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Saturday, December 8, 2007

To Hudna or not to Hudna?

A cease fire with Hamas will save lives. It will also entrench Hamas in Gaza, allow them to import arms with impunity and block any progress to peace.
Tough choice.

Last update - 17:51 08/12/2007    
 Report: Hamas wants cease-fire with Israel in the Gaza Strip 
By Haaretz Service and DPA 

Hamas is making efforts to reach a ceasefire with Israel in the Gaza Strip, London-based newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi reported Saturday.
According to the report, senior Hamas officials are attempting to dissuade militants from firing Qassam rockets and mortar shells from the Strip into southern Israel in efforts to prevent a large-scale Israel Defense Forces ground operation in the Hamas-ruled territory.
Israel Radio reported Saturday that Damascus-based Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal had met with the head of the Islamic Jihad in Lebanon to discuss the issue. Islamic Jihad sources told the Al-Quds al-Arabi that the group had agreed to Hamas' proposal, but only if Israel agrees to a mutual ceasefire.
The newspaper also reported that Egyptian officials have offered to broker the deal between Israel and the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip.

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Gates talks tough on Iran; Defends Israel

US Defense Secretary Gates gave a no-nonsense presentation of US policy to Arab and other diplomats at an international conference on Bahrain. Not all of them wanted to hear it, perhaps, but they all needed to hear it.  
 U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates defended Israel's reputed nuclear program on Saturday, saying Israel did not seek to destroy its neighbors or support terrorism, unlike Iran.
Asked at an international security conference in Bahrain on Saturday whether he thought Israel's nuclear program posed a threat to the region, Gates replied: "No, I do not."
The statement was greeted by laughter from a room filled with government officials from Middle Eastern countries.
Israel is widely assumed to have the region's only atomic arsenal, but refuses to confirm or deny it. Washington has long avoided pressing Israel to go public with its capabilities.
Gates did not specifically mention Israel's nuclear weapons or arsenal, but responded to questions about its "nuclear program" -- giving the Pentagon chief room to dismiss any suggestion that he implicitly confirmed the existence of nuclear weapons in Israel.
He dismissed the allegation that the United States applied a double standard on the nuclear issue by supporting Israel while calling for Iran to abandon its enrichment activities, which Tehran says are for peaceful purposes.
"Israel is not training terrorists to subvert its neighbours. It has not shipped weapons into a place like Iraq to kill thousands of innocent civilians covertly," Gates said.
"It has not threatened to destroy any of its neighbours. It is not trying to destabilise the government of Lebanon.
"So I think there are significant differences in terms of both the history and the behaviour of the Iranian and Israeli governments. I understand there is a difference of view on that," he said.
Iran denies U.S. allegations that it has armed, trained and funded Shi'ite militias in Iraq, blaming the violence in Iraq on the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.
A year ago, Gates first angered Israelis during testimony to the U.S. Congress by including Israel in a list of nuclear-armed countries in the regions around Iran to explain why Tehran might have sought the means to build an atomic bomb. He has not publicly discussed it since.
Iran accuses U.S. of spying on nuclear weapons program Iran has sent a protest letter to the United States accusing it of spying on the Islamic state's nuclear activities, the official IRNA news reported on Saturday, citing the country's foreign minister.
The letter, submitted to the Swiss embassy in Tehran which handles U.S. interests in the country, was in reaction to the U.S. intelligence report published last Monday, which concluded that Iran had actually stopped atomic weapons development in 2003.
"The ministry submitted a letter to the Swiss embassy in Tehran ... demanding explanations over America's espionage on Iran's nuclear case," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted as saying by IRNA.
Gates: Gulf States must demand Iran come clean on nuclear program Persian Gulf nations must demand that Iran come clean about its past nuclear ambitions and openly vow to not develop such weapons in the future, Gates said Saturday.
In a broad call to diplomatic arms, Gates exhorted leaders from the Gulf to band together to force Iran to stop its uranium enrichment program and to help the fragile Iraqi government.
"Everywhere you turn, it is the policy of Iran to foment instability and chaos, no matter the strategic value or cost in the blood of innocents - Christians, Jews and Muslims alike," Gates said in a keynote address at the Manama Conference in Bahrain. "There can be little doubt that their destabilizing foreign policies are a threat to the interests of the United States, to the interests of every country in the Middle East, and to the interests of all countries within the range of the ballistic missiles Iran is developing."
And in a sarcastic riff, he goaded Iran to acknowledge its bad behavior - from arming terrorists in Iraq to its support for militant organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas.
Asked if the United States would be willing to sit down and talk with Iran, Gates said the behavior of the "new leadership of Iran has not given one confidence that a dialogue would be productive."
Noting that Iran embraced the recent U.S. intelligence report, Gates said Iran should accept that all other intelligence conclusions about its conduct are true. When the report came out earlier this week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hailed it as a declaration of victory for his country.
"In reality, you cannot pick and choose only the conclusions you like of this National Intelligence Estimate," Gates said. "Since that government now acknowledges the quality of American intelligence assessments, I assume that it also will embrace as valid American intelligence assessments of its funding and training of militia groups in Iraq."
Gates said Iran should also acknowledge it delivers weapons to terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, supports terror groups and continues to develop ballistic missiles that could be used to carry weapons of mass destruction.
Gates' rebukes didn't reach any Iranian ears directly, since Iran decided at the last moment not to attend the gathering, organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Gates, in his speech, pressed Gulf nations to back sanctions to force Iran to suspend enrichment, and to demand that Iran openly affirm that it does not intend to develop nuclear weapons in the future.
"In a complex region where partnerships do not come easy," Gates said the countries need to pull together and develop regional air and missile defense systems.
Gates ended his speech with a grim warning against underestimating the United States.
"Some countries," he said, may believe our resolve has been corroded by the challenges we face at home and abroad. This would be a grave misconception."
"Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy and the former Soviet Union all made that miscalculation," Gates said. "All paid the price. All are on the ash heap of history."
Gates' stop in Bahrain is the last stop on a frenetic, weeklong tour of the region, which included meetings with military commanders on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Policy agendas and the NIE on Iran

One contrary opinion came from -- of all places -- an unnamed International Atomic Energy Agency official, quoted in the New York Times, saying that "we are more skeptical. We don't buy the American analysis 100 percent. We are not that generous with Iran." When the IAEA is tougher than our analysts, you can bet the farm that someone is pursuing a policy agenda.
It isn't that clear that there was a political or policy agenda intended in the NIE report. It is very clear that the NIE report and the entire Iran question is being judged according to different policy agendas and not in the light of facts.
The Flaws In the Iran Report
By John R. Bolton
Thursday, December 6, 2007; A29
Rarely has a document from the supposedly hidden world of intelligence had such an impact as the National Intelligence Estimate released this week. Rarely has an administration been so unprepared for such an event. And rarely have vehement critics of the "intelligence community" on issues such as Iraq's weapons of mass destruction reversed themselves so quickly.
All this shows that we not only have a problem interpreting what the mullahs in Tehran are up to, but also a more fundamental problem: Too much of the intelligence community is engaging in policy formulation rather than "intelligence" analysis, and too many in Congress and the media are happy about it. President Bush may not be able to repair his Iran policy (which was not rigorous enough to begin with) in his last year, but he would leave a lasting legacy by returning the intelligence world to its proper function.
Consider these flaws in the NIE's "key judgments," which were made public even though approximately 140 pages of analysis, and reams of underlying intelligence, remain classified.
First, the headline finding -- that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 -- is written in a way that guarantees the totality of the conclusions will be misread. In fact, there is little substantive difference between the conclusions of the 2005 NIE on Iran's nuclear capabilities and the 2007 NIE. Moreover, the distinction between "military" and "civilian" programs is highly artificial, since the enrichment of uranium, which all agree Iran is continuing, is critical to civilian and military uses. Indeed, it has always been Iran's "civilian" program that posed the main risk of a nuclear "breakout."
The real differences between the NIEs are not in the hard data but in the psychological assessment of the mullahs' motives and objectives. The current NIE freely admits to having only moderate confidence that the suspension continues and says that there are significant gaps in our intelligence and that our analysts dissent from their initial judgment on suspension. This alone should give us considerable pause.
Second, the NIE is internally contradictory and insufficiently supported. It implies that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic persuasion and pressure, yet the only event in 2003 that might have affected Iran was our invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, not exactly a diplomatic pas de deux. As undersecretary of state for arms control in 2003, I know we were nowhere near exerting any significant diplomatic pressure on Iran. Nowhere does the NIE explain its logic on this critical point. Moreover, the risks and returns of pursuing a diplomatic strategy are policy calculations, not intelligence judgments. The very public rollout in the NIE of a diplomatic strategy exposes the biases at work behind the Potemkin village of "intelligence."
Third, the risks of disinformation by Iran are real. We have lost many fruitful sources inside Iraq in recent years because of increased security and intelligence tradecraft by Iran. The sudden appearance of new sources should be taken with more than a little skepticism. In a background briefing, intelligence officials said they had concluded it was "possible" but not "likely" that the new information they were relying on was deception. These are hardly hard scientific conclusions. One contrary opinion came from -- of all places -- an unnamed International Atomic Energy Agency official, quoted in the New York Times, saying that "we are more skeptical. We don't buy the American analysis 100 percent. We are not that generous with Iran." When the IAEA is tougher than our analysts, you can bet the farm that someone is pursuing a policy agenda.
Fourth, the NIE suffers from a common problem in government: the overvaluation of the most recent piece of data. In the bureaucracy, where access to information is a source of rank and prestige, ramming home policy changes with the latest hot tidbit is commonplace, and very deleterious. It is a rare piece of intelligence that is so important it can conclusively or even significantly alter the body of already known information. Yet the bias toward the new appears to have exerted a disproportionate effect on intelligence analysis.
Fifth, many involved in drafting and approving the NIE were not intelligence professionals but refugees from the State Department, brought into the new central bureaucracy of the director of national intelligence. These officials had relatively benign views of Iran's nuclear intentions five and six years ago; now they are writing those views as if they were received wisdom from on high. In fact, these are precisely the policy biases they had before, recycled as "intelligence judgments."
That such a flawed product could emerge after a drawn-out bureaucratic struggle is extremely troubling. While the president and others argue that we need to maintain pressure on Iran, this "intelligence" torpedo has all but sunk those efforts, inadequate as they were. Ironically, the NIE opens the way for Iran to achieve its military nuclear ambitions in an essentially unmolested fashion, to the detriment of us all.
John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is the author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad." He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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Who knew what when about NIE on Iran Nukes?

Washington Post reports on how the Iran "no nukes" surprise was discovered and when. According to them, it was an innocent discovery and an innocent disclosure, not politically motivated:
The origin of the latest intelligence can be traced to the summer of 2004, when an Iranian man turned up in Turkey with a laptop computer and the phone number of a German intelligence officer. He called the number, and within 24 hours, analysts at CIA headquarters in Langley were poring over thousands of pages of drawings and information stored on the computer indicating that Iran had been trying to retrofit its longest-range missile, the Shahab III, to carry a nuclear payload. It was designated Project 1-11 and seemed to confirm a nuclear weapons program.
The information retrieved from the laptop formed the backbone of a National Intelligence Estimate issued in 2005 that declared "with high confidence" that Iran was working to build a bomb. Armed with that, the Bush administration spent the past two years pressing European allies, Russia and China to sanction Iran if it did not give up its uranium enrichment program, despite Tehran's insistence that it was only for civilian energy.
With tension rising, Congress asked last year for a new NIE. Bush was pushing for more information as well during his deep-dive sessions. "We've got to get more information on Iran so we know what they're up to," one official paraphrased Bush saying.
As analysts scrambled to finish by April, they were reaching the conclusion that Iran was still a decade away from nuclear weapons, senior intelligence and administration officials said. For three years, the intelligence community had not obtained new information on Project 1-11, vexing administration officials who worried that a cold trail would lead to doubts about the reliability of the laptop's information. "They just wouldn't budge," complained one such official, who declined to be identified to speak candidly.
By June, analysts had an almost complete draft of a new NIE, and it provoked a sharp debate. "The less data you have, the more you argue," said a source familiar with the discussions. Some officials pressed the CIA's Iran desk to follow up on Project 1-11. CIA Director Michael V. Hayden and National Security Agency Director Keith B. Alexander responded by directing vast manpower and technology toward spying on Iranians who may have been involved in the warhead effort.
With Bush pressing for more information, the intelligence community finally came up with something new -- a series of communications intercepts, including snippets of conversations between key Iranian officials, one of them a military officer whose name appeared on the laptop. Two sources said the Iranians complained that the nuclear weapons program had been shuttered four years earlier and argued about whether it would ever be restarted.
But the Washington Post Story contradicts itself regarding when when the Israelis were informed: .
(1) Still, they understood the sensitivity of the new conclusions. At first, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, decided to keep the new findings secret, but reluctantly reversed course in a flurry of discussions last weekend out of fear of leaks and charges of a coverup, officials said. At that point, only the Israelis had gotten a heads-up. Congress, European allies and the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency were not given full briefings about the report until hours before it was released.
(2)  On Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called counterparts in Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, which have been negotiating a new set of sanctions against Iran. Foreign officials groused about how it was handled. Had they known before the summit, a senior Israeli official said, "I'm not sure we would have shown up."
There are other interesting tid-bits offered in that story.
Ami Isseroff

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Friday, December 7, 2007

Rice: new settlements erode trust

Rice criticizes Israel on settlement building
By Ari Rabinovitch
Friday, December 7, 2007; 11:30 AM
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Condoleezza Rice criticized Israel on Friday for planning to build new homes on occupied land in the Jerusalem area -- a move Palestinians say could wreck a peace process Rice helped launch last week in Washington.
"We are in a time when the goal is to build maximum confidence with the parties and this doesn't help to build confidence," the U.S. Secretary of State said in rare public censure of Washington's closest ally in the Middle East.
At a news conference at NATO in Brussels after she had met Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, Rice added: "There should not be anything which might prejudge final-status negotiations.
"It's even more important now that we are on the eve of the beginning of the negotiations. I made that position clear."
Rice has to a degree staked her claim to a foreign policy legacy going into the final year of the Bush administration on seeking a settlement of the 60-year-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Last week's accord at Annapolis, Maryland, to resume negotiations after a violent, 7-year hiatus came after nearly a year of Middle East shuttle diplomacy by the secretary of state.
Negotiators from both sides are due to meet in Jerusalem on Wednesday for a first round of talks since U.S. President George W. Bush oversaw handshakes on the deal between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Bush, whose presidency has been marked by the war in Iraq, has been criticized by some for previously neglecting the issue.
Disputes over settlements and Jerusalem, which Israel wants as its undivided capital and where Abbas wants East Jerusalem as capital of a Palestinian state, are central to negotiations Bush now hopes can conclude before he steps down in just 13 months.
Earlier, Olmert's spokesman confirmed Washington had asked for an explanation of the announcement by Israel this week that it was seeking bids from construction firms to build over 300 new homes and other units at a site south of East Jerusalem.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called it "not helpful."
Palestinians say new building at the site, known as Har Homa by Israel and Abu Ghneim by Arabs, breaches the undertaking Olmert renewed last week to halt settlement activity in the West Bank -- part of a pledge made under the 'road map' plan of 2003.
Olmert's spokesman said the tender was part of a 7-year-old plan and repeated the Israeli position that the site falls outside the road map deal because Israel annexed the land, occupied with the rest of the Palestinian territories in 1967.
The annexation of East Jerusalem and incorporation of surrounding West Bank areas within much expanded Jerusalem city limits is not recognized internationally. Israel has settled Jews on much of that land, effectively isolating East Jerusalem.
The United States agreed at Annapolis to adjudicate on how far each side was meeting commitments. Israel's main demand from the Palestinians is that Abbas curb militant attacks on it.
Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdainah said Washington must act now: "Asking them to explain is not enough. The Americans must pressure the Israeli government to stop settlement activities.
"They weaken trust between Israelis and Palestinians."
Bush's one-year deadline for a deal to end the conflict was greeted with skepticism by many on both sides. The depth of feeling over settlement in the West Bank, where some 250,000 Jews live among 2.5 million Palestinians, is just one obstacle.
Israel wants to draw a fortified border through the West Bank that would place major settlements inside a newly defined Israel and says it could remove outlying communities.
A poll published in Israel's Maariv newspaper found only 17 percent of settlers living beyond the barrier Israel is building would leave even if offered double the value of their property.
(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Haitham Tamimi in Hebron and Arshad Mohammed in Washington, writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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Not extremists? Al-Zahar: Jerusalem Will Be Capital Of Islamic Caliphate

The bill in question would brand anyone who compromises on Jerusalem a traitor. The Caliphate was a nice touch, don't you think?
Al-Zahar: Jerusalem Will Be Capital Of Islamic Caliphate

Members of the Hamas faction in the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza and the West Bank have approved the first reading of a bill banning the relinquishing of Jerusalem and considering the act of doing so to be against the law.

Former Palestinian foreign minister Mahmoud Al-Zahar said that Jerusalem will be the capital of the state of the Islamic Caliphate in Palestine.

PLC member Fathi Hamad called for the death penalty for anyone giving up one inch of Jerusalem or Palestine.

Source: Al-Ayyam, Palestinian Authority, December 6, 2007

Translation source of this Israel News Item


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Congressional commission may investigate the Iran NIE

Washington Post reports that Senate Republicans are planning to call for a congressional commission to investigate the conclusions of the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran as well as the specific intelligence that went into it, according to congressional sources.  Perhaps a political review of a politically motivated intelligence document will not yield more intelligence, just more politics.
According to the article, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said he plans to introduce legislation next week to establish a commission modeled on a congressionally mandated group that probed a disputed 1995 intelligence estimate on the emerging missile threat to the United States over the next 15 years.
"Iran is one of the greatest threats in the world today. Getting the intelligence right is absolutely critical, not only on Iran's capability but its intent. So now there is a huge question raised, and instead of politicizing that report, let's have a fresh set of eyes -- objective, yes -- look at it," he said in an interview.

Ensign's proposal calls for Senate leaders to put an equal number of Republicans and Democrats on a panel to study the NIE and report back in six months, the post reports. "There are a lot of people out there who do question [the NIE]. There is a huge difference between the 2005 and 2007 estimates," he said. The 2005 intelligence estimate reported that Iran was still working on a clandestine military program, and the new assessment basically says the previous judgment was wrong on a key point.
"If it's inaccurate, it could result in very serious damage to legitimate American policy," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). As recently as July, he noted, intelligence officials said in congressional testimony that they had a high degree of confidence that Iran was intent on developing the world's deadliest weapon. "We need to update our conclusions, but this is a substantial change," he said in an interview.
The Post article observes that critics of the NIE have seized on the fact that career government officials who had battled with conservatives earlier in the administration on policy issues have now migrated to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which coordinated the writing of the estimate.
"The problem is not the nature of the intelligence, it's the nature of the presentation. This NIE was presented with a clear intention to deceive and to redirect foreign policy," wrote Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, in an e-mail. "I have no doubt that these people believe they are protecting the nation from the President, but our constitution doesn't contemplate the non-proliferation center at the ODNI governing U.S. national security policy."
Meanwhile, the White House sought to tamp down accusations that Bush misled the public about when and how much he knew about the new intelligence. During his news conference this week, Bush said he was told in August by the director of national intelligence that there was new information about Iran, but not what the new information was.
Press secretary Dana Perino said yesterday that Bush meant he was told the gist of the new intelligence -- that Iran had had a covert nuclear weapons program but had suspended it -- but he was not given details, pending a deeper assessment of the data. "The president could have been more precise in that language," she said, "but the president was being truthful."

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Muslims: Kill apostates; forbidding polygamy makes you an infidel

In a television debate on apostasy in Islam, which aired on Al-Risala TV on November 5, 2007, Kuwaiti TV host Sheikh Tareq Al-Sweidan, Egyptian cleric Gamal 'Allam, and Egyptian scholar Gamal Al-Bana, and audience members discussed whether a Muslim is free to convert to another religion, the consequences of such a conversion, and who falls into the category of "infidel." Despite moderate statements by Amal al Bana, the audience held to some alarming and interesting ideas. Some excerpts:
Al-Sweidan: "If a person converted out of conviction, should he be declared an infidel?" 
Al-Sweidan: "And afterwards, he should be pronounced an infidel?"
Abir: "I believe he should be."
Al-Sweidan: "Thank you, Abir. Let's move to Fatima. What's your opinion?"    

"He Should be Declared an Infidel"
Fatima, Woman in Audience: "In my opinion, he should be declared an infidel. Why is there a problem with declaring people to be infidels?"
Al-Sweidan: "I'm not saying there is, I'm just asking a question."
Fatima: "He should be declared an infidel. The Koran divided people into Muslims, infidels, and the People of the Book. So there is a group of people who should be declared infidels."

Al-Sweidan: "For example, some Muslim countries forbid polygamy."   

Gamal 'Allam: "Someone who forbids polygamy is an infidel who should be excommunicated, because he is defying Allah in his right to forbid and permit."
Al-Sweidan: "Before the break, I asked our audience for their views on this important issue. Does a Muslim have the liberty or the right to change his religion? The results are as follows: 24% said: 'Yes, he has the right to change his religion.' 76% of the people said: 'No.' Let's hear some opinions and then I will return to our guests."
Young man in audience: "Sir, if you become an apostate, your punishment is death.

Gamal 'Allam: "Islam is the only religion that begins with the imperative 'Read.' It is the only reasonable and convincing religion."
Al-Sweidan: "But what if a person is not convinced?"
Gamal 'Allam: "Then there is something wrong in his head."
Al-Sweidan: "That's what you think, but isn't he entitled to have something wrong in his head?"
Gamal 'Allam: "Anybody who is insane should go to a mental asylum, or else if he is insane, his head should be removed so that it does not contaminate the heads of others."

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NIE, Iran, Caroline Glick and the abandonment of common sense

Caroline Glick, not necessarily known to keep her cool in a crisis, has sounded a full scale alarm over the NIE report which claimed that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003. The article is entitled, "The Abandonment of the Jews," which tells you where we are headed.
Thursday The New York Times ran a story detailing the process in which the NIE was collated that lends credence to the view that Bush was compelled to accept it. According to the Times, in the months preceding the NIE's publication, Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, purposely prevented the White House from seeing any of the raw intelligence data on which the NIE's radical conclusion on Iran was drawn. This alone indicates that the intelligence community may well have presented Bush with a fait accompli.
But it really doesn't make a difference one way or another. Whether the president agrees or disagrees with the NIE, he is boxed in just the same. The NIE denies him the option of taking military action against Iran's nuclear program for the duration of his tenure in office. So for at least 14 months, Iran has nothing to worry about from Washington.
Actually, both the Times and the Washington Post claimed that Bush had known of the findings of the report as early as August, and that in November, there had been a stormy session about the findings at the White House. Moreover, the Bush administration, far from abandoning the problem of Iranian nuclear weapons development is pushing full ahead, and European and NATO leaders are doing so as well. While Chinese initially indicated they were reconsidering support for sanctions, they have come around to put the report in its true perspective.
The one thing that can really sabotage efforts to stop the Iranian nuclear program is insisting, loudly and shrilly, that it is all about "the Jews." Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would just love it if Americans and his neighbors in the Gulf believed that the whole issue is about "the Jews" but it is not.
Please Caroline Glick, do some deep breathing exercises, and let As Sarq Al Awsat newspaper speak up about the Iranian threat. They can't very well do that if you keep insisting that it is all about "the Jews."
Ami Isseroff

Column One: The abandonment of the Jews
Caroline Glick , THE JERUSALEM POST  Dec. 6, 2007
The US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's nuclear intentions is the political version of a tactical nuclear strike on efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear bombs.
The NIE begins with the sensationalist opening line: "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Teheran halted its nuclear weapons program." But the rest of the report contradicts the lead sentence. For instance, the second line says, "We also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Teheran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons."
Indeed, contrary to that earth-shattering opening, the NIE acknowledges that the Iranians have an active nuclear program and that they are between two and five years away from nuclear capabilities.
The NIE's final sentence: "We assess with high confidence that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so," only emphasizes that US intelligence agencies view Iran's nuclear program as a continuous and increasing threat rather than a suspended and diminishing one.
But the content of the NIE is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the opening line - as the report's authors no doubt knew full well when they wrote it. With that opening line, the NIE effectively takes the option of American use of force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons off the table.
There are two possible explanations for why President George W. Bush permitted this strange report to be published. Either he doesn't wish to attack Iran, or he was compelled by the intelligence bureaucracy to accept that he can't attack Iran.
Arguing the former in Time magazine, former CIA agent Robert Baer explained, "While the 16 agencies that make up the 'intelligence community' contribute to each National Intelligence Estimate, you can bet that an explosive 180-degree turn on Iran like this one was greenlighted by the president."
The alternative view - that Bush was forced to accept the report against his will - is also possible. The report's primary authors, Thomas Fingar, Vann Van Diepen and Kenneth Brill are all State Department officials on loan to the office of the Director of National Intelligence. According to the Wall Street Journal, all three are reputed to be deeply partisan and hostile to Bush's foreign policy goals. Furthermore, for the past four years the three have reportedly worked studiously to downplay the danger of Iran's nuclear weapons program and to discredit their opponents within the administration.
Thursday The New York Times ran a story detailing the process in which the NIE was collated that lends credence to the view that Bush was compelled to accept it. According to the Times, in the months preceding the NIE's publication, Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, purposely prevented the White House from seeing any of the raw intelligence data on which the NIE's radical conclusion on Iran was drawn. This alone indicates that the intelligence community may well have presented Bush with a fait accompli.
But it really doesn't make a difference one way or another. Whether the president agrees or disagrees with the NIE, he is boxed in just the same. The NIE denies him the option of taking military action against Iran's nuclear program for the duration of his tenure in office. So for at least 14 months, Iran has nothing to worry about from Washington.
And the NIE's political repercussions extend well beyond the current administration. Today, no Democratic presidential candidate will dare to question the opening line of the report. The Democratic Congressional leaders are demanding that the administration immediately open bilateral talks with Iran. And Senator Hillary Clinton is being pilloried by her party rivals for her Senate vote in favor of classifying the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization.
The situation among Republicans is not much more encouraging. Although Republicans have greeted the NIE with grumbling rather than glee, it is hard to imagine any of the Republican presidential candidates taking issue with its opening line. Doing so entails the risk of being accused of alarmism and warmongering.
Although Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice continue to speak of imposing further sanctions on Iran, the fact is that after the report was published, any chance of getting an agreement on further sanctions evaporated. French President Nicholas Sarkozy stands humiliated for having dared to speak of the possibility of attacking Iran. The Germans will immediately reinvigorate their commercial ties with the mullahs as will the British and the French. The Russians and Chinese will drop even the veneer of opposing Iran's nuclear program.
The NIE makes light of Iran's acknowledged nuclear capabilities by intimating that Iran's intentions are not necessarily hostile. Yet, it gives no evidence that this is the case. Rather, the NIE projects the aspirations of its American authors on the Iranians. But since one's actions rather than the hopes of one's adversaries are the best indication of one's intentions, the only conclusion that can be reasonably be drawn about Iran is that its intentions are anything but benign.
For instance, Agence France-Presse reported that in 2005 Iran bought 18 Russian SS-N-6 ballistic missiles from North Korea. The North Koreans had modified the missiles, which were originally submarine-launched, to enable them to be launched from land-based mobile launchers and renamed them BM-25s. What is notable about these missiles is that the Soviets designed them specifically to carry one megaton nuclear warheads.
As the on-line intelligence newsletter NightWatch noted this week, "Curious minds want to know why would Iran buy such a system from North Korea in 2005, if it had abandoned its nuclear warhead program in 2003?"
Beyond that, the NIE makes a strange distinction between Iran's "civilian" nuclear program which has not stopped for a moment and its "military" program which supposedly ended in 2003. Since both programs are controlled and run by the Revolutionary Guards, it is obvious that no such distinction exists for the Iranians. And as former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton wrote Thursday in The Washington Post, "It has always been Iran's 'civilian' program that posed the main risk of nuclear 'breakout.'"
Finally the US intelligence community's pathetic track record must be taken into account. American intelligence agencies failed to take note of the al-Qaida threat to US security before September 11. It misjudged Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction capabilities and intentions. And most recently, it failed to take notice of Syria's nuclear program even though the North Korean nuclear facility which Israel reportedly destroyed on September 6 was built above ground.
As for that, the Israeli strike showed clearly that there is no reason to assume that Iran's nuclear program is located only in Iran. It is reasonable to assume that some of its components are located in Syria, North Korea and Pakistan and perhaps in China and Russia as well.
The Israeli strike in Syria also demonstrated the superiority of Israel's intelligence on weapons of mass destruction programs over America's. And the NIE takes revenge on Israel for its comparative advantage.
Given the NIE's assertion that Iran is not a threat, the report is a direct assault on the credibility of Israel's intelligence services. Moreover, since Israel's intelligence services insist that Iran's nuclear program is the greatest threat to global security, the NIE serves to paint Israel's intelligence community not merely as unreliable, but as hostile to American interests.
So not only does the NIE make it impossible for the US to take action against Iran, it also sets a dangerous trap for Israel. If Israel doesn't take action against Iran's nuclear installations it risks annihilation. And if it does take action, it can expect to be subject to international and American condemnation far worse than what it suffered after bombing Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981.
The US has not limited its entrapment of Israel to the political realm. As The Jerusalem Post reported on Tuesday, due to massive US pressure, Israel and India were compelled to cancel the planned launch of an Israeli satellite on an Indian missile. The launch was scheduled to take place in September. It has yet to be rescheduled. Apparently, the US response to Israel's discovery of Syria's nuclear program was to undercut Israel's ability to enhance its intelligence capabilities.
The Israeli response so far to the NIE creates the impression that Israel's leaders are in a state of denial over what has just happened. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reacted with empty bromides about his close relationship with Bush.
By mindlessly agreeing that Iran did in fact halt its nuclear weapons program in 2003, Defense Minister Ehud Barak accepted the most ridiculous aspect of the report - namely that there is a distinction between Iran's "civilian" and "military" nuclear programs. In so doing, Barak effectively prevented Israel from attacking the report for its basic mendacity.
As for Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, well, she doesn't seem to understand that anything has happened. In a message to Israeli ambassadors, Livni urged Israel's emissaries to continue their efforts to promote sanctions claiming that, "All are in agreement that the world cannot accept a nuclear Iran."
And this is the final aspect of the NIE that bears mention. Both in its content and in the timing of its release the week after the Annapolis conference, the NIE shows clearly that in sharp contrast to optimistic statements by Olmert, Barak and Livni about Israel's wonderful relations with the Bush administration, the fact is that Israel's relations with the US are in a state of crisis.
Many commentators applauded the Annapolis conference, claiming that its real aim was to cement a US-led coalition including Israel and the Arabs against Iran. These voices argued that it made sense for Israel to agree to negotiate on bad terms in exchange for such a coalition. But the NIE shows that the US double-crossed Israel. By placing the bait of a hypothetical coalition against Iran, the US extracted massive Israeli concessions to the Palestinians and then turned around and abandoned Israel on Iran as well. What this means is that not only has the US cut Israel off as an ally, it is actively working against the Jewish state.
For their part, the Iranians are celebrating the NIE's publication as a major victory. And they are right to do so. With the stroke of a pen the US this week has let it be known that it doesn't have a problem with Iran acquiring the means to carry out the second genocide of the Jewish people in 70 years.
The NIE's message to Israel and world Jewry is clear. Again we are alone in our moment of peril. It is high time that our political and military leaders acknowledge this fact, stop hoping that someone else will save us, and get to work on defending us.

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Where are Islam's Silent Moderates?

It is often said that Islam has been "hijacked" by a small extremist group of radical fundamentalists. The vast majority of Muslims are said to be moderates.
But where are the moderates? Where are the Muslim voices raised over the terrible injustice of incidents like these? How many Muslims are willing to stand up and say, in the case of the girl from Qatif, that this manner of justice is appalling, brutal and bigoted — and that no matter who said it was the right thing to do, and how long ago it was said, this should no longer be done?
Usually, Muslim groups like the Organization of the Islamic Conference are quick to defend any affront to the image of Islam. The organization, which represents 57 Muslim states, sent four ambassadors to the leader of my political party in the Netherlands asking him to expel me from Parliament after I gave a newspaper interview in 2003 noting that by Western standards some of the Prophet Muhammad's behavior would be unconscionable. A few years later, Muslim ambassadors to Denmark protested the cartoons of Muhammad and demanded that their perpetrators be prosecuted.
That is somewhat unfair. Fouad Ajami, Tarek Heggy and a host of prominent Muslims have decried extremist politics and many condemned draconic rulings of religious courts. In Bangladesh, journalist Salahuddin Shoaib Choudhoury has been waging a three year battle against a charge of "sedition" because of his outspoken anti-Islamist views. CAIR protested the against the sentencing of the British schoolteacher in Sudan for allowing a teddy bear to be named Muhammad. It is true though, that there are not enough of these protests.
Ami Isseroff
December 7, 2007
Op-Ed Contributor
Islam's Silent Moderates

The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication, flog each of them with 100 stripes: Let no compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. (Koran 24:2)

IN the last few weeks, in three widely publicized episodes, we have seen Islamic justice enacted in ways that should make Muslim moderates rise up in horror.
A 20-year-old woman from Qatif, Saudi Arabia, reported that she had been abducted by several men and repeatedly raped. But judges found the victim herself to be guilty. Her crime is called "mingling": when she was abducted, she was in a car with a man not related to her by blood or marriage, and in Saudi Arabia, that is illegal. Last month, she was sentenced to six months in prison and 200 lashes with a bamboo cane.
Two hundred lashes are enough to kill a strong man. Women usually receive no more than 30 lashes at a time, which means that for seven weeks the "girl from Qatif," as she's usually described in news articles, will dread her next session with Islamic justice. When she is released, her life will certainly never return to normal: already there have been reports that her brother has tried to kill her because her "crime" has tarnished her family's honor.
We also saw Islamic justice in action in Sudan, when a 54-year-old British teacher named Gillian Gibbons was sentenced to 15 days in jail before the government pardoned her this week; she could have faced 40 lashes. When she began a reading project with her class involving a teddy bear, Ms. Gibbons suggested the children choose a name for it. They chose Muhammad; she let them do it. This was deemed to be blasphemy.
Then there's Taslima Nasreen, the 45-year-old Bangladeshi writer who bravely defends women's rights in the Muslim world. Forced to flee Bangladesh, she has been living in India. But Muslim groups there want her expelled, and one has offered 500,000 rupees for her head. In August she was assaulted by Muslim militants in Hyderabad, and in recent weeks she has had to leave Calcutta and then Rajasthan. Taslima Nasreen's visa expires next year, and she fears she will not be allowed to live in India again.
It is often said that Islam has been "hijacked" by a small extremist group of radical fundamentalists. The vast majority of Muslims are said to be moderates.
But where are the moderates? Where are the Muslim voices raised over the terrible injustice of incidents like these? How many Muslims are willing to stand up and say, in the case of the girl from Qatif, that this manner of justice is appalling, brutal and bigoted — and that no matter who said it was the right thing to do, and how long ago it was said, this should no longer be done?
Usually, Muslim groups like the Organization of the Islamic Conference are quick to defend any affront to the image of Islam. The organization, which represents 57 Muslim states, sent four ambassadors to the leader of my political party in the Netherlands asking him to expel me from Parliament after I gave a newspaper interview in 2003 noting that by Western standards some of the Prophet Muhammad's behavior would be unconscionable. A few years later, Muslim ambassadors to Denmark protested the cartoons of Muhammad and demanded that their perpetrators be prosecuted.
But while the incidents in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and India have done more to damage the image of Islamic justice than a dozen cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, the organizations that lined up to protest the hideous Danish offense to Islam are quiet now.
I wish there were more Islamic moderates. For example, I would welcome some guidance from that famous Muslim theologian of moderation, Tariq Ramadan. But when there is true suffering, real cruelty in the name of Islam, we hear, first, denial from all these organizations that are so concerned about Islam's image. We hear that violence is not in the Koran, that Islam means peace, that this is a hijacking by extremists and a smear campaign and so on. But the evidence mounts up.
Islamic justice is a proud institution, one to which more than a billion people subscribe, at least in theory, and in the heart of the Islamic world it is the law of the land. But take a look at the verse above: more compelling even than the order to flog adulterers is the command that the believer show no compassion. It is this order to choose Allah above his sense of conscience and compassion that imprisons the Muslim in a mindset that is archaic and extreme.
If moderate Muslims believe there should be no compassion shown to the girl from Qatif, then what exactly makes them so moderate?
When a "moderate" Muslim's sense of compassion and conscience collides with matters prescribed by Allah, he should choose compassion. Unless that happens much more widely, a moderate Islam will remain wishful thinking.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former member of the Dutch Parliament and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "Infidel."

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Israeli settlers: Hell no, we won't go

Ehud Barak is backing legislation that would encourage voluntary removal of Israeli settlers who live beyond the green line in return for compensation. A poll reveals that only about 20% of Israeli settlers claim they would be willing to leave in return for such compensation. In the event of a peace deal with the Palestinians, it is almost certain that all those areas would be turned over to the Palestinian state.
Perhaps the poll didn't ask the right questions. It is not clear what the "value" of a home beyond the fence might be, and what "fair compensation" might be, especially if the area in question comes under constant terror attacks or is transferred to the Palestinian Authority. Therefore it might be better to ask, "Would you be willing to leave in return for the same or better home in the Galilee or the Negev?" Or perhaps, "If IDF were to stop providing security for your settlement, would you be prepared to leave?"
Ami Isseroff
Poll of Israelis beyond separation fence: 78% not willing to leave for "fair compensation"
Dr. Aaron Lerner     Date: 7 December 2006

Telephone poll of a representative sample of 400 adult Israelis residing in communities that are on the eastern side of the separation fence by Teleseker for Maariv the week of 7 December 2007. Statistical error +/- 4.9 percentage points.

In principle, would you be willing to be evacuated from your home in return for fair compensation?
Yes 18% No 78%  Don't know 4%
Religious: Yes 8% No 89%
Traditional/Secular: Yes 42% No 53%

Would you be willing to be evacuated from your home and move to live on the western side of the separation fence?
Yes 11% No 84% Don't know 5%

For compensation of 150% of the value of your home?
Yes 14% No 81% Don't know 5%

For compensation of 200% of the value of your home?
Yes 17% No 76% Don't know 7%

Maariv  7 December 2007

IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Abbas says no to state with provisional borders

Last update - 21:21 06/12/2007       
PA leader Abbas rejects concept of state with provisional borders
By The Associated Press
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday rejected the concept of a provisional Palestinian state, concerned that temporary borders of such an entity would become permanent.
Abbas told Palestinian lawmakers that during last week's Middle East summit in Annapolis, Maryland, the idea of a provisional state was brought up, but he turned it down - though it is a key part of the internationally backed road map formula for creating a Palestinian state.
In the meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Abbas also rejected talks with the Islamic militant Hamas unless it relinquishes control of Gaza first. Hamas overran Gaza in June, expelling forces loyal to Abbas.
Abbas said that at the Annapolis summit presided over by U.S. President George W. Bush, "there was talk about a state with provisional borders. We reject provisional borders, because these [borders] will be final."
In their joint declaration, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas agreed that the 2003 road map plan would be a basis for resuming peace negotiations. The first talks under the new framework are set for next Wednesday.
The second step of the three-stage road map states calls for creating an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty. Creating temporary borders would allow the Palestinians to have independence, while giving the sides more time to work out contentious issues like the final status of disputed Jerusalem.
However, Palestinian leaders disowned the idea shortly after the plan was put forward, reflecting concern that the temporary borders would never be changed.
Israeli officials had no comment on Abbas' remarks.
Abbas told the lawmakers the Palestinians would not agree to a new demand that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Olmert made that demand shortly before the Annapolis summit.
Abbas said recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would negate the rights of 1.5 million Palestinians who live there, referring to Israel's Arab minority, which makes up 20 percent of its population.
Palestinian officials also believe the Israeli demand is aimed at blocking Palestinian refugees who lost their homes during Israel's 1948 independence from returning to their former properties.
The Palestinians says refugees have a right to return to their homes. Israel rejects that, since a flood of an estimated 700,000 refugees and their 3 million descendants would eliminate the Jewish character of their state. Israel says the refugees must be resettled either in the Palestinian state to be created or in the nations where they live now.
With negotiations set to begin after a seven-year freeze, Abbas would be unlikely to offer concessions on the key issues at this point.
Abbas repeated his view of reconciliation with Hamas, ruling out talks with the Islamic militants unless they give up control of Gaza.
Olmert and Abbas plan first post-summit talks
Meanwhile, Olmert met top advisers on Thursday to prepare for his first meeting with Abbas since the two leaders launched formal peace talks last week.
Olmert and Abbas are expected to meet on December 12 for the first round of talks since they agreed at a U.S.-sponsored conference to try to broker a deal on Palestinian statehood by the end of 2008.
An Israeli official said Olmert met Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to prepare their position before meeting Palestinian negotiators next week.
"The post-Annapolis process is going to start next week and it is clear that important preparatory work must be done so that the process can succeed," said Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev.
Senior Abbas aide Saeb Erakat, a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, said: "We intend to engage seriously to reach the end game of all the final status issues before the end of 2008."
The sides agreed at the conference in Annapolis, Maryland to discuss final status issues such as borders, the future of Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem.
Many observers think the 2008 goal is too ambitious given Abbas and Olmert are both weak, and big differences remain between the two sides on key issues.

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Two Israeli Arabs arrested on suspicion of planning attacks

 This is scarcely going to help the cause of Arab equality in Israel.
Last update - 18:32 06/12/2007       
Two Israeli Arabs arrested on suspicion of planning attacks
By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent, and Haaretz Service
The Shin Bet security service has recently arrested two Israeli Arab youths suspected of planning al-Qaida inspired terror attacks against targets in Israel, a gag order lifted Thursday revealed.
The two suspects, 21-year-old economics student Akrameh Jurin and a 17-year-old high school student, are both residents of Jaljulya, a local council in central Israel east of Kfar Sava.
The two were arrested about six weeks ago. An indictment against them was submitted to the court on Thursday.
According to the Shin Bet, the two confessed during questioning to having planned a number of terror attacks, among them an attempt to stab and kidnap an Israel Defense Forces soldier and seize control of his weapon near the Kafr Qassem junction.
The two also confessed to planning to stab a guard at the entrance of an Israeli community, seize his weapon and carry out a shooting attack.
According to the Shin Bet, the suspects said they had built makeshift explosive devices.
The Shin Bet added that the two men regularly visited world Jihad internet websites and watched lectures given by al-Qaida linked sheiks. Under their influence, Jurin decided that he wanted to carry out a terror attack against IDF soldiers. The economics student's father found out that his son was visiting Jihad internet sites and warned him against taking action.
Sources at the Shin Bet said this incident demonstrates the penetration power of extremist Jihad ideas, which are mainly available online. The parents were aware of their son's activity, and this awareness is vital in efforts to prevent the dangers of exposure to extremist material, sources said.

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Will the real NIE please stand up?

"They make the bombs, they make them not. They make the bombs, they make them not. They make the bombs, they make them not. "
Shortly after insisting with "high confidence" that Iran no longer had a nuclear weapons program in place, the US National Intelligence Service insists with equally high confidence that there was reason to believe Iran still wanted an ability to make nuclear weapons.
We are now in a situation where the NIS published an intelligence estimate, but its officials are insisting that the estimate is wrong. Can anyone be expected to believe anything they say?
Ami Isseroff  
U.S. spy official says Iran ambitions not "benign"
Thu Dec 6, 2007 7:25pm GMT
By Randall Mikkelsen
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iran retains key nuclear capabilities despite having frozen weapons development in 2003, and its ambitions cannot be considered benign, a senior U.S. spy official told Congress on Thursday.
The deputy director of National Intelligence, Donald Kerr, told a House of Representatives Intelligence subcommittee that there was reason to believe Iran still wanted an ability to make nuclear weapons.
He was responding to a Republican lawmaker who questioned the accuracy of an official National Intelligence Estimate this week that said U.S. agencies did not know whether Iran intended to develop a nuclear weapon.
The report has forced President George W. Bush to defend his assertions that Iran represented a potential nuclear threat. It backed off a 2005 conclusion that Iran was determined to develop such a weapon and said Iran had abandoned weapon design and covert enrichment in 2003.
But Iran still had the "most important" component of a future program, a uranium-enrichment plant, Kerr told the panel. That and Iran's civil nuclear power program can provide important expertise. Iran also was working on ballistic missiles, he said.
"We did not in any way suggest that Iran was benign for the future," Kerr told the panel. "What we had to do was address the evidence we had, that at least a part of their program (was) suspended in 2003."
Kerr noted the estimate also concluded with "moderate confidence" that Iran still wants a future weapons capability.
Iran has consistently denied pursuing a nuclear weapon. But it has asserted a right to develop its own civil nuclear capability.
U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, a Kansas Republican, told Kerr he was puzzled by the new intelligence estimate. "We have this sort of dichotomy, the words and actions from Iran seem to be offset by the National Intelligence Estimate," Tiahrt said.
He suggested U.S. intelligence agencies had gotten too big at their headquarters and not put enough agents in the field.
Kerr responded that the new report was one of the most comprehensive National Intelligence Estimates ever, with more than 1,000 "source notes."
He also said it had benefited from reforms and restructurings in U.S. intelligence agencies since the September 11 attacks and a flawed pre-war estimate on Iraqi weapons. The estimate's findings were subjected to rigorous challenges and tests of alternative explanations, he said.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that notes obtained last summer from deliberations of Iranian military officials involved in weapons development had played a significant role in the change of views about Iran's nuclear activities.
The newspaper report, citing senior intelligence and government officials, said the notes included bitter complaints by military officers over a decision to shut down Iran's weapon-design program.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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Palestinian law: Concessions on Jerusalem are treason

A great start to the peace negotiations
PLC passes law to make any concessions on J'lem illegal

Khaled Abu Toameh , THE JERUSALEM POST  Dec. 6, 2007
The Hamas-dominated Palestinian Legislative Council Thursday passed a law that makes any concessions on Jerusalem illegal.
The law, which was approved by first reading, also defines such concessions as a crime of high treason.
Presented by Hamas legislator Ahmed Abu Halbiyeh on behalf of two parliamentary committees - the Judicial Committee and the Committee for Jerusalem Affairs, the law is expected to pass in second and third readings in the coming days.
The PLC session was boycotted by many members of the rival Fatah faction in protest against Hamas's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip last June.
However, many Fatah legislators have made it known that they too support the law, which states that Jerusalem is a Palestinian, Arab and Islamic city and that it is totally forbidden to give up or conduct negotiations about any part of the city.
According to the law, anyone who violates the law would be prosecuted as a traitor.
The new law still requires the approval of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said Ahmed Bahar, acting speaker of the PLC. He said the law would be submitted to Abbas after it passes second and third readings.
The law is intended to embarrass Abbas and ties his hands on the eve of the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on core issues, including the future status of Jerusalem. Hamas officials said Abbas would have no other option but to endorse the law.
Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a top aide to Abbas, said in response that, as far as the PA was concerned, Jerusalem was a "red line" that can't be crossed.
Abbas told supporters in Ramallah Thursday that he did not go to Annapolis to make concessions. "There are some people who are trying to distort the truth," he said. "They are saying that we went to Annapolis to sell our cause, negotiate and sign agreements. But we went there to convey our principle and fixed positions."
Abbas said the Palestinian team to Annapolis faced many "obstacles." He said that these obstacles included demands to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and relinquishing the rights of the Palestinian refugees.
Abbas also revealed that he and his team rejected the idea of establishing a Palestinian state with temporary borders for fear that the borders would one day become permanent.
"The Palestinian people want a state in the 1967 borders, including Jerusalem," he stressed. "We also want a solution to the problem of the refugees in accordance with the Arab peace initiative and United Nations resolution 194."
Abbas reiterated his readiness to talk to Hamas, but only after the Islamist movement relinquishes control over the Gaza Strip. "What Hamas did [in the Gaza Strip] was a disaster for the Palestinians," he said. "This was a black coup that was carried out by the prime minister and interior minister in the deposed [Hamas] government. But we are not opposed to dialogue with Hamas. Hamas is an integral part of the Palestinian people."

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Israel, Egypt and 'Pilgrims' - Locking the barn door

The passage of pilgrims to Gaza was known in advance, and occurred over two days. As there is no Muslim religious holiday now, it is not particularly "the season" for a Hajj. Yet Israel watched and did nothing, complaining to the Egyptians only after the event.
But the Egyptians are right that they are all going on a religious pilgrimage. IDF estimates that about two dozen of these pilgrims, at least, were on their way to training in Iran. What pilgrimage could be more holy than learning to undertake Jihad?
Ami Isseroff
Israel livid as pilgrims cross Rafah
Yaakov Katz , THE JERUSALEM POST  Dec. 6, 2007
Amid concerns that terrorists were allowed to leave Gaza and travel abroad for training in Iran, Israel has filed a complaint with Cairo after Egypt allowed 1,700 Palestinians to pass through the Rafah Crossing to make the haj pilgrimage to Mecca.
On Monday, for the first time since Hamas's violent takeover of Gaza in June, Egypt unilaterally opened the Rafah border terminal and allowed 700 Palestinians, who claimed to be religious pilgrims on their way to Mecca, to pass through. On Tuesday, another 1,000 crossed through the terminal.
"This is a clear breach of agreements we have made with the Egyptians," a senior diplomatic official said Wednesday, in reference to the November 2005 agreement under which the Rafah Crossing was opened. The official said the unilateral opening of the border had been preceded by another breach of agreements in October, when Egypt allowed 85 Hamas operatives to cross back into Gaza after cutting a hole in the border fence.
IDF intelligence estimates released Wednesday indicated that up to a couple of dozen Hamas terrorists were among the so-called pilgrims Egypt allowed out of the Gaza Strip. In recent years, hundreds of Hamas terrorists have traveled abroad to Iran and Lebanon for military training, and officials said it was possible that these terrorists would do the same.
Once the 1,700 Palestinians return to the border to reenter Gaza, they will join another 2,000 Palestinians who have been waiting near the border crossing since Hamas seized control of the Strip in June. Military Intelligence believes there are a number of wanted terrorists within that group as well.
In response to the increasing number of violations, the Foreign Ministry filed a harsh complaint with Cairo, and senior defense officials are scheduled to travel to Egypt in the coming week for talks about the recent events.
In addition to allowing Palestinians to pass through the Rafah Crossing, Israel is also upset with the Egyptians' continued failure to curb the smuggling of weapons and explosives via tunnels into the Gaza Strip. According to recent assessments, since Hamas's takeover, the terror group has smuggled into Gaza 100 tons of explosives, millions of bullets, hundreds of anti-tank missiles and even a small number of Katyusha rockets.
A delegation of American military engineers recently toured the Egyptian side of the Philadelphi Corridor and was shown a number of tunnels that the Egyptians tried to portray as being too small for weapons-smuggling. According to Israeli officials, the delegation was not convinced and demanded that Cairo take more decisive action against the smuggling industry.
"We have no doubt that if they only wanted to, they are capable of curbing the smuggling," a defense official said.

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When will Iran have a bomb - and what to do about it.

Bergman outlines a situation of "judgement in conditions of uncertainty." Israel should concentrate on getting hard data rather than on spreading alarmist assessments. This is not a job for Israel advocacy. Yelling about the Iranian bomb will not make it true. Denying it won't make it go away. If it is being built, it must be stopped, but for that we must have hard evidence.
When will Iran have a bomb?
Spy agencies worldwide divided on Iran threat; Israel fears 'worst case scenario'
Ronen Bergman
Published:  12.05.07, 10:58 / Israel Opinion
The story goes like this: The Mossad says the Iranians will be producing their first nuclear device by 2009. The IDF's intelligence branch talks about Iran acquiring all the knowledge needed to produce a bomb within six months. The CIA says Iran will have a bomb by 2011, or maybe only in the middle of the next decade, that is, 2015. Confused? We're not done yet.

The US State Department's research division is talking about 2013 as the target date, but all intelligence bodies that contributed to the US report published Monday agree that Iran stopped developing its military nuclear program in 2003 because of international pressure, yet continues to enrich uranium

The report says Iran does not employ a clandestine path, but the same report two years ago claimed it does employ such path, and Israel firmly argues that Iran is indeed doing it to this very day.

All of the above is public information only, and we haven't said a word yet about the various and differing views of intelligence agencies in Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Russia, and Egypt, which also have a position on the matter.

So what is the truth? When will Iran really have a bomb? Where should the public anxiety index be?

First, we should treat the report published in the US Monday, which contradicts previous reports published in the same forum, with the same skepticism that should be reserved for alarmist assessments frequently provided by Israeli intelligence agencies.

Israel has been slammed in Washington over the fact that since 2001, in every meeting between an Israeli prime minister and an American president, Israel claimed that Iran is "six months away" from reaching the "technological threshold." Sources in the American capital say that Israel made a fool of itself while trying to alarm the world.

Is Iran fooling the world again?
At the same time, we must recall that US intelligence officials have their own agenda. It consists of excessive caution in the wake of the huge screw-up in the efforts to uncover Saddam Hussein's attempts to acquire nuclear weapons. This agenda is also affected by their unwillingness to back military action against Iran, especially after wallowing in the Iraqi swamp as a result of the above-mentioned screw-up.
Foreign intelligence agencies that maintain contacts with the Mossad and Military Intelligence have been complaining in recent months that they are not receiving from Israel the evidence that would justify our Armageddon predictions regarding Iran. An echo of these complaints can be found in Monday's report, which contradicts the analysis of Israel's secret services.

However, this report mostly relies on assessments, rather than absolute and in depth knowledge of what's going on in Iran. The Ayatollah regime already surprised us in the past with its ability to hide a secret path en route to the bomb. There is no guarantee they are not doing it again.

For Israel, the report is big trouble: It brings closer what Israel views as the worst case scenario in addressing the Iranian threat. One of the top figures dealing with the Iranian threat recently said the following in a closed-door forum: "The relationship between Israel and the US is more complex than ever. We may see a situation, which I view as the worst possibility, where the US president tells us: 'I don't want to draw the required conclusions. You want to attack? Do it. I won't hinder you. You will strike, and you will pay the price.' I view such situation as the worst case scenario because of what will happen after it, which would have implications in various arenas, and because it will create various problems and deepen the gaps between them and us."

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Report: 'US report won't impair sanction efforts'

The question is - how severe will the new sanctions be?
'US report won't impair sanction efforts'
UN officials say Security Council still likely to approve third round of sanctions against Iran
Yitzhak Benhorin
Published:  12.06.07, 02:05 / Israel News
WASHINGTON – "There is a good chance that the UN Security Council will vote to tighten sanctions against Iran despite the US report," United Nations officials in New York told Ynet on Wednesday night.

The proposal for the third round of sanctions - aimed at pressuring Tehran to comply with international demands in its pursuit of nuclear power – will likely be drafted sometime next week and brought before the Security Council for further debate.
While Russia and China initially said the report should change the world's attitude towards the Iranian nuclear program, increased diplomatic efforts on the part of the US, Britain and France seem to have brought the Security Council back to its previous inclination towards supporting more sanctions.

Washington has gone to lengths to maintain support for the approval of the sanctions, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley leading the damage control efforts. The two spoke with their counterparts in Russia, France, Britain and Germany and emphasized that the US still believes Iran to be a possible threat. The way to prevent military action in the future, they said, was to utilize diplomacy now.
Meanwhile US President George W. Bush adopted a business-as-usual approach on Wednesday and called on Tehran to ''come clean'' about the scope of its nuclear activities.

The Iranians have a strategic choice to make,'' Bush said. ''They can come clean with the international community about the scope of their nuclear activities, and fully accept the long-standing offer to suspend their enrichment program and come to the table and negotiate, or they can continue on a path of isolation.''
French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office confirmed he had spoken with US President George W. Bush about the report. Sarkozy said if confirmed, the findings only reinforce international concerns and should not diminish pressure for new sanctions.

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Is Israel becoming Orthodox?

Seculars not going anywhere

Yair Lapid responds to study claiming that Israel's secular sector is on the decline
Kobi Nahshoni
Published:  12.05.07, 17:29 / Israel Opinion
About a week after Ynet reported about a study by the Israel Democracy Institute claiming that the secular sector in Israel has been declining over time, Yair Lapid responds to the findings in an article to be published this Saturday in the "Olam Katan" (small world) weekly.

"The figures regarding the change in the ratio of seculars in the country are simply false," Lapid says. "The study did not ask people how they define themselves, which is the main question in my view, but rather, it asked about their way of life. If they would ask me, for example, whether I go to synagogue on occasion, I would say I do. Yet nobody would ask if I go to a Reform or Orthodox synagogue, or whether I go because I want my kids to see Jewish tradition and feel the atmosphere. So saying that I'm a religious Jew based on this is unthinkable!"

"The real figure we should be addressing is the one by the Central Bureau of Statistics, and this figure has not changed for many years – 45 percent of Israel's population defines itself as secular, 35 percent as traditional, eight percent as ultra-Orthodox, and nine percent as religious. The only place where we sometimes see a shift in the numbers is between the religious and ultra-Orthodox. The Israel Democracy Institute is not suspected of attempting to deliberately manipulate data, certainly not of this kind, but in my view they asked the wrong questions research-wise. I don't think it is right to analyze modes of conduct and define belonging based on that. Therefore, I think the religious public's delight is premature. "

Lapid says that a change that did take place in the State of Israel in recent decades is that many more seculars feel they lost Judaism to the religious and have decided they wish to take interest in Judaism and deal with it in their own way.
 "In my view this is a positive thing," Lapid says, and adds: "Judaism is a great and noble thing, and to say 'we'll leave it to the Orthodox and religious without taking any interest' is irresponsible. For years Judaism has been a sort of product put on the religious shelf, and on holidays we would take it off the shelf and let seculars play with it for a bit. Now, Judaism is going back to being something that more closely touches everyone."

'Truly positive trend'

Lapid says his family visited religious friends on Friday evening two weeks ago "so that the kids see a Shabbat as it should be," but emphasizes that even though he did something that has to do with tradition, this doesn't turn him into something he is not, as he put it.
 Lapid adds: "My children receive education that greatly emphasizes the fact they are part of a human group that has tradition, collective memory, and a state. I am a great believer in the need for Israel to be a Jewish state. I certainly believe my children will pass that on to their children."
"By the way, this openness goes both ways," Lapid adds. "When I see today the great movement of ultra-Orthodox women to job placements at high-tech companies and secular companies, for me this means recognition on the part of Orthodox society that seculars are not about to disappear. I think that on both sides, the two parts of the nation are finally starting to know each other, and this, more than anything, is a truly positive trend."

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Dating Israeli archeology and Jews in Byzantine Israel

Last update - 13:24 04/12/2007

Rethinking Byzantine-era Judaism

By Ran Shapira

A row of artisans and laborers - one with a saw in his hand, another with a chisel, and others with various sized hammers - are depicted on the mosaic floor recently uncovered in a Roman- or Byzantine-era synagogue at Khirbet Wadi Hamam, on Mount Nitai in the Lower Galilee. The workers appear next to a very large building, which they seem to be constructing.

Because the image appears on the synagogue floor, the researchers have assumed it depicts the construction of an important Biblical structure. Is it the Temple, Noah's Ark, the Tower of Babel, or some other well-known work?

Dr. Uzi Leibner of the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology and Scholion Interdisciplinary Research Center in Jewish Studies, who is leading the excavation, has no clear answer at this stage. What is clear is that the mosaic, constructed from very small stones - whose sides measure about four millimeters each - is unique. No such scenes have been found in other ancient synagogues or structures in Israel from that period. But which period exactly are we referring to - the Roman or the Byzantine? The dig at the synagogue is being carried out to answer that question.

To judge by the findings, the synagogue, which sits within the Arbel National Park, is a "Galilean synagogue" - a high-quality Romanesque structure with an elaborate facade facing toward Jerusalem and attractive stone carvings. Synagogues of this type were thought to date from the late Roman period, between the second and fourth centuries. However, in the last few years, researchers have discovered that synagogues of this type were built in the Byzantine era, too - between the fifth and sixth centuries.

The debate was sparked by the synagogue at Capernaum, a fine example of a Galilean synagogue that clearly was built in the fifth century. The findings from that synagogue and others led some researchers to consider the hypothesis that the Galilean synagogues were built mainly in the fifth and sixth centuries.

Contradictory evidence

On the face of it, this theory contradicts everything known about Judaism in the beginning of the first millennium C.E., and its relations with the ruling empires at the time. The common wisdom is that Jewish settlement flourished in the Galilee in the late Roman era - Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi compiled the Mishna at Zippori, and remarkable public buildings were constructed in many Jewish communities. However, from the mid-fourth century, when the Christian Byzantine empire rose to power, Jewish life was hampered, and some of the laws at that time even forbade the establishment of synagogues.

However, the archaeological findings from Capernaum and other synagogues indicate that things were more complex than historical records may indicate. More evidence now supports the theory that most of the Galilean synagogues actually were built during the Byzantine period, and that their Romanesque components were initially parts of earlier structures.

The synagogue at Khirbet Wadi Hamam was large and elaborate. It had a long hall running from north to south, of which about one quarter was exposed in the last excavation season, with a southern facade facing Jerusalem. The hall contained three rows of columns, and had two rows of benches along the northern, western and eastern walls.

The uniqueness of the building lies not only in its mosaic floor, but also in its combination of basalt and limestone. The walls were built from layers of basalt topped by layers of limestone; the stone benches incorporated limestone as well. The researchers believe the limestone was integrated into the structure during a massive repair. As in other Galilean synagogues, this one also contains late Roman-era architectural details - most of them also from limestone. However, the researchers believe that the signs of renovation could indicate the structure was actually built at a later stage, and that these items actually were part of an earlier structure.

The synagogue lies inside a large village, of more than 50 dunams, one of the larger, late Roman-era and Byzantine-era Jewish villages discovered in the rural Galilee. It is located strategically above the source of the Arbel river and the ancient road that wound from the Kinneret basin to the Lower Galilee and from there, via the Beit Netofa valley, to the Mediterranean sea.

Not far away were two large, well-known communities - Kfar Arbel and Migdal - as well as the big Jewish centers of the period, Tiberias and Zippori. Despite all these facts, the original name of the community was not preserved there, and it is still unknown. Findings indicate the village was abandoned permanently in the fourth century. Researchers are hoping to learn at what stage the synagogue, with its unique mosaic floor, was built.

Judging by other buildings unearthed close to the synagogue - an oil press and a two-story dwelling - the residents of the village were fairly well-off. The homes in the community were built on terraces along the slopes of the hill, separated by lanes. Since the village apparently was abandoned in the fourth century - which contradicts the claim that the synagogue dates to the Byzantine era - that period's architecture can be examined without interference from later structures. Leibner believes the synagogue could be a test case that would help researchers improve their dating methods for Galilean synagogues. In the upcoming excavation seasons, he says he intends to find more clues that would provide a precise date, and thus possibly solve the riddle.

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Archeology and Jewish rights in Jerusalem

It should not be necessary to prove the ancient Jewish connection to Jerusalem, which has been universally accepted for thousands of years. It became an issue only when Palestinian politicians and anthropologists like Nadia abu El Haj began rewriting history based on fantasy, discarding "positivist facticity" (derogatory term for facts). 
Ami Isseroff
Analyze This...: Digging for the truth about Israeli archeology

Calev Ben-David , THE JERUSALEM POST Dec. 5, 2007
In his autobiography, Once Upon A Country: A Palestinian Life, Sari Nusseibeh writes of the disenchantment Palestinians felt after the failure of the Camp David talks in 2000.
"Back in Palestine, Arafat stoked this by more myth-mongering. He used a verse from the Koran to prove a crazy theory that Solomon's Temple had really been in Yemen. At some point during the forty years in the desert, the People of Israel took a wrong turn and ended up far from Jerusalem. [Arafat said] 'Do you know the story of the Queen of Sheba sending a bird to Solomon that arrived the same day. How could a bird fly there so fast? Because the temple was in nearby Yemen!' When I [Nusseibeh] heard this I feared the chairman was losing his grip on reality."
Seven years later, the reality of the Jewish ancestral connection to the Temple Mount is still being challenged in some Palestinian and Islamic circles. As Israeli-Palestinian negotiations get under way that will include discussion of the future permanent status of a site holy to both Jews and Moslems, those "crazy theories" are likely once again to get more airing.
Yet the depth of Jewish historical ties to the site have been repeatedly confirmed, by facts not on the ground, but in the ground - archeological discoveries and revelations that have been unearthed by excavation and reclamation work done in the area of the Mount.
There have been several examples just in the past few months, including: the exposing for the first time of a site in northern Jerusalem where some of the massive stones used to construct the Second Temple were quarried; the discovery of several artifacts (shards of bowls, oil juglets and figurines) dating to the First Temple period and found during the Wakf's recent renovation work on the Mount; and the unveiling yesterday by the Israel Antiquities Authorities of a large structure just south of the Temple Mount, dating to the late Second Temple period, that fits the description of the palace of the fabled Jewish convert Queen Helena.
If the latter is indeed the case, it speaks volumes about the importance of the Mount in ancient Jewish life. According to Flavius Josephus, after converting to Judaism, Helena chose to leave her native kingdom of Adiabene in the latter years of her life and settled in Jerusalem next to the Holy Temple (her gravesite is found in Jerusalem's "Tombs of the Kings").
If archeology helps prove the case for the Jewish connection to the Mount, then the next step for those who wish to deny just that is to attack the archeology itself. This ideological and intellectual assault has taken a few forms.
The most pernicious, because it is the most inflammatory, have been the repeated false claims that Israeli authorities have used archeological excavations in the area of the Mount to secretly dig underneath the site itself, in a supposed effort to undermine the Moslem holy structures found there today.
This calumny was directly responsible for the deaths of dozens of Israelis and Palestinians during the so-called "Western Wall Tunnel riots" of 1995. It has been raised again this year, sparked by efforts by Israeli authorities to carry out badly needed renovations on the Mughrabi Gate entrance ramp to the Mount from the Western Wall plaza. In an effort to dampen these inflammatory falsehoods before they do real damage, the IAA and Government Press Office have held several tours of the Mughrabi excavations and Western Wall tunnels for the foreign press, including one this week.
A more sophisticated, but still insidious accusation is that Israeli archeologists are engaged in a campaign to deliberately destroy ancient Islamic remains and erase historical levels dating from periods of earlier Muslim rule in this land, in an intentional effort to strengthen Jewish claims of sovereignty.
Among those making that charge is American-Palestinian anthropology professor Nadia Abu El-Haj, whose book, Facts On the Ground: Archeological Practice and Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society, has been widely criticized for its flawed and tendentious scholarship, and its slandering of noted and conscientious Israeli archeologists.
Unfortunately, that fact was apparently not seriously weighed in the controversial decision last month by New York's Barnard University to grant El-Haj tenure.
No one denies that archeology has played a crucial role in the developing of an Israeli-Jewish national identity, in the way it has in almost every country with deep historical roots. Or that archeology, here and everywhere else, has sometimes been influenced by ideological and political pressures that impact negatively on genuine scholarly inquiry.
To its credit, Israeli archeology in recent years has gone through a period of self-examination, criticism and revision, in an effort to come to grips, and when necessary correct, past errors and practices stemming from a time when the goal of just "proving the Bible" played too prominent a role in the discipline. Unfortunately, the results of that commendable work are often misused and quoted out of context by enemies of Zionism in order to completely discredit the historical connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.
Visitors to the Temple Mount can get a better sense of where Israeli archeology is today by visiting the impressive remains of the Islamic Umayyad palaces (660-750 C.E.) just south of the site, excavated and restored in recent years by Israeli archeologists, working under government supervision, and funded in part by Jewish philanthropy.
But they also shouldn't forgo the chance in the near future to see the remnants of the structure unveiled by the IAA yesterday, which speaks to a Jewish connection to the Temple Mount that no "myth-mongering" or pseudo-academic propaganda can deny.


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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Peres warns of nuclear Iran

Peres warns: One morning we'll wake to a nuclear Iran,7340,L-3479328,00.html

Israeli President Peres meets with former American Secretary of State, exhorting world not to compromise with Iran over nukes
Roni Sofer Published:  12.05.07, 16:49 / Israel News 

According to President Shimon Peres, historically, intelligence reports sometimes turn out to be inaccurate, but on the Iranian issue the international community must eschew compromise and focus on a few clear warning signs.

Peres thus spoke during a meeting with former American Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is visiting Israel. He warned that whenever Iran develops a successful civilian nuclear energy program, the transition to developing nuclear weapons will be quick and easy.
Furthermore, Peres warned that it was impossible for any intelligence agency to know the exact nature and scope of the technological knowledge purchased from North Korea and Russia at high prices. "We are likely to wake up one morning and discover that comprehensive nuclear technology was passed on without interruption and is close to implementation," he said.
The President spoke with Albright regarding Israeli fears of Iranian investment in developing long-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets in Europe. Peres said that Iran has no justification for building these conventional missiles, hides its intentions and activities, and feeds the international community nothing more that crumbs of information.
Peres indicated that he was concerned by remarks made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, pointing to the extremist leader's declared intention to destroy Israel and sow destruction upon the democratic world. The President concluded by saying that the international community must not cease its efforts against Ahmadinejad and the Iranian nuclear weapons program.
Livni: World can't afford Iran as nuclear superpower
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni reiterated Wednesday that sanctions must be tightened. "As we speak," Livni said to Slovenia's President Danilo Türk during a meeting in Ljubljana, "Iran continues to work towards nuclear capabilities. It is clear the world can not afford that."
Livni emphasized that Iran repeatedly defied the UN Security Council's decisions and praised the reactions in Washington and Europe to the report "that show they understand Iran must be prevented from becoming a nuclear superpower."
NIE and the intelligence u-turn

The American National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) — a report representing the collective views of all 16 US intelligence agencies — which was published Monday, asserted that Iran froze its nuclear weapons program as far back as 2003, and that the country no longer works toward developing the technology apart from uranium enrichment. The estimate contradicts the picture accepted by western intelligence agencies over the past two years, according to which Iran was zealously working to build a nuclear weapon.
Ahmadinejad responded to the NIE Wednesday morning by declaring that Iran has no intention of forfeiting its plans for a civilian nuclear program and called the American report a "declaration of victory" for the Iranian Nuclear Program. "Today, the Iranian nation is victorious but you (the US) came out empty handed…. The report declares the victory of the Iranian nation on the nuclear issue over the international community."

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Jerusalem: Jewish second temple palace found by archeologists

Another bit of precious evidence about Jewish presence in Jerusalem. It's all there, if we dig, but the interpretation is often disputed.  
Dec 5, 2007 18:14 | Updated Dec 6, 2007 0:01
2nd Temple palace uncovered

Israeli archeologists have uncovered a monumental Second Temple structure opposite the Temple Mount that was likely Queen Helena's palace, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday.

Major 2nd Temple structure uncovered

The building was unearthed during a six-month excavation in the Givati parking lot just outside the Old City's Dung Gate, ahead of the planned expansion of the Western Wall parking lot.
The site also indicates that the ancient City of David was much larger than previously thought, said archeologist Doron Ben-Ami, who is directing the dig at the site.
The palace, which was destroyed by the Romans when they demolished the Second Temple in 70 CE, was dated to the end of the Second Temple period by pottery and stone vessels, as well as an assortment of coins from that time, Ben-Ami said.
He said the elaborate edifice, which is an anomaly in the landscape of the lower city at the end of the Second Temple period - otherwise marked with only modest buildings - was probably a palace built by Queen Helena, a wealthy Babylonian aristocrat who converted to Judaism and moved to Jerusalem with her sons.
Helena became known for her generosity in helping the city's poor during a famine. She was buried in Jerusalem.

The site of the dig.
Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority
According to the prominent 1st century historian Josephus, Helena's family built lavish buildings in the City of David, which stood out at the time in a largely residential area that was noted for its almost complete absence of public or monumental buildings.
The archeologists carrying out the dig have not yet found any inscription to identify the building they uncovered, but Ben-Ami said there was a "high probability" that the site was indeed Helena's palace.
"We need more evidence to decide, but almost everything fits," he said.
The well-preserved structure being uncovered in the excavation is an impressive architectural complex that includes massive foundations; walls, some of which are more than five meters tall and are built of stones that weigh hundreds of kilograms; halls that are at least two stories tall; a basement level that was covered with vaults; and remains of polychrome frescoes, water installations and mikvaot.
The narrow openings that were discovered in the basement level of the structure were likely used by its inhabitants to flee shortly before the Romans destroyed the palace, Ben-Ami said.
The building was destroyed by dismantling the walls of the large structure, causing the massive stone walls and ceilings from the upper stories to collapse onto the basement.
The large edifice was covered with remains that date to later periods - Byzantine, Roman and early Islamic. Below it there are remains from the early Hellenistic period and artifacts from the time of the First Temple.
"It is like an open history book of Jerusalem," Ben-Ami said.

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See Israeli spooks in action

This is how it is done...
Training methods exposed as Shin Bet opens top secret archive
 By Yuval Azoulay, Haaretz Correspondent  
Israel's secret service revealed its training methods from the fledgling days of the Shin Bet security service in live footage now available on the organization's new internet website, launched recently.
Tired of being associated with dark cellars and covert operations, the Shin Bet security service has decided to expose to the public its previously top secret history, as well as security-related material that should not justifiably remain confidential.
The Shin Bet has had an active website for several years, which has been used primarily to recruit new employees. The site was updated periodically in accordance with the needs of the organization, but it failed to satisfy the public's curiosity.
Since Yuval Diskin was appointed the director of the Shin Bet in 2005, a decision to make available to the public any information that does not endanger Israel's security has been fast tracked.
"After so many years, we have a history and we should be proud of it," sources in the Shin Bet said Wednesday. "We don't conceal information about (former prime minister Yitzhak) Rabin's murder or the (bus) line 300 bombing. The objective is to reach wide audiences and to exhibit controlled openness. This is the same kind of policy utilized by similar organizations around the world."
The site includes, among other things, video footage of the security officials of the Israeli secret service from the early days of the organization, in which users can see the security officials practicing protecting VIPs while driving antiquated Israeli-manufactured vehicles. In other footage, visitors can see live fire training and personal testimonies given by senior intelligence and field officials.

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Barak: We are likely to launch a much wider operation in Gaza

There is a constant small scale war in Gaza. It will probably escalate...
Last update - 21:57 05/12/2007    
 Barak: We aren't eager to launch major IDF operation in Gaza Strip 
By Avi Issacharoff , Yuval Azoulay and Mijal Grinberg, Haaretz Correspondents 
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday that Israel is not eager to launch a major military operation in the Gaza Strip.
Barak addressed troops of the elite Israel Defense Forces unit Golani while on tour of the southern Gaza command. "We are likely to launch a much wider operation in Gaza, but we're not rushing toward it. We will do it once all the other possibilities have been exhausted," he said.
In the past month, more than 40 militants have been killed in Gaza by IDF troops, mostly of the Golani brigade, which is deployed around Gaza.
When asked why the IDF does not undertake a military offensive immediately, Barak replied: "What we are doing here is remarkable, inside and outside the Gaza Strip. We've seen the soldiers responsibly, seriously, modestly and devotedly, day and night, carrying out actions against terrorists and terror organizations."
Barak added that despite Israel's military achievements, the capabilities of the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad are improving.
A Qassam rocket, fired from the Gaza Strip, smashed into a three-story residential building in the western Negev town of Sderot Wednesday causing heavy damage and leaving several people suffering from shock.
Earlier Wednesday, two Hamas militants were killed in an Israel Air Force strike on the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya.
Two other Palestinians were wounded in the strike, although it was not immediately clear whether they were militants or civilians.
The Israel Defense Forces confirmed the strike, saying the IAF targeted a Hamas squad preparing to fire mortar shells at Israeli communities along the Strip.
On Tuesday, an IAF strike on a Hamas training base killed at least two militants and wounded two others, as Israel pledged to press ahead with its campaign against militants in Gaza, responding to almost daily rocket barrages at Israel.
The military said that on Tuesday, 21 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel by nightfall, bringing the one-year total to over 2,000.
Army Radio reported Tuesday that an IDF soldier had been lightly injured during a mortar shell attack near Kibbutz Nahal Oz in the western Negev. On Sunday, four soldiers were lightly hurt when Palestinian militants in Gaza fired mortar shells into an infirmary of a western Negev army base.

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Israel Border Police unit kills PA police officer in bungled W. Bank action

"Friendly fire" incident between IDF and Palestinian Police. Clearly, better coordination is needed...
Last update - 21:17 05/12/2007    
 Border Police unit kills PA police officer in bungled W. Bank action 
By Avi Issacharoff and Yuval Azoulay, Haaretz Correspondents 
A Palestinian police officer was killed Wednesday in Bethlehem, and another officer was wounded in clashes with an undercover Border Police unit in the midst of an arrest raid.
During the operation, the Border Police troops fired at an unidentified group of Palestinians, after being fired upon. It later emerged that the source of the fire had been a Palestinian police force on patrol.
An initial investigation into the incident revealed that the Palestinian police force fired at the Border Police officers, mistaking them for members of the militant Islamist Hamas organization. Only after the firefight did the IDF troops realize they had shot a policeman. The mission was aborted and the army left the area without making arrests.

The Border Police troops withdrew from the area with the assistance of other Israeli forces which arrived at the scene after several Palestinian residents began hurling stones at the Israeli troops.
After the IDF learned that they had hit Palestinian police officers, troop commander in the West Bank Brigadier General Noam Tivon and head of the Civil Administration in the West Bank Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai offered to their Palestinian counterparts to provide medical assistance for the wounded officer.
An IDF spokesman said that the incident will be fully investigated. In addition, both sides will team up for a joint investigation into why the mechanisms established for the express purpose of coordinating between IDF and Palestinian operations in the West Bank were not utilized.
A military source said Wednesday evening that during a "good natured" meeting between Israeli and Palestinian officials held after the incident, the Israel Defense Forces made clear to their Palestinian counterparts that Israel will continue to foil terror attacks and to arrest militants in the West Bank.

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Arabs and Kurds trying to stop Al-Jazeera from fomenting extremism

Something to think about...
Special Dispatch-Reform Project
December 6, 2007
No. 1778
European Arabs Launch Campaign to Stop Al-Jazeera Broadcasts in Europe

Arabs in Europe have launched a public campaign to stop Al-Jazeera TV broadcasts in Europe. In a petition, they accuse the channel of fostering extremism among European Arab youth and of supporting terrorism.
While the petition's initiators have not provided their names, it seems likely that they are Iraqi expatriates; although various Arab news websites, such as Elaph,(1) have reported on the campaign, the petition itself has been posted primarily on Iraqi websites. These sites include the Iraqi news site Sotaliraq;(2) the Iraq of Tomorrow news site;(3) the Al-Najaf News site;(4) the website of Al-Fayhaa TV, a liberal Iraqi station;(5) the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan website;(6) Bahzani, a news and opinion website focusing on the Yazidi community and other Iraqi minorities;(7) the Yezidi Community website;(8) the website of the Gilgamish Center for Kurdish Studies and Research;(9) and the Kurdistan Times e-journal.(10)
In addition, on November 28, 2007, Iraqi exile Joseph Shallal wrote an article on the Arab left-liberal Modern Discussion website urging a boycott of Al-Jazeera.
The following are excerpts from the petition and from Shallal's article:
"Since Its Inception, Al-Jazeera Has Chosen the Path of Fostering Violence and Hatred"
"Why should Al-Jazeera be blocked in liberal Europe?
"More than 10 years after the emergence of the extremist Al-Jazeera channel, the time has come for Arabs who live in Europe and believe in a free Europe to defend the principles of a continent that has sacrificed millions of victims to reach its current state of progress, respect for human rights, rejection of extremism, and rejection of the fostering of hatred.
"Since its inception, Al-Jazeera TV has chosen the path of fostering violence and hatred in the world, and has acted so as to be an arm of terrorist forces, such as Al-Qaeda and other extremist forces. [Al-Jazeera TV] has already been prevented from operating in many countries, and some of its presenters and technical crew have been arrested for their involvement in aiding obscurantist terrorist forces like Al-Qaeda and others."
"The Time Has Come for...'The Bin Laden Channel' to Face Its Day of Reckoning on the European Continent"
"The time has come for Al-Jazeera TV, whose name has become 'the bin Laden channel,' to face its day of reckoning on the European continent.
"It would be difficult, in this brief [overview], to provide examples of the calamitous influence, danger, and ignominy that Al-Jazeera TV has presented and continues to present. Every day that this channel [continues to] broadcast constitutes a clear violation of the principles of the media, and poisons the minds of the youth…"
Al-Jazeera is Exploiting Europe's Democratic Environment in Order to Wholeheartedly Oppose Freedom and Respect
"One cannot remain silent in the face of the dangerous insinuations broadcast by Al-Jazeera, that are aimed at trying to show that there is an extremist religious campaign against Muslims in Europe.
"One cannot remain silent, given the statements of European political and cultural researchers as to Al-Jazeera's dangerous influence on the Arab youth in Europe.
"One cannot remain silent in the face of [Sheikh Yousef] Al-Qaradhawi calling Christians and Westerners 'infidels' on Al-Jazeera, [and in the face of] his calls for violence.

"European governments cannot but note Al-Jazeera's record in the Middle East, and the restricting orders issued against it in countries such as Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Perhaps these countries are not models of the kind of democracy found in Europe – but their judges and media personnel presented clear and irrefutable evidence of Al-Jazeera's involvement in actions unbefitting a media outlet.
"One cannot remain silent in the face of Al-Jazeera's continued exploitation of the European continent's democratic environment in order to practice a media policy that is wholeheartedly opposed to the freedom and respect that European principles promote.
"It is not our intention here to mention further examples of the Qatari Al-Jazeera channel's extremism. We will leave it to every free and sincere Arab individual to remember the many hours of anger he has spent viewing Al-Jazeera's destructive discourse."
"Sign Your Name With Us and Take a Stand Against Hatred and Extremism"
"Who is behind this campaign?
"This is a campaign of Arabs and Europeans aimed at implementing peaceful pressure against European governments and the European Union to stop broadcasting by the extremist Al-Jazeera satellite channel on European cable networks, as a first step towards stopping the channel from broadcasting over the European satellite [service] Hotbird…
"This is an appeal to all Arabs and Europeans, those who live in the European continent and those outside it, to add their names to the campaign.
"This is an appeal to all academics and intellectuals, to provide us with their testimony regarding the terrorist channel.
"This is an appeal to all lawyers and rights specialists, in Europe and elsewhere, to help us with their legal expertise in order to draw up a legal paper that we can present to the European parliaments and the EU.
"This is an appeal to you, as an Arab and a European, and as a consumer, to join us in pressuring the European cable networks to remove Al-Jazeera...You do not want yourself, or anyone close to you, to turn to extremism and to hatred for the countries that have given us so much love.
"Sign your name with us, and take a stand against hatred and extremism. Sign on to our campaign for 'a Europe without Al-Jazeera.'
"Sign at this address:"  
"When Will Al-Jazeera's Hatred for Iraq and the Iraqis End?"
In an article titled "When Will Al-Jazeera's Hatred for Iraq and the Iraqis End?" published November 28, 2007 by the Arab left-liberal Modern Discussion website, Joseph Shallal, an Iraqi exile living in Germany, wrote that Al-Jazeera is biased against Iraq, and urged a boycott against it. (It is not clear whether Shallal is connected to the petition initiative.)  He also argued that Qatar, which sponsors Al-Jazeera, is hypocritical, since it is home to the largest U.S. military base in the region:
"The Al-Jazeera channel was struck with hysteria after the fall of the late Saddam regime…
"The goal of Al-Jazeera, and of those who stand behind it, is to harm intra-Arab relations as well as relations between Arabs and the countries of the world, and to sow and deepen religious and [Sunni-Shi'ite] sectarianism and hatred among all elements if the Arab region.
"Most guests on its shows are from a single school and tendency...If we look at the Al-Jazeera Direct broadcasts, all we see are things harmful to the Iraqis and to Iraq – speeches, meetings, and conferences by Islamist terrorists from Al-Qaeda and from [other] terrorist organizations…
"At the same time, Al-Jazeera Direct ignores anything positive, inside or outside Iraq...While it carried a speech by wanted Iraqi terrorist Harith Al-Dari, who represents nothing in Iraq, it did not carry the ceremony of Iraqi Patriarch Emmanuel Delly's ordination as cardinal…
"What can we hope for and expect from a channel whose religious spokesman [i.e. Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi] calls day and night for jihad, killing, and terrorism, and issued a fatwa permitting the killing of Iraqis, and another fatwa permitting criminal terrorist suicide operations – so-called martyrdom operations – that violate all international laws[?]…
"The channel [i.e. Al-Jazeera] says that Iraq is occupied. The occupation of Iraq was [based on] international resolutions, and was declared openly by the American administration. What we don't know is how Qatar was occupied and became the largest U.S. base...Did it take place with the agreement of the Al-Jazeera channel and its religious spokesman, or with that of the ruler of Qatar and his group?
"The occupation of Iraq will end one day. But is the ruling family of the Qatari emirate and mini-state capable of expelling the Americans from their land?...
"For these reasons, I call for a boycott of Al-Jazeera, and of Qatar. Every noble Iraqi should refrain from participating in Al-Jazeera programs, and refrain from visiting Qatar. And we demand that European countries remove Al-Jazeera from European satellite [services], particularly Hotbird, and that the channel's employees be denied entry to European and Arab countries because there are question marks regarding some of them – as was the case with Al-Jazeera correspondent and cameraman [Sami Al-Hajj] in Afghanistan.
"We demand that Iraq break off all relations with the mini-state of Qatar, its government, and its biased media…"(11)   
(1), November 8, 2007.
(2); November 5, 2007.
(3); November 5, 2007.
(4), November 9, 2007.
(5), November 7, 2007.
(6), November 6, 2007.
(7), November 7, 2007.
(8), November 8, 2007.
(9), November 7, 2007.
(10), November 6, 2007.
(11), November 28, 2007.
Source of Israel News article at MEMRI

Continued (Permanent Link)

Jewish groups try to fight a losing battle on Iran

American Israel advocacy groups are fighting a losing battle on the Iran issue. The both the U.S. administration and the National Intelligence Service are acting in an incompetent and unprofessional manner. There is no way to prove who is right about Iran because all the analyses are politically motivated, there is no possibility of trusting US leadership because U.S. policy is being shaped in a chaotic manner. Pressure from Israel advocacy groups is not going to change the intelligence estimate nor will it bring about sanction on Iran, which require the cooperation of Russia and China. The latter are clearly not convinced.
Pressure from U.S. Israel advocacy groups is only going to turn the issue more and more into an "Israel Lobby" issue for anti-Semites and anti-Zionists.
There are better ways of accomplishing the goal.
Ami Isseroff

Scramble on to defend Iran sanctions
Ron Kampeas

The release of a U.S. intelligence report stating that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003 has American Jewish groups scrambling to head off efforts to end the international isolation of the Islamic Republic.
Published: 12/04/2007

WASHINGTON (JTA) -- The release of a U.S. intelligence report stating that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003 has American Jewish groups scrambling to head off efforts to end the international isolation of the Islamic Republic.
The National Intelligence Estimate, an assessment reflecting the consensus of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that was declassified this week, says the principal reason for the freeze was the isolation the regime suffered for pursuing the bomb.
Normally such an assessment would vindicate the decades-long drive by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to enact sanctions against Iran.
AIPAC was the lead group -- at times the only group -- making the case in Congress and through the U.S. media that Tehran was pursuing a bomb, and that it should be stopped through economic and political sanctions.
President Bush embraced the policy and spearheaded international efforts to isolate the Islamic Republic.
No one in the pro-Israel lobby or at the White House is uncorking champagne, however. AIPAC and the Bush administration have pushed harder than ever in recent months to escalate Iran's isolation -- a drive that Congress and the media has treated with pronounced skepticism in the wake of the Iraq war fiasco and the major prewar overestimates of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capability.
Against this backdrop, the NIE is being held up by Congress, the presidential candidates and the media as an argument for tamping down isolation of the Islamic Republic rather than a vindication of earlier warnings that Iran indeed was pursuing a bomb.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations organized an emergency conference call of its members on Tuesday to address how the news could threaten its recent campaign to isolate Iran.
Malcolm Hoenlein, the umbrella group's executive vice chairman, told the membership that the NIE presented a "challenge" and suggested that advocates of isolating Iran should reframe the argument to stress that Tehran still backs terrorism and could potentially provide nuclear material to terrorists.
Hoenlein said the Presidents Conference would send a letter to the presidential candidates urging them not to make the NIE a campaign issue.
Within hours of the NIE's release, AIPAC spokesman Josh Block was outlining to JTA the thrust of the argument for sustaining Iran's isolation. If anything, he suggested, the NIE made the case for isolation.
Block said two points were paramount: the NIE confirms that Iran continues to enrich uranium, despite calls from the international community to stop, and confirms that a weapons program existed.
"All in all, it's a clarion call for additional and continued effort to pressure Iran economically and politically to end its illicit nuclear programs," he said.
The timing of the NIE could not be worse for advocates of Iran's isolation: The U.N. Security Council is considering a third set of sanctions.
The two Security Council veto holders most reluctant to enhance sanctions, Russia and China, immediately hailed the NIE as vindication of their less confrontational approach.
"I think we all start from the presumption that now things have changed," Guangya Wang, the Chinese envoy to the United Nations, said Tuesday.
The pervasiveness of the argument that the tide is changing was underscored Tuesday when U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and the lead sponsor of far-reaching legislation aimed at sanctioning Iran, issued a statement saying the NIE made the case for diplomacy.
Lantos, a close ally of AIPAC and the only Holocaust survivor in Congress, called the Bush administration "belligerent and stiff-necked" for refusing to talk with Tehran, and cast his own sanctions legislation as a stick that needed the carrot of outreach to effectively work.
The NIE, Lantos said, "suggests that Tehran may be open to a combination of pressure and incentives to keep it from returning to developing a nuclear arsenal."
He cited the Iraq war to explain his call for a different approach.
"The White House may try to change the subject or dispute the conclusions," Lantos said, "but the facts are clear: the intelligence community has drawn valuable lessons from the chain of events that led to the invasion of Iraq, and there now appears to be no reason for us to go down that road again in Iran."
His comments were a measure of the fight the pro-Israel lobby now faces in sustaining the effort to isolate Iran.
In Jerusalem, several Israeli officials voiced skepticism over the notion that Iran had abandoned its nuclear arms program and noted previous blunders by U.S. intelligence services.
Ephraim Sneh, a top Labor Party voice on security issues and a member of the Knesset Foreign and Defense Committee and its Intelligence Subcommittee, said Israel must further develop its own self-protection capacities in the wake of the U.S. intelligence report. He argued that the NIE contradicted itself.
"If the enrichment of uranium continues, and the development of technology applied in nuclear weapons continues, what exactly was stopped in 03?" Sneh asked in a JTA interview.
He suggested that the NIE's findings meant that Israel could no longer rely on the United States to lead the battle to force Iran to back down from enriching uranium.
"I for years have advocated that to forestall the threat of a nuclear Iran, Israel should enhance the development of its own indigenous capacities to develop the defense systems which protect the Israeli civilian population and to rely on ourselves," Sneh said.
An AIPAC official who declined to be identified argued that it makes no sense to say that an NIE which vindicates the earlier isolation of Iran is now an argument against isolating Iran.
"The message should be pressure works, and we should keep up the pressure," the AIPAC official told JTA.
In a news conference Tuesday, President Bush said Iran's continued enrichment of uranium, validated by the NIE, was on a par with developing weapons.
"In order for a nation to develop a nuclear weapons program, they must have the materials from which to make a bomb, the know-how on how to take that material and make it explode, and a delivery system," he said. "Now the Iranians -- the most difficult aspect of developing, you know, a weapons program, or, as some would say, the long pole in the tent, is enriching uranium."
Bush's approach echoes Israel's longstanding argument that waiting until Iran can build a bomb would be too late -- enrichment capability should be the red line .
The NIE sharply disagrees, however, with Israel's assessment that such a capability could be in place by next year. The State Department's intelligence arm predicts enrichment capability no earlier than 2013 because of "foreseeable technical and programmatic problems."
Bush administration critics say that switching the emphasis from bomb making to enrichment know-how amounts to shifting the goal posts.
"I think they're on a mission to look for a new casus belli" to attack Iran, said Steve Clemons, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, whose focus has been Bush policy on Iran.
Clemons said the lesson of the NIE should be to examine whether the Bush administration had ignored overtures from relative moderates within the Iranian regime in seeking to push for isolation.
"What we have done since 2003, we've kicked Iran, we've demonized it," Clemons said.
The danger, he added, was that punishing Iran even after it suspended its weapons program strengthened the hand of extremists.

Continued (Permanent Link)

What is happening in Gaza

Superhawks and kibbitzers take note: IDF is prepared for an "operation" in Gaza - but it is not clear what that operation could achieve. Meanwhile, IDF is operating in Gaza all the time.
Ami Isseroff
Ashkenazi: The IDF is prepared for a Gaza ground operation
Associated Press , THE JERUSALEM POST Dec. 5, 2007

The IDF is prepared for a ground op in Gaza, but a decision on the matter depends on the political echelon, Chief of General Staff Lt.- Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said in an interview with Army Radio Wednesday.

"We are prepared for the possibility of an operation, if it becomes necessary," Ashkenazi said. "[But], until then it is incumbent upon us to exhaust all of the other methods and act day and night in order to provide security."

"The matter of entering Gaza, operating there and leaving is more complex than just a response to a Kassam rocket. There is a war going on [in Gaza], and [large] magnitudes of forces are operating there night in and night out," he said.

The chief of staff also commented on the Second Lebanon War, saying that the faults lay with the army's higher command rather than in the way forces operated on the ground. But, he said, "I don't use terms such as 'win' or 'loss'. I use the term 'missed opportunity'. I think there are things that we did well; that even Hizbullah admits it was surprised by."

"Nowadays the army is in another, better place," Ashkenazi added. "We must return to the ethos of an offensive IDF, which takes responsibility. I would like to instill in every soldier and commander the sense that in a time of war the fate of the battle lies with him."

At one point in the televised interview, Ashkenazi listened to a recording of abducted reservist Ehud Goldwasser made several hours before the cross-border raid in which Hizbullah kidnapped him and Eldad Regev. "It is heart-wrenching," he said. "Nothing could have hinted at what would eventually happen during that patrol.

According to Ashkenazi, a lot was being done in order to bring Goldwasser, Regev, and Gilad Schalit home. Efforts were not being spared in intelligence activity, and many meetings with the families were taking place on a regular basis, he said.

The chief of staff was critical of the government's recent decision to release over 400 Palestinian prisoners. "I think it is wrong that prisoners are released and it is not linked to Gilad Schalit in Gaza," he said, referring to public statements he recently made in which he stated his opposition to the release. "If it is linked to his release, or can [at least] further, accelerate or kick-start the process, then [a release of Palestinian prisoners] should be viewed in another light, and I will not oppose it in such a case."

Ashkenazi also commented on the role of reservists in the Second Lebanon War and in general, promising that the army would "make every effort in order to lighten their load."

He expressed worry over statistics showing a marked rise in draft evasion amongst Israeli youth. "I cannot say that inductees don't want to go to combat units, but [I can confirm] that soldiers who are capable of serving in a meaningful capacity find a way to evade such service."

Turning to the IDF's commanders, Ashkenazi said, "I want to tell you that I appreciate all that you are doing. If the Israeli people were exposed to your leadership, your personalities, and the complexities imposed by [your]
duties, it would be highly appreciative of the things you are doing."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Bushwhacking US foreign policy

The National Intelligence Estimate on Iranian nuclear weapons development didn't just throw a monkey wrench into American policy on Iran. As I pointed out, the handling of the issue, both by the NIS and by President Bush, casts doubt on the coherence of US leadership and policy in the Middle East. The president and his people are pulling in one direction, while the intelligence establishment are busy doing their own thing. They don't trust each other and don't listen to each other. How can they expect other nations to trust them?
Ami Isseroff
A Blow to Bush's Tehran Policy
By Peter Baker and Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 4, 2007; A01
President Bush got the world's attention this fall when he warned that a nuclear-armed Iran might lead to World War III. But his stark warning came at least a month or two after he had first been told about fresh indications that Iran had actually halted its nuclear weapons program.
The new intelligence report released yesterday not only undercut the administration's alarming rhetoric over Iran's nuclear ambitions but could also throttle Bush's effort to ratchet up international sanctions and take off the table the possibility of preemptive military action before the end of his presidency.
Iran had been shaping up as perhaps the dominant foreign policy issue of Bush's remaining year in office and of the presidential campaign to succeed him. Now leaders at home and abroad will have to rethink what they thought they knew about Tehran's intentions and capabilities.
"It's a little head-spinning," said Daniel Benjamin, an official on President Bill Clinton's National Security Council. "Everybody's going to be trying to scratch their heads and figure out what comes next."
Critics seized on the new National Intelligence Estimate to lambaste what Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards called "George Bush and Dick Cheney's rush to war with Iran." Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), echoing other Democrats, called for "a diplomatic surge" to resolve the dispute with Tehran. Jon Wolfsthal, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, termed the revelation "a blockbuster development" that "requires a wholesale reevaluation of U.S. policy."
But the White House said the report vindicated its concerns because it concluded that Iran did have a nuclear weapons program until halting it in 2003 and it showed that U.S.-led diplomatic pressure had succeeded in forcing Tehran's hand. "On balance, the estimate is good news," said national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley. "On the one hand, it confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons. On the other hand, it tells us that we have made some progress in trying to ensure that that does not happen."
Hadley disagreed that the report showed that past administration statements have been wrong, noting that collecting intelligence on a "hard target" such as Iran is notoriously difficult. "Welcome to the real world," he said.
And he defended Bush's World War III reference in October and repeated it himself during a briefing, saying if the world wants to avoid an Iranian bomb and "having to use force to stop it with all the connotations of World War III, then we need to step up the diplomacy."
Critics should be careful not to dismiss the threat, Hadley added, pointing to Iran's continued enrichment of uranium, which could eventually be used to assist a weapons program. "I'm sure some people will use this as an excuse or a pretext for, you know, flagging on the effort," he said. "Our argument is actually it should be just the reverse, because we need to keep the halting of the nuclear weapons program in place."
Other countries may not see it that way, though, and diplomats said the report may cripple U.S. attempts to win a third round of U.N. sanctions against Iran. Just two days earlier, Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns met in Paris with British, French, Russian, Chinese and German counterparts to seek support for a new Security Council resolution.
"You'd think that the effort to get a third resolution is dead," said Bruce Riedel, a former senior official at the CIA, Pentagon and NSC now at the Brookings Institution. "This has got to be a very serious argument to be used by opponents of a third resolution. It will say America's own intelligence community says Iran has halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago."
Michael Rubin, an American Enterprise Institute scholar and a leading Iran hawk, agreed. "Certainly it makes diplomacy a lot more difficult," he said. "It almost gives Berlin, Beijing and Moscow an excuse not to come together for a third round of sanctions."
The International Atomic Energy Agency, which was briefed on the U.S. intelligence report two hours before its release, saw the judgments as validation of its own long-standing conclusion that there is "no evidence" of an undeclared nuclear program in Iran. "It also validates the assessments of [IAEA Director General] Mohamed ElBaradei, who continuously said in his public statements that he saw no clear and public danger, and that therefore there was plenty of time for negotiations," said a senior IAEA official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
But the report included language that the administration can cite to claim success, according to some analysts. Paul R. Pillar, a former CIA official who has been critical of the Bush administration's run-up to war with Iraq, said the revelation about the halted weapons program is a "shocker" but noted that "the administration can say that Iran halted its program during our administration and this is a success for us. And with some good reason."
Others favoring a more confrontational approach to Iran were not convinced by the report. "While I was in the administration, I saw intelligence march up the hill and down the hill in short periods of time with no reason for them to change their mind," said John R. Bolton, Bush's former ambassador to the United Nations. "I've never based my view on this week's intelligence."
Still, the administration understood how explosive the new conclusions would be and kept them tightly held. Hadley said Bush was first told in August or September about intelligence indicating Iran had halted its weapons program, but was advised it would take time to evaluate. Vice President Cheney, Hadley and other top officials were briefed the week before last. Intelligence officials formalized their conclusions on Tuesday and briefed Bush the next day.
After its release, the administration abruptly canceled daily news briefings at the White House and State Department and dispatched Hadley to speak for the government. The White House also announced that Bush will hold a news conference this morning; aides said it was long planned but it will allow him to address the subject.
Presidential candidates responded as well, with Edwards and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) using the news to tweak Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) for being too willing to support the administration on Iran, an assertion she has rejected. Obama said the report is a reminder that "members of Congress must carefully read the intelligence before giving the president any justification to use military force" -- an apparent jab at Clinton, who was briefed on intelligence before the Iraq war but did not read the full report.
Republican candidates, who have expressed their readiness to attack Iran if needed to stop it from obtaining nuclear weapons, remained largely silent. "Sanctions and other pressures must be continued and stepped up until Iran complies by halting enrichment activities in a verifiable way," said former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Some moderates in Washington expressed concern that this intelligence report's conclusions will be overinterpreted in one direction, just as past findings have been distorted. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), chairman of a nonproliferation subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Iran's uranium enrichment remains worrisome and is not dependent on U.S. intelligence because Tehran has openly acknowledged it.
The real lesson of the report, he said, is to recalibrate U.S. policy and try more diplomatic and economic levers. "It's a validation of the middle road," he said, "between going to sleep . . . and the let's-bomb-them-now approach."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Abbas's rule shaky - Price of bullets goes down in West Bank

The alarming news is that the price of bullets in the West Bank has gone down. Commentators can say what they like. The market doesn't lie.
Abbas' West Bank Rule an Optical Illusion

Amir Rappaport Maariv-Hebrew,
[Translation and summary by Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs Daily Alert - December 4, 2007]

Israel's security services believe that if they were not making arrests in the West Bank every night, it is quite probable that Hamas would overcome Fatah there as it did so easily in Gaza. In practical terms, this means that, to a great extent, Fatah control in the West Bank is an optical >illusion. Israel's security services are concerned at clear signs of Hamas strengthening in the West Bank. Even in the Fatah stronghold of "secular" Ramallah, the number of mosques has doubled in recent years as the number of worshippers has increased. At the same time, Israel has been unable to block the large flow of Hamas money to its welfare institutions, which function much better than the failed PA institutions.

Hamas is building up its military capabilities in the West Bank. Its forces are training and building bunkers in cities like Nablus and Kalkilya, while its activists plan attacks on Israeli civilian targets. Given this reality, is there any point in conducting negotiations with the heads of Fatah when the issue being discussed is the transfer of land that Fatah is unable to control without the continued presence of the IDF and the Israel Security Agency (Shabak). Of additional concern are the thousands of rifles and millions of bullets that were brought in from Jordan for the Palestinian police. In recent years, due to intensive IDF activity against weapons smuggling, the price of a bullet had risen to tens of shekels. It has now fallen drastically as ammunition from PA police warehouses finds its way into the hands of terrorists.

Continued (Permanent Link)

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband insists Iran nuclear program is a threat

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband minimized the impact of the US National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iranian nuclear development, and insisted that Iran's program is nonetheless dangerous and must be stopped. In an intervew with BBC's World at One Miliband noted that Iran is enriching uranium but doesn't have a reactor that will be using it. Following are excerpts of the interview.  
"It's obviously vital that Iran makes the right choice and does join an anti-proliferation drive rather than being a proliferator."

"I'm not going to get into a point-by-point dispute over a report that was publishd yesterday. What's important is that all 6 countries, including the United States, China, Russia etc, are working very closely together with a very clear aim - Iran should be a proud and respected member of the international community, abiding by the rules which apply to us all, especially in respect of nuclear proliferation."

"What I've said face-to-face is that we are happy to work with them on a civilian nuclear power programme - enrichment is part of that. The problem with Iran is that while it is enriching, according to us and according to them, they have no nuclear power plants to put this enriched uranium into.
"That's why people have fears about what the enrichment is for, that's why they have fears about the dangers of weaponisation. None of us want to see Iran as a nuclear proliferator. We're happy to work with them to show that there are benefits for them from choosing an anti-proliferation course. But we've got to be clear that there will be negative consequences if they pursue enrichment which could lead to a nuclear weapons programme."

In response questions regarding reliability of intelligence reports in the light of past failures, he noted that, "Well, I mean it's ironic you asking me whether I think there might be any reliability issues in respect of the dossier that's been published, or what some people might call a dossier. I think the best thing to say is that the American government has been very open about this, they've put the whole thing into the public domain. We want to work very closely with them, bilaterally but also as part of the international community."

He stated, "I think at this stage people should recognise there's an ongoing dialogue with a very clear aim - none of us want Iran to set off a nuclear weapons arms race in the Middle East. That has to be the absolute goal of policy. All of the aspects that lead up to that are about trying to give Iran benefits for engaging with the international community, with the consequential sanctions if they refuse to."

He emphasized, "This is an absolutely key point. I've said face to face to the Iranian foreign minister, fine for you to have an enrichment programme if you can show me the civilian nuclear power plants that this enriched uranium is going to go towards. Unfortunately, there isn't a single nuclear power plant, or even the planning permission for a single nuclear power plant, that this enriched uranium could go towards. And that's the problem - because of the history of this area, where Iran has misled the international community, people are rightly sceptical of claims that don't add up on the Iranian side. It's not a matter of saying that Iran shouldn't have energy security. What it can't be is a source of political insecurity."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Israeli Hi-Tech firms fastest growing in three continents

 Three Israeli firms top the Fast-500 ranking
By Guy Griml
It's official: Voltaire is the fastest-growing technology company in the Europe/Middle East/Africa sphere.
Israel's high-tech industry could boast a major achievement yesterday: the Deloitte Touche international accountancy firm placed three Israeli firms at the top of its "Fast 500" list of the fastest-growing firms in the technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) industries in the EMEA region. The announcement was made during a gala event held Monday evening in London. Networking specialist Voltaire was at the top of the pyramid.
"Israeli technology companies are showing impressive growth rates both in absolute terms and in comparison to other European countries, including [those in] Western Europe," said Yigal Brightman, chairman and CEO of Deloitte Brightman Almagor and managing partner of the TMT group in Deloitte. "The dizzying success of Israeli companies in 2007 is not coincidental, and is amazing in light of the GDP of other countries included in the survey, such as Britain, Germany and France," he added.
The EMEA Fast 500 survey ranks the 500 technology companies, both private and publicly traded, that presented the most rapid revenue-growth rates during the past five years. The rating is based on the "Fast 50" regional competitions the company held in 16 European countries.
Celltick and Runcom were ranked in second and third places, respectively. The Israeli Fast 50 results announced several weeks ago yielded very similar results.
Voltaire attained first place in the competition by virtue of its 50,612 percent growth in sales during the 2002-2006 period that formed the basis for the competition. The firm's sales grew from $60,000 to $3 billion annually, over a period of five years. Nasdaq-listed Voltaire develops and markets software and switching network infrastructure products based on grid and InfiniBand technologies for storage and server systems, meant to increase the performance and efficiency of computer centers.
Second-placer Celltick boasted a growth rate of 29,627 percent over the same five-year period. Celltick develops and markets software intended to increased average revenues per cellular user, through a silent application that broadcasts screensaver content to cellular telephone displays. The technology acts as a channel for transfer of content services and advertisements to telephone displays while the phone is not is use.
Runcom placed third for the second consecutive year, with a growth rate of 27,950 percent, develops semiconductors for the WiMax industry.
This is the first time that an Israeli company has achieved the top ranking, and the first time that the first three ranks were represented by a single country.
Another Israeli company, Red Band Software, came in at No. 6 on the survey, meaning that the top 10 companies included four Israeli firms. The top 10 also included two British firms and two Swedish ones, one Polish and one Dutch company.
A total of eight Israeli companies are among the leading 50 firms in the Fast 500, constituting a total of 9 percent of the rated companies.
And another impressive achievement: BioView, which came in at 38, achieved first place in the life sciences and medical instrumentation category. BioView develops and markets systems for identifying cell pathologies.
This year 45 Israeli companies were included in the list, compared to 44 in 2006 and 34 two years ago. Analysis of the results of the rating shows that the 45 Israeli firms included in the rating averaged a growth rate of 3,692 percent, higher than in any other participating country. The next most impressive results come from Bulgaria, with an average growth rate of 3279 percent; Poland, which averaged 2,448 percent; and Sweden, averaging 1,610 percent.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Barak: Israeli intelligence contradicts US intelligence on Iranian bomb

If anyone thought there is intelligence coordination between the US and Israel, they can forget about it. But since Bush and British Foreign Secretary Miliband also, essentially, disagree with the US National Intelligence Estimate, it is not surprising that Israeli intelligence doesn't agree either.
Ami Isseroff
Barak: Iran still pursuing nuclear bomb
Defense minister says Israeli intelligence disputes new US report claiming Iran no longer pursuing development of nuclear weapon. Meanwhile US President Bush says report only strengthens American resolve to push for more sanctions: 'Iran still poses danger to world'
"And there is much that needs to be done regarding the Iranian nuclear program. We need to take action in applying sanctions, in exercising diplomacy and in other venues as well."
Israeli intelligence disputes the report's conclusion, Barak said, and still believes Tehran is still trying to develop a nuclear weapon: ''It's apparently true that in 2003 Iran stopped pursuing its military nuclear program for a time. But in our opinion, since then it has apparently continued that program."
In a new assessment made public on Monday, the US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, a synthesis of information from American spy agencies, concluded that Iran has suspended its attempt to build a nuclear weapon. The unclassified summary marked a surprising reversal of the previous US view that Iran is aggressively pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
''There are differences in the assessments of different organizations in the world about this, and only time will tell who is right," Barak said.
Asked if the new US assessment reduced chances that the US will launch a military strike on Iran, Barak said that was ''possible.''
However, he said, ''We cannot allow ourselves to rest just because of an intelligence report from the other side of the earth, even if it is from our greatest friend.''

Bush: Military option still on the table
Meanwhile on Tuesday, US President George W. Bush said that the international community should continue to pressure Iran on its nuclear programs, saying Tehran remains dangerous despite the new report.

''I view this report as a warning signal that they had the program, they halted the program,'' Bush said. ''The reason why it's a warning signal is they could restart it."

Continued (Permanent Link)

Report: Bush to visit Israel in January

Now we know the US is getting serious about the peace process. The lack of US presidential visits has been in marked contrast to the Clinton administration.  
Ami Isseroff 

Last update - 22:07 04/12/2007    
 Bush to make 1st official visit to Israel in January 
By Barak Ravid,
Haaretz Correspondent and Haaretz Service
United States President George W. Bush will make an official visit to Israel in January, Haaretz learned on Tuesday.
During his visit, Bush is expected to focus on promoting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the framework of agreements reached at last week's Mideast peace conference, held in Annapolis, Maryland,
This visit will be Bush's first visit to Israel since he took office seven years ago. Bush visited Israel in 1998 when he was governor of Texas. In contrast, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Israel three times in the six week period leading up to the Annapolis peace summit.
It is still unclear whether Bush will be visiting neighboring countries while in the region.
Bush's visit will come approximately one month after the Annapolis conference. Last week, Bush was criticized by American columnists for not having visited Israel. With this visit, Bush hopes to demonstrate his commitment to the peace process relaunched in Annapolis.
Bush is also expected to discuss with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert the issue of Iran's nuclear program, and steps to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.
Last week, Haaretz reported that Bush had been invited to take part in Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations in 2008.
Officials at the Prime Minister's Office reported that Bush's visit has not yet been confirmed, but it will likely take place in January, and will likely include a tour of Gulf States as well.

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Was the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran cooked?

Speculation about the meaning and motivations of the US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which now asserts that Iran has no nuclear weapons program (probably) is rife. Israeli analysts claimed that it could have been released by administration opponents in order to embarrass the Bush administration. The Stratfor analysis below suggests that it was engineered by the administration in order to allow it to back away from an aggressive policy regarding Iran, and to reach a compromise with Iran over its involvement in Iraq.

Ami Isseroff

The NIE Report: Solving a Geopolitical Problem with Iran

By George Friedman - Stratfor - Strategic Forecasting, Inc.


The United States released a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Dec. 3. It said, "We judge with high confidence that in the fall of 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program." It went on to say, "Tehran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005." It further said, "Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs."

With this announcement, the dynamics of the Middle Eastern region, Iraq and U.S.-Iranian relations shift dramatically. For one thing, the probability of a unilateral strike against Iranian nuclear targets is gone. Since there is no Iranian nuclear weapons program, there is no rationale for a strike. Moreover, if Iran is not engaged in weapons production, then a broader air campaign designed to destabilize the Iranian regime has no foundation either.

The NIE release represents a transformation of U.S. policy toward Iran. The Bush administration made Iran's nuclear weapons program the main reason for its attempt to create an international coalition against Iran, on the premise that a nuclear-armed Iran was unacceptable. If there is no Iranian nuclear program, then what is the rationale for the coalition? Moreover, what is the logic of resisting Iran's efforts in Iraq, rather than cooperating?

In looking at the report, a number of obvious questions come up. First, how did the intelligence community reach the wrong conclusion in the spring of 2005, when it last released an NIE on Iran, and what changed by 2007? Also, why did the United States reach the wrong conclusions on Iran three years after its program was halted? There are two possible answers. One is intelligence failure and the other is political redefinition. Both must be explored.

Let's begin with intelligence failure. Intelligence is not an easy task. Knowing what is going on inside of a building is harder than it might seem. Regardless of all the technical capabilities -- from imagery in all spectra to sensing radiation leakage at a distance -- huge uncertainties always remain. Failing to get a positive reading does not mean the facility is not up and running. It might just have been obscured, or the technical means to discover it are insufficient. The default setting in technical intelligence is that, while things can be ruled in, they cannot simply be ruled out by lack of evidence.

You need to go into the building. Indeed, you need to go into many buildings, look around, see what is happening and report back. Getting into highly secure buildings may be easy in the movies. It is not easy in real life. Getting someone into the building who knows what he is seeing is even harder. Getting him out alive to report back, and then repeating the process in other buildings, is even harder. It can be done -- though not easily or repeatedly.

Recruiting someone who works in the building is an option, but at the end of the day you have to rely on his word as to what he saw. That too, is a risk. He might well be a double agent who is inventing information to make money, or he could just be wrong. There is an endless number of ways that recruiting on-site sources can lead you to the wrong conclusion.

Source-based intelligence would appear to be the only way to go. Obviously, it is better to glean information from someone who knows what is going on, rather than to guess. But the problem with source-based intelligence is that, when all is said and done, you can still be just as confused -- or more confused -- than you were at the beginning. You could wind up with a mass of intelligence that can be read either way. It is altogether possible to have so many sources, human and technical, that you have no idea what the truth is. That is when an intelligence organization is most subject to political pressure. When the intelligence could go either way, politics can tilt the system. We do not know what caused the NIE to change its analysis. It could be the result of new, definitive intelligence, or existing intelligence could have been reread from a new political standpoint.

Consider the politics. The assumption was that Iran wanted to develop nuclear weapons -- though its motivations for wanting to do so were never clear to us. First, the Iranians had to assume that, well before they had an operational system, the United States or Israel would destroy it. In other words, it would be a huge effort for little profit. Second, assume that it developed one or two weapons and attacked Israel, for example. Israel might well have been destroyed, but Iran would probably be devastated by an Israeli or U.S. counterstrike. What would be the point?

For Iran to be developing nuclear weapons, it would have to have been prepared to take extraordinary risks. A madman theory, centered around the behavior of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was essential. But as the NIE points out, Iran was "guided by a cost-benefit approach." In simple terms, the Iranians weren't nuts. That is why they didn't build a nuclear program.

That is not to say Iran did not benefit from having the world believe it was building nuclear weapons. The United States is obsessed with nuclear weapons in the hands of states it regards as irrational. By appearing to be irrational and developing nuclear weapons, the Iranians created a valuable asset to use in negotiating with the Americans. The notion of a nuclear weapon in Iranian hands appeared so threatening that the United States might well negotiate away other things -- particularly in Iraq -- in exchange for a halt of the program. Or so the Iranians hoped. Therefore, while they halted development on their weapons program, they were not eager to let the Americans relax. They swung back and forth between asserting their right to operate the program and denying they had one. Moreover, they pushed hard for a civilian power program, which theoretically worried the world less. It drove the Americans up a wall -- precisely where the Iranians wanted them.

As we have argued, the central issue for Iran is not nuclear weapons. It is the future of Iraq. The Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 was the defining moment in modern Iranian history. It not only devastated Iran, but also weakened the revolution internally. Above all, Tehran never wants to face another Iraqi regime that has the means and motivation to wage war against Iran. That means the Iranians cannot tolerate a Sunni-dominated government that is heavily armed and backed by the United States. Nor, for that matter, does Tehran completely trust Iraq's fractured Shiite bloc with Iran's national security. Iran wants to play a critical role in defining the nature, policies and capabilities of the Iraqi regime.

The recent U.S. successes in Iraq, however limited and transitory they might be, may have caused the Iranians to rethink their view on dealing with the Americans on Iraq. The Americans, regardless of progress, cannot easily suppress all of the Shiite militias. The Iranians cannot impose a regime on Iraq, though they can destabilize the process. A successful outcome requires a degree of cooperation -- and recent indications suggest that Iran is prepared to provide that cooperation.

That puts the United States in an incredibly difficult position. On the one hand, it needs Iran for the endgame in Iraq. On the other, negotiating with Iran while it is developing nuclear weapons runs counter to fundamental U.S. policies and the coalition it was trying to construct. As long as Iran was building nuclear weapons, working with Iran on Iraq was impossible.

The NIE solves a geopolitical problem for the United States. Washington cannot impose a unilateral settlement on Iraq, nor can it sustain forever the level of military commitment it has made to Iraq. There are other fires starting to burn around the world. At the same time, Washington cannot work with Tehran while it is building nuclear weapons. Hence, the NIE: While Iran does have a nuclear power program, it is not building nuclear weapons.

Perhaps there was a spectacular and definitive intelligence breakthrough that demonstrated categorically that the prior assessments were wrong. Proving a negative is tough, and getting a definitive piece of intelligence is hard. Certainly, no matter how definitive the latest intelligence might have been, a lot of people want Iran to be building a nuclear weapon, so the debate over the meaning of this intelligence would have roared throughout the intelligence community and the White House. Keeping such debate this quiet and orderly is not Washington's style.

Perhaps the Iranians are ready to deal, and so decided to open up their facility for the Americans to see. Still, regardless of what the Iranians opened up, some would have argued that the United States was given a tour only of what the Iranians wanted them to see. There is a mention in the report that any Iranian program would be covert rather than overt, and that might reflect such concerns. However, all serious nuclear programs are always covert until they succeed. Nothing is more vulnerable than an incomplete nuclear program.

We are struck by the suddenness of the NIE report. Explosive new intelligence would have been more hotly contested. We suspect two things. First, the intelligence on the Iranian nuclear program consisted of a great number of pieces, many of which were inherently ambiguous and could be interpreted in multiple ways. Second, the weight of evidence for there being an Iranian nuclear program was shaded by the political proclivities of the administration, which saw the threat of a U.S. strike as intimidating Iran, and the weapons program discussion as justifying it. Third, the change in political requirements on both sides made a new assessment useful. This last has certainly been the case in all things Middle Eastern these past few days on issues ranging from the Palestinians to Syria to U.S. forces in Iraq -- so why should this issue be any different?

If this thesis is correct, then we should start seeing some movement on Iraq between the United States and Iran. Certainly the major blocker from the U.S. side has been removed and the success of U.S. policies of late should motivate the Iranians. In any case, the entire framework for U.S.-Iranian relations would appear to have shifted, and with it the structure of geopolitical relations throughout the region.

Intelligence is rarely as important as when it is proven wrong.


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Israel versus Iran after the US intelligence estimate

It seems clear that the US intelligence estimate will drastically change US priorities, and apparently Israeli priorities as well. Those who thought Annapolis was about forming a coalition against Iran may have been wrong. Israeli commentators are saying that this report takes Iran off the table as an urgent issue for Israel as well as the United States.
Ami Isseroff
U.S. report on Iran's nukes puts Israel in difficult position 

Israel says it will continue to scrutinize Iran's nuclear program, including this facility at Bushehr, despite U.S. report saying Iran froze its nuclear capabilities in 2003.
By Roy Eitan  Published: 12/04/2007 

JERUSALEM – With Israel's warnings about the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran having been undermined from the least expected source, Washington, Israeli officials are scrambling to figure out their Plan B.
A U.S. National Intelligence Estimates report issued Monday contained a reversal of past Bush administration assessments about Tehran, stating that while the Iranians had a nuclear weapons program, it was shelved in 2003.
The surprise assessment stunned many in Israel, which has relied on the United States for support of the view that Iran constitutes a grave strategic threat.
Responding to the apparent newly opened gap in Israeli and U.S. assessments of Iran's nuclear program, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert tried to sound upbeat.
The intelligence report, Olmert told reporters Tuesday, at least confirmed that Iran recently had designs for an offensive nuclear capability. Olmert also pointed out that the report concluded that Iran's current uranium enrichment program still has the potential to produce material for warheads between 2010 and 2015.
"It's crucial to pursue efforts to prevent Iran from developing a capability like this, and we will continue doing so along with our friends the United States," Olmert said.
Olmert has endorsed U.S.-led efforts to curb Iran's atomic aspirations through sanctions, but both he and U.S. President George W. Bush have warned that pre-emptive action could be used as a last resort to stymie Iran's nuclear capability.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was markedly less sanguine than Olmert, giving an interview this week in which he effectively accused the Americans of faulty intelligence gathering.
"It's true, it seems that Iran froze its nuclear program in 2003," Barak told Army Radio. "But as far as we know it has since renewed its program."
Barak suggested that U.S. and other intelligence services were "disconnected" from goings-on in the Islamic Republic.
Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, a former defense chief, dismissed the report's findings this way: "I don't buy it."
The ministers' comments reflected the deep skepticism in Israel and elsewhere around the world about the quality of U.S. intelligence assessments, particularly given the failure of U.S. intelligence in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.
Israeli experts said the 16 intelligence agencies in the United States likely were playing it safe following the CIA's erroneous assessment that the 2003 invasion of Iraq would uncover Saddam Hussein's secret weapons-of-mass-destruction program.
"Back then, the absence of hard information led the Americans to adopt a worst-case approach," said a retired Israeli intelligence analyst who declined to be named. "Nowadays the thinking is to favor inaction in the absence of hard information."
Amid all the bluster in Israel, there was no sign of past Israeli threats to go it alone against Iran if necessary.
"Israeli officials are afraid that the report is liable to reduce international pressure on Iran," Alex Fishman wrote in the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot.
"If the issue is a nuclear Iran in only another five or six years -- and even that is contingent upon the Iranians renewing their military nuclear program -- then there is no legitimacy for dealing Iran a military blow in the near future. That means that the military strike is off the table," he wrote. "And the urgency for sanctions against Iran is liable to decrease as well."
Israel still could mount a sneak attack as it did in Iraq in 1981, destroying Saddam's nuclear reactor in Osirak. But many foreign analysts have questioned whether Israel's seasoned yet relatively small air force could tackle Iranian nuclear sites that are distant, multiple, dispersed and well fortified.
Nevertheless, some Israeli officials cite Israel's Sept. 6 airstrike in northern Syria, which was widely reported to have targeted a nascent reactor, as an encouraging precedent.
"If the reports are true, then our jets managed to slip in and out of Syria with little incident," one Israeli diplomat said. "That would suggest a degree of sophistication that makes even Iran a feasible target, should it come down to that."

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Iran nuclear intelligence mess

The USA National Intelligence Estimate on Iran is truly a masterpiece of doubletalk. About 70% of it is devoted to explaining what the US intelligence service is and explaining the difference between "high probability" and "very likely" and other such terms.
There are two "bottom lines" to the document, only one of which is given below.
1- The US estimates that Iran probably could not build a nuclear weapon for another 5 to 10 years, as outlined below.
2- The US believes that though Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapons program until 2003, it stopped doing so at the time and has never resumed the program. This is the important news, which is not really discussed below.
What it might or might not mean is anyone's guess. The document itself is essentially bumph, but it is based on thousands of bits of intelligence intercepts, including a conversation in which an Iranian officer complains that work as stopped on the nuclear program.
The intelligence estimate, like all such estimates, is characterized by totally opaque prose. For example:

Judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program. Judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years. (DOE and the NIC have moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran's entire nuclear weapons program.)

What could be the difference between "halted its nuclear weapons program" and halt to Iran's entire nuclear weapons program??" Is the halt ongoing or not? Maybe:
Judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years.
And what if the intelligence intercepts were plants?
Why then, was the document released now, of all times, when the US is trying to corral support for sanctions against Iran? Is it because the CIA disagrees with the administration and wants to embarrass it? Is that a way to run a government?
Ami Isseroff
Last update - 16:32 04/12/2007    
 ANALYSIS: Iran laughing at U.S. lack of nuclear intelligence 
By Amir Oren, Haaretz Correspondent 

The noise that was heard last night in Tehran, according to credible reports, was a hearty Persian laugh after looking at the U.S. intelligence service's website. The unclassified document that Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Mike McConnell published, titled "Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities," as a laundered version that faithfully represents the greatest secrets collected by the CIA and the other U.S. intelligence services, can appropriately be called "much evaluation on no intelligence."
The document's eight pages, which include embarrassing instructions on how to differentiate between different yet related terms ("it is possible," "it may be so," "one must not remove from the equation," and "it's reasonable to assume"), enable the Ayatollas' nuclear and operations officials and the heads of the Revolutionary Guards to reach this soothing conclusion - from their point of view: The Americans have no understanding of what is really happening in Iran's nuclear program. They have no solid information, they have no high-level agents and they have nothing more than a mix of guesswork and chatter. The dissemblance and concealment have succeeded, and the real dispute is not between Washington and Tehran, but within the U.S. administration itself.
Only five weeks ago, McConnell announced that as a rule, he doesn?t believe in the release of such documents. He regretted the publication of the principles of the intelligence evaluation on Iraq.
McConnel kept quiet on Monday. Donald Kerr, his deputy, was enlisted to explain why the Iran assessment followed in Iraq's footsteps. The essence of his explanation: The worst-case evaluation which has been repeatedly published since 2005 has changed, and it is important to clarify its "proper presentation." He means to say that if the politicians, President George W. Bush and Deputy President Richard Cheney, insist on leading their country into a war with Iran, this is their democratic right - on the assumption they receive Congressional support - but they shouldn't delude themselves that they can do this on the back of the CIA's investigative officers. Iraq won't repeat itself.
On one level, this is a philosophical debate: How should the lack of "indicative signs" be interpreted, in the face of a devious enemy, a certified cheat who is determined in his pursuit of the goal (also according to the intelligence assessors). The suspicious Bush and Cheney believe the absence of evidence is in fact evidence of the existence of an additional, hidden channel of nuclear development. Their intelligence services say that without proof there is no place for such an evaluation.
Responsibility is different for each rank. Intelligence is responsible for making assessments on facts collected, and the diplomats are responsible for preventing a failure at the two extremes: Not in making an over-estimation such as with Iraq (a result of former President Saddam Hussein's deception) and not in making an under-assessment such as with Al-Qaida before September 11, 2001. It is possible to say, using an Israeli parallel, like July 11, 2006, when the Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence did not know - or did not understand what it had heard - that Hezbollah would execute a kidnapping operation on the following day.
On a second level, the debate is a professional one: How does one evaluate developments in the nuclear field, when there are no actual objects which can be felt (missiles or bombs, for example), and before tests have been conducted. It is possible to weigh from a distance the kilograms of uranium which have been made in centrifuges, and to count how much of them have been hidden or enriched; but the great mystery is the degree of success achieved by the "weapons group," the teams of experts attempting to make the material explosive.
Behind the heap of words, presented as "a low or medium level of certainty," the differences between the worst-case and the best-case views on when Iran will be capable of producing a nuclear weapon are not that great. These range from somewhere between 2009 and the following five years, starting in 2010. Even McConnell's intelligence officers agree that Iran can buy nukes off the shelf - from Syria, North Korea and maybe Pakistan - and that the renewal of the program, if it is indeed on a coffee break, depends only on the intentions of the rulers, and those intentions will change only when the rulers are replaced.
The CIA is so angry with Bush, it seems, that it is ready to go to great lengths in order to help another president. Not Ahmadinejad, God forbid, but the next president in Washington. The result is likely to be the opposite: Higher Iranian militancy along with Bush and Cheney's determination to act - regardless of what the intelligence agencies say.

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Some Marranos are finding their Judaism

Why can't we accept these people as Jews? These would not really be a very large number, as is claimed below, because most of the Marranos do not remember their Judaism, were intermarried and do not want to be Jewish. But those who might want to return to our people should find a welcome.
Ami Isseroff
Last update - 08:33 04/12/2007    
 U.S. group claims lost Jewish heritage, meets gov't skepticism 
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent 
The authorities would probably call the 30 U.S. citizens who scoured the Negev last week Christian tourists. But the members of the group think of themselves as American Marranos, and they are determined to return to the faith they say their ancestors were forced to renounce and strike root in Israel.
Like Del and Helen Sanchez, who headed the group, most of the tourists grew up going to church on Sunday. Only recently did most of them discover what they call their "Jewish roots."
And the trip to the Negev was the first step in a quest to realize the prophecy in Obadiah 1:20, stating that "the captives of Jerusalem, who are in Sepharad [Spain], will possess the cities of the Negev." The group was looking at places to settle as Jews in Israel.

Like all the other members of the group, the Sanchezes believe that their ancestors were in fact Spanish and Portuguese Jews who escaped the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th century to flee the Spanish Inquisition. Soon after arriving, some of these Jews found themselves once again under the rule of the Spanish conquistadors, who set up colonies in the Americas.
According to Sanchez's theory, these Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism to escape persecution. And like their Marrano relatives in the old country, the American Jews living under Spanish rule continued to practice Judaism in secret.
Although Helen's family went to church on Sunday, she says they "always knew that Catholicism was forced upon them." According to Helen, her family adopted unusual habits like not working on Saturday, thereby observing the Jewish day of rest. They also let all the blood drain from slaughtered livestock, which corresponds with kosher slaughter.
Helen says her family spoke about being descended from Marranos, but she says this was not something they would openly talk about. Her husband Del says his family dealt with the same issue in a very similar way.
"It was a secret that passed from mother to daughter and was kept by the women of our family," says Del, who said he learned of his Marrano roots only 11 years ago, from his father. Del says his father learned of this from his niece.
"The women didn't tell the men about this because they were afraid they might get drunk and tell someone about it," Del says. "In retrospect, I understand that expressions we used in the family which we thought were just broken Spanish were in fact Judeo-Spanish," he says, referring to the dialect based on old Spanish spoken by Sephardic Jews.
After discovering this, Del and Helen have devoted themselves to bringing other U.S. Jews who regard themselves as descendants of American Marranos closer to their roots. The couple, who live in San Antonio, Texas, say they have retraced their lineage as far back as the 12th century. Del has written nine books on the subject, and has a TV program in a local channel about it.
He travels with Helen around the U.S., mostly in New Mexico and Texas, trying to convince people from Hispanic backgrounds to take a deeper look at their ancestry and see whether they have any Jewish forefathers.
For Del, this is no metaphor. He says he has taken a DNA analysis, which shows that his genetic profile matches that of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. According to Del, there are many others like him.
"We're talking about potentially staggering numbers. Historians estimate that 10 to 15 percent of all the people of Hispanic backgrounds in North America descend from Spanish Jews. The U.S. alone has 40 million Hispanic people."
To further demonstrate the validity of their theory, Del and Helen have documented old cemeteries across the southwest United States with graves and headstones featuring Jewish names and motifs.
But Del says that despite the evidence, the Israeli and Jewish establishment has treated him with skepticism. "Israel is taking in non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union along with Ethiopian Falashmura and Indian people claiming to be Jewish," he says. "How come it won't accept us - the descendants of proper Jews who have gone through the persecutions of the Spanish Inquisition?"

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Report: Palestinians released in previous gestures killed 177 Israelis

Report: Palestinians released in previous gestures killed 177 Israelis
Nadav Shragai Haaretz 4 December 2007

Palestinian militants, freed in past prisoner releases by Israel, were responsible for at least 30 terror attacks which claimed the lives of 177 Israelis, according to a study published yesterday by Almagor, an organization representing the victims of Palestinian terrorism.

The report's publication came in response to yesterday's release of 429 Palestinians jailed in Israeli prisons.

According to the report, 6,912 militants were released between the years 1993 and 1999, and nearly 80 percent of them returned to terrorist activity.

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Where are the Palestinian Christians going?

Nobody understands why nobody is talking about this or doing anything about it. Doesn't anybody care?
Expert: 'Christian groups in PA to disappear'

Etgar Lefkovits , THE JERUSALEM POST  Dec. 4, 2007
The ever-dwindling Christian communities living in Palestinian-run territories in the West Bank and Gaza are likely to dissipate completely within the next 15 years as a result of increasing Muslim persecution and maltreatment, an Israeli scholar said Monday.
"The systematic persecution of Christian Arabs living in Palestinian areas is being met with nearly total silence by the international community, human rights activists, the media and NGOs," said Justus Reid Weiner, an international human rights lawyer in an address at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, where he serves as a scholar in residence.
He cited Muslim harassment and persecution as the main cause of the "acute human rights crisis" facing Christian Arabs, and predicted that unless governments or institutions step in to remedy the situation - such as with job opportunities - there will be no more Christian communities living in the Palestinians territories within 15 years, with only a few Western Christians and top clergymen left in the area.
"Christian leaders are being forced to abandon their followers to the forces of radical Islam," Weiner said.
Facing a pernicious mixture of persecution and economic hardships as a result of years of Palestinian violence and Israeli counter-terrorism measures, tens of thousands of Christian Arabs have left the Palestinian territories for a better life in the West, in a continuing exodus which has led some Christian leaders to warn that the faith could be virtually extinct in its birthplace in a matter of decades.
The Palestinian Christian population has dipped to 1.5 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, down from at least 15% a half century ago, according to some estimates.
No one city in the Holy Land is more indicative of the great exodus of Christians than Bethlehem, which fell under full Palestinian control last decade as part of the Oslo Accords.
The town of 30,000 is now less than 20% Christian, after decades when Christians were the majority. Elsewhere in the Palestinian territories, only about 3,000 Christians, mostly Greek Orthodox, live in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, out of a strongly conservative Muslim population of 1.4 million.
"In a society where Arab Christians have no voice and no protection it is no surprise that they are leaving," he said.
In his address, Weiner pointedly downplayed the effects that Israeli security measures, such as the security barrier being built between Israel and the West Bank, have had on the Christian Arabs living in the West Bank.
The barrier, which is especially conspicuous at the entrance to Bethlehem where it is a concrete wall, is an issue which many Palestinian Christian clerics have pointed to, along with the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as a central cause of Christian emigration.
Weiner argued there was a "180 degree difference" between the public statements coming out of the mainstream Christian leadership in the Holy Land - who "sing the PA's tune" and blame Israel for all the Christian Arabs' ills - and people's experience on the ground.
"The truth is beginning to come out," he said. "The question is what is being done with the truth."
His comments come just months [weeks actually]  after a prominent Christian activist, Rami Khader Ayyad, 32, was killed in Gaza.
"For too long the plight of Christian Arabs has been put on the back-burner or ignored altogether," said Rev. Malcolm Hedding, executive director of the International Christian Embassy, a Jerusalem-based evangelical organization.
The Evangelical leader, who has drawn the wrath of Catholic leaders in the Holy Land for his strong support for Israel, said that "power politics" has prevented the major Christian leaders in the Holy Land from speaking out on this issue.
"There is a one-sided debate in which Israel is responsible for everything," he said. "The Christian world needs to stand up and speak out about this."

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Monday, December 3, 2007

Ethnic cleansing and apartheid in Israel

Did you ever wonder why there are so few mixed Arab-Jewish towns in Israel?? Part of the answer is that  rioting liquidated the smallest Jewish communities in Arab towns long before the establishment of the state. Thus there were no Jews in Nablus by the 1920s, and one native of Nablus was confident that there were never any Jews in Nablus, though of course there had been Jews there.
Unbelievably, this shameful process is repeating itself in modern Israel. Peki'in has a special significance, because it was, until a few years ago, the last town in which Jews had supposedly lived continuously since before the fall of the second temple. Not long ago, the last of the original Peki'in Jews died -- others had moved away. But some other Jews had come to live there. Now they are being forced out due to racism of their Druze neighbors and police incompetence.
Ami Isseroff  
Last Jewish family leaves Peki'in

De Jung family, who emigrated from Holland four months ago, flee Druze village after locals torch their car. All nine Jewish families who used to live in Peki'in leave due to repeated harassment
Goel Beno Published:  12.03.07, 09:31 / Israel News 
The last Jewish family to remain in Peki'in after riots shook the Druze village last month, has recently decided to move out as well, after its car was torched last weekend.
Ruth and Abel De Jung are the ninth family to leave due to repeated harassment by local residents. The only Jewish resident to remain in the village is Margalit Zinati, whose family has lived in Peki'in for centuries.
The De Jungs, both Holocaust survivors, emigrated from Holland to Israel four months ago, and are now considering returning to Holland. In the meantime they are staying with friends, as they currently have no place to live.
Ruth and Abel's son, Gabriel, and his wife Elizabeth, have already left the village with their two sons three months ago, and now reside in the community of Katzir.
"We chose to come to Peki'in from Holland. We wanted to live in a place where people of all religions live side by side. At first we were very much respected, and paid our neighbors in kind," Gabriel recounted. "Until one day, my son came home crying and said that the children in his kindergarten no longer call him by his name, but al-Yahud (the Jew)."
Gabriel and Elizabeth have no plans of returning to their Peki'in house, which was purchased from a Christian family, at least not in the near future. "We have a lot of anger in our hearts. On the day of the riots I arrived at the village and couldn't bear to say hello to my friends there," said Gabriel.
Aviv Zegelman and his wife, Orit, left the village with their six children after their house was burned to the ground during last month's riots. They stated that they would return to Peki'in "only after tensions subside and the police confirm that it's safe. At the moment we have nothing to come back to, and it's very dangerous there."

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Intel assessment: Iran Halted Nuke Program In '03

This story claims that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. However, as it provides no evidence that there was a program, and no evidence regarding the end of that program, there is no way to judge the report.
Is it just political spin?
U.S.: Iran Halted Nuke Program In '03
WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2007

(AP) Iran halted its nuclear weapons development program in the fall of 2003 under international pressure but is continuing to enrich uranium, which means it may still be able to develop a weapon between 2010 and 2015, senior intelligence officials said Monday.
That finding is a change from two years ago, when U.S. intelligence agencies believed Iran was determined to develop a nuclear capability and was continuing its weapons development program. It suggests that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic pressure, the official said.
"Tehran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005," states the unclassified summary of the secret report, released Monday.
Officials said the new findings suggest that diplomacy was effective in containing Iran's nuclear ambitions.
"This is good news in that the U.S. policy coupled with the policies and actions of those who have been our partners appear to have had some success. Iran seems to have been pressured," one of the officials said. "Given that good news we don't want to relax. We want to keep those pressures up."

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Syrian flirtation with radical Islam

Jerusalem Issue Brief
Vol. 7, No. 23    3 December 2007
Is Syria an Ally or Adversary of Radical Sunni Movements?
Eyal Zisser
Bashar al-Assad is clearly not his father. He is not respected or feared as was his father. People accept him in Syria not because of his character or his charisma - which is nonexistent - but because the average Syrian citizen sees no alternative. 

Syria displays a bunker mentality. It sees itself as a small country, constantly under attack by foreigners and by neighboring countries, always the target of a conspiracy, like Cuba or North Korea, which have a similar bunker mentality. 
American-Syrian relations were destroyed because of mistakes made by Bashar al-Assad. He destroyed Syria's close relations with the European Union, especially with France. He also destroyed the delicate relations his father built with the Egyptians, the Jordanians, and the Saudis. His father was smart enough to create this web of alliances that balanced each other. This doesn't exist anymore.  
There is a debate in America about whether the U.S. should engage in a dialogue with Syria, but what Bashar wants from America is full capitulation, a total American withdrawal from Iraq. Bashar is not happy about the prospects for the emergence of a pro-Western regime in Iraq. There is also nothing to discuss with Bashar about Lebanon unless the Americans are ready to give Lebanon back to the Syrians. 
We should be very realistic about what we can get from Syria. Syria is not about to become a close ally of the United States and part of what we call the moderate camp in the region. Syria is not Egypt, which is a big country with a long history and tradition, and which feels secure and sure of itself. This is why in the long run we can only get something very limited from Syria.
Bashar al-Assad's Syria
What more can be done in order to remove Syria from its alliance with North Korea and Iran? What more can be done to engage Syria in a more positive dialogue with Israel, the international community, and the United States? Unfortunately, there is very little we can do.
When we speak about Syria nowadays, we speak about Bashar al-Assad. When Bashar became president of Syria in June 2000, it wasn't clear if the generals, the bureaucracy, and the party members would ever accept him. Bashar has now survived for seven years and I see no real threat to the stability of his regime.
Bashar is the one who makes the decisions. When he became president we used to speak about the Old Guard, people who were left from the period of his father, Hafez al-Assad, like Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam and Minister of Defense Mustafa Tlass. They are all gone. Khaddam is now in exile, Tlass retired, and all around Bashar are people who were appointed by him and not people left from his father's era.
However, he is clearly not his father. He is not respected or feared as was his father. People accept him in Syria not because of his character or his charisma, which is nonexistent. The main reason for Bashar's support is the lack of any alternative seen by the average Syrian citizen. The democratic option, which probably will bring radical Islamists to power, is not popular in Syria. There is no liberal, pro-Western democratic camp as there was in Eastern Europe when the Soviet Union collapsed.
The Syrians have Lebanon on one side, which is approaching a new civil war, and on the other side they have Iraq, where the war actually reaches Syria in the form of almost two million Iraqi refugees. When the man in the street in Damascus sees the disintegration and chaos of Iraq, he concludes that it is better to stay with what he has right now that provides him with limited stability and security - the regime of Bashar al-Assad. That is the main reason why this regime is popular. In addition, Bashar's anti-Israeli and anti-American rhetoric is well accepted among the Syrian population and that is also a source of support for this regime.
Syria's Bunker Mentality
In order to understand Syria we have to take into consideration not only Bashar but also the mentality of the Syrian regime. Since it became an independent state in the 1940s, Syria has displayed a bunker mentality. It sees itself as a small country, constantly under attack by foreigners and by neighboring countries, always the target of a conspiracy. We usually compare Syria to Egypt or other Arab countries, but the more correct comparison is to states like Cuba or North Korea, which have a similar bunker mentality.
 The Syrians really believe that there is an American conspiracy to take over the Middle East. Seeing this immediate threat, they became closer with radical Muslim movements and with Iran, even though Syria's natural place is with Saudi Arabia, with its Arab brothers, and not with Iran.
The Syrians were surprised to discover that their readiness to cooperate with radical Islamic groups helped them in unexpected ways. For example, for some time the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood supported Syria.
 Hafez al-Assad never came out with any creative ideas to promote and achieve progress in Syrian-Israeli or Syrian-American relations. It was always the Israelis or Americans presenting their proposals to be rejected or discussed by the Syrians. We should not expect the Syrians to follow Anwar Sadat - to have a vision about how to get their country out of the bunker and to achieve economic progress. That is not Syria. This was not Hafez al-Assad, and it is not Bashar either.
In the early 1990s, a year or so after George Bush senior was defeated in the 1992 elections, he came to visit his friends in the Middle East. Bush didn't visit Israel, but he did visit Hafez al-Assad, back when American-Syrian relations were considered to be an asset for the Syrians. American-Syrian relations were destroyed because of mistakes made by Bashar al-Assad. He destroyed Syria's close relations with the European Union, especially with France. He also destroyed the delicate relations his father built with the Egyptians, the Jordanians, and the Saudis. His father was smart en ough to create this web of alliances that balanced each other. This doesn't exist anymore.
 Bashar survived, but he has left Syria standing in place, an undeveloped country with increasing economic problems and no chance of any improvement. At the same time, Syria has created an intimate alliance with Iran and with Hizbullah.
 Hizbullah is the friendliest element in Lebanon toward Syria, but they don't want Syria to come back into Lebanon. They have their own project of gaining control over Lebanon and they are doing well, but it will take them time. If the Syrians come back, they will just divide and rule, and this will be the end of Hizbullah's dream.
A U.S. Dialogue with Syria?
 There is a debate in America right now about whether the U.S. should engage in a dialogue with Syria. A dialogue about what? What Bashar wants from America is full capitulation, a total American withdrawal from Iraq. There is nothing to discuss. Bashar is not happy about the prospects for the emergence of a pro-Western regime in Iraq. There is nothing to discuss with Bashar about Lebanon unless the Americans are ready to give Lebanon back to the Syrians, like they did in the 1980s.
Can the Syrians do more to prevent people from going to Iraq and fighting the Americans or the Shi'ites there? Can the Syrian regime do more to destroy the training camps in Syria and block the transfer of money to these people? Yes, it can do more. But this is part of the Syrian mentality and the Syrian way of thinking, that it is all to be bargained over with the Americans.
Bashar only has a theoretical interest in having peace with Israel. He doesn't have the eagerness, decisiveness, or courage that we saw when Anwar Sadat came to Jerusalem. Bashar has no clear vision of where he wants to see Syria in five or ten years. Bashar is not heading anywhere and there is very little we can do to change his behavior and engage him in a more positive dialogue with the West. He's still in the bunker and isn't ready to get out.
Radical Islamists and Syria
 In 2004, for the first time in twenty years, radical Islamic groups began operating in Syria against Syrian targets. Every few weeks we hear of another group discovered by the government or another incident. Some are people who went to Iraq to fight the Americans and then came back to Syria to continue with their jihad, this time against local enemies - the secular Alawite regime in Syria. The Alawites are still very secular, but the Sunni majority is becoming more and more religious and this will become a challenge to the regime.
The Syrian regime had defeated the Muslim Brotherhood after its revolt in the years 1976-82. But today there are much more radical groups, inspired by and connected to al-Qaeda. The Syrian regime preferred to ignore these groups and allowed them to operate against the Americans. They are very small groups and most of the Syrian population doesn't support them yet, but clearly, in the long run, Syria will have a problem because Bashar al-Assad and his regime are totally secular, and Syrian society is much more secular than others in the Arab world.
The Syrian-Israeli Balance of Power
During the years 2000-2007, Israel twice attacked Syrian positions in Lebanon in April and July 2001 in retaliation for attacks on IDF positions by Hizbullah, killing almost 20 Syrian soldiers. In October 2003, Israeli aircraft bombed a Palestinian training camp seven kilometers north of Damascus. In 2002 and 2006, Israeli aircraft flew over Bashar's palace.
In all these cases there was no Syrian response. The Syrians were fully aware of the balance of power between them and the Israelis, and they were not interested in engaging in total war with Israel. The Syrians are fully aware that Israel is much stronger and there is no expectation among the Syrian public or in the Syrian army for immediate retaliation. The Syrians prefer to try to take revenge in indirect ways by using Hizbullah or the Palestinians.
 Following the war in Lebanon, Bashar al-Assad made his famous speech in August 2006, telling the Israelis that after what happened in Lebanon, the status quo was not going to continue. But Bashar was bluffing and Israel called his bluff in the mysterious air attack in September 2007.
Prospects for the Future
When Israelis speak about normalization and peace, what they have in mind is a marriage agreement - something warm with hugs and kisses. What Syrians have in mind is a decent divorce agreement. There will be a settlement, but it doesn't mean that we are going to be friends. The Syrians argue that they will have the same kind of relations they have with Ukraine, with no need for an embassy, but everyone knows the two countries are at peace.
We should be very realistic about what we can get from Syria. Syria is not about to become a close ally of the United States and part of what we call the moderate camp in the region. Syria is not Egypt, which is a big country with a long history and tradition, and which feels secure and sure of itself. This is why in the long run we can only get something very limited from Syria.
     *     *
Prof. Eyal Zisser is the Head of the Department of Middle Eastern and African History and the Director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University. Prof. Zisser is a leading expert on Syria and has written extensively on the history and politics of modern Syria, Lebanon, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Among his books are In the Name of the Father: Bashar al-Assad's First Years in Power; Lebanon: The Challenge of Independence; and Assad's Syria at a Crossroads. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his appearance at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on October 25, 2007.
This Jerusalem Issue Brief is available online at:

Continued (Permanent Link)

Hamas at Annapolis?

Perhaps Hamas was really at the Annapolis meeting after all...
December 4, 2007   No. 38
The Post-Annapolis Dynamic – The Hamas Factor
Anat Kurz
Although it was not represented at Annapolis, Hamas had a significant role in paving the way to the meeting.  Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip was clear evidence of the growing strength of the militant Islamist stream in the Palestinian camp, and it was therefore perceived as a threat.  However, that development also sharpened the distinction between those Palestinians who accept the idea of a two-state solution and the opposition still committed to total liberation from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and it was therefore also seen as an opportunity.  The political process, whose relaunch was signaled at Annapolis, expresses the aspiration to contain the threat and to expand the potential opportunity.  The split in the Palestinian Authority was interpreted as a chance to isolate Hamas, renew the dialogue between Fatah and Israel, and advance Israeli-Palestinian understandings, both as ends in themselves and as means to build a counter-force to the array of Islamist state and non-state actors, of which Hamas is part.  These goals were shared by the United States and other members of the Quartet as well as by members of the Arab League, who saw in revived Israeli-Palestinian political dialogue a way to promote the "Arab peace initiative."
Hamas' part in dictating the Israeli-Palestinian and regional agendas is not confined to the role it played on the road to Annapolis.  Hamas can also be expected to thwart discussion of the core issues – perhaps to the relief of opponents of compromise on both sides – and thereby subvert the goal of translating the spirit of Annapolis, as expressed in the speech of President Bush, into substantive progress toward a settlement.
Hamas' behavior in the prelude to Annapolis and its strident criticism of the speeches delivered there testify to the movement's perceived threat to its status and beliefs stemming from the American determination to promote political momentum and from the regional support for that, reflected in broad Arab participation in the conference.  Nor could the movement's leadership ignore the serious intentions of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to extricate the political process from the stalemate in which it has been mired for years.  With the elimination of further unilateral disengagements from the Israeli agenda came renewed hope that a political process could help Israel cope with immediate security threats and long-term security, demographic and political challenges.  "If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, […] the State of Israel is finished," said Olmert at the end of the conference.  Fatah, for its part, needs a political process just to survive.  That is the legal, political and public basis of its claim to national leadership.  Abbas told the conference participants that "this opportunity might not be repeated," but his words seemed directed more at his own people, as if to lay the groundwork for the concessions needed to make possible a settlement.
What will Hamas to do to prevent Olmert and Abbas from promoting resolution of the conflict? It, too, will try to turn threat into opportunity and to strengthen its standing at the expense of Fatah.  Hamas cannot unleash a civil uprising in the territories; the Palestinian public is too exhausted for that.  But it does have a proven means of aborting any political breakthrough: escalation of the struggle against Israel and against Fatah.  From Hamas' viewpoint, those fronts were unified when both Israel and Fatah went to Annapolis.
Escalation of violence will embarrass Fatah.  As in the past, terror attacks will expose Fatah's weakness and further validate the warnings recently voiced by Israeli security agencies that lack of security rules out any direct progress toward a settlement.  Clashes between Hamas and Fatah activists, which will probably escalate the more political efforts intensify, will interfere with the implementation of plans, also involving Israel and the United States, to reorganize the security organs subordinate to Abbas and improve their capacity to confront militant opposition elements.  Escalating violence will likewise embarrass Saudi Arabia by pointing out the contradiction between Saudi intentions to promote the "Arab peace initiative" and its traditional support for Hamas.  Hamas' violent struggle, which depends on weapons smuggled across Gaza's southern border, will also encourage continued tension between Egypt and Israel, in contrast to the improved atmosphere that Annapolis was meant to generate.
Given a wave of terrorist attacks, Israel will find it very difficult to carry out its declared intention of acting to ease the burden on residents of the territories and helping Abbas to mobilize support for the political process and the struggle against the Islamist opposition.  Tightened closures, continued blockades of export routes and refusal to remove roadblocks in the West Bank will all lend credence to the claims of opponents of the political process, led by Hamas, that Israel is not truly bent on compromise and will justify it sticking to its own uncompromising positions.  In any event, escalating terrorism and harsh Israeli responses will lead to suspension of contacts between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  Thus, the political process will revert to the logjam from which the US Administration tried to extricate it at the Annapolis meeting and which Arab League members tried to break through ratification of the "peace initiative."
And what about a new understanding between Fatah and Hamas, perhaps through another National Unity Government of the type that Egypt and Saudi Arabia tried to establish as part of their effort to promote the "initiative"?  Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip opened up a blood feud between the two parties.  The chances of conciliation between them are now lower than ever.  And even if there is some easing of tensions between them, that will not necessarily signal a renewal of the political process; after all, to reach agreement on principles for the last unity government, Abbas had to retreat from the demand that Hamas accept the conditions for dialogue posed by the Quartet.  Thus, the political process will be a victim of conflict between Fatah and Hamas and also of accommodation (however remote the prospects) between them. 
This means that Hamas will determine the fate of the political process, in the negative sense.  To prevent that outcome, Fatah will have to act vigorously against it and Israel will have to act with restraint, even in the face of an upsurge in terrorism.  To do that, both Fatah and Israel will need mutual incentives and political strength, the availability of which is very much in doubt.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Barghouti wants more Palestinian prisoners released

Last update - 18:22 02/12/2007    
 Barghouti: Release of only 429 Palestinian prisoners is 'joke'
 By Shahar Ilan and Jonathan Lis, Haaretz Correspondents
Imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti on Sunday called Israel's release of just over 400 Palestinian prisoners "a joke," after members of the Knesset's Internal Affairs and Environment Committee visited him at the Hadarim prison.
In an answer to committee chairman MK Ophir Pines-Paz's question, Barghouti said that Israel could have easily freed 8,000 Palestinian prisoners and added that the prisoners that are due for release were supposed to be released anyway in a few months.
On Monday, 429 Palestinian prisoners will be released from Israeli jails, as a goodwill gesture to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The prisoner release was supposed to be held on Sunday, but was postponed to Monday at the Palestinian Authority's request.
Barghouti also complained that prisoners are not allowed to make telephone calls. This complaint was also raised at a later meeting between committee members and Israel Prison Services Commissioner Benny Kaniak, after Pines-Paz asked why it was possible for Yitzhak Rabin's murderer Yigal Amir to carry a cellular phone and Palestinian prisoners were not even allowed to hold phone conversations.
Kaniak responded that Israel Prison Services (IPS) were the only ones fighting to limit Amir's freedoms, and maintained that every extra right given to Amir was made by a legal decision.
Kaniak also said that there are some jail cells that are unfit for humans, and added that the IPS would invest NIS 20 million in renovating older prison cells.
In March 2009, the first private prison is due to open its doors. Kaniak said that in the past eight years in the United States the number of prisoners grew five times its original number, where many prisons have gone through privatization processes.
Source of this Israel News article

Continued (Permanent Link)

The unbearable lightness of a teddy bear named Muhammad

Carlos discusses the case of the terrible teddy bear. What is worse perhaps than the arrest of a teacher for allowing students to name a teddy bear Muhammad, worse even than the demonstrations in Khartoum calling for her execution, is the "protests" against Sudanese goverment behavior by moderate Muslims. These take the form of "the lady was a visitor and didn't know our customs." That implies that had she been a Muslim, it would be perfectly OK to give her 40 lashes for allowing kids to name a teddy bear "Muhammad."

Oh sinful and ammoral and decadent Western society, that can allow a teddy bear to be named Muhammad! May Allah strike down the infidel sons of dogs and pigs, who send their people to corrupt our children by teaching them to read and write!

Strangely, the Muslims do not protest against the fact that the dictator of Egypt is also called Muhammad.

Ami Isseroff

Teddy the Terrible

by Carlos

Wild and Ferocious Teddy Bear

Wild and Ferocious
December 1, 2007 - Do not take this lightly. This is worse even than Saudi Barbie.

This is the story of Muhammad the Teddy Bear, the latest scourge of Islam.

It all started in a Sudanese classroom. The kids were seven years old. Their teacher, Gillian Gibbons, 54, had an idea. She would have the children name a Teddy Bear, then practice writing about it. What should they name him? she asked her students.

"Abdullah!" said one.

"Hassan!" cried another.

But in the end, the name Muhammad was chosen, in honor of a boy in the class who also bore that name.

The children photographed the bear, and took turns taking it home on weekends. They kept diaries detailing what they did with it on these visits, then collected all the entries in a special book with the bear's picture on the cover and the label "My Name is Muhammad."

Cute? Hardly. When some parents saw the book, they complained. Ms. Gibbons was arrested and charged with insulting Islam. Muslim clerics in Sudan demanded she be whipped. At her trial Ms. Gibbons wept and insisted that she meant no harm. The court decided to be "lenient." It sentenced her to 15 days in prison and subsequent deportation to Britain. She could have received 40 lashes, six months in prison, and a fine. Such punishment would be in accordance with the sharia law upon which the Sudanese judicial system is based.
Protesters in Khartoum demand the execution of a teacher convicted of insulting Islam after her students named a teddy bear 'Muhammad.'

Protesters in Khartoum demand the execution of a teacher convicted of insulting Islam after her students named a teddy bear "Muhammad." (AFP - Getty Images)

Even sentencing Gibbons to expulsion was not enough to satisfy many Sudanese. On Friday thousands of Sudanese demonstrators flooded the streets, some armed with swords and clubs, others beating drums. They burned Gibbons' picture and demanded her execution. "Kill her, kill her by firing squad!" they shouted, and "No tolerance: Execution!" One sword-carrying demonstrator said: "It is a premeditated action, and this unbeliever thinks that she can fool us? What she did requires her life to be taken." Her life very possibly in danger, Gibbons had to be moved from the women's prison in Oumdurman to a secret location.

This Israel News article is continued here


Continued (Permanent Link)

Syria and Iran: Did this make Annapolis worthwhile?

  Last update - 13:15 02/12/2007    
 Report: Syrian envoy to visit Iran, explain attendance at Annapolis  By DPA
Syria will dispatch its deputy foreign minister to Iran on Sunday, in an attempt to explain its participation in last week's U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace conference, the Iranian news network Khabar reported.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad, who was also Syria's envoy to the Annapolis, Maryland summit, is expected to deliver a special message from Syrian President Bashar Assad to his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the report said.
Ahmadinejad and his government were angry with several Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and Syria, for having ignored Tehran's call to boycott the Annapolis conference, which the Iranian president had branded as a "venue of another Zionist plot against Palestine."
Tehran denounced the conference as "unimportant and just US propaganda for Zionists" and called its joint declaration a "piece of useless torn paper."
Syria, which agreed to attend the conference only after receiving assurances that the issue of the Golan Heights was added to the agenda, left Annapolis without a specific promise to restart stalled talks with Israel.

Continued (Permanent Link)

Agudath Yisrael wants to have their anti-Zionist cake and eat it

Last update - 11:50 02/12/2007    
 U.S. ultra-Orthodox group breaks mold by taking stance on peace process
 By Anthony Weiss, The Forward 

An ultra-Orthodox umbrella organization spoke out at its annual conference last week against the division of Jerusalem, marking the first time that the traditionally non-Zionist body has taken a public stance on the peace process.
Agudath Israel of America has traditionally steered clear of matters involving Israeli sovereignty, on the grounds that a true Jewish homeland can be established only by the coming of the messiah. At its national convention last week, however, Agudath Israel passed a resolution stating that Israel should not surrender any part of Jerusalem to Palestinian sovereignty and that America's government should not pressure it into doing so.
The conference came a few days before the Annapolis peace talks on November 27. Shortly before the talks, an Agudath Israel official met with high-ranking members of the Bush administration to press the case.
Rabbi David Zwiebel, Agudath Israel's executive vice president of government and public affairs, acknowledged that it is unusual for Agudath Israel to speak out on matters relating to the peace process. But he explained, "The issue of Jerusalem is one that is sui generis: It stands on its own. It is the heart of Eretz Yisrael."
Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel, told the Forward that the resolution passed by acclaim with no objections. The unanimity suggests that the issue of Jerusalem may pull groups into the debate over the peace process that have traditionally steered clear of these matters.
The stance also could be an important signal of the political tides in Israel. Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the head of Agudath Israel of America, told the convention that he had consulted with the leading Agudath Israel rabbis in Israel and they had urged him to speak out on the matter.
Israel's ultra-Orthodox political parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas, have traditionally been flexible on territorial matters in exchange for domestic funding, but that may not hold true for Jerusalem.

Continued (Permanent Link)

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