Monday, December 27th, 2010
Ashkenazi: We’ll be ready if Gaza tensions escalate
By JPOST.COM STAFF
IDF chief-of-staff meets with Italian counterpart in Tel Aviv; says IDF is "preparing for any scenario" in the Strip
Israel “will not accept” rocket and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip and is ready in the event that tensions further escalate in the area, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen.Gabi Ashkenazi said on Monday.
Ashkenazi’s comments came during a meeting with Italian Chief of Defense Gen. Vincenzio Camporini at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv.
The Region: Hamas indeed has time on its side
Hamas strongman says group against escalation in Gaza
“Two years after Operation Cast Lead, the situation in the Gaza Strip is different and calmer. Yet, sadly, from time to time, rockets and mortar shells are fired at the Israeli home front,” Ashkenazi said.
“The IDF holds the Hamas terrorist organization solely responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip. We hope that the security situation in the south does not deteriorate, however the IDF is preparing for any scenario,” he said.
Ashkenazi commented on the close ties between the Italian and Israeli militaries as well, saying that “relations between the IDF and the Italian military are very important and are based on mutual values and interests. Italy is a great friend of Israel and is one of the most involved forces in the region. It contributes great numbers of forces to UNIFIL and in Afghanistan, and in the war on terror.”
Camporini called the meeting “a great opportunity to further strengthen the excellent relations between the two militaries, as manifested in mutual training and technology. Italy is present in the Middle East and is dealing with the important issue of stability in the region.”
Camporini added that he had recently returned from a visit to his forces in Lebanon and said he could clearly see the influence of the international forces on the region.
He noted that his visit to Israel is one of several mutual visits demonstrating the good relations between the two militaries and commanders.
World inches closer to recognizing 'Palestine'
Israel was shocked to learn on Monday that Britain is seriously considering upgrading the status of the Palestinian Authority delegation in London to that of an official diplomatic mission, putting it basically on par with the delegations of sovereign states.
The news, which was first reported by Israel’s Ynet news portal, was especially surprising considering that Britain’s current conservative government is viewed as generally pro-Israel.
Britain is not the first European country to recognize Palestinian delegations as diplomatic missions. France, Spain and Portugal have all already done so.
Israel fears that the next step for the Europeans is to officially recognize “Palestine” as an independent state outside the framework of an Israeli-Palestinian final status peace agreement. Most of South America has already gone so far as to officially recognize “Palestine.”
The Palestinian Authority is playing off this worrying trend and is threatening seek official UN recognition for a unilateral declaration of independence if Israel does not meet all its demands.
If European Union powerhouses like Britain and France recognize a Palestinian state, the Palestinians are likely to have all the backing they need in the UN, forcing the hands of both Israel and the US, which is currently still opposed to the unilateral establishment of a Palestinian state.
The situation has reached this point because the Palestinians have managed to successfully reverse reality and paint Israel as a non-compliant peace partner. With the international community so anxious to conclude a final status peace deal (even if it doesn’t lead to genuine peace), it is ready to give the Palestinians what they want, with or without Israel.
PM: No Apologies to Turkey, Interim Deal with PA Possible
by Chana Ya'ar
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated Monday evening that Israel will not apologize to Turkey over the Mavi Marmara incident in which nine armed terror activists were killed after they attacked IDF commandos.
“We do not want to apologize to Turkey – but we are ready to express sorrow, as we have expressed, over the loss of life,” he said.
“But first, we want to protect our soldiers,” he added. “We demand that Turkey recognize that Israel did not act maliciously and that our soldiers acted in self-defense.”
The prime minister made the comments Monday in an interview on Israel's Channel 10 television. He added that Israel also expects Turkey to dissolve all international legal proceedings against the Jewish State in connection with the incident.
The eight Turkish nationals and U.S. citizen who were killed were all members of the Turkish terror-linked IHH organization that had sponsored the Mavi Marmara. The ship was part of an attempt by a six-vessel flotilla to break Israel's blockade of Gaza.
The ships ignored repeated requests by Israeli naval personnel to change course for Ashdod port. When IDF commandos boarded the vessels, the IHH members on the Mavi Marmara stabbed them with knives and beat them with metal rods and clubs. The five other vessels were brought to port without incident.
Turkey has continued to insist that Israel apologize for the May 31 incident and compensate the families of the slain attackers – a demand that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has referred to as “chutzpah.” Lieberman also accused Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of lying after Davutoglu implied that Israel might delay sending assistance if Turkey were to suffer a humanitarian disaster.
Netanyahu's office responded within hours, striving to contain the diplomatic damage by saying Lieberman's remarks constitute his own “personal assessments and positions.”
Monday night's remarks were a rehash of that effort, with the prime minister continuing to insist his foreign minister's remarks did not represent the government's view as Netanyahu strove to appear imperturbable.
“The foreign minister is not humiliating me,” he said. “He is expressing his views. Under Israel's system of government, ministers always express their views. We have a coalition, and we have different views.
“In this case we have Foreign Minister Lieberman, Defense Minister Barak, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and HaBayit HaYehudi – they all have different views,” he said.
The bottom line, Netanyahu added, still ends at his own desk.
“The final opinion is that decided upon by the government and that which is expressed by the prime minister,” he said pointedly. “That's how it has been in all the governments.”
Interim Agreement with PA More Likely
Netanyahu also addressed the issue of whether to pursue the rapidly fading dream of a final status agreement with the Palestinian Authority, saying an interim agreement appeared more likely at this point.
Until recently, Netanyahu had been willing to go along with U.S. efforts to secure a final status agreement with a short period of a few months at most. But that prospect seems increasingly unlikely as the PA continues its campaign for recognition of unilateral statehood from nations around the world.
Netanyahu appears to have become resigned to the fact that an assessment expressed recently by Lieberman – that an interim agreement is the only reasonable option left – is the most accurate.
“I set out a clear policy in the Bar Ilan speech,” he noted. “There I said that if the Palestinians recognize the Jewish State and give up the right of Palestinian refugees to return... I mean, if they recognize a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish State, I announce here and now that I will see it through to the end.”
However, he said, at the end of the day, the process may end up leading to an interim agreement, rather than a final status deal.
“This may be where the diplomatic process leads us,” he said. An interim agreement is the only option left, he said, if the two sides fail to reach an understanding on Jerusalem and the “right of return” for millions of foreign Arabs claiming residency in pre-1948 Israel.
Palestinians: Obama no longer backs Palestinian state within 1967 borders
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 27, 2010, 8:42 AM (GMT+02:00)
Obama smiles, Palestinians gloom
Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, including Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad, are sunk in gloom over what they perceive as US President Barak Obama repudiation of his promises to them and greater sympathy for the Netanyahu government's side of the Middle East dispute. They also see a spreading push in Europe, the Arab countries and Moscow for them to bite the bullet and reconcile themselves to partial or interim accords, since no feasible solutions are visible on the outstanding core issues of borders, refugees and Jerusalem.
debkafile reports Palestinian dignitaries as going around Washington and the Middle East complaining that the Obama administration has gone back on promises on four issues:
1. It declines to endorse former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's 2007 pledge that borders of a future Palestinian state would be "very close to the 1967 boundaries." US officials have given them to understand at meetings in Washington and Ramallah that their claims on the West Bank must be moderated.
2. The Palestinians say Washington is now reneging on the promises given in late 2009 and early 2010 by Gen. Jim Jones, then National Security Adviser at the White House, for US forces or a combined US-NATO force to be posted on Palestinian borders with Israel and Jordan and other strategic areas after statehood is attained. However, on Dec. 15, when the subject came up in their talks with George Mitchell, the special US Middle East envoy, it Ramallah, this promise appeared to have evaporated. The US view now is that mounting regional dangers make it mandatory for Israeli military elements to be incorporated in the international force. In other words, the IDF would retain a presence in the Palestinian state.
This development drew forth Abbas' unequivocal statement in Bethlehem Saturday, Dec. 25: "There will be no Israeli presence in the Palestinian state."
3. Washington is leaning heavily on the Palestinian Authority to stop lobbying Latin American capitals for recognition of a unilateral Palestinian state. Uruguay Saturday joined Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay with such declarations. The Palestinians are being advised not to submit any unilateral resolutions to the UN Security Council because they would not be passed.
4. The Palestinians accuse the US government of caving in to Israel on the matter of a settlement construction freeze. Building is proceeding undisturbed at a rapid tempo, they say.
The Palestinian beef is not only with the Americans. In recent weeks, Saudi voices, having criticized the Abbas-Fayyad tactics on peace diplomacy with Israel as inept, have advised them to go for an interim deal as their only realistic option. Moscow too has joined the chorus jarring on Palestinian ears in Ramallah since the senior Russian emissary and lawmaker and close associate of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Mikhail Margelov held talks with Israeli political and military officials in Tel Aviv last week.
Following those interviews, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman once again declared that the only possible and desirable deal with the Palestinians as things stand to day was an interim accord. He was addressing Israeli envoys from around the world gathered in Jerusalem Sunday, Dec. 26, for a three-day briefing and airing of ideas.
debkafile's sources report the Palestinians believe the tide turned against them in US thinking 10 days earlier on Dec. 15-16 when two senior White House advisers and David Haie arrived for visits to the region.
Most of the Israeli media are still highlighting a comment by Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer Sunday at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem Sunday. He said he wouldn't be surprised if the United States recognized a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders before the end of the coming year.
According to our sources, Ben Eliezer is not clued in on the state of Palestinian - or even Israeli - relations with Washington.
US Arms Reach Hizbullah, American Military Attache Admits
by Gil Ronen
Some of the American-funded weapons that are being supplied to Lebanon fall into the hands of Hizbullah, the outgoing US military attache in Israel, Col. Richard Burgess, has admitted.
In an interview for official IDF journal BaMachaneh, Burgess said: "The arms we transfer to Lebanon could fall into the wrong hands. Small amounts indeed do. We have a good idea of what reaches the hands of Hizbullah. But I would say that the important weapons do not. It worries us, but not at a level that would cause us to stop the financial aid and change our policy. Stopping the aid would cause more damage than a few items that fall into the wrong hands."
After making the admission, the journal reported, the colonel was quick to qualify his statement. "One must remember that there are means of control, control mechanisms, in order to prevent the weapons transferred from reaching the wrong hands," he added.
"This is one of those cases in which you need to look at the bigger picture," Burgess continued. "Right after the incident on the northern border, the U.S. Government stopped financial aid to Lebanon for several months. During those months, there were countries like Iran that offered Lebanon their assistance, and that is dangerous. If we do not have good relations with Lebanon, someone else will. And we do not want countries like Iran and Syria, which are enemies of Israel, to help it."
Regarding Iran, Burgess echoed earlier statements by U.S. officials. "We are willing to do anything it takes to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon," he said. "Means of active defense by Israel and the U.S. are definitely an possibility. Israel has a right to defend itself, and if it and the U.S. decide that this is the best way to protect Israel, or the region in general, it will do so."
"At the end of the day," he explained, "if you take a leader like Ahmadinejad, and give him maximal power, you are faced again with the scenario of the 30s, with the guy with the tiny mustache. That is a risk Israel cannot afford to take."
It’s All Israel’s Fault: PA Says ‘Occupation' Prevents Elections
by Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
The Palestinian Authority countered Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s charges that the Ramallah government is illegal by claiming that Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria is the reason it has not honored its constitution that requires new elections as of two years ago.
Israel's straight-shooting foreign minister told the annual conference of Israeli ambassadors Sunday night, "The PA has an illegitimate government that isn't holding elections." Any agreements with Abbas' illegitimate government would not be binding, he added.
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s term of office expired two years ago, but the division between his hold on Judea and Samaria and the Hamas regime in Gaza has been a principal factor precluding any possibility of new elections.
However, the PA reacted to Lieberman’s comments by placing the blame on Israel. On the official PA WAFA website, Fahmi Zarir, spokesman for the Fatah Revolutionary Council, asserted that PA law cannot co-exist with a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria.
We are ready for a general election tomorrow,” he maintained, but insisted that Israel first must “recognize our rights through the recognition and support in the state on 1967 borders, the right to self-determination. The Israeli occupation will not have legitimacy, existence and stability unless our people enjoy their national rights.”
Zarir’s statement places a stronger hammerlock on the American-sponsored “diplomatic process.” Abbas has taken an increasingly hard-line position that “negotiations” with Israel mean Jerusalem’s acceptance of his demands for sovereignty over the Western Wall, Temple Mount and all of the Old City of Jerusalem; all of the capital’s neighborhoods on land restored to Israel in the Six Day War in 1967, consisting of approximately 230,000 Jews; and all of Judea and Samaria.
Abbas also has been holding out for the provision in the Saudi Arabia 2002 Initiative that Israel allow the immigration of several million foreign Arabs who claim "refugee" status due to being descendants of Arabs who left Israel in 1948. This has been rejected by virtually all political leaders in Israel – from the right to the left - as being the death knell of a Jewish state.
Against the background of the PA position, Foreign Minister Lieberman (pictured) told ambassadors behind closed doors that there is no chance of reaching a peace accord with the Palestinian Authority unless a different approach is taken. Paralleling Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s “economic peace” plan of several years ago, the Foreign Minister said that a peace pact is more likely after steps are taken to strengthen and stabilize the PA economy.
Lieberman’s comments were similar to those of many analysts and journalists covering the diplomatic process - a process they have called “brain dead.” However, Lieberman’s tone, in direct opposition to that of modern western diplomats who are careful to soothe foreign officials and show optimism towards Arab initiatives, drew an unusually harsh response from Prime Minister Netanyahu.
“The position of the government of Israel is only that which the Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, expresses,” his office stated.
Al Qaeda sends Palestinian terrorists from Lebanon to strikes in Europe
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 27, 2010, 9:41 PM (GMT+02:00)
Ghandi Sahmarani, the Palestinian terrorist with two or more lives
The 12 Al Qaeda terrorists, whose movements have put European security authorities on high New Year alert, set out from Ain Hilweh, Lebanon, and belong to three al Qaeda-linked Palestinian groups, the Syrian Jund al-Sham, the Lebanese Army of Islam (which also operates in the Gaza Strip) and Fatah al-Islam, debkafile's counter-terror sources disclose. All its members are richly experienced in urban terror in various Middle East arenas.
Al Qaeda has taken of late to using Iraq, Lebanon and Somalia as starting points for its terrorist plots to baffle the Western agencies keeping an eye on terrorist bases in Pakistan, North Africa and Yemen.
The last bombing attempt in Europe, which took place in Stockholm on December 11, was the work of an Iraqi Arab dispatched and later claimed by Iraqi Al Qaeda. Two other groups came from Somalia: the nine men charged at Westminster Court, London, Monday, Dec. 26, with conspiracy to carry out bombing attacks on the US embassy, the London Stock Exchange and political and religious figures (12 were rounded up at four locations on Dec. 20 and three released.) and the twelve men picked up in Rotterdam for plotting Christmas attacks in Holland.
It is now the turn of Lebanon. There, an elaborate smoke and mirrors exercise was staged to conceal the next Al Qaeda assault, as disclosed here by debkafile.
It is now the turn of Lebanon. There, an elaborate smoke and mirrors exercise was staged to conceal the next Al Qaeda assault, as disclosed here by debkafile.
On Dec. 25, Christmas day, Ghandi Sahmarani, the leader of the Syrian Palestinian Jund Al Sham's Lebanese branch, was reported found dead in a back alley of the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain Hilweh in South Lebanon with the bullet wound in the back of his neck and his hands tied with barbed wire.
The dead man had never lived in this camp which is the fiefdom of the Fatah strongman, Mounir Al-Maqda. It was therefore assumed he had been dragged to Ain Hilweh by abductors and then put to death. Later that day, journalists were invited to the Sidon hospital morgue to view his body.
However, according to debkafile's intelligence and counter-terror sources, Sahmarani is still alive. The body exhibited was that of a man who resembled him. The real Sahmarani eluded his watchers last week on the very day that 12 Palestinian terrorists went missing from Ain Hilweh. It is now believed that he was put in command of the terrorist operations scheduled to take place in Europe and the Middle East on or around the New Year and that he and the group's members are already on their way to their targets.
European sources have traced the group travelling from Lebanon to Syria and thence to Turkey, where they have split up into small sub-groups of two to three men each. Part is heading for the Balkans to infiltrate Western Europe; part is still in Turkey and may stay there or make for another Middle East destination for a multi-casualty attack.
The three Palestinian groups involved often overlap operationally and are expert at laying false trails to conceal the movements of their leaders and operatives.
In 2007, during the four-month battle Fatah Al Islam and the Army of Islam waged against the Lebanese army for control of Nahr- Al-Bared, the big Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli in northern Lebanon, stories were put out about the death of their leader Shaker al-Abssi. Then, too, reporters were shown his remains. However Abssi has proved to have more than one life; although he was reported dead more than once, he is still alive and fully active from a base in Iraq.
After of the charade at the Sidon morgue on Saturday, the Ain Hilweh chief Mounir Al Maqda confirmed that a "group of fighters" belonging to Jund a-Sham, the Army of Islam and Fatah al Islam, were no longer in the camp. Certain Middle East intelligence watchers, aware of Al-Maqda's close ties with the three Palestinian organizations and al Qaeda cells in Lebanon, don't exactly believe him. They suspect he was part of the conspiracy to conceal Sahmarani's departure on a mission of terror by faking his death.