US to present Middle East plan 'in a matter of weeks'
Despite recent Arab statements opposing US demands for confidence-building steps towards Israel, the US anticipates it will have the pieces in place to formally re-launch the Arab-Israel peace process in the coming weeks.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The Obama administration is seeking a complete freeze on Israeli settlements in exchange for Palestinian security reforms and Arab gestures towards Israel. With those in place, the US plans to announce both those steps and a resumption of negotiations, likely at an international conference, a senior State Department official told The Jerusalem Post
Monday. He noted that no final decision had been made about the format, and that a simultaneous release of press announcements in various capitals or other mechanisms might be used.
When asked about the timeframe of the efforts being led by US Middle East envoy George Mitchell at a press briefing Monday, US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Monday it would be "a matter of weeks."
The senior State Department official said he was referring to "completing the current phase of the process," which has consisted of Mitchell consulting with officials from the various countries in the region on the steps they would be taking at the US's behest. He described that process as requiring a few more weeks of negotiation, though he noted Muslim and Jewish holidays coming in August and September could delay things.
The comments of Arab leaders in Washington, however, have not appeared to be in line with what the US is seeking and what Israel would like to see in exchange for a settlement freeze.
On Monday, the Emir of Kuwait, Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah, met with US President Barack Obama
and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. Judeh voiced reservations about confidence-building measures, arguing that "there has been in the past an over-investment, perhaps, by the parties in pursuing confidence-building measures, conflict-management techniques, including transitional arrangements, and an overemphasis on gestures, perhaps at the expense of reaching the actual end game."
But he went on to back the concept as long as that end-game of reaching a final-status deal for a two-state solution was in place, saying, "What we need is confidence-building measures - confidence-rebuilding measures, I should say - that resurrect people's faith in negotiations and that create a conducive environment
for launching negotiations."
His words came on the heels of Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal's comments in Washington Friday pouring cold water on the idea of confidence-building steps, pointing to divisions among Arab countries as to what should be done and complicating the administration's efforts to reach a deal. After Saud's own meeting with Clinton, he told members of the media that "incrementalism and a step-by-step approach has not and - we believe - will not achieve peace. Temporary security, confidence-building measures
will also not bring peace."
The Kuwaiti emir was more reticent than the Jordanian and Saudi foreign ministers, saying after his meeting with Obama, "It is in our interest that peace be brought about, and the indicator is that the recent Arab peace initiative that was agreed upon by all of the Arab parties and states, and we would implement this peace initiative when Israel implements and fulfills its obligations."
The Obama administration has welcomed the peace initiative, in which the region's Arab countries would recognize Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal from land captured in 1967 and compromises on Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. The confidence-building measures - incipient signs of normalization such as opening trade
offices and granting overflight rights to Israeli planes - are in part an effort to form a bridge to discussions and potential implementation of some of the plan's guiding principles.
Even so, and despite the influx of Arab dignitaries - a list to which Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's name is set to be added on August 18 after a previous trip was cancelled - the Obama administration has had difficulty making visible progress. The visits follow a tour of key regional stops by Mitchell, who has also been having difficulties pressuring Israel to completely freeze settlement activity, including natural growth, though there are expectations that a compromise will soon be hammered out in which Israel suspends settlement construction for a least a limited period.
Though the US has recently tempered its criticism of settlement activity, Clinton on Monday did sharply criticize Israeli eviction of Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem, saying, "These actions are deeply regrettable. I have said before that the eviction of families and demolition of homes in East Jerusalem is not in keeping with Israeli obligations. And I urge the government of Israel and municipal officials to refrain from such provocative actions."
David Makovsky, co-author of the book of the Middle East "Myths, Illusions and Peace" assessed that the US focus on the "perfect" - a complete freeze - instead of the more doable "good" of halting settlement expansion had raised Arab expectations to the extent that now they don't want to negotiate with Israel, as it is resisting the freeze.
"It's hard to ask the Arabs to be more Zionist that the US on settlements," he said. "We can't meet those expectations, and instead of facilitating an early resumption of talks, we're totally blocked."
The Obama administration's idea, he noted, was that the settlement freeze would instead elicit the confidence-building measures from Israel that would create a new dynamic for restarting negotiations.
"The Arabs are not making it easy for the United States to do it because they're not offering anything that could be made public at this time," he said.
And while Jordan and Egypt have been the most forthcoming, Middle East expert Aaron David Miller pointed out they each have the least to give, as they already have already crossed their "red lines" with Israel and made peace.
But Miller, who worked on US Middle East policy when then-secretary of state James Baker got the Madrid conference off the ground, took a more optimistic view of America's efforts.
"I remember how the Madrid conference worked and it was nine months of hard diplomacy amidst extreme skepticism," he recalled, painting the current Arab and Israeli stances as posturing that could well be changed.
While he held out little to no hope that Palestinians and Israelis would bridge their differences over final-status issues, he estimated that America's efforts to elicit Arab gestures and enough of a settlement freeze for a conference to be held this fall was "quite reasonable," and that the likelihood of it happening was "quite high."
He described such a conference as "a high-visibility event which would go beyond Annapolis
because you've already had some degree of traction on the ground."
IAF purchases advanced 'smart bombs'
Air Force has purchased a new and advanced JDAM smart bomb with a laser-targeting system that will improve the IAF's ability to accurately hit fast-moving targets.
An IAF plane.
Photo: AP , AP
According to an Israeli Defense Ministry official, the order was placed earlier this summer for over 100 LJDAM (Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition) kits.
The JDAM is a low-cost guidance kit that converts existing unguided, or "dumb," free-fall bombs into guided "smart" weapons. The JDAM kit consists of a tail section that contains a Global Positioning System and body improvements for additional stability and lift.
The laser version of the JDAM adds a laser seeker to the nose of the JDAM-equipped bomb which improves its ability to accurately engage moving targets. The first LJDAMs were delivered to the United States Air Force in 2008.
"This will give the IAF better accuracy when trying to hit moving targets, such as terrorists in fast-moving cars," the ministry official explained, adding that the IAF would first train with the new bomb and then likely place a larger order in the future.
Israel has also expressed interest in the JDAM-ER, the official said, which consists of an additional set of wings that are installed on the bomb, extending its range from 15 to 55 nautical miles.
Israel became the first foreign customer to purchase the standard JDAM system, manufactured by Boeing, in 2000. The kits were then added on to Mk-84 2,000-pound bombs, turning them into precision, satellite-guided weapons.
Last year, the IAF completed an upgrade of its F-15 fleet to enable all models of the aircraft to carry JDAM bombs. Until now, only the F-15I was capable of carrying the smart-bomb.
Pentagon to speed giant "bunker buster" production amid Iranian, North Korean nuclear concerns
DEBKAfile Special Report
August 3, 2009, 4:56 PM (GMT+02:00)
MOP penetrates 61 m. underground before exploding
The Obama administration has indicated for the first time that diplomatic engagement is not its only option for grappling with Iran's nuclear weapons drive, DEBKAfile's military sources report. US Air Force spokesman Andy Bourland announced Monday, Aug. 3 that if Congress shifts enough funds to the program, Northrop Grumman Corp's radar-evading "stealth" B-2 bomber would be capable of carrying the non-nuclear, 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator, MOP, which is designed to destroy deeply buried bunkers, by July 2010.
"The Air force and Department of Defense are looking at ways to accelerate the program," he said.
Shortly before the announcement, the London Times quoted Western intelligence sources as reporting that it would take Iran six months to enrich enough uranium and another six months to assemble the warhead for mounting on its long-range Shehab-3 missile. The industry was only waiting for supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to give the nod for the first bomb to be produced.
The estimated target date for the accelerated US bunker buster's deployment tallies closely therefore with the timeline for Iran's prospective nuclear capability.
On July 31, DEBKAfile revealed that visiting US officials asked Israel last week to leave the handling of Iran's nuclear threat to the United States, up to and including military action - according to a three-stage plan they unveiled.
To read the article click HERE|http://www.debka.com/headline.php?hid=6203}.
The Washington announcement of Monday added weight to that message.
The precision-guided weapon carries more than 5,300 pounds of explosives and would be the biggest conventional bomb the US has ever used. It can deliver more than 10 times the explosive power of its predecessor, the 2,000-pound BLU-109, and penetrates to a depth of 61 meters before exploding. Boeing could be put on contract within 72 hours to build the first models if Congress signed off.
The US military commands for the Pacific and Middle East appear to be backing the acceleration request, intent on sending a signal to both North Korea and Iran that if they do not back off, America is developing a military option for almost instantaneous deployment against the military programs they have buried deep underground to escape detection.
TEHRAN - Iran has the technology to build a nuclear bomb, which could take up to one year after the country's top ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gives the order, the Times of London reported.
According to the report, Iranian nuclear scientists completed the research in 2003, which is why the government agreed to stop its research.
"The main thing was the lack of fissile material, so it was best to slow it down," one source said. "We think that the leader himself decided back then after the good results," he said.
Once Khamenei gives the go-ahead, it will take six months to enrich enough uranium to produce a bomb and another six months to load it on the missile, according to Western intelligence sources quoted by the Times.
Iran's Defense Ministry has employed hundreds of scientists and technicians over a period of years to covertly develop its military nuclear program alongside its nuclear energy program.
According to the Times, the nuclear arms program, called Amad - meaning "supply" in Farsi - has been under the headship of Mohsin Fakhri Zadeh, a physicist and senior member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Council.
Amad, a "multipoint initiation system," uses a "series of explosive grooves on a metal hemisphere covering the uranium, which links explosives-filled holes opening onto a layer of high explosives enveloping the uranium."
"If the supreme leader takes the decision , we assess they have to enrich low-enriched uranium to highly enriched uranium at the Natanz plant, which could take six months, depending on how many centrifuges are operating. We don't know if the decision was made yet," he said.
Israel has long warned that the Iranians were not simply interested in developing nuclear energy for their citizens. One Israeli official told the Times that Iran has invested billions into its two nuclear programs - uranium and plutonium - over the past 30 years.
According to this source, Iran has enriched 1,010 kilograms of uranium to 3.9 percent, which is enough to produce 30 kilograms of highly enriched uranium at 95 percent, the amount needed to build a bomb.
Source: Ynet news
FM: Israel must keep Golan
If Monday was any indication, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman will continue making foreign policy pronouncements despite the indictment cloud hovering over him.
Just prior to saying he would resign as foreign minister, quit the Knesset and give up his leadership of Israel
Beiteinu if the Attorney-General decided to indict him on a variety of breach of trust allegations, Lieberman met a massive delegation of Republican congressmen Monday and said Israel must retain the Golan Heights.
"Israel is willing to begin immediate negotiations with Syria
without any pre-conditions," Lieberman told the group, made up primarily of freshman congressmen. Whatever the case, he said, "in any agreement with Syria, the Golan Heights must remain under Israeli control."
On Friday, in a speech marking Syria's Army Day, Syrian President Bashar Assad said there would be no compromise on the Golan Heights, and that the return of the region was "non-negotiable."
"The return of all occupied land… is non-negotiable," he said. "The Syrian Arab Golan will remain Arab... and will return to the nation."
Lieberman was the first high-ranking government official to meet the delegation which arrived for a week-long tour sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee
(AIPAC). The group, the largest republican delegation ever in Israel, is led by House minority whip Eric Cantor of Virginia.
A scheduled meeting the delegation had with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Monday evening was postponed until later in the week because the prime minister had to be in the Knesset for the key votes there. In addition to meeting Netanyahu, the delegation is also scheduled to meet President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and opposition head Tzipi Livni. On August 9 an even larger Democratic delegation, numbering some 30 representatives, will be arriving on a trip lead by House Majority leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland.