In this issue:

Barak: Israel Open to Talks on Abdullah Peace Plan

Ha'aretz's Benn: Israel Must Adapt to U.S.-Iran Dialogue

U.S.-Iraqi Security Agreement Sparks Protests

Syria and Lebanon Re-Establish Diplomatic Relations

From Volume 7, Issue 43 of EIR Online, Published Oct. 21, 2008
Southwest Asia News Digest

Barak: Israel Open to Talks on Abdullah Peace Plan

Oct. 19 (EIRNS)—In an interview today on Israeli Army Radio, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is also head of the Labor Party, said that, "There is room in the Israeli coalition for the Saudi initiative," referring to the Abdullah peace initiative adopted by the Arab League in 2002. Barak referred to this initiative in the context of Palestinian and Syrian talks presently making "little headway," reported the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, and he suggested that perhaps now is the time for an overall regional peace initiative.

Ha'aretz notes that President Shimon Peres alluded to this plan in his September speech to the UN General Assembly, and called on King Abdullah to further his initiative. Barak said he is in full agreement with Peres, and also spoke to Prime Minister-designate Tzipi Livni, whose office refused to comment.

There are two major Israeli objections to the Abdullah proposal: the right of Palestinian refugees driven out in 1948 to return to their homes and lands; and the demand that Israel return to its 1967 border, as specified in UN Security Council resolutions. The Arab League reiterated its support for the Abdullah plan in its meeting this year in Damascus, Syria.

Palestinian National Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat said that he supports Israel's pursuit of the Abdullah plan, adding that they should have done this in 2002 when it was first offered. But the Palestinians, as well as other Arab countries, warned that the "Abdullah plan" cannot be used as a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Ha'aretz's Benn: Israel Must Adapt to U.S.-Iran Dialogue

Oct. 19 (EIRNS)—In an article analyzing his own newspaper's exposé of an extensive Israeli intra-Cabinet agency task force to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons without a military attack, Ha'aretz columnist Aluf Benn writes that Israel will not attack Iran "during the rest of George W. Bush's term."

He continues that the "Foreign Ministry document ... reported by Ha'aretz on Sunday, translates into official language what strategic experts have been saying for a long time: Israel will not attack Iran's nuclear facilities and must get used to the reality of the U.S.'s dialogue with Tehran, considering the expected changeover of government in Washington."

He cites statements from Kadima Member of the Knesset (MK) Isaac Ben Israel, who is also a major general in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Reserves, that while Israeli Prime Minister-Elect Tzipi Livni believes that "Israel will have no choice but to attack," if the world does not stop an Iranian bomb. "It doesn't mean we're going to bomb in three months."

The guts of the Israeli plan against Iran is a four-team effort worked out over several months by the Foreign Ministry, the Atomic Energy Commission, the National Security Council, the Mossad, the Defense Ministry, and academia. All of them will advise Israel's diplomatic missions throughout the world. Team One will organize and assert international pressure against Iran's cooperating or acquiring any nuclear technology; Team Two will run economic isolation of Iran—"cancelling deals ... boycotting Iranian banks," and divesting from Iran. Team Three is to isolate Iran on matters of human rights, and on support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and will organize protests against visiting Iranian officials. Team Four will run propaganda, news manipulation, and be responsible for "disseminating intelligence against Iran in the media."

U.S.-Iraqi Security Agreement Sparks Protests

Oct. 18 (EIRNS)—Thousands of Iraqi Shi'ites demonstrated in Baghdad today against the U.S.-Iraq security agreement which, according to numerous news reports, is about to be presented to the Iraqi government (but not to the U.S. Congress) for ratification. A letter said to be from Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was read to the crowd, calling on the parliament to reject the agreement. "I reject and condemn the continuation of the presence of the occupation force and its bases on our beloved land," the letter said, according to Reuters. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told reporters today that the agreement is temporary, non-binding, and that it doesn't establish permanent bases for the U.S. military. According to excerpts of the agreement published by AP, it sets a date of Dec. 31, 2011 for the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces, and June 30, 2009 for withdrawal from Iraqi cities and villages. It denies U.S. troops authority to detain Iraqi citizens or enter Iraqi homes except under Iraqi warrants. The agreement, however, avoids giving Iraq any real legal authority over U.S. troops who commit crimes, by granting that authority only if the crime (which has to be "premeditated" or a "gross felony") is committed by U.S. soldiers off duty and outside their bases, a condition which almost never occurs.

Controversy over the agreement was heightened this week, when the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, told the Washington Post, in an interview, that U.S. intelligence suggested that Iran was trying to bribe Iraqi members of parliament to vote against the agreement. He admitted he had no definitive proof of any bribes, but told the Post that "there are many intelligence reports that suggest that Iranians are coming in to pay off people to vote against it." Odierno's claim brought a sharp reaction from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who told a group of visiting Kuwaiti journalists yesterday that Odierno "risked his position" by making such comments, and that he "has regrettably complicated relations."

Following the Oct. 18 demonstration, the Shi'ite parliamentary bloc has demanded changes in the draft. Sadr's faction of the 85-member bloc has 30 seats, but now a broader group, the United Iraqi Alliance, which includes Maliki's Dawa party, is also demanding changes. Two of the bloc's demands are that all U.S. forces must leave the country by 2011, and that U.S. soldiers be put under Iraqi jurisdiction for crimes that they might commit.

The Sunni members of the parliament have also refused to support the draft agreement as it is, and are demanding more time for review.

Syria and Lebanon Re-Establish Diplomatic Relations

Oct. 15 (EIRNS)—Syria and Lebanon re-established diplomatic ties today, for the first time since independence 60 years ago. The official Syrian SANA news agency said: "Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and his Lebanese counterpart Fawzi Salloukh signed a joint statement announcing the launch of diplomatic relations."

Tehran Conference: Establish Dialogue Before 'Catastrophe' of New War

Oct. 16 (EIRNS)—"Recently it became known that Israel had asked permission from the U.S.A. to bomb Iran, but met with a no. Today's line of conflict and war rhetoric is not constructive, and, may in the worst case, lead to catastrophe. It is imperative to establish a better dialogue between the Islamic world and the West before an armed conflict develops," stated former Prime Minister of Norway Kjell Magne Bondevik, who is now president of the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights. The group is one of the three co-sponsors of a conference held Oct. 12-14 in Tehran, which was chaired by Iran's former President, Sayyed Mohammad Khatami.

Bondevik, who co-chaired the conference, was one of 40 political and religious leaders who attended, including 6-8 former heads of state, and Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations. The conference is sponsored by Khatami's Foundation for Dialogue Among Cultures and Civilizations, the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights, and the Club de Madrid for former prime ministers and Presidents.

While the subject of the conference, "Religion in the Modern World," didn't take up the nuclear negotiations and war threat against Iran on its agenda, the statement by Bondevik, which was put out as a press release by the Oslo Center, indicates that this threat is a concern of the participants, and was a diplomatic show of force to push forward diplomacy with Iran before the Anglo-American-Israeli war party can resume their war drive.

The speakers included: Kofi Annan; Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland; former Italian President Romano Prodi; former French prime minister Lionel Jospin; former Portuguese President Samparoi, who is now UN High Representative for Alliance of Civilizations; and former Sri Lankan prime minister Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, among others. Annan attacked opportunistic politicians who make extremist speeches to get elected. Speaker after speaker also addressed the "global food, energy, and financial crises," and the need for the conference to address the growing poverty of the people of the world.

Khatami, a high-ranking Shi'ite cleric, addressed the common values of the "divine religions" in combatting "modernism" which proclaimed its superiority in the 18th and 19th centuries, and which led to nihilism. "Today," he said, "at the beginning of the third millennium, centuries after the advent of modernism, not only has that conceit and optimism faded away, but [it] has also made the modern world face many uncertainties and threats.... If this situation continues, it will lead to nihilism or will promote and intensify the current nihilism. As a result, the foundation of the life of human beings will collapse in the devastating storm of nihilism ... and all vestiges of modern civilization will also disappear."

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