Thursday, December 31, 2009

"Disputed" NOT "Occupied"

From The Wall Street Journal, DECEMBER 30, 2009, by DANNY AYALON, deputy foreign minister of Israel [my own emphasis added - SL]:

The recent statements by the European Union's new foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton criticizing Israel [see this previous posting] have once again brought international attention to Jerusalem and the settlements.

However, little appears to be truly understood about Israel's rights to what are generally called the "occupied territories" but what really are "disputed territories."

That's because the land now known as the West Bank cannot be considered "occupied" in the legal sense of the word as it had not attained recognized sovereignty before Israel's conquest. Contrary to some beliefs there has never been a Palestinian state, and no other nation has ever established Jerusalem as its capital despite it being under Islamic control for hundreds of years.

The name "West Bank" was first used in 1950 by the Jordanians when they annexed the land to differentiate it from the rest of the country, which is on the east bank of the river Jordan. The boundaries of this territory were set only one year before during the armistice agreement between Israel and Jordan that ended the war that began in 1948 when five Arab armies invaded the nascent Jewish State. It was at Jordan's insistence that the 1949 armistice line became not a recognized international border but only a line separating armies. The Armistice Agreement specifically stated: "No provision of this Agreement shall in any way prejudice the rights, claims, and positions of either Party hereto in the peaceful settlement of the Palestine questions, the provisions of this Agreement being dictated exclusively by military considerations." This boundary became the famous "Green Line," so named because the military officials during the armistice talks used a green pen to draw the line on the map.

After the Six Day War, when once again Arab armies sought to destroy Israel and the Jewish state subsequently captured the West Bank and other territory, the United Nations sought to create an enduring solution to the conflict. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 is probably one of the most misunderstood documents in the international arena. While many, especially the Palestinians, push the idea that the document demands that Israel return everything captured over the Green Line, nothing could be further from the truth. The resolution calls for "peace within secure and recognized boundaries," but nowhere does it mention where those boundaries should be.

It is best to understand the intentions of the drafters of the resolution before considering other interpretations. Eugene V. Rostow, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs in 1967 and a drafter of the resolution, stated in 1990: Lord Caradon, the British U.N. Ambassador at the time and the resolution's main drafter who introduced it to the Council, said in 1974 unequivocally that, "It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial."

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. at the time, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, made the issue even clearer when he stated in 1973 that, "the resolution speaks of withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal." This would encompass "less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territory, inasmuch as Israel's prior frontiers had proven to be notably insecure."

Even the Soviet delegate to the U.N., Vasily Kuznetsov, who fought against the final text, conceded that the resolution gave Israel the right to "withdraw its forces only to those lines it considers appropriate."

After the war in 1967, when Jews started returning to their historic heartland in the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria, as the territory had been known around the world for 2,000 years until the Jordanians renamed it, the issue of settlements arose. However, Rostow found no legal impediment to Jewish settlement in these territories. He maintained that the original British Mandate of Palestine still applies to the West Bank. He said "the Jewish right of settlement in Palestine west of the Jordan River, that is, in Israel, the West Bank, Jerusalem, was made unassailable. That right has never been terminated and cannot be terminated except by a recognized peace between Israel and its neighbors." There is no internationally binding document pertaining to this territory that has nullified this right of Jewish settlement since.

And yet, there is this perception that Israel is occupying stolen land and that the Palestinians are the only party with national, legal and historic rights to it. Not only is this morally and factually incorrect, but the more this narrative is being accepted, the less likely the Palestinians feel the need to come to the negotiating table. Statements like those of Lady Ashton's are not only incorrect; they push a negotiated solution further away.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Iran plans to smuggle raw uranium from Kazakhstan

From THE JERUSALEM POST, Dec. 29, 2009:

Iran is close to clinching a deal to clandestinely import 1,350 tons of purified uranium ore from Kazakhstan, according to an intelligence report obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday....Such imports are banned by the UN Security Council.

...A senior UN official said the agency was aware of the intelligence report's assessment but could not yet draw conclusions. ...A Western diplomat from a member of the [International Atomic Energy Agency]'s 35-nation board said the report was causing "concern" among countries that have seen it and generating "intelligence chatter." The diplomat also requested anonymity for discussing intelligence information.

A two-page summary of the report obtained by the AP said deal could be completed within weeks. It said Teheran was willing to pay $450 million, or close to 315 million euros, for the shipment.

The price is high because of the secret nature of the deal and due to Iran's commitment to keep secret the elements supplying the material," said the summary. An official of the country that drew up the report said "elements" referred to state employees acting on their own without approval of the Kazakh government.

After-hours calls put in to offices of Kazatomprom, the Kazak state uranium company, in Kazakhstan and Moscow, were not answered Tuesday. Iranian nuclear officials also did not pick up their telephones.

Separately a senior US official who demanded anonymity for talking about confidential information said Washington was aware of the intelligence report, but declined to discuss specifics...

...Iran is under three sets of Security Council sanctions for refusing to freeze its enrichment program and related activities that could be used to make nuclear weapons. Teheran denies such aspirations, saying it wants to enrich only to fuel an envisaged network of power reactors.

Any attempt to import such a large amount of uranium ore would be in violation of those sanctions, which ban exports to the Islamic Republic of all items, materials, equipment, goods and technology that could contribute to its enrichment activities...

...The IAEA believes that Iran's rapidly expanding enrichment program has been built on 600 tons of so-called "yellowcake" or uranium oxide imported from South Africa during the 1970s as part of plans by the former regime to build a network of nuclear reactors.

But the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security said earlier this year that, based on 2008 IAEA statistics, Iran had already used up close to three-quarters of its South African supply.

In a November report, the IAEA noted that Iran had stopped producing uranium gas from yellowcake in early August and said Iranian officials had notified the agency that the production facility was down for maintenance.

But David Albright, head of the Institute for Science and International Security, said Tuesday that the facility at the city of Isfahan had produced very little for about a year. "They said it was closed for maintenance but the reality is they probably ran out of uranium," he said.

Kazakhstan is among the world's three top producers of uranium, accounting for more than 8,500 tons last year. Iran, in contrast is producing an estimated 20 tons a year - far too little to power even one large reactor let alone the network is says it wants to put in place.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

More peace talks ...36 years later...

Iran Close to "point of no return"

From the Voice of America, Jerusalem 28 December 2009, by Robert Berger:

ISNA photo claims to show launch of Sejil 2 missile, 16 Dec 2009
Photo: AP

Israel also alarmed by Iran's recent test firing of its longest-range missile, previous threats by Iran's president
Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak says Iran is moving quickly toward the "point of no return." Speaking behind closed doors to the parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Barak said Iran will have the technology to build a nuclear bomb by early next year and could produce one in 2011.

Cabinet Minister Yuval Steinitz is a former chairman of the committee. "Iran is trying to gain nuclear weapons. And if nothing serious, nothing dramatic will be done by the West, it will get there in a year or two," he said.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but Steinitz says Israel has proof that the Islamic Republic is building the atom bomb. "There are good, I would say even excellent evidence and intelligence showing that this is the case. And this is crystal clear to all Western intelligence services," he added.

Israel is alarmed by Iran's recent test firing of its longest-range missile and previous threats by its president to wipe the Jewish state "off the map." So Israeli leaders are calling for tougher international sanctions on Iran before it is too late.

But Israel has warned time and again that if diplomacy fails, it might launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

US, not Israel, should explain

From THE JERUSALEM POST, Dec. 28, 2009, by DAN DIKER*:

The United States' recent request for a public clarification from National Security Adviser Uzi Arad following the IDF's killing of three wanted Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades terrorists in Nablus is unusual and raises questions.

Arad's reported need to explain to his US counterparts the defensive nature of the IDF operation several days after the Iranian-backed terror cell's murder of Rabbi Meir Chai, a father of seven, seems exceptional. This IDF operation was no different than hundreds of other actions against Palestinian terror groups that have murdered well over 1,000 Israeli civilians since the Palestinian Authority launched the Aksa war of terror in 2000.

As a rule, the US has not asked Israel for public clarifications on antiterror operations. Clearly, close communications are important. There are multiple security and intelligence channels between Israel and its closest ally that have been and should be used to handle these types of security queries. The Israeli Embassy in Washington, the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, the US consulate in Jerusalem, military attaches and representatives of respective intelligence agencies are appropriate addresses.

But in this extraordinary case, the US demanded a public clarification on behalf of the PA. This clearly represents heightened US sensitivity to Palestinian protests over the IDF's "unjust" incursion into Area A of Judea and Samaria/the West Bank, where the PA has overall security responsibility, to net the Fatah-associated terror cell that resulted in its elimination.

THIS IS where it seems more appropriate that the US issue clarifications to Israel.

At least one of the Aksa Brigades commanders - Annan Sabuh, who was found with two M16 automatic rifles and two other firearms - had been part of the amnesty program for former Fatah-affiliated terror group commanders and operatives that was predicated on turning in all weapons. The amnesty program was implemented in no small part at the behest of the United States and its security reform program, which began under Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton in 2005.

Notwithstanding IDF praise for PA public policing improvements in some West Bank cities and for PA security actions against Hamas, the American-trained and -funded Palestinian security forces under the command of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have either refused or been unable to uproot the terror infrastructure of the Fatah-associated Aksa Martyrs Brigades. Similar to the three recently neutralized terrorists, thousands of additional Aksa Martyrs operatives and other Fatah militia members have gone into "retirement" via the amnesty agreement with the PA security forces and their US security coordinators, but many operatives still store weapons in their homes. US security officials may also be aware that some Fatah terror operatives have even been sheltered in PA security installations to remove them from Israel's most wanted list.

Fayyad has also coopted some Aksa commanders by assigning them to senior positions in the PA security forces, such as Abu Jabbal, a senior PA security forces officer in Nablus. The increased US commitment in 2009, equaling some $130 million to upgrade the PA forces to nearly 3,500 men, has failed to address the very problem of the continued existence of Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades and other armed Fatah factions that resulted in the recent murder of Chai. It is well known in senior Fatah security echelons that the limited capacity and political will of PA forces require the IDF to assume between 70 percent and 80% of the security operations against the extant terror infrastructure in the West Bank.

ASSERTIONS BY some US officials as to the effectiveness of PA security forces must also be reassessed in view of recent Aksa Martyrs actions against the Palestinian leadership. Aksa operatives fired shots recently at Anan Atiri, deputy to the incoming governor of Nablus, after publishing leaflets labeling the governor a traitor. The group has also publicly labeled Fayyad an American agent and has published threats against him. Add this to the fact that Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades shot at outgoing Nablus Governor Jamal Muheissin on November 26, and that in May it published a leaflet there accusing PA President Mahmoud Abbas of participating in assassinations in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

In view of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades' direct challenge to the US-backed PA Security forces, it would seem appropriate for to Israel to receive clarifications from the United States as to how these robustly funded and well trained paramilitary forces plan to finally uproot the Fatah and Hamas terror infrastructures that continue to claim the lives of Israeli civilians while physically threatening the PA leadership that is supposed to be securing the foundation for independence.

The United States might also clarify to the Palestinian leadership that in the aftermath of the tragic and violent Iranian-backed Hamas takeover of Gaza following Israel's 2005 withdrawal, Israelis are not inclined to assume major security risks in line with Palestinian "red line" demands for a second complete Gaza-type withdrawal, particularly in Area C of the West Bank, which houses the strategically vital Jordan Valley and its 3,000-foot protective hills overlooking Israel's major coastal cities.

To be sure, Israel will become even more risk-averse if the Palestinian Authority proves incapable of completely uprooting the entire terror infrastructure in the areas under their agreed upon jurisdiction.

*The writer is director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs and a senior policy analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Relaunch of talks (again)...

From THE JERUSALEM POST, Dec. 29, 2009, by Herb Keinon:

The "terms of reference" for restarting diplomatic discussions with the Palestinians are expected to be the main focus of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's discussions with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt on Tuesday, amid signs that US Middle East envoy George Mitchell has made inroads on this matter.

Mitchell, who hasn't been here since early November but has continued talks with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in the US, is due back in early January and is expected to bring with him a document that would provide a basis for relaunching the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

...One senior Israeli diplomatic source told The Jerusalem Post that the terms of reference Mitchell is reportedly bringing would probably closely resemble the statement US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released soon after Netanyahu announced his 10-month housing-start moratorium in the West Bank.

"We believe," that statement read, "that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements."

...Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, Netanyahu said, was necessary for any agreement with the Palestinians that would lead to an end to the conflict.

"We want an end to the conflict," he said. "That means the Palestinians must stop attempts to use a Palestinian state as jumping-off point for further claims against Israel. No claim to flood Israel with refugees, which would mean the end of the Jewish state; and no irredentist claims to the Negev, Galilee or Israeli citizens, which would mean the dissolution of the Jewish state."

Regarding Israel's demands that any future Palestinian state be demilitarized, Netanyahu said this would necessitate preventing the import of rockets and missiles that could be fired into Israel, as was currently the situation in Gaza and Lebanon.

He said the situation in Lebanon, and the rearming of Hizbullah despite Security Council Resolution 1701 prohibiting just that, proved that agreements on paper were ineffective.

"I am doubtful that anyone can do this except a real Israeli presence, Israeli forces," he said, intimating that in any future agreement with the Palestinians, Israeli forces - not international ones - would have to be on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state to prevent it from importing arms and staging attacks against Israel.

Zionist Muslim Sheikh

From, 28 December 09, by Nissan Ratzlav-Katz:

Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi
Israel News photo: (file)

...Making the trip from Italy to Hevron for the second time in recent years, the head of the Italian Muslim Assembly, Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi, met with local Jewish leaders [of Hevron] in a show of solidarity. The sheikh, an Italian national who received his Islamic education from leading mainstream Saudi and Egyptian Sunni institutions, believes that his religion obligates its followers to support Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. In support of his position, Sheikh Palazzi quotes Koranic passages and traditions that affirm God's assignment of this land for the Jews.

...During Sheikh Palazzi's visit to Hevron, community leaders discussed with him ways in which Islamist fundamentalism might be curbed. "He emphasized Saudi Arabia as responsible for extremism," Arnon said. "It funds mosques in Europe and the United States and then determines who will be allowed to speak in them. In this way, Islam becomes more and more extreme, which is a dangerous trend."

In his activities in Italy, Arnon explained, Palazzi teaches what he calls "the real Islam", which he believes includes tolerance, Jewish-Muslim fellowship and Zionism. "He even organized a protest outside the Iranian embassy in Rome when Ahmadinejad talked about destroying Israel," Arnon added.

Sheikh Palazzi, who is also the Muslim co-founder of the Islam-Israel Fellowship of the Root & Branch Association, told his Hevron hosts that Italian Jews are now shifting their political positions further to the Right. In the past, according to Palazzi, Jews in Italy were primarily supporters of the Left, but a slow change in underway. Arnon said that Sheikh Palazzi believes his efforts, as a non-Jew supporting Israel, have contributed to that shift.

Asked about threats against the Zionist sheikh Arnon was adamant that he was perfectly safe in Hevron. "He walked around [here] without bodyguards," he said. However, Arnon said that he would probably be unable to openly enter Gaza or Ramallah under current circumstances.

Palazzi's visit in Israel continues for another few days, during which he will be making his way to other communities in Judea and Samaria to express his support for continued Jewish development and sovereignty in those regions.

God bless America...

From: The Australian December 26, 2009, by Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor:

THIS was the year the multilateral system, such as it is, broke down. Definitively.

The Copenhagen climate fiasco was bad news if you think the planet is warming and urgent action is required. It was also bad news if you think the globe needs effective management of big issues. It gave us a glimpse into where we go if we are deprived of US leadership. The answer is: we go nowhere. And that's if we're lucky.

...There seems to be a whole class of international relations commentators, not least among our bunyip faux wise men in Australia, eagerly predicting, if not outright yearning for, US decline.

Copenhagen is a benign version of what they get if their dreams come true. But at least with climate change the catastrophe is some time off. The multilateral system is failing, too, on more immediate problems.

Obama has spent a year holding out his hand in friendship to Iran. He has been comprehensively shunned. Iran has gone ahead building its nuclear weapons program. This year we found out it has a second, secret uranium enrichment facility at Qom.

This is doubly surprising because it is enriching all that uranium even though it does not have a nuclear power plant.

We also found out that Iran has been working on a neutron initiator, which has no purpose other than to trigger a nuclear weapon.

And, to top it off, the Islamic republic has tested a missile with a range just short of 2000km, putting not only Israel, but a large part of Europe, under direct threat.

That Obama has been shunned by Iran means he has yet to do anything about Iran.

On this it would be wrong to suggest that Obama, or the Americans generally, have been disengaged.

Because the Iranian economy is so badly run, it could be vulnerable to tough sanctions. But the UN Security Council won't pass sanctions if these are vetoed by Russia or China.

Similarly, the sanctions won't be wholly effective if they are not embraced by Russia and China.

Yet US success in persuading Russia and China on sanctions has been limited and equivocal, to say the least.

It may be that if Russia or China vetoes sanctions, or threatens to veto them so they are never brought to a Security Council vote, the US will lead sanctions unilaterally.

In this, the US will have the support of the European Union. And it will also have the support of Australia.

Now here is a big clue. If Iran is to be stopped from getting nuclear weapons it will be entirely the work of the US (unless of course the Israelis bomb the Iranian facilities).

The multilateral system as such will almost certainly not have been the key factor.

For here is a deep truth, which we are almost never allowed to utter. In international security, the global system is not the multilateral system centred on the UN. That is a byword for windy ineffectiveness, a la Copenhagen.

The only international security system that works is the US alliance system.

If the Iranians don't get nuclear weapons, it will be because the Americans stop them. If the Chinese are not tempted to use military force to take back Taiwan, it is because they are frightened of the US and its allies. If the world sees a reduction in nuclear arms numbers, it will be because the Americans work out a treaty with the Russians. If Saddam Hussein is gone and can no longer pursue nuclear weapons, and if there is a chance at last of a democratic Arab state emerging, it is because of US intervention. If the Taliban is to be prevented from retaking Afghanistan and providing a state for the use of its allies al-Qa'ida, it will be because the Americans kept their nerve and set an Afghan government on a sustainable security course.

And so it goes around the world.

This is the most unfashionable thing you can say, and also the most important, because it's true. The global security system, in so far as it works at all, is US security policy operating in co-operation with its allies.

This is, incidentally, very good for Australia.

Australia is perhaps the second-most intimate ally of the US after Britain. We are about the 14th-largest economy in the world, command a huge land mass with enormous resources, we are about the 12th-largest military spender in the world. We are a critical ally of the US in the Asia Pacific but also one of the US's few global allies. We contribute, often quite modestly, it is true, to most things that matter on the planet.

Here is another unfashionable truth: the US connection is central to almost everything we do. ... Australian middle-power diplomacy works best when it works in harness with the US, and the US system more broadly.

Some folks tend to posit middle-power diplomacy as a sign of our independence, our ability to act separately from the US. This is a foolish line of thinking. We are of course independent from the US and at any given time there will be plenty of things Canberra disagrees with Washington about. But our fundamental strategic alignment is as an ally of the US and as a part of the US system. Every serious player in the world recognises this and deals with us on this basis....

... This is the way effective Australian middle-power diplomacy works, which is in great contrast to the multilateral system. It doesn't work at all.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Israel will apply more force

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ascent of the little dictator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iran ignores another deadline ...ante goes up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Attack on Iran is retaliation not preemption


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Perpetuating Propaganda Prevents Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India, Israel step up defence ties

From The Times of India, 23 December 2009:

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

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

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

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

Berlin more sympathetic to Shoah memory than Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Syria is the lynchpin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Schalit deal imminent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hariri meets his father's killer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The War Over Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, however, the picture is diametrically opposite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That means that trouble might follow, quite soon.

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

Ayalon: EU won't cut our ties with Jerusalem

From Ynet News 19 December 2009, by Roni Sofer:

Catherine Ashton, EU's new minister for foreign affairs

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Stopping Iran: the time for diplomacy has passed.

From The Wall Street Journal, DECEMBER 16, 2009, by OLIVIER DEBOUZY*:

...This week's revelations about Iran's recent work on warhead design underscore the point. No country has ever gone so far along the road toward the acquisition of a nuclear military capability without actually developing one.

... Western decision makers are now at a defining moment.

...If Iran has nukes, the temptation for countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey, among others, to equip themselves with such weapons would be almost irresistible. The 2010 review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty would be rendered a feckless pantomime...

It is now necessary, therefore, to plan for the worst—some form of military constraint upon Iran. It is urgent that the U.S., Great Britain and France, together with Israel ...gather and try to reach agreement on how to terminate the Iranian nuclear program militarily.

...How could this be done? The experience of the 1962 Cuban crisis provides an interesting precedent. Applying pressure on the Iranians by interdicting any imports or exports to and from Iran by sea and by air would send a message that would undoubtedly be perceived as demonstrative by Tehran. Additionally, reinforcing the Western naval presence inside or immediately outside the Gulf would make it clear to the Iranians, without infringing on their territorial waters, that they (and all states dealing with them) are entering a danger zone.

In parallel to this slow strangulation, measures should be taken to deter Gulf states (such as Dubai) from engaging in any trade or financial transactions with Iran and to encourage them to freeze Iranian assets in their banks. This should not be too difficult, as the threat of disconnecting any renegade from the Swift system would be sufficiently persuasive in the current circumstances, in which Dubai sorely needs international financial assistance.

It might be necessary to go beyond that and actually resort to force to prevent the Iranians from achieving nuclear military capabilities. Planning for a massive air and missile attack on Iran's nuclear facilities (known and suspected) should be considered seriously, and this planning made public (at least partially) to convince Iran that the West can not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk. Such planning should also, to the extent possible, involve NATO, against the territory of which there is little doubt that the majority of Iranian missiles and nuclear weapons would be targeted (if only because they cannot yet reach the U.S.). The U.S., U.K., French and Israeli intelligence services should better co-ordinate what they know, and contributions from others should also be welcome, as well as any information that could be provided by internal opposition movements in Iran.

The idea here is simple, and has been expressed many times by theoreticians of deterrence: When one plans for war, when one deploys forces and rehearses military options, one actually conveys a message. Deterrence is about dialogue. Whether the Iranian government would listen to it is uncertain. But at least it would have been properly warned.

The time for diplomacy has passed. Iran must cave in, and quickly.

If the West is not prepared to force it to comply with its commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, this in effect means that the treaty is dead and that the Gulf countries are being abandoned—stealthily, but nonetheless very definitely. It also means that the non-proliferation regime is, for all practical purposes, dead. Is this really what we want?

*Mr. Debouzy is a lawyer and a former specialist in nuclear military affairs and intelligence for the French government. He writes here in a strictly personal capacity.

Update, Monday 21/12/09: I received the following by email from Mike Evans, Jerusalem Prayer Team (thanks to Trish):

...I am in Israel to address a major conference and what I'm hearing is very sobering. The mood here is VERY ominous.

In the last couple of days I was told some new confidential information about the state of Iran's readiness to deliver a working nuclear bomb.

An Israeli general told me:

• Iran will not back down because they think the US president is too weak to stop them.
• Iran has already enriched 1.7 tons of uranium for a nuclear bomb at its facilities in Natanz.
• Iran has been testing neutron detonators.
Then yesterday, Iran test-fired an upgraded version of its most advanced missile, the Sajjil-2, with a range of about 1,200 miles. That means it can hit anywhere in Israel, our U.S. bases in the Gulf region and even deliver a warhead to parts of Europe!

The two-stage Sajjil-2 is powered entirely by solid-fuel and is the most advanced missile yet tested by Iran. It has a lot longer range and is far more accurate that the previous missile, the Fateh, which only had a range of 120 miles!

So while the world watches, Iran races ahead on its quest for a nuclear bomb—and at the same time, it is testing the missiles needed to deliver such a bomb to destroy its avowed enemy, Israel.

You can understand then why the mood here is very dark—and why I tell you that without divine intervention there will be war in 2010....

Over 35% of Egyptian and Saudi citizens support jihad

From UPI, Dec. 18, 2009:

...Private polling of Egyptian and Saudi citizens ...shows [that] more than 35 percent of those interviewed considered it "an Islamic duty" to support Islamic fighters around the world.

[David Pollock, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said] that while many of the respondents said they did not support al-Qaida, more than 40 percent said they assumed other Muslim communities did support the group's militant message.

He notes that while public support for radical Islam is dwindling, the perception that financial assistance is an obligation is troubling....

Friday, December 18, 2009

A defect in UK law


The momentous decision by the narrowest of margins by the justices of the UK Supreme Court on Wednesday, that London's Jewish Free School (JFS), in refusing entry to the son of a Masorti convert, had breached the 1976 Race Relations Act, will reverberate, not just across the Jewish community, but in the legislature as well.

The facts are clear. The boy, known as M is the son of a Jewish father and an Italian Roman Catholic mother who converted to Judaism through the Masorti/Conservative movement. The couple have since divorced and M lives with his father. He wished to go to JFS, the oldest and largest Jewish school in Europe.

The school is under the religious guidance of the chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, and when there is an over-demand for places, preference is given to halachic Jews over others. Lord Sacks ruled that M was not halachicly Jewish, and therefore was not eligible. M's father appealed to the school's panel, which turned him down. He then appealed to the courts which at the lower level turned him down, but at the Court of Appeal he found support. At this point JFS, the United Synagogue, the chief rabbi and the Board of Deputies appealed to the highest court, the Supreme Court which has now delivered its verdict.

The judgment is a remarkable document. It begins with a quote from Deuteronomy, as the basis of the laws against intermarriage, refers later to famous converts, such as Ruth, Onkelos and Rabbi Akiva, and throughout shows the greatest respect for Judaism and Jewish law.

"Jewish law has enabled the Jewish people and the Jewish religion to survive throughout centuries of discrimination and persecution. The world would be a poorer place if they had not" is how one of the justices put it.

THE JUDGES knew that they were handling a very hot potato. As the president of the court himself put it, the court "has not welcomed being required to resolve this dispute." The fact that nine out of the 11 Supreme Court justices heard the case, an extremely high proportion, indicates its significance. That they were split more or less down the middle five to four indicates its complexity. The president of the court, Lord Justice Phillips, supported the decision of the Court of Appeal that the JFS action breached race legislation. His deputy, Lord Hope, did not.

The case hinged on whether Jews are a religious group or an ethnic group. If they are the former, then the race legislation does not apply. If the latter, then it does. The majority decided that Jews were both!

More precisely, they accepted that the chief rabbi's and the school's decision was made solely on whether M was Jewish as defined by religious criteria. However, as Judaism, uniquely, defines religious status through descent, rather than affirmation, this makes Jews an ethnic group as defined by the legislation and case law. We are Jews because our parents were Jewish, whether we believe or practice any Jewish principles or not. Converts can join this group, but they don't change the essential nature of the group.

The irony is that while the authenticity of M's conversion was the cause of the case, it was irrelevant to the ruling. All denominations within Judaism use descent as the key principle, and according to the court's ruling it doesn't matter whether they follow matrilineal or patrilineal descent.

In UK law, it makes Jews an ethnic group and disallows any discrimination between one Jew and another, and of course between Jew and non-Jew.

In making their ruling the justices were aware of the delicacy and implications of their decision. The majority, while stating that the logic of the argument of their interpretation of the law meant that the school had breached the race relations legislation, this did not mean that those involved were "racist." As one of the justices said, "The chief rabbi and the governors of JFS are free from any moral blame. That they have fallen foul of the 1976 act does not involve any reprehensible conduct on their part, for it is accepted on all sides that they acted on sincerely and conscientiously held beliefs. Their motives are unimpeachable... The grounds on which the rejection of M was made may well be considered perfectly reasonable in the religious context, but... they amount to ethnic grounds under the legislation."

This theme, that the outcome is an unintended consequence of legislation produced more than 30 years ago in a different context, recurs throughout the judgment, and is mentioned by 8 of the 9 judges. Indeed the president of the court, Lord Phillips, as early as the ninth paragraph states :"There may well be a defect in our law of discrimination."

The decision will have a major impact on how Jewish schools choose their pupils. Religious criteria will need to be introduced and the danger is that those from less religious homes, the very children who would benefit from Jewish schooling, may lose out. But for how long, remains to be seen. The justices have given Parliament the biggest possible hint that the law needs to be changed, and the legislature needs to rise to the challenge.

*The writer is a former chancellor of the University of Derby and vice chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University. He authored the report on the future of Jewish schools for the Jewish Leadership Council in the UK. He made aliya with his wife, Jennifer, at the end of last year and lives in Jerusalem

For further details see:

(Verbatim) Court judgements:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Define a new identity that doesn't rely on anti-Semitism

THE JERUSALEM POST, Dec. 15, 2009, by ITAMAR MARCUS and BARBARA CROOK (Palestinian Media Watch):

...The Palestinian Authority depicts Jews as the archetypal force of evil ...responsible for all the world's problems: wars, financial crises, even the spreading of AIDS ...a danger to humanity ...turning demonization of Jews into the basis for Palestinian denial of Israel's right to exist and a central component of Palestinian national identity.

Because of Jews' evil nature, according to this Palestinian principle, nations of the world have been involved in continuous defensive actions to protect themselves. The anti-Semitic oppression, persecution and expulsions suffered by Jews throughout history are presented as the legitimate self-defense responses of nations.

Ibrahim Mudayris, a PA religious official, delineated this ideology:

"The Jews are a virus similar to AIDS, from which the entire world is suffering. This has been proven in history... Ask Britain!... Ask France!... Ask Portugal... Ask czarist Russia - who invited the Jews and they plotted to murder the czar!... Don't ask Germany what it did to the Jews, since the Jews are the ones who provoked Nazism to fight the entire world"

(PA TV, May 13, 2005).

The apex of this Palestinian ideology, and possibly its purpose, is to use this demonization of Jews as the basis for denying Israel legitimacy and to present Palestinians as the ultimate victims. According to this Palestinian model, the Jews, who are said to have no history in the land, would never have considered coming to "Palestine": Europeans created Zionism as the final act in the long series of self-defense measures, to rid themselves of the "burden" of the Jews.

Political commentator Fathi Buzia recently explained this on official PA television:

"Europe, led by Britain, founded Israel... The Jews in the time of Herzl caused European societies to lose sleep. They wanted to be rid of them, and implanted them in Palestine"

(PA TV, June 17).

Dr Riad al-Astal, a history lecturer at Al Azhar University in Gaza, explained it this way:

"In aiding Zionism, Britain's first aim was to be rid of the Jews, who were known to provoke disputes and disturbances and financial crises in Germany, France and other European states"

(PA TV, December 28, 2003).

THIS DEMONIZATION of Jews as the reason for delegitimizing Israel has been an integral part of Palestinian ideology, voiced by political, academic and religious leaders since the establishment of the PA.

Already in 1998 the official PA daily described both Hitler's attempt to exterminate the Jews and British support for Zionism as defensive measures:

"Hitler did not have colonies to send the Jews so he destroyed them, whereas Balfour... [turned] Palestine into his colony and sent the Jews. Balfour is Hitler with colonies, while Hitler is Balfour without colonies. They both wanted to get rid of the Jews... Zionism was crucial to the defense of the West's interests in the region, [by] ridding Europe of the burden of its Jews"

(Al-Hayat al-Jadida [Fatah], June 12, 1998).

This is not merely incitement; this is the foundation of Palestinian ideology. Israel is denied legitimacy and Palestinian victimhood becomes the foundation upon which a Palestinian national identity is created. Therefore, the Palestinian anti-Semitism construct is so problematic and hard to dislodge. Since the aim of Palestinian anti-Semitism is not merely to promote hatred, but part of a systematic demonization of Jews to deny Israel's right to exist, proving that Jews are evil has become an element of the ongoing Palestinian narrative.

Indeed, even in the period of the Annapolis Conference, the PA has never stopped disseminating a steady diet of hatred of Jews and Israelis. It has accused Jews and Israel of spreading AIDS among Palestinians, causing drug addiction among youth, planning to destroy the Aksa Mosque, and murdering Yasser Arafat. Jews are said to have lived in ghettos not because of European hatred, but because they see themselves as superior and do not want to mix with non-Jews, while the Palestinian chief religious justice recently said that the Koran warns of the Jews' inherently evil traits. Zionists are said to have forced Palestinians to undergo "selections" during the War of Independence, whereby the fit were put in labor camps and the unfit killed - some even burned alive.

All this and much more, since the renewal of the peace process.

The tragic reality is that this Palestinian anti-Semitism and its conclusions may already be ingrained in Palestinian society. During a talk show for teens on official PA TV, a young girl explained the reason Jews live in Israel:

"About the problem of the Jewish presence: You'd agree that the Jewish presence in the land of Palestine was nothing but the liberation of all the countries of the world from the source of evil. The evil that is found in the Jews has become a germ among us, which is a cancer that buried us and is still burying. And we are the ones who suffer from this cancer"

(PA TV, June 23, 2002).

The adult moderator did not correct her. And why should he? She was merely reiterating the basis of Palestinian national identity.

... the goal of PA demonization of Jews transcends mere hatred. Anti-Semitism is its political tool to defame Zionism, deny Israel's right to exist and create victimhood as the glue that cements Palestinian national identity.....

...Palestinians must define a new Palestinian national identity - one that doesn't rely on anti-Semitism and the eradication of Israel's legitimacy as its foundation.