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Saturday, March 10, 2007

IDF officials: no Syrian activity has been identified at border

IDF officials: no Syrian activity has been identified at border
Hanan Greenberg YNET Published: 03.10.07, 21:09 / Israel News,7340,L-3374720,00.html

IDF sources denied an Associated French Press report that Syrians had moved
thousands of troops towards their border with Israel.

According to the sources, no such troop movement was identified. The IDF
said that the AFP's information was inaccurate and that Israeli intelligence
had uncovered no Syrian intentions to launch an attack against Israel.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Report: Iran could have a bomb in six months (or not)

This tidbit from Middle East News Line claims Iran could have a bomb in 6 months if US were to launch air strikes on Iranian facilities. It looks like a self-serving political report that is intended to warn the US off a hypothetical attack. Unfortunately, most assessments of Iranian capabilities, this one too seems to based on politics rather than real information.


LONDON [MENL] -- Iran could assemble its first nuclear bomb within six months, a report said.

The London-based Oxford Research Group asserted that Iran could launch a crash program to produce its first crude nuclear weapon by late 2007. The ORG report said Teheran could begin such a program should the United States launch air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.

"It would be a bit like deciding to build a car from spare parts instead of building the entire car factory," the report said. "Put simply, military attacks could speed Iran's progress to a nuclear bomb."

The report, released on March 5, said Iran was not planning to turn nuclear for another few years. British nuclear scientist Frank Barnaby, author of the report, said Teheran appeared to be seeking to achieve nuclear weapons capability in 2012.
contact Middle East Newsline at: for further details.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Trouble in Gaza

Predictably, the rifts in Palestinian society: Clan wars, political wars and geographic separation, are blamed on Israel. However, the fact is that Gazans were never really an integral part of Palestinian Arab life. They were separated under Egyptian rule prior to 1967.  And the current separation is not the fault of Israel, but rather a measure necessitated by Palestinian terror attacks.

Under Pressure, Palestinian Territories Pull Apart
Fracture Lines Are Political, Cultural, Economic

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, March 10, 2007; A01

GAZA CITY -- Ali Hussein is making money, quite a bit of it, which places the low-key sales manager in a small minority in this economically depleted city.

The company he works for is the sole provider of videoconferencing equipment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the separate parts of an elusive Palestinian state whose connections today run mostly through broadband and cellphones. More than 100 clients, including universities, trade associations and government ministries, have turned to him for links to the classrooms, offices and committee rooms in the West Bank that they can no longer visit.

"These two places should be one," Hussein said. "In the meantime, there's us."

Since withdrawing from Gaza a year and a half ago, the Israeli government has severed this coastal strip from the West Bank. The Palestinians have fractured politically at the same time. Many Gazans have embraced Hamas, the radical Islamic movement that won national elections in January 2006, while the West Bank has remained more loyal to the once-dominant Fatah party.

The ensuing power struggle has battered Gaza as Palestinians in the two territories have veered further apart, making the emergence of a viable state even more difficult.

Long the poor provincial cousin of the West Bank, Gaza has been further impoverished in the past year by Israeli border restrictions and an international aid embargo. Unemployment and poverty rates have jumped sharply in the strip, a largely resourceless 140-square-mile stretch of sand dunes, warrens of gray tenements and roads cratered by Israeli artillery shells and neglect. Eight in 10 of Gaza's 1.4 million residents now rely to some extent on U.N. food aid.

The West Bank, whose roughly 2.5 million Palestinian residents have long enjoyed greater freedom to work, study and travel abroad, has also slid, but not nearly as dramatically.

Nearly 500,000 Palestinians living in what is now Israel fled to the West Bank and Gaza during the 1948-49 war that accompanied the nation's founding. Israel occupied Gaza and the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war and began building a network of Jewish settlements inside them. Israel placed few restrictions on Palestinian travel between the two regions, whose distinct politics, culture and economies grew closer.

In signing the 1993 Oslo accords, Israel pledged to treat the West Bank and Gaza as "a single territorial unit" and guaranteed "safe passage" for Palestinians traveling between them. The arrangement functioned sporadically before collapsing after the second Palestinian uprising began in September 2000.

Israel withdrew from its settlements in Gaza in September 2005, in part to establish a southern border that was simpler for its military to defend. In a deal brokered by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Israel agreed to begin bus convoys between the West Bank and the strip by December 2005, but the agreement was never implemented because of Israeli security concerns.

Shin Bet, Israel's security service, reported that Palestinians fired 1,726 crude rockets from Gaza last year -- more than four times as many as in 2005. Two Israelis were killed and 163 wounded in the attacks, which persist today despite several intensive Israeli military forays into the strip last year that killed nearly 400 Palestinians.

"I am not one of those who say there are two Palestinian peoples, but there are two mentalities, two geographies, two economies, that make the places different," said Shin Bet's director, Yuval Diskin. "We have very strong security interests in not allowing strong ties between Gaza and the West Bank. If you open channels between the areas, you will see an increase in terror in the West Bank."

Intent to Divide

Since leaving Gaza, Israel has maintained control over the crossings into Israel, the strip's airspace and coastal waters, and the population registry used to assign Palestinian identity cards and travel documents. The West Bank remains a closed military zone, which Gaza residents have been denied permission to enter since Hamas's election.

West Bank residents must also secure permission to visit Gaza, which Israel is no longer granting. They can enter Gaza through Egypt, but Israeli officials say only several hundred West Bank residents visit Gaza each year, down from the thousands who once did.

Palestinian officials say the growing separation is designed to prevent an economically sustainable state from emerging in Gaza and the West Bank.

"This is clearly Israel's intent," said Mohammed Dahlan, a powerful Fatah lawmaker from Gaza who has negotiated with Israel over the years. "It's not just a question of besieging Gaza, but of separating it from the rest of the world."

During factional fighting over the past year that killed more than 100 Palestinians in Gaza, Dahlan rallied his armed supporters against Hamas's militia, making clear that his goal was to challenge the Islamic movement for control of the strip. But the better-trained Hamas gunmen beat Fatah's more numerous ones, in the assessment of Israeli security officials and the Islamic movement.

"We are able to say that Fatah's effort to erode our government has ended," said Mushir al-Masri, 30, a Hamas lawmaker from northern Gaza.

Gaza has emerged as the seat of Palestinian political authority since the victory of Hamas. During its nearly one year in power, the movement has imprinted its uncompromising vision of Islam on the government at a time when foreign donors, who cut off aid following its election, are demanding that it renounce its founding charter and recognize Israel.

Dahlan, who wields great influence in the Fatah-controlled security services he helped build more than a decade ago, has been recruiting, training and arming fresh forces since the two parties agreed last month in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to stop fighting and form a power-sharing government.

"Hamas is living as if Gaza is the most important geographical unit in Palestine -- its own kingdom of Gaza," said Dahlan, 45, who grew up in the central Gaza city of Khan Younis. "To me, the West Bank and Gaza are the two lungs of Palestine. We cannot live without one of them."

Apart from some reprisal kidnappings and vandalism by Fatah in the West Bank, the factional fighting has remained rooted in Gaza. Israeli security officials say Hamas's battlefield strength gave it the upper hand in the Mecca negotiations. Although it ceded control of some important ministries, the Islamic movement has refused to soften its stance toward Israel, as Fatah officials have demanded.

"The Israelis are trying to create a split reality on the ground," said Ahmed Bahar, 58, a Hamas founder who is now the deputy speaker of parliament.

On the walls of Bahar's office hang posters of Aziz Duwaik, the Hamas speaker of the Palestinian parliament who is one of 38 West Bank lawmakers in Israeli prisons. Nearly all of them are Hamas members, arrested for belonging to an illegal organization, and their imprisonment has concentrated power in the hands of their Gaza counterparts.

In a meeting hall one recent morning, four Gaza lawmakers chatted with four legislators from the West Bank by videoconference -- the weekly meeting of parliament's economics committee. "I can assure you we are one geography and one people," Bahar said. "With one culture and one enemy."

Radicalized in Gaza

Many in the West Bank have viewed the fighting here in Gaza with disdain. Gaza residents such as Amr Hamad, the vice secretary general of the Palestinian Federation of Industries who returned five years ago from a U.N. post in Milan, say it is a sign of growing differences.

"We are becoming more aggressive as a people here," said Hamad, 33, whose wife's family lives in the West Bank. "At least Gaza has the beach, which could one day generate tourism. But first we need a change in mentality here. People still think women must walk around covered, and that is getting stronger. The only solution is to let people get out and communicate with other societies."

While overall Palestinian unemployment is at roughly 26 percent, nearly half of Gaza's population is without work. Those who have jobs with the practically bankrupt Palestinian government -- a far higher percentage of Gaza's workforce than the West Bank's -- have not received a full salary in a year.

About 5,000 Gazans had relatively lucrative jobs in Israel on the eve of its departure from the strip. That number has been cut to almost zero since Hamas took power, while 40,100 West Bank residents have permits to work in Israel's restaurants, vegetable fields and construction sites.

Gaza's export industries have also lost a higher proportion of jobs than the West Bank, because of Israel's frequent closure of the cargo crossing at Karni, which last year was shut entirely or partially for 129 days. Palestinian trade officials say 40 Gaza export businesses, mostly in the garment and furniture sectors, have folded since Israel's withdrawal.

The plummeting incomes in Gaza have increased pressure on Palestinian officials to break the 13-year-old customs agreement that binds their two territories in a single economy.

"Every piece of literature on how to fight terrorism mentions improving the economy," said Samir Hulileh, a former Palestinian negotiator who heads the Ramallah office of the Portland Trust, an economic development program funded by a private British foundation. "And Israel is doing the opposite."

In its 2006 annual report, Shin Bet noted that "terrorist infrastructures" in the West Bank "were increasingly guided and directed by elements in the Gaza Strip," citing the transfer of money, operational advice and "know-how on upgrading war materiel production, including rockets."

Diskin, Shin Bet's director, said Hamas has sent "tens" of its Gaza members to Iran for military training, with the "promise of hundreds" more. He said the training poses a grave threat to Israel because it can be shared across the territories.

Mahmoud and Ahmed Melow al-Ein are the oldest of five brothers raised in a neighborhood of concrete-block apartment buildings where on a recent afternoon, girls played in the streets in the head-to-toe cloaks favored by pious Muslim women.

Mahmoud, a 33-year-old construction contractor with bright eyes and retreating hair, still sleeps in their boyhood house in Rafah within sight of the Israeli-built wall marking the Egyptian border. Ahmed, 31, a policeman with a fleshy face and a head of gray stubble, lives in the West Bank town of Katana, in the shadow of Israel's separation barrier.

Prohibited from traveling between the regions, they have not seen each other in more than six years.

"We blame the Israelis, and the Israelis blame our uprising," said Mahmoud, who worked in Tel Aviv hotels before losing his work permit when Israel left Gaza. Over the years, the brothers, who once shared a room and long afternoons of soccer on the nearby beach, have missed each other's weddings and the births of their children. When their father died in 2002, Ahmed was absent from the funeral procession.

"The political situation exists now with no solution," Mahmoud said. "They will never be one state."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Friday, March 9, 2007

Palestinians to make a dubious offer

If you like the rockets falling on Sderot and the inability of the IDF to reply, there is now a chance to extent this "truce" to the West Bank. Perhaps in the improved version, howitzer shells will fall in Kfar Saba.

Last update - 18:25 09/03/2007   

Abbas to offer expanded cease-fire in talks with Olmert
By Avi Issacharoff and Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondents and Reuters

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Ababs plans to offer Israel an expanded cease-fire in talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday, despite the Islamic Jihad's opposition.
Hamas and Fatah both support Abbas' bid to extend the cease-fire from Gaza to the West Bank, in exchange for Israeli noninterference with the Palestinian unity government that is due to be formed next week - including not urging Western countries to boycott it.
Meanwhile on Friday, a Qassam rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit an open area in the western Negev, causing no injuries or damage.
Abbas and PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh met on Tuesday with representatives of various Palestinian factions and presented the idea to them, and on Wednesday, Abbas' chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, met with representatives of the five largest factions in Gaza.
Islamic Jihad rejected the proposal, however, and although Hamas accepted, it drew fire from some of its senior members.
Senior Hamas lawmaker Mushir al-Masri said Friday that Israel must first halt all military operations and stop excavations near the Temple Mount.
"There can be no talk about calm as long as the digging and harm to Al-Aqsa continued and as long as the Zionist aggression continued," Masri said.
According to Palestinian sources, Islamic Jihad did not completely rule out the idea, but a Jihad representative told Reuters that the organization cannot consider it while "Zionist aggression" against the Palestinians, and particularly Jihad operatives, continues in the West Bank.
Abbas also plans to ask Olmert for various gestures, including a prisoner release, as well as for clarifications on Israel's policy toward the unity government.
Olmert, however, has announced that Israel will boycott any Fatah ministers who will participate in the unity government, unless such a government adheres to the three prerequisites put forth by the international Quartet, namely recognition of Israel, relinquishing violence and accepting previous accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Israel will also not offer any additional gestures to the Palestinians during the Olmert-Abbas meeting. There are concerns that some of the funds Israel transferred to the care of Abbas, for advancing security-related reforms, were used instead to pay for salaries of Palestinian security forces.
"There is a question: Has the money gone to where it needs to go?" said Olmert's spokeswoman, Miri Eisin on Friday.
Haniyeh criticized Israel's position on the tax transfers, saying the money belongs to the Palestinians.
"This is Israeli piracy," he told reporters after Friday prayers.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Rosner takes on Abdullah's speech

King Abdullah of Jordan told the American congress the only things he could possibly say, given who he is and the fact that he is a fairly decent fellow after all. Mostly, he said nothing, in a way that is pleasing to the American ear and does not offend the Arab world.
Rosner wrote:
Maybe it's not fair to ask the weakest of all countries, the shakiest of all regimes, and the fragile of all Kings, to be the one leading the pack.
This sentiment reflects a permanent delusion of Israeli foreign policy, that the Jordanian monarchy is unstable.
Of Israel's neighbors, Jordan is the only country that really has the same form of government and the same basic policies that it did in 1948 and in 1923 for that matter. Nonetheless, the sentiment persists that the Hashemite monarchy is about to fall tomorrow. Until the Asad dynasty took over, Syria changed governments as often as some people change automobiles. Egypt had a Nasserite revolution and effectively, a Sadat revolution. It is waiting for the next one. Lebanon doesn't have a government and has not had a government since about 1976, in the way that "government" is ordinarily understood, but the Jordanian monarchy is still there. Strangely, everyone still insists it is the most unstable government in the region. It was unshaken by the assassination of Abdullah I, and the PLO and Syria could not overthrow it in the 70s. It survived the death of King Hussein as well.
The Hashemites were lucky to be on the right side of the cold war, shrewd enough to maneuver between the perils of the Israeli-Arab conflict and the challenges of modernizing Islamic society and clever enough to make the right alliances. Above all, among Arab governments, the Jordanian government is remarkable for providing competent and responsible administration that is responsive to the real needs of its people. Behind the loyal Bedouins of the Jordan Legion stands the might of the United States, Britain and Israel, who would hopefully never be foolish enough to abandon the Hashemite regime. As long as that is true, whoever would be stupid enough to rise against this monarchy would probably be squashed like a bug.
Ami Isseroff 

Rosner's Blog 
 Shmuel Rosner Chief U.S. Correspondent 
King Abdullah's not-so-courageous call for peace
King Abdullah of Jordan is a likable fellow. "How can anyone not like him? ", as Jerry Seinfeld's mother used to ask. And today in Congress, he was as nice and reassuring as one can ever be. "No more bloodshed, no more lives pointlessly taken", he said. "The goal must be a peace in which all sides gain".
Can Congress disagree with that?
Abdullah's speech was long in cliches and short in substance. Americans have gotten used to seeing this friendly, peace-loving king as the Arab world's voice of moderation and wisdom. "King Abdullah is a good friend and a close ally", said Sean McCormack of the State Department today. However, today's speech was a very weak display of these attributes. All the King was doing is trying to make everybody happy. And you know what? He didn't even succeed at that.
The usual suspects reacted in their usual way (and I'm probably also one of them). The American Task Force on Palestine applauded the speech, and so did Americans for Peace Now. "We deeply appreciate the devotion and passion with which he delivered his outstanding address," said Debra DeLee, the president of APN.
Others were not as appreciative. Congressman Steve Israel (D, NY) stated after the session that he was "surprised by the focus of his speech." Rep. Ron Klein of Florida stated that "I was disappointed his speech did not contain more specifics concerning the Palestinian Authority's position toward Israel. This was a missed opportunity".
Congressman Israel gave an accurate assessment of the problem with Abdullah's speech: "He was trying to give two speeches at the same time. One was for citizens of Jordan. The other speech was to a U.S. audience urging a jump start of peace talks. I'm not sure that you can satisfy both audiences with the same speech at the same time."
Let's see what he had to offer:
"[the conflict is] pulling the region and the world towards greater danger": That's easy to agree with.
"There must be a peace in which Israelis will be part of the neighborhood": That's nice, but still needs to be cleared with the other occupants of some parts of the neighborhood.
"[progress must be made] not in one year or five years but this year": We all wish, but is it a realistic goal?
"the wellspring of regional division, the source of resentment and frustration... is the denial of justice and peace in Palestine": That's a debatable analysis. If the Arab-Israeli conflict were to somehow miraculously be resolved, would that mark the end of all resentments and frustration in the Middle East? How exactly would such a development solve the problem of the Lebanese who suffer instability, fear Syria and struggle with internal rifts?
"40 years of occupation": This is just inaccurate: It is forty years of Israeli occupation, preceded by the unmentioned Jordanian occupation of the West Bank.
"their [King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin] courageous work for peace received bipartisan support from your leaders": True. And that receives an A+ for good intentions leading to nowhere.
The King doesn't give us any hint as to the reasons for recent failures apart from the lack of sufficient involvement. That's a perpetual argument: if there is no peace, one can always argue more involvement is needed. And if there is still no peace, one can ask again for even more. It is as if no power can overcome "involvement."
Is the failure of the peace process Israel's fault alone? Abdullah was not blatantly blaming Israel today, but he did say as much a couple of days ago: "The main responsibility (for achieving peace) lies with Israel, which must choose either to remain a prisoner of the mentality of 'Israel the fortress' or to live in peace and stability with its neighbors."
And what about sharing the blame with other actors? Abdullah didn't mention the extremists of Hamas today - not even once. He was also careful with Iran and Hezbollah. You know what - He only criticized in name the parties he is not afraid of: Israel, and to some extent the U.S., from which he seeks more involvement and less "bias."
Seriously speaking, no one in his right mind would question the King's desire and dedication to peace in the region. Abdullah does have one offer he wishes to lobby for as he enters the more substantial talks with the policy makers of the Bush administration. The King believes that an adoption by all sides of the Arab plan - the second incarnation of the Saudi plan - can be the key to a breakthrough. He also believes that "[there is now a] rare and historic moment of opportunity", as many Arab countries become more nervous about the growing influence of Iran on the region.
Does it make sense? On paper it certainly does. Israel has already announced that there are many useful elements in the Saudi plan - and clearly, if some modifications can be agreed upon, this plan could serve as a starting point for negotiation.
The King's speech today did not bode well for the actual chances of achieving his own goal. If adjustments are needed, it will require some courage on both sides, some public acknowledgment of the need to make "difficult choices". Clearly, such choices will have to be made on the Israeli side - and the Israeli government has not hinted that it would be willing to make them (whether it is politically capable to do so, that's a different story). But where is the Arab leader who is ready to call on his friends to make a compromise - not just by generally stating the need for accepting Israel into the neighborhood, but rather by naming names, pointing fingers and defining the actual choices?
Maybe it's not fair to ask the weakest of all countries, the shakiest of all regimes, and the fragile of all Kings, to be the one leading the pack. Therefore, if one was looking to King Abdullah to be this leader today in Congress - one was looking in the wrong direction.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Lebanon War: Applying whitewash

An elaborate fantasy has been created, whereby there is doubt about the ultimate responsibility for the failures of the Lebanon war. Once this fantasy is believed, it is possible to think that the fate of Ehud Olmert and his government should depend on this or that report.
Everyone could see with their own eyes what happened to civil defense in the north. Everyone could see that deployment or non-deployment of the army in Lebanon was capricious, hesitant and child-like.
While there is doubt about the details of who is responsible at the lower levels for which failure, there can be no doubt that the ultimate responsibility for a failed war always rests with the head of state. Olmert initiated the war without checking readiness of the home front and the IDF. Olmert ultimately made the decisions about deployment or non-deployment of reserves. Many others, including Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak were no doubt guilty of contributory negligence, but they were not driving the vehicle when it hit the tree.
This article below, is a part of that fantasy. We don't need a panel of jurists to tell us that rockets should not have been falling on the north for about a month with no defense, and we know who ordered it. Anyhow, the interim Winograd report will not make personal recommendations, and anyhow they are not binging. And anyhow, there is nobody less bad than Olmert available to replace him, is there?
Ami Isseroff

Olmert buys some time
By Amos Harel

What sounded last weekend like the threatening roar of an approaching earthquake ended midweek in a whimper. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert emerged victorious from the present round. A surprising coalition of politicians, legal experts and senior officers united against State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss and blocked him last Tuesday from releasing the main points of his highly critical report on the performance of the home front. Fans of political drama will not have to wait long, however. The interim report of the Winograd Committee examining the war in Lebanon is slated for release by the end of the month, by which time procedural reasons to stem the tide will be hard to come by. In the end, Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz bought themselves only a little time. The outburst of open hostility between the two in Tuesday's cabinet meeting, immediately after the prime minister's temporary victory over the state comptroller, attests to their awareness of this fact.
Unfortunately for him, the chief of the Home Front Command (HFC), Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon, was caught in the crossfire. Gershon is justified in fearing that he may be one of the main casualties of the comptroller's report. He was summoned three times to testify before Lindenstrauss' people, who asked him some tough questions. And if it is agreed that the performance of the Home Front during the war was disastrous, it is clear that the head of the branch is likely to be a target of the report. When the idea arose in the Military Advocate General's Office of petitioning against the discussion in the Knesset State Control Committee (where the comptroller planned to present the main points of the report), officials looked for a senior officer whose name could be added as a petitioner. Gershon agreed, partly because the jurists explained that this would help officers who could be harmed by the report, many of whom are his subordinates. "I'm responsible for the deeds of my people. I'm the address, as long as nobody acted with malice or did something criminal," Gershon said this week in conversations with his subordinates.
The argument - according to which those liable to be harmed were not given a fair chance to defend themselves before the release of the main points - convinced even the attorney general, the Knesset legal adviser and to some extent the High Court of Justice as well, which imposed restrictions on the deliberations in the committee and crippled the comptroller's plan. Gershon was complimented this week by colleagues on the General Staff for his willingness to pitch in, but in fact some of his close associates suggested that he refrain from filing the petition and even after the fact believed it was a mistake.
Gershon's action helped Olmert and the Israel Defense Forces, but not necessarily Gershon himself. Some people who spoke with him this week had the impression that he is having some regrets, that maybe he was too naive in agreeing to the petition, which works to the benefit of forces greater than he. It may really not be such a great source of pride to be the first IDF general to submit a petition against a state authority. The new chief of staff, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, surprised the senior officers by not preventing Gershon and the IDF from becoming involved in the legal-political imbroglio. At least one of his predecessors in the job says that had he been in Ashkenazi's place, he would have forbidden the filing of the petition, with all due respect to the sacred autonomy of the Military Advocate General.
Before the Lebanon war Gershon, whose record includes a successful period as commander of IDF forces in the West Bank at the height of the second intifada, was thought to be on the shortlist to become the next head of the Central Command. Since the war his chances have decreased. After all, the report will be published despite the delaying tactics, and the HFC is responsible for some of the failures. This may be somewhat unfair, since the HFC at least demonstrated initiative, resourcefulness and good will during the war, in the face of the impotence demonstrated by many of the local authorities and rescue organizations. Moreover, soon after assuming the HFC command, Gershon became the first person to call for the creation of a national body to coordinate the handling of the home front and to declare that the HFC did not have the powers needed to fill that role.
Herein lies part of the problem: The job of HFC chief is usually considered a stepping stone to loftier positions. Unlike the other area commands (Northern, Central, Southern), however, the Home Front is an area of special expertise to which the army usually sends new generals with no experience in the field. This does not prevent every new general in the command from trying to reinvent the wheel within a few months of his arrival, only to have his successor do the same thing.
If Gershon is ambivalent about the results of the legal confrontation this week, in the case of Lindenstrauss the score is clear: In this round the comptroller was defeated. He played into the hands of the prime minister, who managed to plant a reasonable doubt among broad sections of the media and the public regarding any statement by Lindenstrauss, claiming that the comptroller has it in for him personally. Nor did the comptroller's publicity-hunting help.
An interesting question came up this week regarding the uncharacteristic silence of Amir Peretz in this affair. Did the defense minister leave the field to the prime minister and the head of the HFC because they did his work for him? Peretz disappeared from the public discussion about the home front, although he is certainly as least as responsible for the failures as are Olmert, former chief of staff Dan Halutz or Gershon.
It is doubtful whether the comptroller's tactical errors will blunt the impression left by his conclusions, the publication of which has been postponed. The more time passes since the war, the more difficult it is for the government to sell its version of events. Israel's few achievements in the campaign are gradually being eroded: Hezbollah, which had been pushed back from the border, is now rearming itself undisturbed. The deployment of the international force along the border (which is taking almost no action against the weapons stockpiles of the Shi'ite organization) is balanced out by Hezbollah's success in actively threatening the stability of the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. In early August, at the beginning of the war, Olmert could still speak of a "great victory" for Israel. In September, after it ended, then chief of staff Dan Halutz still claimed that "we won on points." Today, almost nobody is speaking in such terms.
Stepping into the vacuum
The same is true of the home front. The 600 pages of the comptroller's report will present in-depth analyses and recommendations for change, but anyone who spent time in the North during the war already knows the bottom line. When the home front became the front line, the country abandoned the region's residents. Voluntary organizations stepped into the vacuum left behind by government ministries and some of the local councils. Billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak assessed the situation in a more organized manner than the government did, and apparently offered more assistance to residents as well. Most of those who were able to do so fled the affected areas in the first two weeks. Those who remained in the line of fire were mainly those who had no choice: the ill, the poor, the new immigrants.
A senior civil servant who spent most of the war traveling among the bomb shelters reported feeling "tremendous shame. It was a disgrace. There was great chaos and the government was not sufficiently in evidence. I quickly learned that the situation depended mainly on the ability of the local council. Strong municipalities like Haifa and Carmiel functioned well. In Kiryat Shmona and Safed, the situation was absolutely terrible." Do any of us still need the comptroller in order to know that these words reflect the true picture of the situation? The claim made by Olmert to the effect that the London blitz was worse is simply irrelevant.
Three former judges who served concurrently as district court presidents are writing the three main documents of the recent period: the Zeiler report, the Lindenstrauss report, the Winograd report. The first two have already been sharply criticized for their sweeping conclusions, an absence of judicial balance, the overenthusiastic response to the wooing of the media. And yet there is something very symbolic in this process - as though it took three representatives of another, older generation to clarify to the present-day office holders the seriousness of the breakdown in the performance of official bodies.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Great Expectations, but not for Abbas-Olmert Summit

Another meeting just to prove the futility of such meetings?

Mixed expectations regarding the Abbas-Olmert meeting on Sunday
Date: 09 / 03 / 2007  Time:  16:07

Ramallah - Ma'an - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are to meet on Sunday, the head of the negotiation affairs department in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Dr. Saeb Erekat, confirmed on Friday.

However, Israeli sources have played down the importance of the meeting, saying that the only subject that might seriously be discussed is the subject of the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, and the number of Palestinian prisoners that Israel might agree to be released in a prisoners' exchange deal under Egyptian mediation.

Erekat said in a media statement on Friday that the meeting with Olmert has an open agenda, including humanitarian and economic issues, in addition to the issue of the prisoners, the abducted Palestinian ministers and the siege. He stressed that Israel must "end the unjust siege imposed on our people".

Olmert's spokeswoman, Miri Eisin, has said, however, that the final touches regarding the details of the meeting are still not completed. Officials in Olmert's office told the Israeli newspaper 'Yedioth Ahronot' on Friday, "the meeting with Abbas is empty of hope, the ceiling of expectations is low and the summit is going to take place only to please the Americans."

Officials said that in the meeting on Sunday, Olmert will demand that Abbas provides clarifications concerning the US $100 million in Palestinian taxes that Israel released to him earlier in the current year.

Abbas is also expected to try to convince Olmert to lessen his opposition to the Palestinian unity government. Olmert has previously vowed to boycott a unity government that includes Hamas members, even if headed by Abbas, as long as the government fails to acknowledge Israel's right to exist, reject violence or accept the previous peace agreements.

Abbas is also expected to raise the possibility of expanding the fragile truce agreement to include the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip. Some Palestinian factions oppose the expansion of the truce, and Israeli officials say that they will not discuss this agreement until the Palestinians stop launching projectiles from the Gaza Strip.

Continued (Permanent Link)

We resist, therefore we are

Farouq Qadoumi is the Palestinian equivalent of Bibi Netanyahu in that he is inherently opposed to the Oslo accords and to peace. Not surprising that he calls for continued resistance. Says Qadoumi:
"Any government without resistance will not be able to strengthen its 'cards' in the negotiations".
To which the reply must be "Any government with resistance will not be able to negotiate."
Terror is not a right, and it is non-negotiable. But what Qaddoumi really means is that no Palestinian "political" party could hope to remain in power if it does not support "resistance" (terror).

PLO political chief calls for continued resistance to the Israeli occupation
Date: 09 / 03 / 2007  Time:  10:45

Bethlehem - Ma'an - The head of the political department of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Farouq Al-Qaddoumi, has stressed the need to continue the Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation.

In media statements after his meeting with the Syrian vice president, Faruoq Al-Shar', on Thursday in the Syrian capital, Damascus, Al-Qaddoumi said, "Any government without resistance will not be able to strengthen its 'cards' in the negotiations".

He added, "What happened in the Palestinian territories in the recent period between brothers is an anomaly in the Palestinian people's lives and a deviation of the Palestinian resistance from its role".

He expressed his hope that the agreement between Fatah and Hamas will lead to a lifting of the siege that Israel, the US and the European states imposed on the Palestinian people. He added that this siege will not help to establish a just and comprehensive peace in the region.

He said that he discussed with the Syrian vice president, Farouq Al-Shar' the situation in the Arab arena, and especially in the Palestinian arena, and the steps taken to establish the Palestinian national unity government.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Shimon Peres: Not what you thought

Shimon Peres is a politician. Politicians lend themselves to vilification, and few Israeli politicians have been subject to bipartisan vilification as has Shimon Peres. Great men make great enemies. If you don't do anything, you don't make enemies. Few have done as much as Peres, and few made so many enemies. He was attacked by Itzhak Rabin in his autobiography as an incorrigible subversive, and by the "doves" of the Labor party as a partisan of David Ben Gurion in the Lavon Affair. He was probably right in that fight. He was attacked again by the Israeli left for OK-ing the expansion of settlements. Then he was attacked by the Israeli right for trying to overthrow the government of Itzhak Shamir. Subsequently he was vilified as a traitor by those who opposed the Oslo accords and favored Greater Israel. Anti-Zionists who spread hysteria about the Israeli nuclear project point out rightly that Peres is the father of that project.
His championing of the "New Middle East" and peace with the Arabs turned Peres into the dartboard target of the Israeli right. They sabotaged his bid for the presidency and foisted on us instead Moshe Katsav, who appeared to be a mediocre and harmless man, but turned out to be remarkable in a very embarrassing way.
Everyone always misses the old, great leaders after they are gone. This is especially true in a period when leadership would seem to have failed. There is a nostalgia for Ben Gurion, for Ariel Sharon and for Menachem Begin, expressed even by those who should have been their bitterest political enemies.
Thoughtful Israelis and Zionists inevitably use the excuse of the new biography of Peres to re-evaluate the man, but judging from this review in Slate, it doesn't tell us much we should not already know.
Ami Isseroff

A Man of Security, not Peace
If Shimon Peres is lucky, his new biography will be his legacy.
By Shmuel Rosner
Posted Thursday, March 8, 2007, at 7:35 AM ET

In March 1975, as the negotiations over the disengagement agreement with Egypt reached a low point, Israeli Defense Minister Shimon Peres went to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin with a new idea. Israel had rejected the American demand, conveyed by Henry Kissinger, that it withdraw its forces from the Mitla and Gidi passes—strategic areas in the Sinai Peninsula occupied by Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The row with Kissinger led to President Gerald Ford's decision to "reassess" the U.S.-Israeli relationship. It was one of the most difficult moments in the history of that relationship, and Peres was looking for a way out, a formula for compromise.
Rabin was "stunned" when he heard Peres' idea: Israel would withdraw from the passes, and the area would come under international control—U.S. forces on the eastern side and Soviet forces on the western side. "Had I not heard, with my own ears, a senior government Minister suggest that Israel herself would request the entry of Soviet troops into the Sinai, and insert them as a buffer between her and Egypt—I would have been certain that Peres' vile enemies were spreading lies about him," wrote Rabin is his memoirs, now quoted in Michael Bar-Zohar's new biography, Shimon Peres.
The rivalry between Peres and Rabin is one of the themes that runs through the book, but even more significant is Peres' tendency toward "mass production of creative plans and ideas." More than once, notes Bar-Zohar, "his creativity has gone too far. That was a typical trait of his character, for which many called him 'a man of fantasies' and of far fetched ideas." In Israel they still do. "Peres himself admitted"—in an interview with his biographer—"that he would be satisfied if only half of his ideas came to fruition".

Peres had many good ideas, and many bad ones, but he always had ideas, and he always fought for them. Many of them did come to fruition: the strategic alliance with France in the '50s, the Dimona nuclear project in the '60s, the Oslo accords in the '90s. Peres, argues Bar-Zohar, is "a mediocre politician, yet a statesman of splendid vision." You could also argue the exact opposite. How else can his astonishing political career—spanning more than 60 years and counting—be explained?
Peres is the ultimate political survivor. Now, in his 84th year, he is seeking the presidency of the country to which he has dedicated his life and energy. And we can predict only this much: If he loses, yet again, it will not be the end of him. Peres has already lost the presidency once, in 2000, when the Knesset instead chose Moshe Katsav for the largely ceremonial position. He was also able to lose the 1996 election—the first direct vote for prime minister—to Benjamin Netanyahu, astonishing those who thought his victory was all but settled, half a year after the assassination of his fellow Laborite Rabin. Peres, truth be told, won an election only once—in 1984—and even then it was just an illusion: He won the election, but he wasn't able to form a government. Peres had to settle for a unity government with a rotation at the helm: After two years of Peres as prime minister, he had to move to the foreign ministry and cede the premiership to Likud's Yitzhak Shamir.
But Peres is the man who never quits. If this biography does him justice, it is because it serves as a reminder of his contribution to the state of Israel. Something most Israelis forgot long ago.
Beyond his nation's borders, Shimon Peres is known as an elder statesman, a Nobel Prize winner, a man of peace—after all, he initiated the Oslo accords and pushed for a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Israelis see him as the perpetual political loser that he is. They mostly think of Peres as the "relentless underminer"—a Rabin coinage. "He deserves a mention in the Guinness Book of Records as the champion of absorbing blows and insults," according to political analyst Nahum Barnea.
That's why this book (just out in English, published last year in Hebrew) is so important and so illuminating. It will save the world from looking at Peres through misleading lenses (this apparent dove bears significant responsibility for the settlement boom of the early '70s), but more important, it will make Israelis more appreciative of his long years in politics.
Peres might want to be remembered as the man who brought peace to Israel, but his most notable peace initiative—the Oslo accords—remains controversial. Here's what the new book tells us in a way that's hard to dispute: Peres' real achievements involve security, not peace. The arms deals securing Israel the means to defend itself right after its inception; the nuclear vision, against all odds and over many objections; the Entebbe operation—when the IDF was able to free hostages in a breath-taking raid on a faraway airport in Uganda.
And his personal story is also the reminder we need—especially at a time when voices are again calling for the destruction of Israel—of the significance of security in the 60 years of Israel's existence. Here's a boy from the village of Vishneva on the border of Poland and Belarus embarking on a journey to build a new homeland for his persecuted tribe. "Be a Jew, forever!" his grandfather Zvi Meltzer told the young Shimon Persky when he left home for Palestine in 1935. "These were the last words Shimon ever heard his grandfather say. Zvi Meltzer, and with him all the members of the Persky and Meltzer families who remained in Vishneva, were massacred by the Nazis during World War 2," notes Bar-Zohar.
This is a melancholy book for Israelis. Peres is the last founding father still active, and reading about his life is a reminder of the treacherous waters Israel had to navigate to become what it is today: a strong, vibrant, democratic, prosperous country in a bad neighborhood. But it is also a sad reminder of its declining class of leaders.
Peres, for all the flaws this book so mercilessly reveals, is a giant compared with Israel's current leaders. Reminding people of this will be the book's ultimate victory—and we can only hope that Peres, relentless and insistent as always, will not stand in its way.

Continued (Permanent Link)

A new voice for peace?

Who said this: ??
"I see a unique opportunity for progress in the peace process with moderate Arab partners, for a simple reason: There is identification of a shared threat," he explained. "Even if Iran's nuclear program is stopped, the extremist Islamic threat exists, and that allows for the creation of alliances with various elements in the Arab world as well as in Palestinian society."
Radical Leftist Shimon Peres? Wrong. Traitor Yossi Beilin? Wrong again. It is none other than Bibi Netanyahu. Is this New Bibi really new, or is he like the new Nixon or a retread tire?
Bibi is preparing for the Iranian danger. However, the real danger is always the one you did NOT prepare for, and sometimes it is created by your preparations for an entirely different danger. Kicking USSR out of Afghanistan opened the way for Al-Qaeda. Knocking out Saddam helped to boost Iran.
Ami Isseroff

Surging toward a comeback

By Aluf Benn Haaretz 9 March 2007

On Wednesday, a few hours before flying to Washington, Benjamin Netanyahu remembered his job as head of the opposition and rattled off some comments about Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "We have to hold elections," Netanyahu declared. "The prime minister has lost the public trust."

This was a rare public criticism from the Likud leader, who has been trying to appear statesmanlike over the past few months and generally avoids frontal assaults on the government. He apparently figured it wasn't worth kicking a dead political horse that enjoys negligible support in the polls, and that it's better to keep quiet until the government collapses on its own.

But something has changed over the last few days.

"I'm convinced that the government will not live out its days," Netanyahu said in an interview with Haaretz, in which he accused Olmert of being helpless in the face of the Iranian threat. "The nation is searching for leadership, and if the government doesn't gain its composure, the change will come," he added. "Time will tell whether it happens in a parliamentary or electoral process, but I am convinced that it is not just the will of the opposition, but the will of the nation."

Although it is possible for the government to recover, there's "no sign" of that happening, Netanyahu said. "On the contrary: There is a reverse process of maneuvers, delays, futile exercises and dealing with unimportant and political exercises, rather than with changes that must be initiated in the country."

Netanyahu also identified his political target this week: Kadima's stockpile of MKs and voters. The crowning of the Likud leader as Olmert's successor during the current Knesset will require that at least 11 members of the prime minister's faction return to the Likud. And if the elections are held early - something that Netanyahu doubts will happen - the Likud will need votes that it lost to Kadima and to Yisrael Beiteinu in 2006.

Perhaps because of this, and perhaps due to the upcoming Winograd Commission report on the war in Lebanon and its potential ramifications, Netanyahu is signaling a move to the center, and is making surprisingly optimistic statements about the chances of a political process with the Palestinians.

"I see a unique opportunity for progress in the peace process with moderate Arab partners, for a simple reason: There is identification of a shared threat," he explained. "Even if Iran's nuclear program is stopped, the extremist Islamic threat exists, and that allows for the creation of alliances with various elements in the Arab world as well as in Palestinian society."

And would you agree to withdraw from territories as part of such a peace process?

"If I knew that I had a genuine partner. I have already proved that I am prepared to make certain concessions, not sweeping or unlimited, but I demanded mutuality and as long as I received it, I was able to progress."

Would you accept the Saudi initiative (withdrawal from all territory in exchange for fully normalized ties between Israel and the Arab world, and a "just and agreed-upon" solution to the refugee problem) as the basis for negotiations?

"The Saudi initiative cannot be implemented in terms of its details, but we have to aspire to an arrangement in which it is clear that if Israel is required to make additional concessions, it knows from the start that there will be no more demands and that the conflict is reaching an end. That did not exist in the negotiations that we conducted until now. We have to make an arrangement, get to the end, and then go backward."

Head of the Majlis

Despite the optimistic statements, Netanyahu does not currently see a Palestinian partner for an agreement, and demands that the peace partner will recognize Israel's right to exist. He is also not enthusiastic about the renewal of the Syrian negotiations channel, and says he tends to accept the assessment of Mossad espionage agency head Meir Dagan, that Syria is not heading toward peace. Netanyahu quotes intelligence assessments that the Syrian military-acquisitions budget has increased tenfold. On this matter, his position is no different from Olmert's.

Netanyahu has long been acting like the opposition head of the Majlis, Iran's parliament, rather than that of the Knesset. His public criticism is directed toward Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Netanyahu goes around the world and calls for Ahmadinejad to stand trial for incitement to genocide. His upcoming trip to the United States will also center around the struggle against Iran and its nuclear program. He will speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobby's annual conference next week, and meet with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and the leading candidates for president.

"The Iranian regime is more vulnerable than it seems," said Netanyahu. "It's possible to act against it in a firm and focused way, to destabilize it, or stop the nuclear program, or both. Its major weakness is in the economic sphere."

The idea of imposing a "secondary boycott" on the Iranian economy is at the center of Netanyahu's campaign. It involves convincing the managers of pension funds for civil servants in every state in the United States, which hold assets worth hundreds of billions of dollars, to pull their investments from some 400 companies, from European and other countries, conducting business with Iran. Such a boycott would threaten the Iranian economy and the stability of its government. Netanyahu also wants to send AIPAC activists to governors and state legislatures in a bid to get them to order the pension funds to impose the boycott. This week, he submitted a similar bill in the Knesset, which, if passed, would ban Israeli investment in multinational companies active in Iran.

"All who feared military efforts against Iran should welcome an economic means that can render military activity unnecessary," Netanyahu said.

In his latest travels in Europe, he presented this idea to members of the French National Assembly's foreign affairs committee and to members of the British parliament. He tells doves to support the boycott so as to prevent an attack on Iran; the hawks will support pressure on the Iranians anyway. "It's not certain that the effort will succeed," Netanyahu admitted. "But even if it doesn't, at least public opinion will be prepared for tougher

Same 1938 analogy

In a speech before the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities in Los Angeles in November, Netanyahu made a chilling analogy between present-day Iran and 1938 Germany. Since then, he has continued to draw this analogy. In his talks in Washington next week, he will suggest the establishment of a "coalition against genocide" that would act against the genocide in Darfur - an issue that is important to the Democrats - and against Ahmadinejad, the Holocaust denier who has called for Israel's destruction. The coalition would be "against a genocide that is carried out, that which is denied, and that which is planned," Netanyahu explained.

Is Israel facing a holocaust?

"I think it's possible to stop this holocaust, these threats. The situation is identical to 1938, in that an extreme ideology is present that is arming itself with weapons, with the declared attempt of destroying a significant portion of the Jewish people. The situation is different, in that there is a State of Israel that can and must elicit international pressure, and also because there is [now] a historic perspective. When [U.S. Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice said that we are not in 1938, she was not referring to a change in the intention to destroy, but to the application of the historic lesson. On the contrary: Let us see the application, but it depends on actions carried out in the exhaustible time [that's left]."

Netanyahu quoted the Mossad chief's assessment that Iran will achieve nuclear capability within about three years. "That's not a lot of time, 1,000 days," the Likud leader said.

Aren't you concerned that your talk of a holocaust will lead to demoralization and will encourage young Israelis to flee just in order to be saved?

"The right thing that generates hope is not repressing the threat, or blurring it and concealing it, but the readiness to face it and to muster the many forces we have, and to lead the world to understand and stand up against it. There is a future, there is the capacity to halt this, to stop Iran and, if necessary, to build a massive deterrence."

Is the Olmert government doing enough?

"Unfortunately not. I would like to see a greater effort, and I said so to the prime minister. An all-out effort, which tries to use all the available tools to generate economic, political and public-relations pressure to isolate Iran, destabilize the regime or freeze the nuclear program. A master plan is needed, with the direct involvement of the prime minister."

Netanyahu advocates significant investment in development of defense and deterrence methods. When he was prime minister, he increased the budget for that, and today notes that Israel "will be required over the coming decades to build capabilities of a much larger scope than what there is." He said the necessary technology exists, and that if Israel continues along the right economic path, it will be able to fund the development on its own.

"On these matters," he said, "the person in opposition, and certainly the opposition head, faces a genuine dilemma. In the internal realm, things must be said and must be subject to discussion, argument and criticism, but they cannot be part of the public discourse. There is a paradox concerning everything related to nonconventional matters. This discussion takes place, and I take an active part in it as the opposition chairman, in subcommittees, and I think that to a large extent [I am] also an expediting factor on certain matters. But I cannot go into it in public."

'A responsible opposition'

Benjamin Netanyahu loves to quote Winston Churchill, whose warnings concerning Hitler's arms buildup in the 1930s were not heeded. So, why shouldn't Netanyahu act like Churchill, who became the first lord of the admiralty in the government of his rival, Neville Chamberlain? When such an existential threat is at hand, why shouldn't Netanyahu boost Olmert and run his public campaign around the world as a cabinet member instead of from the opposition?

"My colleagues and I acted as a responsible opposition," said Netanyahu. "We supported the government from day one, including during the war and afterward."

Why drag the country into an election campaign when time is running out and the Iranian bomb is ticking? After all, Ahmadinejad won't wait.

"A vast majority of the public wants elections precisely for this reason, [because] there need to be rapid changes of leadership. Elections can be held in a few short weeks and a government can be brought in to take care of the problem. How will it help you for time to pass like sand between your fingers without any action and without the necessary steps being taken for our defense, to recruit the world against Iran? In such situations, it's desirable for the public to give a renewed mandate to deal with these threats, which didn't happen in the previous elections, which were conducted on the basis of completely different assumptions that in the meantime proved to be false. In a democracy, a government that is chosen on a platform that turns out to no longer be valid needs to go back to the public and ask for a renewed mandate. That's why in a parliamentary democracy, there are ways to replace a government in mid-term, as a result of deficient functioning or a change in mandate."

The Prime Minister's Bureau said in response to Netanyahu's comments that the prime minister was directing a "complex operation" to deal with the possibility of a nuclear Iran.

"Management of the Iranian problem is being coordinate by the prime minister, and involves hundreds and thousands of people in the security branches, intelligence and political bodies of the State of Israel," the bureau said in a statement. "This is a complex operation, more sensitive than any other, to which the prime minister is dedicating long hours of his schedule every week.

"Just recently, the prime minister held a meeting with subcommittee members of the [Knesset] Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, in which he provided them with a summary of Israeli activity on the matter. All the members of the committee - apparently excluding Mr. Netanyahu - received a completely different impression [from the picture he portrays], and even made the effort to point this out repeatedly to the prime minister. There is no subject or topic that Mr. Netanyahu does not try to enlist in an effort to damage the government, even if it will entail damage to the State of Israel's most crucial interests. Thus, he proves once again that there is nothing like scare tactics to serve his political goals."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Preparing for the next war: Syria deploys thousands of rockets on Israel border

Given the information below, can anyone still take seriously the Israel Military Intelligence estimate that Syria is not preparing for war?
Of course there is a difference between Syria and Lebanon. The US warned Israel not to topple the government of Fuad Seniora. For Syria, there would be no such warning. Syria cannot hide its aggression behind the operation of a guerilla movement, and should be held fully responsible for the consequences of any attack.

Syria deploys thousands of rockets on Israel border: sources
by Ron Bousso - AFP - Fri Mar 9, 4:50 AM ET;_ylt=AmtwWFPQihniTJax_lqiw6mbOrgF

Syria has positioned on its border with Israel thousands of medium and long-range rockets capable of striking major towns across northern Israel, military and government sources told AFP.

This deployment, coupled with other recent reports of Syrian troop mobilisation, is seen in Israel as an indication that Damascus may be preparing for future "low intensity warfare," they said.

The report comes only two weeks after Israel held war games on the occupied Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967, in a bid to learn the lessons of last summer's conflict in neighbouring south Lebanon.

The Syrian army accelerated its deployment of medium and long-range rockets in the wake of the Lebanon war, during whichthe Hezbollah militia fired moe than 4,000 rockets against northern Israel.

"We have noticed that in recent months Syria has deployed hundreds, possibly thousands, of medium and long-range rocketsalong the border (with Israel)," one military source said.

"Many of the rockets are hidden in underground chambers and in camouflaged silos, which make them very difficult to locate," the source said.

Three of the sources were from the military and two from the government, and they all spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity. They said Syria has built a system of fortified underground tunnels along its border with Israel.

Most of the rockets deployed are 220 millimetre, with a range of 70 kilometres (43 miles), and 302 millimetre rockets capable of striking targets at a distance of more than 100 kilometres (56 miles).

The latter would be well within range of the main population centres in northern Israel such as Tiberias and Kiryat Shmona. These long-range rockets could also reach Israel's third largest city of Haifa and its industrial zone, which is home to several essential industries, including oil refineries and a deep-water port.

It is also believed that Syria has deployed several FROG rocket launchers, with a a 550-kilogram (1,200-pound) warhead and 70-kilometre range, in areas between the border and the capital Damascus, 40 kilometres (25 miles) away.

According to the sources, such a massive deployment of well entrenched rockets poses "a real strategic threat" to Israel. While Syria concentrates most of its long-range surface-to-surface missile arsenal in the north of the country, its decision to deploy rockets so close to the border may indicate that Syria is mulling an attack on Israel, experts say.

"Syrian President Bashar al-Assad realised after the Lebanon war that Israel was not as strong as it seems and that it could be threatened by simple means rather than an advanced army," the director of the Begin-Saadat Centre for Strategic Studies, Ephraim Inbar, told AFP.

Inbar, as well as the military sources, believe that "Assad could be preparing for low intensity war, a type of war of attrition with Israel, where Syria fires several rockets against Israel without provoking full-fledged war."

"Israel has absolute superiority in several fields in warfare," a senior government official said, referring mainly to Israel's advanced air force and "smart" weapons.

"So Syria is investing in fields where it can have an edge. It has invested in recent years in anti-aircraft weapons, rockets, missiles and bunkers. The war in Lebanon proved to the Syrians they were right to do so."

Israel's military intelligence chief, Major General Amos Yadlin, told the government's annual intelligence assessment that while Syria was beefing up its military, war between the two neighbouring countries was unlikely in 2007.

"Syria is continuing its military build-up and preparing for war," he told the cabinet.

"The chances of a full-scale war initiated by Syria are low, but the chances of Syria reacting militarily against Israeli military moves are high."

Government sources told AFP that Syria was close to concluding a deal with Russia to procure thousands of advanced anti-tank missiles, of the sort Hezbollah used with great success against Israeli armour last year.

Tensions between Israel and Syria have peaked in recent months, with Israel rejecting peace overtures from Damascus and both sides toughening rhetoric.

Damascus has repeatedly demanded the return of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and annexed in 1981. It is now home to more than 15,000 settlers.

Peace talks between Israel and Syria collapsed in 2000.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Zionism vs Fanaticism

Bradley Burston has summarized the credo of radical religious Zionism. Burston's summary could be a credo for progressive Zionism. It omits some essentials:
The original sin of all fundamentalists is the notion that religious law must govern the political decisions of a state. This dangerous idea is the property of Jewish fundamentalists, Islamists and some Christian extremists. The foundation of modern states at the peace of Westphalia in 1648 was a compromise that evolved into the secular state of today, and was generalized from European to world experience. Bitter experience proved that it is the only way that states can function. All fundamentalist ideologies should be labeled, "This way lies madness and chaos." Allowing for the primacy of religion over politics, and implanting in the religion ideas that were never there, provides the radical religious right with the license to break the law, to build illegal outposts, to advocate the murder of politicians they don't like, and to glorify the murder of civilians by people like Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish "Shahid." Nowhere in the Bible, the Talmud or the Shulhan Aruch are the "Mitzvot" (commandments) of building illegal outposts or beating up Arabs mentioned.
The corollary and second most harmful article of faith of right-wing religious Zionist extremists is that Zionism can only be based on religion. That destroys the foundation of Zionist ideology, which is that the Jews are a people and deserve a nation state like any other people. It also leads to the demand for a theocracy.
The next most harmful article of faith of the radical right is that settlements and acquisition of territory = Zionism. It fulfills the caricature of Zionism painted by its enemies.  It is this credo that has delegitimized Zionism in much of the world, and caused much resentment even among Jews. It is the Achilles heel of Israel that is attacked by anti-Zionist Jews.
Burston notes this article of faith of religious extremists:
1. Jews have the full right, and the duty, to settle anywhere they choose in the biblically defined Land of Israel.
Jews have the right to settle anywhere they bought land, and anyone should have the right to buy land anywhere in the undefined area called "The Holy Land," "Land of Israel" or "Palestine" that is centered around Jerusalem and, roughly, runs from Dan to Eilat and eastward from the Mediterranean for an undefined extent.  That was the foundation of Zionism, from the time of Herzl. After the foundation of the state, the borders were defined. The duty of settling within those borders is incumbent on all Zionists. However, nobody has the right to steal land from its owners. Nobody can give exact borders for the biblically defined land of Israel. There were several promises, with variable borders, and none of them were ever fulfilled. The largest extents of the ancient kingdoms of Judea and Israel never reached to the Euphrates river as in the Biblical promise. (see Israel Maps).
Burston wrote:
Apologies are tendered in advance to the rational right, the members of whom often hate the following as much as anyone.
Or not, depending on the individual and the political circumstance and the particular article of faith. The right in principle to settle in all of Israel-biblical or otherwise, is often upheld by many, even some who are not adherents of the right-wing. However, it is usually tempered by a prudent regard for pragmatic constraints that is absent in the proclamations and actions of the radical right. On the other hand, apologies must be tendered also to Orthodox Zionist Jews who follow the milder traditions of the National Religious Party of old, exemplified by Yosef Burg in his time and his son, Avraham Burg.  
Those who are upset by a seemingly one-sided attack on the religious right should keep in mind that Burston's article is one of a series in which he excoriates extremists of all political factions, and for the most part, I agree with him.
Ami Isseroff

Far-right and wrong, or how to ruin Judaism
By Bradley Burston


Apologies are tendered in advance to the rational right, the members of whom often hate the following as much as anyone.

For years, the members of the radical right have done their best to help ruin any chance for peace. They've done quite a job.

Given free rein, in the end they'd ruin Judaism as well, replacing it with their own belief system. If the rest of us would only let them.

How would it look? Something like this perhaps:


1. Jews have the full right, and the duty, to settle anywhere they choose in the biblically defined Land of Israel.

Author's note: No one in this world has the right to settle wherever they choose.

2. Settling the Land is a commandment of the highest order in Judaism.


3. Ceding land to Arabs under so-called peace deals is a sin. Judaism must revive the medieval concept of the moser, under which Jews who hand over Jewish land to gentiles, inform against fellow Jews or hand over fellow Jews to gentiles are guilty of capital crimes.

Author's note: The distortion of contemporary Judaism to a perverse extreme is especially evident in the works of the self-appointed "Sanhedrin" of leading far-right rabbis, whose rabbinical court recently pronounced overall IDF West Bank commander Yair Naveh, himself Orthodox, a moser for approving the eviction of 20 occupants of an illegal outpost.

Leaving aside the problematic issue of a Great Sanhedrin arbitrarily constituting itself after 1,650 years of inactivity, the ancient Sanhedrin was historically renowned, if for nothing else, for its marked reluctance to impose the death penalty.

4. Refusal of orders by leftist soldiers serving in the territories is an act of cowardice, self-hatred, treachery, defeatism.

5. Refusal of orders by rightist soldiers serving in the territories is an act of conscience, of uncommon valor, a defense of Jewish values, a historical necessity.

6. Meir Kahane was a saint and a prophet.

Author's note: Corollary - Racism against Arabs is thus not bigotry, but realism.

7. Baruch Goldstein was a saint and a savior.

Author's note: In Hebron, the second most holy city to Jews and the contemporary headquarters of twisting authentic Judaism into obscenity, Goldstein's grave has become a pilgrimage magnate for the Voodoo Jews who revere his massacre of 29 Muslims at prayer. Going obscenity one better, Goldstein chose for his terror attack the holiday of Purim, arguably the most joyous occasion on the Jewish calendar.

To hear the radical right tell it, Goldstein's action prevented an unimaginable terrorist plot from unfolding and murdering large numbers of Jews.

It was a fiction that has become an article of faith. Thus it is that radical rightist Jews have come to revere Goldstein not because of the lives - Arab and Jewish - that he saved as a physician, but because of those - exclusively Muslim - that he took as a gunman.

8. Leftist Jews are systematically destroying Israel. The leftist-dominated media foments and directs that process of destruction, through its treasonous criticism of right-wing governments.

9. Criticism by Jews of left-wing Israeli governments is a patriotic duty.

10. There is no difference between the Arabs of today and the Nazis of World War II. There is no such thing as a Palestinian people. The Arabs of the Land of Israel should be transferred to Muslim nations.

11. The Israel Defense Forces, the Border Police, and the Shin Bet, acting under the orders of left-leaning government officials, coddle the Palestinians and refrain from carrying out the kinds of operations that would put an end to terror once and for all.

12.Jews are no longer bound by the rabbinic prohibition against setting foot on the Temple Mount.

Author's note: No less an authority than Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook, first chief rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine, ruled that "it is a Torah commandment that until the day of the resurrection, we are not permitted to even enter the courtyard of the Temple."

The fact that Jewish law can be summarily ignored or rescinded for reasons of politics and ideology does not bode well. Neither does the possibility that it can only be revamped for reasons of right-wing politics or ideology.

13. The Muslim occupation of the Temple Mount should be ended at the first opportunity, and the construction of the new Temple to begin. Jews, who everywhere in the world pray facing the direction of the Temple Mount, have a clear right to the site, in contrast to Muslims, who pray facing Mecca.

Author's note: For Jews to decide how much Muslims care about their holy sites is fully as wrong as Muslims deciding how much Jews care about theirs.

Among many of us, there is a tendency to discount the potency and the danger of the far right. Perhaps this is because of the funhouse mirror carnival aspect of the ragtag righteous: the End of Days addicts, the Temple Mount groupies, the hilltop hormone punks, the Kahane-rama tubby hippies, the curiously mousy men of the Women in Green, the fanatical would-be settler, the gun nut, the Messiah crank, the Earthmother curser of Arab mothers, the thick of payes and the thin of patience, the wide of scullcap and the wild of eye, the would-have-been ghetto fighter and the might-have-been Maccabee.

What unites them? What do they know that we don't know? The destructive potential of the lunatic notion, the obscene plan, the crackpot mantra.

They know that this is no joke. This is a struggle for the soul of Judaism. Ultimately, however, the result will not be up to them. It will be up to the rest of us.

Continued (Permanent Link)

POLL: Kadima collapses, Likud, Labor, resurgent

Following the recent controversies over the Lebanon war, it seems that support for the Kadima party has collapsed. The retirees, who also disappointed their voters, will probably disappear as a party as well. The big beneficiaries are the Likud, which would get 33 seats, and Labor which could get as many as 28 mandates if led by Ami Ayalon. Ayalon has no experience in government. This is an advantage in some ways, as he does not have a legacy of blunders to deal with, unlike Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud and Ehud Barak, both former Prime Ministers. Ayalon may be electable, but can he actually govern?  
Even in the best scenario for the left, it is unlikely that the Labor party could form a government without the Likud. All the smaller parties have more or dissolved into the Likud. Labor+Kadima+Meretz would have about 40 mandates at most according to the present scenario. They could not form a coalition even with the Arab parties, or alternatively, with Shas plus United Torah Judaism.
Different results will be obtained of course in a poll that forces people to choose, eliminating the "undecided" votes.
The numbers in parentheses for smaller parties must have some meaning, but it is not explained. Probably they refer to different numbers of mandates that would be garnered depending on who is in charge of the Labor party.

Poll:  Likud 33 Kadima 7-8 Yisrael Beiteinu 7 Labor 23-28
Dr. Aaron Lerner     Date: 9 March 2007

Telephone poll of a representative sample of 501 adult Israelis (including
Arab Israelis) carried out by Dahaf  for Yediot Ahronot the week of 9 March
2007 and published on 9 March 2007.

Knesset election vote expressed in mandates[current in brackets]. The actual
mandates in the current Knesset are in [brackets]

Likud 33 [12] Kadima 7 [29]  Labor headed by Ayalon 28 [19]
Likud 33 Kadima 8  Labor headed by Barak 23
Likud 35 Kadima 13  Labor headed by Peretz 17
07.0  [11] Yisrael Beiteinu
10.5  [12] Shas
10.5  [10] Arab parties
06.0  [09] Nat'l Union/NRP
05.0  [06] Yahadut Hatorah
01.0  [07] Retirees  (0-2)
05.5  [05] Meretz (4-7)
09.0   --   Undecided (8-10)

IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis

Continued (Permanent Link)

Palestinian Journalist speaks about Middle East Media Bias

An illuminating insider view from a remarkable man and top journalist:
Toameh commented on aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He explained that the apparent bias in the international media's coverage of the situation in the Middle East stems from several factors. Many foreign journalists are afraid of of uncovering flaws in the Palestinian position, Toameh said.This applies especially to Palestinian writers working for the PLO, who are censored to ensure that they are loyal to the government. For this reason, Toameh preferred to work for an Israeli newspaper. Indeed, he felt that only there could he "express [him]self freely."

Remember - you see all Middle East News through a distorting filter.

Journalist speaks about media bias in the Middle East

Event vets Israel-Palestinian conflict from journalist's point of view

Dorin Rosenshine

Posted: 3/5/07

Last Thursday, Baruch Hillel hosted an event with renowned Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh. Toameh worked for the Palestine Liberation Organization, Israeli newspapers, as well as British and German media corporations.

Toameh commented on aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He explained that the apparent bias in the international media's coverage of the situation in the Middle East stems from several factors. Many foreign journalists are afraid of of uncovering flaws in the Palestinian position, Toameh said.This applies especially to Palestinian writers working for the PLO, who are censored to ensure that they are loyal to the government. For this reason, Toameh preferred to work for an Israeli newspaper. Indeed, he felt that only there could he "express [him]self freely."

Using the former chairman of the PLO Yassir Arafat as an example, Toameh noted that giving attention to corruption under the late leader's government might have affected public opinion and even policymakers in the West.

A second factor was media agenda. Often, reporters dissect a scene into "good and bad" in their writing. Applied to the conflict, many foreign journalists view the situation as: "Palestinians are good, Israelis are bad."

Not only does this question credibility, but clearly, the real-life situation is far from being so clear-cut. The use of Arab translators also tend to distort words out of context. For example, a Palestinian complaining about corruption in the government would be translated as protest against Israeli occupation.

Another topic was the reason behind Hamas' election. Toameh maintained that about 30 percent of Palestinians who elected Hamas did so mainly to revenge Arafat. Unlike Arafat, Hamas is honest and open about its beliefs - even those that are considered to be unacceptable in the Western world. Following Arafat's corrupted government, many Palestinians wanted a change. Out of a lack in alternatives, they chose Hamas.

Toameh attributed Arafat's successful corruption to the lack of outside scrutiny. For example, the international community, who donated billions of dollars to the Palestinian Authority, never requested to see accounts of where the money was being channeled.

Despite the new government, Toameh believes that Palestinians are "not ready for their own state." Recently, for instance, more Palestinian deaths resulted from internal conflict than from battles with Israel. He believes that internal struggles need to be resolved and anarchy must end before the Palestinian people can govern themselves successfully.

To close, Toameh spoke about the problem of radical Islam. He estimated that approximately 70 percent of Hamas' followers - about 30 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza - believe in the organization's political goals, including the destruction of Israel. These radicals are supported by Iran and Syria who perceive moderate Muslims as an obstacle on their way to conquer the West.

"Islam has been hijacked by a dominant minority," he said, and asserted that our third world war will be with these fundamentalist Muslims.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Thumbs down on Abdullah's speech

Does Abdullah really want a Hamas-run Palestinian state next door to Jordan right now, or was he just saying what had to be said?

Gall of the Hashemites
New York Sun Staff Editorial
March 8, 2007

If one were to distill 110% wrongheadedness and then distill it again a second, third, and fourth time, one couldn't come up with a speech as purely wrongheaded as the one that the Hashemite king, Abdullah II, delivered yesterday to a joint meeting of Congress. The king's aim amounted to blaming Israel for all the world's problems. "The wellspring of regional division, the source of resentment and frustration far beyond, is the denial of justice and peace in Palestine," the king said. "This is the core issue. And this core issue is not only producing severe consequences for our region, it is producing severe consequences for our world."

Balderdash is the kindest way to describe it. It doesn't track with the actions of the violent terrorists, and it doesn't track with their statements. If the terrorists are upset about Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, why are they setting off bombs in Indonesia and Spain and Saudi Arabia and Iraq, which are hardly in the vanguard of support for Israel? Given that the terrorists state publicly that their end goal is to make all of Europe and America subject to Islamic law, why should we believe that in fact they have the far more modest goal of merely seizing land belonging to the Jewish state?
In a speech on American soil, Abdullah incredibly snubbed his own country and his own family when he referred to "Sixty years of Palestinian dispossession." Why, his family knows all about Palestinian Arab dispossession. The gall of the son of King Hussein, who perpetrated what the Arabs call Black September, fetching up in the Congress to lecture the Americans on Palestinian Arab dispossession is astounding. Abdullah well knows that Jordan controlled the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967. If the Palestinian Arabs were dispossessed during that period it was no one's fault but the Hashemites', who didn't exactly use those decades, or the years after, to race to establish a Palestinian Arab state.
Abdullah made reference to a Saudi proposal from 2002 that he described as the "Arab Peace Initiative." That plan would be more accurately described as the Arab Destruction of Israel Initiative. Its aim was to seek to reward the second so-called intifada, which followed the collapse of President Clinton's Camp David II, by giving the Palestinian Arabs half of the Israeli capital of Jerusalem. The Saudis not only sought to divide Israel's capital in Jerusalem but also to force Israel to abandon Jerusalem's Old City, retreat to militarily indefensible borders, and absorb within those borders enough Arab "refugees" so that its character as a Jewish state would be eradicated. No one fell for it save for Thomas Friedman of the New York Times.
Abdullah's speech yesterday won negative reviews from many of the Democratic lawmakers who now control Congress. The New York Times' Paris edition quoted Rep. Steve Israel of Long Island as saying, "I was troubled to hear the suggestion that the fact that Sunni and Shia are murdering each other is somehow the fault of the Israelis. This implication is a dangerous one and completely unacceptable." The chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Rep. Thomas Lantos, was quoted by Fox News as saying the speech was "Profoundly disappointing … a missed opportunity." One of the effects of the Islamist terrorist onslaught of recent years is that more Americans have thought more deeply about these matters. They will not be gulled by a foreign potentate offering up Israel as a scapegoat for troubles that originate with the failings of the Arab and Islamic world and their nondemocratic leaders, Abdullah among them.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Eitam: Israel did not plan Lebanon war

Some of these arguments are strikingly similar to the ones that occurred to me. By claiming that it was planned, Olmert made two mistakes. The first is that it makes it look like Israel was looking for an excuse for a war, and the second was that if the war was planned, and nothing was prepared at all, then Olmert and the rest of the government are guilty of criminal negligence. Once again, it seems that Olmert does not even have elementary common sense. There was apparently an IDF contingency plan for a war of this nature, but there is no evidence that anyone predicted a kidnapping at a specific time, or prepared in any way for a response to such an event.

Olmert is rewriting history, says MK Eitam
MKs criticize PM's statement that second Lebanon war was planned months in advance, a claim Nasrallah made repeatedly during war. 'If he isn't lying - it's a thousand times worse,' says MK Eldad
Amnon Meranda YNET Published: 03.08.07, 19:27 / Israel News,7340,L-3374209,00.html

"It seems that the prime minister and Nasrallah are getting their stories straight," an outraged MK Effie Eitam told Ynet Thursday on Olmert's statement that the second Lebanon war was planned beforehand.
War Plans

All throughout the war and afterwards, Hizbullah's leader Hassan Nasrallah defended himself from public criticism by claiming that Israel had already been planning the war and that it "jumped at the chance" to strike.

According to Haaretz, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert  told the Winograd Commission that a military operation in case of a kidnapping incident along the Lebanese border was planned as early as March, 2006, four months prior to war.

Several MKs criticized Olmert's statement, which they said backs up Nasrallah's repeated claims, and could jeopardize Israel's credibility.

"Assuming that Olmert isn't lying, this statement makes things a thousand times worse. If he approved this plan without making sure that the Home Front was ready and that the IDF was capable of carrying it out - he should be tried for criminal negligence," said MK Arieh Eldad (National Union-National Religious Party).

MK Effie Eitam said, "In an attempt to shake off responsibility for the poor managing of the war, the prime minister is also trying to rewrite history. We remember the time before the war. we heard of the cuts in the defense budget, we heard that there were no more existential threats to Israel.

"Saying that the IDF was prepared for a war in the north and that the prime minister even planned to start a war in the north is untrue. This war was a serious managerial failure for the military's senior echelon, who already took responsibility."

MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said, "A country preparing for a war certainly would not be cutting defense budgets, significantly minimizing field-training and reserve recruits. Olmert's testimony that the war was planned was meant only to stop the many attacks and criticism against him and has no real basis."

MK Gideon Sa'ar, chairman of the Likud faction told Ynet, "As usual, Olmert is trying to put responsibility on someone else, and this time, on the IDF. The prime minister bears the highest responsibility for the war's failures. any attempts to escape responsibility are doomed to failure."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Solana: PA must recognize Israel (but do they have to meet other conditions?)l

Is there less here than meets the eye?
The article states:
The new Palestinian unity government must clearly state that it recognizes Israel, the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Thursday.
Sounds good.
But the quartet conditions for the Hamas governed PA were recognition, renunciation of violence and acceptance of previous agreements. What happened to the other conditions?
Ami Isseroff

Last update - 20:21 08/03/2007   

EU: PA gov't must clearly state recognition of Israel
By News Agencies

The new Palestinian unity government must clearly state that it recognizes Israel, the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Thursday.
"There are many ways whereby you can express the recognition of Israel," Solana told The Associated Press. "I am not going to define what is the manner that would be the most appropriate, that's for them to decide, but in any case it has to be sufficiently clear that statement can be read and not only imagined."
Solana spoke in an interview before an EU summit where French President Jacques Chirac was expected to press other European leaders to support the Palestinian efforts to form a coalition government.
Officials at the two-day summit were also expected to discuss Iran's nuclear program as the UN Security Council consults on additional sanctions after Tehran ignored a new ultimatum to stop uranium enrichment last month.
Asked if the United Nations should impose tougher sanctions, Solana said the international response to continued defiance logically will be an increase in the pressure on Iran.
Chirac said last month the power-sharing deal between Hamas and Fatah was a first step toward the full application of the conditions set by the EU, U.S. and others for the restoration of aid to the Palestinian government. Those conditions include recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and acceptance of previous peace agreements.
The agreement struck last month in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, does not explicitly recognize Israel. However, it does pledge to respect past agreements and Palestinian officials have argued that should be enough to end the freeze on aid imposed after Hamas won elections last year.
Solana said the movement toward unity among the Palestinians was a good decision following outbreaks of fighting between Fatah and Hamas militants. He said Palestinian unity was also positive for Israel, but stressed that the EU would have to wait to see what the power-sharing deal would mean in practice before making any decisions.
"These agreements have to be implemented," he said. "We'll have to make the final judgment ... when they are implemented."
Despite the Mecca agreement, Fatah and Hamas have failed to agree on the formation of a unity government with differences focused on who would be interior minister, controlling security forces.
The power-sharing deal is an attempt by the Palestinians to end the economic boycott which diverted aid from the Hamas-led government.
Although a new World Bank report says international aid increased slightly to $1.2 billion in 2006, much of that was in direct humanitarian payments. The withdrawal of international support for the government coincided with a drop of at least 8 percent in the Palestinians' per capita gross domestic product last year.
Abbas: PA gov't '99 percent' agreed upon
The Palestinian unity government is "99 percent" agreed upon, but will
not be announced until next week, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday after talks with his political rival, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.
After Saudi mediation, Hamas and Abbas's Fatah group agreed a month ago to forge a coalition cabinet in a bid to halt weeks of bloody factional fighting that cost more than 90 lives.
The cabinet line-up is likely to be unveiled only after Abbas has met Prime Minister Ehud Olmert early next week for talks which Palestinian officials say might cover extending a ceasefire with Israel from Gaza to the occupied West Bank.
Olmert plans to ask Abbas to account for e100 million in Palestinian tax money which Israel transferred to him earlier this year, the prime minister's spokeswoman Miri Eisen said.
"We have finished 99 percent of the issues of [forming] the government of national unity," Abbas told reporters in Gaza.
Disputes between Fatah and Hamas over the posts of interior minister and deputy prime minister appear to have been resolved. An official close to the talks said Haniyeh would pick one of two candidates approved by Abbas for the Interior Ministry.
A political source named the front-runner as Major General Jamal Abu Zayed, a former deputy chief of the Palestinian Authority's National Security Forces who took part in talks with Israeli counterparts over Israel's 2005 disengagement from Gaza.
The Interior Ministry commands an array of security forces, whose loyalties are now split between Fatah and Hamas.
The political source said Azzam al-Ahmed, who heads Fatah's parliamentary bloc, was likely to become deputy prime minister.
Abbas indicated that parliament could convene for a confidence vote in the new government the week after next.
"We hope that this will be an era of true national unity," he said. "The homeland is for all parties. The people have suffered a lot and we should alleviate their suffering."
Once the unity cabinet is formed, Abbas wants international donors to lift a crippling diplomatic and financial boycott imposed on the Palestinian Authority after the Islamist Hamas won elections and came to power a year ago.
Hamas has rejected demands by the Quartet of Middle East mediators - the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing interim peace accords.
Foreign donors have been channeling money directly to Abbas's office, bypassing the Hamas-led government. Israel also released some tax revenue to Abbas.
"We have heard the rumors [n how the money has been used] The prime minister will ask Abu Mazen [Abbas] when they meet early next week," Olmert's spokeswoman Eisen said.
Israel transferred the $100 million to an account controlled by Abbas and Finance Minister-designate Salam Fayyad.
Olmert's office said in January that $86 million of the total had been earmarked for security forces under Abbas to match $86 million pledged by the United States, but since frozen.
Western diplomats said some of the money had gone to pay salaries to government workers, possibly including Hamas members and supporters on the Palestinian Authority's payroll.
Officials have said Abbas and Haniyeh are sounding out militant groups on extending a truce declared by Palestinians in November, which largely halted clashes with Israel in Gaza. Some factions have continued firing rockets at Israel.
A leader of Islamic Jihad, which carried out a suicide bombing in Israel in January and did not join the Gaza truce, said on Wednesday the group opposed any new ceasefire while "Zionist aggression" was continuing in the West Bank.

Continued (Permanent Link)


Background - Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is on trial for sedition in Bangladesh for protesting Islamist excesses. The trial has dragged on for several years...

As my friends and supporters are aware, today, 8th of MARCH was the date fixed for hearing the witnesses. Today, again, 5 of the witnesses showed up in the court for testifying. Although there are 16 witnesses in the case, the judge can even give a verdict after hearing fifty percent of the total number of witnesses. So, it was a real risk to let the trial proceed. Although my chief counsel Advocate Samarendra Nath Goswami was prepared to let the witnesses begin testifying, some of my very good and real friends (sorry for not being able to name them here) asked me, what should be my own decision at this point. I asked my lawyers, since the petition of quashment (leave to appeal) is pending with the Appellate Division and scheduled for hearing on the 28th of March, could we submit an application with the trial court to postpone the proceedings, as the matter is pending with the higher judiciary. Then my lawyers did it accordingly, and the proceedings in testifying the witnesses did not take place. Now, at least I have a breathing time. Now, I have to hire some heavy-weight lawyer for appearing for me in the Appellate Division as well as I should find a strong lawyer to defend me in the trial court as well. According to my mentioned friends, the most priority of the moment is to find out legal ways, so that the trial does not proceed. Moreover, they want this matter to be handled by some real heavy-weight lawyers, even if it requires handsome amount of money. And, I fully agree to that suggestion (at least this is the only way left for me). Now, I shall have to get prepared for hiring the lawyers, and I shall do that. No doubt, brother Goswami shall also remain in the panel of my lawyers.
Meanwhile, there is some extremely positive news from the present interim government. They arrested one of the infamous radical leaders named Mufti Izharul Islam. I am personally happy to note that finally they are also fighting the Islamofascists.

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Journalist, Columnist, Author & Peace Activist
PENUSA FTW Award 2005, AJC Moral Courage Award 2006
Editor & Publisher, Weekly Blitz
Chief Editor, Weekly Jamjamat


Continued (Permanent Link)

Steinitz 'surprised' Olmert claims Lebanon war was planned

Steinitz is not the only one who was surprised, since the conduct of the war did not betray any evidence of planning or preparation. It says:
In addition, Steinitz said that two months before the war broke out, the prime minister had cut half a billion shekels from the IDF budget.
Aha - that was to fool the enemy.

Steinitz 'surprised' by PM's remarks Staff, THE JERUSALEM POST Mar. 8, 2007

Likud MK Yuval Steinitz said Thursday afternoon that he was "surprised" by reports that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had told the Winograd Commission that the decision on the summer's Lebanon war had been made months in advance.

Steinitz, who chaired the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee at the time of the war, told Israel Radio that he had not witnessed any intensified preparations for an armed conflict in the North, and that there had been no special discussions on such a possibility.

In addition, Steinitz said that two months before the war broke out, the prime minister had cut half a billion shekels from the IDF budget. Steinitz said that it was unlikely that someone intending to go to war would make such a decision.

Ha'aretz reported Thursday that Olmert, in his closed testimony before the Winograd Commission on February 1, had claimed that his decision to respond to the abduction of IDF reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev with a broad military operation was made four months before the war broke out.

The commission has already sent testimony to attorneys representing individuals who could be harmed by its conclusions and is expected to issue its interim report this month.

The questions faced by the prime minister focused on three main issues: how and why the decision was made to go to war on July 12, several hours after Goldwasser and Regev were abducted by Hizbullah operatives on the northern border; why Olmert decided to carry out a large-scale ground operation in Lebanon, in which 33 soldiers were killed, 48 hours before the cease-fire; and the circumstances surrounding Amir Peretz's appointment as defense minister.

In his testimony, Olmert claimed that the first meeting was held on January 8, 2006, four days after Olmert was named acting prime minister in place of Ariel Sharon.

Meetings reportedly continued in March, April, May and July, after Corporal Gilad Schalit was kidnapped by Hamas operatives at Kerem Shalom.

Olmert was also reportedly advised by then-Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz that an abduction of IDF soldiers accompanied by cross-border helling would affect Israel's ability to deter such attacks in the future. Halutz told Olmert that

Israel could not demonstrate restraint in such a case. Olmert told the commission that he had accepted Halutz's advice.

In March, Olmert was told by military officials to respond to a query that the army had operational plans for such a scenario. After reviewing the options, the prime minister selected a moderate plan of air attacks combined with a limited ground offensive.

Olmert said that he had previously decided that Israel's goal would be to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls to deploy Lebanese army troops along the border and disarm Hizbullah.

Olmert said that if the earlier ground offensives launched by Israel had been successful, Israel would have been in a different situation at the end of the war.

The Winograd Commission also asked Olmert whether appointing Peretz as defense minister was the right thing to do. He responded that the defense portfolio had been given to Labor after coalition talks, and the the party chose its ministers.

Continued (Permanent Link)

German bishops compare Israel to the Nazis (They should know)

This is fairly revolting and speaks for itself. Of course, the delegation did not include any sons of Nazis. We all know that there were no Nazis in Germany in World War II, right? Can the German Bishops please point out the Umschlagplatz in the Palestinian Ghetto? Where is the place where we Nazi Zionists collect the Palestinians to have them shipped off and gassed?
Time to ask: What did your father do in the war?

German bishops compare Israel to the Nazis
By Tim Butcher in Jerusalem
Last Updated: 1:58am GMT 08/03/2007

A group of German bishops sparked controversy yesterday when they compared Israel's treatment of the Palestinians with the Nazis' maltreatment of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto.

The comments were made by the 27-strong German Bishops' Conference after its tour of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Several of the bishops were upset by the Jerusalem Wall, the 30ft high concrete barrier illegally built by Israel to separate Palestinian suburbs from the rest of the city.

While crossing one of the checkpoints into East Jerusalem, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne, said he had been particularly incensed.

"This is something that is done to animals, not people," he said referring to the wall and heavily fortified checkpoints where Palestinians are subjected to intrusive questioning and demands for Israel-approved documentation.

The Archbishop was brought up in Communist-controlled East Germany.

"For me it is a nightmare. I didn't think I would see such a wall again in my life," he said.

"Just like they brought the Berlin Wall down, so too will this wall come down. It will not endure."

The bishops visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, before heading to Ramallah, the de facto capital of the occupied West Bank.

"This morning we saw pictures of the Warsaw ghetto at Yad Vashem and this evening we are going to the Ramallah ghetto," Bishop Gregor Maria Franz Hanke said.

"It's enough to drive one mad. Israel has the right to exist, but this right cannot be realised in such a brutal manner."

The Israeli press described the Nazi comparisons as "divisive", but the bishops offered no apology.

Instead, Bishop Hanke said he planned to amend this year's Easter message to German churches to include the delegation's impressions and to demand a change to the situation.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Lebanese: Israel did not use Urianium bombs in Lebanon; Robert Fisk sticks with this story

Robert Fisk's sensational story about the Israeli "Uranium bomb" used in South Lebanon was a canard, apparently. Not only the UN and IAEA, but also the Lebanese tell us it is so.
Nonetheless, the Independent, which featured Fisk's science fiction story, has not bothered to issue a retraction.
Please write to the Independent and ask them why they have not retracted this false story.
Ami Isseroff

Panel finds 'no evidence' Israel used depleted uranium in 2006 war
Unanimous findings says levels are consistent with natural occurrence
By Nour Samaha
Daily Star staff
Tuesday, February 27, 2007

BEIRUT: A panel of experts from the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other international agencies announced a unanimous determination Monday that no depleted-uranium weapons had been used in the summer 2006 war in Lebanon. "To date, there is no evidence of depleted-uranium-ammunitions use during the 2006 conflict in Lebanon," Didier Louvat, IAEA head of radioactive waste issues, told a news conference hosted by the National Council for Scientific Research in Bir Hassan.

Conference attendees included representatives of the Engineering Regiment of the Lebanese Army; the head of  the National Council for Scientific Research George Tohmeh; the Arab Atomic Agency; the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP); the Lebanese Atomic Energy Commission (LAEC); the IAEA and the World Health Organization. Each group providing detailed accounts of its research and methodologies.

Tohmeh opened the conference by saying the government "requested that the council carry out research to find out about the use of uranium in the South," during the war. "After months of research and coordination with UNEP and the [LAEC], among others, we felt it would be helpful - and more so, it is our duty to present our findings in this conference."

Senior UNEP' scientist Mario Burger conducted intensive research on soil samples collected in South Lebanon at the Spiez government laboratory in Switzerland. "No use of weapons containing depleted uranium" was found, he said, adding that "no use of weapons containing any uranium - depleted, natural, or enriched" was found.

An above-normal level of concentration of uranium had been found in Khiam, Burger said, but an investigation showed the level of uranium was consistent with levels naturally occurring in soil in the area.

"The laboratory was able to confirm that the uranium measured at the Khiam site stayed in equilibrium with its daughter [decay] products," said Burger. "This is the confirmation that the uranium present at the site was never technically processed and can therefore not be tied to a missile or bomb."

Pieces of missiles and bombs that had hit Khiam in the 2006 war did not reveal any radioactive material, he said.

The findings contradicted claims made in December by Chris Busby, secretary for the European Committee on Radiation Risk, who said there was "no way the signs of uranium found in Khiam were the result of natural or industrial materials. Their only source is nuclear reactors."

Depleted uranium is a highly concentrated radioactive waste product sometimes placed in conventional munitions to increase their ability to penetrate armor such as that used on tanks.

Omar al-Samad, head of environmental radiation monitoring at the LAEC, said testing on 90 soil samples from 71 distinct sites in Lebanon had revealed "no abnormal values."

"Metal pieces found in Khiam were analyzed and no uranium was found," he told the news conference. "And samples taken at different depths confirm the natural composition of the uranium."

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Sex, Gender and the Middle East: Happy Women's Day - Saudi Woman gets 90 lashes for being raped

Attention all you progressives and women's rights groups out there. There has been a HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION in the Middle East. A really gross one. Get John Dugard out here double quick. OOPS false alarm, it happened in Saudi Arabia, not Israel. "A Saudi woman who was kidnapped at knifepoint, gang-raped and then beaten by her brother has been sentenced to 90 lashes -- for meeting a man who was not a relative."

Is that a sex crime or a gender crime or what? Or are you just going to ignore it because it happened in Saudi Arabia. BBC and New York Times have apparently chosen to ignore it, so that is the politically correct thing to do.  

From Tom Grossmedia:

Today, March 8, marks International Women's Day. The mainstream media, including the New York Times and the BBC, have -- true to form, since they specialize only in skewering the news against Israel and the U.S.-- completely ignored the news that "A Saudi woman who was kidnapped at knifepoint, gang-raped and then beaten by her brother has been sentenced to 90 lashes -- for meeting a man who was not a relative."

The sentencing earlier this week has been reported by AFP and in Arab media, including the Khaleej Times (published in the United Arab Emirates) and the Saudi Gazette. But as far as I can tell the only Western mainstream media outlets to have covered the story are Fox News and the Scotsman (a Scottish newspaper). This is despite the fact that most Western media subscribe to AFP.

The 19-year-old Saudi woman was abducted by a gang of men wielding kitchen knives who took her to a farm where she was raped 14 times by her captors. Five men were arrested for the rape and given jail terms ranging from 10 months to five years by a panel of judges in the eastern Saudi city of Qatif, near the teenager's hometown.

But the judges also decided to sentence the young woman, identified only as "G," to 90 lashes. "G" was told by one of the judges that she was lucky not to have been given jail time. She said yesterday that she would appeal against her sentence.

The woman told the Saudi Gazette that she tried to commit suicide because of her ordeal and was beaten by her younger brother because the rape had brought shame on their family.

Unrelated men and women are forbidden from interacting in public in Saudi Arabia, which strictly enforces Islamic Sharia law of a kind many European Muslims say they would like to introduce in countries like Britain and France.

* On the official International Women's Day website, there is nothing about Saudi Arabia, just publicity for the "Lighting candles for Women in Palestinian society" event.

From Khaleej Times:

A Saudi woman who was kidnapped at knifepoint, gang-raped and then beaten by her brother has been sentenced to 90 lashes – for a meeting a man who was not a relative, a newspaper reported on Monday.

In an interview with the Saudi Gazette, the 19-year-old said she was blackmailed a year ago into meeting a man who threatened to tell her family they were having a relationship outside wedlock, which is illegal in the ultra-conservative desert kingdom.

After driving off together from a shopping mall near her home, the woman and the man were stopped and abducted by a gang of men wielding kitchen knives who took them to a farm where she was raped 14 times by her captors.

Five men were arrested for the rape and given jail terms ranging from 10 months to five years by a panel of judges in the eastern city of Qatif, near the woman's hometown.

But the judges also decided to sentence the woman, identified by the newspaper only as 'G,' and the man to lashes for being alone together in the car.

Unrelated men and women are forbidden from interacting in public in Saudi Arabia, which strictly enforces Islamic Sharia law.

'G' said one of the judges told she was lucky not to have been given jail time. 'I was shocked at the verdict. I couldn't believe my ears,' said the woman, who has appealed against her sentence.

The woman also told the paper she tried to commit suicide because of her ordeal and was beaten by her younger brother because the rape had brought shame on their family.

Aren't you proud to support progressive causes?

Ami Isseroff


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Dismantling history or dismantling our future?

The kibbutzim "owe" $27 Billion. It is well to ask how they came to owe all this money and what they did with it. Did they buy Greek Islands? Bail out rug factories? Give their daughters opulent weddings? Or did they contract these debts in the service of Israel? Settlers are "compensated" for giving up land and housing that did not belong to them in the first place, while kibbutzim are punished for building Israel.
Is it only history that we are dismantling, or are we dismantling our future?

The kibbutzim feel like they've been cheated
By Meirav Arlosoroff

Suckers three times, because his kibbutz is one of the 60 economically strong kibbutzim whose involvement in the debt settlement arrangement for the kibbutzim was only contributory: they did not benefit from the debt forgiveness and in keeping with the principle of mutual responsibility among the kibbutzim, they were obligated by the Kibbutz Movement to pay from their own pockets for the improvement of the economic situation of other failing kibbutzim.
Now, when they are being asked to donate 25 percent of the Tnuva shares to the state as well, 17 of these 60 kibbutzim are saying no.
Just three months ago the kibbutzim reached a final agreement with the government. This arrangement, which effectively consisted of four separate arrangements, covered the erasure of kibbutz debts totaling NIS 18.4 billion and the rescheduling of the repayment of an additional NIS 9 billion. The state bore the main cost of the arrangement, with the banks shouldering the rest.
In exchange, the kibbutzim transferred 20,000 dunams (5,000 acres) of land to the state with an estimated real estate value of NIS 1.5 billion, although some claim this value could triple when the land is developed. In addition, the kibbutzim committed to transferring 25 percent of their Tnuva shares to the state and the banks. Based on the Apax deal, the shares in question are worth about $110 million, while the state's portion of the shares is valued at $70 million.
Even according to the most optimistic estimates, the assets paid by the kibbutzim (in exchange for the erasure and rescheduling of NIS 27 billion in debt) are not worth more than NIS 4 billion. The arrangement's supporters claim that any calculation must also include the fact that by agreeing to the arrangement the state prevented a humanitarian and social tragedy; without the arrangement, the 120,000 affected kibbutz members would have been out on the street, with no property and no pensions. The state would also not have been able to generate any revenue from the privatization of the banks, as absent an arrangement it would have been impossible to sell the banks, which were in a de facto state of bankruptcy. The arrangement's proponents are probably right, and the reality is that the kibbutzim paid a relatively small sum for being saved from financial ruin.
This still does not prevent the kibbutzim from coming out of the deal feeling like suckers. It turns out that not only the 17 strongest kibbutz, but also the weakest kibbutzim - the ones whose debts were erased - share this feeling, mainly because the kibbutzim were forced to give up land and Tnuva shares, while the moshavim received a much more generous debt arrangement and were not required to pay anything at all. Now the kibbutzim are demanding an explanation and accusing the Kibbutz Movement's leadership in the 1990s of failing its responsibility by agreeing to the terms of the arrangement.
"The concession of the Tnuva shares was made in good faith," said a senior official in the Kibbutz Movement. "No one in the kibbutz leadership imagined that Tnuva would ever be sold or privatized. This was during another period, and our representatives in the debt arrangement negotiations signed because they believed the promissory note would never be called."
So now the truth is out: the kibbutzim never thought they would have to hand over Tnuva shares in exchange for the debt erasure granted to them. They thought that like the moshavim, they would be able to evade repaying the state. Now that the repayment date has arrived, the kibbutzim are not only angry but doing everything they can to reduce the sum the state will receive for the NIS 27 billion arrangement.
The kibbutzim have now won Apax's support, which has announced that it will not purchase Tnuva if the state insists on continuing to hold 6.75 percent of the enterprise's shares. Apax is demanding that the state sell its shares immediately and cease to be a shareholder. This, while the kibbutzim retain the right to hold shares as well as the option to sell their shares to Apax at the deal price over the next three years. This means that the kibbutzim can benefit from an increase in Tnuva's value under Apax management, and are guaranteed that the value of their shares will not decline in the next three years.
"Like demanding ransom," is how the Kibbutz Movement leadership defined the state's request for the same rights in the deal as those enjoyed by the kibbutzim. NIS 18.4 billion will apparently not make them change their minds.

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Crime and Punishment

Imagine Palestinian police being tried for robbing Israelis....

Last update - 14:07 08/03/2007   

Two Border Policemen get prison terms for robbing Palestinians
By Nir Hasson, Haaretz Correspondent

Kfar Sava Magistrate's Court sentenced two Border Police troops Wednesday to six and three months in prison for stealing from Palestinians.
An additional Border Policewoman who participated in one of the robberies was given a one-year suspended sentence.
The troops, Doron Alon and Ya'akov Peretz, confessed to the charges in the context of a plea agreement. The two said that on occasion they stopped Palestinian taxi drivers while they were off duty, searched their vehicles and stole any money that they found. Their license plates were covered up during the robberies, in order to allow them to escape without being identified.
The presiding judge, Hanoch Fedder, wrote in the sentencing document that "these are severe to very severe crimes -- crimes that were carried out by the defendants while they were in uniform, identifying themselves as active policemen with authority. In their behavior, the policemen and Border Policemen represent a sort of mirror of the entire state ? in this instance, the defendants failed [due to] their deviant behavior."
Alon was sentenced to six months in prison, although the court will examine the possibility of converting the sentence to community service. Peretz was sentenced to three months in jail.
The two also received suspended sentences and ordered to pay NIS 1500 each in compensation to the complainants.
Border Policewoman Meirav Raphael was convicted of participating in one of the robberies, and was given a suspended sentence and ordered to pay NIS 1500 in compensation.

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Guess who is coming to the Knesset?

A dramatic development? Perhaps....

Last update - 13:29 08/03/2007
Syrian to testify before Knesset foreign affairs panel on secret peace talks
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondent

United States-based Syrian businessman Abe Suleiman, who represented Syria in the "Swiss channel" secret talks on a peace agreement with Israel, will testify before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on April 12 in order to update lawmakers on the discussions.
Knesset committees generally do not hear testimony from foreign nationals, and this is the first time that the representative of a hostile state has been called to testify.
The Israeli representative to the talks, former Foreign Ministry director-general Alon Liel, will also testify during the committee hearing.
Roughly two weeks ago, Meretz faction head Zahava Gal-On received a brief letter from the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Tzachi Hanegbi, who informed informed Gal-On that following her request, he had decided that the committee would hold a special April 12 session on the chances of a peace process between Israel and Syria.
Hanegbi, a senior Kadima member, added in his letter: "In the framework of the discussion, we will be happy to receive an update on the contacts made, with the participation of Dr. Alon Liel and Mr. Abe Suleiman."
Hanegbi asked Gal-On to confirm the participation of Liel, the man who initiated the talks via the "Swiss channel," and of Suleiman.
Liel and Suleiman informed Gal-On that they would be happy to report to the committee on the understandings reached in those talks.
Despite reports of an American ban on Israeli contacts with Syria, the United States also has taken an interest in the talks.
Not long after Haaretz broke the story on the Swiss channel, Liel was invited to the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv to report on his contacts with the Syrians. The meeting was attended by the embassy's entire political staff, apart from the ambassador.
But that was just the beginning. Nicholas Lang, the Swiss diplomat who acted as the contact between the Israeli participants and the Syrian regime, was summoned to Washington and updated senior State Department and National Security Council officials on the details of the talks and their results.
He arrived in the U.S. shortly after a farewell visit to Damascus, and prior to taking up his new posting as the Swiss ambassador to several African countries.

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Poll: Ayalon favored to head Israel Labor Party

Though polls show that Ami Ayalon leads the pack of Labor party contenders, we need to remember that polls predicted that Peres would beat Amir Peretz handily. In elections, how people vote is not as important as who counts the votes.  

Poll of Labor members: to head party: Ayalon 38% Barak 22% Peretz 18% Pines
7% Yatom 4% Other replies 11%
Dr. Aaron Lerner     Date: 8 March 2007

The following are the results of a telephone poll of a random sample of 615 members of the Labor Party (drawn from the revised list of members recently released) carried out by Maagar Mohot Survey Institute (headed by Professor Yitzchak Katz for Israel Radio's "Hakol Diburim"  (It's All Talk) on 7 March 2007.  Statistical error +/- 4.5.

At the end of this coming May primaries are going to be held in the Labor Party to elect the chairman of the party and its candidate for prime minister.  Of the following candidates who do you support?
Ayalon 38% Barak 22% Peretz 18% Pines 7% Yatom 4% Other replies 11%

If only the three candidates run:
Ayalon 44% Barak 30% Peretz 16% Other replies 10%

Second round:
Ayalon 56% Barak 34% Other replies 10%
Barak 52% Peretz 25% Other replies 23%
Ayalon 67% Peretz 21% Other replies 12%

Who do you prefer for the position of minister of defense?
Ayalon 48% Barak 40% Other replies 12%

Should the candidate who wins the primaries replace some of the ministers from the Labor Party?
Yes 65% No 20% Other replies 15%

Of the various candidates who has the best chance to return the Labor Party to lead the government?
Ayalon 42% Barak 28% Peretz 11% Yatom 3% Pines 6% None of the above 5% Other
replies 5%

IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis

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Olmert: Lebanon Fiasco Planned in Advance

Olmert testified that the Lebanon was was actually planned that way! This sheds a new light on the failures of the IDF. Despite supposed advance planning, nothing was done to improve civil defense in the north. There was no improvement either in the physical shelters or any plan to make sure that local government continued to function. Likewise, no training was given to IDF reserve divisions, nobody made sure there was a supply of vital weapons, and nobody checked to make certain there was equipment in the storage depots, where it was supposed to be.
The revelation that Israel moderated its response to suit incompetent American meddling is what we all expected. The result is that neither Israel nor the USA achieved the necessary goals, and the Lebanese remain in the thrall of the Hezbollah.

Last update - 09:27 08/03/2007   

PM: Plan for Lebanon war made months in advance
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondent

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Winograd Commission that his decision to respond to the abduction of soldiers with a broad military operation was made as early as March 2006, four months before last summer's Lebanon war broke out.
The commission, which is investigating the second Lebanon war, is expected to issue its interim report this month. It has sent testimony to attorneys representing individuals who could be harmed by its conclusions.
Olmert testified before the Winograd Commission on February 1, and its questions focused on three basic issues: the circumstances surrounding Amir Peretz's appointment as defense minister; how and why the decision was made to go to war on July 12, several hours after reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were abducted by Hezbollah guerrillas on the northern border; and why Olmert decided to carry out a large-scale ground operation in Lebanon, 48 hours before the cease-fire, in which 33 soldiers were killed.
In his testimony, Olmert claimed he had held more meetings on the situation in Lebanon than any of his recent predecessors. The first meeting was held on January 8, 2006, four days after Olmert was called to take the place of Ariel Sharon, who had fallen into a coma.
Further meetings were held in March, April, May and July, after Corporal Gilad Shalit was abducted to the Gaza Strip.
The day before he appeared before the commission, Major General Gadi Shamni, Olmert's military secretary, presented its members with the schedule of the meetings on Lebanon.
The scenario presented in the various assessments reflected prior incidents: the abduction of soldiers from Israeli territory accompanied by heavy cross-border shelling. Then-chief of staff Dan Halutz said such an incident would have far-reaching consequences for Israel's deterrent capability. Halutz said Israel could not show restraint in the face of a kidnapping in the north, and it had to respond. Olmert testified that he accepted this stance.
In a meeting in March, Olmert asked the army commanders whether operational plans existed for such a possibility, and they said yes. He asked to see the plans, and they asked why. He responded that he did not want to make a snap decision in the case of an abduction, and preferred to decide at that moment. Presented with the options, he selected a moderate plan that included air attacks accompanied by a limited ground operation. At the time, Shaul Mofaz was defense minister.
The Winograd Commission asked Olmert what he thought his predecessor would have done. Olmert said that following Hezbollah's failed November 2005 attempt to abduct Israel Defense Forces troops in the border village of Ghajar, Sharon ordered the army to prepare a "list of targets" for a military response in Lebanon. The list included an air attack on the long-range Fajr and Zilzal rockets, which were destroyed in an air raid the first night of the war. Sharon said at the time that the status quo, of ongoing Hezbollah raids, could not continue. Olmert told the commission that he behaved as Sharon would have.

Olmert stated that he had decided in earlier meetings that Israel's goal in an operation would be the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the deployment of the Lebanese army along the Israeli border and the disarmament of Hezbollah.
In May 2006, Olmert was informed by then-National Security Council head Giora Eiland and former prime minister Ehud Barak that the Lebanese government would agree to implement Resolution 1559 in return for an Israeli withdrawal from Shaba Farms. Olmert thought that it was best to implement the decision through diplomacy, and raised the issue with U.S. President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac.
During deliberations last June, following Shalit's abduction, Olmert told the committee he was certain there would be a similar attempt to kidnap soldiers on the Lebanese border. He ordered the IDF to prevent this.
Regarding the decision to broaden the ground operation toward the end of the war, Olmert said he had wanted to influence UN Security Council deliberations so that the draft resolution 1701, calling for a cease-fire, would be amended in Israel's favor.
Olmert said that the morning he made the move, he had received a draft reflecting the French-Lebanese stance, which did not suit Israel. The expanded operation was aimed at pressuring the Security Council members, he said.
Commission member Ruth Gavison interrupted Olmert at that point, saying that while she had no doubt that the final operation was very successful, she wanted to know why it had not been carried out earlier.
Olmert said that had earlier Israeli ground offensives been successful, Israel would not have been in such a situation at the end of the war.
Based on Gavison's statement, Olmert concluded his testimony feeling he had convinced the commission that he made the correct decision in calling for the final ground operation.
He told his aides that he emerged from the deposition exhausted but felt the committee had accepted his view.
The Winograd Commission also asked Olmert whether appointing Peretz as defense minister was the right thing to do. He responded that the defense portfolio had been given to Labor under coalition talks, and the party chose its ministers.
Olmert's chief of staff, Yoram Turbowicz, gave the Winograd Commission the diplomatic exchanges that occurred during the war.
He said that as early as the first day of the war, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with Olmert and asked that Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora not be undermined. Israel understood this to mean that Lebanese infrastructure should not be destroyed, even though the IDF had originally planned otherwise.
Dov Weissglas, adviser to prime minister Ariel Sharon, explained Sharon's containment policy along the border with Lebanon, which was intended to prevent a two-front confrontation with the Palestinians and Hezbollah.

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Report: Israeli Captive GIlad Shalit to be traded for Palestinian prisoners

These rumors pop up every few days. One day, one of them might be true. The sticking point is probably (and has always been) the list of top ten prisoners to be released, which would have to include Marwan Barghouti.

Deal for Gilad Schalit release with Hamas 'all but finished'

An agreement has been reached with Hamas over the number of prisoners Israel will release in return for Cpl. Gilad Schalit and the exchange may take place in the coming weeks, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

According to defense officials, the prisoner swap will be conducted in three stages: Israel will first release prisoners as a gesture to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas; Schalit will then be released into Egyptian custody; and Israel will then release several hundred additional prisoners, mostly affiliated with Hamas.

"The details have been agreed upon and the last issues are being wrapped up," one senior official said.

According to the officials, the Egyptian military delegation in the Gaza Strip led by General Burhan Hamed has played a key role in mediating between Israel and Hamas, to the point that they are believed to have been in direct contact with Schalit's abductors.

Officials expressed concern, however, that a vacation taken this week by Hamed and his second-in-command would postpone the exchange, which, they said, could take place as early as next week. According to the officials, without Egypt's direct involvement, the deal would never have been reached.

"They are responsible for keeping the Schalit issue on the Arab world's agenda," another official said.

While Israel has agreed in principle on the number of prisoners it will release in exchange for Schalit, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin have yet to finalize the list's "top 10."

The Palestinians have asked for specific prisoners and Israel is still considering their release.

Officials in the Prime Minister's Office, meanwhile, denied that the meeting planned for next week between Olmert and Abbas has anything to do with Schalit, although there has been speculation to that effect regarding the meeting, taking place as it is before the establishment of a PA unity government.

Two weeks ago officials in the Prime Minister's Office, for the first time, voiced cautious optimism over the possible release of Schalit, saying there was significant progress in negotiations.

At the time, the officials said he could be freed within a couple of weeks. The talks were continuing, the officials said on Wednesday, and there had been progress, but there was nothing imminent.

The officials also denied that the furor in Egypt over allegations that IDF troops killed Egyptian POWs during the Six Day War was affecting the role the Egyptians were playing.

The officials said the negotiations with Hamas were being directed by Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, while the furor over the allegations was being fanned by the Egyptian opposition and media. Rather than dealing with Schalit, the officials in the Prime Minister's Office said the upcoming meeting between Olmert and Abbas would concentrate on easing hardships for the Palestinians on the one hand, and "seeing how the Palestinians could better fight violence" on the other.

The officials said it would be made clear to Abbas that if more was not done to stop the firing of Kassam rockets from the Gaza Strip, Israel would not be able to continue with its policy of military restraint. Olmert is also expected to tell Abbas that there could be no extension of the cease-fire to the West Bank until the Palestinians respect it in Gaza.

The officials stressed that the upcoming Olmert-Abbas meeting, the third in three months, was not a dramatic "summit," but part of an ongoing effort to "keep the lines of communication open." Israeli officials said the meeting was scheduled for next week, but would not confirm Palestinian reports that it would take place on Sunday.

Also on Wednesday, OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant said at a briefing for foreign diplomats that Iran was helping Hamas upgrade its military capabilities by providing technology, funding and direct military training to Palestinian terrorists throughout the Middle East.

Galant said Hamas had taken advantage of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip to build up its strength. Using their newfound ability to travel abroad, Hamas operatives have been going back and forth to hostile countries for training, he said.

"They are sending activists to Syria, Lebanon and to Iran," Galant said, "and the opposite [also happens]. People from Iran come to inspect the situation in the area, give them the proper training and coaching, examine them and see if they hit the targets they gave them."

Asked to elaborate, Galant would not say whether Iranian agents have visited Gaza.

"The Iranians don't have to come themselves to see what the situation is. If there is a Palestinian who is connected to Hizbullah and working for Iran and is moving to the Iranian side, learning methods, getting orders, and transferring them to the Palestinian side, that is good enough for me to explain the situation," he said.

Galant said the cease-fire in Gaza was a tactical move for Hamas to strengthen itself. While observing the truce, Israel has military plans prepared, he said.

"We prefer to give a chance to the cease-fire at present. But we have to prepare ourselves for a war situation in the future," he said. He did not elaborate.

AP contributed to the report.

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UN contemplates ban on Iran arms export

Not quite as much as it seems. It is only a ban on Iran exporting arms. How will it be enforced?  

Last update - 07:25 08/03/2007   
Key UN members draft full arms embargo resolution against Iran
By Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz Correspondent

NEW YORK - The five permanent United Nation Security Council members and Germany are drafting a new resolution against Iran which may for the first time include all UN members in a weapons embargo on Tehran.
Sources in New York estimated Wednesday that Russia - strongly opposed to the draft initiated by the United States - might go along with the resolution if it is restricted to an embargo on Iran's export of weapons.
Efforts are underway to reach an agreement regarding Iran's import of weapons. The new resolution would request UN members to remain alert and implement tight oversight and inspection to foil Iranian attempts to procure weapons.
Sources in the UN estimated that a final draft of the new resolution will be brought up for discussion in the Security Council no sooner than the end of March.
The new resolution draft is a reaction to Iran's refusal to abide by resolution 1737, passed last December, demanding that it halt its uranium enrichment program. Britain's ambassador to the UN, James Perry, said Tuesday that the resolution would supplement and tighten the financial sanctions imposed on Iran in the previous resolution.
The new resolution is expected to include restrictions on Iranian trade with the U.S. In addition, the number of Iranian officials restricted from visiting various countries is expected to be increased. Under the new resolution, the possessions and assets of further officials involved with the Iranian nuclear program are expected to be frozen.
Sources in New York say the weapons embargo on Iran would have a significant influence on the Islamic Republic's relations with Syria. "Iran would probably continue to supply Syria with weapons, some of which are transferred to Hezbollah," said a senior Western diplomat on Wednesday. "Under the new resolution, the shipments would constitute a blatant violation of the embargo imposed by the council."
As in the previous resolution, the new one is expected to include an ultimatum for Iran to abide by the council's decision and halt the uranium enrichment program. The U.S. wants this extension to last 30 days, but Moscow's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said the ultimatum would last for 60 days.

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Palestinian extremists terrorize popular entertainment as "Haram"

The headline of this article is peculiar, because most of it is not about any Internet Cafes, and because the headline might give you the impression that the Palestinians are being attacked by Israel.
The lesson is that if you let terror rule your society, you will find yourself the victim of terror.

Palestinian Internet Cafes Being Attacked

The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 7, 2007; 3:10 AM

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip -- A note stuck to the door of Mohammed al-Shaer's tiny music shop warned him several months ago that selling tapes and CDs of popular Arabic music was "haram," or forbidden by Islam.

He paid no heed until a bomb went off outside his business this week _ apparently the work of what Palestinian security officials now suspect may be a secret "vice squad" of Muslim militants.

"If they cared about their religion, they would (instead) stop people from killing each other," Al-Shaer, 19, said angrily.

In recent months, about three dozen Internet cafes, music shops and even pharmacies have been attacked, with assailants detonating small bombs outside businesses at night, causing damage but no injuries.

The bombings started in October, a new phenomenon even in violent Gaza, where more than 130 people have been killed in factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah in recent months. The attacks could point to a further spread of religious extremism in Gaza, where poverty and lawlessness have been on the rise.

There has been no credible claim of responsibility for the attacks, police said.

Police initially believed the attacks were part of local business disputes but increasingly came to suspect an orchestrated campaign by religious extremists, said one law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject.

There have been no arrests, but Gaza police spokesman Ramzi Shaheen noted that the method of operations was the same in all cases. "We can't exactly say who is behind this, but the repeated nature of the attacks leads us to certain conclusions," he said, without elaborating.

In the town of Rafah on the Gaza-Egypt border last week, a huge bomb wrecked a pool hall in a building owned by Ramzi Abu Hilao, blowing out the front wall and littering the interior with metal scraps. He said there was no warning before the blast.

"I received a written message after the bombing from a group called 'The Swords of Truth' that began with a verse from the Quran and said they wanted to correct the bad behavior in Palestinian society," he said.

In deeply conservative Gaza, devout Muslims would consider Internet cafes to be dens of vice because young men are known to view pornography there. Music shops could be a target because some believers fear pop music distracts from prayers. The targeting of pharmacies remains a mystery, though, officials say.

Fears of an Islamic cultural crackdown have risen since the Islamic Hamas took over the government a year ago after winning an election. On Monday, Education Ministry officials said they removed an anthology of folk tales from school libraries because of explicit sexual language, destroying 1,500 books.

Entertainment in Gaza is extremely limited _ there are no movie houses or theaters. Surfing the Net and listening to music are among the only outlets for the young, and hundreds of small Internet cafes and music shops operate across Gaza, some even near mosques.

Several music shops in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, have received warnings in recent months not to sell pop music.

Khamis Abdeen, 20, said he removed most tapes and CDs but left several dozen tapes with the latest songs on the shelves of his family's shop, hoping he could sell them quickly. At the beginning of the year, the shop was attacked, damaging $5,000 worth of merchandise, he said. Abdeen has stopped selling tapes.

In Gaza City, Shawki Abdel Karim, 39, said he recently blocked access to adult Web sites on the 24 computers in his Internet cafe, but he can do little else to stop attacks. The cafe is separated by gender _ girls upstairs, boys downstairs.

"After I go home, all I can say is to pray to God to protect my place," he said.

The bombings are the latest sign of a society buckling under the pressure of more than six years of fighting with Israel, internal strife and deep-rooted poverty, said Anwar Wadi, a psychologist at the Gaza Community Mental Health Center.

"This is a poisoned society," he said. "Since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip (in 2005), hidden problems have come to the surface."

Shaheen, the police spokesman, said solving problems by violence has become the norm.

"Everybody has guns. There's no rule of law," he said. "We've reached a stage where a person is a hero by how he can break the law."

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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Two Polls - Olmert should resign

Polls for Channel 10 and Ynet indicate that a large majority of Israelis believe that Ehud Olmert should resign.
One poll found that 64% of Israelis want Olmert to resign, while another poll found that 72% want him to resign. According to one poll, the leading candidate for Prime Minister is Benjamin Nethanyahu, with 30%, while only 3% thought Olmert was suited to be Prime Minister. 18% favored Ami Ayalon to be Prime Minister, while only 1% thought Amir Peretz was suitable for that post.

Poll: Olmert should resign 72% Olmert most appropriate to be PM 3%
Dr. Aaron Lerner      Date: 7 March 2007

Telephone poll carried out by New Wave of a representative sample of adult
Israelis (including Israeli Arabs) for
Channel 10 as reported by Walla on 7 March 2007

Should elections be held now?  Yes 57% No 28%

Should Olmert continue to serve as prime  minister? Yes 17% No 72%

Why should Olmert resign?
44% Poor handling of the war
45% Corruption cases he is associated with

Who was correct in the dispute between Olmert and State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss over the Comptroller's report on failures in the war and preparedness of the home front?
Olmert 12% State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss  60%

Who is most appropriate to be prime minister?
Netanyahu 30% Ayalon 18% Barak 12% Lieberman 7% Olmert 3%  Peretz 1%

IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis

58 percent of public don't believe Olmert, poll says
Most Israelis believe state comptroller's version in clash with prime minister over interim report on handling of Home Front during Lebanon war, Ynet survey reveals

Ynet Published: 03.07.07, 21:10 / Israel News,7340,L-3373818,00.html

Most Israelis believe State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss rather than Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in their clash over the interim report on handling of Home Front during the war in Lebanon, a poll conducted for Ynet
by the Smith Institute revealed.

Lindenstrauss alleged at the beginning of the week that although he had sent his questions regarding to the report to the prime minister about two months ago, Olmert had yet to send his replies to all 12 questions.

Officials at the Prime Minister's Office slammed the comptroller in response, saying that "a new record has been broken here, with the comptroller misleading the MKs who appointed him in order to reach his goal."

According to the survey, 58 percent of the public believe the comptroller's version over the prime minister's. Only 9 percent believe that Olmert's version is more reliable than Lindenstrauss'. Twelve percent of respondents said they did not believe either one of them.

Asked whether Israel's situation had changed for the better or for the worse since the Olmert government was elected about a year ago, 68 percent said that the situation had become worse. Only 6 percent believed that the situation had improved, while 24 percent said that the situation had not changed.

As for the prime minister's political future, the poll revealed that 64 percent of the public believe Olmert should resign and call new elections. Twenty-nine percent of the public believe the prime minister should be allowed to complete his term.

The poll was conducted among 400 people, constituting a representative sample of the Israeli population, with a sampling error of 5 percent.

Continued (Permanent Link)

The Rewards of Peace Between Lebanon and Israel

The Rewards of Peace with Israel
By: Charles Jalkh (Lebanese Freedom Fighter)
March 07/07

In a press conference today with his visiting Belgian counterpart, Karel De Gucht, Syria's foreign minister Walid Moallem was asked about the possibility of stationing international troops on the Lebanese border with Syria. The Syrian foreign minister repeated a threat he made several months ago, in which he said "Syria would close its border with Lebanon" in such a case. "Why would you want to establish an international control on the border between Syria and Lebanon" he asked during the news conference. "That is a sign that the West wants a state of war between the two."
It seems the Syrian dictatorship has lost the last remnant of mental faculties and is unable to articulate logical or cohesive responses. How could international troops deployed with a defensive mandate of border monitoring, cause a war? In fact, they would be implementing International law dictated in UN Security Council resolution 1701 which ordains an arms embargo on Hezbollah and the respect of Lebanon's sovereignty. In the meanwhile incidents of confiscations of Syrian-smuggled weapons by the Lebanese army are multiplying. Israel has also complained and produced evidence of ongoing arms smuggling from Syria to Hezbollah forces in violation of SCR 1701.
The Syrian Baath regime is in effect threatening Lebanon with an open war if Lebanon seeks the protection of the International community. Such insolent and criminal threats are well in character with Syrian history. Syria is in fact, already engaged in an indirect war against Lebanon through Hezbollah. It aims to destroy the Lebanese state institutions, economy, cleanse it people, and ultimately defeat and reverse the Cedars Revolution. Today, the world community sees in perfect clarity this ugly Syrian behavior. The world has also reached a final conclusion that there cannot be a diplomatic solution with the current Syrian regime of assassins.

Assad's border closure will be a blessing in disguise for Lebanon.
It will stop arms smuggling and terrorist infiltrations into the country, and safeguard Lebanese capital from flowing illegally into Syria. Excellent! We will finally achieve better security and become more prosperous in the process. We Lebanese should immediately become more motivated to do the obvious and honorable, and that is to make a wholehearted peace with Israel. We need to end, once for all, and permanently, for the sake of all children, this futile bleeding conflict we were pushed into on behalf of the anti-civilization forces. We have lost 60 years of our lives, our brightest have emigrated, our country is ravished, left at the crossroad of partition, fighting for its life.
Peace with Israel should bring rich rewards to Lebanon. It will permanently stabilize our society and firmly commit us into the international peace camp with firm security and bountiful prosperity. We will discover a democratic neighbor and a rich culture forbidden to us for 60 years by tyrannies. Why should we call Israel an enemy when our generations have not even met? We need to break free from the programming and indoctrinations of the ancient Arab iron curtain. We need to move ahead of the crowd, motivated only by our national interest and our genuine desire for peace.
Peace with Israel along with achieving high standards of democracy and human rights would mean Lebanon's entry into the European Union even prior to Turkey. It would bring us under NATO's military protection and would permanently usher stability and prosperity to our homeland. Just observe how Eastern Europe is flourishing today thanks to the stability provided by the EU and NATO.
Peace with Israel means opening new trade and shipping routes southward, with and through Israel, then to Jordan and Egypt, nations with open border and honored peace treaties with Israel, and on unto other Gulf and African markets. Let the Syrian dictatorship keep its borders closed for ever, we would not care the least at that point.
Peace with Israel means economic cooperation, massive foreign investments, joint ventures, cultural exchanges, and faster economic development for Lebanon. Our Phoenician civilization carries thousands of years of expertise in trade and the entrepreneurial spirit. Our past glory was due to our openness to all cultures, and our genius in creating win-win relationships with all people.
Peace with Israel would enhance our understanding, appreciation, tolerance, even cordiality between our people. We could become best friends, even allies in this global peace camp.
All these beautiful possibilities are however threatened by the current Syrian bloody dictatorship. There will be no peace for Lebanon, and by consequence none to Israel, unless the Assad dictatorship is defeated, or brought to justice, for its crimes against humanity. The only hope for Free Lebanon is in a democratic and humane Syrian society which acknowledges its ugly past, asks forgiveness, reforms itself, and behaves as a decent neighbor.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Caroline Glick and the Saudi Peace Plan: History or Hysteria?

Caroline Glick's article about Israeli policy on the Arab peace plan is a remarkable performance, because almost every premise is false, and yet the whole is convincing to the readers of Caroline Glick, who could easily know that what she wrote is not true.
Glick's main point is that Olmert's government have accepted the Saudi Peace plan. That is untrue.
Rather than reject the plan as their predecessors did, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni are embracing it as a basis for negotiations while applauding the Saudis for their "positive" role in the region.

In press interviews last week, Livni said that Israel's only real quibble is that the Saudi plan stipulates that Israel has to allow millions of hostile foreign Arabs to move here. If they would just fix that one little thing, which she refers to as "an absolute red line," (apparently as opposed to a flexible red line), then we could start getting down to business.
What Livni actually said is contained in this Ha'aretz report and in other reports, that everyone, including Caroline Glick can read:
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told a Palestinian newspaper in an interview published Thursday that Israel could not accept a 2002 Arab League peace initiative in its current formulation.
Livni said that the issue of borders must be resolved through negotiations, not be determined in advance, and pointed out that the proposal for Palestinian refugees contained within the peace plan was unacceptable to Israel.
And as Caroline Glick and her readers can easily find, most Arab world media at least understood the Israeli policy as   "Israeli FM rejects Arab peace initiative"
Indeed, if the Arab states modify the plan to allow for negotiated borders, and for settlement of refugees outside Israel, would that not be the basis for peace that Israel is seeking?
Glick also wrote:
By February and March 2002, Israel had accumulated and disseminated a critical mass of evidence demonstrating that the Palestinian jihad against Israel was being massively funded by the same states that were funding al-Qaida. Israel had also shown that far from being interested in peace or in combating terror, Arafat, his official PA militias, and his Fatah terror group were directing the jihad.
This is not true. When Abdullah initially broached the plan Israel did not have such evidence. The Karine A originated in Iran and had nothing to do with states that fund Al-Qaeda. Operation Defensive shield, which began at the time of the Arab summit in Beirut, did not publish the documents showing that Arafat was directing and the Fatah were funding terror until well after the summit meeting.
The questions to consider are:
1) What are Glick's motivations in attacking the Israeli government for something it did not do?
2) What peace plan could conceivably be satisfactory to someone like Glick?
Ami Isseroff

Our World: Israel's man in Mecca
Caroline Glick, THE JERUSALEM POST Mar. 5, 2007

Israel's man in Mecca is at it again.

Five years ago, for the first time, the Palestinians were beginning to feel diplomatic pressure. In January 2002, the IDF's interception of the Gaza-bound Karine-A Iranian weapons ship in the Red Sea exposed the close
relationship that Fatah terror chief and Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat had developed with the mullahs in Teheran. In February 2002, a little-known al-Qaida terrorist by the name of Abu Musab Zarqawi, who had set up shop in Iran after fleeing US forces in Afghanistan dispatched three Palestinian terrorists to Israel to conduct terror operations. The men were arrested en route in Turkey.

By February and March 2002, Israel had accumulated and disseminated a critical mass of evidence demonstrating that the Palestinian jihad against Israel was being massively funded by the same states that were funding al-Qaida. Israel had also shown that far from being interested in peace or in combating terror, Arafat, his official PA militias, and his Fatah terror group were directing the jihad.

With the foreign-funded Palestinian terror machine on the verge of being delegitimized, something had to be done to change the subject.

Enter Saudi Arabia.

As one of the PA's chief terror financiers; one of the epicenters of jihadist propaganda and recruitment; and the Arab state with the most influence over the Bush administration, the Saudis had an interest in preventing the US from acting on the knowledge that there is no difference between al-Qaida and Hamas or between the PA and the Taliban-led regime in Afghanistan.

And so, then crown-prince, (and current King) Abdullah invited The New York Time's in-house peace-processor Tom Friedman to Riyadh for dinner. After serving his guest the customary royal meal of freshly slaughtered lamb and sticky rice, Abdullah informed Friedman that if Israel weren't so insistent on defending its citizens from murder, he would introduce a peace plan he happened to have sitting in his desk already.

That plan was first fully enunciated at the Arab League Summit in Beirut on March 27, 2002. The day was a watershed day. In Netanya, 30 Jews were murdered at the Park Hotel by a jihadist suicide bomber while celebrating the Pessah Seder. The massacre caused the Sharon government to finally launch its limited counter-terror offensive - Operation Defensive Shield - in Judea and Samaria after more than a year of stalling.

On March 27, 2002, two conferences convened in Beirut. In the first conference, terror masters from Hizbullah, al-Qaida, Hamas, Fatah, and Islamic Jihad convened to discuss collaboration and strategy. At the second conference, the leaders of the Arab League agreed to accept the Saudi initiative.

AS PUBLISHED the next day, the Saudi plan includes two stages. In the first stage, Israel divests itself of defensible borders by surrendering the Golan Heights, Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria. It also allows itself to become inundated with millions of hostile foreign-born Arabs who call themselves Palestinian refugees.

After Israel completes these tasks, the Arab world will agree to sign peace agreements with Israel and have "normal," (but not diplomatic), relations with the indefensible Jewish state. Given that it was acceded to by such terror states as Syria, Libya, Sudan and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, it should surprise no one that the Saudi plan included no mention of the need to end terrorism, incitement or jihadist indoctrination and violence in its pledge to have normal ties with Israel.

While the international media and the leftist Israeli media greeted the Saudi plan enthusiastically, then prime minister Ariel Sharon did everything he could to discredit the initiative. Sharon understood that it was a tactical ploy to delegitimize Israel's military campaign against the Palestinian jihad and to rebuild the legitimacy of the PA.

From a strategic vantage point, both Sharon and then foreign minister Shimon Peres made it clear that Israel did not accept the Arab view that Israel must surrender all the lands it gained control of in the Six Day War as a precondition for peace. That is, both Sharon and Peres were quick to point out that the plan itself, if implemented by Israel would be a strategic catastrophe for the Jewish state and was therefore unacceptable as a basis for negotiations.

Then too, the Sharon government rejected the sequencing of events, with Israel giving up the store in exchange for vague, unverifiable commitments to an unclear peace sometime down the road. Indeed, President Moshe Katsav invited then crowned-prince Abdullah to visit Israel as a means of calling the Saudi bluff. As Katsav put it, "assuming that the Crown Prince is interested in promoting [his peace plan], the most natural way to do this is by meeting the Israeli government."

With Israel's rejection of the plan, and with the documents the IDF secured during Operation Defensive Shield proving definitively that Arafat was a terrorist, the Saudi plan was laid to the side. But now, five years later, Saudi Arabia is again placing it on the international agenda.

SAUDI ARABIA'S motivations today are as clear as they were five years ago. Then, in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Saudis wanted to block the US from recognizing that the jihad against Israel is part and parcel of the global jihad against the US and the rest of the free world. Today, against the backdrop of the Iranian nuclear threat - which also makes clear that the war against Israel is simply a front in the larger jihad - the Saudis again wish to convince the Americans not to view Israel as a strategic ally.

The Saudis reportedly raised President George W. Bush's hackles by mediating last month's Mecca agreement between Hamas and Fatah which transformed the Iranian and Saudi-financed Fatah terror group into a junior partner in the Iranian and Saudi-financed Hamas terror group's government. The Saudis, like the Palestinians wish for the West to renew its underwriting of the PA in spite of the fact that it no longer makes any bones about being a terror regime.

The easiest way to do that is to pretend that there is a possibility of renewing the "peace process" by putting a deal on the table that Israel will have to reject. With Israel rejecting "peace plans," the Saudis and their counterparts in the Arab League will say that there is no distinction between peace rejecting Israel and peace rejecting Hamas and therefore the West - and the US in particular - should recognize Hamas and give it lots of money.

So in resubmitting their "peace plan," the Saudis are simply acting as they have always acted - as Israel's enemy and as a country dedicated to preventing the US from basing its Middle East policy on a recognition of the basic fact that Arab and Islamic hostility towards the US stems from the same source as Arab and Islamic hostility towards Israel.

WHAT IS new in the current iteration of the Saudi game is Israel's response. Rather than reject the plan as their predecessors did, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni are embracing it as a basis for negotiations while applauding the Saudis for their "positive" role in the region.

In press interviews last week, Livni said that Israel's only real quibble is that the Saudi plan stipulates that Israel has to allow millions of hostile foreign Arabs to move here. If they would just fix that one little thing, which she refers to as "an absolute red line," (apparently as opposed to a flexible red line), then we could start getting down to business.

Aside from that, Livni said that the plan "is positive in my view." As she put it, "The initiative does discuss the 1967 lines, but it would be great if we were in a position where the conflict was a border dispute."

For his part, not only does Olmert consider the Saudi plan to be a positive development, according to Haaretz, Olmert so values Saudi Arabia that he decided not to reject the Mecca deal for fear that doing so would upset his friends in Riyadh.

Olmert's aversion to annoying Riyadh reportedly stems from his desire to keep the Saudis on board in opposing Iran's nuclear weapons program. If this is true, then Olmert is as much of a fool as Livni, who claims to truly believe that the Saudi plan can be the basis for negotiations.

In Olmert's case, he apparently has failed to understand that an Iranian nuclear bomb will imperil Saudi Arabia regardless of its impact on Israel. The Saudis would have to oppose Iran's nuclear program even if Israel were to destroy the PA and send its leaders - from Hamas and Fatah alike - packing to Mecca. Israel doesn't have to pay anything for Saudi support of actions to destroy Iran's nuclear installations.

So it is possible that Olmert and Livni are supporting the Saudis because they are obtuse. It is equally possible that they are using the Saudi plan as a diversion to shift public attention away from the fact that they led the country to defeat in the war against Iran's Lebanese proxy last summer and that due to their continued incompetence, Israel currently faces the prospect of a new war starting at any moment.

Whatever the cause of their support for the Saudis, that support is but another sign that they are incompetent to lead the country.

Continued (Permanent Link)

IDF raids PA military headquarters in Ramalla, arrests 18 Fatah fugitives

Note that these are Fatah operatives allied with Mahmoud Abbas - not Hamas people.

Last update - 08:50 07/03/2007   

IDF arrests 18 in Ramallah raid on PA security compound
By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondents andThe Associated Press

Israel Defense Forces troops raided the Palestinian military headquarters in Ramallah early Wednesday and arrested 18 fugitives who had sought shelter there, Palestinian security officials said.
In the raid, some 30 military jeeps surrounded the building. Troops firing stun grenades and shooting in the air called on the fugitives to surrender, then entered the compound and seized 18 wanted men, the security officials said.
Among those taken was Khalil Shilo, a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent offshoot of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement. Shilo had been on the run for seven years, since the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000.
The operation came a week after an IDF arrest sweep through the West Bank city of Nablus. Troops also found weapons and pipe bombs, military officials said.
The army confirmed the arrest of 18 fugitives, and said they were all allied with Fatah. The fugitives were suspected of involvement in shooting attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers, as well as attempted kidnappings, the army said.
Most of the Palestinian security forces are linked to Fatah, and fugitives were known to sleep in the military intelligence compound from time to time.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Hamas offers Truce in return for an end to the boycott

What doesn't the offer include?
Will Gilad Shalit be freed?
How about attacks within the West Bank? Arms smuggling?
Nonetheless, it is something to be considered, at least until Khaled Meshal denies that the offer was made...

Last update - 07:30 07/03/2007   

Hamas vows full truce if Israel helps end boycott
By Avi Issacharoff and Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondents

If Israel agrees to persuade the international community not to boycott the new Palestinian unity government, the Palestinians "will offer a promise from Hamas and Fatah of a total cease-fire with Israel, including a complete halt to Qassam [rocket] fire and suicide bombings," a senior Hamas official told Haaretz on Tuesday.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas plans to deliver this offer at his upcoming meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian sources said. The meeting is tentatively scheduled for Sunday, thought according to the Palestinians, the date has not yet been finalized.
However, the Hamas official warned, if Israel presses for a continuation of the international boycott and refuses to work with the unity government, the existing partial cease-fire will be in danger.
Olmert, however, plans to use the meeting to urge Abbas to ensure that the new government, which is currently being formed, accepts the Quartet's conditions: recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and honoring previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
"This will not be a scolding conversation," said a government source, "but a heart-to-heart talk in which Olmert will try to exploit the grace period that remains before the new PA government is established."
Israel is also working to persuade the European Union - one of the Quartet's four members, along with the United States, Russia and the United Nations - to continue the boycott should the unity government not meet these three conditions, laid down by the Quartet last year.
Olmert has no plans to announce any additional steps to ease Palestinian life at his meeting with Abbas. This will be their third meeting over the last three months.
The Palestinians said the unity government was unlikely to be finalized until after the Olmert-Abbas meeting. As of Tuesday, Hamas and Fatah were still arguing over who the interior minister should be.
Should the unity government not accept the Quartet's conditions, Israel also plans to boycott ministers from Abbas' Fatah Party. In Europe, however, there is growing support for dialogue with "moderate ministers."
One reason for this is the change in Abbas' position. When Hamas comprised the entire government, he supported the boycott. But now that a unity government is being formed, he wants the Europeans to work with Fatah government members, arguing that this will strengthen Fatah's position in its ongoing debate with Hamas over diplomatic policy.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who returned Tuesday from a meeting with EU foreign ministers, said that thus far, the EU appears to be standing firm on the Quartet conditions, as evidenced by its rejection of an Italian-Spanish-French proposal to set up a special committee to reconsider the conditions for dialogue with the new unity government. However, fearing this position might erode, she devoted much of her visit to urging her counterparts to stand firm on this issue, arguing that insisting on the Quartet conditions would strengthen Palestinian moderates, whereas "compromising at this time would strengthen Hamas."
Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema, one of the leaders of the anti-boycott camp, opined recently that the EU should not insist that the new government recognize Israel. Instead, it should say that abiding by the other two conditions would be sufficient, in order to encourage Hamas to be more flexible rather than trying to pressure it, he argued.
The EU's external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, harshly criticized Israel at a meeting with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu last week: "You're not giving the Palestinians anything - neither territory nor hope," she said. But Israeli government sources claimed that she took a more moderate tone in meetings with other Israeli officials and refrained from criticism.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met Tuesday with Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas' political bureau, and urged the Palestinians to continue the armed struggle against Israel, "which is undergoing the worst period of its existence, and getting worse." Iran also pledged financial aid to the new PA government.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

PA orders book of folk tales pulled from schools

Associated Press, via Ynetnews
PA orders book of folk tales pulled from schools

Many Palestinians angered and worried after Hamas-run Education Ministry orders anthology of Palestinian folk tales to be pulled from libraries and destroyed, reportedly over mild sexual innuendo

Associated Press
Published: 03.05.07, 18:38,7340,L-3372783,00.html

The Hamas-run Education Ministry has ordered an anthology of Palestinian folk tales pulled from school libraries and destroyed, reportedly over mild sexual innuendo, officials said Monday, in the most direct attempt by the Islamic militants to impose their beliefs on Palestinian society.

The book ban angered and worried many Palestinians, who long feared that Hamas would use its victory in last year's parliamentary election to remake the Palestinian territories according to its hardline interpretation of Islam.

West Bank novelist Zakariya Mohammed said he feared Hamas' decision to ban 'Speak Bird, Speak Again,' a collection of 45 folk tales, was only the beginning and urged intellectuals to take action.

"If we don't stand up to the Islamists now, they won't stop confiscating books, songs and folklore," he said.

The Education Ministry declined immediate comment. A senior ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss the issue with reporters, confirmed that 1,500 copies of the book had been pulled from school libraries and destroyed.

Hanan Ashrawi, an independent lawmaker and former Cabinet minister, said the decision to pull the book was "outrageous."

"If this is what is to come, it is extremely alarming," she said.

With Hamas slated to retain the Education Ministry under a power-sharing agreement with the secular Fatah party, Ashrawi called for the creation of an independent body to deal with issues related to arts and education.

"Education and culture and social issues should not be handled by anybody that has a closed, ideological, doctrinal attitude," she said. "It should be in the hands of professionals."

Since taking office last year, Hamas, which advocates an Islamic Palestinian state, has largely shied away from trying to force its mores on Palestinian society, as rights activists had feared. Some analysts speculated that the group was too busy trying to fend off international sanctions and keep its government from collapsing to focus on banning alcohol or other measures.

However, in recent months the Hamas-controlled ministries have begun forcing women to don headscarves to enter. And two years ago, Hamas officials in charge of the West Bank town of Qalqiliya sparked fears of a culture crackdown by banning a local music festival, arguing that the mingling of men and women at such an event was "haram," or forbidden by Islam.

In a letter sent to the Nablus school district last month, the Education Ministry said 'Speak Bird, Speak Again' must be removed within a week, and asked school officials to notify the ministry once they had complied. The letter did not explain why the book was considered objectionable.

Excerpts of the letter were read to The Associated Press by a Nablus school official who spoke on condition of anonymity, for fear of retribution.

'This is our heritage, this is our life'

The 400-page anthology of folk tales narrated by Palestinian women was first published in English in 1989 by the University of California at Berkeley. It was put together by Sharif Kanaana, a novelist and anthropology professor at the West Bank's Bir Zeit University, and by Ibrahim Muhawi, a teacher of Arabic literature and the theory of translation.

A French version, published by UNESCO, followed in 1997, and an Arabic one in 2001, said Kaanana, who lives in the West Bank town of Ramallah. At the time of the first publication in Arabic, the Palestinian Culture Ministry requested 3,000 copies and had them distributed in schools, Kanaana said Monday.

Kanaana said that two of the 45 tales contained what some might consider vague sexual innuendo, referring to body parts in colloquial Arabic. "This is our heritage, this is our life," he said of the folk tales.

One of Kanaana's neighbors, pharmacist Nabil Nahas, 60, said the book was a treasure, and that he was deeply upset by what he said was Hamas' attempt to silence other opinions.

The author said the stories shouldn't be altered because this is how they were transmitted from generation to generation. He didn't mind having a revised version for young children, but the original should be freely available, as a historic record, he said.

"It's not their right to judge this book," Kanaana said. "It's a scientific, academic book."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Poll: More Americans pro-Israeli

Jerusalem Post, posted March 6, 2007
Poll: More Americans pro-Israeli

Americans are more pro-Israeli in their views today than they were 10 and 20 years ago, but they are also more polarized, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Sympathy for Israelis has increased substantially, and sympathy for Palestinians has increased slightly.

The percentage of Americans who are impartial regarding the Israeli-Palestinian dispute - either favoring both sides, favoring neither side or having no opinion - has decreased. A combined 78 percent of Americans favor either the Israelis or Palestinians, while 22% are impartial. Two years ago, 30% of Americans said they were impartial, while 14 years ago 43% said they were.

The random poll of 1,007 adults was carried out on February 4-7 and has a 3% margin of error.

The figures have varied slightly from year to year, but averaging all polls conducted from 1993-1999 and comparing these with all polls conducted since 2000, Gallup trends show that the average level of sympathy for Israelis rose from 41% to 53%, while the average sympathy for Palestinians rose from 13% to 16%.

Gallup polls from 1988-1993 had a slightly different method of recording no opinion responses, which makes them not directly comparable to polls conducted since 1993.

As Americans have moved out of the "no preference" columns, they have moved disproportionately into the pro-Israeli column, according to the Gallop polls.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Iran accuses West for general's kidnap

Jerusalem Post, updated March 6, 2007
Iran accuses West for general's kidnap

Iran officially announced on Tuesday that its former deputy defense minister was missing while on a private trip to neighboring Turkey, and its top police chief accused Western intelligence services of possibly kidnapping the official.

Ali Reza Asghari, a retired general in the elite Revolutionary Guards and a former deputy defense minister, had arrived in Turkey on a private visit from Damascus, Syria, the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported Tuesday.

Iran's top police chief, Gen. Esmaeil Ahmadi Moghaddam, said Iran was investigating the fate of Asghari through the Turkish police.

"It is likely that Asghari has been abducted by the Western intelligence services," IRNA quoted the Iranian police general as saying. The general did not elaborate.

# Iranian general vanishes; Mossad/CIA blamed

Reports from the Arab media suggested that the Mossad and the CIA were behind Asgari's disappearance. Israel has denied involvement in the general's disappearance, but The Daily Telegraph speculated on Monday that Asgari could have been abducted by Israel to shed light on the whereabouts of missing IAF navigator Ron Arad, who Israel has claimed might have been held at one point by Iran.

Fearing that Iran will try to kidnap senior Israeli officials who are traveling abroad, the Israeli security establishment was reevaluating Tuesday and adjusting security arrangements for certain officials visiting non-Western and Muslim countries.

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) - the agency in charge of providing security for Israeli officials - said: "We formulate our security arrangements according to developments in the field and intelligence information."

Reportedly, Asgari, who was a Revolutionary Guards commander at the end of the eighties and beginning of the nineties, was involved in a deal to transfer Arad to the Iranians in exchange for a large sum of money.

The Telegraph said it was understood that Hizbullah guerillas might have passed Arad up the chain of command to their Iranian handlers.

The Telegraph also suggested that the former spy chief was not kidnapped by an intelligence service but defected while visiting Turkey, escaping to a Western country, and Israel and the US were showing special interest in the case since Asgari might be able to shed some light on the fate of Arad.

In Turkey, the Interior Ministry said it was investigating the matter, but would not confirm or deny that Asghari had disappeared or been kidnapped.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Israel No.2 in EU patent applications

Jerusalem Post, March 6, 2007
Israel No.2 in EU patent applications

Israel ranked second after Japan in the number of patent applications submitted in Europe in 2005, according to research published by Business Data Israel on Monday.

"The consistent growth in the number of patent submissions and in the number of registered Israeli patents is an indicator of the technological wealth in the Israeli economy, of its supply and of its capacity to continue to grow," said Tehila Yanai, co-CEO of BDI-Coface.

According to the research, which compared the number of patents submitted by foreign countries - "not including Europe" - in Europe relative to the number of inhabitants, Japan scored in first place with 168.5 patent submissions per million inhabitants. In second place was Israel with 112.3 patent applications, ahead the US with 110.7. Korea came in fourth place with 79.3 applications followed by Canada with 54.4 submissions, while China and India scored relatively low with 0.4 applications per million inhabitants.

Meanwhile, economists at BDI found that only 22 percent of all patent applications in Israel were submitted by Israeli companies, while the remainder was submitted by foreign companies.

Furthermore, BDI determined that the number of approved Israeli patents in the US rose by 18% in 2006. In the submission of patents in the US, Israel was ranked in fourth place in 2006 with 178.5 applications before Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Korea and Canada.

In 2005, the number of Israeli patents submitted in the US rose by 25% to 462 applications from the previous year, putting Israel at number three after Taiwan in first place and Japan in second place.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Monday, March 5, 2007

WAFA: Arab FMs declare Palestinian State

WAFA is the official PLO News Agency. According to them:
At the closing 127th session of the League of Arab States held in Cairo, the Ministers affirmed that the State of Palestine is a complete partner in the peace process, rejecting all Israeli unilateral procedures and endeavors to fix its own borders.
Of course, there is no State of Palestine.

Arab FMs Call for Solving Arab-Israeli Conflict and Comprehensive Peace

CAIRO, March 5, 2007, (WAFA - PLO news agency)-Arab Foreign Ministers(FMs) called for solving the Arab-Israeli conflict and maintain a just and comprehensive peace in the region.

At the closing 127th session of the League of Arab States held in Cairo, the Ministers affirmed that the State of Palestine is a complete partner in the peace process, rejecting all Israeli unilateral procedures and endeavors to fix its own borders.

The Arab FMs reiterated Arabs adherence to a just and comprehensive peace as a strategic choice and considered the peace process as one package can not be separated, adding that comprehensive peace would not be achieved unless full Israeli withdrawal from Arab and Palestinian territory and reaching a just and a greed upon solution to the issue of the Palestinian refugees.

The Ministers called upon the Quartet to exert efforts to resume the achievement of a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East that is based on the Road Map and the Arab peace initiative and international resolutions.

The Ministers called on the UN Security Council to send international observers to protect the Palestinian people against the continued Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people.

The FMs denounced Israeli excavations work beneath and around AL-Aqsa mosque, calling on all international organizations to shoulder responsibility and protect the Islamic and Christian holy shrines in Jerusalem.

M.H.(11:10 P)(09:10 GMT)

Continued (Permanent Link)

Palestinians: Unity is better than eating

Awad: Fatah would choose the unity government over an end to the economic
Date: 05 / 03 / 2007  Time:  12:02

Gaza - Ma'an - A spokesman of Fatah movement, Abdul Hakim Awad, has declared that Fatah will stand up to anyone that attempts to frustrate the implementation of the Mecca agreement.

He confirmed that if his movement is asked to choose between the unity government and the end of the economic embargo on the Palestinian Authority, Fatah will choose the unity government.

Speaking to the London-based daily, Al Quds Al Arabi, Awad said "the siege is coming to an end. If Israel continues to reject the unity government, Palestinians will have two options, to return to division, internal strife and violence, or to stand united to face external pressure."

"This is why Palestinians have chosen unity," Awad said. He mentioned that there is a Palestinian initiative to lift the siege, which includes the announcement of a truce and the prisoner exchange deal involving captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.

Awad said that the five major Palestinian factions Fatah, Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Democratic Front for the Liberation of (DFLP) and Islamic Jihad will be invited to hold comprehensive talks regarding the ceasefire on the basis that the end of the embargo is in
the interests of the Palestinian people.

Awad hinted that there is more than an initiative in regard to the truce and that the Palestinians are intending to complete the prisoners exchange deal. Awad believes that this might ease international pressure and lift the siege.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Labor Primaries: Peretz on the way out

Watch for surprises by Peretz though...

Last update - 12:23 05/03/2007
Poll: Barak, Ayalon lead Peretz in the Labor leadership primaries
By Yossi Verter, Haaretz Correspondent, and Haaretz Service

Opinion polls released on Monday showed that if the Labor primaries were held now, Ehud Barak and Ami Ayalon would be in a close race for the party chairmanship, with current Labor chief Amir Peretz trailing badly and in danger of defeat at the hands of all prospective rivals.
According to a Haaretz survey, conducted by the Dialog polling company, the "new" Labor Party, about half of whose members have changed since the last membership drive, is turning its back on Peretz, while the erstwhile outsider Barak is enjoying an impressive comeback, with 25 percent of the vote.
Ayalon is close behind with 23 percent. Peretz is next, with 19 percent, followed by Ophir Pines-Paz with 15 percent and Danny Yatom with 5 percent.
A parallel poll in Yedioth Aharonoth newspaper showed Ayalon in a narrow lead, with 28 percent of the vote, versus 26 percent for Barak, and 19 for Peretz.
A Maariv daily survey gave Barak 31 percent of the vote, Ayalon 27, Pines-Paz 19 and Peretz only 13.
The Haaretz poll suggests that the big winner is a relative political newcomer, Ayalon, who at least at this point seems to have the greatest chance of taking the party leadership.
In the second round, in which only two candidates can participate, Ayalon beats Barak, Barak beats Peretz, and Ayalon crushes Peretz. Pines-Paz also wins easily against Peretz according to the survey, conducted among 550 Labor members.
If Peretz did make it to the second round, he would be roundly defeated by anyone who ran against him: Ehud Barak, Ami Ayalon or Ophir Pines-Paz, according to the survey, supervised by Professor Camil Fuchs of the Statistics Department of Tel Aviv University.
Even if Peretz resigned as defense minister, 62 percent said they would still not vote for him, although 15 percent said the move would increase the chance they would vote for him.
The poll showed that security concerns are clearly back at the front of the minds of Labor voters, with a focus either on Barak or Ayalon. The "social" era in the party under Peretz is about to end; some say it never got started.
According to the survey, Ayalon will be the beneficiary of the departure from the race of Pines-Paz, Yatom or Peretz. Most of their voters will throw him their support. Antagonistic feeling toward Barak in the party still seems very strong, although Barak seems a suitable candidate for defense minister to 41 percent of Labor members, and Ayalon trails behind on this question with 27 percent. Peretz garnered only 11 percent of the vote for the post he now holds.
One clear conclusion from the survey is that the big membership drive Peretz's supporters conducted did him no good. Barak, in contrast, through his supporters Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Shalom Simhon, signed up a large number of members who will also vote for him. Barak's strategy to conduct a low-profile campaign has paid off. His message: Barak has learned from his mistakes. Forty-two percent of Labor members believe him; 47 percent do not.
Another interesting finding: a third of Labor's members would like to see their party unite with Kadima ahead of the next elections, although 54 percent oppose this move.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Trouble in paradise: Abbas, Haniyeh fail to agree on unity government

Surprise, Surprise. The Palestinians can't agree on their unity government. It may be only coalition quarreling of the usual type, but this is interesting:
"Some elements in Hamas are trying to thwart the Mecca agreement," the official said, warning against a resumption of intra-Palestinian violence. "These elements are unhappy with the agreement that their leaders reached in Mecca and are preparing for more fighting. They benefit from the continuation of the state of anarchy and lawlessness in the Palestinian territories."
What happens if Fatah and a  part of Hamas are united to crush the opposition to the Holy Mecca agreement?

Abbas, Haniyeh fail to agree on unity government
Khaled Abu Toameh and AP, THE JERUSALEM POST Mar. 4, 2007

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail
Haniyeh failed to make progress on talks toward forming a unity government,
an official said early Monday.

Government spokesman Ghazi Hamad said they hoped to present a government by the end of the period allotted to Haniyeh, which expires in two weeks.

Earlier, officials expressed hopes that the Cabinet could be named his week. The leaders met for three hours in Gaza, leaving just after midnight without talking to reporters. Abbas had arrived in the Strip for what his aides described as "decisive" talks with Haniyeh to patch up differences over the composition and political platform of the proposed government.

Before the two rival faction leaders met, a war of words erupted between Fatah and Hamas, with each side accusing the other of seeking to derail the Mecca agreement.

Differences over the identity of Fatah and Hamas ministers in the coalition cabinet are threatening to torpedo the Mecca agreement, a top Abbas aide told The Jerusalem Post. He also said "some differences" had sparked disputes between the two parties over the interpretation of the Mecca
agreement, particularly regarding the status of previous agreements with Israel and recognition of United Nations resolutions concerning the  Israeli-Arab conflict.

"Some elements in Hamas are trying to thwart the Mecca agreement," the official said, warning against a resumption of intra-Palestinian violence. "These elements are unhappy with the agreement that their leaders reached in Mecca and are preparing for more fighting. They benefit from the
continuation of the state of anarchy and lawlessness in the Palestinian territories."

In Gaza City, Fatah leaders issued a statement threatening to employ an "iron fist" against unnamed Hamas members for allegedly trying to derail the Mecca agreement. "We know who these people are and who's behind them," the statement reads. "They are serving the interests of a party that is ostile
to our people."

In response, Hamas accused unnamed officials close to Abbas of working to thwart the Mecca accord. "While Abbas and the Fatah leadership are trying to consolidate the agreement, some people around them are trying to sabotage their efforts," the movement said in a leaflet distributed in Gaza City shortly before the Abbas-Haniyeh summit began.

Hamas also accused Fatah gunmen in the Gaza Strip of carrying out a series of attacks against Hamas activists and institutions in the past three weeks, in violation of the Mecca agreement. Hamas also complained that Fatah-run Web sites were continuing to publish anti-Hamas material.

At their meeting, Abbas and Haniyeh were trying to agree on the names of the ministers in the new Hamas-led coalition. Abbas remains opposed to Hamas's candidates for the key Interior Ministry post, Hamoudeh Jarwan and Nasser Musleh.

The two sides are also at loggerheads over the Foreign Ministry portfolio, which, according to the Mecca deal, will go to an independent figure. Gazan legislator Ziad Abu Amr has been mentioned as a leading candidate.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Israeli Band’s Antiwar Song Pushes Pop Contest’s Buttons

The New York Times
March 3, 2007
Israeli Band’s Antiwar Song Pushes Pop Contest’s Buttons

JERUSALEM, March 2 — The Eurovision Song Contest, an annual event that proves European popular culture can take itself just as seriously as the American variety, has created a mini-scandal of its own, with the suggestion on Thursday that contest organizers might ban this year’s Israeli entry, “Push the Button,” because of what they call an inappropriate political message.

The message of the song, such as it is, seems to be a banal and perfectly understandable plea not to be incinerated by a nuclear bomb in the hands of a lunatic.

But as performed by a punky Israeli group called the Teapacks, there is some degree of irony to the banality, with such undoubtedly immortal lyrics as:

I don’t want to die; I want to see the flowers bloom

Don’t want to go kapoot-kaboom, and I don’t want to cry

I wanna have a lot of fun, just sitting in the sun.

But nevertheless — he’s gonna push the button.

“He” is unspecified, but some among the organizers of this year’s contest apparently worry that the singers might mean the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“It’s absolutely clear that this kind of message is not appropriate for the competition,” said Kjell Ekholm, an organizer of the contest and a representative of the host broadcaster, YLE of Finland. “We’ll have all the delegation leaders here in Helsinki next week, and I’m sure we’ll talk about this case.” He told Reuters that the station had received “many e-mails complaining” about the song.

Israelis are increasingly obsessed by Iran’s pursuit of enriched uranium, which few here doubt is intended to create a nuclear weapon. And Mr. Ahmadinejad has made it clear that he would prefer to see Israel disappear.

Still, the band denies that it has Iran specifically in mind, pointing to a more generalized verse that could apply, say, to an entire “axis of evil”:

There are some crazy leaders they hide and try to fool us

With demonic, technologic willingness to harm

They’re gonna push the button

Push the button, push the bu, push the bu, push the button.

Certainly no one has ever accused Mr. Ahmadinejad, renowned for denying the Holocaust and wishing that Israel be wiped off the map, of trying to hide or to fool anyone.

Kobi Oz, the lead singer, told the Israeli newspaper Maariv: “The song has a line that talks about ‘some crazy leaders,’ but we didn’t mention names. The state of Israel has gone through enough so that it can laugh at terrorism. The Israelis chose the song because that is the best way: not to be afraid, but to laugh in their faces.”

Mr. Oz vamps the song in Israeli-accented English, French and Hebrew. Under the rules of the contest, “Push the Button” was chosen by Israeli viewers as the country’s entry after a live performance on television. The other members of the European Broadcasting Union — which includes nearly all of Europe, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Israel — similarly choose their representatives by national vote, and there is a much publicized bake-off, this year in Helsinki on May 12. (The official Web site has posted a countdown to the contest.)

The winner is determined by a complicated system in which each participating nation conducts its own telephone vote, with callers unable to vote for their own nation’s entry.

Songs must be original and meet certain standards. A small Eurovision Reference Group, including the producer of this year’s program, past producers and a member of the European Broadcasting Union, adjudicates controversies and rules on questions of originality.

Held since 1956, and intended to help bring the continent together at the height of the cold war, the contest has been the source of many execrable songs as well as a few stars, like Sweden’s Abba and Celine Dion, who appeared for Switzerland. Though broadcast in many nonmember nations, and a kind of model for shows like “American Idol,” it has been greeted with little interest in the United States.

Still, it is thought to be one of the most-watched nonsporting events in the world, and it is also broadcast over the Internet.

The Irish have won the contest more often than any other nation, seven times, followed by the French, who have won five times. Israel has won three times — in 1978, 1979 and 1998 — the last with a performance by a local transsexual who calls herself Dana International.

Iran, however, is not a member of the European Broadcasting Union and so will not have a chance either to sing or to vote.

To get a sense of the growing anticipation among Eurovisionphiles, see the official Web site at To watch the Teapacks perform “Push the Button” go to YouTube:

Continued (Permanent Link)

Documentary maker: Egypt distorted film

Jerusalem Post, March 5, 2007
Documentary maker: Egypt distorted film

The producer of a documentary depicting a 1967 IDF "massacre" said Monday that the Egyptian media has distorted the facts presented in his film.

The Channel 1 report, Ruah Shaked (The Spirit of Shaked) aired last week, claimed that the elite Shaked unit, led by National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, had killed 250 fighters in Sinai towards the end of the Six Day War.

Ran Ederlist, the producer, told Army Radio that the Egyptian reports badly distorted his documentary. He said the incident did not involve unarmed Egyptian prisoners of war, but rather Palestinian fighters killed in the heat of battle while the war was still raging.

"What happened was that there were (Israeli) fighters waging battle against a retreating (Palestinian) commando battalion," said Ederlist.

"During this battle, you could say there was excessive use of force, (but) it was all in the context of war - not prisoners, not prisoner-of-war camps, not people who put their hands up."

On Monday, Ben-Eliezer postponed his planned visit to Cairo following the harsh reactions to the documentary in the Egyptian press.

Ben-Eliezer's spokesman, Ronen Moshe, said the charge was untrue but the minister and his Egyptian hosts decided to put off his visit anyway.

"In light of the atmosphere, which is unsuitable for a visit, the two sides decided to postpone the visit to another date in the near future," Moshe told The Associated Press.

On Sunday evening, Egypt's Foreign Ministry summoned Israel's ambassador to Cairo, Shalom Cohen, and demanded an explanation of the report.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev confirmed Monday that Cohen had been called in by the Egyptians over the reports, but said he could not divulge details of that meeting.

Egypt's Foreign Ministry was responding to demands made earlier in the day by two Egyptian parliament members to remove the Israeli ambassador from Egyptian soil. The MPs had dubbed Cohen a "dog."

Over the weekend, Egyptian parliamentarians demanded that the IDF investigate whether the unit had in fact killed the prisoners.

AP contributed to this report.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Lebanon: How good is the cease fire?

To say that the UN-imposed cease fire in Lebanon is not working very well would be a gross understatement. Most of the key provisions of UN Security Council Resulution 1701 are not fulfilled. The Lebanese army was deployed in South Lebanon, a goal of Israel and the UN since 2000, but those whom the Gods wish to confound are often granted their wishes...
As the report notes:
The quiet and lack of incidents that have prevailed in south Lebanon since the end of the second Lebanon war are to a great extent a function of Hezbollah's focus on rearming.
The quiet before the storm?

Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
at the Israel Intelligence' Heritage & Commemoration Center (IICC)

March 4 , 2007

Interim report

UNIFIL side by side with Hezbollah: a Spanish battalion UNIFIL force passing by a poster of Hassan Nasrallah decorated with Hezbollah flags in the village of Addoussiyeh in south Lebanon (Ali Hashisho for Reuters, February 8, 2007).

1. An examination of the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701 six months after its passing shows that that implementation to be only partial and that the Lebanese army and UNIFIL have not enforced its essential provisions . Basically, south Lebanon has not become a demilitarized zone free of terrorist organizations and their weapons, Hezbollah as an organization was not disarmed, the process of rehabilitating its military strength continues, and an effective embargo on smuggling arms from Syria to Lebanon has not been imposed. The quiet prevailing in south Lebanon since the war ended is to a great extent a function of Hezbollah's focus on rehabilitating its military strength. In our assessment, as the rehabilitation process continues and Hezbollah's confidence increases, so will its daring and willingness to continue disregarding the implementation of Resolution 1701.

Interim report on the implementation of Resolution 1701

2. On August 12, 2006, the Security Council passed Resolution 1701, which ended the second Lebanon war and was supposed to create a new situation in south Lebanon . The resolution went into effect on August 14, after having been approved by the governments of Israel and Lebanon . 1

3. The Resolution had two main components :

A. Regarding south Lebanon (especially the area south of the Litani River): security arrangements in south Lebanon were based on the deployment of up to 15,000 Lebanese troops concurrent with the withdrawal of the Israeli forces to the international boundary between the two countries (the Blue Line). The Lebanese army was supposed to enforce the authority of the Lebanese government over south Lebanon , where there was supposed to be only one source of weapons, the Lebanese government, and to rid the area of the presence and activities of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups. To carry out the mission the Lebanese army was to be supported by an upgraded UNIFIL force of up to 15,000 soldiers.

B. Regarding north Lebanon : the resolution called for the disarming of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups (without specifically naming them) based on previous Security Council resolutions and internal Lebanese decisions (mainly the 1989 Taif agreement). The agreement imposed an embargo on delivering arms to Hezbollah (and other terrorist groups) and called for the Lebanese government to supervise the Lebanon borders (on land, at sea and in the air) with UNIFIL support (should the Lebanese government so desire). The resolution also calls for the unconditional release of the Israeli soldiers abducted by Hezbollah.

4. An examination of the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701 shows the following :

A. Regarding south Lebanon : an unprecedented Lebanese army force was deployed (approximately 10,000 soldiers, i.e., four brigades), supported by an upgraded UNIFIL force of more than 12,000 soldiers. Their deployment created a new situation on the ground and Hezbollah is no longer the only significant force operating in south Lebanon . So far the area has been quiet (with the exception of a single incident) because Hezbollah, which focuses on rebuilding its military strength, has avoided initiating incidents. However, the Lebanon army and UNIFIL do not act to demilitarize south Lebanon and to oust the terrorist organizations and their weapons, as demanded by Resolution 1701, nor do they effectively hamper Hezbollah in its military rehabilitation. Hezbollah continues its routine operational activities in south Lebanon while adapting to the new situation, enabling it to deal easily with Lebanese army and UNIFIL actions.

B. Regarding north Lebanon : Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations (including groups belonging to the global jihad and the Palestinian terrorist organizations based in the refugee camps) were not disarmed. No serious attempt was made by the Lebanese government to deal with them. In Beirut and the Beqa'a Valley (as in the south), Hezbollah's military infrastructure continues its rehabilitation with no meaningful interference. The embargo on delivering weapons to Hezbollah is not enforced and arms continue regularly to cross the Syrian-Lebanese boundary. (The Lebanese army's impounding of a truckload of Katyushas was an exceptional act and not part of an overall policy.) The two abducted IDF soldiers held by Hezbollah are still in captivity and the Lebanese government does nothing to secure their release.

5. The crisis faced by the Lebanese government over the past few months, manifested by Hezbollah's efforts to collapse Fuad Seniora's government, also makes it difficult to enforce Security Council Resolution 1701. The Lebanese government is struggling to survive and avoids challenging Hezbollah's status in south Lebanon , and the Lebanese army has even had to move troops from the south to Beirut to deal with the internal crisis. The developments have an impact and are liable to influence UNIFIL's resolve to carry out its mission in supporting the Lebanese army in implementing Security Council Resolution 1701.

6. The quiet and lack of incidents that have prevailed in south Lebanon since the end of the second Lebanon war are to a great extent a function of Hezbollah's focus on rearming. However, the situation may change, and in our assessment the more progress Hezbollah makes, the more daring and willing it will become to initiative incidents and increase the erosion of the implementation of Resolution 1701. Hassan Nasrallah's growing self-confidence was manifested in a defiant speech given on February 16, in which he publicly admitted the his organization was rearming and secretly moving weapons to south Lebanon . 2

Hassan Nasrallah publicly admitting that Hezbollah has rearmed and is secretly moving weapons to south Lebanon (Al-Manar TV, February 16).

Hassan Nasrallah publicly admitting that Hezbollah has rearmed and is secretly moving weapons to south Lebanon (Al-Manar TV, February 16).

UNIFIL operations along the Lebanese-Israeli border (Al-Manar TV, October 24, 2006). The UNIFIL forces avoid confronting Hezbollah to enforce Security Council Resolution 1701.

7. This document has two appendices:

A. Appendix I : A comparison between the main points of Resolution 1701 and its implementation (as of February 2007)

B. Appendix II : Maps of the Lebanese army and UNIFIL deployment in south Lebanon

Appendix I

The main provisions of Security Council Resolution 1701
and the status of their implementation

Omitted here

Appendix II

UNIFIL deployment in south Lebanon

Lebanon army deployment in south Lebanon


1 For further information see our August 13 Bulletin entitled "Analysis of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 to end the war and an examination of its significance (primary evaluation)," .

2 For further information see our February 23 Bulletin entitled "Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah publicly admits that his organization is rearming and secretly transporting arms to south Lebanon, in blatant violation of Security Council Resolution 1701. ," .

Continued (Permanent Link)

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Iran is not adopting Saudi Peace Plan (and pigs don't fly)

No danger of peace from that quarter.

Ahmadinejad denies adopting peace plan

Saudi Arabia's official news agency says Iranian president expressed support for 2002 Arab peace initiative during talks with Saudi officials. Ahmadinejad's office denies report
Associated Press Latest Update:  03.04.07, 15:07 / Israel News

Saudi Arabia's official news agency reported early Sunday that the Iranian president had expressed support for a 2002 Arab peace initiative during talks with Saudi officials . Ahmadinejad's office denied the report.

Under the peace plan, adopted in 2002 at the Arab summit in Beirut, Arab countries would normalize relations with Israel in exchange for its withdrawal from Arab lands captured in the 1967 war.
A spokesman for Ahmadinejad's office said that the Arab peace initiative was not discussed in the Iranian leaders' talks with the Saudi king and with other Saudi officials.
Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency, in a report carrying statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his return to Iran late Saturday following talks with King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia, did not mention the initiative.
The Saudi Press Agency reported early Sunday that Ahmadinejad had said during talks that he was in favor of the plan. The report did not say how the agency had learned of this.

IRNA, the Iranian news agency, reported that Ahmadinejad told journalists talks had dealt with the Palestinians situation and developments in Iraq.
"We have good relations with Saudi Arabia and it was necessary to discuss current developments in world of Islam with officials of the country," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
AFP contributed to the report

First Published:  03.04.07, 14:22


Continued (Permanent Link)

Oil for "peace"?

"Saudi Arabia has thrown its full weight behind Persian Gulf oil production, preventing a sharp hike in oil prices. "
And in return, the US is expected to back Saudi policy...
What Saudi policy is, is not clear. Do they back Hamas? Not likely.
But they do want to replace Iran as "godfather" of the Hamas, and they can't do that by adopting a moderate policy.

Rising Saudi power
Saudi Arabia replaces Egypt as leading mediator in Middle East
Smadar Peri Published:  03.04.07, 11:34 / Israel Opinion

Avidly backed by the White House, Saudi King Abdullah is becoming the Arab world's leading mediator and he is taking the role away from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
During her last two visits to the region, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made sure to stop over in Riyadh while skipping over Egypt.
Following is a partial list of Saudi Arabia's achievements during the last few months:

Saudi Arabia has thrown its full weight behind Persian Gulf oil production, preventing a sharp hike in oil prices. Cooperation between the US and Riyadh should be noted here: Soaring oil prices would have been detrimental to the American economy, which is still essentially dependent on oil and its byproducts.

It was Saudi Arabia that led and accompanied the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon. It's difficult to imagine the level of rage in the royal court when Syrian intelligence assassinated the Saudis' protégé Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister. Now the Saudis are trying to tempt - so far unsuccessfully - Bashar Assad and his associates to agree to appear in the international court investigating the circumstances of Hariri's death. If Assad agrees it would bring the regime in Damascus to an end, and no one in the Arab world would shed a tear. If Assad refuses, the Saudis will make every effort – with Washington's full support – to choke the Syrian economy. 

Saudi Arabia was the host of the Mecca summit between Fatah and Hamas. For the first time in history, it also allowed photographers to document the signing of the agreement. The photographers were in fact invited to document the Saudi mediation effort. Experts maintain that that this agreement will cost the Saudis more than a billion dollars.
 The Saudis' activities are aimed at preventing what they view as a horrific scenario: While Iran continues its race towards nuclear arms, it would take over Iraq and Lebanon, topple the Egyptian regime, take over the sacred sites in Saudi Arabia, and declare the founding of "the right Islamic empire."

Fear of the Iranian octopus is what is driving Saudi Arabia today, and it is also what led to the significant closeness between the Saudis and the US. Because of the Iranian threat, the Americans are even willing to forget that Saudi terror cells carried out the atrocities of 9/11.
 When the Iranian president's visit in Saudi Arabia ends Sunday, apparently without any achievements, the Saudis will focus on concluding the preparations for the Arab summit that will devote its attention to the key issue irking the Saudis: How they can be instrumental in leading the "good" Sunni camp to victory over the "evil and dangerous" Shiite camp.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Saudi religious oppression complains of bad press

The Saudi "virtue commission" claims they are getting a bad rap from the foreign press. They are just doing their job, punishing homosexuals, making sure women don't go around cavorting unveiled and evil foreigners don't have freedom of religion. As they note:
On the other hand, I assure you that some non-Muslim expatriates in the Kingdom have sometimes dared to violate and abuse Islamic sentiments at public places. Such people could be penalized according to the law of the Kingdom."
This is the human rights picture revealed in a recent report:
The government has not yet put into practice laws passed in 2000-2002 to protect the rights of criminal defendants. For example, criminal defendants are not informed of the possibility of appointing legal counsel. Lawyers have difficulty obtaining official documents to prepare a defense, although Saudi law stipulates that "government agencies … enable [the lawyer] to attend any interrogation and peruse any relevant documents."
Saudi courts and judicial procedures remain largely closed to the public. Judges in Jeddah in Najran refused a Human Rights Watch researcher access to attend criminal trials in session, notwithstanding article 155 of the 2002 Saudi Code of Criminal Procedure that provides that "Court hearings shall be public." Former defendants frequently allege that judges in criminal trials pronounce guilty verdicts based on little evidence or testimony. Judges did not issue a written verdict in some cases, such as those related to political trials of an alleged uprising in Najran in 2000.
During Human Rights Watch's visit to al-Ha'ir prison south of Riyadh, prisoners reported that they had suffered physical abuse, had remained imprisoned beyond the expiry of their sentences (particularly in the case of foreign prisoners), and had endured unexplained and lengthy delays before or during their trials. Foreign embassies reported delays of weeks or months before being notified of their nationals' arrest.... arrest.
In interviews with roughly 100 Saudi women academics, educators and medical professionals, Human Rights Watch documented how male guardianship of adult women denies women the right to employment, education, health, and freedom of movement. Government policy often explicitly requires male consent for a range of everyday activities....
Foreign workers in Saudi Arabia confront a precarious legal situation. They can only obtain visas through their Saudi employers, who have the power to repatriate them at any time, or to prevent their return home by holding their passports and refusing to sign exit visas. Women migrant domestic workers are particularly at risk of abuse...
Labor abuses are pervasive in Saudi Arabia. These abuses include nonpayment of wages for months or years, long working hours with no days off, and confinement to the workplace. Human Rights Watch also documented several cases of physical abuse, sexual abuse, forced labor, and trafficking of persons....
Saudi authorities routinely detain children suspected of even minor offenses, including vague charges of transgressing "morals," and such children may face solitary confinement and corporal punishment....While children are not tried in adult courts, they may face adult sentences if a judge determines they are considered "grown-ups" (baligh), and such children, even as young as 13, have been sentenced to death.
Commented the virtue Commission:
"What they strive for is to disfigure the shining image of the country and mobilize international public opinion against Saudi society. Unfortunately such negative criticism draws greater attention of both the domestic and international media," he added.
A wonderful country where women are unable to get drivers' licenses and 13 year old kids get the death penalty. Voice your support for this wonderful institution by writing to or on fax 048362261.

Virtue Commission Slams Media Bias
Mahmoud Ahmad, Arab News
Sheikh Suleyman Tuwaijri   
JEDDAH, 4 March 2007 — In an interview with Arab News, the director of the Madinah branch of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, Sheikh Suleyman Tuwaijri, highlighted the good work that the government-run organization carries out in the Kingdom and among other things dismissed Western media allegations that the commission deprives women and non-Muslims of their rights and freedoms.
Sheikh Suleyman Tuwaijri spoke about the highly controversial allegation that the commission denies women their rights. "The commission takes great pains to protect women from being deprived of their rights, and guarantees them total security. It strongly intervenes when men try to harass them or tempts them to gratify their undignified impulses. The commission gives utmost importance to protect women's rights and freedom that are accorded to them by the Shariah," said Tuwaijri.
However, the director added that there are some things, which "are mistakenly claimed to be part of women's freedom such as the immodest exhibition of their body and some other activities considered beyond the permissible limits of moral regulations fixed by Saudi society and the Shariah."
Speaking about this, Tuwaijri said: "They are in fact violations of the rights of other members of society who want to live in a morally chaste and unpolluted environment. Saudi society, unlike other societies, is a society that is keen to steer away from sexually provocative situations."
He added: "Even the Western civilization admits that freedom should have some checks and balances. An individual's freedom should not transgress into the freedom of another and he or she should respect social values."
With human rights groups having visited the Kingdom at the end of last year, the head of the commission commented on a 2005 human rights report that said outrages against non-Muslims in the Kingdom were on the increase.
Describing the report as one fraught with errors, the director said that the report was made without ascertaining facts and without establishing the credibility of sources.
"Non-Muslims undoubtedly have the right to seek legal help in the Kingdom if anyone infringes on their legal rights," he said. "We demand those who made the charges against us to prove their claims. On the other hand, I assure you that some non-Muslim expatriates in the Kingdom have sometimes dared to violate and abuse Islamic sentiments at public places. Such people could be penalized according to the law of the Kingdom."
Sheikh Tuwaijri added that such "timely action" is thus interpreted as "aggression against their religious freedom while their own action amounted to an aggression against the rights of Saudi society."
Before giving further details on the work that the commission carries out, the director wanted to remind readers that the institution represented by the commission is not a novel idea that has emerged in recent times.
"Although known by different names, this kind of institution was present in Muslim societies in bygone days. The corrective and guiding duty was discharged by an official called 'Amil Souk' in those days. It became a government department during the reign of the second Abbasid Caliph Abu Jaafar Al-Mansour (died in 775 AD)," he said.
The modern Saudi commission was established in AH1345 (1927) by King Abdul Aziz, who appointed a senior religious scholar and some assistants to undertake the duty of promoting virtue and preventing vice in Riyadh during the early period of his rule.
In its present form, the commission is a government organization responsible for the social and religious "Islah" (rectification and reform) of Saudi society. "Its head — who has the rank of a minister — is answerable directly to the king."
The commission undertakes primarily the role of correcting, guiding and protecting society from evil influences that allow society to diverge from a Shariah-based lifestyle," said Tuwaijri.
Speaking about the commission's penal action, Tuwaijri said: "The commission takes the appropriate penal measure on the basis of the prescribed instructions for that purpose in a scenario where advice, guidance and taking an undertaking (not to repeat the error) fails. If the offense is very serious, the violator is handed over to the police."
In its role as a guiding agency the commission also organizes lectures at places such as schools, hospitals and jails. "It distributes books and pamphlets besides participating in exhibitions with special stalls to enlighten the public about the functions of the commission. It also sets up youth camps in cities, rural districts and remote areas besides organizing contests for schoolchildren with the aim of popularizing the commission's aims and objectives," said the director.
The commission also strives to detect and pre-empt vice. "It is with this aim that its field staff makes constant rounds in streets and public places looking for violations that come under its jurisdiction. Its officials often inspect shopping centers for banned items and irreligious activities and celebrations," said Tuwaijri.
He added that the role of the commission could be divided into five tasks:
First, taking steps to prevent the growth of deeds and ideologies that pollute the pristine Islamic religious faith, including the prevention of polytheistic trends, innovations and magic. Secondly, maintaining the practice of religious rites in society by insisting on the prompt observation of prayers collectively at mosques, fasting during Ramadan and respecting all visible symbols of religion. Thirdly, maintaining a sense of morality among people and protecting the honor of women by protecting them from being violated or harassed. As part of this function, the commission insists women do not display their beauty in a prohibited manner. It also takes steps to prevent the occurrence of adultery, prostitution, sexual perversion etc. Fourthly, protecting the sanity and soundness of the human mind and intellect by preventing the manufacture and circulation of narcotics and intoxicants. Fifthly, protecting the cultural and ideological identity of society by taking steps to keep deviant books, magazines, publications, tapes and other material from the reach of the public. Such material also includes obscene and pornographic material.
"Society reaps a lot of benefits from the work that the commission carries out. More importantly, the commission strives to spare society from divine punishments as Muslims believe that negligence in fulfilling the commands of the divine law invites Allah's anger and consequential miseries and punishments both in this life and the hereafter," said Tuwaijri.
The director further clarified that the commission is different from the police in the sense that its goal is to see the reformation of people. "The commission keeps a check on criminal violations primarily from a religious point of view and therefore, deals with violations within the stipulations set by the Shariah and makes full use of the potential to give advice and guidance," he said.
He added: "The commission perceives, like the Shariah, that punishment is not the objective in itself but basically a means to achieve the correction and reformation of people who are erring. Punishment is only handed when it is known that society and the person concerned are going to benefit."
Speaking about allegations that commission workers are unqualified, Tuwaijri wondered why some people express doubts about the qualifications of commission's officials when the Saudi government gives special attention to the training of its workers.
"The commission insists that its workers should be upright in character and scrupulously following Islamic values. Their criminal record should be clean for at least 10 years. They should hold a university degree in Shariah Law. After being recruited following a rigorous interview, they undergo strict training. There is a royal order to the effect that a commission worker should be terminated from service if he is convicted or comes under serious suspicion for involvement in a crime," he said, adding that several annual training and orientation courses are organized at three levels for all field and administrative staff.
"For instance, eight training courses were held in Madinah alone bringing the total number of guiding activities to 384 last year. The commission sends its workers to the Institute of Public Administration and to the Institute for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice at the Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah for higher education in this specialized discipline. Some of them are deputed for masters and PhD degrees at various Saudi universities," he said.
Speaking about non-Muslims in the Kingdom, Tuwaijri said that the religious minorities are given their religious rights. "The Shariah does not permit forcible conversion to Islam nor prevent anyone practicing their religious rites at their place of residence or privately without making it a public or collective event," he said.
"It is the duty of such people to respect Islamic symbols and to not publicly violate them. Foreign non-Muslims in a Muslim society should be careful that the practice of their religion is not carried out at the expense of the host society. It is the right of the Saudi society that non-Muslims respect its religious sentiments while visiting the Kingdom," he added.
Tuwaijri also highlighted the fact that the Kingdom's laws are based on Islam and that all Saudi citizens, without exception, are Muslim. "Non-Muslims have come to the country at their own volition on a temporary basis with the full awareness that they need to respect Saudi religious sentiments and social values. The Kaaba, to which all Muslims in the world turn to while praying, and the Prophet's (peace be upon him) Mosque are in this country. All Muslims aspire to visit this land where the two holy cities are situated."
Since the Kingdom is the Islamic holy land there are stipulations in what non-Muslims can do here. Islam is not against non-Muslims practicing their religion per se. If one was to travel to another Arab or Muslim country then one would find non-Muslims practicing their religion there. This has been the case throughout history and when Jews were expelled from Christian Spain, many of them took refuge in Muslim North Africa and the Ottoman lands.
In Saudi Arabia, being the land of the two holy cities, non-Muslims are categorically not allowed to build places of worship or publicly worship, although they may live here. This is no different to the practices of other major world religions who have similar practices. The Roman Catholic faith for example forbids non-Catholics from having their places of worship in the Vatican as this is considered to be a sanctified place.
Tuwaijri also denied that the commission infringes on the rights and freedom of people. "On the contrary it takes steps to guarantee rights of all people. That is why it intervenes when a person's right is being infringed on by another. For instance, when a woman is being lured by a man for some illicit purposes, and thus tempts the woman to violate the moral code, the commission takes action," he said, adding, "It cannot be called an act of depriving the people of their rights."
Another common perception about the commission is that there is a large gap between the body and the younger generation. The director denied there was a serious problem but admitted that some of the youths failed to receive the commission's message in the proper spirit.
"The commission has been striving to bridge this gap through the media and the Internet. It also makes periodic visits to schools and welcomes student delegations to visit its headquarters. The commission also organizes debates and discussion programs for the youth," he said.
He added: "However, it should be remembered that we have a controlling role in society and take an uncompromising stand against the passions of careless and rash youths who will, obviously, be unhappy with our ways."
Speaking about whether the commission arrests people on mere suspicion rather than concrete evidence, Tuwaijri said: "Arrests are made with sound evidence. If any official violates this principle in arresting then this is a crime that he would have to account for. Cases involving suspicion are always handed over to the police."
Denying the charge, particularly from the Western media, that the commission conducts itself in a violent way, the official said most of the violations reported by the commission are settled in a peaceful manner.
"This is clear from the commission's report last year showing that 94 percent of the violators caught were let off with some advice and preaching. A great number of the violations are disposed on the spot without any detention. The commission also endeavors to keep people away from crime by using methods such as the distribution of pamphlets and booklets, organizing contests, road shows and lectures," said Tuwaijri.
He added that the commission also organized a program entitled "Discover Your Fortune" for youngsters in Madinah during the summer. "All of these operations give an insight into how peaceful and civilized the methods adopted by the commission are and disprove the charge of violence against the commission," he said.
"The commission officials are, above all, civilians holding university degrees. They are not trained to use violence. It is illogical to assume that such officials resort to violent operational methods," the official said.
Tuwaijri added that the commission welcomes constructive and objective criticism of its methods and operations. "On the other hand, the negative criticism leveled against it without objectivity, from some countrymen driven by the ulterior motive of discrediting and destroying the commission, is because of their lack of interest in the welfare of their own country and society," he said.
"What they strive for is to disfigure the shining image of the country and mobilize international public opinion against Saudi society. Unfortunately such negative criticism draws greater attention of both the domestic and international media," he added.
Speaking on the achievements of the Madinah branch, the director said the officials of the branch caught 23,000 people involved in various violations last year. About 93 percent of the cases were settled at its offices while the remaining were handed over to other agencies concerned. Expatriates accounted for 68 percent of them. The commission also seized 40,000 pornographic or obscene materials over the past eight months. The department also organized 708 guidance programs besides distributing 3.5 million booklets and pamphlets.
Tuwaijri stressed the importance of improving the body. "The commission needs to further develop like any other government department. It should update its performance in order to keep pace with the changing times. The commission's head office is striving for it," he said
The director requested a fair and balanced approach when judging the commission instead of giving credence to hostile reports ignoring the positive aspects. The commission can be contacted via e-mail or on fax 048362261.

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All in the Mishpucha - Israeli Godfather Sings

An inspiring tale of a family man, in a family business. A tale of honor and respect...

Former mobster writes tell-all about the Israeli mafia in NY
Rebecca Anna Stoil,

A former mobster has written a tell-all book, for the first time ever exposing the inner workings of an Israeli gang that took over the New York drug trade for a brief period in the eighties.
Ron Gonen, who has spent the past 18 years in the US Witness Protection Program, has teamed up with author Dave Copeland to offer an insider's glance into a parallel universe of crime, murder and deceit.
Gonen, who spoke with The Jerusalem Post from an undisclosed location, says he was kicked out of the program earlier this month because he violated the terms of his agreement by co-authoring the book. Undeterred, the Russian-born former drug dealer and burglar said that he is writing a second work - his memoirs - in Hebrew. He hopes that this book will lead to a movie deal.
After Gonen and his wife Honey published an advertisement on Craig's List in November 2004 seeking a writer to put his story into print, Copeland and Gonen began a collaboration that lasted more than two years and produced Blood and Volume, set to come out next week.
Copeland, who has never been to Israel, said that the book has earned attention prior to its release. "The pre-orders have been pretty good, 80% of first printing has already been sold," he said.
But the book may cost Gonen more than he banked on. Beyond the risk of angering his old enemies, Gonen may soon find himself a persona non grata in the US.
According to Copeland, Gonen was given a permit that allowed him to work in the US as part of the Witness Protection Program, but the card is set to expire in May. Now, Gonen's work permit may not be renewed and he could be deported to Israel.
Although the book mostly concerns New York in the eighties, Gonen's story actually begins in the Soviet Union, four decades earlier, where his grandfather was in the black market. As a young child during the Stalinist period, Gonen says, he "grew up with the knowledge that the knock on the door could be a very serious knock."
When he was nine, Gonen's family moved to Israel. They were settled by the government in Beersheba, but later relocated to Holon. Eventually, he was sent to Kibbutz Ein Shemer.
But Gonen says that he was expelled after two years for breaking into the kibbutz's storehouses and stealing clothing, which he distributed to his bunkmates.
Upon returning to Holon, the 15-year-old began to dabble in crime. He engaged in cat burglary and fenced the goods, denying that he was the thief. His small enterprise expanded until, in 1965, Gonen decided to forge documents that would allow him to join the Israel Navy despite being underage. Docked in Marseilles, the young Gonen realized that the world held more opportunities than tiny Israel had to offer.
While on leave from the Navy, Gonen continued his one-man crime wave, staging break-ins and robbing, among other things, parking meters. After he completed his mandatory military service, he returned to the streets, living high as a B&E man, and later branching out into auto theft.
After an unusually successful theft whose take totaled an estimated $20,000, Gonen says that he decided he "had no future in Israel" and searched for new horizons. "I wanted to rob Germans. I thought it was a good payback," he recalled.
For the next decade, Gonen's base of operations was western Europe, although he never lost his ties to Israel - or its burgeoning criminal underworld. At first he continued with break-ins, but - after being expelled from Germany - began to work in forged documents.
"I looked like a diplomat," Gonen said. "This was old school, not gaining a name," he said of his lifestyle. "It [was] better to be in the shadows, but to be very involved in the social, cultural life of the country in which I lived." This was a principle that he maintained after moving to London, where he managed a fictitious company as part of a pyramid scheme.
Gonen continued in London until he realized he was under surveillance, and then in 1981 fled to Spain, where he heard shortly later that Scotland Yard had raided his London office and arrested everybody. Deciding that Europe was now "too hot" for him, he fled to Guatemala, where he found himself in the midst of a series of coups. Only after he was warned for a second time that a death squad was after him did he flee, this time to the US.
After a brief time in the States, he returned for a short stay in Israel. There, he realized that among his old friends in the underworld, drugs were a hot industry.
"Everybody was high on speed that they bought from Kalkilya pharmacies," he recalled. Gonen called in old contacts, and began to smuggle cocaine into Israel in small quantities. Unwitting flight attendants would bring in the drug, concealed in cigarette filters. "But after three or four trips, I got the name of "Candyman" and began to hear that they'd be on to me," Gonen said, explaining why he returned to the US later in 1982.
Meeting up with an old friend from Israel - Ran Efraim - Gonen began to buy coke from Efraim in LA and sell it in New York City, grossing about $50,000 a month. His business continued to grow, he found additional suppliers, and also met the woman who would become his third wife - Honey.
The two were married in 1984, by which time, Gonen said, he was following her into a recurrent pattern of drug use. Gonen and Honey returned to Israel, but Honey was caught at the airport with almost 50g. of cocaine, and police used the arrest to try to convince Gonen to testify against his cronies in the Israeli underworld.
Returning to New York, Gonen tried to set up a fake company and run a pyramid scheme. But his briefcase containing all of his papers was stolen, he says, and he returned to drugs.
This time, his plans were altered by the unexpected arrival of old acquaintances from Israel - among them Eitan Hiya, Jonny Atias and Yisrael "Alice" Mizrahi. As then-District Attorney Rudy Giuliani had taken on the Italian mob, and the Soviet Union had not yet fallen, the New York drug industry was wide open. Apparently, even the criminal underworld abhors a vacuum.
The Israeli newcomers wanted help and turned to Gonen. He began to hold weekly meetings with Attias, but soon realized that they had a different business outlook. "Jonny said to me, 'Don't worry, if anybody sees us, we take down the witnesses,'" Gonen - who says he never killed anyone - recalled.
"Attias built his name on blood, on brutality, and on fear," Gonen said, adding that the violence was attracting too much attention and threatening his lifestyle. The situation became even worse after internecine war broke out between Mizrahi and Attias.
Then, the second shoe dropped. Gonen was caught by an anti-drug task force set up under new laws pushed through by the administration of then-president George H.W. Bush. After evading police for three days, Gonen was arrested on September 27, 1989.
When he saw police coming for him, he stopped at a corner store and bought four grapefruit juices and two coffees. If the police were trigger happy, he said, they would see that a man with his hands full of beverages couldn't reach for a gun.
According to Gonen, a detective on the task force, Sgt. John Guslavage, saved his life by arresting him, convincing him to turn state's witness, and putting him into the Witness Protection Program. Gonen later informed on Efraim, who in turn ratted out the others.
Almost 20 years later, Gonen is one of the few surviving members of what New York police called the Israeli Mob. Efraim, who served a sentence in the US, came back to Israel only to be gunned down last month in Tel Aviv. Hiya, one of the gang's most volatile trigger men, is back in Israel as well. But Mizrahi and Attias are now dead.
After 18 years in what he calls "the program," Gonen says that he is satisfied with his "civilian" life. His daughter - unlike Hiya's son, who was sentenced last week for a mob hit - is currently in college. "I sent my daughter to college, and he sent his son to do these horrible things. Maybe one day, my daughter is going to prosecute him," he laughs.
Gonen says that he is not overly concerned about his fate following the release of the tell-all book. "It's a lot less scary than what I went through 18 years ago. Not to compare. That is the price of doing business. I always knew that whoever stayed alive, their hate remained stronger than their logic," he said. "I sleep [well] at night. I never worry. It's not an option, because I know that if it happened, I wouldn't know about it. Nobody will torture me, just kill me." •

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Security council and Germany can't agree on Iran Sanctions

Apparently, Russia and China continue to block moves for serious sanctions against Iran.
It says:
...envoys said proposals for a total arms embargo would be dropped because of Russian objections as would a ban on visas for students studying nuclear technology abroad.
What will be banned is the import of cloth to make turbans for Mullahs.

Last Updated: 04/03/2007  06:57
No agreement on UN sanctions for Iran

Major powers failed to settle all their differences over a second UN sanctions resolution against Iran for its nuclear work but remain committed to passing one soon, the United States said.
"There is still some work to be done on a few outstanding issues, but all parties remain committed to a second resolution in the near future," State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said in a statement issued after the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany held a conference call to discuss a new UN Security Council resolution against Iran.
The United States and leading European countries suspect Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian atomic program. Tehran denies the charge and says its program is for generating electricity.
The new measures under discussion are a follow-up to a key Security Council resolution passed on December 23 rd last that imposed trade sanctions on sensitive nuclear materials and technology as well as other penalties after Iran refused to suspend uranium enrichment. The sanctions would be suspended if Iran complied.
The State Department put a positive gloss yesterday's discussions but they appeared to have fallen short of US hopes that the group - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States as well as Germany - would be able to agree on the elements of a resolution during the conference call.
"They had a good discussion in keeping with the positive atmosphere of their conversations last week," Mr Cooper said in a brief written statement. "Discussions will now move to New York, where our United Nations permanent representatives (ambassadors) will take up work on the issue."
US and European diplomats have said the new sanctions are expected to include a mandatory travel ban on Iranian officials involved in the nuclear program and an expansion of the list of banned nuclear material and technology Iran may import and export.
Also under consideration is enlarging the list of Iranian officials whose assets were frozen in the December resolution. But envoys said proposals for a total arms embargo would be dropped because of Russian objections as would a ban on visas for students studying nuclear technology abroad.
Negotiators have also discussed restricting export credits provided by governments to companies doing business in Iran. Washington has pushed for Europe to end such credits.
The United States has made no secret of its desire to get a second resolution quickly to keep up momentum in its diplomatic effort to persuade Iran to suspend its nuclear enrichment work, which can provide fuel for power plants or for bombs.
Iran has repeatedly refused to do so.

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US and Israel cooperating on Iran sanctions

The way to an ayatollah's heart is through his pocket book...

Last update - 08:50 04/03/2007
Israel, U.S. officials to meet this week to discuss stepping up sanctions on Iran
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondent

Israel and the United States are scheduled to hold talks this week on ways of using economic sanctions to step up the pressure on Iran over its nuclear program.
The measures will target companies and banks involved with Iranian businesses that have ties to Tehran's nuclear program or provide assistance to Hezbollah and Palestinian militant organizations.
U.S. Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey, is due in Israel on Sunday for talks on tightening the economic boycott on Iran. He will meet with senior figures of the Mossad, the Foreign Ministry, including Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the National Security Council, and the Atomic Energy Commission.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert informed the Bush Administration recently that he intended to appoint an official who will focus exclusively on the economic effort against Iran. As a result, the Forum for Preventive Diplomacy, headed by Mossad chief Meir Dagan, was bolstered with economic experts.
The Israeli officials will hear Sunday updates on the American efforts to convince European and other firms to avoid doing business with Iran.
Israel in turn will offer the visiting U.S. officials assistance in identifying firms that work with Iran and the trail of Iranian funding to nuclear and terrorist activities.
Levey believes that imposing a boycott on the banking and trading system of Iran would be much more effective than sanctions. It would not require long diplomatic efforts or complex legislation. It would be sufficient for the administration to announce that a company or a bank is on a black list, and they are immediately cut off from the American financial system, are unable to trade in dollars or make deals with banks in the U.S.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Levey said that Section 311 added to the Patriot Act several years ago, "has been more powerful than many thought possible." Section 311 authorizes the Treasury to mark a foreign financial institution a "primary money laundering concern," effectively choking it off from the U.S. financial system.
Levey's boss, Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt, said that the boycott on banks is particularly effective because of the effects of globalization, which link all financial institutions in the world to the same network.
"As banks do their risk-reward analysis, they must now take into account the very serious risk of doing business in Iran, and what the risks would be if they were found to be part of a terrorist or proliferation transaction," says Kimmitt.
The first Iranian bank to be blacklisted was Bank Saderat, which is owned by the Iranian government and which was accused of transferring $50 million to Hamas since 2001.
In January 2007, Bank Sepah was also blacklisted and accused of transfering funds for Iran's ballistic missile projects.
In recent months Levey and other American officials held talks with bank managers and finance ministers around the world, warning them of the possible implications of doing business with Iran.
Our goal, Levey says, is "to create an internal debate about whether these policies [of defiance] make sense. And that's happening in Iran. People with business sense realize that this conduct makes it hard to continue normal business relationships."

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Hebron protestors demand property taken in '29

Haaretz, March 2, 2007
Hebron protestors demand property taken in '29
By Nadav Shragai

About 1,000 people attended a demonstration in Hebron yesterday
to demand that stolen Jewish property be returned. The property
was stolen by Arabs in 1929, following an Arab pogrom that killed
67 Jews and drove the rest of the Jewish community out of the city.

Two speakers at the rally were survivors of that pogrom:. The
demonstrators also urged that Jews be allowed to return to the
city's wholesale market. Settlers evacuated the market
voluntarily last year in exchange for a promise that they could
return later, but Attorney General Menachem Mazuz subsequently
vetoed their return.

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Israel, EU developing pilotless cargo plane, solar and fuel-cell powered aircraft

Technological and economic superiority is the real guarantee of a strong Israel - and a better future for everyone...

Mar. 3, 2007 22:53 | Updated Mar. 3, 2007 23:16
IAI reveals revolutionary aerospace projects to the Post
By YAAKOV KATZ           
Three aircraft under development by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) have the potential to revolutionize civilian and military aviation in the coming decade.
The aircraft, revealed in The Jerusalem Post for the first time, are: an unmanned cargo plane that can carry a payload of up to 30 tons; a solar-powered Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) capable of conducting long-range surveillance; and an environmentally-friendly inter-city aircraft powered by innovative fuel cells.
All three are the brainchild of Arnold Nathan, director of Research and Development at IAI's Engineering Division and Shlomo Tsach, its director of Flight Sciences, and are being developed in conjunction with the European Union and a number of global aerospace companies.
Tsach and Nathan are leading development of the Innovative Future Air Transport System, an unmanned cargo plane with a 30-meter wingspan that can transplant up to 30 tons. The technology already exists to build unmanned passenger jets, but "the world is not yet ready to be flown without a pilot at the stick," Tsach says.
"A psychological obstacle needs to be overcome before people are willing to fly in unmanned planes," adds Tsach, a world-renowned expert on UAVs.
According to a poll recently conducted by Boeing Co., Tsach says, 70 percent of respondents would refuse to fly in a pilotless plane, but they would be willing to transport their cargo in a UAV. The US Federal Aviation Administration recently set up a committee to examine the changes to regulations that would be required if and when passenger and cargo UAVs take to the skies.
"Today's passenger planes fly automatically even though there is a pilot in the cockpit," Tsach says. "Once the new cargo plane takes to the air, it will only be a matter of time before there also are unmanned passenger planes."
Nathan, originally from Chicago, heads up an IAI team that works on projects in conjunction with the EU. He is currently overseeing 85 projects and most recently got IAI accepted as a major partner in a ?1.6 billion project to build environment-friendly parts for aircraft. In the case of the Innovative Future Air Transport System, IAI has put up ?610,000 of the project's ?6.68m. price tag.
"Our job is to foresee future technology, what we will need and what to invest in," Nathan says, adding that the partnership with the EU was necessary for IAI since "if you want to succeed, you can't work alone."
Another interesting project concerns the Enfica-FC - Environmentally Friendly Inter-City Aircraft powered by Fuel Cells. The first flight test will be held in a year and a half; IAI has put up ?700,000 of the project's ?4.2 million cost.
The 10-seater aircraft's fuel cells will reduce noise and damage to the environment. IAI is interested in the innovative use of fuel cells, an alternative energy source that could one day also be applied to military aircraft.
The third aircraft with revolutionary potential under development by IAI is the Sun Sailor, a solar-powered UAV that weighs four kilograms and is capable of carrying a small digital camera for military surveillance missions. It was developed in conjunction with students from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.
"The Sun Sailor will be able to continue flying indefinitely since its source of energy is the sun," says Tsach.
Nathan says IAI plans to continue to build on its 10-year partnership with the EU. "This partnership has us involved in projects valued at hundreds of millions of dollars," he said. "The technology is also available for IAI and we benefit from it."

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Border Police Apprehend 1,000 PA Arabs

Arutz Sheva, March 4, 2007
Border Police Apprehend 1,000 PA Arabs

( Border policemen arrested approximately 1,000 Arab residents of Palestinian Authority-controlled cities over the weekend. The PA residents were arrested for entering Israeli-controlled areas illegally. 320 of them were detained for questioning. The rest were returned to PA-controlled areas.

Police also arrested 20 Israeli citizens who had helped the PA Arabs to infiltrate Israeli cities.

Police forces are on high alert due to the Purim holiday. There has been a major increase in manpower that will last until Monday night, and police are being particularly vigilant against potential terrorist attacks by PA residents.

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Israel's liaison to its neighbors: Saudi Prince Bandar

Haaretz, March 2, 2007

Israel's liaison to its neighbors: Saudi Prince Bandar
By Aluf Benn

The key figure in Middle Eastern diplomacy is Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi Arabian National Security Adviser. Bandar is the man behind the Mecca agreement between Fatah and Hamas for the establishment of a Palestinian unity government. He was also active in calming the rival parties in Lebanon, and has tried to mediate between Iran and the U.S. administration. Two weeks ago he brought President George W. Bush up to date on his efforts, and last week he participated in a meeting of intelligence chiefs from Arab states with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which took place in Amman the day after the tripartite meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem.

There are many indications that the prince, who served 22 years as Saudi ambassador to Washington, is behind the quiet slide his country is making toward Israel since the end of the second Lebanon war. In September, Bandar met with Olmert in Jordan. The secret meeting was made public in Israel later.

Since their meeting, Olmert has on a number of occasions commended the Saudi peace initiative of 2002, to which Bandar contributed actively.

Israel opposed the Mecca agreement, but Olmert decided to soften the criticism and describe it as an "internal Palestinian agreement." The Prime Minister justified the decision, in part by expressing concern that strong criticism would be construed as an insult to Saudi Arabia and might lead it to alter its position on Iran.

Not first encounter

Bandar's meeting with Olmert was not the first encounter of the Saudi prince with the Israeli establishment. According to statesmen, senior military officers and former intelligence officers, Bandar has had contact with Israel at least since 1990. Bandar was careful to keep his distance from Israeli ambassadors to Washington, and opted for links to Israel that did not operate along the diplomatic channels. The Saudi prince, who is celebrating his 58th birthday, had dedicated his career to furthering stability in the Middle East, which is in the interest of the Saudi kingdom.

His talks with Israelis focused on two subjects: blocking strategic threats from Iraq during the 1990s and from Iran today, and furthering the peace process between Israel, Syria and the Palestinians. Saudi Arabia is particularly sensitive to the Palestinian issue. The weekly cabinet meetings in Saudi Arabia, which take place every Monday and are led by King Abdullah, always begin with a long report on the "Palestine situation," and only then does the meeting move on to other governmental affairs.

In a biography of Bandar, "The Prince", which was published four months ago in the U.S., there is no mention of his meetings with Israelis. But the prince does explain how his interest in Israel began many years ago. It started when he was undergoing pilot training in Britain in 1969 and met another pilot who presented himself as an Israeli. Bandar says he immediately felt hatred for the man who up to that point he had liked. But that feeling made him think, he says, that if there was a chance to get to know each other better, it would be possible to break the stereotypes. Indeed, Bandar made great efforts to meet many other Israelis.

Bandar began his diplomatic career with a huge fight against the pro-Israel lobby in the United States, AIPAC, which tried to torpedo the sale of AWACS early-warning aircraft to the Saudi air force. The Saudis won that round and since then Bandar considers himself a one-man lobby against the mighty AIPAC. Bandar reached the apex of his influence during the administration of the current president's father, George H.W. Bush.

The book also hints at the way Bandar's links with Israelis were forged. In the spring of 1990, Saddam Hussein threatened to "burn half of Israel." King Fahd was worried of a possible regional conflagration, and dispatched the prince to Baghdad. Saddam told him he would not attack Israel, and Bandar rushed to pass on the message to Bush and secure an Israeli promise that it would not undertake a preemptive strike. In retrospect Bandar said that Saddam had probably used him to secure his flank against an Israeli attack and embark on the occupation of Iraq in August 1990.

At about the same time it was reported that Saudi Arabia had procured Chinese-made surface-to-surface missiles. According to the book, Bandar was successful in assuring Israel through his American contacts that the missiles were not directed against it, and in return he received promises that Israel would not attack Tabuk airport southeast of Eilat.

Following the Gulf War in 1991, in which Saudi Arabia participated on the side of the U.S., the Americans initiated the peace process that began with the summit in Madrid. The Saudis participated but kept a low-key presence, preserving their links to Israel without making the ties official, like some of their Gulf neighbors.

At the time of the Oslo Accords, Bandar had a direct link to the Israeli embassy in Washington and held informal talks with ambassador Itamar Rabinovitch. During the peace talks under Ehud Barak, the role of the prince became very significant and he became involved in a number of moments of crisis. When the talks with Syria at the Shepherdstown Summit reached an impasse, Barak sent minister Amnon Shahak, who was a member of the Israeli delegation, for a meeting with Bandar. It did not help. Bandar later recalled that U.S. President Bill Clinton asked him to carry out a secret visit to Syrian President Hafez Assad to convince the Syrian leader that he should attend a "final opportunity" summit in Geneva. Assad agreed to attend, but the summit failed and the negotiations between Israel and Syria have been stuck since.

In late 2000 the efforts focused on the Palestinian track. Following the failure of the Camp David summit and the outbreak of the intifada, Bandar tried to pressure Yasser Arafat to accept the Clinton Initiative. In retrospect the prince considers Arafat's failure to accept the offer as criminal.

Following the 9/11 attack, the American agenda changed and the Palestinian leader, whom Bandar was trying to bring to Washington, was marked as being in the "evil" camp in the war against terror declared by the current President Bush.

At a University of Oklahoma conference on the Middle East in 2002, Bandar described the government of Israel as "fanatical" and accused Benjamin Netanyahu of being an "extremist and a failed political lightweight." Bandar also blamed Netanyahu for the incitement that led to the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, whom he called a "wise and brave man." The prince also called on Israelis to adopt the Saudi peace initiative instead of "violence, destruction and collective punishment of 3 million Palestinians."

Late in 2005, Saudi Arabia announced that Bandar was completing his tenure as ambassador to Washington and that he was returning to head the National Security Council. His father, Prince Sultan, became crown prince following the death of King Fahd and the crowning of Abdullah in his place.

During the first few months of his return to the Saudi capital Riyadh, Bandar disappeared from the media spotlight, and there was a great deal of speculation regarding his waning influence. But he seems to have reappeared, both in efforts to mediate between Iran and the U.S. and in meetings with the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani.

Israel has great interest in these talks. Americans and Israelis who have met Bandar describe him as one who exaggerates, and suggest that his stories be handled with care. But his American biographer, William Simpson, suggests that Bandar's efforts be given a chance. Describing his subject as a "prince of hope," Simpson says that the entire Middle East needs Bandar's diplomatic and mediation skills.

Continued (Permanent Link)

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