestment Resolution

By Reuters

Following a lengthy and heated debate, Committee 15 of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States voted in favor of a motion calling for divestment from three companies that do business with Israel.

Whether or not the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel is gaining traction is one of the hottest questions being asked among the most politically active members of the Jewish community – as many people take the issue to heart.

Israel supporters claim that the numbers of participants in the annual "Israel apartheid" week have not grown significantly, and that the American Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, despite regularly raising the topic of divesting from companies that "profit from Israeli occupation," generally end up voting against it. The discourse is shifting – and not in Israel's favor.

In 2008, the United Methodist Church rejected an Israel divestment resolution. On May 2, the UMC general conference did it again, rejecting a resolution calling for divestment from three companies doing business with Israel (although the conference did adopt a measure recommending a boycott of products made in Israeli settlement).

This week, the topic was raised again in Pittsburgh, at the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church. Last time, the resolution didn't even pass the committee level, let alone the general vote.

This time, something different happened. Committee 15 voted in favor of a motion calling for divestment from Motorola, for providing surveillance equipment for Israeli settlements, Caterpillar, for providing bulldozers used for demolishing Palestinian houses, and Hewlett-Packard, for selling hardware used by Israel in its naval blockade of Gaza. The motion also called for the church to increase investments in companies promoting peaceful pursuits. The final vote is expected at the general assembly later this week.

But during Monday evening's debate, there were also concerns expressed over the possible impact of the decision on the relations with the Jewish community - and other sectors of the American Christian community.

Weeks before the general assembly opened on June 30, the proposal drew sharp criticism and warnings from Jewish American organizations, with the exception of those on the far left, such as the Jewish Voice for Peace. Over 1,300 rabbis and over 12,000 American Jews signed letters to delegates of the biennial Presbyterian Church General Assembly, calling them to reject the "counterproductive" resolution.

In response, the Anti-Defamation League warned of the negative effect on the Jewish and American Christian relations. The American Jewish Committee called the resolutions generally put to votes every two years at the Presbyterian Church gatherings "an unfortunate tradition" meant to vilify Israel and adopt positions of "non-representative" Palestinian leaders.

Some members of the general assembly committee that discussed the motion in Pittsburgh said they do not understand why the resolution is interpreted as a threat - they insisted it's a moral issue, certainly not an anti-Semitic one, to stop pouring resources "into hurting people in another country. There's violence happening here. Someone is profiting from it. And we need to not be a part of that," said one of the committee members.

It's not that Israel is running short of supporters among the American Christian community; in about two weeks, Christians United for Israel, a large Evangelical pro-Israel organization, will run its annual gathering in Washington DC. It's likely that the Presbyterian divestment motion will draw quite a bit of criticism there.

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