|Southwest Asia News Digest
Chirac Proposes Peace Conference on Israel-Palestine
French President Jacques Chirac promoted a peace conference on the Israel-Palestine crisis and the "upheavals" caused by the Iraq War, in a major foreign policy speech, reported Jan. 6 in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, which notes that this could be his last major foreign policy address before the French Presidential elections in April. "Let us propose within the Quartet an international conference of a new type," which would not "dictate" terms of the settlement, but which would be a "real impetus" for negotiations.
Speaking to diplomats in Paris, Chirac said: "As France had foreseen and feared, the war in Iraq set off upheavals whose effects have not yet been fully played out," and could create a conflict "on an unimaginable scale." Within that context, "the Israeli-Palestinian conflict crystallizes all these resentments." Chirac continued: "This adventure has worsened the divisions among communities and threatened the very integrity of Iraq. It has undermined the stability of the entire region, where every country now fears for its security and its independence. It has offered terrorism a new field of expansion. The priority, more than ever, is to restore full sovereignty to the Iraqi people."
U.S. Seeks To Expand Conflict Between Abbas and Hamas
A U.S. State Department document obtained by Reuters and published by the news service Jan. 5 says that the U.S. will provide $86.4 million to security forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The money will be used to "assist the Palestinian Authority presidency in fulfilling PA commitments under the Road Map (peace plan) to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and establish law and order in the West Bank and Gaza," the document says. The document also says that Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, the U.S. security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinians, would implement the program "to strengthen and reform elements of the Palestinian security sector controlled by the PA presidency."
A spokesman for Hamas, Mushir al-Masri, charged that the U.S. was attempting to promote a revolt against Hamas-led government. "We demand that Abbas reject this U.S. policy whish is tearing the Palestinian people apart." Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, speaking to reporters in Gaza City after Friday prayers, urged Palestinians not to let the conflict among them spill over into the West Bank. "Our fight is not an internal one," he said, "it's against the occupation."
On Jan. 5, Haniyeh and Abbas had agreed in emergency talks to keep gunmen off the streets of Gaza after clashes killed eight people and wounded 18 others. "We have expressed our regret and sorrow for these incidents that do not reflect our struggle," Haniyeh said. However, the next day, Abbas declared the Hamas security forces not already integrated with the PA security forces illegal. Khaled Abu Hilal, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas, accused Abbas of giving a "green light" for attacks on Hamas security men.
Israelis: Mideast Was Safer With Saddam in Iraq
"Israeli experts say Middle East Was Safer with Saddam in Iraq," ran the headline on an article in the Forward Jan. 5, quoting various Israeli officials and experts.
* "If I knew then what I know today, I would not have recommended going to war, because Saddam was far less dangerous than I thought," said Haifa University political scientist Amatzia Baram, one of Israel's leading Iraq experts. Baram says that although he had advised American officials of problems they might face after an invasion, he says that he didn't anticipate the scale of terrorism that would spread across the country, calling it "much, much more than I expected."
* Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh told Israeli radio that, with Saddam's death, "justice has been done," but now Israel must be concerned "about what is liable to happen in the future." He said Iraq had turned into a "volcano of terror," with "destructive energies" that could spill over into Jordan and Israel.
* An Iraqi now living in Israel, whose father was tortured to death by Saddam, says that "Israel would be safer today if Saddam had stayed in power."
* Eitan Barak, a security specialist at Hebrew University, says that the U.S., with Israel's blessing, replaced a bad situation with a much worse one. "Saddam's regime was preferablenot only for us but for all the states in the region, except for maybe the Iranians," Barak said. "Saddam held together a divided, tribal, hostile state of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. He was a single man who made all decisions, and he was a rational leader. The moment he was gone, everything fell apart."
Former Israeli Ambassador Calls for Dialogue with Syria
Itamar Rabinovich, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States and the current President of Tel Aviv University, penned a lengthy analytic piece in Ha'aretz Dec. 29, reviewing the prospects of Israeli peace with Syria. While taking note that the Bush Administration appears adamantly opposed to any peace deal between Israel and Syria, Rabinovich argued that there is good reason to suspect that Syrian President Bashar Assad is serious about striking a deal with Israel, and such a deal would be good for Israel as well.
In light of the complexities of the current situation, Rabinovich, who wrote of his experiences as Israel's negotiator with Syria at one time, in The Brink of Peace, proposed three policy guidelines. First, he said, Israel should issue a "qualified yes" to Assad's offer to talk. He cautioned against putting any preconditions on the table, that would lead to a Syrian rejection of the talks. Second, he said Israel has to talk to the United States, to get the Bush Administration accept bilateral talks. He noted that the "sweetener" that could bring Washington around, would be the prospect of "distancing Damascus from Tehran." Third, he proposed a "discreet inquiry." Each peace agreement that Israel has previously signed (Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinians) "were attained following clandestine negotiations in which the principles of the arrangement were defined. It would be pointless to embark on full, open negotiations with Syria before a discreet inquiry has been made."
Rabinovich noted that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is torn between proceeding again with talks with the Palestinians or taking up the Syria track, and that, as a result, there is confusion and chaos in Israeli policy circles, that must end. Rabinovich argued that discreet inquiries with Syria would enable Olmert to quickly decide on whether the Syria track is viable.
Russia Ready To Deliver Weapons to Iran and Syria
According to ITAR-TASS Jan. 3, an unnamed source at the Russian Defense Ministry said the Russian contracts to sell anti-aircraft weapons to Syria and Iran are being fulfilled as per schedule. At least half of 29 Tor-M1 missile systems bought by Iran for $1.4 billion were delivered. The air defense systems are being stationed around Iran's civilian nuclear sites.
Meanwhile, Interfax news agency quoted Valery Kashin, head of weapons maker Engineering Design Bureau, as saying that Russia met all its commitments in 2006 under the contract to supply Syria with the Strelets anti-aircraft system.
Pentagon To Send Second Aircraft Carrier To Gulf
The Pentagon is to send a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf, according to a Reuters wire Jan. 3, reporting a leak from an official who spoke on "condition of anonymity." The aircraft carrier and its escort ships are supposed to be "a warning to Syria and Iran and to give commanders more flexibility in the region," the Pentagon source said. The Bremerton, Washington-based U.S.S John C. Stennis strike group is to deploy this month, putting 5,000 more U.S. sailors in the region, bringing the total to 16,000.
Israeli General: Iranian Bomb a Matter of Time
"An Iranian nuclear bomb is only a matter of time" if no military action is taken, the head of the Israeli Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University, retired Gen. Zvi Shtauber declared. Shtauber, who also served as Israel's Ambassador in London, said that Israel was technically capable of striking alone, and would have to do so, if it takes action, because no other country would agree to work openly with it. Shtauber underlined that the time has not yet come to decide on military action. "We should do it only when it's clear we have exhausted our [other] means."
His statement came in the context of the release of the Institute's annual assessment of the strategic balance in the Middle East. In a statement distributed at a news conference, it underlined that Israel considers Iran to be the most serious threat to its security. "Time is working in Iran's favor and, barring military action, Iran's possession of nuclear weapons is only a matter of time," the Institute underlined. Furthermore, it was stated that Israel dismisses Iran's claims that its nuclear program is designed solely to produce energy.
Lebanese Crisis Continues; Cheneyacs Block Solutions
A flurry of new diplomatic activity has begun, to attempt to break through the deadlock in Lebanon, sources told EIR Jan. 4. Arab League delegate Mustafa Ismail is in Beirut, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa is expected soon, and Turkish Prime Minister Reycep Erdogan is there, all trying to mediate. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has shelved his "new initiative" for the moment, because, according to a Lebanese source, the U.S. government is continuing to sabotage any compromise solution. The March 14 group, acting on orders from the U.S., is blocking everything. "The solution does not lie in Cairo, Damascus, Riyadh, or Amman, but in Washington," he said.
At the same time, it has been reported that the Saudis have also tried to mediate. The King and Foreign Minister met with two Hezbollah representatives in Saudi Arabia on Dec. 26, though no details were given.