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Israel Accused of Suppressing Terror Evidence to Help Out New Pal China

Israel is a country desperate for friends. Isolated in the Middle East and hated in large parts of the Arab world, it struggles to make alliances. The few it has, it guards fiercely. So it should perhaps come as no surprise that for years Israel has been courting China, inking trade deals and fêting one another over champagne. But that process now finds Israel in an awkward bind, one that may lead the country to compromise on its core anti-terror policies.

According to a report in Haaretz, the Israeli government is currently under enormous pressure from Beijing to suppress evidence that the Bank of China laundered money for Islamic Jihad. In 2006, a Jewish-American teenager, Daniel Wultz, was killed in a suicide bombing carried out by Islamic Jihad at a Tel Aviv shawarma restaurant. His parents have now sued for damages -- at the initial encouragement of Israel -- and allege that the Bank of China laundered funds for the terror group, effectively bankrolling the operation that killed their son. Prior to filing the case, according to Haaretz, Israeli officials told the parents, Yekutiel and Sheryl Wultz, that they would support their case and provide evidence implicating the Bank of China. Now, at Beijing's urging, they're having second thoughts. So far, Israel has declined to provide the expert testimony they promised and are currently deliberating over whether to make Uzi Shaya, a former intelligence official, available to a New York City court.

That's right, under Chinese pressure, Israel may prevent the victims of a Tel Aviv terrorist attack from extracting damages from the people who bankrolled an operation that killed their son. Chalk it up to the cost of a new friendship.

If the burgeoning alliance between Israel and China sounds unlikely, bear in mind that it's a relationship forged in political and economic calculation. Israel was one of the first countries to recognize China following its Communist revolution, and while it took over 40 years for to China establish diplomatic relations with Israel, the two countries have something off an oddball history of military cooperation. Awash in seized Soviet weapons following the Six Day War in 1967, Israel quietly worked to upgrade China's military arsenal. That relationship continued into the 1990s when President Bill Clinton furiously vetoed the proposed sale from Israel to China of an advanced radar system.

Now, the relationship between the two countries has become primarily economic, though geopolitical concerns still hover in the background. Trade between the two countries stood at $8 billion in 2012, and when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Beijing in May he was accompanied by a retinue of Israeli businessmen who hope to push that figure above $10 billion over the next five years. While there, Netanyahu signed a series of bilateral agreements and shared a champagne toast with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. And in January of last year, the two countries inked a $300 million line of credit designed to bring Israeli investments to China. Now, a free trade pact is under consideration.

But even as Israel and China draw closer to one another economically, awkward geopolitical concerns threaten to poison their relationship. China habitually obstructs efforts to crack down on Iran's nuclear program and is all too happy to undermine Western and Israeli interests in the region at times. But for this reason, Israel has little to lose -- and a lot to gain -- by moving closer to China. "We do hope that if we are able to improve economic ties and connections between Israel and China, it will help us also to explain our positions with regard to the Iranian nuclear threat, with regard to the events in Syria," then-Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinetz said in an interview with Bloomberg prior to signing the $300 million line of credit. Steinetz currently serves as the intelligence minister, and the calculation at play is an obvious one: Through its trade ties Israel hopes to win influence with China and alter its positions on issues critical for Israel.

But that calculation runs both ways, as Israel is currently learning in a New York courtroom. In arguments last Friday, lawyers for the Bank of China tried to convince the judge that Israel's reluctance to make its intelligence expert available signaled that the Israeli government no longer backed his conclusions about the bank's involvement with Islamic Jihad. But the judge, Shira Sheindlin, did not buy it. "It's hard for me to accept that assumption," she said.

KIM KYUNG-HOON/AFP/Getty Images

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Is the World’s Most Wanted Nazi War Criminal in Syria?

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center launched a poster campaign in Germany this week in an attempt to track down the last surviving Nazi war criminals. "Late, but not too late," the posters read and encourage those with information to call in tips to a hotline in the hopes that some former Nazis can still face justice before their deaths.

In Germany itself, the Center estimates there to be 60 people left who are still fit to stand trial for war crimes. Other former Nazis, including most of those on the Wiesenthal Center's top ten most wanted are believed to have slipped into hiding throughout Europe and the Americas.

But the number one most-wanted, potentially-still-alive Nazi war criminal on the list is suspected to be in Damascus, possibly in the Meridien Hotel, living -- last we know of, anyway -- under the protection of the Syrian government.  The Wiesenthal Center admits that the chances that Alois Brunner, born in 1912, and last spotted in 2001, is still among the living are 'slim' - "but until conclusive evidence of his demise is obtained" the hunt for Brunner should continue, the Center says.  How did Brunner, Adolf Eichmann's second in command, who deported  at least 128,000 Jews to Nazi camps, come to find refuge in Syria where he built a "safe and glowingly prosperous" life?

According to a 1987 article in the Chicago Sun-Times titled "Nazi Butcher in Syria Haven," Brunner first fled to Cairo after WWII, then later slipped into Damascus. He was arrested by Syrian police in 1960, who, according to a 1990 Los Angeles Times story, initially thought he was a drug dealer; when he revealed himself to be a fugitive Nazi, however, he was released. 

He went on to ingratiate himself so thoroughly with the Syria government and the ruling Assad family -- helping to set up Syria's intelligence services and bringing German rocket scientists to the Middle East -- that the Assads (then led by Hafez) expressed their thanks in the form of personal bodyguards.  He went by a false name, Dr. Georg Fischer, but it seems that by the 1990s, the Syrian government was the only one still keeping up the pseudonym, insisting that Brunner was indeed the innocent Fischer when pressed by the multiple countries seeking to extradite him.  Brunner himself was more or less living openly in an apartment on Rue Haddad, taking daily morning walks in a nearby park, accompanied by two guards.

He wasn't untouchable -- he lost an eye in 1961 to a letter bomb sent to his Damascus apartment by the French secret service, and four fingers on his right hand to another letter bomb, this time from the Israelis in the 1980s. He was also never repentant, telling the Chicago Sun-Times in a brief phone interview that "all of them deserved to die because they were the devils agents and human garbage," and "I have no regrets and would do it again," before hanging up.

There have been occasional rumors of Brunner's death: once in 1992 and again in 1999. If still alive, he would be 101 years old -- and Damascus has gotten a whole lot more dangerous since he was last spotted there. "The likelihood that he is already deceased increases with each passing year," the Weisenthal Center says. And if the Assads weren't extraditing him a decade ago, they certainly haven't grown more inclined to cooperate since. For those hoping to bring Brunner to justice, it seems it may really be too late.

/AFP/Getty Images