In this issue:

Israel, Not Hamas, Broke the Cease-Fire

Turkey, Egypt Working for Gaza/Israel Ceasefire

Israeli Peace Activist Warned Against Ground Offensive

Specter Promotes Diplomatic Solutions in Israel and Syria

From Volume 8, Issue 1 of EIR Online, Published Jan. 6, 2009
Southwest Asia News Digest

Israel, Not Hamas, Broke the Cease-Fire

Dec. 31 (EIRNS)—"The Israeli side, in reality, broke the truce," said Mustafa Barghouti, an independent lawmaker in the West Bank city of Ramallah, when interviewed on NPR's "Morning Edition" today. Barghouti recounted that, after the fourth month of the six-month cease fire, the Israeli Defense Forces started to strike Gaza, including carrying out assassinations in both Gaza and the West Bank, even though "we warned this would provoke a reaction." Barghouti said that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak "orchestrated and planned this situation. He kept attacking Gaza until he got the reaction, and then he claimed he was attacking Gaza because he got the reaction."

Barghouti also said the Israeli attacks are not weakening Hamas, but are strengthening it, and he said that the current situation is the result to the two years' siege of Gaza, in which food and medical supplies were cut off.

On Dec. 27, an EIR collaborator in the Arab world said that the real story behind the Israeli assault, is the "strangulation of Gaza" during the entirety of the "calm," or ceasefire that formally ended on Dec. 19. Since the "calm" was negotiated in June 2008, there have been 153 Israeli incursions either by air or ground into Gaza—and some of them have been fairly large, including the killing of 52 Palestinians in one attack. There has also been the total closing of border crossings, cutting off food, medicine, fuel—everything that is needed for daily survival, he said. The Palestinians went to Cairo about three months ago, to say that such a "ceasefire" was a sham, and could not be accepted, and the Egyptian mediators told that to the Israelis. But Israel's response was to say that a "ceasefire" has nothing to do with border crossings, and they were not obligated to open up the borders for Hamas.

Turkey, Egypt Working for Gaza/Israel Ceasefire

Jan. 3 (EIRNS)—Just prior to the Israeli ground invasion of Gaza, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in Saudi Arabia today, on the final leg of his regional tour to organize a ceasefire and truce between Israel and Hamas. He was to meet Saudi King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

He had already traveled to Syria where he met with President Bashar Assad. His chief foreign policy advisor Ahmet Davutoglu met with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Syria. Erdogan then went to Jordan, and had been in Egypt meeting President Hosni Mubarak.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit told the press that Egypt is calling for a ceasefire and a return to a Hamas-Israel truce and an international mechanism for opening the Gaza border crossing. Such a mechanism could include international forces, or Arab forces, or just observers. Egypt is demanding that the Palestinian National Authority, not Hamas, supervise the crossing. The PNA was removed from supervision of the crossing following the fighting between Hamas and Fatah earlier last year.

Israeli Peace Activist Warned Against Ground Offensive

Jan. 2 (EIRNS)—A leading Israeli peace activist told EIR on Jan. 2, just prior to the Israeli ground offensive, that such a ground assault would become one of the darkest days in the history of Israel.

In a telephone discussion from Israel, Naftali Raz, a member of the pro-peace Meretz party, told EIR, "It is a dark day." He said he feared that within 24 hours, Israel would decide to launch a ground assault on Gaza, which will be the "worst decision in its history," and lead to thousands of Palestinian deaths and hundreds of Israeli. According to Raz, Hamas is banking on an Israeli ground assault, and has already prepared for it, and would strategically benefit from the catastrophe.

A similar scenario occurred in March 2002, when a suicide bombing was used as a pretext for then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to launch "Operation Defensive Shield," which had been in preparation for months.

Although he said he supported the initial Israeli attack, because of the Hamas missile strikes, Raz said the Israeli attacks should have ended after the first or second day. The only way out, Raz said, was an immediate ceasefire, even a unilateral one, and a return to the negotiating table.

Raz said his views are shared by some very senior retired military officers who have been speaking out in the media. One of the most outspoken is Gen. Amram Mitzner (ret.), former chairman of the Labor Party, who was interviewed on national radio calling for an immediate ceasefire, and who spoke against a ground assault. Other retired generals who have made similar statements include Amos Lapidot, former chief of the Israeli Air Force; Shlomi Gazit, former head of military intelligence; and Ben Ami Gov, a winner of the Israeli prize for national security. In addition, three well-known authors—David Grossman, Amos Oz, and A.B. Joshua—have been speaking out against the war.

While the latest poll shows that 82% of Israelis support the Gaza operation, a group called The Other Voice, based in Sederot, which is the Israeli city that has suffered the greatest number of rocket attacks from Gaza, has called for a ceasefire and co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Specter Promotes Diplomatic Solutions in Israel and Syria

Dec. 31 (EIRNS)—U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has been in Israel and Syria, where he held discussions on Syrian-Israeli peace talks. On Dec. 28, he met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and on Dec. 29 he met Syrian President Bashar Assad, to whom he delivered a message from Olmert. Specter has been active in promoting better U.S.-Syrian relations as well as Syrian-Israeli peace efforts. He has travelled often to both countries.

"I believe the efforts to isolate Syria have not been successful," Specter is quoted as saying in the Jerusalem Post. "We ought to try to change things. President Clinton tried to do a good job in 1995 and 2000, and I think it ought to be pursued." He said that "there could be a great deal to be gained" if an agreement with Syria were reached. Specter said he thought "it would be very difficult" to draw Syria out of Iran's orbit, because the ties go back "a long way." But, he said, "it is an evolving picture, and interests change. I think Syria would definitely like a closer relationship with the U.S. I have always been an advocate of diplomacy."

On Iran, he called for the U.S. to hold talks. "I think the dialogue ought to last however long the dialogue needs to last," he said. "I would hope that it would last and be successful, and lead to diplomatic relations, and peaceful terms, and to a new Iranian president who doesn't want to wipe Israel off the face of the earth; that's what I would like."

As to whether the Iranians would use the talks as a cover to move their nuclear program forward, Specter said, "They are going to move that forward whether we like it or not." Specter said that it needed to be communicated to the Iranians "in unmistakable terms that it is unacceptable for them to have a nuclear weapon, but I don't think we are well advised to say anything beyond that. No threats, no implied threats, just that it is unacceptable."

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