We'll recognise Israel, vows Abbas

September 23, 2006
Extracts from The Weekend Australian
AP AFP Correspondents in New York

ANY new Palestinian government will recognise Israel, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has told the UN General Assembly. "I would like to reaffirm that any future Palestinian government will commit to all the agreements that the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian Authority have committed to," he said.

In his speech to the assembly, Mr Abbas referred in particular to letters exchanged in 1993 by then Palestinian and Israeli leaders Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin that recognised each other for the first time. "These two letters contain a reciprocal recognition between the PLO and Israel, reject violence and call for negotiations to reach a permanent settlement with the creation of an independent Palestinian state next to Israel," he said.


This news report came on Sep 23 2006, a day for celebrating the Jewish Feast of Trumpets click here for more details. It is also known as the Jewish Day of Judgment, recalling Adam's sin and subsequent judgment — though with compassion, also the Jewish Day of Remembrance, recalling Abraham's offering up of Isaac, and finally, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year's Day. It is a Jewish holy day, and as mentioned before, traditionally goes right back to Genesis 2:7 when God initially formed Adam (like a potter) from the clay of the ground. Also, coincidentally this year, the first day of Ramadan (9th month and Holiest month) for Muslims.

First week: Seven Days of God.

Last week: Seven Years of Exposure and JudgmentDaniel 9:27. And the ruler will confirm the (peace) covenant with the many for one week (seven years). Mr Abbas's recognition of Israel infers that their rebuilding and growth may continue. But, in the middle of the week he shall make sacrifice and offering to cease. And in March 2010 - see news report - the pressure coming from Palestine that rejects any new building in Jerusalem means any associated sacrifices and offerings 1 Kings 8:62,64 — offerings always accompany growth Genesis 4:3 — are now made to cease and this leads to Jerusalem's devastation during 3½ tumultuous years. See too, the passage on the Day of Atonement Leviticus 23:32.

3½ years — Months, Years and Days

  1. In Revelation 12:6 there is a vision of a heavenly woman, Jerusalem above, the mother of us all, as it says in Galatians 4:26. She gives birth, there is a rapture, and now, greatly weakened, she flees into the wilderness where she is nurtured for 1260 days. This is also the period of time that God's two witnesses are present in Jerusalem in Revelation 11:3
  2. In my understanding of Hebrew, a month did not equal 30 days, nor did a year equal 360 days. A month equalled the period between one new moon and the next - i.e. 29.53 days. Accordingly, the period of 42 months in Revelation 11:2 is equal to 29.53 days times 42, or 1240 days. It is recorded in Revelation 11:2 as the length of time that Jerusalem is trampled underfoot, and in Revelation 13:5-10 as the period that the Antichrist has full reign.
  3. Then there are the two passages in Daniel 12 referring to 1290 days and 1335 days. The 1290 days refers to the removal of daily offerings (to God) and the setting up of the abomination of desolation (i.e. a disgusting/filthy object that lays waste). In Revelation 13:14 we see an image / statue demanding worship, with non-compliance resulting in death. See this picture also in Daniel 6:7
  4. Lastly, that final number of 1335 speaks of people who are blessed by lasting the distance of 1335 days.
  5. In Hebrew, a "year" equals a "revolution (of time)" from Genesis 1:14 where it refers to the appointment of stars and the seasons that revolve every 365 days 5 hours and 48 minutes. And in both Daniel 12:7 and Revelation 12:14, it declares that all these events take place during a time, times and half a time — i.e. during 3½ years.

So, there are a lot of secrets in terms of what actually happens during those four different day numbers: 1240, 1260, 1290 and 1335, that God has yet to reveal, but if the picture of Palestine's recognition of Israel and confirmation of the peace agreement in the United Nations was in fact the start of the final seven years in Daniel 9:27, then yes, the time is certainly short.


There's a new mood for peace in the Holy Land

The time seems right for a major breakthrough in talks between Israel and the Palestinians

Martin Chulov
The Australian
July 30, 2007

TONY Blair will lead an ensemble cast of envoys back to the Middle East this week as the West attempts to build on its best - and maybe last - attempt to deliver peace to the region. Arriving around the same time will be US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates. Both are expected to arrive with a package of sweeteners for the new Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Salaam Fayyad, who they have entrusted to forge a lasting peace with Israel.

As talks step up over moves for a two-state solution, openings have also emerged on normalising relations with regional pariah Syria. Adding impetus to hopes of at least one groundbreaking deal, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is also sending an emissary, former BBC reporter and senior adviser Michael Phillips. The Turks and the Norwegians -- two of the handful of nations to have maintained contacts with Hamas -- also say they are ready to send delegates. The Arab League, under whose name the Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers dined in Jerusalem with Israeli leaders last week, are similarly backing the talks.

For the first time since the failed talks in 2000 between the then Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and the late Palestine Liberation Organisation chairman Yasser Arafat, the Holy Land is poised for something profound. Yet no one is sure what it will be.

 

Rice in Israel to push for peace
The Australian
Martin Chulov, Middle East correspondent
August 02, 2007

CONDOLEEZZA Rice has arrived in Israel for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders after adding the Bush administration's support to the Arab League plan for peace between the two protagonists. The US Secretary of State touched down in Jerusalem along with US Defence Secretary Robert Gates after meeting key Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia and the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Ahead of the latest round of meetings, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a pitch for Saudi Arabia to send a representative to a regional peace summit planned for later this year. The summit was called in July by US President George W. Bush and looms as a pivotal point in his administration's foreign policy.

The Saudis responded favourably to the request yesterday, with Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal claiming "we are interested in the peace proposal. When we get an invitation from the minister (Dr Rice) to attend, when this takes place, we will discuss it and we will make sure that we attend the conference," he said.

Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic relations with Israel, and a conference attended by both countries would be hailed as a significant breakthrough. As custodian of the two holiest Islamic shrines, Saudi Arabia's endorsement of a regional peace plan is considered a likely trigger for broader acceptance across the Arab and Islamic world. Israeli officials, including Mr Olmert, and the Saudis have met secretly over the past year in backroom discussions brokered by Jordan, but have never held a public meeting.

 

Olmert pledges pullback for peace
The Australian
Abraham Rabinovich
October 10, 2007

JERUSALEM: In his most forceful pledge yet to seek progress towards a peace agreement with the Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said Israel must be prepared to pay a high price. "The peace process involves relinquishing the full realisation of dreams that fed our national ethos for many years," he said at the opening of the Knesset's winter session yesterday.

Earlier in the day, two senior ministers expressed readiness to give up Israeli control of Arab sections of Jerusalem, a big shift from the national consensus since the Arab part of the city was captured by Israel in 1967. Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon, a left-wing stalwart, and right-wing minister Avigdor Lieberman advocated giving control of parts of East Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority in a final settlement.

Mr Olmert avoided specifics in expressing his readiness for concessions, but said his meetings with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas had created a positive atmosphere for dialogue. "Under no circumstances should Israel miss an opportunity that could bring an improvement in relations with the Palestinians," he said.

 

Late rush to Mid-East summit
The Australian
Martin Chulov, Middle East correspondent
November 27, 2007

A LATE surge of Arab support for the Middle East summit has raised hopes that the meeting, which starts in Annapolis tonight, will help stymie a seven-year regional decline and pave a way for peace talks with Israel. Support in the Palestinian territories for the meeting was running yesterday at 72 per cent, according to local media. All Arab League states, with the exception of Bahrain, have agreed to send delegates - most at a senior minister level - marking the first time most of its members have publicly sat at the same table as an Israeli delegation. Ahead of their arrival in Annapolis, in the northeastern US state of Maryland, Arab ministers were warned that the conference would deal solely with the 59-year-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

However, a late concession that delegates can raise whatever issues they want has sparked hope that progress can be made in other imbroglios, such as the future of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel from Syria in 1967. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said a late clause in the summit agenda to allow a broader forum to debate nation-state concerns was enough to lure arch enemy Syria to turn up. "As a result of the inclusion of this phrase, I believe Syria ... decided to attend the conference," she said.

Saudi Arabia has also flagged its attendance, a move that consolidates months of back-channel diplomatic contacts, and several high-level meetings, between the desert kingdom and the Jewish state. "There isn't a single Palestinian who can reach an agreement with Israel without the support of the Arab world," Ms Livni said. "This is one of the lessons we learned seven years ago. We are going to an event in which the whole Arab world is participating, which is meant to support the process between Israel and the Palestinians."

Iran remains steadfastly opposed to the meeting, accusing many countries who plan to turn up of being ignorant. "Those attending the meeting and giving concessions to the Zionist occupiers will not be remembered in history as having a good reputation," he said.

Up to 40 nations have agreed to attend, with the world's most populous Muslim state, Indonesia, also taking a prominent seat at the conference table.

The talks between the two sides are the first for seven years and the participation en masse of the Arab states is unprecedented.

 

November 29, 2007
Sixty years ago today, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly for a plan to partition the troubled British mandate of Palestine into two distict nations to accommodate its Jewish and Arab populations. The vast majority of the Jewish community accepted this compromise while the Arab residents rioted.

A simple shake or shaking history?
The Australian
Geoff Elliott, Washington correspondent

THE Israeli and Palestinian leaders yesterday pledged to seek a peace deal by the end of next year as they relaunched negotiations at the US-sponsored conference in Annapolis.

29 Nov - Olmert-Bush-Abbas
US President George W. Bush, centre, Israel's PM Ehud Olmert, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Picture: Reuters
Flanked by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, George W. Bush read out their pledge to the representatives of 50 countries and organisations gathered at the Annapolis Naval College in Maryland. The US President shook hands with both men, who then shook each other's hands. In a memorable image, the three went through the gestures again and Mr Bush stepped back and raised his hands to encourage the other two to come together for a handshake, which they did. The image echoed that of former president Bill Clinton when he encouraged Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin to shake hands on the White House lawn 14 years ago at the launch of the Oslo accords.

But Mr Bush was quick to temper expectations. Achieving a two-state solution, he said, was "not going to be easy. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago. To achieve freedom and peace, both Israelis and Palestinians will have to make tough choices. Both sides are sober about the work ahead, but having spent time with their leaders, they are ready to take on the tough issues."

In a statement read by Mr Bush, Mr Olmert and Mr Abbas pledged to start substantive negotiations by December 12. They will meet fortnightly after that, with a deadline of the end of next year for a peace settlement and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

"We express our determination to bring an end to bloodshed, suffering and decades of conflict between our peoples; to usher in a new era of peace, based on freedom, security, justice, dignity, respect and mutual recognition; to propagate a culture of peace and non-violence; to confront terrorism and incitement, whether committed by Palestinians or Israelis," they said. "We agree to immediately launch good-faith bilateral negotiations to conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues."

The agreement was reached after weeks of negotiations, and White House aides said it went to the wire until just before Mr Bush made his way to the podium. With the biggest gathering of nations ever assembled to discuss peace in the Middle East as his witness, Mr Abbas said to Mr Olmert: "Neither we nor you must beg for peace from the other. It is a joint interest for us and you. It is time for the circle of blood, violence and occupation to end. It is time for us to look at the future together with confidence and hope. It is time for this tortured land that has been called the land of love and peace to live up to its name."

He was followed by Mr Olmert, who promised: "The negotiations will address all the issues which thus far have been evaded. We will not avoid any subject." Mr Bush said the purpose of the conference was to launch negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. "Our job is to encourage the parties in this effort."

 

Club Med claims Beirut-Damascus deal as first Mid-East success

Peace now ‘closer then ever’

Learn how to love each other
‘Learn how to love each other’: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert after a press conference in Paris   Picture: AP
The Australian
Agencies
Monday July 14, 2008

PARIS: Israel and the Palestinians "have never been this close" to a peace deal, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said last night following talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris and before a diplomatic breakthrough with arch-foe Syria. Mr Olmert and Mr Abbas were among 43 leaders in Paris for the launch of a new Union for the Mediterranean, which aims to boost co-operation in one of the world's most volatile regions. "We have never been as close to an accord as we are today," Mr Olmert told a press conference following talks hosted by President Nicolas Sarkozy at the French presidential palace. "We are approaching the moment when we will have to make decisive choices," he said.

The declaration of optimism came as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was to make history and seal detente with Europe by attending the launch of the French-inspired union alongside Mr Olmert overnight. The diplomatic breakthrough — the first time Israeli and Syrian leaders would have been in the same room — enables Mr Assad to emerge from Western isolation three years after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, a murder that many believe was orchestrated from Damascus.

On Saturday, Mr Assad held talks with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, who agreed to normalise relations between Damascus and Beirut. This was an early success for Mr Sarkozy, who hosted the talks. Mr Olmert said last night that while he hoped indirect peace talks launched with Syria, via Turkey, would "soon become direct", the peace process with the Palestinians remained Israel's utmost priority. Mr Abbas and Mr Olmert called on Mr Sarkozy, as President of France, chair of the European Union presidency and host of the new Mediterranean Union, to take a front-seat role in steering peace negotiations.

Though the two sides have met regularly since the relaunch of the process last November, after a seven-year hiatus, talks have stalled over the issue of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. Mr Abbas said that Mr Sarkozy's "friendship" with both Israelis and Palestinians "enables you to play an important role to help the peace process succeed in a few months". "We have started an in-depth negotiation with Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni," Mr Abbas said. "We will pursue this effort. We are quite serious."

Mr Sarkozy has been stepping up France's Middle East diplomacy for the launch of the Mediterranean Union, bringing friends and foes together around the same table, and pushing to advance peace in the region. The French leader said union between Europe and its Mediterranean neighbours would help countries in the region "learn to love each other". "It doesn't mean that all of the problems are resolved of course," Sarkozy said. "But the goal of the summit ... is that we learn how to love each other in the Mediterranean, instead of continuing to hate and wage war."

Heads of state and government from the 27 European Union nations and an arc of countries running from Morocco to the Balkans — representing 756 million people — will endorse the new forum at the Grand Palais on the Champs Elysee. The summit aims to revitalise co-operation between the EU and Mediterranean countries, although it may be richer in symbolism than substance.

The new organisation aims to pursue practical projects with EU and private sector funding such as cleaning up the Mediterranean, using North Africa's sunshine to generate solar power, and building road and sea highways. "What we need is a new political impulse, a new revitalisation, a new dynamism," EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.

France and Egypt will co-chair the new body for two years, but the location and powers of its secretariat remain to be resolved, and the Middle East conflicts that have bedevilled past EU-Mediterranean co-operation are still looming large. While Mr Sarkozy said after the Syrian-Lebanese meeting on Saturday that Mr Assad and Mr Suleiman had come to an historic decision to open embassies in each other's countries for the first time, the Syrian leader was more cautious, saying the sides must "define the steps to take to arrive at this stage". Syria and Lebanon have not had fully fledged embassies in each other's countries since Lebanon became independent in 1943 and Syria in 1945. Mr Assad, long accused by France of meddling in Lebanese politics, said: "We can say that Lebanon has moved from being a zone of turbulence, a war zone, to a more pacified zone where the Lebanese, and only the Lebanese, have the right to determine their own future."

 

Extract - The light shines on Damascus
The Australian
Martin Chulov, Middle East correspondent
Saturday, September 06, 2008

BASHAR al-Assad, Syria's President, had not long returned from spending up at a Moscow arms fair when he hosted French leader Nicolas Sarkozy this week, catapulting his quest for relevance to heights that have staggered friend and foe. Sarkozy was the first Western-aligned heavyweight politician to visit Damascus in the past three years and one of only a handful to have made the journey since the turn of the century. As he flew back to Paris, Syrians were already hailing the end of their isolation.

Now the next stage of the Syrian resurgence is fast taking shape. Syria's interests and those of its key allies, Iran and the radical party Hezbollah, appear to be converging on many fronts and lining up with Russian agendas. In short, Moscow is challenging the US take on the post-Cold War and post-9/11 world order. And Syria, despite slightly differing motives, wants to ride sidecar. "Russia is on the front foot with the Americans after the experience in Georgia and it is fair to think that others who have not prospered at the hands of the outgoing (George W. Bush) administration are also looking to press home an advantage," the Syrian official says.

Western policy towards Syria for the past three years has been almost unanimously one of isolation. The US will not talk to Damascus, which it has black-listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. Israel has sung from an identical song sheet, claiming that all its foes - Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad - are rooted in Damascus. The Israeli decision to break bread in April was a tectonic shift away from the policy of isolating terrorists and their backers and instead trying to rehabilitate them. The policy reversal has been vigorously opposed by the Israeli Right and by Washington, both of which insist it has validated Syrian policies in return for nothing.

As Sarkozy sat down publicly with Assad, the latter seemed comfortable on the international stage. Regarding the tricky indirect peace talks with Israel, Assad said the brokered talks had not matured enough to warrant the two countries' leaders sitting together to work out a deal. Despite good intentions on both sides, he added, crucial issues remained deadlocked. Sarkozy also rejects the isolationist track. "I prefer another route," he said before arriving in Damascus. "More risky, it is true, but more promising: open dialogue leading to tangible progress."

Syria has sat at the centre of Arab affairs throughout the ages, a fact never lost on the political dynasty of the Assad family, led by strongman Hafez al-Assad until his death in mid-2000. Bashar al-Assad was bolstered recently by Lebanon's new President, Michel Suleiman, who released a statement calling for more international lawmakers to make pilgrimages. "The international community must open up to Syria, following the example set by France, because Syria plays a fundamental role at the regional level," Suleiman said in the wake of Syria's decision to open an embassy in Lebanon, notionally recognising its unstable neighbour's sovereignty for the first time. Suleiman was Damascus's choice as president and had been widely expected to add his voice to calls for an end to Syrian isolation. There are widespread fears in Israel and elsewhere in the Arab world that Syria will use official cover to regain the influence in Lebanon it lost in the wake of the Hariri slaying. Already Hezbollah effectively calls the shots in the Lebanese Government.

Markets in spin as world waits

Headlines Extract - The Australian
David Uren, Economics Correspondent
Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Central banks worldwide struggle to stop the credit crisis from triggering a global downturn. Monday's shock defeat of the US Government's $US700 billion Wall Street bailout sent stock markets into meltdown. In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average suffered its biggest points fall - a 777 point rout that wiped more than $US1 trillion from the value of listed stocks - after a bitterly divided US House of Representatives blocked the emergency bailout. There was an early bounce Tuesday morning (U.S. time), with the Dow opening 192 points up at 10,558.

Negotiations on the rescue package, which involves the US Treasury buying the mortgage assets of distressed financial institutions, started immediately after the vote, with a "disappointed" President George W.Bush summoning advisers to the White House. In an address to the nation on Tuesday, Mr Bush said the failure of the bill was "not the end of the legislative process". Congress faced the choice between "action and the real prospect of economic hardship for millions of Americans", he said, adding that the economy was depending on decisive action from the Government.

Democrat house Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed to get back to work on passing a new bill to rescue the economy. But the house will not meet again until Thursday morning (U.S. time), because of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah , leaving world financial markets in limbo.

 

Brown sets pace on global regulation
The Australian
Correspondents in Brussels - The Times, agencies
Friday, October 17, 2008

BRITISH Prime Minister Gordon Brown hijacked the European Union summit in Brussels yesterday, calling for the most ambitious reform of the world economic order since World War II to prevent a repeat of the current economic crisis. The new spring in Mr Brown's step was much in evidence as he upstaged his fellow leaders by arriving first, and fitted in two press conferences before the summit even began.

He called for dozens of world leaders to meet for a summit to rewrite the rules of international capitalism that have stood since 1944, when the current world financial and economic system were laid at Bretton Woods. Led by Franklin D.Roosevelt, Western leaders created the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and laid down common standards for open markets around the world. Calling for "very large and very radical changes", Mr Brown said he was seeking nothing less than "a new Bretton Woods". The recent crisis proved the need for much more international co-operation on the regulation of banks and other financial institutions, Mr Brown said. "We now have global financial markets, global corporations, global financial flows. But what we do not have is anything other than national and regional regulation and supervision. We need a global way of supervising our financial system."

The Group of Eight major industrial nations responded by announcing a global summit - perhaps as early as November in New York - to forge common action to prevent another economic meltdown. In a joint statement released by the White House, G8 leaders said they were united in their commitment to change the regulation of the world's financial sector to restore confidence and "remedy deficiencies exposed by the current crisis". "We are confident that, working together, we will meet the present challenges and return our economies to stability and prosperity," they said.

French President and current president of the European Council Nicolas Sarkozy said all EU nations also backed radical restructuring of international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. He demanded that the summit take place in November, "preferably in New York, where everything started", and lead toward "a new capitalism." Mr Sarkozy said emerging economies such as China, India and others outside the G8 - the US, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Russia - should participate because "no one should feel excluded from what we are recasting."

 

Arabs turn against 'megalomaniac' Hamas
The Australian
ANALYSIS: Abraham Rabinovich
Thursday January 01, 2009

THE bitter Israel-Hamas conflict has touched off Arab-Arab conflicts almost as bitter. Responsibility for the war in Gaza, and for the Palestinian fatalities there, was placed squarely on Hamas by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. "We called the leaders of Hamas and told them, 'Please, do not end the truce'," he said. Hamas ended a six-month truce with Israel two weeks before the Israeli attack.

An Abbas aide, Nimr Hammad, termed the rocket fire into Israel reckless. "The one responsible for the massacre is Hamas," he said. "Hamas should not have given the Israelis a pretext." Bassam Abu-Sumayyah, a columnist for the daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, accused Hamas of megalomania and said it had acted without even a little bit of political and security sense. It had behaved like a superpower. "They thought they have a number of missiles and can therefore prevail in a war of such size," he wrote. A columnist for the PA daily Al-Ayyam, Abdallah Awwad, said that Hamas had made a major mistake in trying to be both a government operating in the open and a resistance organisation that operated underground. "We are paying the price of stupidity and the maniacal love of being rulers," he said.

Beyond intra-Palestinian disputes, the eruption in Gaza has widened the rift between Egypt, supported by other moderate Arab states, and the Hamas-Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alignment. Cairo has long feared the radical influence of Hamas on its own Islamist parties. It regards Hamas as a proxy for Iran, which it sees attempting to wrest Muslim leadership in the Middle East from Egypt, even though Iran is not an Arab country. However, Egypt attempted to broker a reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority that would permit a leadership acceptable to all Palestinians to emerge in new elections. Hamas derailed the proposal, to Egypt's fury. Egypt, in turn, refused to open the border crossing between Gaza and Egypt to Gaza residents, even during the Israeli attack when many Gazans were clamouring to get out. This infuriated Hamas and caused anti-Egyptian protests in much of the Arab world.

For Egypt, the most annoying criticism came from Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the formidable leader of the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Addressing Egyptian citizens, particularly army officers, Nasrallah called on them to protest at Cairo's lack of response to the Israeli attack. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said of Nasrallah's speech: "(He) practically declared war on us." As for Nasrallah's appeal to Egyptian officers, Mr Gheit said of Egypt's army: "They will also protect Egypt against people like you."

 

Extract - President on Mid-East peace quest
The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East correspondent
Friday January 23, 2009

THE Middle East immediately emerged as a top priority for Barack Obama after he called key leaders in the region on his first day as President and moved to appoint his Middle East envoy. Pledging an "active engagement" to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, Mr Obama - who was criticised this month for failing to take action during the war between Israel and Hamas - contacted the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan to bolster the fragile peace in the Gaza Strip.

The White House said in a statement: "He used this opportunity on his first day in office to communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term and to express his hope for their continued co-operation and leadership." The White House said Mr Obama had emphasised his determination to consolidate the Gaza ceasefire by establishing an effective anti-smuggling regime to prevent Hamas from rearming. The phone calls came on the same day that his former presidential rival, Hillary Clinton, was confirmed as Secretary of State and former senator George Mitchell was flagged as Mr Obama's Middle East envoy. Mr Mitchell was a key player in negotiations to end the Northern Ireland conflict.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called for his organisation to be given legitimacy following the war with Israel, which he described as an "unequivocal victory", despite the death of more than 1300 Palestinians. In a video from Damascus, where he is in exile, Mr Meshaal said: "Three years of trying to eliminate Hamas is enough. It is time for you to deal with Hamas, which has gained legitimacy through struggle. "This battle (the Gaza war) has proved that force alone will not provide security for the Zionist entity (Israel) and that peace will not be at the expense of Palestinian rights."

Mr Meshaal said the war would pave the way for "the liberation of Jerusalem". He said: "This is the first real war which the Palestinian people wage and win over the Palestinian soil."

Mr Obama yesterday telephoned Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Jordan's King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he told Mr Obama yesterday that Israel had committed to invest in efforts to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian population in Gaza, and would work to improve the economic situation in the West Bank.

 

Extract - An angry nation no longer in the mood to give peace a chance
The Weekend Australian
John Lyons, Middle East correspondent
Saturday February 7, 2009

ISRAEL is an angry country about to vote. It goes into its general election next Tuesday as a country that feels isolated, under threat and having been abandoned by the bulk of the international community. That national mood comes in the wake of the recent Gaza war. In military terms, Israel won it comprehensively. But in terms of image around the world, Israel has taken a pounding, accused of a needless slaughter of hundreds of civilians among the 1300 Palestinians killed during the 22-day war.

That anger was reflected recently by the head of the Government Press Office -- part of the Prime Minister's department -- Danny Seamen, who branded foreign journalists covering Gaza as "a fig leaf for Hamas". The anger is feeding into a siege mentality apparent this week at Israel's top annual security and defence conference in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv. The editor of The Jerusalem Post, David Horovitz, told conference delegates he saw a "rising tide of delegitimacy" against Israel following the Gaza war. While Horovitz said Israel had contributed to this with decisions such as banning foreign media from covering the war, which meant much of the information was being reported by Palestinian "stringers" — and when foreign media were allowed in they did the stories they would have done weeks earlier anyway — he also blamed foreign media for refusing to acknowledge "the death cult imperative" of Islamic extremism to kill or be killed. He told the conference: "In the absence of more informed and sophisticated reporting, more and more people in this region and beyond are more hostile to Israel today than they were a few weeks ago, more disgusted by us, more convinced of our guilt." He received a rousing applause. Speaker after speaker said they believed there was a new campaign around the world to question Israel's legitimacy as a state.

 

Extract - Ahmadinejad sparks racism meet walkout
The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East correspondent
Tuesday, April 21, 2009

DELEGATES from Western countries last night (Australian time) walked out of the UN anti-racism summit in Geneva after Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used his keynote speech to attack Israel as racist. Three protesters from the French Union of Jewish Students dressed as clowns and shouting "racist, racist," were expelled from the conference as Mr Ahmadinejad began to speak. One of them threw a soft red object — a false nose — at the Iranian President, hitting the podium and interrupting his speech. Shortly afterwards a stream of Western diplomats, including from Britain and France, walked out. France condemned Mr Ahmadinejad's "hate speech" delivered on the same day as Holocaust Memorial Day, saying "no compromise was possible" with his UN racism stance.

Part of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's address, Monday

FOLLOWING World War II, they resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering. They sent migrants from Europe, the US and other parts of the world in order to establish a totally racist government in the occupied Palestine. It is all the more regrettable that a number of Western governments have committed themselves to defend those racist perpetrators of genocide. What are the root causes of US attacks against Iraq, or invasion of Afghanistan? Wasn't the military action against Iraq planned by the Zionists and their allies in the then-US administration? In the beginning of the third millennium, the word "Zionism" personifies racism that falsely resorts to religion, and abuses religious sentiment to hide their hatred and ugly faces.

Mark Steyn in the National Review online, Monday:

PRESIDENTS (Hans-Rudolf) Merz (of Switzerland) and (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad dined together last night in Geneva, and apparently very sociably. The mainstreaming of Mahmoud by Merz and co is worse than what Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax did. It is in the face of far more public and more explicit eliminationist threats. And, unlike Chamberlain's generation, this crowd will not be able to plead that what was being planned was so unprecedented it was beyond their capacity to imagine: every time Ahmadinejad denies the reality of the last Holocaust, he reminds the Merzes of the world that the apologists for those planning its sequel won't have the excuse that they didn't know it was coming.

 

Jitters in Washington over threat of airstrikes
Israel given deadline on Iran
The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East correspondent
Wednesday, July 29, 2009

THE US has told Israel that its efforts to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear programs are "not open-ended", setting September as a deadline for agreement from Tehran on international inspections of its atomic sites. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates yesterday told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the US and Israel saw "eye to eye" on the Iranian nuclear threat. The September ultimatum is significant, as President Barack Obama has previously referred to "the end of the year" as the deadline for Iran to open its facilities for inspection. In return, Mr Netanyahu said Israel would utilise "all available means" to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons — an apparent reference to an airstrike, which Israel insists is an option.

The exchange came before Mr Netanyahu and US special envoy George Mitchell last night held a three-hour meeting to discuss Washington's desire for a resumption of peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials. The meeting appeared not to resolve any issues, with both men afterwards reluctant to go into details. "We look forward to continuing our discussions to reach a point that we can move forward to reach a comprehensive peace," Mr Mitchell told reporters. Mr Netanyahu said they had made progress towards achieving "the understanding that will enable us to continue and complete the peace process established between us and Palestinian neighbours and the countries in the entire region". The US has told Israel it wants an immediate freeze on building activity in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem to ensure talks resume. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Mr Mitchell yesterday he wanted a six-month freeze before resuming talks.

A large section of the Israeli public appears to support an airstrike on Iranian nuclear facilities. The model often cited is the air attack on a nuclear facility in Syria two years ago. Government sources in Israel make it clear that such a strike would be sold to the public as setting back Iran's nuclear facility several years — and causing minimal civilian casualties. But several of Iran's nuclear research facilities are near civilian areas and some are believed to be underground, making any "surgical strike" difficult. Two months ago, CIA director Leon Panetta flew to Israel to seek an assurance that Tel Aviv was not about to launch a strike on Iran without the US's knowledge.

While Vice-President Joe Biden recently made it clear any decision about Iran was for Israel, US officials are known to fear that an Israeli strike could start a new conflict in the Middle East. Iran, unlike Syria, would be almost certain to respond, possibly through its ally Hezbollah. The Obama administration's attempt to find broad support for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was evident in the revelation that Mr Mitchell raised with Syria the possibility of the US lifting export bans on computer software and hardware, and aircraft. Mr Obama has also written to several Arab countries to urge "confidence-building measures" in relation to Israel. Yediot Ahronoth newspaper reported that Mr Obama had written to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco saying that if they took such measures it would make it easier for the US to put pressure on Israel to freeze settlement construction.

 

Netanyahu ministers threaten to protest

Fury at settlement offer

The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East Correspondent
Additional reporting: AFP
Saturday, August 29, 2009

ISRAELI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a revolt from within his own ranks over concessions he is prepared to make to enable the Middle East peace talks to resume. As an indication of the extraordinary political juggling act he will be required to perform in coming months, it was revealed yesterday that two rallies are planned for his return to Israel this week, to protest against any concession on Jewish settlements in the West Bank. It highlights Mr Netanyahu's dilemma - strong pressure from US President Barack Obama and European leaders on one side to halt all settlement activity, and pressure on the other side from a powerful constituency inside his own right-wing Likud party to allow the settlements to continue growing. The protests are likely to be attended by some of his own ministers.

The Jerusalem Post reported yesterday that the first of the rallies, planned for Tel Aviv this Tuesday, was being organised by one of his ministers, Yossi Peled. The paper reported that while the rally was being presented as a "pro-Jerusalem event", members of the Knesset who attended were "expected to bash the deal the Prime Minister is negotiating with the Americans". The paper said three ministers - Gilad Erdan, Moshe Kahlon and Yuli Edelstein - had told the organisers they would attend, and organisers were still hoping to attract two others, Moshe Ya'alon and Bennie Begin.

It quoted Pinchas Wallerstein from the the settlers' council as saying: "When Netanyahu talks of a Palestinian state, I hate it, but I'm not worried because there will be no peace deal. When Netanyahu speaks about a settlement freeze, it's a death sentence for the settlement enterprise." Mr Netanyahu has rejected a total freeze, insisting on the need to guarantee "normal life" in the settlements, which are home to 500,000 Jewish Israelis. The Post carried an opinion poll yesterday that found only 4 per cent of the Jewish Israelis surveyed regarded Mr Obama as "pro-Israel".

The growing signs of opposition to a settlement freeze came as Mr Netanyahu ended his trip through Europe, during which he met the US special envoy George Mitchell, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. At the start of the talks with Mr Mitchell - renowned for his role in Northern Ireland's peace process - Mr Netanyahu said he hoped "we will shortly be able to resume normal talks" with the Palestinians, according to his spokesman. All three leaders restated their views that Israel should halt all settlement activity in the West Bank.

Mr Netanyahu gave no commitments, but it appears a deal is being brokered behind the scenes under which Israel would agree to halt settlement activity for a set period - probably six months - during which talks would resume with the Palestinian Authority. But Mr Netanyahu received strong rhetorical support from Ms Merkel for a tougher approach to pressure Iran to allow international inspectors to examine its nuclear program. After meeting Ms Merkel, Mr Netanyahu called for "crippling sanctions" to be imposed against Iran.

Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly insisted in recent days that the heart of the decades-old conflict was not the settlements but the Palestinian refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. "The core issue is for them to recognise Israel as the state of the Jewish people," he said. "This is what started the conflict, what stokes it and what will end it."

 

Far from gripping: Barack Obama watches as Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Mahmoud Abbas shake hands in New York during talks to discuss the possibility of peace talks
Picture: AP
Frustrated Obama warns opportunity won't last

Icy Mid-East meeting stalls

The Australian
Brad Norington, New York
Thursday, September 24, 2009

DIRECT pressure applied by Barack Obama on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to set aside fundamental problems and restart the peace process has failed to get a result. The US President used the gathering of world leaders in New York yesterday to bring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas together.

It was already past time to talk about starting negotiations, Mr Obama said, before a tripartite meeting. "Despite all the obstacles, despite all the history, despite all the mistrust, we have to find a way forward," he said. "We have to summon the will to break the deadlock that has trapped generations of Israelis and Palestinians in an endless cycle of conflict and suffering. We cannot continue the same pattern of taking tentative steps forward and then stepping back."

Israel's Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, last night declared the meeting a victory for the Jewish state because it took place even though Israel refused demands to freeze settlements in the West Bank. Israel agreed only to slow settlement construction in the Palestinian territory for a limited time. Mr Obama did not explicitly demand a freeze at the meeting, an omission that rankled with Palestinians. Mr Abbas immediately dismissed a resumption of talks unless Israel agreed to a halt to Jewish settlements on the West Bank. He also demanded Israel agree to observe all agreements on borders that he claimed were made last year with Mr Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert. These borders dated back to the Israeli capture of territory in 1967. Mr Netanyahu blamed Palestinians for the stalemate, demanding they recognise the state of Israel and insisting the issue of settlements should be "discussed within these talks, not before".

Mr Obama met both leaders separately yesterday before bringing them together. Afterwards, he oversaw an official handshake but the mood was cold. Neither Mr Netanyahu nor Mr Abbas spoke to the media. The Jerusalem newspaper Haaretz later reported Mr Obama had told both leaders he was dissatisfied with their recent "foot-dragging" on restarting talks and had strongly expressed his impatience. According to a White House source, the meeting was business-like but not cordial. Mr Obama reportedly told Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas: "We've had enough talks. We need to end this conflict. There is a window of opportunity but it might shut."

The US President had been optimistic about future talks, after signs from Israel of a halt to construction of further settlements on the West Bank this year. But his hopes were dashed after approved construction got the go-ahead and his envoy to the region, George Mitchell, failed last week to gain any undertaking on further settlements. Yesterday's failed diplomatic effort left Mr Obama in an awkward position after he had declared Mr Mitchell would meet Israeli and Palestinian negotiators next week. He said he had also asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to report back to him on the status of the talks.

Clearly frustrated, Mr Obama said yesterday everyone had worked tirelessly, but not enough had been done. He said "permanent status negotiations" between the Israelis and Palestinians must begin soon, and restated his aim of wanting to see Israel and Palestine as two states. Mr Obama had wanted a cessation of further settlements to help kick-start negotiations. "All of us know this will not be easy," he said. "But we are here today because it is the right thing to do ... it is absolutely critical that we get this issue resolved. It's not just critical for the Israelis and the Palestinians, it's critical for the world. It is in the interests of the United States. And we are going to work as hard as necessary to accomplish our goals." Yesterday's meeting took place in New York after Mr Obama had addressed the UN on the urgent need to tackle climate change.

Mr Mitchell said Israel had made some concessions, such as a willingness to relax travel restrictions at its borders to allow movement of Palestininan workers. It had also removed some illegal settlements, despite refusing to stop expansion. Mr Netanyahu told Fox News he was glad Mr Obama had called yesterday's meeting. In a statement, Mr Abbas said he remained committed to the "road map" and demanded Israel fulfil its commitments on settlements. "As for resuming talks, this depends on a definition of the negotiating process that means basing them on recognising the need to withdraw to the 1967 borders and ending the occupation, as was discussed with the previous Israeli government when we defined the occupied territories as the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem," he said. Mr Netanyahu said Israel could work in the West Bank with the Palestinian Authority, headed by Mr Abbas. But it could never make peace with Hamas, which controls Gaza.

 

Extract - Iran in deadly warning to Israel
The Australian
Correspondents in New York and Washington, The Times, AP, Wall Street Journal
Wednesday September 30, 2009

ON the eve of talks with the international community about its nuclear aspirations, and only hours after a "provocative" missile test, Iran has issued a warning to Israel that it would face destruction if it attacked the Islamist nation. "If this (an Israeli attack) happens, which, of course, we do not foresee, its ultimate result would be to expedite the last breath of the Zionist regime," Iranian Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi said on state television.

His comments came after Western leaders called a second day of rocket launches by Iran a "reprehensible" distraction from talks this week that will determine whether Tehran is ready to negotiate over its nuclear program, or face biting new sanctions. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called the missile tests "provocative". He added: "This is an important day and an important week for Iran." Mr Gibbs demanded unfettered access to a new nuclear facility that Iran admitted to last week.

Meanwhile, in the lead-up to tomorrow's talks in Geneva, the administration of US President Barack Obama and its Western allies were working up new ways to impose sanctions on Iran if it does not comply with demands to come clean about its nuclear program. But some economic giants are less enthusiastic about sanctions. China and Russia are still seen as only half-hearted partners in any effort to push penalties through the UN Security Council. And France and Germany are skittish about targeting Iran's oil imports. US law already forbids American firms from buying Iranian oil, but Europe, Japan and China are big customers.

 

Extract - Departure of Abbas hits hopes for peace
Weekend Australian
John Lyons, Middle East correspondent
Additional reporting: agencies
Saturday, November 7, 2009

BARACK Obama's push to restart talks in the Middle East was in tatters last night as the man the US had backed to lead a new Palestinian state announced he was walking away from politics. Mahmoud Abbas shocked leaders across the Middle East when he announced he would not contest elections in January. Mr Abbas made clear his anger at Israel's refusal to agree to US calls for a freeze to Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and last weekend's praise by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for Israel's "unprecedented" efforts on the settlement issue. "The problem is Israel and its position," Mr Abbas said. Referring to the US, he said: "We were surprised by their favouring the Israeli position." He also attacked his Palestinian rivals, Hamas, saying the rulers of the Gaza Strip had engaged in "destructive practices". But while he said "many dangers" existed in the two-state solution, he held out hope that this was achievable. He restated the removal of Jewish settlements in the West Bank as a necessary condition for peace.

The resignation leaves in disarray Mr Obama's repeatedly stated ambition to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr Abbas was the first world leader he telephoned on taking office this year and he was seen as the only real option as a negotiator. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted as saying last week: "Of the existing alternatives, if we want an agreement with the Palestinians then Abbas is the best partner." Prime Minister Salam Fayyed, while respected for his international economic credentials, is regarded with hostility by Hamas and has alienated large sections of his own Fatah party for his attempted crackdown on corruption.

Regional leaders telephoned Mr Abbas to try to convince him to remain as leader. Israeli President Shimon Peres, who enjoyed a close relationship with Mr Abbas, told him: "If you leave, the Palestinians would lose their chance for an independent state", according to Haaretz newspaper

Same day
Israel rejects UN vote on Gaza
AFP, AP

JERUSALEM: Israel last night rejected a UN resolution calling on it and the Palestinians to probe suspected war crimes committed during the Gaza war. "Israel rejects the resolution of the UN General Assembly, which is completely detached from realities on the ground that Israel must face," the foreign ministry said in a statement. Israel said during the 22-day war it "demonstrated higher military and moral standards than each and every one of this resolution's instigators".

On Thursday, the 192-member assembly approved an Arab-sponsored resolution that endorsed a UN report accusing both Israel and Palestinians of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the war, which killed about 1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. The vote was 114 in favour and 18 against, with 44 abstentions. As well as Israel, the US, along with Australia and a few European countries voted against. A majority of EU countries, including Britain, France, Spain and Sweden abstained.

 

President Mahmoud Abbas to benefit from poll axing
Weekend Australian
Wall Street Journal
Saturday, November 14, 2009

JERUSALEM: Palestinian election officials say they cannot hold planned elections in January, which could give President Mahmoud Abbas a way to stay in office despite his threat to stand down — but could further roil Palestinian and Israeli politics. Mr Abbas's threat, and a wider breakdown of US-led peace efforts, are taking a toll in the Palestinian territories and on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government in Israel. The Israeli premier is coming under fire for not making headway towards peace.

Speaking at a televised news conference in Ramallah, Palestinian election officials said yesterday that Hamas's opposition to polling was the main obstacle. Hamas has rejected new elections until reaching a long-stalled reconciliation accord with Mr Abbas's Fatah. "We planned to go to Gaza to figure out how we can conduct elections there," said Hanna Nasser, head of the Palestinian Elections Commission. "We received an answer from Hamas that we are not welcome in Gaza. It is clear now that we cannot hold an election in Gaza."

If Mr Abbas accepts the commission's recommendation to cancel elections, it could allow the Palestinian leader to stay in office. He has threatened not to stand for re-election, blaming frustrations over the stalled peace process.

Calling off elections could present a mixed blessing for US-led peace efforts, analysts say. A Palestinian government that remains in power without scheduled elections could appear to have less legitimacy to make concessions in peace negotiations with Israel. Still, there is no obvious candidate to replace Mr Abbas at the helm of the Palestinian Authority, and were he to stand down, it could throw the US's peace efforts into further disarray.

 

Iran flexes military muscle
The Australian
Wall Street Journal
Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Iran launched a five-day air-defense exercise Sunday, flexing its military might amid Western pressure over its nuclear program, and threatening retaliation against Israel if it were to target Iran.

Israeli officials have warned they would take military action against Iran to prevent it from making a nuclear weapon. The Iranian military exercise follows a large-scale air-defense exercise by Israel, conducted with U.S. troops, last month. On Sunday, a senior Revolutionary Guard officer warned Israel of retaliation should it target Iran. "If the enemy tries its luck and fires a missile into Iran, our ballistic missiles would zero in on Tel Aviv before the dust settles on the attack," the Guard official, Mojtaba Zolnour, was quoted as saying, according to state-run English-language media outlet Press TV.

In Israel, Iran's apparent rejection of the draft nuclear deal and its air-defense drill were seen as another belligerent signal from Tehran. "It is clear that this is now the time for the international community to act and send a crystal-clear message to Tehran that there are consequences for its actions," a senior Israeli official said.

In Tehran, Brigadier-General Ahmad Mighani, in charge of Iranian air defense, said the exercise was being conducted with both Iran's conventional armed forces and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, across a swath of northern, southern and western Iran. General Mighani said the drill was aimed at preventing attacks on Iran's nuclear infrastructure.

The move comes as the West is increasing pressure on Tehran following Iran's refusal so far to accept a nuclear energy deal hammered out last month between Iranian negotiators and their counterparts from the US, France, Russia and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The deal called for Iran to ship out the bulk of its low-enriched uranium, which would be further enriched in Russia and returned for use in a medical-research reactor. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said last week that Iran would not ship its enriched uranium out of the country, but indicated that it was open to talks about some sort of uranium exchange. Western powers interpreted his comments as the clearest indication so far that Iran will not accept the proposal without changes to which the US and its allies are unlikely to agree.

Western officials have taken Iran's refusal to ship out uranium as a rejection of the pact. US officials and allies say they will continue to leave the door open for talks. President Barack Obama has suggested a year-end deadline for Iran to show good-faith efforts at nuclear negotiations. The US and its allies fear Iran is building nuclear weapons, but Tehran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful energy and medical research. Following Mr. Mottaki's statement, Mr. Obama again warned that Washington would push for tougher economic sanctions against Iran if the US was not satisfied with the talks with Tehran.

 

Iran's nuclear sites 'can be bombed'
The Australian
AFP
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

WASHINGTON: The top US military commander responsible for the Middle East and the Gulf region says Washington has developed contingency plans to deal with Iran's nuclear facilities, insisting that they "can be bombed".

"Well, they certainly can be bombed," General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command, said yesterday as he commented on suggestions that the Iranian nuclear facilities are heavily fortified. "The level of effect would vary with who it is that carries it out, what ordnance they have, and what capability they can bring to bear," he added. General Petraeus did not elaborate on the plans, but he said the military had considered the impacts of any action taken in Iran. "It would be almost literally irresponsible if Centcom were not to have been thinking about the various `what ifs' and to make plans for a whole variety of different contingencies," he said.

Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but the US and other Western nations fear Tehran wants to acquire nuclear weapons. Israel has called Iran's nuclear program the major threat facing its nation. General Petraeus declined to comment about Israel's military capabilities or reports that it may attack Iran.

The US is leading efforts to slap a fourth round of UN sanctions on Iran after it failed to meet an end-of-year deadline to accept a deal offered by five permanent UN Security Council members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the US - plus Germany. In response, Tehran gave the West until the end of this month to accept its own proposal. General Petraeus said he thought there was still time for the nations to engage Iran in diplomacy, noting there was no deadline on the enactment of any US contingency plans. But he added that "there was a period of time, certainly, before all this might come to a head, if you will".

 

Israel tries to calm Turkish row
The Australian
Abraham Rabinovich, Jerusalem
Thursday, January 14, 2010

ISRAEL'S Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon offered an indirect apology yesterday for having deliberately humiliated a Turkish diplomat after Ankara threatened to recall its ambassador to Israel amid escalating tensions between the countries. Mr Ayalon triggered the fresh row when he summoned the ambassador, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, to be rebuked for an anti-Israel television series in Turkey depicting the Mossad as baby-snatchers and for attacks on Israel by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Departing from diplomatic protocol, Mr Ayalon invited Israeli television cameras to record the beginning of the meeting at which the ambassador was seated on a couch a few centimetres lower than the chairs on which Mr Ayalon and two colleagues were seated. Mr Ayalon told the cameramen in Hebrew, which the Turkish envoy does not speak: "Pay attention that he is sitting in a lower chair, that there is only an Israeli flag on the table (and no Turkish flag) and that we are not smiling." The conversation that ensued in English between the diplomats after the cameramen left was polite, both sides reported, and it was only after learning of Mr Ayalon's remark to the cameramen that Mr Celikkol realised an attempt had been made to humiliate him.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Israel's ambassador to Ankara, Gaby Levy, to demand "an explanation and an apology" for Mr Ayalon's behaviour. The ministry issued a statement calling for "corrective steps to be taken with respect to the treatment shown our ambassador" and an official warned that without an apology, the ambassador would be withdrawn. In Israel, criticism of Mr Ayalon's behaviour was widespread, even among serving diplomats, several of whom called it, anonymously, "an embarrassment" and "childish".

Mr Ayalon initially defended his action. "Others will respect us only when we protect our honour," he said. Yesterday, however, he issued a statement aimed at terminating the episode. "My protest of the attacks against Israel in Turkey still stands," he said. "However, it is not my way to insult foreign ambassadors and in the future, I will clarify my position by more acceptable diplomatic means." There was no immediate indication from Ankara as to whether this was considered adequate apology.

Mr Ayalon, a professional diplomat who served as Israeli ambassador to Washington, began displaying hardline views after being chosen by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman last year to serve as his deputy. Mr Lieberman has called upon Israeli diplomats to make a forceful response to perceived diplomatic insults and not to seek favour. In a statement issued earlier this week, Israel condemned Mr Erdogan's "unbridled tongue-lashing" of Israel for its incursion into Gaza last year. The Turkish Prime Minister has repeatedly accused Israel of disproportionate use of force against the Palestinians. The Israeli statement, alluding to Turkey's actions against its own Kurdish militants, and perhaps to its massacre of Armenians in World War I, said "Turkey is the last country that can preach morality to Israel".

The falling-out is of significance to both countries. The close ties that have existed for decades between them bear far-reaching political and security resonance.

Following Day
Israel apologises for Turkish dressing down
The Australian
AFP
Friday, January 15, 2010

JERUSALEM: Israel has issued a second apology to Turkey over its envoy's treatment, bowing to Ankara's ultimatum to defuse a spat over a TV show that marred ties between the two allies. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday that Ankara had received the apology it "wanted and expected".

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon apologised to Turkish ambassador Oguz Celikkol for giving him an angry dressing down in front of cameras to protest a Turkish television series portraying Mossad agents as baby-snatchers. A statement from Mr Ayalon's office said that "out of respect" for a request by President Shimon Peres, the deputy minister sent the envoy an apology. "I had no intention to humiliate you personally and apologise for the way the demarche was handled and perceived," Mr Ayalon wrote in the apology letter.

Ankara, a key Muslim ally to Israel, was infuriated and demanded "an explanation and apology" after Mr Ayalon made Mr Celikkol sit on a low couch and had the Turkish flag removed from the table at their meeting on Monday. Mr Ayalon issued a initial apology on Wednesday, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the "protest to the Turkish ambassador was just in its essence but should have been conveyed in an acceptable diplomatic manner". But Turkish President Abdullah Gul threatened to recall the ambassador if there was no formal apology. Following the second, formal apology, Mr Netanyahu hoped the two allies would now put the crisis behind them.

 

Israeli PM moves to placate furious US
The Australian
Abraham Rabinovich, Jerusalem
Monday, March 15, 2010

ISRAELI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has summoned his inner cabinet to an unusual late-night meeting to order a probe after furious American reaction to the announcement of housing construction in East Jerusalem during US Vice-President Joe Biden's visit. Mr Netanyahu's move yesterday came after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lashed out at the housing announcement, calling it "insulting" to Washington. "It was just really a very unfortunate and difficult moment for everyone - the United States, our Vice-President, who had gone to reassert our strong support for Israeli security - and I regret deeply that that occurred and made that known," Mrs Clinton said. She "made it known" directly to Mr Netanyahu in a 45-minute telephone conversation in which the Prime Minister mostly remained quiet and listened to Mrs Clinton's scathing criticism.

At President Barack Obama's direction, Mr Biden condemned the announcement. The Israeli ambassador in Washington was summoned to the State Department. Mr Netanyahu has said he was unaware of the housing announcement before it was made. Although the American protest was linked to Mr Biden's presence in Jerusalem, which made it seem that the US was complicit in the announcement, Washington has made it clear that it objects not just to the timing but to Israeli construction itself in East Jerusalem, where the Palestinian Authority wishes to create the capital of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The announcement during Mr Biden's visit of plans to build 1600 more housing units in East Jerusalem, in addition to the tens of thousands already built, was denounced by Israeli media as grossly provocative, an assessment much of the Israel public agreed with. During Mr Biden's speech to students at Tel Aviv University following the incident the largest hand went not to his warm words about Israel but to his mention of the condemnation he had issued of the building project.

 

Building freeze revives peace bid
The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East correspondent
Thursday, April 29, 2010

THE Middle East's stalled peace process looks set to resume following what appears to be a new understanding between the US and Israel for a temporary halt to new building in Jerusalem. The key players — the US, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the Arab League and Egypt — expressed optimism that peace talks were about to resume.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas requested a weekend meeting of the Arab League, which is set to endorse the "proximity talks" the US wants. While Washington has pressured Israel to make concessions, Egypt has pushed the Palestinian Authority to drop its insistence on a freeze on Jewish building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced yesterday he would visit Cairo on Monday to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a key figure in the peace process. Mr Netanyahu said: "We ask for real peace in which we work on the basis of Israeli interests of mutuality, on a solution regarding return (of Palestinian refugees), on recognising the state of Israel as Jewish and holding negotiations without preconditions." Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said: "The Palestinians, with the support of the Arab League monitor committee, are likely to agree to renew the negotiations even if Israel quietly undertakes to stop construction in the settlements and East Jerusalem and doesn't make a public declaration about it."

 

Reports of Scuds stir talk of war
Weekend Australian
James Hider, The Times
Saturday, May 1, 2010

WHEN Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, said on Wednesday that Hezbollah now had "far more rockets and missiles than most governments in the world", he appeared to be referring to Israeli intelligence reports that Syria had supplied the Lebanese militia with the latest generation of long-range Scud missiles. The alleged transfer of the missiles would, if true, make Hezbollah, as Israeli intelligence officials pointed out, the only guerilla organisation in the world to be equipped with long-range ballistic missiles, in this case with a range of more than 640km and a 700kg payload.

The accuracy of the latest generation of Scuds is far greater than those fired by Saddam Hussein at Tel Aviv during the 1991 Gulf War, which caused minor damage and few deaths. Senior Israeli defence officials say the deployment alters the strategic balance in the region, given that the next war - which King Abdullah II of Jordan has warned could erupt as soon as the northern summer - will be one waged principally with rockets rather than tanks and ground forces. The new Scuds could potentially reach any target in Israel, and officials fear their accuracy could allow them to target military installations with far greater effect than the Katyushas fired more or less blindly in the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah. In response to the transfer, Washington summoned the senior Syrian diplomat in the US to discuss the issue, while the Jewish state has reportedly sent a message to Damascus warning that should a new war break out with Lebanon, the Israeli Air Force will target infrastructure inside Syria itself.

Israeli commandos, wounded when they stormed a convoy
of ships attempting to break the Gaza blockade,
arrive in Tel Aviv for treatment. Source: AFP

 

Israel all at sea over Gaza
The Australian
Abraham Rabinovich
Wednesday, June 2, 2010

SO who won? In the short run, at least, Hamas was the clear winner of the naval confrontation off Israel's coast on Monday. The dramatic clash focused world attention on the almost forgotten Gaza Strip and the three-year-old Israeli blockade (partnered by Egypt) that restricts imports to Gaza to humanitarian goods such as food and medicine. The public relations victory was the biggest success for Hamas since its forcible takeover of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority three years ago.

It was a victory, too, for foreign supporters of the Palestinian cause, particularly the Turkish government, which was an unofficial sponsor of the flotilla. The protests from across the world at the Israeli action will have achieved the Turkish aim of internationalising the Gaza issue rather than leave it as a cause that primarily concerns Muslim nations. For Israel, the maritime confrontation was an extremely embarrassing event that played out in a way no one expected despite the war games the navy staged before the flotilla arrived, running through different scenarios. The sight of naval commandos being clubbed to the deck as they landed on the Turkish vessel Marmari, mother ship of the six-vessel flotilla, was a shock for Israelis.

The naval commando unit is one of Israel's most elite military forces and its exploits are renowned. It has been extensively used to thwart arms smuggling and terror operations in neighbouring countries and was reported last year to have been involved in the long-range interdiction in Sudan of an arms convoy bound from Iran to the Gaza Strip. It is, however, not a unit that normally deals with hostile civilians. Other units that have such experience were considered less suitable for boarding a moving vessel at sea. What was considered to be a fairly routine policing mission, however, quickly turned out to be something else.

Aware of the foreign observers aboard the vessel, including MPs from several countries, the Israeli planners went to great lengths to make the takeover of the vessel, ostensibly on a humanitarian mission, as non-violent as possible. Members of the boarding party were all equipped with pistols but were told to keep them out of sight. The weapon slung over the shoulders of most of them was a paintball rifle, which could be mistaken for something more serious if pointed at somebody but would not normally be the weapon of choice in a combat situation. The navy had provided the men with other non-fatal "crowd control" equipment, which it admitted later was insufficient. A few of the soldiers carried regular rifles just in case.

However, sliding down the rope from the helicopter, the commandos wore asbestos gloves, which make it impossible to fire any weapon until removed. When they landed on the deck they did not have time to remove the glove before they were set on by a frenzied mob. In the dismal aftermath of the incident, numerous questions are being asked, including why the operation was permitted to proceed when it was clear that the commandos were being lowered, one by one, into a lion's den where they were being overwhelmed. The initial response was that violent resistance was not expected and that once the first commandos had been knocked down — one of them knifed, then thrown on to a lower deck — it was necessary to send in the others on the helicopter in an attempt to rescue them.

At some point, in fact, the commandos managed to clear a space from which they could fight and commanders in an adjacent naval boat called out over loudspeakers to use their pistols "if you have to". The development of the fight from that point is not yet clear. Nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed and several dozen wounded. Seven commandos were also wounded, two of them by gunfire. The other five ships in the flotilla were taken over without incident by commandos boarding from rubber boats.

As messy as the operation was, however, in the long run, and perhaps even the not-so-long run, the incident may reinforce Israel's deterrent image, a keystone of its security structure. Israel made clear that it would enforce its declared policies — in this case regarding Gaza — regardless of the price it had to pay in the form of international goodwill.

There is much similarity with Israel's war with Hezbollah in Lebanon four years ago and its incursion into Gaza to fight Hamas last year, both operations being roundly condemned by the international community. In Lebanon, Israel reacted to an attack on a border patrol and the kidnapping of two soldiers — actions undertaken by Hezbollah, and not for the first time — by launching a bombing campaign against Hezbollah targets. Since the targets were located mostly in Shi'ite villages, including rocket launchers inside houses, much of southern Lebanon was devastated. A self-contained Hezbollah neighbourhood in Beirut was blitzed. Protests were staged in the Muslim world and elsewhere, and even friendly countries denounced Israel's aggression.

Since then, however, the Lebanese border has been totally peaceful for the first time in many years and farmers till the land up to the border fence.

Likewise with Israel's incursion into the Gaza Strip in January last year. For eight years, thousands of locally made rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel by Hamas and other militant organisations. In time, longer range rockets brought sizeable Israeli cities into range. Israel staged periodic raids and frequent air attacks in an effort to stem the rocketing but without success. The government of then prime minister Ehud Olmert warned Hamas that if the rocketing did not cease Israel would invade, but the rocketing continued. Finally, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in which more than 1000 Palestinians, militants and civilians, were killed and thousands of homes destroyed. Condemnation of Israel was universal. The UN's Goldstone report was a devastating indictment of Israel for alleged war crimes although Israel and many outside observers would find the report hypocritical in paying no more than lip service to the Hamas provocations that preceded the incursion. The report also dismissed Israel's unprecedented efforts to limit civilian casualties, including tens of thousands of telephone calls made to residents during the three-week war warning them to leave targeted areas.

For some weeks after Israel withdrew, Hamas continued a symbolic firing of rockets but then ceased altogether when Israel responded forcefully. Now, Hamas even attempts to prevent smaller organisations from firing rockets since Israel has made it clear that it will hold Hamas responsible as the ruling authority in Gaza. Life in Israeli towns and villages abutting the Gaza Strip has returned to normal after years of trauma.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama,
in the Oval Office yesterday, had a markedly warmer meeting
than their previous one three months ago. Source: AP

 

Bibi will "take risks for peace"
The Australian
Brad Norington, Washington correspondent
Thursday, July 8, 2010

BARACK Obama says he believes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is willing to take risks to achieve peace in the Middle East, and expects direct negotiations with the Palestinians to restart in a matter of weeks. The US President delivered his upbeat assessment yesterday after a meeting with Mr Netanyahu at the White House that was billed as a significant fence-mending exercise in the wake of obvious strains in the relationship.

Gushing in his praise of the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Obama made a point of declaring the bond between their two countries was "unbreakable", and he dismissed reports of a rift as "wrong". He also acknowledged Israel had unique security needs, saying the US would never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine its security interests. "Our relationship is continuing to improve, and I think a lot of that has to do with the excellent work that the Prime Minister has done," Mr Obama said. "So I'm grateful."

The atmosphere was in marked contrast to the pair's last meeting at the White House, three months ago. Mr Netanyahu received an icy reception then, with no official photo or media statement. Mr Obama even left the Israeli Prime Minister alone while he interrupted their talks to have dinner elsewhere in the building. The White House was clearly upset at the time about the Netanyahu government's treatment of Vice-President Joe Biden, who had just returned from a visit to Israel that became a diplomatic disaster when authorities announced a new housing project for disputed territory in East Jerusalem. That Netanyahu rebuff also appears to have reflected the White House's broader impatience, after doubts the Prime Minister was serious about a peace settlement with the Palestinian leadership.

All those tensions were gone yesterday. Mr Obama said he had an "excellent" tete-a-tete with Mr Netanyahu, including extensive discussion about the prospect for Middle East peace. He commended his guest for progress in allowing more goods through the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Declaring his unfailing trust in the Israeli Prime Minister, the President said: "I believe Mr Netanyhu wants peace. I think he's willing to take risks for peace. And during our conversation, he once again reaffirmed his willingness to engage in serious negotiations with the Palestinians." He said the time had come to seize on the vision of Palestinians having a sovereign state. Under questioning from reporters, the President avoided discussing whether or not Israel should extend a partial freeze on settlements in the West Bank past its expiry in September, saying he expected peace negotiations to move from indirect to direct talks before then. His hope was to create "a climate where everybody feels a greater investment in success".

Mr Netanyahu also dodged a question about whether Israel would continue to build settlements after September, referring instead to concrete steps that could be taken to restart direct negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He said Israelis were prepared to do a lot to win peace with the Palestinians, but only if it were secure. "We don't want a repeat of the situation where we vacate territories and those are overtaken by Iran's proxies, and used as a launching ground for terrorist attacks or rocket attacks," he said. Israel has held no direct negotiations with the Palestinian leadership since late 2008, when then prime minister Ehud Olmert ended discussions with Mr Abbas, and the Gaza war against Hamas ruled out any hope of talks resuming. Palestinians have argued that direct talks cannot restart if Israel continues with settlements.

Mr Netanyahu borrowed from author Mark Twain yesterday, saying reports of the demise of the special historical US-Israeli relationship "aren't just premature - they're just flat wrong". He also united with Mr Obama in condemning Iran, rating the prospect of Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons as the greatest new security threat on the horizon.

Mr Obama said his policy was unchanged on requiring countries to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. But he appeared to offer a special dispensation to Israel's "very complex situation in a very tough neighbourhood", in an oblique reference to Israel's undeclared possession of nuclear weapons. Israel needed to be able to respond to any threats, he said. Mr Obama said Israel had shown restraint over the past few months that was conducive to restarting direct talks with the Palestinians. This comment appears to have been directed at Israel's handling of the West Bank, not the Israeli commando raid on boats trying to break through the Gaza blockade in late May that resulted in the deaths of nine men.

 

Attack on Iran 'almost certain'
The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East correspondent
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

TENSIONS over Iran are ratcheting up, with a former CIA chief saying he believes a US airstrike is becoming inevitable, while Iran has warned it will "make many troubles" for the US and Israel should any attack occur. The warnings came as Turkey said Iran was prepared to begin discussions with the EU after the end of Ramadan in September. But that was seen by many analysts as another stalling tactic by Iran, which insists it has a right to develop a nuclear program despite the UN Security Council imposing a fourth round of sanctions last month.

Former CIA chief Michael Hayden said that while he served under president George W. Bush the option of a military strike was given a low priority, but it now "seems inexorable". "In my personal thinking I have begun to consider that that may not be the worst of all possible outcomes," he told CNN.

Israeli media yesterday carried reports that the head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, had visited Saudi Arabia to discuss any Israeli airstrike on Iran. Israel would need to fly over Saudi Arabia or Iraq to carry out an airstrike. Saudi Arabia would be concerned about a backlash if it assisted Israel. US negotiators have told Israel there could be retribution against its own departing soldiers in Iraq should the US be part of any attack. Israeli officials have told The Australian that once all US combat troops had left Iraq early next year it would be easier for Israeli jets to fly over Iraq.

Turkey and Brazil have tried to broker a deal with Iran, but the US and France have convinced other members of the Security Council the Turkish-mediated agreement is not reliable.

 

Israeli threat to use 'great force'
The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East correspondent
Friday, August 6, 2010

ISRAEL has put its neighbours on notice that it will "hit with great force" anyone who fires at it, apparently anticipating a new round of attacks from both its north and south. In a clear attempt to discourage Hamas militants based in Gaza from entering Egypt to fire rockets from there, Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, issued a strong warning that Hamas would be held responsible for further rocket attacks from Egypt. He also warned the Lebanese government, following this week's firing on Israeli soldiers, that "Israel responds and will continue to respond forcibly to every attack against its citizens and soldiers".

The warning reflects a growing view in Israel that coming months are likely to see an escalation in attacks against Israel — Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Hezbollah, which has a powerful presence in the government of Lebanon to the north, both oppose any peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. While Hamas has not claimed responsibility for firing five rockets towards Israel and Jordan on Monday, Mr Netanyahu said Israel had established "beyond any doubt" that Hamas was behind the rockets. His view was supported by security sources quoted in Egyptian media.

It is expected that as direct talks may begin in coming weeks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Hezbollah will try to sabotage the process by provoking a new war. "We will reach, and hit with great force, anyone who shoots at Israeli citizens, no matter from where," Mr Netanyahu said. "I want it to be clear to Hamas, as well as to the Lebanese government, which we hold responsible for the violent provocations against our soldiers: do not test our determination to protect Israeli citizens and soldiers."

His words followed a finding by the UN Interim Force in Lebanon that Israeli soldiers had been on their territory when Lebanese soldiers fired at them on Tuesday. Lebanon initially claimed the Israelis had entered Lebanese territory. Lebanon also admitted yesterday that it had fired first.

As the US State Department described the firing by Lebanese soldiers as "wholly unjustified", Mr Netanyahu called for international condemnation. "For years many in the international community have remained silent when rockets have been fired at Israeli civilians and when unprovoked attacks have been launched against our soldiers," he said. "Expressions of outrage have largely been reserved for Israel's response to those attacks. Firing missiles on civilians is a war crime, and unprovoked attacks on soldiers are blatant acts of aggression."

Yesterday, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon brought together Israeli and Lebanese commanders to try to reduce tension. A UNIFIL commander said later: "Both parties renewed their commitment to the cessation of hostilities." Meanwhile, the organiser of the May flotilla to Gaza which was intercepted by Israeli commandos announced yesterday they were planning an even larger flotilla. Musician and activist Dror Feiler told AFP: "We'll set off before the end of 2010 and we are sure the flotilla will be bigger, with more vessels." Israel has agreed to join a UN investigation into the flotilla incident.

 
Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Mahmoud Abbas shake hands across Hillary Clinton. Source:AFP

Middle East leaders agree to meet fortnightly after White House peace talks
The Australian Online
Catherine Philp and James Hider, The Times
Friday, September 3, 2010

THE Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed to meet face-to-face every second week until a settlement establishing a Palestinian state is finalised; firing the gun on a race to reach a peace deal within a year. The agreement came as the two sides wrapped up their first direct talks in almost two years at the State Department in Washington. It is the opening shot in an ambitious plan by Barack Obama to broker a Middle East settlement within 12 months.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will oversee the next round of talks on September 14-15, when the parties will begin work on a framework agreement outlining the compromises that will need to be made. "Our goal is to resolve all of the core issues within one year," George Mitchell, the special Middle East envoy, announced after three hours of negotiations. "The parties have suggested and agreed that the logical way to proceed to tackle them is to try to reach a framework agreement first."

Even that will prove a challenge. In statements before the talks opened both sides reiterated their positions on some of the issues up for discussion. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that the Palestinians should recognise Israel "as the nation state of the Jewish people" and reiterated the pre-eminence of Israel's need for security. Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, sounded a conciliatory note on the issue in the light of this week's deadly attacks on Jewish settlers that were claimed by Hamas, which opposes the negotiations. He stuck to his demand for a freeze on all Jewish settlement activity and an end to the blockade of Gaza, the coastal strip run by Hamas. He noted the view of international law, which recognises the Palestinian claim to the territory lost in the 1967 war as well as the right of return for Palestinian refugees; another potential sticking point. "The road is clear in front of us," Mr Abbas said. "The road of international law."

The talks came the morning after a gruelling day of diplomacy in Washington, in which Mr Obama met the two leaders separately at the White House, and then again with the leaders of Egypt and Jordan before hosting them all for dinner. The five men were joined at the table by Mrs Clinton and Tony Blair, in his capacity as the special envoy of the Middle East Quartet. Mr Mitchell, who helped to broker the deal that brought peace to Northern Ireland, said that discussions had not been wholly confined to the process of the peace talks but had also touched on some of the most sensitive issues: settlement, refugees, the status of Jerusalem. "You can't discuss a process issue in any meaningful way without touching on substance," he said. Mr Mitchell said that the proposed framework agreement was "not an interim agreement, it's more detailed than a declaration of principles but less than a full-fledged treaty".

The first challenge will come on September 26 when a moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank comes to an end. The Palestinians have threatened to walk out if it is not extended. Mr Netanyahu has so far refused to answer that demand, wary that his right-wing, pro-settler coalition will collapse if he tries to do so. However, the opposition held out a possible lifeline with talk of a political parachute for Mr Netanyahu if the peace process does, indeed, bring down his government.

Shaul Mofaz, a senior member of the Kadima Party - which held the previous round of peace talks with the Palestinians 20 months ago - said that his party would be prepared to form a new coalition if it sees headway being made in the negotiations. Allying with the centre party could free Mr Netanyahu from serving the demands of some of his more extreme coalition partners and allow him to make the kind of compromises sought by Mr Mitchell. "At the end of this year, when it becomes clear whether there are guidelines for the continuation of the negotiations, Kadima will have to examine its path," he said. "If we can say that it is the right kind of process, Kadima will help."

 
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second right, and Israeli soldiers look toward Jordan
during a tour of the Jordan Valley on Tuesday. Source: Associated Press

 

Netanyahu shores up West Bank security
The Australian
Richard Boudreaux, Wall Street Journal
Thursday, March 10, 2011

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, facing opposition within his government to any new offer of territory to the Palestinians, has made a rare visit to the Israeli-occupied Jordan Valley and vowed to keep a military presence in that strategic strip of the West Bank. His tour of army facilities Tuesday was meant to underscore Israel's fears about popular revolts sweeping the Arab world — the possibility militants might infiltrate a destabilized Jordan, slip across the Jordan River into a Palestinian-governed West Bank and fire rockets at the Jewish state's major cities.

But the visit was also part of an effort by the Prime Minister to find consensus at home and support in Washington for a still-undefined peace initiative officials say he will soon offer the Palestinian Authority in an effort to break a long impasse in negotiations. "Our security border is here, on the Jordan River," Mr. Netanyahu said. "In any future situation, the Israeli Defence Force must stay here. If this was true before the major unrest shaking the Middle East, it is doubly true today."

His stance is not new, but the venue and timing of his remarks sent a message that his peace initiative wouldn't include territorial concessions to the Palestinians along the 100km border. Palestinian officials insisted again Tuesday that Israel must withdraw from all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as part of any accord. Israel captured those lands and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Six-Day War and withdrew from Gaza in 2005, only to come under increased rocket attacks from Gaza-based militants.

Mr Netanyahu's office leaked word of a peace initiative to the Israeli media last week. Some officials said he was weighing an offer of a provisional Palestinian state in as much as 60 per cent of the West Bank — a long-term deal that would serve until the two sides negotiate a full accord on final borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees and rival claims to Jerusalem. Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Israel should make a "daring" initiative, coupling an offer of provisional Palestinian statehood with "assurances about the final results." Otherwise, he said, Israel faces a "tsunami" of international condemnation.

Two other ministers in the conservative-led government, Silvan Shalom and Moshe Yaalon, said Israel should ignore pressure and not cede territory. They said the Palestinian Authority was too weak to protect its borders and Jordan's peace treaty with Israel may not survive the turmoil.

 
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets members of Congress following his address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC.
Source: AFP
Israeli PM sets bar too high for Abbas
The Australian
Brad Norington, Washington correspondent
Thursday, May 26, 2011

A NEGOTIATED Middle East peace looks no closer after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concluded his US visit declaring he was prepared to make "painful compromises" while baulking at almost all the key demands of Palestinians seeking statehood. After publicly jousting with President Barack Obama over his proposal for peace, Mr Netanyahu scored the final word in an address to congress yesterday.

He said he had stood before his people and declared his willingness to accept a Palestinian state, and it was now time for Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas to tell his people: "I will accept a Jewish state." "Those six words will change history," Mr Netanyahu said. "With those six words, the Israeli people will be prepared to make a far-reaching compromise. I will be prepared to make a far-reaching compromise."

But the Israeli Prime Minister also set conditions unacceptable to Palestinians by insisting Israel would retain large areas of the West Bank with Jewish settlements, accept no division of Jerusalem and keep an Israeli presence along the Jordan River. "Jerusalem will never again be divided," he said. "Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel." Mr Netanyahu said Palestinian refugees forced to leave Israel would not be allowed back. And he said Israel would refuse to restart negotiations with Palestinians until Mr Abbas walked away from a unity agreement between his Fatah Party and Hamas, which controls Gaza and has refused to recognise Israel.

Mr Netanyahu received a rousing welcome in the joint sitting of the US congress from Republicans and Democrats at the end of his Washington visit, which started last week with tensions over Mr Obama's proposal during a speech on change in the Middle East that a lasting peace should be based on pre-war 1967 borders with "agreed land swaps". The Israeli Prime Minister immediately rejected the idea as unacceptable and lectured Mr Obama on how it would make his country "indefensible". Despite toning down his objections after Mr Obama stressed that "1967 borders" was a flexible concept involving land swaps, Mr Netanyahu stuck to a firm position on boundaries yesterday while Mr Obama was in Europe. "We'll be generous about the size of the future Palestinian state, but … Israel will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967."

A spokesman for Mr Abbas yesterday said Mr Netanyahu's flat refusal to accept any Palestinian claims over parts of Jerusalem, no return of refugees and the retention of an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River could not bring a deal. Israel has also declined to give any guarantees on a partial freeze of further Jewish settlements on the West Bank territory in areas claimed by Palestinians. The impasse makes it almost impossible for peace talks to resume in the short term, and more likely that the Palestinian Authority will push for a vote by the UN General Assembly in September to declare Palestine an independent state. The vote, if it went ahead, would be most uncomfortable for Israel. Mr Obama has pledged he would not give his support in the UN, and that the US would use its veto power in the Security Council to block statehood without any Israeli agreement.

Mr Netanyahu received up to 25 standing ovations in congress yesterday with support on both sides of politics strong. But a poll in the Maariv newspaper found that the majority of Israelis believe Mr Netanyahu should have supported Mr Obama's outline. Ten per cent said he should have embraced the plan "with no reservations", another 46.8 per cent said he should have expressed support "but with reservations".

 

Palestinians zero in on UN membership
The Australian
AFP
Monday, August 15, 2011

RAMALLAH: The Palestinians are to present their bid for UN membership on September 20, despite Israeli and US opposition. "Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will personally present the request to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon … at the opening of the 66th session," Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said at the weekend. Mr Abbas would "insist on this historic initiative and Ban Ki-moon will present the request to the Security Council". A senior Israeli official, who requested anonymity, criticised the Palestinian decision. "Apparently Mahmoud Abbas has decided to refrain from conducting direct negotiations; this was expected and it's a shame," he said. "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to believe that the peace process can only progress through direct and real negotiations."

Mr Malki said the Palestinian Authority chose September because Lebanon, holding the rotating presidency of the Security Council, would be in a strong position to push the bid forward. "Lebanon will hold the presidency of the Security Council in September and this will help us because the president of the council has special prerogatives, which is crucial," he said.

Following the collapse of direct peace talks with Israel last year, the Palestinians have adopted a diplomatic strategy of looking to secure UN recognition for a state along the frontiers that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War. Mr Abbas has revealed he held four secret meetings with Israeli President Shimon Peres to try to find a compromise, but that Mr Netanyahu scuppered the efforts. The Palestinians had previously expressed their intention to ask the Security Council for UN membership in September, in the absence of negotiations with Israel before the UN General Assembly. But the US threatens to derail the Palestinian bid through its Security Council veto.

To circumvent the veto, the Palestinians could turn to the General Assembly, asking it to "raise (their) status to UN observer and non-member state". That formula would allow them to become a full member of all UN agencies, such as WHO, UNESCO and UNICEF, where the Palestinians have no presence. Mr Malki said he expected "more than 130 countries would recognise the state of Palestine" along 1967 borders. To resume talks, Palestine insists on a moratorium on new Jewish settlements, including in east Jerusalem. Despite international pressure, Israeli this week said it intended to continue building settlements in east Jerusalem.

 
Recep Erdogan
Erdogan cuts all ties with Israel
The Australian
AFP
Wednesday, September 7, 2011

ANKARA: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last night announced a total freeze of military and trade ties with Israel and threatened to visit Gaza. Only hours after Israel said the presence of its defence attache at the embassy in Ankara indicated there was no definitive break with Turkey, Mr Erdogan declared a suspension of all military and commercial relations. Despite pleas from top diplomats at the weekend to end the row between the two countries over last year's attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, Mr Erdogan berated the one-time ally for behaving like "a spoiled child".

Last week, Turkey said that Israeli ambassador Gaby Levy was being expelled and all military agreements were suspended, as it angrily rejected the findings of a UN probe into the deadly flotilla raid. In his first official reaction since that announcement, and on the eve of the expulsion, Mr Erdogan went even further. "We are totally suspending our trade, military and defence industry relations," he said. "Further sanctions" against Israel would follow.

Once Israel's closest friend in the Muslim world, Turkey has been increasingly critical since Mr Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party came to power in 2002. There was widespread outrage in May last year when eight Turkish nationals and an American of Turkish descent died on the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship of the six-vessel convoy taking aid to the Palestinian territory of Gaza, in a raid by Israeli special forces in international waters. A UN review led by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer has criticised the "excessive" force in the raid, but upheld Israel's right to impose a naval blockade on Gaza to prevent arms reaching Hamas.

Unlike other European countries which regard Hamas as a terrorist group, Turkey has refused to blacklist the Islamists, who are the rulers of Gaza, and Mr Erdogan said he may pay a visit to the territory, entering via neighbouring Egypt next week. "We are talking with the Egyptians on this matter … A trip to Gaza is not finalised yet," he said. Such a visit would infuriate Israel, but Mr Erdogan seemed in no mood for diplomacy. "Israel has always played the role of a spoiled child," he said in reference to its attitude towards the Palestinians.

Earlier, a senior Israeli defence official had sounded a warning to Turkey while saying that the military attache would remain in place in Ankara. "There's no break with Turkey: the proof is that our military attache in Ankara will remain in his office, and that consular services there will continue to function," Amos Gilad told public radio. "A solution to this crisis must be found." Major General Gilad said Israel should seek to resolve the crisis through its European, NATO and US connections.

In response to Mr Erdogan's comments, a senior official said the Jewish state did not want the relationship to deteriorate any further. "Over the past few months there have been numerous attempts to create a positive dynamic in keeping the relationship between Jerusalem and Ankara, but so far those efforts have not succeeded," he said.

Another official said the government was doing everything it could to prevent the relationship worsening by getting into a war of words with Ankara. But he admitted there was concern over the measures announced by Mr Erdogan. The official said Israel was talking with various parties about the possibility of containing the situation, without elaborating, adding the government had not yet decided how it would react if it judged the situation to be beyond repair.

 
Egyptian army officers arrest a suspected demonstrator at the site
of clashes between protesters and anti-riot policemen near the
Israeli embassy in Cairo. Picture: AP Source: AP
Israel eases tensions over embassy assault
The Australian
Abraham Rabinovich
Monday, September 12, 2011

JERUSALEM: The assault on the Israeli embassy by an enraged mob in Cairo over the weekend and the threatened lynching of six embassy personnel marked the first direct impact of the Arab Spring on Israel since revolution began sweeping the Arab world last December.

At least three Egyptians were killed and 1000 injured in daylong clashes between security forces and rioters during the attempts to break into the Israeli embassy building that ended on Saturday morning local time.

Both sides sought to ease tensions yesterday after Egypt cracked down on the unrest. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Saturday's siege as a "serious incident", but said his country was "committed to preserving peace with Egypt, which is in the interests of Egypt and Israel". The six Israeli security personnel were rescued after the intervention of US President Barack Obama prompted the military council ruling Egypt to send commandos to the embassy, 12 hours after the siege began.

The rescue, which ended shortly before dawn, was monitored in the Israeli Foreign Ministry's operations room in Jerusalem by Mr Netanyahu and senior ministers as well as the heads of all the Israeli security agencies. They were able to follow developments live via the security cameras in the embassy and telephone contact with the security guards. Efforts by Mr Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak to telephone the head of the Egyptian Supreme Military Council, Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi, failed after officials in Cairo said they were unable to locate him. Mr Barak then telephoned his counterpart in Washington, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, who got through to Field Marshal Tantawi. Mr Netanyahu, who called the White House, said he received a promise from Mr Obama "to do all I can".

The Egyptian commandos, in plain clothes, infiltrated the mob of protesters, who had made their way up to the 18th floor of the embassy building. By then, two heavy security doors on that floor had been smashed and the Israeli security guards had pulled back to an inner room, with only one metal door between them and the mob. Israeli officials said the security guards estimated it would take about half an hour before the door gave way, and they were authorised from Jerusalem to open fire if the mob broke in. They prevented the rioters from breaking in through the windows.

When the Egyptian commando leader estimated his men were in sufficient strength, they seized the rioters in the stairwell. Contact was made with the trapped Israeli guards, who were outfitted with Arab headwear and cloaks, and taken down to armoured vehicles parked at the entrance. They were whisked away to Cairo airport, where they boarded an Israeli air force plane along with ambassador Yitzhak Levanon and about 80 other Israelis, including the families of diplomats, and flown to Israel. A single Israeli diplomat, consul Yaakov Dvir, remains in Cairo to maintain an Israeli presence in the Egyptian capital.

Mr Netanyhahu refrained from criticising the Egyptian authorities for the attack in order not to exacerbate relations with Cairo, and praised the commando force that rescued the trapped embassy personnel. "The Middle East is undergoing an earthquake of historical proportions," he said, comparing the fallout from the Arab Spring with the reordering of the region after World War I. Responding to accusations he had aggravated the Arab unrest by blocking the Palestinians' demands, Mr Netanyhahu said the Arab world was being rocked by "deep undercurrents" that had nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The assault on the embassy was embarrassing for the Egyptian authorities and elicited statements of regret from senior officials. Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf offered his resignation, and that of his cabinet, for failure to protect the embassy but the offer was rejected by the military council. Information Minister Osama Hassan Heikal issued a sharp rebuke to the rioters, saying they had injured Egypt's pride and its international standing. "One cannot call the perpetrators of this act brave or patriotic," Mr Heikal said. Those involved would be tried before an emergency state security court, he said. "Egypt affirms its full commitment to respect international conventions, including the protection of all foreign missions."

 
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas hands over a formal letter for Palestine to be admitted as a state
to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York. Picture: AFP Source: AFP
Abbas, Netanyahu call for immediate peace talks at UN
The Australian Online
John Lyons, Middle East correspondent
Saturday, September 24, 2011

THE two leaders of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have called for the immediate resumption of stalled Middle East peace talks. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both made powerful appeals to an international audience in a diplomatic showdown at the United Nations. In an emotion-charged General Assembly of the UN, Mr Abbas addressed the chamber first, followed by Mr Netanyahu.

The tone was set when Israel?s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, walked out as Mr Abbas was being introduced - before he had spoken a word. When it came time for Mr Netanyahu to speak, the Palestinian delegation remained but the delegations from Iran, Lebanon and Syria were absent. During Mr Abbas' speech, a fight broke out in the public gallery and police had to intervene.

Mr Abbas said the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian people had "renounced violence and terrorism in all its forms". He said the time had come for Israel?s occupation of the West Bank, which it captured in the 1967 war, to end. "Our people are waiting to hear the answer of the world," he said. "Will it allow Israel to continue the last occupation in the world? We are the last people to remain under occupation. Will the world allow Israel to occupy us forever?"

Mr Abbas said Israel?s policy of expanding Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories embodied colonisation and brutality. "The loss of hope is the most ferocious enemy of peace," he said. "The time has come for our men, women and children to live normal lives, for them to be able to sleep without waiting for the worst that the next day will bring. For mothers to be sure their children will return home without fear of being arrested, for students to go to schools and universities without checkpoints obstructing them, for people to go to hospitals normally, for farmers to be able to take care of their land without fear of occupation, or fear of the settlers with their guard dogs who attack the Palestinians … they build on our lands their homes and uproot and burn olive trees that have existed in Palestine for hundreds of years."

Mr Netanyahu, in his address, called for an immediate meeting in the UN building with Mr Abbas. "I cannot make peace alone, I cannot make peace without you," he said. "President Abbas, I extend my hand, the hand of Israel, in peace, I hope you will clasp that hand, we are both the sons of Abraham … we share the same patriarch, we dwell in the same land, our destinies are intertwined." Mr Netanyahu said Israel and he wanted peace. "We cannot achieve peace through UN resolution but only through direct negotiations between the two parties," he said.

He said when Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip "the entire world applauded. (But) We didn?t get peace, we got war," he said. "We got Iran, which, through its proxy, Hamas, promptly kicked out the PA (Palestinian Authority.) Israelis rightly ask what?s to prevent this from happening again in the West Bank? Would any of you bring danger so close to your cities? Israel is prepared to have a Palestinian state in the West Bank but we?re not prepared to have another Gaza there."

Mr Netanyahu said settlements were not at the core of the conflict. "Our conflict has been raging for nearly half a century before there was a single Israeli settlement in the West Bank," he said. "The settlements are a result of the conflict, the settlements are an issue that has to be addressed and resolved in the course of negotiations but the core of conflict is and remains the refusal of Palestinians to recognise a Jewish state in any borders. Israel is the Jewish state. President Abbas, stop walking around this issue. Recognise the Jewish state and make peace with us … Israel is prepared to make painful concessions."

 
Noam Shalit hugs his son Gilad Shalit as Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu looks on at Tel Nof Airbase. Getty Images
Extract: Freedom at last for Israel's lost son
The Australian's front page headline
John Lyons, Middle East correspondent
Wednesday, October 19, 2011

PALE and thin, and wearing an Israeli army uniform several sizes too big, freed soldier Gilad Shalit has returned to his home town to a hero's welcome. After more than five years in solitary confinement in the Gaza Strip, a motorcade carrying Sergeant Major Shalit and his family was greeted by hundreds of well-wishers carrying Israeli flags. In one of the largest and most complicated prisoner swaps in history, Sergeant Major Shalit, 25, was transferred by Hamas through a crossing in Gaza into Egypt. He was then handed to Israeli army officers, who flew him to Tel Nof military base where his parents, Noam and Aviva, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waited for him.

"Hello Gilad, welcome back to Israel. It's so good to have you back home," Mr Netanyahu told the newly released soldier. As he presented Sergeant Major Shalit to his parents, Mr Netanyahu said: "I have returned your son home." In his first interview after leaving Gaza, Sergeant Major Shalit said he hoped his release would help improve relations between Israelis and Palestinians. He said he would like to see the release of the remaining thousands of Palestinian prisoners still in Israeli jails "on condition that they stop fighting against Israel". "I hope this deal will promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians," he told Egyptian state television.

Shalit was captured in 2006 by Hamas fighters when he was in a tank on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza. A corporal when seized, he was twice promoted while in captivity, most recently on Monday. At times during last night's interview, he looked pale, thin and stressed, and breathed heavily. He gave the interview shortly after being handed over by Hamas to Israeli officials as part of a deal under which 1027 Palestinians will be released.

In a carefully orchestrated series of exchanges, once it was confirmed Sergeant Major Shalit had left Gaza — just after dawn — 27 female Palestinian prisoners were released. Then 450 male prisoners were released. The remaining 550 will be released in coming days. The process began with Sergeant Major Shalit being driven by Hamas to the Rafah crossing on the border between Gaza and Egypt where he was handed to Egyptian officials. The deal proceeded after Israel's Supreme Court rejected an appeal on the basis that any delay could endanger Sergeant Major Shalit's life. Some relatives of Israelis killed in terrorist acts appealed against the release of prisoners involved in the killing of their relatives.

Opinion polls in Israel showed support of about 70 per cent for the deal. Given the central role of the army in Israel — serving for 18-year-olds is compulsory — the desire to bring a captured soldier home has outweighed concerns about some of those released. Mr Netanyahu, addressing the sentiment of relatives of those killed, said yesterday: "I know that you have a heavy heart, that your wounds have been opened anew these past days, that your thoughts are not at ease. The decision regarding Gilad Shalit was among the most difficult I have made." Israel is believed to have a further 5000 Palestinians in prison.

The Shalit family had since last year maintained a tent in Jerusalem to keep the case in the public eye.

 
US talks tough on Iran oil threat
The Australian
Martin Fletcher, The Times, AP, AFP
Friday, December 30, 2011

THE US military responded to an Iranian threat to close the oil artery of the world by declaring last night that such a move would be met by force. "The free flow of goods and services through the Strait of Hormuz is vital to regional and global prosperity," said a spokesman for the US Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain largely to keep the narrow sea lane open. "Anyone who threatens to disrupt freedom of navigation in an international strait is clearly outside the community of nations; any disruption will not be tolerated."

The blunt warning came after a senior Iranian official said that Tehran would close the Strait if the US and Europe proceeded with plans to curtail Iran's oil exports to deter its nuclear program. "If sanctions are adopted against Iranian oil, not a drop of oil will pass through the Strait of Hormuz," said Mohammad Reza Rahimi, an Iranian vice-president. "(Our) enemies will only abandon their plots when we give them a strong lesson." The threat helped send the price of oil above $100 a barrel on Tuesday night. Admiral Habibollah Sayari, Iran's naval chief, claimed yesterday that shutting the Strait would be "easier than drinking a glass of water". As he spoke, his navy continued 10 days of war games in the nearby Gulf of Oman, a show of force that has included testing torpedoes and mine-laying.

An Iranian official said yesterday that a US aircraft carrier had entered a zone near the Strait of Hormuz being used for the war games. "A US aircraft carrier was spotted inside the manoeuvre zone … by a navy reconnaissance aircraft," Commodore Mahmoud Mousavi, the spokesman for the Iranian exercises, told the official IRNA news agency. The Iranian aircraft took video and photographs of the US vessel, he added. The aircraft carrier was believed to be the USS John C. Stennis, one of the US navy's biggest warships

A sixth of the world's oil production passes through the Strait of Hormuz, which is bordered by Iran. It links the oil and gas-producing states of Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the Gulf to the Indian Ocean.

Western nations insisted that they would not be deterred from their efforts to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office dismissed Mr Rahimi's threat as rhetoric designed to distract attention from Iranian nuclear ambitions. "We will continue to pursue a dual track strategy of pressure and engagement until Iran convinces the international community that it is not pursuing (nuclear weapons)," it said.

A US State Department spokesman said the threat was "another attempt … to distract attention from the real issue, which is (Iran's) continued non-compliance with its international nuclear obligations". A spokesman for Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign affairs chief, said: "The EU is considering another set of sanctions against Iran and we continue to do that." France said the Strait was international water and demanded that Iran "respect international law".

The West has stepped up sanctions against Iran since the International Atomic Energy Agency published evidence last month that it was pursuing nuclear weapons, and is preparing for its most direct economic confrontation yet with the Islamic Republic. Britain, France and Germany are pushing for an EU oil embargo; a decision is expected on January 30.

The US Congress has approved — and President Obama will shortly sign — legislation blacklisting any entity doing business with Iran's central bank. That includes oil transactions. Those measures could devastate Iran's already dire economy, as OPEC's second largest exporter earns half its revenues from oil. However, blocking Iranian oil exports could also exacerbate the West's economic woes by raising oil prices. The EU and US have been urging other oil-producing states to increase their output to offset the loss of Iranian oil. A Saudi Oil Ministry official said yesterday that Gulf states were ready to do so, although analysts doubted that they could fully meet the shortfall.

While many analysts believe that Iran's warnings are little more than posturing, they still highlight the delicate nature of the oil market, which moves as much on rhetoric as supply and demand fundamentals. Iran relies on crude sales for about 80 per cent of its public revenues, and sanctions or even a pre-emptive measure by Tehran to withhold its crude from the market would batter its flailing economy. IHS Global Insight analyst Richard Cochrane said in a report yesterday that markets were "jittery over the possibility" of Iran's blockade. But "such action would also damage Iran's economy, and risk retaliation from the US and allies that could further escalate instability in the region".

 
Barack Obama in Washington with Defence Secretary Leon Panetta. Source: AFP
Israel to strike Iran within months: US
Weekend Australian
John Lyons, Middle East Correspondent
Additional reporting: The Times, Agencies
Saturday, February 4, 2012

THE US Defence Secretary believes Israel is poised to attack Iran in the first half of this year to stop Tehran's nuclear program, according to undisputed reports yesterday. The prospect of war in the Middle East emerged after Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported that Defence Secretary Leon Panetta saw "a strong likelihood" that Israel would strike Iran as early as April. Ignatius appears to have written the report after a background briefing in Brussels with Mr Panetta. Mr Panetta was asked yesterday to confirm whether this was his view, and he said he was not disputing it, but then added: "What I think and what I view, I consider that to be an area that belongs to me and nobody else."

The growing likelihood of an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities was echoed by a range of Israeli officials, including Defence Minister Ehud Barak. "If sanctions don't achieve the desired goal of stopping (Iran's) military nuclear program there will be a need to consider taking action," Mr Barak said. "A nuclear Iran will be more complicated to deal with, more dangerous and more costly in blood than if it were stopped today." Israel's vice-premier, Moshe Ya'alon, rejected suggestions that because many of Iran's facilities were underground they were not able to be hit. "From my military experience, human beings will know how to penetrate any installation protected by other human beings," he said. "Ultimately, all the facilities can be hit."

Mr Ya'alon was in the US last week for discussions on Iran's nuclear program, as was Tamir Pardo, the head of Israel's intelligence service, Mossad. Israel's greatest concern is that Iran will start to enrich uranium to weapons-grade level, which is 90 per cent, but in an underground facility that Israeli bunker-busting missiles will be incapable of reaching. At this point only the US, which has more penetrating bunker-busters, would be able to reach and damage the most deeply buried Iranian facilities. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated his reluctance to leave Israel's fate dependent solely on US action.

The US intelligence community has stated that Iran is yet to decide whether to build a bomb. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate committee hearing this week that the first sign of such a decision would be Iran's progress in enriching uranium to the 90 per cent grade. Iranian scientists have successfully enriched uranium to a 20 per cent level. Israel has said it is not prepared to wait for this decision. Ignatius wrote: "Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a 'zone of immunity' to commence building a nuclear bomb."

Mr Panetta and President Barack Obama had cautioned Israel that the US opposed an attack believing that it would derail an increasingly successful international economic sanctions program, but that the White House had yet to decide how the US would respond if Israel did attack. He said Israel believed a strike could be "limited and contained" and that Israel would bomb the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz and other targets. Iran, Ignatius wrote, would retaliate but Israel doubted it would be an overwhelming barrage, with rockets from Hezbollah in Lebanon. One estimate by the Netanyahu government said Israel might have to "absorb" 500 casualties.

Iran has repeatedly insisted its program is for civilian purposes, but enrichment is required to only 3 per cent for such purposes. A week ago the EU agreed to ban all imports of Iranian oil from July. The EU imports about 20 per cent of Iran's oil exports. British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg yesterday expressed concern about a possible military option. "Of course I worry that there will be a military conflict and that certain countries might seek to take matters into their own hands," he told Britain's The House magazine.

While in Israel there appears strong support for a military strike, there are also prominent voices of dissent. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan is leading these voices, warning against any such action for fear of its consequences. Over the past two years US officials have asked Israel not to take any such action while US combat troops remained in Iraq. The US combat mission ended last year.

Meanwhile, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported yesterday that Iran had launched an observation satellite into space.

 
US bolsters its Gulf forces to take on Iran
The Australian
Adam Entous, Julian E. Barnes, Washington, The Wall Street Journal
Monday, February 27, 2012

The Pentagon is beefing up US sea- and land-based defences in the Persian Gulf to counter any attempt by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz. The US military has notified congress of plans to position new mine-detection and clearing equipment and expand surveillance capabilities in and around the strait, according to defence officials briefed on the requests, including one submitted earlier this month. The military also wants to quickly modify weapons systems on ships so they could be used against Iranian fast-attack boats, as well as shore-launched cruise missiles, the defence officials said.

The readiness push is spearheaded by the military's Central Command, which oversees US forces in the Gulf region, these officials said. It shows the extent to which war planners are taking tangible steps to prepare for a possible conflict with Iran, even as top White House and defence leaders try to tamp down talk of war and emphasize other options.

The changes put a spotlight on what officials have singled out as potential US shortcomings in the event of conflict with Iran. The head of Central Command, Marine General James Mattis, asked for the equipment upgrades after reviews by war planners last northern spring and autumn exposed "gaps" in US defence capabilities and military preparedness should Tehran close the Strait of Hormuz, officials said. The Central Command reviews, in particular, have fuelled concerns about the US military's ability to respond swiftly should Iran mine the strait, through which nearly 20% of the world's traded oil passes. "When the enemy shows more signs of capability, we ask what we can do to checkmate it," a US military officer said. "They ought to know we take steps to make sure we are ready."

Tensions with Iran have soared as the US and its allies have tightened sanctions against the country over its nuclear program. Tehran has responded by threatening to close the strait. Israel has accused Iran of being behind a recent series of botched bombing plots targeting Israeli diplomats, a charge Iran denies. Iranian officials, in turn, accuse Israel and the US of conducting a secret campaign to assassinate scientists working on Iran's nuclear program. The US has denied the accusation, while Israel has declined to comment.

New suspicions over Iran's nuclear ambitions emerged over the weekend. In a report, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, said Iran had increased its stockpile of uranium enriched beyond the level needed for civilian power reactors, and begun producing it under a mountain that some US and Israeli officials say could be immune from attack.

Iran denies it is trying to build atomic weapons. It refused last week to allow UN inspectors access to suspected weapons sites. The US is concerned that Israel — which believes that Tehran will soon be able to assemble a weapon — may choose to strike Iran by this northern autumn to stymie such a program. That, defence officials worry, could provoke retaliation that could prompt US military action to defend its troops and allies, and to keep the Strait of Hormuz open.

The US moves outline the potential shape of a conflict between Iran and the West: Iran could rapidly mine the strait and use heavily armed speedboats to attack or ram Western ships trying to clear the waterway. A successful Iranian attack on a US warship could drag America into a larger conflict. According to defence officials, the Pentagon submitted a request to Congress on February 7 on behalf of Central Command seeking to reallocate $US100 million ($93m) in defence funding to "bridge near-term capability gaps" in the Persian Gulf.

STRATEGIC GULF

US forces are beefing up to face a possible threat from Iran. Among the upgrades the military has requested:

Torpedoes, torpedo defences

Fast-boat defence

Mine defence

Improve surveillance capability

Source: US Department of Defence, WSJ

 
Tehran flexes ahead of summit
The Australian
AFP
Tuesday, August 28, 2012

TEHRAN: Iran yesterday was deploying formidable security around a Non-Aligned Movement meeting preparing for a summit later this week that Tehran is determined to use to bolster its international status. About 110,000 police have been dispatched around the country, many to man street corners and ubiquitous vehicle inspection points in the capital. The uniformed presence underlined Iran's intent to ensure nothing upsets an event that Iran is portraying as a diplomatic coup against US-led pressure. Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, is expected to reinforce that message when he opens the two-day NAM summit on Thursday.

The NAM, a Cold War grouping founded in 1961, has 120 members that represent most of the developing world and see themselves as independent of Washington and Moscow. Although the organisation had increasingly been viewed as an anachronism in the past couple of decades, Iran seeks to revive it as a counterweight to perceived domineering by permanent UN Security Council members Britain, France, China, Russia and, especially, the US. "We share the concern of many members that the UN Security Council has increasing power in the face of decreasing power in the (UN) General Assembly," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said yesterday as he opened the NAM preparatory meetings.

Delegations were likely to have their attention focused on Syria's 17-month uprising, however. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is to make another stab during the summit by talking with Iranian officials about his idea of a contact group on Syria. Its members would include Iran, which backs the Damascus regime, and Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which support the Syrian opposition. "If this group succeeds, Iran would be part of the solution and not the problem," Mr Morsi's spokesman, Yassir Ali, said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would not be going to Tehran for the summit. Instead, he would send his Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. But Assad said "he would welcome efforts Iran can make to solve Syria's problems", on condition that countries supporting Syria's rebels "exert pressure on them to stop the bloodshed and violence," spokesman Aladin Borujerdi said.

Mr Morsi's presence would also be notable in that it would be the first by an Egyptian leader to Iran since diplomatic relations were broken in 1979, after Cairo hosted Iran's toppled shah and signed a peace accord with Israel. Mr Ali said Mr Morsi's visit in Tehran would last just "a few hours" and "no other subject is expected" to be broached, specifically any concerning the resumption of diplomatic ties.

Iran's defence of the Palestinian cause was also certain to be raised. Ayatollah Khamenei and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have repeatedly called Israel a "cancerous tumour" that should be excised from the Middle East, with "Palestine" replacing it. Iran is also keen to use the summit to gather support for its nuclear program, which is the source of a fraught showdown between it and the West. Mr Salehi yesterday said he expected the summit to voice support for Iran's "legitimate rights" to nuclear activities.

 
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi Source: AP
Islamist Morsi emerges as Israel's protector
The Australian
AP
Friday, November 23, 2012

CAIRO: The Gaza ceasefire deal marks a startling trajectory for Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi: an Islamist leader who refuses to talk to Israelis or even say the country's name mediated for it and finally turned himself into the Jewish state's de facto protector. The accord, reached yesterday, inserts Egypt to an unprecedented degree into the conflict between Israel and Hamas, establishing it as the arbiter ensuring that militant rocket fire into Israel stops and that Israel allows the opening of the long-blockaded Gaza Strip and stops attacks against Hamas. Mr Morsi emerged as a major regional player, winning the trust of the US and Israel, which once worried over the Islamist's rise.

"I want to thank President Morsi for his personal leadership to de-escalate the situation in Gaza and end the violence," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a Cairo press conference announcing the deal.

After Israel launched its assault on Gaza last week, aimed at stopping militant rocket fire, Mr Morsi's palace in a Cairo suburb became the Middle East's diplomacy central. He held talks with Turkey's Prime Minister and the emir of Qatar, Germany's Foreign Minister and a host of top Arab officials to get them behind his mediation. An Israeli envoy flew secretly into Cairo for talks with Egyptian security officials, though Mr Morsi did not meet or speak directly with any Israelis.

Mr Morsi hails from the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most powerful political group and Hamas's parent organisation. Brotherhood leaders, including Mr Morsi, refuse to speak to Israeli officials. Mr Morsi has not even said the name of the country publicly since he was inaugurated in June, though he has referred to its people as "Israelis". In ideology, the Brotherhood supports the use of force against Israel to liberate "Muslim lands". The group opposes Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel. But since coming to power, the Brotherhood has had to yield to pragmatism. The group and Mr Morsi have promised to abide by the peace accord.

Mr Morsi also handled the Gaza conflict in a way starkly contrasting with his ousted predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. An ally of Israel and deeply opposed to Hamas, Mr Mubarak's regime helped Israel blockade Gaza after Hamas seized the territory in 2007. When Israel and Hamas last went to war in 2008, Mr Mubarak was accused of secretly supporting Israel's ground offensive. During that offensive, Mr Mubarak kept the sole border passenger crossing between Egypt and Gaza mostly shut, preventing some of the more seriously wounded Palestinians from receiving treatment in Egyptian hospitals. Mr Mubarak's regime was also wary of any deals that would legitimise Hamas's rule in Gaza. Mr Mubarak feared that a strong Hamas would embolden Islamists at home, particularly his nemesis, the Brotherhood.

 

Extract: Palestinians win UN recognition
The Australian Online
AFP 11:19am
Friday, November 30, 2012

THE UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to recognise Palestine as a non-member state, handing a major triumph to president Mahmud Abbas in the face of fierce US and Israeli opposition. Mr Abbas demanded the United Nations give a "birth certificate" to a Palestinian state and was rewarded with the backing of 138 countries. Only nine members heeded Israeli warnings that the move could lead to more violence and voted against.

Australia was among 41 countries which abstained, after opposition from Labor MPs forced Julia Gillard to abandon plans to vote against granting Palestine UN observer status. The UN vote lifts the status of the Palestinian Authority from an observer entity to a "non-member observer state" with the same status as the Vatican. Even though it is not a full member it can now join UN agencies and potentially join the International Criminal Court.

Israel immediately condemned Mr Abbas's speech to the General Assembly ahead of the vote as "defamatory and venomous." "The world watched a defamatory and venomous speech that was full of mendacious propaganda against the IDF (army) and the citizens of Israel," said a statement issued by the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton slammed the UN vote as "unfortunate and counterproductive", saying it "places further obstacles in the path to peace".

The vote comes 10 days after a ceasefire ended a brief but bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that holds sway in the Gaza Strip and is a rival of Mr Abbas and his West Bank-based Fatah faction. The landmark General Assembly meeting was held on the 65th anniversary of a UN resolution on the division of the Palestinian territories into a two-state solution that Mr Ban said "remains tragically unfulfilled."

The Palestinians say 132 countries now recognize their state bilaterally and said the result was a boost. Several countries which do not recognise the Palestinian state, such as France, voted for the resolution. But several European countries, including some backing the bid, believe the Palestinians should have waited until after US President Barack Obama installed his new administration and Israel held elections, diplomats said. Success gives the Palestinians access to UN agencies and treaties but there are divided opinions over whether they will be able to automatically join the ICC. Palestinian envoys have said Mr Abbas will not rush to join the court but could use it if Israel does not change its policies on settlements and other matters.

Iran, Hezbollah build Syria militia
Weekend Australian
Richard Beeston, The Times
Saturday, March 16, 2013

IRAN and its ally Hezbollah are building a new paramilitary force of tens of thousands of Syrian fighters, Israeli officials have warned, as the Syrian government army withers under the strain of a two-year civil war. Major General Aviv Kochavi, the head of Israeli military intelligence, says Iran and Hezbollah are preparing the force to protect their interests in a chaotic post-Assad Syria. As Syrian rebels close in on the country's main cities and military installations, he said President Bashar al-Assad had made "advanced preparations" for his chemical weapons but had not given the order to use them.

The warning came as the International Institute of Strategic Studies, a leading British defence think tank, said the Syrian army could now rely on only 50,000 effective troops, out of a former force of 220,000. The institute warned of a potential next phase to the conflict in which the Assad regime would become "just the strongest faction among many", while regional states were sucked in to deal with the threat of weapons proliferation and heavily armed militias. "There is a considerable risk that a rapid end to the conflict is likely to be as destabilising as its prolongation," it said.

General Kochavi said that Tehran and Hezbollah, its Lebanese-based Shia militia ally, were repositioning for such a conflict. "Iran is losing a sole ally in the region surrounding Israel," he said. "It will lose the ability to transfer weaponry through Syria to Hezbollah. Iran and Hezbollah are both doing all in their power to assist Assad's regime. "Most recently, they are establishing a popular army, trained by Hezbollah and financed by Iran, currently consisting of 50,000 men, with plans to increase to 100,000. Iran and Hezbollah are also preparing for the day after Assad's fall, when they will use this army to protect their assets and interest in Syria."

Shia Alawites comprise the bulk of the armed forces and are equipped with modern weaponry, including Russian warplanes, and sophisticated surface-to-surface and anti-aircraft missiles. It also has a large chemical weapons stockpile scattered at 30-40 sites. Israeli military sources said they would intervene militarily to prevent munitions passing to either Hezbollah or al-Qa'ida-linked Sunni militants who oppose Israel.

"If Assad falls and Hezbollah tries to put its hands on Syrian weapons, we will bomb Hezbollah," an Israeli military source said. "Israel cannot allow advanced military systems to fall into the hands of terrorists in Lebanon." Western diplomats in Israel said they feared that another war between Israel and Hezbollah was "inevitable".

Meanwhile, Britain and France are joining to push for a way to arm the Syrian opposition. British Prime Minister David Cameron indicated this week that he and French President Francois Hollande would go it alone if they could not persuade the EU to lift the arms embargo that prevents provision of weapons to either Syria's government forces or rebels. Speaking at a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels overnight, on the second anniversary of the uprising, Mr Cameron and Mr Hollande were to argue that the embargo unwittingly favours the regime, which receives support and equipment from Iran and Russia. "There is a perversity about the arms embargo," a Downing Street official said. "It does not stop those aiding Assad but it does stop EU countries aiding the people against whom Assad is waging a brutal and terrorising war."

 
Mid-East talks held in secret
The Australian
AP
Friday, August 16, 2013

WITH tensions high and expectations low, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators kicked off their first substantive round of peace talks in nearly five years, huddling together at an undisclosed location yesterday in search of an end to decades of conflict. The meeting was cloaked in secrecy, an attempt by both sides to prevent leaks to the media and maintain trust. Officials would say only that the talks took place in Jerusalem, and there was no immediate comment from either side. The Israeli government released a brief video showing the chief negotiators shaking hands as the talks continued into the evening.

Ahead of the meeting, signs of trouble had already emerged. A new Israeli push to build hundreds of new homes in Jewish settlements and fresh fighting in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip underscored the tough road ahead. "We are committed to making the effort, for the sake of Israel and for Israel's values," Israel's chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni, said before the talks began. "It will be complicated and complex, but I am not giving up."

Both sides confirmed the meeting had ended after several hours. A Palestinian official said they had agreed to meet weekly, alternating between Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Jericho. The Palestinians see Israel's continued construction of settlements, now home to more than 500,000 Israelis, as undermining hopes of dividing the land between two states, a view that is overwhelmingly shared by the international community. Israeli announcements in recent days of plans to build more than 3000 settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem have only fuelled Palestinian mistrust.

"The talks might collapse any time because of the Israeli practices," Yasser Abed Rabbo, a Palestinian adviser, told Voice of Palestine radio.

 
Kerry denies Israel comment
The Australian
AFP
Wednesday, April 30, 2014

JERUSALEM: Washington's deadline for reaching a Middle East peace deal arrived yesterday with no breakthrough and with US Secretary of State John Kerry mired in a row over allegations he said Israel risked becoming an ?apartheid state?. After more than a year of intensive shuttle diplomacy by Mr Kerry, with the initial aim of brokering a deal by April 29, Washington?s patience appeared to be growing thin as Israel and the Palestinians moved to distance themselves from the crisis-hit talks.

He vehemently denied calling Israel an apartheid state, as a furore grew in Israel over comments he reportedly made during a private meeting. ?I do not believe, not have I ever stated, publicly or privately that Israel is an apartheid state or that it intends to become one,? Mr Kerry said after calls for him to resign or at least apologise for the alleged comments, which appeared on US online news site The Daily Beast.

Mr Kerry, who has seen his dogged efforts to broker a peace between Israel and the Palestinians collapse, did suggest he had used a poor choice of words during his speech on Friday to political experts at the Trilateral Commission. He insisted that although the peace process was at a point of ?confrontation and hiatus?, it was not dead — yet. The Palestinians and the Israelis appear to have drawn their own conclusions.

Last week, Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip announced a surprise unity deal aimed at ending years of occasionally violent rivalry. Israel denounced the deal as a death blow to peace hopes and said it would not negotiate with any government backed by Hamas, the Islamist movement whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel. Washington called the deal ?unhelpful?.

Under the agreement, the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Hamas will work to establish a new unity government of political independents headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah party dominates the PLO. Mr Abbas has said the new government would recognise Israel, as well as renouncing violence and abiding by existing agreements, in line with key principles set out by the Middle East peacemaking Quartet. Mr Netanyahu has ruled out negotiation with the new government unless Hamas gives up its vision of destroying Israel.

Mr Kerry reportedly said if Israel failed to seize the opportunity to make peace soon, it risked becoming an ?apartheid state?. The Daily Beast said it had a recording of the Kerry speech.

 
Palestinians call on world to help block settlements
The Australian
Catherine Philp
The Times, AFP
Saturday, June 7, 2014

JERUSALEM: Palestinians appealed to the outside world to intervene on their behalf yesterday after Israel announced plans to build more than 3000 settlement homes in retaliation for the formation of a government backed by Hamas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would end a freeze on plans for 1800 settler homes suspended in the past three months, hours after the government announced tenders for 1500 new Jewish homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Housing Minister Uri Ariel called the plans ?a fitting Zionist response to the establishment of the Palestinian government of terror?, adding: ?I believe these tenders are just the beginning".

Palestinian officials called on Washington to punish Israel for its move and pledged to seek censure at the UN and other international bodies, including the International Criminal Court, against continued settlement building on occupied Arab land.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the announcement was ?a clear sign that Israel is moving towards a major escalation? against the Palestinians. ?It is time to hold Israel accountable in front of international organisations,? he said. ?Those who fear the international courts should stop their war crimes against the Palestinian people, first and foremost of which is settlement activity.?

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said the Palestinians would seek resolutions condemning the settlement building in the UN General Assembly and Security Council, despite the strong likelihood of a US veto. Ms Ashrawi said: The executive committee of the PLO views this latest escalation with the utmost seriousness and will counter it by addressing both the UN Security Council and the General Assembly as the proper way of curbing this grave violation and ensuring accountability."

UN chief Ban Ki-moon was ?deeply concerned? by the reports. ?The secretary-general calls on Israel to heed the calls of the international community to freeze settlement activity and abide by its commitments under international law and the roadmap,? Mr Ban?s spokesman said. The EU said it was ?deeply disappointed? by Israeli plans and called for the decision to be overturned. ?We call on the Israeli authorities to reverse this decision and to direct all their efforts towards an early resumption of the peace talks,? the EU said in a statement.

Israel, however, rejected the criticism, and an unnamed official said in a statement it was ?strange" there were members of the international community who said a Palestinian unity government, backed by the militant Hamas movement, could promote peace. ?At the same time, there are those in the international community who say that construction in Jerusalem, Israel?s capital, and other sites even the Palestinians know will stay under Israeli sovereignty in any future agreement, are moves that should be taken back," the statement read.

A Palestinian official said the Palestinians were also poised to pursue their case at the ICC. Palestine is eligible to seek membership of the court, but put off doing so while US sponsored negotiations with Israel, which ended in April, were under way.

The moves came with a growing dispute between Israel and the outside world over the formation of the new Palestinian government, which was sworn in on Monday after a reconciliation deal between the PLO in the West Bank and Hamas, the Islamist militant group, in control of Gaza. Israel had urged its allies not to recognise the new government because it is backed by Hamas, proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the EU, the US and most of the Western world. Its entreaties were largely ignored.

 
Boy killed as Israel sweeps for teens
Weekend Australian
AFP
Saturday, June 21, 2014

GAZA: Israeli soldiers killed a 14-year-old Palestinian in the occupied West Bank yesterday as they cracked down on the Islamist movement Hamas in their search for three missing teenagers. Troops also wounded two Palestinians in a refugee camp just outside Jerusalem, medical sources said, as clashes flared during the military operation in which forces have detained 330 Palestinians over the past week.

Israel accuses Hamas of kidnapping two 16-year-olds and a 19-year-old who went missing at a hitchhiking stop in the West Bank, an allegation the Islamist group has dismissed. But Israel seized on the opportunity to drive a wedge between Hamas and the Palestinian leadership, who formed a merged administration for the West Bank and Gaza Strip just this month for the first time in seven years.

Palestinian security and medical sources said 15-year-old ?Mohammed Dudin was shot in the chest in a clash that erupted after Israeli soldiers arrived to conduct arrests in the village of Dura, south of the West Bank city of Hebron. Mohammed was taken to hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. The army said villagers had thrown stones and petrol bombs at troops on an arrest mission in Dura, and that soldiers had responded with live fire. A spokeswoman said the army was examining the reports of teen?s death. In Qalandia refugee camp just north of Jerusalem, troops shot and wounded two young Palestinians, medics said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, the head of the new unity government appointed on June 2, attended the main weekly Muslim prayers in Hebron later yesterday, but the army prevented him from attending Mohammed ?s burial in Dura. Hamas has lashed out at the Palestinian leadership for its decision to maintain security co-ordination with Israel despite the massive wave of searches and arrests.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al Malki accused Israel of an ?exaggerated? response, and questioned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?s assertion that Hamas was behind the abductions. "He cannot keep blaming one side without showing evidence," Mr Malki said. "Three kids have disappeared, but in exchange for that the Israeli army has taken 300 Palestinians," he said. "Their reaction went beyond logic."

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said, meanwhile, that Israel?s ?working assumption? was that ?the abductees are alive, until proven otherwise?. Speaking to security forces in the West Bank, Mr Yaalon said: ?We have no intention to sow unrest on the ground — we are acting responsibly.?

Israeli troops also carried out search and arrest operations overnight in the Dheisheh refugee camp, near Bethlehem, and in Arura, north of Ramallah, detaining 25 suspects and searching about 200 premises. Troops were faced with ?sporadic confrontations? in the form of ?rocks, explosives and flammable devices? and responded to ?the life-endangering threat with live fire", it said. Since the start of the operation last week, troops have ?scanned about 1150 locations in search for the abducted boys and for terror elements". ?Approximately 330 suspects were detained, out of which 240 (are) terrorists associated with Hamas,? the army said.

On Thursday, the Israeli military also carried out a series of air strikes in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for rocket fire against southern Israel, wounding six people, four of them children, Palestinian medics said.

 
Israelis gather for a candlelit vigil after learning that the bodies of the teenagers had been found. Source: AP
Israel vows revenge as bodies found
The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East Correspondent
Additional reporting: Agencies
Wednesday, July 2, 2014

ISRAEL and Hamas last night were braced for a major escalation of hostilities after the bodies of three Israeli teenagers were found more than two weeks after they went missing. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed ?Hamas will pay? while Hamas said any new attack would ?open the gates of hell?.

?They were abducted and murdered in cold blood by human animals,? Mr Netanyahu said. Israelis were devastated by the news, having held scores of prayer vigils and rallies calling for their safe return. Only the night before they were found the mothers of the three teenagers attended a large prayer vigil in Tel Aviv.

After an 18-day search across the West Bank, or Palestinian territories, the three bodies were found under rocks in a pit near Hebron, a 10-minute drive from where they were kidnapped. The leader of the Shas religious party, Arye Deri, said: ?All of Israel is mourning tonight with the three bereaved families who showed us all what faith and strength through Judaism means.? The case has dominated Israel?s news and public discussion since the disappearances on June 12.

Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, were kidnapped while trying to get a ride at a popular hitchhiking spot near the settlement of Gush Etzion. They had been studying at their yeshivas in the West Bank and trying to return to their homes in Israel. One managed to make a call to police saying he had been kidnapped but the operator thought it was a hoax and ignored it. Hamas has denied any involvement but Mr Netanyahu insists he has evidence that they were involved. ?Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay,? he said.

Last night the Israeli army planted explosives around the home of one of the men they said was responsible and destroyed it. The IDF also bombed 34 targets in the Gaza Strip — which is controlled by Hamas — but said this was in response to rocket fire, not the kidnappings.

The discovery of the bodies inflamed tensions in Jerusalem. Israeli army radio reported that a Palestinian youth was attacked by a group of Jews in the centre of Jerusalem and that a Palestinian taxi driver was attacked with tear gas.

US President Barack Obama condemned ?this senseless act of terror against innocent youth?. Israeli Defence Forces spokesman Brigadier General Moti Almoz said: ?We are determined to strike at Hamas and to attack any target connected to Hamas and to reach the kidnappers and their helpers.?

Several groups in Israel warned against collective punishment. Israeli human rights group B?Tselem said collective punishment had been employed by Israel during the search for the perpetrators — which included the killing of five Palestinians. The leader of the Meretz party, Zahava Gal-On, said: ?There should be a distinction between the perpetrators, who should be punished to the full extent of the law, and the moderate forces in the Palestinian Authority.?

 
Israeli artillery strikes a Hamas police building during an airstrike in Gaza City,
in which up to 25 Palestinians, including eight children, were killed.Source: AFP
Extract - Crisis escalates as Israel strikes Gaza
The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East Correspondent
Additional reporting: Agencies
Thursday, July 10, 2014

AT least 41 Palestinians, including eight children, have been killed by a massive Israeli bombing offensive on the Gaza Strip. As hostilities between Israel and Hamas dramatically escalated, Palestinian officials said 17 of those killed were civilians and the rests were Hamas fighters. Israeli jets and naval boats hit about 160 targets in Gaza as Hamas fired about 130 rockets into Israel. Air-raid sirens sounded in several cities in Israel, including Jerusalem.

Most of the rockets fired by Hamas were intercepted by Israel?s ?Iron Dome? — a sophisticated antimissile system that detects missiles within seconds of being fired and then fires its own missile to obliterate the incoming missile. Public bomb shelters were opened in most cities and there were no known Israeli casualties.

Hamas?s rocket attacks appeared more organised than in previous wars with Israel — they fired rockets at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem simultaneously. It appeared that the long-range rockets being used by Hamas were M-75 missiles — Gazan-made versions of the Iranian Fajr-5 missiles. Four M-75 missiles were fired towards Tel Aviv and were all intercepted. One missile travelled as far as Hadera, about 100km from Gaza — the furthest ever recorded for a rocket from Gaza.

Israel continued to prepare for a possible ground invasion of Gaza, with about 40,000 reservists having been called up. In an address to Israelis, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was not eager for battle but the security of its citizens took precedence over all else. ?From the perspective of the terrorist organisations all of Israel is part of one front, and all Israeli citizens are targets,? he said.

In the past Mr Netanyahu has been reluctant to authorise a ground invasion of Gaza as inevitably it would result in more casualties than would air strikes. Gaza is densely populated and would allow Hamas to engage in urban warfare and the heavy use of snipers. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on the international community to pressure Israel to stop the Gaza offensive. The Defence for Children International organisation said the death and injury to children in Gaza showed Israel?s ?serious and extensive disregard of fundamental principles of international law.?

Many on the right of Israeli politics, such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, are urging a ground invasion as they say Israel did not ?finish the job? of destroying Hamas and its infrastructure in previous wars. But centrist members of the cabinet, such as Finance Minister Yair Lapid, are warning that there may be worse alternatives than Hamas — an apparent reference to various Salafist groups in Gaza. ?Hamas is weak on such a level that we have to also examine all the possible scenarios in the event that Hamas falls and someone fills the vacuum that is created,? Mr Lapid said.

 

Same Day
Israel faces calls to halt raids, rockets
AP, AFP

AMMAN: One of just two Arab countries to have signed a peace treaty with Israel demanded Wednesday an immediate halt to deadly Israeli air raids against the Gaza Strip, condemning the raids as ?barbaric? and calling for international intervention. Jordan ?condemns the military aggression that Israel has launched in the Gaza Strip? and calls for ?its immediate halt?, said government spokesman Mohammad Momani. "Jordan demands Israel stop all forms of escalation".

"The international community should actively intervene to stop the Israeli aggression,? Mr Momani said. ?The Israeli actions violate international laws and obstruct peace efforts in the region.?

Meanwhile, the US condemned Israel?s rocket fire as the ?deliberate targeting of civilians? by militants. The European Union also denounced the ?indiscriminate? fire from Gaza and the ?growing number of civilian casualties … caused by Israeli retaliatory fire? and demanded an immediate ceasefire.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged Hamas to halt its attacks, while Turkey called for an immediate end to the Israel assault. The Arab League, meanwhile, called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting on the crisis. An official said the league?s UN representative had been instructed ?to initiate urgent consultations? to this end.

 
Extract: Israel launches ground operation in Gaza
Hamas says Israel to 'pay a heavy price'
By Ralph Ellis, Ben Wedeman and Michael Pearson, CNN
Friday, July 18, 2014 — Updated 9:35am (AEST)

Gaza City (CNN) The Israeli military launched a ground operation into Gaza late Thursday and called an extra 18,000 reservists into the conflict with Hamas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon ordered the ground action to destroy tunnels from Gaza into Israeli territory, according to a statement from Netanyahu's media adviser. Thirteen Hamas militants used a tunnel earlier Thursday to launch an attempted attack in Sufa, near an Israeli kibbutz, but were stopped by Israeli soldiers, the Israel Defense Forces reported.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked Mark Regev, Netanyahu's spokesman, whether Israel planned to occupy Gaza for a long time. Regev didn't answer directly, but said Israel's goals are to "diminish" the Hamas military force and to show Hamas it cannot attack Israel with impunity. "We have hit Hamas hard, and we will continue to hit Hamas hard," the Israel Defense Forces tweeted.

Hamas immediately condemned the Israeli operation. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told CNN that "the beginning of the Israeli ground invasion of Gaza is a dangerous step with unknown consequences. Israel will pay a heavy price for it." Later, appearing on Aqsa TV, Barhoum said, "the resistance will confront the Israeli ground invasion and will defend the people of Gaza." He said Hamas military forces are "far stronger" than in 2009 and 2012, when Hamas and Israel clashed. Militants are prepared to capture Israel soldiers and use them to trade for some of 5,000 prisoners in Israeli jails, Barhoum said.

CNN's Palestinian security sources said Israeli tanks have reached Abu Holeh and that Israeli troops are clashing with Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters along the Kissufim road. Abu Holeh is about in the center of Gaza, said CNN reporter Ben Wedeman. If Israeli forces go from there to the sea they can split Gaza as they did during the 2009 ground operation, Wedeman said. Wedeman said Israeli forces struck near a mosque in Gaza City's Zaitoun neighborhood, which has been pounded since start of bombing, with many casualties reported. Before this incursion, the IDF dropped leaflets in 14 areas of Gaza, urging residents to temporarily leave their homes.

That fighting began after a temporary cease-fire ended earlier in the day. Israel and Hamas had agreed to a five-hour United Nations brokered "humanitarian" pause Wednesday in order to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza. In a statement Wednesday, the Israeli military had said it would hold its fire for five hours starting at 10:00am local time on Thursday under a plan to allow Palestinians to restock food, water and other necessities, The Associated Press reported. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Gaza militants decided to respect the pause and would refrain from firing rockets during that time.

Egypt, which had been trying to broker a permanent cease-fire, said Thursday, "If Hamas had accepted the truce Palestinian lives could have been saved." Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Al-Arabi had held talks in Cairo aimed at reaching a permanent cease-fire agreement.

During Thursday's temporary cease-fire, Gaza banks opened for the first time in 10 days. Residents poured into the streets. Red Cross officials visited hospitals and damaged houses to assess medical needs, and worked with local officials to fix water pipelines. Some work was also done to repair power lines, the United Nations said. At least 10 to 15 trucks entered Gaza through the Karem Shalom border crossing once it opened at 1pm (8pm AEST), according to Ra'ed Fatooh, the Palestinian official in charge of the crossing in Gaza. Goods were limited to medical supplies and basic foodstuffs such as rice, sugar, oil, canned food, flour and other basic goods, he said.

Fallout continued from the deaths the day before of four cousins ages 9 to 11 who died in an Israeli military strike on a Gaza beach. The results of a preliminary investigation suggests the deaths were the result of a "a tragic misidentification of the target," Regev told CNN. "We didn't want to kill those four boys. That was not our intention," Regev said. "I'd even say the opposite is true. Had we known that that missile was aimed at four young men like that we would have not sent the missile."

A Hamas official called the killings a "war crime." "Those children were not firing rockets, they were just playing," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zhuri told reporters Wednesday. Regev, however, said a legitimate Hamas target was nearby, highlighting what he called a "complex combat environment" in crowded Gaza City and surrounding areas. Israeli officials say militants often use mosques, schools and other crowded places to hide rockets and other weapons.

 
Extract: Gaza ceasefire holding: crowds celebrate
Sydney Morning Herald
Wednesday, August 27, 2014 — Updated 9.21am (AEST), 2.21am (Israel time)

A ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians aimed at ending their seven-week conflict in Gaza appears to be holding as the focus shifts to securing an arrangement for the long term. No clear victor emerged from what had become a war of attrition between the Middle East's most powerful armed forces and the dominant Hamas militant movement in the Gaza Strip.

Exacting a heavy toll in Palestinian lives and property, Israel said it dealt a strong blow to Hamas, killing several of its military leaders and destroying the group's cross-border infiltration tunnels. But Israel also faced persistent rocket fire for nearly two months that caused an exodus from a number of border communities and became part of daily life in its commercial heartland.

Palestinian and Egyptian officials said the deal, which was mediated in Cairo and took effect on Tuesday evening (2.00am Wednesday morning AEST), called for an indefinite halt to hostilities, the immediate opening of Gaza's blockaded crossings with Israel and Egypt and a widening of the territory's fishing zone in the Mediterranean. A senior official of the Islamist group Hamas, which runs Gaza, voiced willingness for the security forces of Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the unity government he formed in June to control the passage points.

Both Israel and Egypt view Hamas as a security threat and are seeking guarantees that weapons will not enter the territory of 1.8 million people. Under a second stage of the truce that would begin a month later, Israel and the Palestinians would discuss the construction of a Gaza sea port and Israel's release of Hamas prisoners in the occupied West Bank, possibly in a trade for body parts of two Israeli soldiers believed held by Hamas, the officials said.

TAKING STOCK

After the ceasefire began, crowds and traffic filled the streets of Gaza. Car horns blared and recorded chants praising God sounded from mosque loudspeakers. Celebratory gunfire killed one Palestinian and wounded 19 others, hospital officials said. "Today we declare the victory of the resistance, today we declare the victory of Gaza," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Israel gave a low-key response to the truce, saying it would facilitate the flow of civilian goods and humanitarian and reconstruction aid into the impoverished territory if the "open-ended" ceasefire was honoured. "We have no problem with civilian support for Gaza," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "We don't want to see Hamas rebuild its military machine."

Many residents of southern Israel remained sceptical, and some officials recommended against returning home too soon. "We had ceasefires in the past that didn't succeed or work out well, and [Hamas] continued with their terror, destruction, with all their craziness, and we no longer believe them," said Israeli Meirav Danino outside a supermarket in the border town of Sderot that for years has been hit by rockets.

The United States and United Nations urged both sides to comply with the terms of the agreement. "We are all aware that this is an opportunity, not a certainty," said US Secretary of State John Kerry. "We have been down this road before and we are all aware of the challenges ahead."

** End of extracts