Saturday, July 19, 2008

Lebanon: Morally Repulsive ... Revolting

From The Boston Globe, Editorial 18/7/08:

A strange kind of hero
...there is something morally repulsive in the hero's welcome given .... Samir Kuntar ...[who] executed a father, Danny Haran, in front of his 4-year-old daughter. Then he killed the little girl by smashing her head against a rock with a rifle butt.

This is the creature Nasrallah hailed as a resistance hero, the figure Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called a "huge hero who sacrificed 30 years of his life for the Palestinian issue," the celebrity that Lebanon's president and prime minister saluted as a liberated freedom fighter.
All wars are inhumane. But not all warriors lose their humanity.

From the New York Daily News Editorial, 16/7/08:

A deal with the devils
The injustice was too painful to contemplate. There he was, a terrorist guilty of inhumanity in the extreme, walking free to the cheers of comrades in arms. And there they were, two black coffins bearing the remains of Israeli soldiers, held by Hezbollah for just this purpose.

To be swapped, the blameless dead for the guilty living.

To be traded as chits in conscienceless extortion.

To be used in vile celebration of murder.

Wednesday's exchange between Israel and Hezbollah could not have been more searing.

...It was only when the families of Goldwasser and Regev saw the delivery of the two coffins that they knew for sure that their sons and brothers were dead, killed under still unexplained circumstances.

The tears were heartbreaking, and Haran's widow was noble beyond comprehension in giving her blessing to the exchange with the hope it would serve a greater good.

Meanwhile, Kuntar and the others were feted as heroes in Lebanon, where President Michel Suleiman offered congratulations to Hezbollah. The spectacle was revolting.

Re-enactment self-censored by Catholic diplomatic sensibilities

From The Weekend Australian, July 19, 2008, by Caroline Overington [my emphasis added - SL]:

IT is known as the greatest story ever told, and yesterday it came to Sydney, with passionate young Catholics re-enacting the final hours of Jesus's detail both glorious and gory.

...the broken figure of Christ, played by 27-year-old Alfio Stutio, stumbled barefoot and bleeding through a Sydney production of biblical proportions, over 13 stations of the cross.... tortured, lashed, mocked, stripped, crowned with thorns and then crucified in front of an audience of 100,000 people at Barangaroo, the old Sydney docksite, just as the sun began to set.

...Some 10,000 people watched the stations of the cross in the Domain, while an estimated audience of 500 million tuned in for the telecast.

...Although there are normally 14 stations of the cross, only eight have a scriptural foundation, and in any case, the number and order was changed for World Youth Day, in part to placate Jews, who feared animosity, if the full stations were played out.

WYD co-ordinator Bishop Anthony Fisher said the Catholic Church did not want to anger the Jewish community....

[ comment, because I don't want to anger the Catholic community - SL]

Friday, July 18, 2008

U.S. to establish Tehran presence

From Reuters UK, 17/7/08:

LONDON (Reuters) ...In a front-page report, the Guardian said Washington would open a U.S. interests section in the Iranian capital, halfway towards opening an embassy.

The unsourced report by the newspaper's Washington correspondent said: "...that an announcement will be made in the next month to establish a U.S. interests section in Tehran, a halfway house to setting up a full embassy. The move will see U.S. diplomats stationed in the country."

...On Sunday, President Amhmoud Ahmadinejad suggested Iran would consider any proposal by the United States for a U.S. interests section in the Islamic Republic...The United States cut off diplomatic ties with Tehran during the 1979-1981 hostage crisis, in which a group of militant Iranian students held 52 U.S. diplomats hostage at the American embassy for 444 days.

Iran maintains an interests section at the embassy of Pakistan in Washington. Mottaki said it serves the large Iranian community in the United States.

Iran and U.S. Signaling Chance of Deal

From the Washington Post Thursday, July 17, 2008, by Glenn Kessler:

President Bush's decision to shift policy and send a senior U.S. envoy to nuclear talks with Iran this weekend was made after increasing signs that Iran was open to possible negotiations and that international sanctions were having an impact on the Islamic republic, U.S. officials said yesterday.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pushed for the move in a meeting on Monday of Bush's top aides, and Bush's support suggests he increasingly is determined to put aside a possible military strike in an effort to reach a deal to end Iran's nuclear program in his final six months in office.

In recent weeks, the White House already has approved a sweetened package of incentives to Iran that included a pledge to refrain from the use of force, supported a European gambit to begin preliminary talks with Iran and sent clear signals to Israel not to consider acting against Iran on its own.

... the Bush administration, which had largely subcontracted the nuclear diplomacy with Iran to its European partners, also appears intent on making sure that Iran hears its voice directly, rather than having it filtered by other interlocutors. The international coalition seeking talks with Iran -- Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the United States -- is an unwieldy group with different interests and expectations in negotiations, and so U.S. officials wanted to ensure that the preliminary talks did not veer off course and lose sight of the suspension demand.

The chief negotiator is E.U. foreign policy chief Javier Solana. When he delivered the revised package of incentives to Iran last month, he was accompanied by senior foreign policy officials of the other five countries, but not the United States. Now, Undersecretary of State William J. Burns, the State Department's third-ranking official, will join the group meeting with Saeed Jalili, Iran's nuclear negotiator, in Geneva.

"The substance remains the same, but this is a new tactic," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. She added: "What this does show is how serious we are when we say that we want to try to solve this diplomatically."

Bush accepted Rice's recommendation at the closely held meeting, which also included Vice President Cheney, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, White House chief of staff Joshua B. Bolten and Burns. The move infuriated the administration's conservative critics, who said it was yet another sign the White House has lost its moorings. "This is a complete capitulation on the whole idea of suspending enrichment," said former U.N. ambassador John R. Bolton. "Just when the administration has no more U-turns to pull, it does another."...

An Open Letter to the Lebanese People

Yediot Aharonot, by Uri Orbach, 17/7/2008 (in Hebrew and Arabic - this translation by David Samuel):

Israel has no conflict with your borders, but indeed we have an immense difference of opinion with you regarding your moral boundaries.

We identified the bodies of our Udi and Eldad within a few hours. But you? 30 years hasn't been long enough to identify your Samir Kuntar. For 30 years you haven't been able to differentiate between a national hero and a child murderer. In your eyes, it is enough for someone to kill a Jew, even if it's a small girl from Nahariya, for you to praise them with the respect of kings.

You rejoice in your "victory", and scorn our pain. Another victory like this and you could be lost forever.

From victory to victory, you are trapped in your wretchedness and your fanatcism. From exhibitions of pride to heroic pageants, the Hizbullah "gang" – led by the corpse cannibal, Sheik Nasrallah - is gaining control over you. This thorn, the fire from his mouth, has been eating the Lebanese Cedars for years. A man whilst in hiding shows his real face, and also shows part of yours.

This is a sad day for Israel, but it is filled with pain and restraint and pride about who we are: a Jewish wall united against the spearhead of Iranian madness, with your silence and your support.

Two boys returned to our borders yesterday, a child murderer returned to yours. With great sorrow we received corpses, with elation you received a thug.

Take a look and see the difference.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Murdered prisoners buried

Barak sits with Karnit and Miki Goldwasser at the funeral. (Photo: Hagai Aharon, Ynet News)
From Reuters, Thu Jul 17, 2008, by Yoni Haviv:

NAHARIYA, Israel (Reuters) - Israel held funerals for two [murdered prisoners] on Thursday returned in a ...swap with Hezbollah, highlighting a somber mood that contrasted with celebrations in Lebanon for [the murderous terrorists] freed in the deal.

...Defence Minister Ehud Barak said at Goldwasser's gravesite Israel was "heartbroken" and had "paid a heavy price" by freeing five guerrillas involved in lethal attacks against Israelis in exchange for the bodies, which were returned in black coffins.

...Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday singled out for criticism the honors that went to Samir Qantar, reviled ...for a 1979 attack that killed four, in Beirut. "Woe betide the people who celebrate the release of a beastly man who bludgeoned the skull of a 4-year-old toddler," Olmert said in a statement, referring to the girl Qantar killed with her father...

..."A more undignified and morally offensive spectacle is hard to imagine," English-language newspaper the Jerusalem Post wrote in an editorial of the festivities in Lebanon.

The Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, quoting a senior Israeli source, said Israel now regarded Qantar as "worthy of death...."Israel will find him and kill him," the source said.

(Additional reporting by Nadim Ladki in Beirut; writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Kuntar: My release completes war victory

From Ynet News, 16/7/08:

Samir Kuntar freed at Lebanon border Wednesday afternoon; Hizbullah celebrations underway

Child-killer freed: A short while after the bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were identified, murderer Samir Kuntar and the four Hizbullah prisoners headed to the Lebanese border. They were brought to the border crossing around 5 pm and were handed over to the Red Cross before crossing into Lebanon.

Triumphant return – Kuntar in his new outfit (Photo: AFP)

Hizbullah's al-Manar network reported that Kuntar and the four prisoners were received by masses of supporters, cries of joy, and lively music. Following a short ceremony, the freed prisoners were set to head to Beirut for a mass rally to celebrate their release.

In his first statement after being released, Kuntar told al-Manar: "I want to congratulate all those who sacrificed for the sake of this new victory. This is the true supplement to the July victory (Second Lebanon War.)...

....While families of Israeli soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were mourning their loved ones, Hizbullah launched its celebrations Wednesday afternoon with a festive ceremony marking the arrival of the first caskets containing terrorists handed over by Israel earlier in the day.

Earlier Wednesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hizbullah....

Raw memories of Kantar

From AP, by ARON HELLER, 16/7/08:

NAHARIYA, Israel (AP) — Moshe Sasson felt the gun pressed against his head, a Lebanese assailant poised to shoot, when the lights in the hall of his apartment building suddenly went out, allowing him to escape and take cover under a car.

The gunman, Samir Kantar, went on to kill three other people in one of the most notorious attacks in Israeli history. Three decades later, he is ...freed in exchange for two [more murdered] Israeli soldiers ....

...Kantar, whose deadly 1979 rampage traumatizes Sasson to this day, is expected to receive a hero's welcome when he returns to Lebanon.

"I remember his face, the dark black eyes and murderous gaze," Sasson recalled Tuesday, hands trembling and eyes tearing. "He was ...death."

...Hezbollah's commander in south Lebanon, Sheik Nabil Kaouk, called the swap an "official admission of defeat" for Israel. Red, white and green Lebanese flags, yellow Hezbollah flags and welcome banners are hanging in south Lebanese villages through which the coffins carrying the returned bodies will be driven in a convoy from the border toward Beirut.

Hezbollah supporters have set up a makeshift stage in the coastal town of Naqoura, where a brief ceremony will be held. An official ceremony will follow at Beirut Airport; it will be attended by Lebanon's president, prime minister and parliament speaker. The Lebanese government has announced that Wednesday will be a national holiday "to celebrate the liberation of prisoners from the jails of the Israeli enemy and the return of the remains of martyrs."

Later, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah will give a speech during what is expected to be a massive celebration in the group's stronghold south of Beirut.

By contrast, the exchange will be a somber occasion in Israel. No ceremonies are planned.
Cabinet Minister Isaac Herzog, who voted with the majority to approve the deal, called the decision to swap Kantar "a tormenting one."

"Clearly we opted for a resolution that fulfills our prime rule since the creation of the state of Israel, and this is to bring back our sons home, despite the toll," he told The Associated Press.

...The sleepy coastal city of Nahariya is the focus of the drama behind the swap. It's where Kantar carried out his attack, where the survivors still live, where the Goldwasser family resides and where more than 100 rockets exploded during the 2006 war that followed their son's capture.....

Sasson, now 62, remembers every detail of Kantar's attack on April 22, 1979. He said he awoke to the sounds of gunshots, grabbed his two young daughters, placing one under each arm, and sprinted toward his apartment building's bomb shelter. There he found himself face to face with Kantar.

He said the assailant reached for the girls, shoved Sasson and slammed a handgun into the back of Sasson's skull. Suddenly, the hall lights went out. In the dark, Sasson said he scrambled for cover, crawling through the underground bomb shelter as the sounds of gunfire and grenade explosions filled the building.

He hid under a parked car, where he watched Kantar drag his next door neighbor, Danny Haran, and Haran's 4-year-old daughter, Einat, toward the beach.

An Israeli court convicted Kantar, who was 16 years old at the time of the attack and is now 45, of shooting Haran in front of the little girl, then smashing her skull against a rock with his rifle butt, killing her, too.

Back at the Haran apartment, Haran's wife, Smadar, fled into a crawl space in her apartment with her 2-year-old daughter and Sasson's wife.

What happened at the apartment has reverberated in the Israeli consciousness for decades. Smadar accidentally smothered the toddler in a desperate attempt to silence her cries. Sasson said his wife witnessed it all and felt the little girl's fluttering legs against her stomach.
Kantar has consistently denied killing the 4-year-old. Sasson reacted in disgust to Kantar's denial.

"He is lying! He tried to grab my child, too," he told the AP in one of only a handful of interviews he's given since the attack. "I will take this with me to the grave."

The family of an Israeli policeman killed in Kantar's attack petitioned Israel's Supreme Court to block the prisoner swap, but the court rejected the petition. Haran's widow said she was devastated by the decision, though she recently said she understood it.

Haran's mother was not as forgiving. "He is not sorry ... How a government can give him freedom?" asked 82-year-old Nina Keren, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Critics have said that by trading bodies for prisoners, Israel is giving militants little incentive to keep captured soldiers alive. And although polls suggest a large majority of Israelis support the exchange, many Israelis are anguished at the prospect that Kantar would go free.

..."This is a sad day for me and for the country," [President Shimon Peres ] told reporters. "On one hand, we have the most terrible murderer. On the other hand, we have our commitment to our boys who were sent to fight for their country. It is our moral duty and our heartfelt wish to see them come back."

Associated Press correspondents Sam Ghattas in Beirut and Steve Weizman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Coffins swapped for murderers

From Washington Post, By Griff Witte and Alia IbrahimWashington Post Foreign Service Wednesday, July 16, 2008:

Ehud Goldwasser z"l.

Eldad Regev z"l.

Coffins believed to containing the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev are handed over to the Red Cross in exchange for Lebanese prisoners held by Israel at Naqoura border point with Israel, Wednesday July 16, 2008.

Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas handed over the bodies of two Israeli soldiers and trucks carrying the remains of some 199 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters began crossing into Lebanon on Wednesday, setting in motion a dramatic prisoner swap between the bitter enemies. Family and friends outside the homes of the two captured Israeli soldiers burst into tears early Wednesday when TV images showed two black coffins believed to contain their remains. Though officials had suspected Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were dead, the sight of the coffins was the first concrete sign of the young men's fate.

Murderers freed.In this photo released by the Israel Prison Authority, Lebanese militant prisoner Samir Kantar, [despicable murderer] third from left, is seen with four other [murderers] as they stand next to a border policeman before leaving the Hadarim prison near the Israeli coastal city of Netanya early Wednesday, July 16, 2008. [These murderers], including Kantar who was convicted in one of the most brutal attacks in Israel's history, were taken from an Israeli prison before dawn on Wednesday and driven toward the Lebanese border, where they were later to be traded for two Israeli soldiers captured by Lebanese guerrillas two years ago.

KIRYAT MOTZKIN, Israel, July 16 -- Israel and the Shiite militia Hezbollah on Wednesday began an extraordinary exchange, with two coffins containing the bodies of abducted Israeli soldiers swapped for five Lebanese [murderers].

After receiving the coffins, Israeli officials positively identified the bodies as those of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who were abducted by Hezbollah almost two years ago to the day in a dramatic cross-border raid that sparked a month-long war.

Several hours later, Samir Kuntar, [despicable animal] who was responsible for the deaths of four Israelis in 1979, crossed into Lebanon along with four [other murderers] captured during the 2006 conflict with Lebanon.

Even before the identification of the Israeli bodies was confirmed, the country went into mourning, with friends and neighbors of the soldiers gathering to light candles of remembrance, radio stations playing sad songs...

...Although Israeli officials had said weeks ago that the soldiers were almost certainly dead -- and that fate had long been feared -- televised images of the coffins crossing the border were still greeted by wails of grief just before 10 a.m. when they were shown here, in Regev's hometown.

"This is a family that has been swinging between hope and despair. Now they're in despair..." said Chaim Tzuri, the mayor, after emerging from the family's apartment. "All of Israel mourns with them."

The reaction on the Lebanese side was far different, with Hezbollah extending a red-carpet welcome for Kuntar and the four others....

Hours before the prisoners' expected released, an elaborate welcoming ceremony was already getting underway in the border town of Naqoura. Hezbollah fighters on horseback were poised to celebrate the arrival of Kuntar and the four others...

Banners tried to draw the contrast, with a picture of Olmert depicted with his hand on his forehead and the caption "humiliation guaranteed."

"Lebanon is shedding tears of joy," stated one banner.

...An even larger rally is scheduled in Beirut for later in the day, expected to include Lebanon's top public officials.

Hamas, the radical Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip, celebrated the exchange as well and said it had been encouraged to "capture Zionist soldiers, in order to swap them with our sons in prison." Already, Hamas has one Israeli soldier in custody, Gilad Shalit. He is believed to be alive, and Israel has been trying to win his release as part of Egyptian-mediated cease-fire talks.

..."I feel that this is a victory for terror," said Ron Keren, whose brother, Danny Haran, died in Kuntar's attack. "We all know that this story is not over, and we will hear from him more in the future."

The mother, 82-year-old Nina Keren, said the release of Kuntar made it feel like "it all happened yesterday. I can't understand how my government could make such a deal." Standing in her living room and pointing to pictures of the son and two granddaughters she lost in Kuntar's attack, she said she was also having trouble understanding how Lebanon could be planning such a rapturous welcome: "He's a hero? Because he killed a four-year-old? Because he smashed her head with his rifle?"

But she said she is having no trouble understanding the position of the Regev and Goldwasser families, who waged a very public campaign to have the soldiers brought home, no matter their condition. Both families were secluded in their homes Wednesday, mourning privately.

...Shalom Millo, owner of a hardware store directly beneath the Regev home, said Olmert had blundered badly by giving up such a notorious murderer in exchange for two dead men....

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cabinet ratifies prisoner exchange deal with Hizbullah

From THE JERUSALEM POST, Jul. 15, 2008, by Staff:

The cabinet on Tuesday ratified the prisoner swap deal with Hizbullah, despite the opposition of the heads of the intelligence community, who claimed that the report filed by Hizbullah on the fate of missing IAF airman Ron Arad was insufficient and did not answer Israel's questions.

The cabinet's decision included a statement to the effect that efforts to uncover additional information regarding Arad would continue.

The swap, which was approved by a majority of 22-3 cabinet ministers, is expected to take place at 9:00 a.m. Wednesday at the Rosh Hanikra crossing.

Before the deal can be completed, President Shimon Peres must first pardon Samir Kuntar and four Hizbullah prisoners slated to be returned to Lebanon in exchange for kidnapped IDF soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.

...Following the cabinet decision, National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said that he voted to go through with the prisoner swap not just to ease the suffering for the Goldwasser and Regev families, but for the peace of mind of every mother in Israel...."We want every mother to know that Israel will do its utmost in order to return her son when he is in the guard."

"The Ron Arad affair has not ended," he added. "The report that we received is one big deception. We will send it back to whoever prepared it."

Alternatively, Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann said on Tuesday that he stood by his decision to vote against the deal, but would respect it nonetheless given that it has received government approval. "My position is known and hasn't changed," Friedmann said. "Having said that, I will respect the decision of the government, and in the next hour I will sign the necessary documents in order to release Samir Kuntar, and I will hand them to the president for the pardon." ...

Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Peace will elude us until Arab world accepts the reality of Israel

From The Australian, July 12, 2008, by Bren Carlill, analyst at the Australia-Israel & Jewish Affairs Council:

PEOPLE frequently blame individual aspects of the Arab-Israel conflict for the lack of Israeli-Palestinian peace. But applying such selective moral outrage, as did Paul Heywood-Smith and Bassam Dally in last week's Inquirer, ignores the elephant in the room. This elephant isn't Israeli settlements. Nor is it just Palestinian terrorism.

The reason Israeli-Palestinian peace seems so elusive is one of simple rejectionism. Much of the Palestinian and wider Arab elite still fundamentally reject Israel's right to exist.

Given that Israel has existed for 60 years, this sounds bizarre. But it explains why books, Palestinian television programs and even summer camps for children promote ideas of Israel's supposedly inevitable destruction. It explains the Palestinian decision to boycott next month's International Geographers' Congress, because Israelis will be present. More importantly, it explains why most Arab states refuse to make peace with Israel.

Yes, the Arab League issued an Arab-Israel peace plan. But its wording made clear Israel was required to effectively dissolve itself as a country by absorbing all Palestinian refugees, plus their descendants. Only then would Arab countries decide whether to enter negotiations with Israel. Absorbing four million non-Jews would remove the Jewish nature of the Jewish state - a non-starter for Israel. Israel suggested using the proposal as a basis for negotiations. The Arab League rejected this outright, proving it wasn't attempting peace, rather attempting to make Israel look bad for rejecting it.

The widespread rejection of Israel as a distinct Middle Eastern society has seen many Arabs blaming Israel for the region's woes.

This furphy has been partially internalised by outsiders claiming Middle East peace would be realised if only the US and Australian governments became "honest brokers" and leaned on Israel to remove settlements, for instance. But these governments are honest. They criticise the Palestinian Authority for not ending corruption, terrorism or incitement. Where they think Israel errs, they say so. Most of the time, people who call for governments to be "honest brokers" in the conflict, rather dishonestly mean they think those governments should excuse Palestinian wrongdoing.

Besides, anyone who thinks removing Israeli settlements will improve living standards or human rights in the Arab Middle East (or prevent Sunnis and Shi'ites slaughtering each other in Iraq) is dreaming.

In 2005, Israel removed its settlements from Gaza, in a voluntary action designed to prompt peaceful Palestinian reciprocation.

The result wasn't peaceful reciprocity. The number of rockets fired from Gaza into nearby Israeli towns dramatically increased.

Palestinian media portrayed the Israeli withdrawal as a military defeat, urging Palestinian fighters to double their efforts in order to defeat the Zionists once and for all. Nor did Palestinians build housing or industry in the former settlements.

My point? The settlements are often criticised as an obstacle to Palestinian development and a reason for violence. Yet, when the settlement excuse was removed, development didn't increase, nor violence decrease.

Moreover, all parties to the conflict know that when a final status agreement is signed, any Jewish presence in what will become Palestine will be removed. Though Israel will keep some settlements, Palestinians will gain part of Israel, in a negotiated land swap. Palestine will become the Judenrein state it has always dreamed of being.

Despite these well-known facts, some still claim the settlements prevent peace. A recent Israeli announcement to build more apartments in eastern Jerusalem is provided as an example. But these apartments aren't new settlements, nor are they taking any land from Palestinians; they're completely within pre-existing Jewish suburbs.

Palestinians might hate settlements, but settlements aren't the reason for a lack of peace. The reason is the ongoing rejection of Israel's right to exist.

Why did the Palestinian leadership turn down peace offers in 1937, '47, '67, 2000 and 2001? Not because it didn't want a state, but because accepting a state would also mean accepting Israel existing alongside it.

So why did Yasser Arafat sign interim agreements with Israel during the Oslo process from 1993? Because he was prepared to take what he could - arms, autonomy, etc - but wasn't prepared to sign a final status agreement. When push came to shove at Camp David in 2000, Arafat walked away from a two-state offer without offering a counter-proposal.

There is no peace because of Arafat's then - and now Hamas's - rejectionism. This produces terrorism, which produces attempts to stop it, which hardens opinions on both sides. If the Palestinian elite would make the historic decision to reconcile itself to a state alongside, not instead of, the Jewish state, peace could quickly be realised.

(Also see our recent posting "Cynical bid for Australian pressure on Israel")

Homecoming for a Child-killer

From The Jerusalem Post, July 12, 2008 Jonathan Spyer:

The deal for the return of convicted terrorist Samir Kuntar, four Hizbullah men captured in the 2006 Second Lebanon War and a number of corpses in return for the remains of kidnapped IDF soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser comes at an opportune moment for the Hizbullah leadership.

Indeed, some analysts have suggested that group leader Hassan Nasrallah accepted a less favourable deal than he had originally held out for, in order to conclude the negotiations as speedily as possible. What is clear is that the prisoner swap is having the desired effect for Hizbullah - rebuilding its legitimacy.

Most (though not all) of the leaders of the pro-western and pro-Saudi March 14 movement appear to be accepting the portrayal of the swap as a victory for Lebanon, and the consequent depiction of the infanticidal Kuntar as a Lebanese national hero.

Why did Nasrallah need the deal so badly? In May of this year, Hizbullah brought 18 months of smoldering political tension to a head. The March 14-led government had attempted to move against Hizbullah's control of security at Rafik Hariri Airport in Beirut, and to limit the growth of Hizbullah's extensive internal communication system within Lebanon.

Hizbullah ...reacted swiftly. Hizbullah and its allied forces poured onto the streets of West Beirut and other key parts of the country - inflicting an unambiguous military humiliation on their enemies...then went on to negotiate a deal reflecting this victory with Qatari mediation in Doha.

But Hizbullah's achievement had come with a substantial price. Throughout its history, the movement, despite its Shi'ite nature, had tried to claim for itself a role above the Lebanese sectarian framework. It had justified its uniquely-tolerated military infrastructure by claiming that it existed for the sole purpose of fighting Israel - and would never be turned against fellow Lebanese. This pledge had now been broken. Hizbullah was in increasing danger of appearing unambiguously as a Shi'ite Islamist client of Iran.

...Hizbullah was therefore in need of a gesture, a spectacle which could enable it to recall the 2006 war, and wrap itself in the flag of victory against Israel.

The prisoner swap looks set to provide this opportunity. ...The news of the planned swap has been greeted with enthusiasm from politicians on both sides of the divide. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman has told Hizbullah that he would like to take part in the welcome-home ceremony for Kuntar. Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Druse Progressive Socialist Party and a major March 14 figure, said that a PSP delegation would visit Kuntar to welcome him home and congratulate him on his release. He called the return of the Lebanese prisoners a "national occasion" which would bring people together.

...From Israel's point of view, the remarks made by the March 14 leaders, while edifying, are of secondary interest. Israel has never placed a great deal of faith in either the intentions or the abilities of the individuals in question. Of greater importance, however, is the extent to which the prisoner swap is serving to strengthen Hizbullah. In so doing, it is delivering a very significant achievement to the movement, and to its regional supporters - Israel's sworn foes - in Damascus and Teheran.

Assad pours icy water on Olmert-Sarkozy-Abbas upbeat peace show

From a DEBKAfile Exclusive Report, July 13, 2008:

French president Nicolas Sarkozy organized a jovial photo-op with Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas to launch his Mediterranean union debut in Paris Sunday, July 13, attended by 40 leaders.

The first sour note came from Syrian president Bashar Assad, who was reinstated by Sarkozy’s invitation on the international stage. He and foreign minister Walid Mualem walked out as Olmert entered to the hall to deliver a speech. Earlier, Assad had his security men jostle Israel correspondents and TV cameras out of his way as he swept past. And he firmly rejected Sarkozy’s effort to arrange a meeting with the Israeli prime minister and announced that peace with Israel could take another two years.

This reply followed Olmert’s optimistic statement to reporters: “We have never been as close to an accord as we are today.”

Abbas and Sarkozy beamed their approval of Olmert’s statement and co-chairman Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak called on Israel and the Palestinians to work harder for a peace deal to pave the way for a Palestinian state.

Behind the bonhomie, DEBKAfile’s Middle East sources report that Abbas’ Fatah and its rival, the rejectionist Palestinian Hamas, have never been so close to a peace accord as they are today, largely due to the efforts of Mubarak himself. Success in this effort would write finis to the US-sponsored Palestinian peace track with Israel.

This is the real purpose of the lengthy talks the Hamas delegations from Gaza and Damascus have been holding in Cairo. According to our sources, the rival factions have covered considerable ground:
1. Hamas has agreed to relinquish its rule of the Gaza Strip and accept a government manned by nonpartisan technocrats.
2. Parliamentary and presidential elections will be held in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, the date subject to the Hamas proviso that it is admitted to the Palestinian Liberation Organization leadership under a major structural reform.
3. Hamas and Fatah have agreed to Egyptian military forces’ deployment in the Gaza Strip to organize and train Palestinian security and intelligence bodies.

Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah, Hamas and Egypt agreed to leave Israel out in the cold and present the Palestinian reunion as a fait accompli. They reckoned that Israel would swallow the deal if captive Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit were freed. In any case, the prime minister Olmert is not expected to survive the corruption scandals gathering over his head.

The Palestinians groups and Cairo are moving forward as though George W. Bush, whose two-state solution was one of the high points of his international policy, had already left the White House....

Obama says he used ‘poor phrasing’ on Jerusalem

From Ynet News, 14/7/08, by Reuters:

Democratic presidential hopeful recoils on stance regarding city as Israel’s undivided capital, saying choice of words mistaken ...Barack Obama said on Sunday he used "poor phrasing" in a speech supporting Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.

"You know, the truth is that this was an example where we had some poor phrasing in the speech. And we immediately tried to correct the interpretation that was given," he said in an interview aired on Sunday on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria - GPS."

"The point we were simply making was, is that we don't want barbed wire running through Jerusalem, similar to the way it was prior to the 67' war, that it is possible for us to create a Jerusalem that is cohesive and coherent," Obama said.

Obama's campaign has issued similar clarifications since the candidate's speech to the pro-Israel lobby group after he clinched the Democratic presidential nomination early last month.

In the speech, Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that if elected president in November, he would work for peace with a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

"Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided," the Illinois senator said. Palestinian leaders reacted with anger and dismay.

Israel calls the city its undivided and eternal capital, but this status has never been recognized internationally. Palestinians want east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, for a future capital.

The US Congress passed a law in 1995 describing Jerusalem as capital of Israel and saying it should not be divided, but successive presidents have used their foreign policy powers to maintain the US Embassy in Tel Aviv and to back negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the status of Jerusalem.

Obama, who plans a trip to the Mideast this summer, has faced wariness among some Jewish voters over his commitment to Israel, fueled by suspicion over his comments indicating willingness to talk to Iranian leaders.

Israel concerned Hizbullah will attack after prisoner swap

From THE JERUSALEM POST, Jul. 14, 2008, by Yaakov Katz:

Fears have mounted in Israel that Hizbullah may try to carry out an attack along the northern border following the prisoner swap for abducted reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser scheduled for later this week...

...Recent interviews of Hizbullah leaders, as well as articles by reporters associated with the terrorist group, have hinted that Hizbullah is planning such an attack.

As a result, the IDF has raised its level of vigilance along the northern border. The army is preparing for the possibility that after two years of relative quiet since the Second Lebanon War, Hizbullah will try to kidnap soldiers or even infiltrate Israel and raid a border town.

...Estimates in the defense establishment are that even following the swap, Hizbullah will still have many excuses to attack Israel, including the revenge it has said it would like to exact for the February assassination of its military commander Imad Mughniyeh, which it has attributed to Israel. Defense officials have said in the past that if Hizbullah retaliates abroad, the violence will likely reach the Israeli-Lebanese border.

Israel is also concerned that from its new position in the Lebanese government, Hizbullah may try to block the upcoming renewal of the mandate of the United Nations peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. UNIFIL's mandate is up for renewal in August, and the IDF is concerned that with veto power in the Lebanese cabinet, Hizbullah will be able to prevent it.

....A senior officer told the Post last week that Hizbullah had set up positions inside Shi'ite villages in southern Lebanon where UNIFIL could not operate freely without being accompanied by the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), whose soldiers would usually tip off Hizbullah before a raid. Israel is also concerned with the continued smuggling of weapons to Hizbullah and via the Syrian-Lebanese border.

..."The IDF has not given up on UNIFIL," the officer said. ..."We do, however, still expect that they do more."

Amid Iran's tests, signs of weakness

From the July 11, 2008 editionof The Christian Science Monitor, by Howard LaFranchi Staff writer:

Evidence mounts that international sanctions are having an impact.

WASHINGTON - With Iran reporting a second day of missile tests this week, it appears to be intent upon signaling to its adversaries – primarily the United States and Israel – that it is prepared to meet and match both provocations and any eventual attack.

But the show of force, which Thursday reportedly included missiles test-fired from ships in the strategically sensitive Persian Gulf, may also be part of an attempt to cover over Iran's weaknesses and to draw attention away from signs that the international community's efforts to curtail Iran's nuclear program are having an impact.

Almost lost in an aggressive verbal exchange that continued Thursday – with a reminder to Tehran from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the US will defend its interests and allies – was an announcement by French energy corporation Total. It said it was canceling plans to invest in Iran's energy sector by developing one of Iran's natural gas fields.

...On Wednesday, a top US diplomat told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the international community is making headway in slowing Iran's nuclear program. The program includes efforts to perfect the process for delivering highly enriched uranium – which can be used as fuel for nuclear weapons.

"While deeply troubling, Iran's real nuclear progress has been less than the sum of its boasts," said Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns.

Some of Iran's missile testing is a piece of annual military exercises that are designed, in part, to show the US – which maintains large numbers of troops next door in Iraq and Afghanistan – that Iran has its ways of causing America pain, some Iran experts say.

But they say that this year, the Iranians may be more focused on sending signals about Israel, which over recent months has seemed to supplant the US as the likeliest deliverer of any eventual military strike against Iranian nuclear installations. ..."Iran doesn't have the hope of pressuring Israel directly, so one thing they are trying to accomplish is to convince the rest of the international community that the blowback from any attack on them would be severe," says Ilan Berman, vice president for policy at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington.

For other analysts, the Iranian regime has at least one eye on the domestic front. "For the Iranian leadership not to react to Israeli moves or threats – for them to appear to do nothing about it – would be risky for them at home," says Alex Vatanka, an Iran analyst with Jane's consulting services in Alexandria, Va. "This may be a semidictatorship, but they are sensitive to domestic public opinion."

...Iran may be experiencing high inflation and unemployment, and thus deteriorating living conditions, as Undersecretary Burns noted in his Senate testimony Wednesday. But, Vatanka says, both Mr. Ahmadinejad and the ruling religious leaders can use the heightened security tensions to draw attention away from the souring domestic environment.

...One risk for Iran, analysts say, is that it could overplay its hand and take its belligerence too far....

...In many ways, the conflict between Iran and the international community is a heated image and public-opinion war – Iran vehemently defending its right to nuclear power and at least envisioning itself championing the world's technological have-nots on one side, Western powers defending international security and battling the proliferation of massively dangerous and destabilizing weapons on the other.

By going too far, Iran risks losing what claim it still has to "rightness" in that image battle. "If they get it wrong," Vatanka says, "if public opinion around the world looks at these missile launches in isolation, without the context of what the Iranians feel they are up against, they could end up with world opinion concluding: This really is a regime, a threat that has to be dealt with."

Total Cancels Investments in Iran

From The New York Times, July 11, 2008, by DAVID JOLLY:

PARIS — Total, the French oil giant, has decided to back away from planned investments in Iran because of political uncertainty, a company official said Thursday.

Total’s withdrawal from the country, including a planned huge gas project in the South Pars gas field, makes it the last major Western oil company to give up on Iran amid pressure from Washington to stop doing business with Tehran.

...The news was first reported Thursday in The Financial Times, which quoted the Total chief executive, Christophe de Margerie, as saying: “Today we would be taking too much political risk to invest in Iran because people will say: ‘Total will do anything for money.’ ”

...Total’s partners on the South Pars project — Royal Dutch Shell, the largest European oil company, and Repsol of Spain — pulled out in May.

The announcement of Total’s withdrawal came after Iranian missile tests Wednesday and Thursday that led Western leaders to express concern about the country’s military capabilities.
It also came after Howard L. Berman, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called for punishments for companies that invest in Iran.

“We’ve had a law on the books for a dozen years that requires such sanctions, but it never has been enforced,” Bloomberg News quoted Mr. Berman as saying at a hearing on Iran in Washington. “It’s time for our European allies and their corporations to cease investing in Iran.”...

Diplomatic Purim Shpiel

I quickly checked my calendar (is it Purim?..or April Fool's Day?), when I saw this on the BBC, Sunday, 13 July 2008:

Israel 'close' to Mid-East deal

Nicolas Sarkozy (centre) said he wanted to promote love not war

The Israeli and Palestinian leaders have expressed their optimism over the chances for peace at a summit of EU and Mediterranean rim nations in Paris.
...Leaders from 43 nations have launched the Union for the Mediterranean, which has ending conflict in the Middle East as one of its main priorities.

It will also tackle issues like immigration and pollution.

The summit's host, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said the aim was to see that the region was a place where people could love each other instead of making war.

Mr Sarkozy urged Middle Eastern countries involved in long-running conflicts to end the deadly spiral of war and violence, as European nations had done by making peace which each other during the 20th Century. He said the presidency of the European Union - which France currently holds - was committed to progress on Middle East peace...
...Mr Olmert said there would be "obstacles, problems, disagreements but we have never been as close to the possibility of coming to an agreement as we are today".
... Mr Abbas sounded a positive note ..."For the sake of our peoples, the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, the peoples of the Middle East and for the people of the world. Because we know that peace in the Middle East is the basis of peace in the world."

..The French president also asked Syria's leader Bashar Assad to use his ties with Iran to help resolve the international stand-off over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Mr Sarkozy has long spearheaded the idea of a Union for the Mediterranean. Comprising 27 EU members with states from north Africa, the Balkans, Israel and the Arab world, the new body membership will include 756m people from Western Europe to the Jordanian desert.
He recently claimed the grouping could transform the Mediterranean region into an area of peace and prosperity....
However this, from The New York Times, 14/7/08, was a little more careful with the details:
PARIS — Leaders of 43 nations with nearly 800 million inhabitants inaugurated a new “Union for the Mediterranean” on Sunday, meant to bring the northern and southern countries that ring the sea closer together through practical projects dealing with the environment, climate, transport, immigration and policing.
...The Union for the Mediterranean is the brainchild of Mr. Sarkozy, but his original conception was watered down to include all members of the European Union, not just those along the Mediterranean seaboard. Nor does the new union have any political conditions for membership, sharply reducing the possibility of influencing policy changes or promoting more respect for human rights among the governments here.

...But leaders still disagree about where the headquarters will be and about the nationality of the union’s secretary-general, and some of its financing remains vague.

...While initial accomplishments are likely to be vague, the meeting marked an end to the diplomatic isolation of Mr. Assad, who has been ostracized for his alliance with Iran, his support for Palestinian groups classified by the United States and the European Union as terrorist, and his country’s alleged involvement in the 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri.

... Mr. Assad’s invitation to watch the Bastille Day military parade on Monday has also angered some in the French military, who have been deployed at times in Lebanon, France’s former colony and traditional ally, which Syria dominates, and who currently serve as United Nations peace-keepers there.

...the invitation to Mr. Assad, like an earlier one to the Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy, has reignited French domestic criticism of Mr. Sarkozy’s apparent failure to live up to his avowed “moral foreign policy.” When elected, he chose a noted rights advocate, Bernard Kouchner, as his foreign minister and created a new post of secretary of state for human rights.
...But Mr. Assad was vague about recognizing Lebanon, a country that Syria has dominated for decades and regards as a Syrian province. Syria has so far refused to demarcate a border with Lebanon, and Mr. Assad said that before mutual recognition, both countries must “define the steps to take to arrive at this stage.”

On Sunday, just before the union summit began, Mr. Sarkozy was host to Mr. Abbas and Mr. Olmert for another of their regular meetings to try to negotiate the principles for a peace deal.
...Senior Israeli officials said that progress was being made, but that hard political decisions remained for Mr. Abbas and the Palestinians. “It’s getting close to crunch time,” one official said, asking for anonymity following normal diplomatic practice.
...The Israeli officials said that peace was possible with Syria, but that Mr. Assad would have to decide to finish the negotiations in direct talks. Waiting for a new American president would be a mistake, the Israeli officials warned — because that would likely mean a new Israeli prime minister too, even if Mr. Olmert survives for the moment.

...The summit itself was a talkathon, held around a huge oval table in the majestic, glass-roofed Grand Palais. Mr. Sarkozy greeted each representative as their limousines arrived. Inside, Mr. Olmert made the rounds, but as he approached Mr. Assad, the Syrian turned away to talk to his interpreter, according to a photographer who was present. The Israeli representatives sat next to those of Italy and Greece; Syria was seated between Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Later, just before Mr. Olmert was due to speak, Mr. Assad left the hall.

...The group spoke around limited topics on Sunday, with speeches limited by the large numbers attending. A summit declaration proposed projects like solar energy, reducing pollution of the sea and student exchanges. Heads of state of the union’s member nations are supposed to meet every two years, and their foreign ministers every year. The Arab League, which wanted full membership, will instead be considered a “permanent observer.” The meeting was followed by a formal dinner at the Elysee, with seating at small tables carefully negotiated by French diplomats.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, who insisted that the Sarkozy project include all European Union members and not just those bordering the Mediterranean, said pointedly that the summit “was a very, very good start for a new phase in the cooperation” between Europe and the south, a reference to the so-called Barcelona process set up after the Oslo peace accords. The European Union in fact calls this: “Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean.”

“The summit is a nice event, but will the union find an independent life?” one senior diplomat from a southern country asked, noting that the Barcelona process, like Oslo, had run out of gas. “It would be a shame to have a second version of the Barcelona process,” the diplomat said. “Sarkozy’s original idea was bold, but there’s not much of it left.”
[ they say in Hollywood - underneath all that tinsel and glitter...there's MORE tinsel and glitter ....]