|Southwest Asia News Digest
Putin To Make First Visit to Israel
Russian President Vladimir Putin will make an official visit to Israel on April 27 at the invitation of Israeli President Moshe Katsov, Ha'aretz reported March 23. No other Russian or Soviet head of state has ever visited Israel. Putin will also meet Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
On March 25, the New York Post reported that Putin will be leading a delegation of 300 Russian businessmen and diplomats, which will work on forging deeper economic cooperation between the two countries. A Washington source told EIR that Putin knows that both the Bush Administration and the European Union wish to keep Russia out of the Middle East diplomatic show, and that Putin sees this trip as an opportunity to insert Russia back into the equation in a big way. Among the issues that the source said would be on the table in the Putin-Sharon talks, would be both countries' relations with China and India.
In response to these reports, Lyndon LaRouche noted that the Israelis are in desperate economic straits, and that Putin could seize the opportunity to wreak havoc on the Bush-league neo-con war games in the region with some significant economic deals.
Condi and Cheney Plan Overthrow of Syrian Government
The inmates have definitely taken over the asylum, from the Oval Office to Foggy Bottom. A Washington Post article of March 26 has confirmed that the Bush Administration is meeting with a neoconservative-created "Reform Party" of Syria, as part of a plan to overthrow the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. On March 24, Elizabeth Cheney, Deputy Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, and the daughter of warmonger Vice President Dick Cheney, met with leaders of the Syrian "Reform Party" but the administration has denied planning an overthrow.
A highly informed Washington intelligence source with close ties to Lebanon told EIR that Elizabeth Cheney, know as the State Department's "democracy czar," is Dick's "eyes and ears" on the Middle East, and handles the policy there for him. (See this week's InDepth on Lebanon for background on the Syrian "Reform Party" as a component of the new Administration war plan for Lebanon/Syria.)
Syrian Diplomats Speak Out Against Provocations
The Syrian Ambassador to Washington, Dr. Imad Mustafa, told an audience at Georgetown University on March 23, that Syria "will withdraw from Lebanon as soon as possible, the sooner the better. And we are not talking of two or three months. We will do this very, very quickly."
The withdrawal is being worked out between Syrian President Bashir Assad, and Lebanese President Emile Lahoud. While Syria was invited into Lebanon by the government, the UN, and the League of Arab Nations, under a treaty known as the Taif Agreements in September 2004, the U.S. "war party," with the backing of France, rammed through UN Security Council Resolution 1559, to force Syria out of the country immediately.
Ambassador Mustafa told the largely American audience, "I hope this will inspire other countries in the Middle East to withdraw their occupations from Iraq and from Palestine and from Syria itself. President Bush," he added, "has many times spoken about making Iraq a model that will inspire the whole Arab world.... I think the Arab people will love to see this Syrian model followed by the Americans and the Israelis."
The Ambassador, who was formerly a university president and leading figure in promoting cultural exchanges, took up the question of political prisoners: "I do not feel proud that Syria has political detainees just like you have in Guantanamo Bay, people who don't know what they are charged with, when will they ever be released, if they will be tried, and if they have access to their attorneys. Our plans are by June 2005 not to have a single political prisoner in Syria. We want to make anything similar to your Guantanamo Bay a part of our past." The Ambassador concluded by emphasizing that Syria wishes to have improved relations with the United States. "We do not consider Syria an enemy of the United States. And we do not want to be regarded as an enemy by the United States."
Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Sharaa told reporters in a side-event at the Arab League summit in Algeria that allegations made by the U.S. and other Western countries are "just lies," and that there was no "pretext or justification" for Syria to be a target of "the Iraq scenario," reports Aljazeera.com on March 23. Al-Sharaa also said Syria wants to get out of Lebanon, which he calls a "sisterly country," and that the withdrawal is based on an agreement with Lebanese authorities.
Israeli Knesset Questions Replacement of IDF Chief
In a highly unusual public move, Israeli Chief of Staff Gen. Moshe Ya'alon told the Israeli Knesset on March 22 that he does not believe the reasons that he was given for being fired by Ariel Sharon, who declined to extend Ya'alon's term by the customary six months to one year.
"My dismissal was unjustified," Ya'alon told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. "I was very surprised by the reasons I was given, as if there had been some communication breakdown between Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and myself." He said Sharon told him that "Mofaz was unable to work with me." Yet, when Ya'alon mentioned that to Mofaz, the latter was totally surprised. Such a statement from Ya'alon is unusual, and no doubt reflects concerns within the defense establishment about the fact that Sharon has consolidated his grip on the entire official security apparatus.
The Knesset Committee issued a statement expressing concern, saying, "The committee noted with great concern that the government echelon has not yet presented the committee with a clear and convincing explanation...." Committee member Yossi Sarid said that Ya'alon had been dismissed "in a most contemptible fashion.... Not only Sharon and Mofaz conspired against you [Ya'alon], other politicians were also involved."
Ya'alon's replacement is former Air Force commander Dan Halutz, a personal friend of Sharon and Sharon's son Omri. Halutz is an aggressive warhawk, who is expected to prepare the IDF for a strike against Iran.
Israel Violates UN Resolutions with New Houses in Settlements
Israel has announced a massive expansion of the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank Palestinian territories, and will build 3,500 houses to connect Ma'aleh Adumin, a settlement deep in the West Bank, to Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem. The move violates numerous UN resolutions as well as the "Road Map."
According to Yedioth Aharanoth, March 21, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon personally approved the plans in order to secure "Greater Jerusalem."
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat condemned the expansion, saying it is "shutting the door for negotiations and peace. This project intends to determine the future of Jerusalem by settlements and not negotiations." Palestinian Planning Minister Ghassan al-Khatib said the expansion "gives the impression that it intends to exchange Gaza for a Greater Israel."
The U.S. response, through Ambassador David Kurtzer, was ambiguous. Instead of condemning the settlement expansion on its face, Kurtzer responded to a report leaked to the Israeli press, that Sharon had told a closed meeting at the Israeli Foreign Ministry that he had "an understanding" with the Bush Administration to allow this. BBC, UPI, and Yedioth Aharanot reported that Kurtzer said that Sharon's claim "is untrue."
Kurtzer said that the problem is that Israelis don't understand American English: "Sometimes, an American will end a conversation with the words 'I understand,' and an Israeli will mistakenly take that as a formal declaration of understanding. But I can assure you that no such understandings were reached. I have discussed the matter with Washington, and I have received full support on this matter." He added that the Israelis tend to repeat what they want to see, over and over, and "at the beginning of every meeting the Israelis repeated the mantra 'Jerusalem, the eternal undivided capital of Israel.' "
However, Kurtzer, in a talk with the Israeli Foreign Ministry cadets, gave Israel the room they want for expansion, when he denied that the U.S. policy under George W. Bush was for the full and complete withdrawal of all settlements from the West Bank.
U.S. Warned Not To Attack Iran
The European Union and Iran completed another round of talks on Iran's nuclear energy program, on March 24 in Paris, without reaching a final agreement. The talks will be resumed within the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, warnings from India and Egypt have been issued to the United States, not to attack Iran.
Aljazeera.com reported March 25 that Subir Raha, head of the Oil and Natural Gas Corp. of India, the country's biggest oil company, warned the U.S., "You launch one more attack, and you can't even guess where the speculation will go.... With the stalemate in Afghanistan, stalemate in Iraq and elsewhere, you already have a price at $55 a barrel." If the United States is "stupid enough to attack Iran," he said, "the whole marketplace will go up. No one knows what will happen."
Regarding U.S. attempts to sabotage India's energy supplies, by blocking an Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, he said, "I see no reason why India's priorities should be subservient to U.S. priorities. The U.S. is chasing oil and gas as badly as China or India or anybody else." Meanwhile, the Iranian news agency IRNA reported that Iran plans to sign separate back-to-back agreements with Pakistan and India, on the proposed pipeline project.
On March 24, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, speaking from Paris, where he had met with French President Jacques Chirac, also warned against an Iran attack. "We tell our American friends that we must distance ourselves from a destructive war... [which] could constitute a catastrophe for the entire region."