Saturday, December 26, 2009

Israel will apply more force

From a New York Times Memo From Tel Aviv, December 25, 2009, by ISABEL KERSHNER:

TEL AVIV — In the year since Israel launched its devastating military offensive against Hamas in Gaza, the country’s political and military leaders have faced intense international condemnation and accusations of possible war crimes.

But Israel seems to have few qualms. Officials and experts familiar with the country’s military doctrine say that given the growing threats from Iranian-backed militant organizations both in Gaza and in Lebanon, Israel will probably find itself fighting another, similar kind of war.

Only next time, some here suggest, Israel will apply more force.

“The next round will be different, but not in the way people think,” said Giora Eiland, a retired major general and former chief of Israel’s National Security Council. “The only way to be successful is to take much harsher action.”

Such talk has raised alarm among some critics in Israel, but so far it has stirred little public debate.

Both the three-week campaign in Gaza, which ended on Jan. 18, and Israel’s monthlong war in 2006 against the Shiite Hezbollah organization in Lebanon have brought relative quiet to Israel’s borders.

Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, the chief of Israel’s military intelligence, said the source of the quiet was “not the adoption of Zionism by our enemies.” The main factor, he recently told an audience at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, is Israeli deterrence, starting with the war in Lebanon and continuing with the Gaza operation that the Israelis called Cast Lead.

But decisive victory against irregular forces has been elusive. In the military’s assessment, the calm is temporary and fragile; Hamas and Hezbollah are said to be rearming, making another confrontation only a matter of time.

While the Israeli military has a clear advantage in fighting conventional armies, it is still adapting to the new and complicated demands of asymmetric warfare. The military says it is contending with enemies who fight out of uniform and hide behind civilians, intentionally firing rockets out of populated areas into densely populated areas of Israel.

Israel’s objective, according to Gabriel Siboni, a retired colonel who runs the military program at the Institute for National Security Studies, is to shorten and intensify the period of fighting and to lengthen the period between rounds.

...Military officials strenuously deny that Israel plans to hit economic or civilian infrastructure to cause suffering to the local population, in the hope of turning it against the war.

Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, chief of the Israeli military’s Operations Department, told reporters at a recent briefing in Tel Aviv that the army would not shoot at targets that had no proven link “with any form of terror.” But, he added, “we are going to use fire.”

General Kochavi said that Israel would never deliberately fire on civilians but that civilian buildings containing weapons or rocket launchers would be bombed after residents had been warned to evacuate.

With the war in Gaza, however, the distinction between military and civilian infrastructure seemed to become increasingly blurred.

Among the targets destroyed in Gaza were the parliament building and the central prison. ...Israel never claimed that the parliament building was being used to store or fire weapons. But after Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, Israel says, the parliament building became part of the Hamas infrastructure, and therefore a legitimate target to be destroyed.

David Benjamin, a lieutenant colonel in the reserves and a former senior adviser in the Israeli military’s legal department, said that Israel did not need to “buy in” to Hamas’s definitions of what was military and what was political. Israel considers all of Hamas a terrorist organization. The distinction, Mr. Benjamin said, is “artificial in my view.”

...Critics both inside and outside Israel denounce what they — and at least one senior Israeli Army commander — have called the “Dahiya doctrine,” referring to the intention to inflict immense damage and destruction, an approach that would inevitably lead to civilian deaths.

A recent report by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, a local advocacy group, pointed to what it called a “significant change” in the Israeli military’s combat doctrine. It said the shift was legally and politically dangerous and cast a “moral stain” on Israeli citizens, and it called for public debate.

But Israeli officials and security experts contend that other Western countries are facing similar challenges in their conflicts abroad. What must change, they say, is not the Israeli military’s conduct but the interpretation and application of the laws of war by the rest of the world....

The ascent of the little dictator

From Commentary Magazine, 22/12/09: Assad Returns as the Strong Horse, by Michael J. Totten:

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri just spent two days with Syrian strongman Bashar Assad in Damascus, and you’d think from reading the wire reports that Lebanon and Syria had re-established normal relations after a rough patch. That’s how it’s being reported, but it’s nonsense.

Hariri went to Damascus with Hizbullah's bayonet in his back.

Assad's regime assassinated Saad Hariri's father, Rafik, in 2005. There is no alternate universe where Saad Hariri is OK with this or where his generically "positive" statements at a press conference were anything other than forced.

I was invited to dinner at Hariri's house earlier this year. Trust me: the man is no friend of the Syrian government or Hizbullah. His political party, the Future Movement, champions liberalism and capitalism, the very antithesis of what is imposed in Syria by Assad's Arab Socialist Baath party regime and the totalitarian Velayat-e Faqih ideology enforced by the Khomeinists in Iran and in the Hizbullah-occupied regions of Lebanon.

Hizbullah and its sponsors in Tehran and Damascus have forced Hariri to surrender to its continuing existence as a warmongering militia that threatens to blow up the country again by picking fights with the Israelis. The national army isn't strong enough to disarm Hizbullah. At the end of the day, Hariri has to do what Hizbullah and its friends say unless someone with a bigger stick covers his back. When Hariri went to Damascus, everyone in the country understood it meant Syria has re-emerged as the strong horse in Lebanon.

The U.S. and France did effectively isolate Assad with Saudi assistance when George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac were in charge, but presidents Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy think they can save the Middle East by “engaging” its most toxic leaders.

Syria, therefore, is no longer isolated. Lebanon’s little anti-Syrian government doesn’t stand a chance under these circumstances, especially not when Hezbollah is the dominant military power in the country.

“It’s a dangerous game these people are playing,” Lebanese activist and political analyst Eli Khoury said last time I spoke with him in Beirut, “but I think it’s only a matter of time until the newcomers burn their fingers with the same realities that we’ve seen over and over again.

... now the U.S., France, and Saudi Arabia are bringing Assad in from the cold and giving him cocoa. His influence, naturally, is rising again, in Lebanon and everywhere else. That's good news for Hizbullah and Iran. It's bad news for the Lebanese, the Americans, the French, the Saudis, and the Israelis. None of this was inevitable, but - in Lebanon, at least - it was predictable.

From Jerusalem Post, 23/12/09: Domino Effect Seen in Lebanon, by Jonathan Spyer*:

Last week's visit by Lebanese Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri to Damascus is the latest marker in the return of the coercive Syrian presence in Lebanon. It is also an indication of Syria's successful defiance of the west.

The pro-western and pro-Saudi March 14 movement, led by Hariri, achieved a modest victory in elections in June. This victory was effectively nullified in the lengthy coalition "negotiations" that followed. The new government as finally announced in November represented the unusual spectacle of a wholesale capitulation of the electoral victors before the vanquished.

The Hizbullah-led opposition kept their effective veto power in the Cabinet. The government's founding statement included an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of Hizbullah's continued armed presence.

This substantive conceding by Hariri of his election victory has now been accompanied by a symbolic gesture.

The Hizbullah-led opposition conditioned their agreeing to join the coalition on the Hariri visit. But this condition was originally agreed to, according to reports, by Saudi King Abdullah, during his visit to Damascus in October. This visit was a gesture of rapprochement by the Saudis to the Syrians. The main backer of Hariri and March 14 appears at that point to have signaled Saudi willingness to concede its clients to the pro-Syrian interest in Lebanon.

Unlike the Syrian and Iranian clients in Lebanon, Hariri and Co. have no "hard power" or resistance option. The only game they can play is diplomacy. So once their main diplomatic patrons had offered them up, the game was effectively over.

But why did the Saudis choose to make this gesture? On one level, the Saudis hope to pull Syria way from Iran by welcoming Damascus back into the Arab "fold." But Syria has made abundantly clear that it has no intention of ending or even toning down its staunch, 30-year alliance with Teheran.

On another level, the Saudis and Syrians share an additional, common interest in ensuring a weak, vulnerable Iraq between them.

But even this begs another question. Why should the Saudis choose to begin to engage with Iran's main Arab allies - the Syrians - against the US-aligned Iraqis? Riyadh's own patron, after all, is the United States.

Here one arrives at the crux of the matter. Although the Obama administration has hesitated before rushing headlong into renewing relations with Damascus, it has undertaken a series of gestures that have demonstrated that any real policy of isolation is over. This goes hand in hand with the broader regional stance of the administration of attempting "engagement" with the Iranian regime.

Far from signaling to Middle Eastern powers that a new world of cooperation is about to commence, what this U.S. stance conveys to friends and foes in the region is that Washington no longer has the stomach for holding fast against the bid by Iran and its allies for regional hegemony.

The actors, therefore, move to make their accommodation with the changed reality. The small dominoes are falling, like Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who visited Damascus last week in a ritual gesture of supplication to Bashar al-Assad.

*The writer is senior researcher at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, IDC, Herzliya.

From the Weekly Standard, 10/12/09: The Murdered Fathers Club: Washington's Allies in Beirut Are Now Bowing to Damascus, by David Schenker**:

Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt, the leaders of the Cedar Revolution, whose fathers were all but certainly killed by Syria, are paying homage to Damascus.

Perhaps the leading factor in the March 14 leadership's decision to return to Damascus appears to be Saudi Arabia's equivocating. To mitigate the threat posed by Tehran, Saudi Arabia is attempting to pry Syria away from its 30-year strategic ally, and the first Saudi down-payment in this ill-advised gambit has been its Lebanese allies.

At least in part, this dramatic change in policy is related to the perceived U.S. weakness on Iran. Absent Saudi confidence that Washington will prevent a nuclear Iran, Riyadh is hedging.

For Washington and March 14, of course, the Saudi shift and the imminent expeditions of the coalition's senior leadership to Damascus is not good news. Simply stated, it is indicative of the fact that Syria has a new lease on life in Lebanon.

Sadly, this pro-West coalition, which came to power on the battle-cry of Lebanese "independence," appears to have come full circle. March 14 politicians are already flocking to Damascus to ingratiate themselves with Asad, and the Lebanese president is starting to become a routine fixture in the Syrian capital.

The ongoing tragedy of Lebanon will be played out in the coming days, as the murdered father's club holds its next meeting in Damascus.

**The writer is director of the Program in Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Iran ignores another deadline ...ante goes up

From The Hill (Washington), 12/24/09, by Bridget Johnson:

Iran's refusal to accept a nuclear deal by the end of the year is setting up a major foreign policy test for both President Barack Obama and Congress.

Just after passing the historic healthcare reform legislation that has consumed the Senate's attention, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) stressed Thursday that he wants to bring sanctions legislation to a vote when lawmakers return from the Christmas and New Year's break in January.

"This important piece of legislation...would impose new sanctions on Iran's refined petroleum sector and tighten existing U.S. sanctions in an effort to create new pressure on the Iranian regime and help stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," Reid said in a colloquy with Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.).

The House passed a sanctions measure 412-12 last week that would enable Obama to bar foreign companies that supply Iran with refined petroleum from doing business in the U.S.

"We must use all the tools at our disposal, from diplomacy to sanctions, to stop Iran's march toward nuclear capability," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said after the bill was approved.

The renewed sense of urgency comes as the year ends with Iran snubbing the latest demands from Washington.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stressed this week that the Islamic Republic does not recognize, and has no intention to meet, the year-end deadline to accept a P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) deal to ship enriched uranium out of the country to be returned as nuclear fuel rods. This would not only allow for supervision of the nuclear program, but alleviate fears that Iran was producing nuclear warheads.

"Who are they to set us a deadline?" Ahmadinejad said of the U.S. demand in a Tuesday televised speech. "We set them a deadline that if they do not correct their attitude and behavior and literature we will demand from them the Iranian nation's historic rights."

..."Mr. Ahmadinejad may not recognize, for whatever reason, the deadline that looms, but that is a very real deadline for the international community," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday.

"The offer that was put forward by the P5+1 and by the IAEA that, I think, clarified for the world what Iran's intentions were, now they have to live up to those responsibilities," Gibbs said. "And if they fail to do so, the international community will act accordingly."

Gibbs, without elaborating, said that the White House "began making plans weeks ago" regarding the next course of action should Iran not abide by the deadline.

There has been no indication that the administration would use force against Iran's nuclear facilities as the White House has clearly favored the diplomatic route from Day One. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen reiterated that this week when he said military action would be of limited use in stopping Iran's "determined pursuit of nuclear weapons."

"My belief remains that political means are the best tools to attain regional security and that military force will have limited results," Mullen wrote to staff in an annual risk assessment. "However, should the president call for military options, we must have them ready."

Israel, however, has hinted at preemptive airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities as a last resort, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made the Iranian threat a priority in his talks with Washington. Vice President Joe Biden even said in a July interview on ABC's "This Week" that Israel had the right to deal with Iran as it saw fit.

"If the Netanyahu government decides to take a course of action different than the one being pursued now, that is their sovereign right to do that. That is not our choice," Biden said.

...A Rasmussen Reports survey released Wednesday found 67 percent of respondents saying that the U.N. has not been aggressive enough in response to Iran's nuclear program, with half of all those polled saying the U.S. should help Israel if it decides to attack Iran.

...Meanwhile, the Senate is poised to move on the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2009 cosponsored by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Dodd and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).

"It is now clearer than ever that tougher sanctions must be a key element of our comprehensive Iran strategy going forward," Dodd said Thursday. "My primary goal with this bill is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability."

...As in the House, the Senate sanctions are likely to have heavy bipartisan support, even as Republicans have expressed frustration with what they view as too-light pressure by the administration on the Islamic Republic.

"We've wasted a year," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America." "Sanctions have to be tried before we explore the last option. The worst option is a military action."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Attack on Iran is retaliation not preemption


...It is in fact a misnomer to refer to an attack against Iran as preemption...It is well documented, and accepted, that Iran supports financially, logistically, politically, and militarily, the who's who of terrorist organizations and states:
  • Hizbullah,
  • Hamas,
  • al-Qaida,
  • Taliban,
  • Syria,
  • Sudan and
  • North Korea.

Not only is this support well documented, the Iranian regime and its proxies boast of this support.

  • Iranian weapons have killed Israelis (read Hamastan and Hizbullah-stan).
  • Iranian weapons have killed Americans (read Iraq and Afghanistan).
  • Iran's actions in Lebanon and Syria are in direct violation of that oft quoted term in Article 51 of the UN Charter, "international peace and security."
  • By calling for and presaging the elimination of an internationally recognized state, Iran's leadership is brazenly violating the Genocide Convention.

ALL THESE examples of Iranian hostilities are found in open sources. A strike against Iran, therefore, would neither be preemptive nor preventive. It would fall under the classification of retaliation, in response to the direct and indirect murder of a state's citizens, the disruption of international peace and security and numerous other internationally recognized norms vis-à-vis interstate relations...

*The writer holds an MA in government from the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the IDC-Herzliya. He was formerly a policy analyst at the Program in Applied Decision Analysis at the Lauder School of Government.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Perpetuating Propaganda Prevents Peace

From International Analyst Network, 23 Dec 2009, by David Singer:

...Arab propaganda has created the impression that Israel is located on 78% of Palestine whilst the West Bank and Gaza comprise the remaining 22% of Palestine - thereby claiming that the Jews possess sovereignty in the major part of Palestine.

In fact Israel is only 16% of historic Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza is 6% of historic Palestine and Jordan is 78% of historic Palestine ( see map following) - which substantiates that it is in fact the Arabs that possess sovereignty in the major part of Palestine.

1....a sovereign Arab state already exists in 78% of Palestine and ...any negotiations on the allocation of sovereignty in remaining 6% of Palestine - without the inclusion of Jordan - are destined to fail.

2.The world has recognized by the passing of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 that Israel will not be required to withdraw from the entire West Bank and Gaza but only to “secure and recognized borders.”

3....circumstances on the ground - namely the presence of 500,000 Jews living in territory captured by Israel in 1967 - make it impossible for 100% of the West Bank and Gaza to become sovereign Arab territory.

4.The declaration of statehood by the PLO in 1988 was meaningless since the PLO never had and until this day has not achieved effective control over the area claimed by it.

...propaganda on the false geographical location of Palestine ...promotes another piece of choice propaganda uttered by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as recently as 15 December when he stated:

"We will renew negotiations if the settlements are completely halted and the 1967 borders recognized as the borders of the Palestinian state..." ...However the references to “1967 borders” ...are factually incorrect and misleading.

There were no “1967 borders” between Jordan and Israel or Egypt and Israel in 1967. They were only armistice lines that had been fixed in 1949 after the Jews had repelled six Arab armies that had invaded the fledgling Jewish State of Israel the day after it announced its independence on 14 May 1948.

...It was not until 1979 that Israel’s border with Egypt was settled in negotiations. It was not until 1994 that Israel’s border with Jordan was demarcated in negotiations.

Specifically the 1994 Peace Treaty between Jordan and Israel stipulated that the defined and agreed boundary between their respective states:

“ … is the permanent, secure and recognised international boundary between Israel and Jordan, without prejudice to the status of any territories that came under Israeli military government control in 1967."

The permanent boundary in the Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt is

“..the recognized international boundary between Egypt and the former mandated territory of Palestine … without prejudice to the issue of the status of the Gaza Strip.”

The status of both the West Bank and Gaza are therefore still undetermined and have to be decided between the current negotiating parties – Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Both maintain claims to exercise sovereignty in these areas in which at present neither has sovereignty.

Abbas’s demand that he be granted sovereignty in 100% of the territory is a demand and nothing more.

Describing the armistice lines as “borders” has become an integral part of propaganda used by the Arabs to suggest that the West Bank and Gaza are and have always been under Arab sovereignty. This is wrong and needs to be corrected whenever the term “1967 borders” is used. The Arabs have no monopoly or entitlement to any part of the West Bank or Gaza until their claim and Israel's claim have been negotiated and settled....

India, Israel step up defence ties

From The Times of India, 23 December 2009:

NEW DELHI: India and Israel have decided to further ramp up their ongoing defence cooperation in areas ranging from military trade and counter-terrorism to intelligence-sharing and joint R&D projects.

This came after a joint working group [JWG] meeting on defence, co-chaired by the director-general of Israeli defence ministry Brigadier-General (retd) Pinchas Buchris and defence secretary Pradeep Kumar, here on Tuesday.

The sheer expanse of the Indo-Israeli defence relationship can be gauged from the fact the JWG meeting came shortly after Israeli Defence Forces chief of general staff Lt-General Gabi Ashkenazi visited India. Army General Deepak Kapoor, too, had visited Israel last month.

...Israel has emerged as the second largest defence supplier to India, notching up military business worth a whopping $9 billion since the 1999 Kargil conflict, next only to Russia.

Berlin more sympathetic to Shoah memory than Jerusalem

From The Jerusalem Post, 22 Dec 2009, by Efraim Zuroff, director of Simon Wiesenthal Center [also see this previous posting of Monday, August 24, 2009 entitled Honouring the SS in Estonia]:

...during the past two years, [the new (Eastern European) members of the European Union] and especially the Baltics, have spearheaded ...[a] campaign to achieve official recognition for the canard that communist crimes were just as bad as those of the Nazis...[to minimize the role of local collaborators in Nazi crimes and instead focus attention on the atrocities perpetrated by communists, and especially the Jews among them ...designed to silence Jewish criticism of the role played by Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Ukrainians, Croatians, etc. in the Holocaust, provide a justification for past and current local anti-Semitism and to switch the public's perception of the population of these countries from perpetrators of the most heinous crime to its victims.]

And if there is a country which especially deserves to be criticized harshly in this regard it is Lithuania, whose government is actively helping to finance this campaign, and where its anti-Semitic implications have reached a despicable low during the past three years.

Thus after making a mockery of the efforts to bring unprosecuted Lithuanian Nazi war criminals to justice by insuring that even those two local Security Police commanders and one operative who were prosecuted would not sit even one day in jail for their crimes, Lithuanian prosecutors launched investigations against several Jewish Soviet anti-Nazi partisans, among them Dr. Yitzhak Arad, former chairman of Yad Vashem, on bogus charges of war crimes against Lithuanians. Accompanied by hysterically anti-Semitic articles in the nationalist press, the campaign turned the victims of the Holocaust into perpetrators and the villains who assisted the Nazis in the mass murder of Jews into patriotic heroes, a distortion of the historical events much more palatable to the Lithuanian public.

If [Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vygaudas] Usackas had been invited to Jerusalem to formally announce that his government
  • was immediately stopping its communism equals Nazism campaign,
  • would henceforth commit itself to teaching the painful truth about the extensive role of Lithuanian collaborators in the mass murder of Jews in Lithuania and elsewhere in Europe,
  • would officially close all the cases against former Jewish partisans and officially apologize to them,

his invitation to the Global Forum [to Combat Anti-Semitism - in Jerusalem, last month] would certainly have been justified. But that was not the case.

IF ANYTHING, the opposite is true. On December 2, for example, Lithuanian Justice Minister Remigijus Simasius made a public statement defending Lithuania's abysmal record of extensive collaboration with the Nazis during World War II and absolving his countrymen of any blame for their role in Holocaust crimes. And instead of acknowledging Lithuanian complicity, he preferred to attack the US for its restrictive immigration policies during that period.

In fact, even Usackas himself, in a speech delivered a week prior to the forum, spoke of Lithuanian Righteous Among the Nations and Nazi collaborators as if they were equivalent phenomenon, despite the fact that the latter outnumbered the former many times over.

At the forum, the foreign minister repeated this lie, asking "how could it be that while some Lithuanians were risking their lives to save their Jewish neighbors, others were committing crimes by sending them to death?" a sanitized version of the Lithuanian reality during the Shoah in which many Lithuanians actively participated in the mass murder of Jews (and not like elsewhere in Europe, where local collaborators "merely" sent them to their deaths in Poland) and very few tried to assist them.

And while he did specify that the condemnation of Stalinism "should never be applied to diminish the moral and political lessons of the Holocaust," he did not say a word about halting the nefarious campaign his government is actively supporting to equate communism and Nazism or its practical implications as formulated in the Prague Declaration of June 2008, which calls for a joint commemoration day for the victims of the Nazis and the communists (which would make one specifically for the Shoah superfluous) and a joint research institute for totalitarian crimes (which would make institutions like Yad Vashem redundant).

To add insult to injury, after devoting most of his comments to the importance of fighting against anti-Semitism, I was told that the minister and his entire entourage left the forum immediately after his speech never to return, leaving his hosts without any justification for their unfortunate decision to give Usackas a very respectable platform to once again, in typical fashion, distort the history of the Holocaust and escape the harsh criticism that Lithuanian actions deserve.

Needless to say, there were no such problems at the Berlin [World Congress of Russian Jewry conference entitled "The Legacy of World War II and the Holocaust"], which was united in its condemnation of Holocaust distortion, especially in the Baltics and Ukraine, and which undertook to actively combat these dangerous phenomenon.

In that respect, as hard as this is to believe, this past Hanukka, Berlin was a much more sympathetic venue to discuss the threat to the accuracy of the historical record of World War II and to Holocaust memory than was Jerusalem.

Syria is the lynchpin

From The Middle East Forum, December 2009, by Michael Rubin (brief excerpt only - follow the link to the full paper):

[After the] 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel ...United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1701 restored calm, but only a tenuous one. While the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) returned to Lebanon, it failed to prevent the resupply of Hezbollah with an arsenal even more advanced than before the 2006 conflict. The Lebanese and Israeli border may be calm today, but the potential for regional conflict has only grown. If a new conflict erupts, it likely will be deadlier and harder to contain to Israel and Lebanon. Hezbollah now possesses missiles capable of striking not only Haifa, but also Tel Aviv.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, has reached out diplomatically to both Syria and Iran in the belief that a less confrontational approach to conflict resolution might lead the two states to reconsider their rejectionist behavior. It has not worked. While Tehran and Damascus may welcome the incentives inherent in U.S. engagement, both states continue to use proxies to pursue radical aims and undercut stability. Iran may be Hezbollah's chief patron, but Syria is the lynchpin that makes Iranian support for foreign fighters possible. While Israel may be the immediate target of the Iran-Syria nexus, the partnership threatens broader U.S. interests...

...Syria's continued support for terrorists and other foreign fighters undermines any diplomatic gains the United States achieves. Because of Syria, UN Security Council Resolution 1701 has failed to prevent Hezbollah's rearmament. Meanwhile, the [Iranian Revolutionary Guards] has more political power now than at any previous point in its history. As such, statements by its commander that "in the near future, we will witness the destruction of Israel, the aggressor, this cancerous microbe Israel, at the able hands of the soldiers of the community of Hezbollah," should raise concerns in Washington and European capitals about the possibility of a regional conflagration.

Recent reports that Iran transshipped gas masks and chemical weapons through Syria to Hezbollah should only heighten concern as the Islamic Republic increases its defiance in international discussions about its nuclear activities. Across the U.S. political spectrum, analysts agree that, should Israel, the United States, or any other power strike at Iran's nuclear facilities, the Islamic Republic would respond, at least in part, by activating its proxy terrorist networks.

Palestinian groups in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and foreign fighters in Iraq all have Syrian support in common.

Not only Hezbollah's rhetoric but also its track record suggest a willingness to attack Western targets, should war against Iran erupt.

Given both the circumstances and the stakes, it is ironic that U.S. officials continue to accept the fiction of Syrian sincerity. As difficult as stopping terrorist supplies may be, the likelihood that proxy groups will voluntarily forfeit their capability is low, and the cost of allowing terrorists to use such arms is high.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Schalit deal imminent

From THE JERUSALEM POST Dec. 21, 2009, by Haviv Rettig Gur:

The inner cabinet ...met into the night Monday in ...a final marathon discussion on the prisoner-swap deal that would end Schalit's Gaza captivity.

Gilad Schalit
According to sources close to the deliberations, the proposal to release some 950 Hamas gunmen and activists, some of whom have been convicted of fatal terrorist attacks, for the 23-year-old soldier was expected to gain approval by the forum, after which it would be presented to the full 30-member cabinet.

"There's a wide majority in support of the swap at this stage," a senior political source said.

......If the forum approves the agreement, it must gain the approval of the full cabinet, after which a 48-hour delay will set in for citizens' appeals to the High Court of Justice against the deal. Only then would it go into effect.

The timeline for a full cabinet meeting is unclear, though rumors circulated that ministers were asked to remain in Jerusalem late Monday to be able to participate in a full vote.

The exchange deal has its passionate supporters and critics, with both top security officials and terror victims' families coming down on both sides of the debate.

According to sources, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, ...supports a swap. But Mossad chief Meir Dagan and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin have expressed grave reservations over some parts of the deal, believing that many of the released terrorists would constitute a serious security threat to Israelis.

...Aviva Schalit, the soldier's mother, called the vote by the inner cabinet vote a question of life or death for her son. "I hope they decide today. Everyone who votes must realize their vote means either a death sentence for Gilad or his release," she told Army Radio on Monday morning...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hariri meets his father's killer

From Associated Press, 21/12/09, by ALBERT AJI:

Syrian Dictator Bashar Assad, right, meets with Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri, in Damascus, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2009 .

DAMASCUS, Syria — Lebanon's prime minister, who has blamed neighboring Syria for the assassination of his father, visited Damascus Saturday for the first time since the 2005 killing — a trip that a close associate said was extremely difficult for him to make.

Despite the unresolved issue of his father's slaying in a massive truck bombing in Beirut, Lebanese Premier Saad Hariri's visit potentially opens the way for a new era in the two countries' relations, which have been characterized by upheaval and suspicion for decades.

The 39-year-old Hariri has appealed for relations with Syria based on "clarity and honesty." He was greeted warmly by Syrian President Bashar Assad upon his arrival at the presidential palace at the start of his two-day visit, and Lebanese media said he would attend a dinner banquet hosted by Assad.

Assad adviser Buthaina Shaaban told reporters their talks were "frank" and "succeeded in overcoming difficulties that marred relations in the past five years."

"The guarantee to that is the will of both President Assad and Hariri to build a positive and constructive relationship," she said.

Hariri said in a statement his government was looking forward to establishing "real and strategic relations with Syria."

Syria directly dominated Lebanon for nearly 30 years and kept tens of thousands of troops on its soil. After the killing of Hariri's father, Rafik, Syria came under intense pressure from its opponents in Lebanon, who staged massive protests, and from the West, forcing it to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.

Syria repeatedly denied involvement in the assassination and a series of other political slayings and bombings that followed, but Hariri and his supporters continued to implicate Syria in the killing. Anti-Syrian parties were swept to power in 2005 elections in Lebanon.

The visit by Hariri was "very difficult on the personal level" and involves "great sacrifice," said Hariri loyalist and former lawmaker Mustafa Alloush.

"But as prime minister of Lebanon, it is quite normal to have such a visit. ... It is necessary and there is a need to settle all aspects of the relationship," Alloush told The Associated Press.

He said the visit did not mean some in Lebanon had dropped their belief that Syria was responsible for the killing of Rafik Hariri, who also served as prime minister.

"But this matter is up to the international tribunal now; it is no longer a personal issue," Alloush said.

A U.N.-backed tribunal has been set up to prosecute the assassins, but no suspects have been charged.

Syria has sought recently to improve its relations with the West, largely through its actions in Lebanon. Assad backed a peace deal between rival political factions in Lebanon that ended sectarian violence in May 2008.

Last year, Syria established formal diplomatic relations with Lebanon and set up an embassy in Lebanon for the first time since the countries' independence from France in the 1940s.

Syria still maintains influence in Lebanon through its backing of the militant group Hezbollah.

Hariri and his pro-Western political allies are in an uneasy power-sharing government with a Hezbollah-led grouping.

The War Over Jerusalem

From History News Network, 21/12/2009, by Dr Daniel Mandel, Fellow in History at Melbourne University and author of H.V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel: The Undercover Zionist (Routledge, 2004):

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are foredoomed for now. The party conference of Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah in August – where the platform, resolutions and speakers from Abbas down rejected Israel’s self-identity as a Jewish state and any attempt to delegitimize terrorism against her – tells us as much. But diplomatic flurry often obscures matters, and one might believe that issues like refugees or borders remain the key – or Jerusalem.

In recent weeks, President Barack Obama returned Jerusalem to the limelight when he described continued Jewish apartment building in eastern parts of the city as being “very dangerous” – a euphemism for the threat of Palestinian violence. Then, this past week, the European Union backed Palestinian demands that eastern Jerusalem become a future Palestinian capital.

Jerusalem has been a diplomatic flashpoint since 1949. That is one of the less fortunate legacies of Dr. H.V. Evatt, Australian external affairs minister at the time.

In 1947, Evatt played a pivotal role in persuading the UN to adopt a partition plan calling for Arab and Jewish states in British-controlled Palestine. However, facing elections at home in December 1949 and with an eye to the large Australian Catholic vote, on which his Labor government depended, he ensured the plan called for internationalizing Jerusalem, which neither side wanted, but which the Vatican did.

It did not work out that way. Arabs rejected partition, with the result that Palestine was partitioned by war, not agreement. Jerusalem ended up divided between Israel and Jordan. Both opposed internationalization when Evatt successfully introduced a U.N. resolution to that effect this month sixty years ago.

International fixation on Jerusalem has been with us since, even if enthusiasm for internationalizing the city quickly receded. U.N. committees and trusteeship proposals devoted to Jerusalem provided a special, exploitable focus for the anti-Israel cause. But this was afforded practical outlet only when Israel came into possession of the city’s eastern half after repelling Jordanian assault in 1967.

Historically and religiously of relatively low importance to Islam – it is never mentioned in the Quran – Jerusalem used to transfix few Muslims, while its Jewish roots had once been freely acknowledged by them.

Under Jordanian control (1948-67) eastern Jerusalem had degenerated into a provincial backwater, of little interest to Arab rulers. Saudi princes never dropped in to Jerusalem to pray at the Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa mosque when visiting the fleshpots of nearby Beirut. As late as the 1920s, publications of the Jerusalem waqf, the Muslim religious trust, spoke plainly of the Temple Mount, upon which the mosques are built, as the historical site of Jewry’s Temple.

Today, however, the picture is diametrically opposite.

In Khomeinist Iran, an annual Jerusalem Day parade instituted in 1979 and attended by crowds of up to 300,000 tops all other dates in the regime’s activist calendar. Fatah, which only mentions Jerusalem en passant in its constitutive documents, today boasts a terror group called the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

A profusion of Palestinian statements and Muslim clerical rulings on Jerusalem speak variously of an historical Jewish presence, if at all, as having been brief; of the non-existence of the biblical temples, or of their location elsewhere; and of the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest extant site, being actually a Muslim one.

Such sentiments are disseminated widely in the Arab world. A popular piece of Egyptian graffiti declares “It’s our mosque, not their Temple.”

Moreover, Jerusalem has been successfully exploited by violence for diplomatic profit by Palestinian leaders. In 1996, Palestinian riots on the back of Yasser Arafat’s trumped up charge that Israel’s opening of an archeological tunnel endangered the mosques on Temple Mount produced criticism of Israeli provocation.

In 2000, a visit to Temple Mount by Israeli politician Ariel Sharon, pre-arranged with Arafat, was distorted by Palestinian media into a violation of Muslim sanctuaries (which had not in fact been entered), leading to international criticism of Israel and a Palestinian terror wave.

It would therefore appear that President Obama, to put the best construction on his words, did not know what he was doing when he spoke as though there was some correspondence between Israelis building apartments and Palestinians rioting – or worse.

To speak in these terms places a premium on Palestinian violence and increases the probability of its occurrence: the record shows it to be a paying proposition. Noting the European Union’s willingness to publicly side with Palestinian positions rather than support unprejudiced negotiations, Palestinians now have reason to believe that political capital might be exacted by a little violence.

That means that trouble might follow, quite soon.

All of which carries the following implications. For the foreseeable future, peace negotiations will either not resume at all, or lead nowhere, certainly not to a lasting peace. Jerusalem will remain a flashpoint, with violence easily encouraged by public stances taken in favor of Palestinian positions. And Dr. Evatt’s 1949 resolution – conceived in a different world, motivated by domestic political calculations long forgotten – will demonstrate anew the law of unintended consequences.

Ayalon: EU won't cut our ties with Jerusalem

From Ynet News 19 December 2009, by Roni Sofer:

Catherine Ashton, EU's new minister for foreign affairs

Jerusalem continues to be at heart of dispute between Israel, European Union...

Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign affairs chief, referred to the Israeli capital as "occupied territory" at a speech given earlier this week, prompting Ayalon to state that "just as the Romans failed to severe Israel's ties with Jerusalem, so will the EU's and UN's diplomats."

Saturday's comment by Ayalon also addressed the prospects of the Swedish initiative – declaring east Jerusalem the capital of the future Palestinian state – coming to pass despite the motion's rejection by Israel.

"If any unilateral decisions are made it would be crossing a red line and Israel will no longer be obligated by any post–Oslo deals," he said. Israel will also see such a move "as legitimizing unilateral moves on its part."

As for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, Ayalon said that "... [Abbas is] not really interested in peace.... He is trying to blame Israel for his refusal to progress towards peace...." ...