Friday, July 25, 2008
TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Iran is set to receive an advanced Russian-made anti-aircraft system by the end of the year that could help fend off strikes against its nuclear facilities, senior Israeli defense sources said on Wednesday.
First delivery of the S-300 missile batteries was expected as soon as early September, one source said, though it could take six to 12 months for them to be deployed and operable. Iran, which already has TOR-M1 surface-to-air missiles from Russia, said last December that an unspecified number of S-300s were on order.
Moscow denied there was any such deal. [...but see the reference to Belarus below - SL]
...The best S-300 can track 100 targets at once and fire on planes 120 km (75 miles) away....
"Based on what I know, it's highly unlikely that those air defense missiles would be in Iranian hands any time soon," U.S. Secretary of defense Robert Gates said in a July 9 briefing when asked about the S-300 -- also known in the West as the SA-20. Gates meant that Iran was a good number of months away from acquiring the system, a U.S. official said....
"The S-300 could prove to be a tipping point for the United States and Israel," said Sam Gardiner, a retired U.S. air force colonel who conducts wargames for various Washington agencies.
..."There's no doubt that the S-300s would make an air attack more difficult," the Israeli official said. "But there's an answer for every counter-measure, and as far as we're concerned, the sooner the Iranians get the new system, the more time we will have to inspect the deployments and tactical doctrines."
...Robert Hewson, editor of Jane's Air-Launched Weapons, said: "The minimum work-up time to be comfortable with the system is six months, but more time is preferable." Hewson said the Iranian S-300 deal was being conducted via Belarus to afford discretion for Russia, which is already under Western scrutiny for helping Iran build a major atomic reactor. "Belarus is the proxy route whenever Russia wants to deny it is doing the sale. But nothing happens along that route without Moscow saying so," he said.
(Additional reporting by David Morgan in Washington and Daniel Flynn in Athens; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
UNIFIL soldiers assigned to maintain the cease-fire that ended the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006 are not carrying out their mandate and are potentially laying the groundwork for another round of violence between Israel and Hizbullah, Israel's outgoing UN ambassador Danny Gillerman has told The Jerusalem Post.
In a parting interview, Gillerman, who has served in the sensitive position for the past six years, had harsh words for the UN's failed implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701, which brought the war to an end on terms, he said, that should have constituted an achievement for Israel.
"They [UNIFIL] should be much more proactive - more aggressive in going after Hizbullah - in detecting [and] identifying arms depots. They should be going in there, not just relying on Lebanese armed forces to do so, who often work in collusion with Hizbullah," he said.
"The UNIFIL soldiers were not sent there to give out chocolates to children or write traffic tickets. They were sent there to carry out a mandate which was very clearly defined, and they are not [doing so]. By not doing it, they may be laying the groundwork for the next flare-up. So even in their own interest and for their safety, they should be more proactive and go after Hizbullah, and find a way to control the Israeli-Syrian border."
Gillerman said he had brought up his "very grave concerns" about the situation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He said the Israeli government had made a concerted effort to persuade the UN leadership to take a more assertive approach to the UNIFIL troops' nonimplementation of Resolution 1701.
"We have brought in experts, brought in generals, briefed them on the situation - they know exactly what is happening. We are not even asking them to change the mandate or the rules of operation, because that would mean opening the whole thing today, and God knows where you will end up. But within the mandate as it stands today, they can do much more and be more effective, and if they don't, they will have to regret it," he said.
..."Resolution 1701 was supposed to limit [the] actions of Hizbullah, and prevent it from rearming," said Gillerman. "It did not achieve that. Hizbullah today has rearmed to the point that it is possibly even better equipped than it was before the war. The resolution also imposed an embargo on arms shipments to militias in Lebanon - namely Hizbullah - which was a huge achievement, but that wasn't implemented either.
"1701 also demanded the immediate release of [reservists] Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, who, tragically, were returned two years later in coffins. So the implementation of 1701 is far from satisfactory. In fact, it's very disappointing. ....
Thursday, July 24, 2008
An Investment Gets Trapped in Kremlin’s Vise
MOSCOW — William F. Browder was one of the most prominent foreign investors ... who brought the tactics of Wall Street shareholder activists to the free-for-all of post-Soviet capitalism. Until, that is, the Kremlin expelled him in 2005.
Mr. Browder then focused on protecting his billions of dollars of stakes in major Kremlin-controlled companies like Gazprom, and on fighting to return to a land where he had deep and unusual family ties. So when he ran into Dmitri A. Medvedev, the country’s future president, at the World Economic Forum in Davos last year, he saw his chance. In a brief conversation at a dinner at the Swiss resort, he pressed Mr. Medvedev for assistance in regaining his Russian visa. Mr. Medvedev, then a top aide to President Vladimir V. Putin, agreed to pass along his request.
A short time later, Mr. Browder’s office received an unexpected phone call from a senior Moscow police official [Lt. Col. Artem Kuznetsov] who said he had learned of Mr. Browder’s new visa application and might be able to help. “My answer will depend on how you behave, what you provide, and so on,” the official said, according to a recording of the call supplied by Mr. Browder. “The sooner we meet and you provide what is necessary, the sooner your problems will disappear.”
Mr. Browder’s problems, in fact, were just beginning.
The phone call was one move in a wide-ranging offensive by Russian law enforcement that exposed Mr. Browder to the kind of crippling investigations that Kremlin critics have regularly endured under Mr. Putin. It appeared that the ultimate goal was not only to seize Mr. Browder’s investment empire, but also to make him an example of what happens to those who do not toe the government’s line.
His downfall offers a study in how the Kremlin wields power in the Putin era. The rule of law is subject to its wishes, and those out of favor are easy prey.
Mr. Browder’s case points to the official corruption that afflicts Russia, and the Kremlin’s unwillingness to adopt serious measures to combat it by bolstering the independence of the police and courts. The Kremlin may be reluctant to do so because it wants Russia’s wealth to accrue to those loyal to the leadership.
...He arrived in Russia in 1996 after a stint in London as an investment banker, and quickly saw opportunities. Russia’s economy was undergoing colossal changes, and Mr. Browder positioned his company, Hermitage Capital, as a vehicle for Western investors to get a piece of the action.
After Mr. Putin became president in 2000, Mr. Browder became a vocal supporter of the Kremlin, saying that Russian needed an authoritarian leader to establish order and calling Mr. Putin his “biggest ally” in Hermitage’s effort to reform big business. Mr. Browder thrived, and the funds managed by Hermitage grew to more than $4 billion.
...Once things went bad, Mr. Browder had no recourse. The police confiscated vital documents from his lawyer’s office in Moscow. He discovered that his holding companies had been stolen from him and re-registered in the name of a convicted murderer in a provincial city.
Whoever was behind the scheme took over much of Mr. Browder’s corporate structure in Russia, but failed to get at his investors’ money. Even so, in recent weeks, Mr. Browder said he had learned that his former holding companies had been used to embezzle $230 million from the Russian treasury.
This article is based on interviews with Mr. Browder, his associates and lawyers, as well as on numerous documents they provided that they say prove corruption. Many of his assertions were confirmed independently.
Requests for comment were made to several law-enforcement agencies in Russia that Mr. Browder accuses of carrying out or refusing to investigate the scheme. They did not respond or said they would not comment.
The Kremlin has not spoken publicly about his case, despite frequent appeals by Mr. Browder and senior British and American officials. Twice in the last two years, Mr. Putin has been asked by reporters about Mr. Browder. Both times, he denied even knowing Mr. Browder’s name.
“I don’t know who this Mr. Browder is, as you say, why he cannot return to Russia,” Mr. Putin, who is now prime minister, said in May.
...A spokesman for Mr. Medvedev, who succeeded Mr. Putin as president in May, confirmed that Mr. Medvedev had spoken with Mr. Browder at Davos last year, but would not comment further....
...Mr. Browder’s company, Hermitage Capital, was first bankrolled by Edmond J. Safra, the billionaire founder of Republic National Bank in New York...
...Hermitage started with $25 million from Republic. The fund was so profitable in its first 18 months, reaping a gain of 850 percent, that it soon attracted more than $1 billion from institutional investors and others in the West. In the Russian financial collapse of 1998, it plunged to $125 million, but it recovered over the past decade, reaching a peak of more than $4 billion.
...Mr. Browder concentrated his investments on the largest Russian companies, most of them in the energy sector and under some Kremlin control. Hermitage became expert at conducting forensic audits into their finances, uncovering all manner of wrongdoing, from insider trading to outright theft. He often leaked the information to the Russian and international press.
...Gazprom, one of the world’s largest companies, was a favorite target. Mr. Browder discovered that billions of dollars in gas had been sold at deeply discounted prices to shady intermediaries. But by 2005, Mr. Putin had assumed complete control over Gazprom as part of his drive to re-nationalize central energy assets. When Hermitage released a dossier assailing mismanagement and corruption at the company, the Kremlin had had enough.
A few months later, Mr. Browder’s visa was canceled. Over the next two years, several of Mr. Browder’s associates and lawyers, as well as their relatives, were victims of crimes, including severe beatings and robberies during which documents were taken. None was solved.
...in June 2007, with Mr. Browder stuck outside the country...Dozens of police officers swooped down on the Moscow offices of Hermitage and its law firm, confiscating documents and computers. When a member of the firm protested that the search was illegal, he was beaten by officers and hospitalized for two weeks, said the firm’s head, Jamison R. Firestone.
Supervising the raids was the same police official who called Mr. Browder’s office about the visa three and a half months earlier, Lt. Col. Artem Kuznetsov of the Department of Tax Crime of the Interior Ministry. He said he was seeking evidence in an inquiry into whether one of Hermitage’s related entities, called Kameya, had underpaid its taxes by $44 million.
...In recent months, TNK-BP, Russia’s third largest oil company, has been subjected to 14 such inquiries, apparently in an effort to push out BP, the British oil giant, which owns half the venture, BP said. The Kremlin apparently wants a state company to take over TNK-BP, analysts said.
...Hermitage was about to become victim of what is known in Russia as corporate raiding, which involves seizing companies and other assets with the aid of corrupt law-enforcement officials and judges. The phenomenon has flourished under Mr. Putin.
In the weeks after the police seized the corporate documents, someone used them to transfer the ownership of three of Hermitage’s holding companies to an entity based in Kazan, a provincial capital 450 miles east of Moscow. The entity’s registered owner was a man with a murder conviction, records show.
Now that the corporate raiders had seized the three Hermitage holding companies, they resorted to a classic strategy to try to drain them of money. A lawsuit was filed in a court in St. Petersburg in July 2007 against the holding companies, asserting that they had defrauded another company, Logos Plus, of hundreds of millions of dollars in a 2005 deal involving Gazprom stock.
In fact, everything about the lawsuit was bogus, Hermitage lawyers said. Hermitage had never done business with Logos Plus. The documents submitted to the court had obvious inconsistencies, suggesting that conspirators were not worried about being caught. A power of attorney for one of the Hermitage companies was dated four months before the company had been created.
While it is unclear whether the judge knew about the fraud, she let the case go forward anyway. Lawyers whom Mr. Browder had never heard of showed up to defend the Hermitage companies and admitted wrongdoing. The judge ruled in favor of Logos Plus.
In all, 15 such claims were put forth in similar cases. [There were] A total of $1.26 billion in judgments against Hermitage, which did not even learn of the cases until three months later.
Becoming a Personal Target
In the end, the raiders got nothing from Hermitage.
After his visa was canceled, Mr. Browder, concerned about such an onslaught, had quietly moved his Russian assets off shore and sold most of them. The holding companies were shells.
Still, the scheme was not done. In recent weeks, Hermitage discovered that the fake lawsuits had served another purpose. The raiders used the legal judgments to alter the holding companies’ balance sheets, wiping away their profits for 2006.
They then went to the tax authorities and applied for a refund on taxes that Hermitage had paid in 2006 on the profits. The authorities handed them $230 million from the Russian treasury, Hermitage lawyers said.
While Mr. Browder did not suffer grievous financial losses, his work in Russia has been ruined. He has only small investments left here, and has evacuated his Russian staff to London, fearing for their safety.
Mr. Browder has, over the last year or two, reinvented himself and Hermitage now has more than $3 billion invested in other parts of the world.
Beginning last December, Hermitage and its bankers filed dozens of lengthy complaints with Russian government agencies, presenting numerous pieces of evidence, including the phone call from Lieutenant Colonel Kuznetsov. To no avail.
Mr. Medvedev appointed a committee in May to develop an anti-corruption program, and Hermitage sent letters to its members. None responded.
At the same time, as Mr. Browder has stepped up his complaints, the Interior Ministry has set its sights on him personally. It has opened a criminal inquiry into whether he violated an obscure tax law in 2001.
Hermitage did convince one agency, the State Investigative Committee, which is part of the prosecutor general’s office, to examine the case. But Hermitage has come to realize that this inquiry will also most likely go nowhere. Last month, a Hermitage lawyer went to a meeting at the investigative committee about the case and saw a familiar face. It turns out that one of the officials who is helping to lead the inquiry into Hermitage’s allegations is Lieutenant Colonel Kuznetsov.
This article is part of a New York Times series "Kremlin Rules" examining the crackdown in Russia under Vladimir V. Putin. Previous Articles in the Series »
According to a report put out by the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom last week...
...Here, for example, is a multiple-choice question that appears in a recent edition of a Saudi fourth-grade textbook, Monotheism and Jurisprudence, in a section that attempts to teach children to distinguish "true" from "false" belief in god:
Q. Is belief true in the following instances:
a) A man prays but hates those who are virtuous.
b) A man professes that there is no deity other than God but loves the unbelievers.
c) A man worships God alone, loves the believers, and hates the unbelievers.
The correct answer, of course, is c). According to the Wahhabi imams who wrote this textbook, it isn't enough just to worship god or just to love other believers—it is important to hate unbelievers as well. By the same token, b) is also wrong. Even a man who worships god cannot be said to have "true belief" if he loves unbelievers.
"Unbelievers," in this context, are Christians and Jews. In fact, any child who sticks around in Saudi schools until ninth grade will eventually be taught that "Jews and Christians are enemies of believers." They will also be taught that Jews conspire to "gain sole control of the world," that the Christian crusades never ended, and that on Judgment Day "the rocks or the trees" will call out to Muslims to kill Jews.
These passages, it should be noted, are from new, "revised" Saudi textbooks. Following a similar analysis of earlier versions of these same textbooks in 2006, American diplomats immediately approached their Saudi counterparts about the more disturbing passages, and the Saudis agreed to conduct a "comprehensive revision … to weed out disparaging remarks towards religious groups."
The promised revision—hailed, at the time, as a great diplomatic success—was supposed to be finished by the beginning of the 2008-09 school year and was accompanied by a Saudi PR campaign. .... But although the beginning of the 2008-09 school year is nearly upon us, the only textbook revisions have been superficial, and the most disturbing part of the message—that faithful Muslims should hate Jews and Christians—remains.
...Saudi school textbooks ...are written and produced by the Saudi government and subsequently distributed, free of cost, to Saudi-sponsored schools as far afield as Lagos, Nigeria, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Americans are not the only ones who worry about their influence. In Britain, a small political storm began last year when British mosques were found to be distributing Saudi books that called on Muslims to kill all apostates.
Still, even if U.S. diplomacy is a legitimate response to this peculiarly insidious form of propaganda, it clearly isn't a sufficient response. Far more significant, and surely more effective, would be a unified response from the rest of the world's Muslims, the vast majority of whom do not share Saudi views and do, occasionally, say so. The Hudson Insitute report cites a few of them, outside as well as inside Saudi Arabia. It would be useful, for us but especially for them, if they would say so more often and more loudly.
...Make sure that children in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in Islamic schools all around the world have decent fourth-grade textbooks. It might save a lot of trouble later on.
Responding to the sharp rise in terrorist attacks in the capital, carried out by Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, Israeli authorities are keen to expedite procedures that would authorize the resumption of punitive measures, such as the razing of terrorists' homes.
For the second time in three weeks, a Palestinian terrorist went on a rampage with a bulldozer in central Jerusalem. Twenty four Israeli civilians were injured, one seriously, before the driver was shot and killed by a Border Police officer and a civilian. ...
.... Security sources expressed concern Tuesday at the sharp rise in the number of attacks in the capital, and the role of East Jerusalem's Arab residents in them. Since the start of the year there have been five major attacks in Jerusalem, claiming the lives of 12 Israelis.
During the first half of the year, the Shin Bet security service arrested 71 Palestinians from East Jerusalem suspected of being involved in attacks, compared to 37 such arrests during the entire year of 2007.
In the first seven years of the second intifada (which began in September 2000), some 270 East Jerusalem residents were arrested for similar suspicions. The same security sources said that the last three attacks in West Jerusalem (at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva and the two bulldozer attacks) constitute a new challenge for Israel, and stressed that at present there is no means to counter them.
The combination of a lone terrorist, who decides to attack without having an organizational structure behind him, and the freedom of movement an Israeli identity card guarantees East Jerusalem Arabs, constitutes a weak point in Israel's defenses, making it difficult to prevent similar attacks in the future.
The security sources further said that in the near future, efforts will be made to accelerate those administrative processes that will result in the razing of the homes of the two bulldozer terrorists from East Jerusalem.
Israel ceased destroying the homes of terrorists in 2005. However, as a result of the recent attacks in the capital, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak called for resuming the punitive acts...
...Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin is in favor of resuming the policy. Speaking at the Knesset prior to Tuesday's attack, he said that Israel faces a "problem of deterrence" in East Jerusalem because it lacks any effective punitive tool, like razing homes.
"Warm feelings flow from World Youth Day"
DESPITE initial concerns over the Stations of the Cross procession planned for Pope Benedict XVI's visit, Jewish leaders have come out praising World Youth Day (WYD) and the interfaith forums held as part of the celebrations, which concluded on July 20.
"It gave us a good opportunity for networking, and we're further than we were in interfaith dialogue," said Josie Lacey, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (BOD) interfaith chair.
She added that while she was still "sad" the procession had depicted Jesus Christ's final hours and included a scene of him being condemned by the Sanhedrin, the ancient Jewish tribunal, she said the re-enactment on July 18 "wasn't as bad as I expected".
For months leading up to the event, ongoing concerns over the march and its possible negative portrayal of Jews had become a point of contention between the two communities. Talks between the church and the BOD eventually led the church to make some changes to the procession. BOD CEO Vic Alhadeff told The AJN this week that he was satisfied with the outcome and the "sensitive manner" in which the church had handled the re-enactment. "We were especially moved by the reference in the commentary to the Church's rejection of anti-Jewish teachings and by the recollection of the Good Friday prayer of the 1970 Roman Missal in the mention of 'our Jewish brothers and sisters the first to hear the word of God'," he said.
...Courage to Care chairman Andrew Havas said many pilgrims also stopped by the B'nai B'rith centre in East Sydney to see its exhibition based on the Holocaust. "They especially came because we're a Jewish organisation and they wanted to see something Jewish," he said. "They were incredibly supportive."Overall, he said, WYD had helped to build dialogue between the faiths....
...Pilgrims also attended Israeli Harmony Dance Workshops by the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia NSW division and took tours of The Great Synagogue where they learned about the history of the shul and Australia's Jewish community.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
A Palestinian bulldozer driver went on a rampage in downtown Jerusalem on Tuesday, wounding at least 24 people, just weeks after a similar attack in the capital left three dead.
The driver was identified as a 22-year-old resident of East Jerusalem who held an Israeli ID card. Police sealed off possible escape routes into the predominantly Arab area of Jerusalem and were searching for two suspects who fled the scene, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
One of the wounded was in serious condition and the rest sustained light wounds. They were taken to Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem for treatment.
The driver of the tractor struck a bus and at least five cars before being shot dead by security forces, Jerusalem police said.
...The copycat attack occurred on the corner of Keren Hayesdod and King David streets in downtown Jerusalem, down the road from the hotel where U.S. Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama was to be staying later in the day.
"The bulldozer driver left a construction site, and hit two cars," a police spokesman said. "A civilian who saw what was happening, shot him. The bulldozer continued on its way. A Border Police patrol... continued to shoot and the terrorist was killed."
An eyewitness said that the whole incident took place in less than a few minutes.
"One car flipped over and others were crushed. I started running in the direction of the tractor. People regained their composure within seconds. A guy from Susya, near southern Mount Hebron, shot him in the head and a few minutes later a Border Police officer shot him as well," the witness added.
...Witness Moshe Shimshi said the driver of the construction vehicle, who was wearing a large, white skullcap commonly worn by religious Muslims, slammed into the side of the bus, then sped away and went for a car.
"He didn't yell anything, he just kept ramming into cars," Shimshi said.
"The driver then headed for cars waiting at a red light and rammed into them with all his might," he added.
Shimshi said he stopped his motorcycle and ran toward the construction vehicle when he saw another man running at it from another direction.
The civilian who shot the terrorist that steered the bulldozer has been identified as Ya'akov Asahel, a 53-year-old resident of the West Bank settlement of Susya in the southern Hebron hills.
Asahel, a graduate of the Netiv Meir religious seminary, is also a platoon commander in the Israel Defense Forces' Armored Corps as well as one of the first settlers in the southern Hebron hills area. An agrarian by trade, he works as a gardener and a religious instructor in the high school yeshiva of the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, just outside of Hebron....
In face of east Jerusalem residents' growing involvement in terror, Shin Bet officials tell Ynet current security measures ineffective; Israeli security forces should enter Arab villages in Jerusalem more frequently, one official says
Current security measures aimed at curbing the terror threat in east Jerusalem "aren't effective enough," Shin Bet sources told Ynet Tuesday night in wake of the latest bulldozer attack in the capital.
The terrorist, an east Jerusalem resident, wounded 18 people before he was shot and killed by a civilian and a Border Guard officer.
Security officials told Ynet that what they characterized as "popular attacks" such as the hurling of Molotov cocktails and stabbing attacks are on the rise.
"There is a link between events in Gaza and the pictures coming out of the Strip and such popular attacks," one Shin Bet official said. Security officials added that these attacks are not a result of organized terror activity, but rather, come at the initiative of Palestinian individuals.
In addition, officials noted that about 270 east Jerusalem residents were detained on charges of involvement in terror from 2001 to the end of 2007. However, in the first half of 2008 alone, 71 east Jerusalem Arabs have already been detained on terror-related charges.
'More arrests needed'
Shin Bet officials said that at this time Israel does not utilize effective means of deterrence against east Jerusalem residents, such as the possibility of razing or sealing off the homes of terrorists who committed attacks. "There isn't enough effective activity," one source said. "We need to enter villages in the east of the city more often and carry out more arrests, in order to deter the next terrorist." ...
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Israeli Ambassador Gillerman bids United Nations farewell in emotional speech; Israel contributes to mankind everyday, he says, adds that he is most frightened by Muslim world's 'eerie silence' in face of terrorism
WASHINGTON – Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, delivered his farewell speech to the Security council Tuesday, expressing his appreciation to international representatives but assuring them that "Israel will prevail" regardless of their decisions.
... Turning his attention to the threat of terrorism, Gillerman said the world was not dealing with a clash of civilizations, but rather, with a "clash of civilization, in the singular," within Islam.
'Most of the violence is within Islam'"Most of the horror, most of the bloodshed, most of the killings, and most of the violence…is sadly and tragically within Islam," he said, adding that not only are the majority of terrorists Muslim, but also the majority of victims around the world.
Gillerman said he was most frightened by the "eerie silence of the Muslim world" in the face of terrorism, and expressed his hope to see a Muslim leader emerge that would say "enough is enough, what are we doing?"
"I hope very much that the Arab and Muslim world will realize that it is its duty and responsibility today, in that very clash, to support the moderates and isolate the extremists," he said.
The outgoing Israeli ambassador also took the opportunity to invite all those present to visit Israel.
"You will see a country which is very different from the perception you get on TV, where you see a country torn by violence and bloodshed… you will discover a vibrant county, of great excellence and innovation," he said. "You will see a country which is contributing each and every day to mankind and to humanity, not just to itself and to the Jewish people, and making the world a better place."
Shin Bet chief tells Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Palestinian group has missiles which can reach Kiryat Gat, Ashdod; adds he opposes Barghouti's release
Hamas has been taking advantage of the truce in order to plant mines in wide areas in the Gaza Strip, Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin warned the Knesset's Foreign Affairs on Tuesday. "This is one of the reasons I objected to the ceasefire," he said. "...in order to fight terror we have no choice but to be present in the area."
Diskin also said he strongly opposes the release of former Fatah Secretary-General Marwan Barghouti, who was sentenced to five life imprisonments, as part of a deal which would secure the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.
The Shin Bet chief went on to say that "Hamas today has missiles which can reach Kiryat Gat, and maybe even Ashdod."
Diskin said the Palestinian group was interested in maintaining the truce in order to stabilize its power and rule. Israeli officials recently expressed their concern over Hamas' armament during the ceasefire.
The Shin Bet chief added that "the truce is enabling Hamas to get stronger. They have not abandoned their long-term plans. They were not required to stop the smuggling and return (kidnapped soldier) Gilad Shalit in return, and they have achieved their main goals."
According to Diskin, there is no other way but to control the area. "Ever since Operation Defense Shield, there has been a dramatic drop in the number of terror attacks originating in the West Bank due to the IDF's presence in the area and due to the (separation) fence."
Knesset Member Limor Livnat (Likud) said in response, "The Shin Bet chief's remarks testify that the government had completely failed in defending its citizens. A government which fails to listen to the Shin Bet chief, and chooses instead to deal with the disagreements between the prime minister, the foreign minister and the defense minister, must resign immediately."
MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) added, "There is a contradiction in the Israeli policy towards Gaza these days. On the one hand, the Israeli interest is to weaken Hamas and bring it down. On the other hand, the truce allows Hamas to grow stronger. This is a strategic mistake and the price of fixing it will be very high."
... harsh questions ...are arising from the exchange which took place ...the bodies were received in a severely-damaged state .....
Former IDF Medical Corps and Chief Military Rabbinate officials ...[were] shocked by what they saw ....
Rabbi Yisrael Weiss, former Chief Rabbi of the IDF, who was present during the transfer of the fallen soldiers yesterday, said that "the verification process yesterday was very slow, because, if we thought the enemy was cruel to the living and the dead, we were surprised, when we opened the caskets, to discover just how cruel. And I'll leave it at that."
Former IDF Chief Medical Officer Brig. Gen. (reserve) Dr. Hezi Levi noted this morning that only extensive procedures could verify the exact series of events following the soldier's capture, including whether or not a gunshot wound Regev received to the head was caused by terrorists' "confirming the kill" of the fallen IDF soldier.
Monday, July 21, 2008
As the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, you are about to leave your post after nearly six years and return to Tel Aviv at a time when Iran is releasing touched-up photographs of its latest missile tests and continuing to enrich uranium in defiance of U.N. sanctions. How seriously do you take their threats?
Listen to Ahmadinejad, who denies the Holocaust while planning the next one, who talks about wiping Israel off the face of the map — listen to him, and take him at face value.
But what if it’s all bluster? Maybe he’s just a short man who needs to pontificate.
For too long, much of the world, including Neville Chamberlain, believed that Hitler was just a crazy short man. I don’t think we can afford to do it again.
Considering the long and illustrious history of the Persians, isn’t it unlikely that the Iranians would ever do anything reckless with nuclear weapons?
The real fear is not that the Iranians will be crazy enough or stupid enough to launch a missile at Israel, but that they will have no compunction about providing rogue regimes and terror organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah with weapons of mass destruction.
You recently called Jimmy Carter a “bigot” after he met with Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas. Is it true you were reprimanded by the U.S. State Department?
There was no complaint or reprimand. The only reaction I received was very positive.
The Bush administration, it seems, has not done much to advance the Mideast peace process. Would you agree?
I think the key is in the Arab world. The Palestinians’ real tragedy is that they have not been able to produce a Nelson Mandela. Every single day, Muslims are killed by Muslims. You do not see a single Muslim leader get up and say, “Enough is enough.” It’s nearly as if we live in a world where if Christians kill Muslims, it’s a crusade. If Jews kill Muslims, it’s a massacre. And when Muslims kill Muslims, it’s the Weather Channel. Nobody cares.
What about Mahmoud Abbas, the impressively moderate head of the Palestinian Authority?
I am not saying Abbas is a Mandela. But at least he is willing to talk, and the Arab world should stand with him and legitimize him and stand against the extremists. They are not doing that.
Of the 192 ambassadors from as many countries at the U.N., do any of them refuse to speak to you?
I say hello to everyone. The ambassadors who do not say hello to me are the Iranian, the Syrian and the Libyan, whose mere presence on the Security Council is scandalous. No co-op board in this city would even consider letting Libya buy an apartment, yet the U.N. gives it a seat on the world body responsible for peace and security.
...Whom would you like to see win the presidential election in this country?
I don’t think it would be right for me to voice an opinion on American politics. I would be crucified. This is the worst gaffe you can make as a diplomat, to take sides.
You’re wearing a tie decorated with elephants. Is that a sign of your loyalty to the Republican candidate?
No, no, my loyalty is to pink elephants.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
GENEVA — International talks on Iran’s nuclear ambitions ended in deadlock on Saturday, despite the Bush administration’s decision to reverse policy and send a senior American official to the table for the first time.
The presence of William J. Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, represented one of the most important encounters between Iran and the United States since relations were severed after Iran’s seizure of the American Embassy in 1979. It came as part of a moment of rare unity among the negotiating partners — the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China — who pressed Iran to accept compromise.
But Iran responded with a written document that failed to address the key issue: international demands that it stop enriching uranium. And Iranian diplomats reiterated before the talks that they considered that issue non-negotiable.
Specifically, the world powers wanted Iran to accept a formula known as “freeze-for-freeze” to break the deadlock, under which Iran would not add to its nuclear program, and the United States and other powers would not seek new international sanctions for six weeks to pave the way for formal negotiations. The formula was originally offered to Iran last year and presented again to it last month as part of a new proposal ultimately to give Iran economic and political incentives if it stops producing enriched uranium.
But officials involved in Saturday’s negotiations said that when they repeatedly pressed the Iranians to say whether they could accept the idea, the question was evaded every time.
“We still didn’t get the answer we were looking for,” the European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said in a news conference after several hours of talks, held in Geneva’s City Hall.
Mr. Solana reiterated an earlier deadline, given before the talks, that the Iranians had two weeks to formally respond to the proposal.
At the news conference, Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief negotiator, refused to answer whether Iran would accept a freeze, however temporary, of its uranium enrichment program, but called the negotiating process a “very beautiful endeavor” with a result that he hoped would eventually be “beautiful to behold.”
Mr. Burns did not speak privately with Mr. Jalili. But in a brief intervention in the morning meeting, he said that the United States was serious in its support for the six-power process and serious that Iran must suspend its production of enriched uranium, the State Department said.
He told his negotiating partners after the talks that the United States would push for new punitive sanctions at the United Nations Security Council in September, one participant in the meeting said.
Saturday’s meeting at Geneva’s Town Hall was arguably the most important public encounter between an Iranian and an American official in about 30 years.
There have been other authorized meetings. Madeleine K. Albright, as Secretary of State, for example, once sat at the same table with then Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and other emissaries at the United Nations to discuss Afghanistan. Colin L. Powell, as secretary of state, once shook Mr. Kharrazi’s hand. American and Iranian officials have met episodically in Baghdad to discuss Iraq’s security.
But Saturday’s meeting was the highest-level meeting between the two countries during the Bush administration, which once branded Iran part of an “axis of evil” and has not ruled out military action against Iran because of its nuclear ambitions.
It comes as the Bush administration, in its final months, has told some of its closest allies that the United States was moving forward with a plan to establish an American diplomatic presence in Tehran for the first time since the rupture in bilateral relations.
But for some, the Americans have made a diplomatic gesture with Mr. Burns’s participation at a moment that is hard to understand. America’s negotiating partners, particularly Britain, had wanted an American presence when they traveled to Tehran last month to present an enhanced package of incentives. That moment, officials said, would have been both meaningful and more logical.
Instead, Mr. Burns came to the table at a time when the Iranians were giving their reply, and there had never been a strong signal that it was going to be different from the past.
Despite the shift in American willingness to talk, one point of policy clearly has not changed: the Bush administration wants to avoid the impression that it is negotiating with Iran before it suspends its production of enriched uranium, which can be used to make electricity or fuel bombs.
Even the subject of a joint photograph was one of dispute. The only photo accepted by the American side was one with all parties at the table. The Americans objected to the idea of a photo of Mr. Solana and Mr. Jalili at a joint news conference with Mr. Burns and the other participants standing behind them.
Complicating the diplomacy was that before Saturday’s talks began, the six powers were not united on a joint strategy on how to proceed. The American delegation had told its partners that Mr. Burns’s appearance was a one-time event and that Iran had two weeks to decide whether to accept the “freeze-for-freeze” idea.
Germany, Russia and China, by contrast, argued that there should be time to explore the negotiating track with Iran.
There were other disagreements among the six powers as well. Both France and Britain have argued that there should be a precise definition of what the Iranians would have to freeze to open the way to formal talks.
For example, there is no definition of whether Iran would simply have to keep its production of enriched uranium at current levels, or if it would also have to stop making components and spare parts for the centrifuges that enrich the uranium.
The American delegation rejected the idea of spending time worrying about definitions, insisting that it was more important to stick to the six-week deadline for initial discussions before Iran would stop enriching uranium and formal talks could begin.
But those disagreements evaporated during the talks with Iran. The six powers presented a united front in pushing the Iranians to give a clear answer on whether they were willing to make the good-faith gesture of halting new nuclear activity to pave the way for formal talks.
Surprising to some, given Russia’s traditional support of Iran, the Russian negotiator, Sergei Kisliak, was particularly pointed in his questioning, saying that a way to avoid deepening the impasse had to be found, one participant said.
Iranian intransigence will make it more difficult politically for the Bush administration to move forward with a plan to put an American diplomatic presence in Iran.
Still, there is a reluctance to abandon talks with Iran. Last November, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran was pursuing its nuclear program and that negotiations were out of the question. Last December, when Mr. Jalili assumed the role of chief nuclear negotiator, he announced at his first meeting with the other powers that any further discussion with Iran on its nuclear program was unnecessary.
Iran wants to continue its nuclear activities, but now, in a policy shift, wants to negotiate at the same time.
Meanwhile, on the same day (Saturday 19/7/08), Ynet News reports:
[Iran's] vice president on Saturday ...proclaims Iran "a friend to the nation in Israel and the United States."
Speaking at a tourism convention in Tehran, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei said: “No nation in the world is our enemy, Iran is a friend of the nation in the United States and in Israel, and this is an honor. We view the American nation as one with the greatest nations of the world.”
His words garnered little attention from the Iranian media and the startling rhetoric only appears on his official internet site.
.... He added that Iran "wants no war with any country," and insisted that Iran's actions during its war with Iraq were purely defensive.
While Mashaei holds no sway in Iranian foreign affairs, as an official representative of the Islamic regime in Tehran, his words carry weight – even if they were unplanned.
Mashaei’s friendly comments come in sharp contrast to recent statements made by Ahmadinejad, in which he prophesized that Israel is headed towards destruction "without any need for Iranian action.” ...
[What does it mean? ... Persian diplomacy is the oldest diplomacy on earth - SL]