|Southwest Asia News Digest
Israel-Syria Conference in Moscow Possible Next Year
Nov. 10 (EIRNS)The Saudi newspaper Al Watan quotes Palestinian officials as saying that an international peace conference on the advancement of relations between Israel and Syria will likely be held next year in Moscow. According to the report, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had promoted the initiative during his recent meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Al-Watan, as reported in the Nov. 10 Israeli online news service Ynet, quoted Palestinian officials as saying that Abbas tried to convince Rice of the need to advance peace between Israel and Syria, through a conference similar in its format to the Middle East peace meeting scheduled to be held at Annapolis, Md., later this month. The sources said Abbas had also stressed the importance of Syria's participation in the Annapolis conference. He reportedly sent his representative to update Syria on the developments.
Halevy: Israel Should Talk to Iran and Syria
Nov. 11 (EIRNS)In an interview with Washington Post senior writer David Ignatius, in Jerusalem, Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, stressed that Israel should stop issuing threats against Iran and Syria, and instead, sit down and talk. While Halevy has made these statements before, their appearance in the generally pro-war Washington Post at this time, when reliable sources indicate a Cheney-backed attack on Iran is very close to the front burner, is significant.
Halevy told Ignatius that Iran does not have the capability of wiping out Israel, and that many "Iranians, including those in government, know that acceptance of Israel is not just something they have to accept but something that might bring their deliverance." Halevy, who personally carried out secret diplomacy during the days of the Shah, also said that Israel should help Iran "extricate" itself from their own (i.e., Ahmadinejad's) rhetoric.
Similarly, Ignatius reports, Halevy argued that "Damascus is now ripe for peace negotiations," and called for a "signal" from Damascus. The calls by Israeli President Shimon Peres for talks with Syria are not mentioned. But the main focus of the plea is for talks with Iran. "Sensible Iranians are not in short supply," Ignatius quotes Halevy.
Mashaal: Mideast Summit Is 'Distraction' from Iran War
Nov. 6 (EIRNS)The leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, warned that the purpose of the U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace conference planned for the end of November was to distract attention from the fact that the Bush Administration is preparing for an attack against Iran.
"Strategically, it [the United States] is setting the stage and covering up for the upcoming American war in the region," Mashaal told a press conference at a forum of Palestinian intellectuals in Damascus. "There are preparations for an aggression against Iran, which could include other partiesSyria, Lebanon, and Hizbollah. Therefore, America is distracting us with a false game and is preparing itself for the real one," he said, according to the Nov. 6 Jerusalem Post.
U.S. Has Ignored Opportunities for Diplomacy With Iran
Nov. 8 (EIRNS)While the Bush Administration has been ratcheting up the rhetoric against Iran and preparing for war, the Iranians have offered numerous opportunities for diplomatic engagement that the Bush Administration has either ignored or rejected. That was the gist of the testimony offered to the House National Security Subcommittee on Nov. 7, during a hearing on "Negotiating with the Iranians: Missed Opportunities and Paths Forward."
Ambassador James Dobbins, who had been the Bush Administration's first special envoy to Afghanistan after the Taliban were overthrown, told the panel of an Iranian offer, made through him, in February 2002, to participate in a U.S.-led effort to build and train a new Afghan army. Dobbins said that while the Iranian offer was problematic in details, "a joint program of this sort would be a breathtaking departure after more than 20 years of mutual hostilities." He reported the offer back to Washington, but "there was no apparent interest in discussing" it.
Dobbins was followed by Hillary Mann Leverett and her husband, Flynt Leverett, both of whom were National Security Council staffers in the early part of the Bush Administration, and deeply involved in diplomacy concerning Iran. They described numerous discussions that occurred on tactical issues between the U.S. and Iran, from the time of the 9/11 attacks through mid-2003. This included a 17-month back-channel dialogue with Iranian officials at the UN, which continued despite President Bush's "axis of evil" speech. Mann reported that Iran provided considerable assistance to the establishment of the Karzai government in Kabul, and deported hundreds of al-Qaeda suspects fleeing Afghanistan. When the dialogue came to an impasse in the Spring of 2003, in part because the U.S. would not address Iranian concerns about the MeK terrorist group, the Iranians made an offer to negotiate a comprehensive resolution of all the issues between the two countries, including Iran's support for Hamas and Hezbollah, its nuclear program, and its role in Iraq.
The Bush Administration responded by rejecting the proposal outright and cutting off the dialogue less than two weeks later. "I believe this record indicates the Bush Administration cavalierly rejected multiple and significant opportunities to put its Iranian relations on a fundamentally more positive and constructive trajectory," which "continues to impose heavy costs on American interests and policy efforts in the Middle East," Hillary Leverett said.
Iran Still Far From Developing Atom Bomb
Nov. 9 (EIRNS)Israeli commentator Ronen Bergman writes in the Nov. 9 online news service Ynet, that despite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's claim that Iran has 3,000 centrifuges, Iran's uranium enrichment program and therefore its capacity to produce a nuclear bomb are greatly overstated. Berman writes that "Israeli intelligence officials have cast great doubt on the veracity of this claim," referring to Ahmadinejad's statement. "The officials say that as a result of a wide array of malfunctions, Iran is still a long way from reaching the point of no return." According to these sources, due to technical problems the 3,000 centrifuges are not functioning at the level required to enrich uranium to the level required for a bomb. Even after they get these centrifuges working as required, "it would take a long time to produce material needed for a nuclear bomb."
Bergman concludes that Israel has an interest in presenting Iran's progress as greater than it is, in order to get international action against the program. As for Iran, it wants to say it is more advanced than it is, as part of its bargaining position with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
President Clinton Pays Tribute to Yitzhak Rabin
Nov. 6 (EIRNS)Former U.S. President Bill Clinton published a tribute to slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the Nov. 6 Ha'aretz daily.
"In the 21st Century, as our world grows increasingly interdependent, and local challenges and opportunities relate increasingly to the groups we once knew as 'them,' the walls that divide us are getting thinner, less important, and ever more transparent," Clinton wrote. "We are compelled to expand the definition of who is 'us,' and shrink the definition of who is 'them,' to understand that, as important as our differences are, our common humanity matters more. The inability to embrace this fundamental value lies at the heart of peace and conflict throughout the world today, and of course in the Middle East.
"Yitzhak Rabin understood this. My friend knew that the Middle East is highly interdependent, that there could be no final military victory: it would come only through peace and reconciliation based on our shared humanity. He worked tirelessly to forge a just, secure, and lasting peace with the Palestinians, and his ultimate sacrifice proved it." Clinton wrote that despite the dismal events of the last years, "they in no way undermine the logic of his vision, the power of his faith, or the beauty of his gifts to us...." Rabin understood that maintaining security requires a resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians, and a commitment to share a peaceful future with them.
"In this spirit, the words of the late King Hussein at Yitzhak Rabin's funeral resound as powerfully today as they did several years ago: 'Let us not keep silent. Let our voices raise high to speak of our commitment to peace for all times to come. And let us tell those who live in darkness, who are the enemies of life and true faith, this is where we stand. This is our camp.'"