Friday, March 09, 2007

Israel is more right than wrong

From The Australian, March 09, 2007 ...

A leading group of Australian Jews, in a statement released yesterday, maintain that criticism is not censorship

WE are Jews who are strongly committed to Jewish life and culture. As with most Australian Jews today, we view the welfare and security of Israel as fundamental to that life and culture. That is why we wish to express our public disagreement with the contents of the IAJV petition.

We support a two-state solution to the Arab-Israel conflict, based on mutual compromise and concessions.

We support the peace negotiation initiatives taken by Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton and Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, and we identify with the clear political support of the Israeli mainstream public for a Palestinian state that exists alongside a state of Israel as part of a package that includes recognition of Israel as a legitimate state that has secure and defensible borders.

We support the Quartet's (US, Russia, UN and the EU) proposals that recognise Israel's existence and confirming the Palestinian Authority's past undertakings.

We support Australia's endorsement of a two-state solution to the conflict.

We also endorse free speech within the Jewish community. Australian Jewry is diverse and its communal roof bodies include a wide range of opinions. It is obvious that not all Australian Jews support or should support everything Israel does.

Many recent events in the Middle East such as the Gaza withdrawal and the war with Hezbollah have been vigorously debated in Australian Jewish public forums, and the views of signatories to the IAJV petition have been given extensive coverage in the mainstream media. But we object to, and wish publicly to dissociate ourselves from, disingenuous and misleading aspects of the IAJV petition.

The statement pretends that Israel's mainstream has not yet acknowledged Palestinian aspirations for a homeland. We object to its saying nothing about either the rejection of Israel's legitimacy by Arab parties to the conflict or the role of Islamist terror. In our opinion, an Arab-Israel peace will not be achieved by attempting to impose pariah status on Israel.

Some of the key organisers of the IAJV petition have a long record of one-sided Israel bashing. The anti-Israel bias evident in the omissions of the IAJV petition forms part of that record and it is not a constructive step towards the peaceful solution of the conflict. That will come only when moderates prevail and extremists are condemned on both sides.

Only a tiny minority of Australian Jews reject the fundamental role that Israel plays in Australian Jewish life and identity and the need to ensure the security of Israel, and we believe that this minority who condemn Israel have a right to express their views. Nevertheless, the views of the large majority of Jews who support Israel's legitimacy and security are of greater significance in any debate.

Nor should a vocal minority be given special dispensation from community debate, scrutiny and rational criticism. Australian Jews have a good understanding of what Israelis face every day. There are security guards at the gates of our children's schools and our synagogues are terrorist targets. Peace in the Middle East will only come after terrorism is renounced and the extremists accept the right of Israel to exist free from attack in safe and secure borders.

[signed by]
Michael Danby (federal Labor MP); Eric Roozendaal (NSW Labor minister); Marsha Thomson (Victorian state Labor minister); Martin Pakula (parliamentary secretary to the Victorian Minister for Transport); Michael Borowick (assistant national secretary, Australian Workers Union); associate professor Doug Kirsner; associate professor Greg Rose; Barry Cohen (former federal Labor minister); associate professor Danny Ben Moshe; professor Philip Mendes; Howard Nathan; Justice Stephen Rothman; Mark Dreyfus; George Dreyfus; professor Paul Zimmet; professor Andrew Markus; John Baker; George Newhouse (Mayor of Waverly, NSW); Rabbi John Levi; Dr Paul Gardner; Dr Henry Pinskier; Marcia Pinskier; Leora Harrison; Ron Finkel; Amanda Mendes Da Costa; Leora Harrison; Roland Lindell; Vladimir Tsivlin; Marion Lustig; Dr Carmela Levy-Stokes; Dr George Levy; Michael Marx; Sandy Gutman; Miriam Suss; Dr Philip Bliss; plus 80 others.

The "Independent Voices" do not represent the views of most Jews

From The Age, 9/3/07, by Dr Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council...

THE publicity surrounding the issuing of the "Independent Australian Jewish Voices" statement appears out of all proportion to the petition's significance. After all, why wouldn't a community of more than 100,000 include a small percentage who disagree with positions adopted by elected and other representative bodies advocating the viewpoint of the substantial majority?

Of course, the originators and signatories are free to do as they wish, but so are critics from the wider Jewish community free to highlight their flaws and distortions. For example, despite language apparently calling for a two-state solution to satisfy the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians, the group's prime movers are on record as being opposed to Israel's existence, seeking to replace it with yet another Arab-majority political entity. This not only abuses the trust of those who signed the petition in good faith, but also gives the lie to the IAJV claim that it wants to be Israel's "true friend".

For instance, initiator Antony Loewenstein says Israel is a "fundamentally undemocratic and colonialist idea from a bygone era" and calls for Israel to be replaced by a "binational state". Loewenstein is on record not only as accusing Israel of implementing "apartheid-like policies", but damning all past Israeli leaders as displaying "a disdain and virulent racism towards the Palestinians" and stating that when Israeli leaders publicly declare they want a two-state solution, he doesn't believe them. A number of other signatories, including Sol Salbe, Avigail Abarbanel and Ephraim Nimni, have similar views.

Additionally, the petition's claim that voices critical of Israel are being "silenced" or subjected to "vilification and intimidation" is absurd. When the petition had garnered less than one-tenth of 1 per cent of the Jewish community it was featured on the front page of The Australian Jewish News, and widely reported in all the broadsheets and on TV and radio. Robust debate about the Middle East occurs all the time in the letters and opinion pages in the Jewish News and at community meetings.

Further, with anti-Semitic violence on the rise globally, it is hardly surprising that many in the community disapprove of untrue claims about "Zionist" control over debate that can be seized on by anti-Jewish conspiracy theorists.

Also, contrary to the implications of the IAJV statement, our community leadership reflects the view of the vast majority of the Australian Jewish community, shared by both the elected Israeli leadership and the majority of the Israeli public, that Israel's long-term security must ultimately come from a lasting peace based on a democratic Palestinian state co-existing peacefully alongside Israel.

It amazes most of the community that some signatories insist on seeing Israeli policies as solely to blame for the present impasse at a time when the existential threat to Israel has never been more explicit. Among the many facts ignored by IAJV are: that Iran's leadership, which is building nuclear weapons, says the Holocaust never happened and Israel must be destroyed; the Iranian-funded Palestinian leadership says it can never accept the existence of Israel for religious reasons nor renounce violence as a way to achieve its destruction; and the record of Israel's commitment to a two-state solution, from Camp David and the Clinton plan in 2000 to unilateral disengagement from Gaza and plans for the same in most of the West Bank.

Additional concerns are raised by the IAJV's comments condemning equally all "violence". All violence is to be regretted, but to suggest that any and all Israeli acts of self-defence against rocket attacks, suicide terrorism, kidnappings and other violent war crimes emanating from the Palestinian side are just as condemnable as the original acts is morally blind.

Therefore, there is little sympathy for those who insist it is primarily Israeli policies — rather than Palestinian rejectionism, terrorism and lack of the rule of law, plus the flow of outside support to extremists — that are blocking peace.

Finally, there were some people who signed the statement who have little or no engagement with the Jewish community, but identify themselves as Jewish to deflect criticism when they malign the organised Jewish community and Israel. It is hardly surprising that other members of the Jewish community are annoyed when individuals who have made no effort to contribute to our communal life and institutions complain those institutions do not represent them.

We already have a vigorous debate about the Middle East both in Australia and in the Australian Jewish community. But the thin-skinned plea that one-sided critics of Israel be entitled to special immunity from scrutiny, because this is inanely alleged to constitute censorship, is an attempt to stifle constructive discussion. Joining a debate is not silencing it, and this claim is simply intolerance disguised as victimisation.

Let's continue to have an empirically based debate on the crucial question of advancing genuine Middle East peace, instead of such fruitless theatrics.

The Radicals' Not-So-Secret Winning Strategy

From GLORIA, March 7, 2007, by Barry Rubin ...

The world's radical regimes--especially Iran, Syria, North Korea, and their associated client groups--have come up with a brilliant strategy that breaks every rule in the diplomatic book and yet works brilliantly. The West's inability to cope with this approach--indeed, failure even to comprehend it--has been one of the biggest problems in Middle Eastern and world politics for the last few decades....

..... A key element in this strategy is that it plays to the strengths of the perpetrators and the perceived weaknesses of the West. On their side, the radicals have several advantages: they like conflict; are patient; not bound by morality (that is, they don't mind murdering people in cold blood); and are willing to suffer (or, rather, let their people suffer since the dictators always eat well). Since they are dictators, they don't care about public opinion and even mobilize it for themselves through demagoguery. (As dictators, they also control the schools and media.)

In contrast, the West likes peace, is impatient for solutions, and doesn't like casualties. As democracies, their people are divided and thus vulnerable to the extremists' propaganda.

So what are the main elements of the radicals' regulations?
  1. Ignore the balance of forces. Who cares if the other side is stronger? What are they going to do, attack us?
  2. And if they attack us, let our people suffer to make them feel guilty. Use demagoguery at home to promote the appeal of martyrdom and launch appeals for sympathy abroad.
  3. Never end a conflict even if you are losing; never make major concessions because keeping the issue open may mean you will win, and get everything, in the future. Show you are willing to destroy everything and go on fighting forever in order to discourage the other side.
  4. Fool the West with propaganda; promise to be good if they only give you what you want. Get concessions and then break your promises about giving anything in exchange. They won't dare call you on it or will forget it.
  5. Throw in some offers of compromise periodically, even if you don't stick to them. Western leaders will rush to make a deal in order to avoid confrontation, make progress, or get glory for themselves.

Thus, in the 1950s and 1960s, Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser said that, if the West doesn't like what we do, let them drink the Nile. In the 1970s and 1980s, Iranian dictator Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said, the West cannot do a damn thing. Yasir Arafat committed terrorism for 30 years and made the West fund him and beg for his cooperation. Saddam Hussein in the 1990s said, let them continue sanctions, rather than fulfill his commitments. Today, there is Iran's nuclear campaign and Syria's terrorism against its neighbors.

There are some specific countries--especially India, Israel, South Korea and Turkey--whose survival requires them to make an equally tough response with popular support at home. In contrast, crippled by European weakness and its own intellectual fifth column, its priority on high living standards and low levels of bloodshed, the West has a hard time dealing with this problem.

And yet, nevertheless, the West and democratic world will win, for the traditional rules ultimately will apply. For example, the extremists force the West to oppose them by their very aggressiveness; economic and strategic superiority does count. The problem is that this new radical strategic superweapon makes it harder and longer to achieve this result.

UNIFIL wants ability to fight Hizbullah

From JPost, Mar. 8, 2007, by YAAKOV KATZ AND HERB KEINON ...

UNIFIL would like a more aggressive mandate for its forces to engage Hizbullah on their own, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

After last summer's war in Lebanon and the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, UNIFIL was beefed up from 2,000 troops to more than 12,000 and received a mandate stipulating that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) be present during any incident involving Hizbullah in southern Lebanon.

According to the mandate's rules of engagement, UNIFIL soldiers are not allowed to engage Hizbullah guerrillas independently. They must first contact the LAF and wait for their arrival and decision whether they request UNIFIL assistance. "There is a feeling of frustration within UNIFIL that under the current rules of engagement they are not free to do their job, which is to prevent Hizbullah rearmament in southern Lebanon," an Israeli defense official told the Post.
UNIFIL, commanded by Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano of Italy, cannot make changes to the rules of engagement on its own. The decision needs to be made by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, in conjunction with countries that contribute forces to UNIFIL.

UNIFIL is considering rules of engagement that would allow its forces to engage Hizbullah if the LAF does not arrive after being alerted to an incident within a specified, and as yet undetermined, length of time. According to Israeli officials, UNIFIL sometimes waits a long time before the LAF arrives at the scene of an incident.

"This would certainly be in Israel's best interest," a source in IDF Northern Command said. "With more aggressive rules of engagement, UNIFIL would be able to more effectively carry out its role at preventing Hizbullah from rearming." Sources in Northern Command said they have been satisfied with UNIFIL's performance and believed more could be done within the framework of the current rules of engagement.

....Meanwhile Thursday, the Turkish press reported that Ankara was bidding to take over command of the UNIFIL maritime force when Germany's term ends in July. A local Turkey expert could not confirm the reports, but did say such a move would make sense from a Turkish point of view. According to the source, such a mandate would allow Turkey to raise its profile in the Middle East, something it has been trying to do for some time, at only minimal risk. In addition, the source said, the Turkish and Israeli navies had a good working relationship.

The source said a decision to take over the maritime command likely would face little opposition inside Turkey for a number of reasons: first, because it would not be considered dangerous, and second because it would not entail moving Turkish forces from the southern border with Iraq.
Turkey has 87 engineers in the multinational force, and there was some internal opposition to sending troops to the force because of the feeling that the Turkish military should concentrate on the volatile situation on its southern border with Iraq. The Turkish navy, by contrast, is not involved in the situation on that landlocked border.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Improved Iranian missiles for Gaza

From DEBKAfile March 6, 2007...

Improved Iranian surface missiles for Palestinian Hamas and Jihad Islami bring 250,000 more Israeli civilians within range

According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, the two missiles which reached the southern part of Ashkelon Tuesday, March 6, were range-finding exercises for the new weapons. Their manufacturers, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, have overcome the snag which held the radius of Palestinian missiles down to 12-13 km from Gaza and upgraded it to 19 km. Another quarter of a million civilians are now threatened, the populations of the port-resort of Ashkelon, Netivot, Ofakim and the outskirts of Kiryat Gat, as well as important military bases in central Israel.

Hamas and Jihad Islami, which took delivery of the new weapons, can now match Hizballah attacks on northern Israel with missile barrages against Israel’s Southwest and its central heartland.

Tehran, Hizballah, Hamas and Jihad Islami are ... building up the Palestinian war machine gun by gun, missile by missile and bunker by bunker, unhindered by Israeli military intervention.

...Israelis living around the Gaza Strip are watching tensely as Hamas and Jihad Islami missile crews test-fire their new Iranian missiles, aware that their range and precision are improved.
For the moment, the Palestinian terrorist groups are only firing scattered missile volleys; they are not yet ready to let loose against Israeli targets for three reasons.
  1. Hamas and Jihad Islami are not yet ready to show their hand; they therefore test-fire the new missiles from deep inside the Gaza so that they land harmlessly in the sand dunes outside Ashkelon. They know that as long as no one is hurt, the Israeli army is under orders to stand aside.
  2. Their leaders do not want to provoke an Israeli invasion of Gaza at this time.
    Neither has yet perfected its war preparations. More funding and arms consignments are awaited from Iran, to top up their military arsenal and complete their underground fortress. (See separate item on this page).
  3. Hamas does not want to break up its unity negotiations with Fatah. Its leaders prefer to keep the talks going on a low fire to mask their war preparations; damaging missile attacks against an Israeli town would derail the process.

....Both Hamas and Fatah have admitted that their power-sharing talks serve merely to keep the lid on their disagreements, although the next armed clash is only a matter of time.
A Palestinian source told DEBKAfile: “The talks between (Palestinian Authority Chairman) Mahmoud Abbas and (Hamas prime minister) Ismail Haniyeh will go on desultorily until one side or the other feels strong enough to break away and resort to violence. Those sources stress that, for the Palestinians, the first target for any violence is Israel - especially that now they have at last got hold of missiles which can reach deep inside Israel.

Israel unveils newest unmanned aircraft

From Yahoo, 8/3/07 by ARON HELLER, Associated Press Writer ...

PALMACHIM AIR FORCE BASE, Israel - The Israeli air force unveiled its newest unmanned aircraft Wednesday, saying the plane can fly longer, faster and higher than any other surveillance aircraft.

The drone, called the Heron, already saw combat during last summer's war in Lebanon, where Israeli officials said a prototype performed well, seeking out Hezbollah arms and directing airstrikes. The Heron has a 54-foot wingspan and can fly up to 30 hours at a speed of 140 mph and a height of 30,000 feet. That would give it a range of 4,200 miles and the potential to reach as far as Iran, considered Israel's most serious strategic threat because of its nuclear program and its president's calls to wipe Israel off the map.

Air force officers said the Heron was Israel's most advanced weapon in the booming field of drone technology. "Today, almost 60 years after the establishment of the state, Israel, the only home of the Jewish people, is still under threat," said Maj. Gen. Eliezer Shkedi, the air force chief, at an unveiling ceremony. The Heron's "versatility and achievements are on the forefront of the world's technology and will allow us to perform various operational missions."

Israel has used drones since the early 1970s, and its fleet has steadily increased. Air force officials say drones have become such an integral part of Israel's air power in recent years that their flight hours now outnumber those of manned fighter planes. A military band played as the glider-like plane took off to a round of applause. Its rear-facing single propellor lifted the Heron into the sky, a distinctive antenna pod extending from where the cockpit would be in a manned aircraft. Its narrow body was filled with electronic surveillance equipment.

"This is a real breakthrough in the world of unmanned aircraft..." .... For example, it could detect people on the ground and determine whether they were militants or civilians.

...Israel would not disclose whether the Heron could be used to carry out airstrikes, but Robin Hughes, the Middle East bureau chief for Jane's Weekly, said it had the ability to carry a significant payload. Palestinians have said Israel has been using drones to fire missiles at targets in Gaza, but the military has refused to confirm that.

Hughes said ... Israel was one of the world leaders in drone technology and one of its leading exporters of such products. "The Israelis were one of the first countries to recognize the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) as a force multiplier," he said. "It can give you a real strategic advantage over the enemy as far as reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence."
"These are the future of warfare, and the Israelis recognized this quite quickly."

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

18 fugitives arrested in PA headquarters

From JPost, Mar. 7, 2007, by JPOST STAFF, AP AND YAAKOV KATZ ...

IDF Nahal Brigades troops surrounded the Palestinian Authority's Military Intelligence headquarters in Ramallah on Wednesday morning and arrested 18 fugitives who ...were responsible for perpetrating dozens of shooting attacks against Israelis.

The IDF said that despite several requests the army had made that the official Palestinian security branches not provide sanctuary for wanted terror suspects, the Tanzim terrorists were being protected in the intelligence building, and the IDF requests were completely ignored.

...Among those taken was Khalil Shilo, a member of the Fatah-affiliated Al Aksa Martyrs' Brigades.Shilo had been on the run for seven years, since the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000.

The operation came a week after an IDF arrest sweep through the West Bank city of Nablus.
IDF officials said that in addition to arresting the 18 fugitives, troops also found guns, grenades, pipe bombs, IDF-issue bullet-proof vests and other military equipment in the building.

Australian "Jews for genocide"

The UK has its group, which Melanie Phillips has labelled "Jews for genocide", now we have some of our own in Australia....

From The Australian, Cut & paste: Jews speak out against unconditional support for Israel, March 06, 2007 ....

Independent Australian Jewish Voices ... calls for a Middle East debate

WE are Jews with diverse opinions on the Middle East who share a deep concern about the current crisis in the region and have formed a group, Independent Australian Jewish Voices. We are committed to ensuring a just peace that recognises the legitimate national aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians with a solution that protects the human rights of all.
We condemn violence by all parties, whether state-sanctioned or not. We believe that Israel's right to exist must be recognised and that Palestinians' right to a homeland must also be acknowledged.

As Australians, we are privileged to live in a democratic state that embodies the principles of tolerance and free speech. We feel there is an urgent need to hear alternative voices that should not be silenced by being labelled disloyal or "self-hating".

Uncritical allegiance to Israeli government policy does not necessarily serve Israel's best interests. Our concern for justice and peace in the Middle East is a legitimate opinion and should be met by reasoned argument rather than vilification and intimidation. In particular, we are concerned that the Jewish establishment does not represent the full range of Jewish opinion. Contrary to widespread concerns, anti-Semitism is not fuelled by Jews who publicly disagree with actions of the Jewish state. Jews understand what it is to suffer racism and victimisation and therefore we are not only concerned about anti-Semitism but also the demonisation of all other minorities....

Peter Slezak, Jim Levy, Antony Loewenstein, Peter Singer, Robert Richter, Louise Adler, Eva Cox, Dennis Altman, Arie Freiberg, Ian Cohen, Ivor Indyk, Moss Cass, Geoffrey Brahm Levey, Andrew Benjamin, Henry Rosenbloom, Andrew Jakubowicz, Ephraim Nimni, David Goodman, Hashomer Hatzair and 100 other signatories.

From The Australian, Letters, Wednesday, March 07, 2007 ....

Vilification and intimidation
THE Australian Jewish community’s elected representative bodies are open and democratic, which is why the claims of the so-called “Independent Australian Jewish Voices” (Cut & Paste, 6/3) should not be treated at face value.
This group calls for “a just peace that recognises the legitimate national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians with a solution that protects the human rights of all” as if that is not what the Jewish community’s representative bodies have been advocating for many years. The leadership of the Australian Jewish community is a respected and credible voice in public forums precisely because we use reasoned argument and sound research to pursue sensible policies that reflect majority views.
The IAJV also calls for “reasoned argument rather than vilification and intimidation”. This might be an attempt at self-criticism given the barrage of uninformed criticism directed at the Jewish community’s elected leadership by some of the IAJV’s signatories. Given the fact that the Executive Council of Australian Jewry has been at the forefront of fighting vilification and intimidation, not only of Jews but of all people who face unlawful vilification, it is difficult to understand why else they would have included this statement.
The IAJV then says that they seek “debate to further the prospects of peace, security and human rights in the Middle East”. Anyone who is engaged in any meaningful way with the Jewish community, or has witnessed the many open forums such as the monthly public meetings of the respective Jewish umbrella bodies, knows that discussion and airing of diverse views is the norm.
The IAJV could take advantage of the democratic processes which elect the leadership of Australia’s Jewish community and nominate for election to these bodies. That it chooses not to but, instead, implies that the Jewish community leadership acts in ways it does not, speaks volumes regarding its concern for democratic ideals.

Grahame Leonard President, Executive Council of Australian Jewry Inc Anton Block, JCCV President David Knoll, NSWJBD President Keith Shilkin, JCCWA President Norman Schueler, JCCSA President David Paratz, QJBD President Daniel Albert, HHC President Bill Arnold, ACTJC President

To hear Antony Loewenstein, IAJV ringleader, and Dr Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council discuss the new group on ABC Radio National Breakfast, 6/3/07, follow this link, then click on 'Listen' and fast forward to the 19th minute of the 43 minute programme. The two interviews follow after the weather report.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Financial pressure on Iran

From THE JERUSALEM POST, Mar. 4, 2007, by Herb Keinon...

US Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey held a series of meetings in Jerusalem Sunday focusing on how to get the world's financial institutions to cut business ties with Iran....

The talks took place as negotiations are under way within the framework of the UN Security Council regarding what further sanctions to take against Iran for failing to halt its uranium enrichment program.

The steps that Levey was here to discuss are meant to supplement the process under way in the UN, and are steps the West can begin taking unilaterally, without facing obstacles from Russia and China, whose support is necessary for UN sanctions.

Levey met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Mossad chief Meir Dagan, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin and Miriam Ziv, the Foreign Ministry's deputy director-general for strategic affairs.On Monday he is to meet with Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer. Levey's meetings came a day before Livni was to go to Europe to take part in the annual Israel-EU Association meeting, where Iran will obviously be high on the agenda of talks she will be holding with numerous European leaders.

The US strategy that Levey is spearheading is to work outside the context of the Security Council to engage the private sector and let it know about the risks of doing business with Teheran. While there has been what diplomatic officials called a "dramatic pullback" by key financial institutions in Europe - some have chosen to pull back partially and some completely - additional efforts are needed.

...The feeling among key officials in both Jerusalem and Washington is that the financial measures that have been taken have had an impact on the business elites in Teheran, and that while there may be a long way to go to impact on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, these moves placed the international community "on the right path."

Since last fall, the US has ceased all direct and indirect contact with the Iranian Saderat and Sepah banks, the second and fifth largest banks in Iran, moves that are widely believed to have forced the business sector in Teheran to stand up and take notice. In light of the US restrictions, key European financial institutions are also reassessing their relationship with Iran. The US is actively engaged in briefing European banks on the risks of doing business with Iran and informing them of how the Iranians are using these links to finance terror organizations and nuclear proliferation.....

Arab Bank (Jordan) accused of funding terrorists

From the LA Times, March 4, 2007, by Josh Meyer ....

WASHINGTON — A three-year investigation into the activities of one of the Middle East's largest and most influential banks is producing extensive evidence of how tens of millions of dollars have flowed from wealthy Saudi Arabians to Palestinian groups that allegedly used some of the money to pay off suicide bombers and their survivors.

The information being turned up by government inquiries and lawyers suing Arab Bank "will give people a better understanding of the way money moves in that part of the world to support Hamas" and other militant groups in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said Stephen Kroll, a terrorism finance specialist and until recently counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs."It's important in focusing the public's attention on the issue of what is and what is not acceptable for banks to be involved in," Kroll said.

The Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation into the New York branch of Arab Bank, which is based in Jordan, and its financial links to organizations and individuals accused of terrorism, according to three former U.S. counter-terrorism officials.In 2005, the bank agreed to pay the federal government $24 million in fines for violating U.S. laws aimed at preventing terrorist financing, including failing to report suspicious transactions.

The bank is also being sued in federal court in Brooklyn by Americans and Israelis injured in suicide bombings or other fighting in Israel and the occupied territories, and by the relatives of others who were killed. No trial date has been set, but assuming the cases go to trial, they could establish ground rules for what obligations banks have in handling money bound for militant groups. They could also provide an unusually detailed and public look at the flow of money from Saudi donors to Palestinian groups that the U.S. and Israel list as terrorist.

Lawyers suing Arab Bank accuse the firm of facilitating acts of terrorism by providing accounts and other financial services to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and similar groups. Arab Bank also acted as the administrator of a plan in which suicide bombers and others designated as "martyrs" by the Palestinian Authority and other organizations were compensated for their actions on a sliding scale, based on the extent of their injuries, according to documents filed in the cases. The lawsuits charge that the payments — and thus Arab Bank — provided an incentive for suicide bombings.

Arab Bank officials deny such charges and say they have never knowingly supported acts of terrorism. Bank officials say their agreement to pay the fine in 2005 was not an acknowledgment of any wrongdoing.....

Abbas, Haniyeh work on "unity"

From » Middle East » Mar. 4, 2007 23:54 By KHALED ABU TOAMEH, AP AND JPOST.COM STAFF ...

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

.... Haniyeh and Abbas were hoping to present a government by the end of the period allotted to Haniyeh, which expires in two weeks.

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

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

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

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

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

Brothers in Arms: Fatah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad

From JCPA, Vol. 6, No. 21, 1 March 2007, by Pinhas Inbari ....

  • Fatah was the main supporter in the Arab world of the Khomeini revolution in Iran when it erupted.
  • A view of Fatah as secular is far from reality. Fatah has strong Muslim features. Its websites reveal frequent Muslim phrases and tenets, for example, on the holy duty to liberate Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque, and the religious terminology of "jihad." Its military wing is the "Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade," whose military announcements are heavily laced with Koranic verses identical to those used by Hizbullah.
  • Both Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah were established with deep Fatah involvement. Originally, Islamic Jihad was actually a purely Fatah offshoot, part and parcel of the military apparatus of Arafat's deputy, Abu Jihad, who, as his name may convey, was the major promoter of Islamic features in Fatah.
  • During the first Lebanon war, Abu Jihad followers helped Iran establish Hizbullah on the ruins of the Fatah infrastructure that Israel had destroyed in the war.
  • The joint plan of Fatah and Hizbullah was to surround Israel with terror rocket power from all sides. This master plan still exists, but now the main role has been given to Hamas.

The Myth of "Secular" Fatah
The current political efforts on the Palestinian track are based on the assumption that "moderate" Fatah should be empowered versus "radical Hamas." The internal infighting in the Palestinian arena has also been described as "secular versus religious." Yet while Hamas is religious in nature by definition, a Fatah defined as secular is far from reality. A brief review of its websites reveals frequent Muslim phrases and tenets in its discourse, for example, on the holy duty to liberate Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque, and the religious terminology of "jihad" that has an equal footing with the secular term "resistance." Hamas also uses "resistance" and "jihad" as synonyms, and the term "resistance" is even part of Hamas' official name - "the Islamic Resistance Movement."
While one cannot claim that Fatah is a religious movement, it has strong Muslim features. Its military wing is the "Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade," whose military announcements are heavily laced with Koranic verses identical to those used by Hizbullah, according to which "the weakest on the face of the earth" will become strong and inherit "and become the imams - the rulers." This is the verse that Fatah leader Yasser Arafat chose to cite when he first entered Gaza in 1994 after the Oslo agreements.

Islamic Jihad's Roots in Fatah
The similarity in religious discourse between Fatah's Aqsa Martyrs and Hizbullah is not accidental. The most recent terror operation in Eilat was endorsed jointly by Islamic Jihad and the "Army of the Believers," an Aqsa Martyrs affiliate. In fact, both Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah were established with deep Fatah involvement. Originally, Islamic Jihad was actually a purely Fatah offshoot and was a shadow of Fatah for years.
Islamic Jihad was born as a result of the Khomeini revolution in Iran, when Fatah was its main supporter in the Arab world. Khomeini saw Fatah as a prime tool to spread his Islamic revolution in the Sunni world. But the Fatah-Shiite honeymoon broke down over Khomeini's demand of Fatah to "convert" to Islam and become what Hamas and Islamic Jihad are today, as well as due to Sunni pressure on Arafat, especially by Saddam Hussein, not to cross those red lines. However, the original founding of Islamic Jihad was as part and parcel of the military apparatus of Arafat's deputy, Abu Jihad.
Abu Jihad, as his name may convey, was the major promoter of Islamic features in Fatah, as opposed to Abu Iyyad, Arafat's second deputy, who was closer to the Soviet Union and then to the U.S. The initial appearance of Islamic Jihad was the attack on Beit Hadassah in Hebron in May 1990, killing six Israelis and wounding sixteen. When the members of the cell were captured, they revealed that they were sent by Abu Jihad, who told them that the ultimate goal of establishing Islamic Jihad was to Islamize Fatah.
The recognized founder of Islamic Jihad was Fat'hi Shqaqi, a Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood member in Egypt who believed that the Egyptian parent organization was neglecting the Palestinian cause. Once in Israeli prison, Shqaqi told Reuven Paz, an Israeli expert on Muslim radical movements, that he conceived Islamic Jihad as the promoter of an Arab revolution that would revive the Muslim caliphate. In due course, Shqaqi adopted the Shiite religion.
Even after Islamic Jihad left the Fatah womb, the special relationship between the Abu Jihad wing in Fatah and the Khomeini revolution was never broken. During the first Lebanon war, Abu Jihad followers helped Iran establish Hizbullah on the ruins of the Fatah infrastructure that Israel had destroyed in the war. Anti-Iranian elements inside Fatah objected to the tight connections between Fatah's military wing and Iran, and in internal clashes Abu Iyyad's followers were defeated by Abu Jihad's followers led by Abu Ali Shaheen, who later became one of Arafat's main supporters in Gaza. After the PLO left Lebanon, the remnants of the pro-Iranian elements left behind in the Palestinian refugee camps became either linked with Hizbullah or later became the core for the al-Qaeda group "Ansar al-Sunna."

Islamic Jihad-Fatah Cooperation in the 2000 Intifada
More significant was the tight cooperation between Islamic Jihad and Fatah during the second intifada beginning in 2000. While previously there had been significant resistance inside Fatah to links with Iran, this disappeared after the Oslo agreements. The major element opposing Iranian influence on Fatah was Arafat's Praetorian Guard - Force 17. But when he established his security forces in the Palestinian territories, Arafat left Force 17 commander Abu Tayyib (Mahmud Natur) outside and preferred the pro-Iranian Mahmud Damra, who was engaged in linking the upcoming uprising with Hizbullah and Iran. When the Aqsa Martyrs were established, their commander, the mysterious Abu Mujahid, was later named as Munir Maqdah, the military commander of Fatah forces in Lebanon and the closest Fatah figure to Iran and Hizbullah at the time.
Hence, while during the years prior to Oslo a balance was kept within the military echelons of Fatah between pro- and anti-Iranian elements, after Oslo, during the rebuilding of Fatah military forces, Arafat connected both Force 17 and the Aqsa Martyrs. The remnants of the old Force 17 were placed in the negligible "General Command," while the new Force 17 was reshaped in a way to be linked with Iran and Hizbullah. Islamic Jihad, as was apparent during the uprising, was the closest to the Aqsa Martyrs in terms of both operational cooperation and sources of funding, meaning Iran. This was apparent not only on the daily tactical level but, as the case of the Karine A weapons ship revealed, on the strategic level. The joint plan of Fatah and Hizbullah was to surround Israel with terror rocket power from all sides. This master plan still exists, but now after the demise of Arafat, the main role has been given to Hamas.
When the initial cooperation between Fatah and Iran began, Hamas did not yet exist and the Muslim Brotherhood was no less anti-Shiite than it is today. But as Hamas became stronger and Fatah weakened, the center of gravity shifted to Hamas. Yet, as far as Fatah and Islamic Jihad are concerned, their bonds are stronger. As a matter of fact, they are brothers.
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Pinhas Inbari is a veteran Palestinian affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper, and currently reports for several foreign media outlets. He is the author of a number of books on the Palestinians including The Palestinians: Between Terrorism and Statehood.