Thursday, December 16th, 2010
US-Israel tiff on security and Iran. US envoy denied direct access to generals
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 16, 2010, 10:43 AM (GMT+02:00)
Defense Minister Barak with US presidential adviser Dennis Ross
The Obama administration and the Netanyahu government have fallen out on issues relating to Israeli security and current estimates of where the Iranian nuclear program stands, debkafile's military and Washington sources report. Defense Minister Ehud Barak put his foot down Wednesday, Dec. 15, when the president's Special Adviser on the Middle East Dennis Ross arrived in Israel and tried to set up separate interviews with the IDF's incoming and outgoing chiefs of staff and head of intelligence.
Barak had arranged for Lt. Gen. Yoav Galant, who takes over from Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi in April 2011, and the new Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Cochavi, to join his briefing session with the US envoy Thursday, Dec. 16 and offer their assessments on security issues and Iran. He thereby drew a line on the practice common in the last couple of years for American officials and officers to apply directly to high IDF officers at any time.
Since 2008, US officials used this freedom of access to go around the Israeli prime minister and defense minister and persuade the army chiefs there was no need of military action against Iran's nuclear sites and Hizballah's buildup of Iranian weaponry. During 2009 and early 2010, hardly a week went by without high-ranking US bureaucrats and generals touching down in Israel and going straight into nonstop meetings with IDF officers.
Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Israel during this period more often than any country in the world other than Pakistan - or even US forces scattered around the world.
In Jerusalem, those visits and meetings came to be characterized as: "Holding Israel's hand against pulling the trigger."
This restraining tactic was abruptly discontinued in March 2010 when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised President Barack Obama to withhold public oratory on the Iranian threat for a year, during which he would give Obama the chance to try his hand at halting Iran's progress toward a nuclear bomb by means of sanctions and diplomatic engagement. While the sanctions were indeed clamped down, the path of diplomacy – in which Israel never believed anyway – is now the subject of a sharp disagreement between Israel and Washington. Jerusalem is in particular furious over the president's handing over of the conduct of talks with Iran to the European Union and allowing its foreign affairs executive Catherine Ashton to run the Six Power (Five Permanent UNSC Members plus Germany) talks with Iran.
Israel contends that leaving the issue in EU hands is a recipe for procrastination. This maneuver when employed by Ashton's predecessor Javier Solana gave Iran all the time it needed to advance toward its objective of a nuclear bomb.
Barak was in Washington only three days ago and held long conferences with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, CIA chief Leon Panetta, Dennis Ross and Vice President Joe Biden. debkafile's Washington sources report the impression Obama administration officials gained from those meetings was that Israel had hardened its position on military action – deciding, in particular, that the accumulation of weapons from Iran and Syria to Hizballah had gone beyond what Israel found supportable for its security. Indeed, the Israeli defense minister spoke publicly after his round of talks in Washington of "an Israeli expression of concern over the continuing arming of Hizballah with Iranian and Syrian weaponry."
Washington became alarmed. Fearing Israeli was losing patience with US pressure for inaction and that Netanyahu's pledge to Obama might expire sooner rather than later, Denis Ross was sent to Israel to apply the brakes. Deputy Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General James E. Cartwright, who was supposed to accompany him, canceled at the last moment.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak saw the Ross mission following directly on Barak's Washington talks - and especially his bid for individual interviews with top IDF officers - as an attempt by the US administration to go over the heads of the ministers responsible for decision-making and apply the hand-holding stratagem directly to the generals so to keep Israel's fingers off the trigger. This time it was blocked.
FSI's Helen Freedman Speaks Out at "ACT! For America" Event
by Fern Sidman, INN NY Correspondent
On Tuesday evening December 14th, Helen Freedman, executive director of Americans For A Safe Israel (AFSI) addressed an event sponsored by "ACT! For America" in Delray Beach, Florida. ACT! For America is a nationwide non-profit issues advocacy organization that dedicates itself to educating Americans on the existential threat that the burgeoning radical Islamist movement represents to their liberties and freedoms.
Founded by Brigitte Gabriel, a Lebanese-American journalist, author and activist who was forced out of her native Lebanon by Muslim militias during the internecine warfare that engulfed that country from 1975-1990, ACT For America engages in direct lobbying and grassroots activism in response to anti-American and anti-Israel media bias and "politically correct" apologists for radical Islam in the media, academia and politics.
Addressing an overflow crowd at the South County Civic Center in Delray Beach, Florida, Ms. Freedman was introduced by Alan Bergstein, a Jewish activist from Boca Raton who welcomed her and thanked her for "having the courage to speak out against those pernicious forces who seek the complete destruction of Israel and the Western world."
Freedman suggested that Jews take a more aggressive stance in defending their rights to Israel. "We must cease the self-inflicted torture of incessantly assigning blame to ourselves for not conceding enough, not appeasing enough, not negotiating enough. The time is long overdue for us to stop being defendants and start being accusers. We must state to the entire world in very clear, bold and unequivocal terms that our sole legitimate right to the land of Israel does not emanate from the United Nations, the United States or the European Union but our right to Israel comes directly from G-d as stated in our holy Torah. That is our only authentic claim to the Iand and we must tell those who wish to violently seize our land that it is they who are the occupiers and the thieves.
No matter how many efforts we make in the name of peace, no many how many Jews we remove from their rightful homes in order to ensure a longstanding peace, we will still be viewed as intransigent at best and racist, occupiers at worst."
Addressing the "unmasking" of the controversial proposed mosque at Ground Zero in New York, Ms. Freedman said, "We strongly and unequivocally oppose the construction of a mosque at the very site that saw the heinous murder of 2,800 Americans at the hands of bloodthirsty jihadists bent on a crusade to obliterate the values and freedoms we enjoy in a democratic country. We demand a complete accounting of where the funds are coming from in connection with the building of this mosque, and thus far, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has not been forthcoming. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has initiated a request for a congressional inquiry into funding activities of those organizations who have been consistently inveighing against the construction of the mosque, but she has remained mum when it comes to engaging in vigorous inquiry about Imam Rauf's possible terrorist ties and whether Saudi Arabia is a benefactor in this project."
Freedman also took issue with the current US administration's posture toward Israel as it pertains to the peace-making initiative. "When will we begin to demand that the Palestinian Authority and the entire Muslim world recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state?"
Ms. Freedman concluded by quoting the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. "Let us not fear the world. It is infinitely better to have a Jewish state that is hated by the whole world, than an Auschwitz that brings us love and sympathy. If we want the world's love, we must know that we will never get it unless we earn their respect. And how do you earn respect? By having self-respect and standing up for our G-d given rights."
PA steps up criticism of US ‘pro-Israel bias’
By HERB KEINON AND KHALED ABU TOAMEH
Palestinians furious over Congress resolution against unilateral statehood; EU restates need for negotiated accord; J’lem unfazed by Arab League bid to get UN to demand settlement halt.
The Palestinian Authority on Thursday stepped up its criticism of purported US pro-Israel bias in the diplomatic process, after Congress passed a resolution calling on the administration to “deny recognition to any unilaterally declared Palestinian state.”
The PA also reissued appeals to EU countries to recognize a Palestinian state along the June 4, 1967, lines, but suffered another rebuff from EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who restated the need for a negotiated solution.
Rattling The Cage: Goodbye Obama, hello world
PA expresses discontent with current US administration
Israeli officials, meanwhile, said they were not overly concerned that a UN Security Council resolution calling for Israel to stop “illegal” settlement activity was immediately in the works, despite a call on Wednesday night by Arab League foreign ministers to seek such a resolution.
“This is not an imminent threat,” one diplomatic official said, saying that often Arab League statements were just that – statements that were not translated into operative policy. He said it would take time, and US acquiescence, for this to move through the Security Council.
The Arab League foreign ministers, meeting in Cairo, issued a statement saying they wanted to obtain a decision from the Security Council “that confirms, among other things, the illegal nature of this activity and that would oblige Israel to stop it.”
Another Israeli official said that as chances were dimming that the Palestinians could get the US to agree to a UN Security Council declaration recognizing a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines, they were looking for Israel’s “diplomatic and public diplomacy Achilles’ heel,” which is the settlements.
Israel has almost no support around the world for its settlement policy, the official said, so the Palestinians – following US President Barack Obama’s lead – are focusing on that.
The official said that while the US would be unlikely to veto a resolution condemning settlements, it might work behind the scenes to keep the resolution from coming to the Security Council, arguing that this would only antagonize Israel and do nothing to promote the diplomatic process.
At the same time, the officials admitted, it was a good “lever” for the US to have over Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in an effort to get him to show more “flexibility” on core-issue negotiations.
Ross discusses "security aspects" of settlement with Barak
Senior White House adviser Dennis Ross met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen Gabi Ashkenazi, OC Military Intelligence Maj. Gen- Yoav Kochavi, and the head of the Defense Ministry’s diplomatic-security bureau, Amos Gilad, on Thursday for discussions that Barak said afterward dealt with various “security aspects” of a peace settlement with the Palestinians.
Israeli officials said this was part of an American effort to chart the sides’ positions on the core issues. Netanyahu convened a meeting of his senior ministers – the Septet – on Thursday to discuss the new US approach to the diplomatic process.
The officials would not confirm, however, reports that US envoy George Mitchell proposed to the Palestinians six weeks of “parallel” negotiations, during which the US would discuss with each side its positions on the core issues, but not reveal these positions to the other side. The goal of these talks would be to help the US understand where the sides were on these issues, so they could draw up a strategy to renew direct talks.
AFP quoted Azzam al- Ahmad, a senior member of Fatah’s central committee, as saying that there would be not talks of any kind without a settlement freeze.
“There will not be any negotiations with Israel, in any form – direct, indirect or parallel – without an end to settlement,” he said.
The Palestinians suffered another setback in their hopes to get the world to unilaterally impose a solution, when the US Congress passed a resolution Wednesday calling on the administration to “deny recognition to any unilaterally declared Palestinian state and veto any resolution by the United Nations Security Council to establish or recognize a Palestinian state outside of an agreement negotiated by the two parties.”
PA slams US for "bias in favor of settlements"
As a result of this resolution, the PA stepped up its criticism of the US administration and reiterated an appeal to EU countries to recognize a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines.
Ashton, however, issued a statement after meeting Mitchell in Brussels that seemed to rule out any EU support for such a move. “We recognize that our common goals for peace and security in the Middle East should be achieved through negotiations and with the support of the international community,” the statement read.
Nimer Hammad, a political adviser to Abbas, condemned the US congressional resolution as “proof of US bias in favor of settlement expansion.” Hammad said that the Palestinians had been expecting Congress to pass a resolution calling on Israel to freeze all settlement construction.
“This bias in favor of Israel will only increase anti-US sentiments in the region,” he said. “It’s unfortunate to see the US once again standing alone with Israeli expansion and denial of Palestinian rights.”
The PLO Executive Committee also strongly condemned the resolution, claiming it would “encourage Israel to continue with its anti-peace policy under the direct protection of the Americans.”
US opposition to a unilateral declaration of statehood would further undermine Washington’s credibility and weaken its image in the Middle East, the committee said.
PA makes appeals to EU countries to recognize state
The PA confirmed that it had asked a number of EU countries to recognize a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders even without an agreement with Israel.
The appeal was made separately to France, Britain, Denmark and Sweden. Earlier this week, chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat sent a letter to the EU with a similar demand.
In a related development, Naor Gilon, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general for Western Europe, protested to Norway’s charge d’affaires about Oslo’s upgrade of the Palestinian presence in Norway from representation to delegate status.
Gilon, according to the Foreign Ministry, said that in light of the Palestinian refusal to negotiate, this upgrade “does not contribute to promoting or advancing the peace process.”
What the upgrade does do, he said, is “reinforce the Palestinian illusion that they could achieve political gains without directly negotiating with Israel.”
He also said the Norwegian move raised questions about whether Norway “has the balance required” of a country that chairs the Ad Hoc Liason Group, or donor group to the Palestinians. He further protested that Israel learned of the move through the press and not directly from the Norwegians.
WikiLeaks: Iran recruiting Beduin to smuggle Gaza arms
By JPOST.COM STAFF
Leaked US cable quotes Egyptian intelligence chief expressing concern over Iran, Hizbullah attempting to "stand up a cell within Egypt."
Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman told US officials last year that Iran was trying to recruit Beduins in the Sinai Peninsula to help smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip, a US State Department cable released by WikiLeaks said, according to Reuters.
According to the cable, Suleiman "expressed concern over Hizbullah's first attempt to stand up a cell within Egypt, and noted to us that Iran was also trying to recruit support from the Sinai Beduins, he claimed, in order to facilitate arms smuggling to Gaza."
WikiLeaks: Egyptian military an institution in decline
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The cable said the US and Egypt had differing perceptions of "the Iranian threat."
Acoording to the leaked document, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak saw Iran's nuclear program as a "long term" threat, but was more concerned with other immediate aspects of the Iranian threat.
"What has seized his immediate attention are Iran's non-nuclear destabilizing actions such as support for Hamas, media attacks, weapons and illicit funds smuggling, all of which add up in his mind to 'Iranian influence spreading like a cancer from the GCC (Gulf Arab states) to Morocco.'"
Lebanon: ‘Israeli markings’ on uncovered spy device
By YAAKOV KATZ
LAF website publishes pictures of alleged Israeli espionage equipment found near Beirut; Suleiman announces cooperation with Hizbullah.
The Lebanese Armed Forces on Thursday released pictures of what it said were Hebrew markings on espionage equipment it claimed to have uncovered on mountaintops earlier this week. A photograph released by the LAF shows a sign saying “Mini Cloud” in Hebrew and “Beam Systems Israel LTD” in English.
Also on Thursday, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman lauded the cooperation between the Lebanese Armed Forces and Hizbullah that led to the discovery of the alleged Israeli spy equipment.
Lebanon: Sidon explosion was third Israeli spying device
Lebanon claims it confiscated Israeli 'spy' equipment
Israeli officials have made no comment on the claims, whose authenticity is unclear.
One of the long-range spy systems was reportedly discovered on Mount Sannine, which overlooks Beirut and the eastern Bekaa Valley, and the second was found on Mount Barouk, southeast of the capital, the army said in a statement, which credited Hizbullah with providing information that enabled the discoveries.
Meanwhile, Lebanese media reported that an explosion that rocked the city of Sidon on Wednesday night was caused by an Israeli bombing of one of its sea-based intelligence- gathering units. The IDF had issued a rare statement Wednesday night denying that it was involved in an operation near Sidon.
If reconnaissance equipment was discovered on the mountains, which have a clear view of the Beirut-Damascus Highway and the Bekaa Valley – a Hizbullah stronghold – it could mean that it was placed there to follow the smuggling of weaponry from Syria into Lebanon and possibly even designate potential targets.
If the equipment, which included cameras and laser designators, was planted by Israel, then one key question is when this was done. One possibility is that it was placed there during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, when thousands of IDF soldiers were operating inside Lebanon. Another possibility is that the equipment was placed there recently in covert operations.
The discovery of alleged Israeli spy equipment hidden in boulders deep inside Lebanon could constitute a significant blow to intelligence. Tellingly, however, the much-hyped claims about the finds are timed to bolster Hizbullah’s efforts to draw attention away from its troubles and to a common enemy – Israel.
For Hizbullah, the ostensible discovery of the equipment is significant since it helps divert attention from the imminent expected indictment of top Hizbullah operatives by the United Nations tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri.
Hizbullah is extremely concerned that some of its top operatives will be accused of responsibility for the Hariri assassination. If this happens, it would contradict the image Hizbullah has tried to create of being the defender of Lebanon against the Israeli threat. The “discovery” of the alleged Israeli spy equipment shows that the Israeli threat still exists.
In other developments in Lebanon on Thursday, clashes erupted between residents in the south of the country and officers from the UNIFIL peacekeeping force. According to a report in the Lebanese press, residents of Tayri, a Hizbullah stronghold, clashed with French soldiers who were trying to demarcate a location near the village.
UNIFIL’s mandate is supposed to allow the peacekeepers access throughout southern Lebanon, but over the past year, locals – who Israel believes are being egged on by Hizbullah – have increased their active opposition to the UN force’s daily patrols.
Israeli defense officials have said that the increase in clashes was likely a sign that Hizbullah was pressured by the UNIFIL presence, which was slightly impairing the guerrilla force’s ability to operate out in the open.
Netanyahu meets with Tea Party ‘darling’ Mike Lee
By HERB KEINON
PM’s lengthy talks with Utah senator-elect underline outreach to freshman congressional class; Lee considered strong supporter of Israel.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spent an hour Thursday cultivating a relationship with Mike Lee, the Republican senator-elect from Utah, and Tea Party movement darling.
The meeting with Netanyahu, who is known to have a keen appreciation of the importance of good relations with members of Congress, demonstrates Israel’s efforts – sure to pick up in coming weeks – to reach out to the massive freshman congressional class that will be sworn into office in early January.
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Some 112 new faces were voted into Congress in November, 96 in the House of Representatives and 16 in the Senate. Of those, 87 of the new Congressman are Republicans, as are 13 of the new senators.
About half of this group has never held public office before.
What this means from an Israeli point of view is that many are unfamiliar with the Middle East conflict and the Israeli position, something pro-Israel groups and the embassy in Washington will intensively be working to rectify in the coming weeks.
Lee, for instance, was brought to Israel under the auspices of the American Israel Education Foundation, a nonprofit sister organization of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. It is expected that this group will bring over dozens of the freshman congressmen during their first year in office.
Ambassador Michael Oren is also making efforts to meet with the new congressman and senators when they begin arriving in Washington for the January 5 swearing-in ceremony.
Of the freshman class, some 60 percent are considered Evangelical Christians, and 50%-60% are believed to be affiliated with the Tea Party movement.
Lee, a fiscal conservative, was embraced by the Tea Party and backed by Republican South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, a key Tea Party figure.
Lee is the second newly elected senator to visit Israel, the first being Marco Rubio, the Republican senator-elect from Florida who came on a private visit to Israel within days of winning the elections.
Lee, 39, has been to Israel in the past and is considered a strong supporter. His wife lived and studied here for an extended period of time at the Brigham Young University extension in Jerusalem.
In a pre-election position paper Lee wrote that Israel is Washington’s closest ally in the US, and “faces many of the same threats confronting the United States.”
His position paper said he supported the “maintenance of Israel’s qualitative military edge” and “direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority based on the fundamental principles that Israel should remain – and be recognized by the Palestinians as – a Jewish state.”
Even before meeting Netanyahu, Lee said in his position paper that Israel “must have safe and secure borders and the ability to monitor and protect those borders,” and that if there are disagreements between Israel and the US, “those differences should be discussed and resolved in private, as is befitting the close relationship between two great democratic allies. No country, including the United States, should seek to impose any agreement upon Israel.”
After the meeting with Netanyahu, one government source said that Lee is not “neutral” on Israel – “he is a friend.”
Mike Evans: American Christians Support Israel
Obama’s agreement, says Evans, can only be achieved if Israel’s current government is brought down, which he claimed Obama is trying to do “so that he has a partner in peace for his objectives, not your objectives.”
by Elad Benari
Award-winning American journalist Dr. Mike Evans, one of the world’s leading experts on the Middle East and author of the book Game Changer, visited Israel’s Knesset on Thursday.
During the visit, Evans told Israel National News TV’s Hezki Ezra that he wrote Game Changer after President Barack Obama said that nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists would be a “game changer.”
He explained that the book, a fictional story, revolves around Iran smuggling nuclear weapons into the United States using proxy organizations such as Hamas and Hizbullah, and then attacking major American cities using these weapons.
Evans emphasized that Israel is not in the book and added that the Iranian threat which he describes in Game Changer, is something which is “highly probable” according to former CIA Director James Woolsey.
According to Evans, “the core issue” for President Obama “has nothing to do with the Palestinians. It has to do with the ceremony in the White House in which he can get another agreement.”
Obama’s agreement, says Evans, can only be achieved if Israel’s current government is brought down, which he claimed Obama is trying to do “so that he has a partner in peace for his objectives, not your objectives.”
Evans emphasized that Israel “has enormous support” in the U.S. in the form of what he called “Christian Zionists. There’s more than 52 million of them and they’re uncompromising, unapologetic supporters of the State of Israel, and they will take out any American president who reaches a finger to touch the city of Jerusalem or to take the land away from the Jewish people.”
Evans has served as a confidant to leaders in the Middle East for more than two decades. He has met with 52 world leaders, including former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, to whom he recommended Binyamin Netanyahu for his first political appointment. He has appeared on hundreds of network television and radio shows, including Good Morning America, Crossfire and Nightline. His articles have been published in The Wall Street Jorunal, USA Today, The Washington Times, and newspapers worldwide.
All I want for Christmas...is a boycott of Israel
As he does every year, the mayor of Bethlehem, Victor Batarseh, invited the international press and any Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land to attend the lighting of the massive Christmas tree in Manger Square, the traditional location of Jesus’ birth.
And, as he does every year, Batarseh delivered a speech purportedly calling for that most sought after Christmas gift of “peace on earth, good will toward men.” Except his Christmas wish did not extend to all men.
Ignoring the tremendous rise in tourism Bethlehem has experienced of late (1.4 million pilgrims visited the town this year), Batarseh complained that Israel’s security fence “has cut the 2,000-year-old relation between Bethlehem and its twin city Jerusalem.”
The mayor sidestepped the fact that 10 years ago, that security barrier did not exist, and people flowed freely across the line dividing Israeli-controlled Jerusalem and Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem. The barrier was only built because terrorist attacks emanating from Bethlehem and other Palestinian towns reached such critical levels.
But Batarseh did not let the facts get in the way of his concluding the Christmas “peace” message by calling for an international boycott of Israel.