|Southwest Asia News Digest
Israeli Minister Calls for Barghouti's Release
Jan. 5 (EIRNS)Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai told Israel Radio today that he would be willing to see imprisoned Palestinian Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti released, in exchange for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held by Hamas since 2006.
Barghouti's release is key to any serious peace discussions between Israel and the Palestinians, as Lyndon LaRouche has long emphasized. Barghouti was given five life sentences by Israeli courts for murder and terrorism in 2002, but for decades he played a leading role in organizing for a peace settlement, and is one of the most-respected Palestinian leaders by all factions of that movement, including Hamas. On Dec. 2, 2007 Barghouti told a delegation of Knesset members visiting him in prison, "The end of the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict is near. All that is needed is a leader courageous enough to sign [an agreement]. I believe we are on the brink of a solution. If a permanent agreement is drafted, the Palestinian Authority will hold a referendum to approve it."
The Israeli daily Ha'aretz ran a lead editorial calling for Barghouti's release on June 21, 2007, and in September, Israeli Minister of Infrastructure Benjamin Ben-Eliezer told Ha'aretz that Barghouti should be freed, linking this to the release of Shalit, because he considers Barghouti to be "the next leader of the Palestinians," and Israel needs "to see how we hold a dialogue with him and how we find the opening through which the peace process will also occur."
Sources in Vilnai's office stressed to Ynet news service that Vilnai's statement was the deputy defense minister's personal opinion, and not the government's policy, but the public call for his release from such a high level of the Israeli security establishment, indicates the serious discussion of this option. As LaRouche stated in a Dec. 24 radio interview, Barghouti's release would mean a big shift, in the context of the openings created by the Nov. 27, 2007 Annapolis peace conference.
Olmert Admits: Israel Continues Settlement Expansion
Jan. 4 (EIRNS)In a step forward in the Annapolis process, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert admitted, apparently for the first time, that Israel has not honored its commitments to stop expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. "There is a certain contradiction in this, between what we're actually seeing and what we ourselves promised," he said in an interview with the Jerusalem Post. "Obligations are not only to be demanded of others, but they must also be honored by ourselves. So there is a certain problem here."
Olmert's remarks followed, perhaps only by hours, comments by President Bush on Jan. 3, that settlement expansion is "an impediment to the peace process." Bush said in an interview with Reuters that, "The unauthorized outposts for example need to be dismantled, like the Israelis said they would do." Israeli Vice Prime Minister Haim Ramon also said, on Jan. 4, that Israel would soon begin to dismantle about two dozen illegal outposts. On Dec. 31, Olmert had ordered that his and the defense minister's authorization would be required for any new building, planning or land expropriation for settlements in the West Bank.
Knesset Report Blames IDF for Failures in Lebanon War
Dec. 31 (EIRNS)Tzachi Hanegbi, the chairman of the Israeli Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, in presenting a report on the failures of the July 2006 Israeli-Lebanese War, said that Israel's military leadership "ignored basic principles of Israeli strategy, which aims to bring the battle to enemy terrain and to protect the civilian population." The report accused the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) of "not having developed its operational plans and not to have prepared an appropriate plan of attack against Hezbollah and not having presented the army with clear objectives." The report especially criticized the IDF's reliance on air power, which could not halt Hezbollah's rocket fire into Israel. The report said that the army's methods of fighting were a "grievous blunder" which "played into Hezbollah's hands, were seized by blindness and lent strength to the enemy's strategic and tactical logic."
The report stated that after Israel's pullout from south Lebanon in 2000, "a policy of restraint by successive governments ... brought the army into a state of paralysis and slackness." The majority of the committee's members are using this analysis as a mandate for a large-scale ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.
The Real Issue Behind Lebanon's Government Crisis
Jan. 3 (EIRNS)The leader of the Lebanese opposition movement Hezbollah issued a formal statement on Jan. 2, spelling out how the political stalemate in the country can be resolved. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah told reporters that Hezbollah insists on having a veto power in any future government. His statement confirms reports received by EIR, that the hold-up in the parliamentary vote for a new Lebanese President is due to the ongoing power-sharing negotiations between the government and the opposition, and is not about the selection of Gen. Michel Suleiman, the recent head of the Lebanese military, as the next President.
An agreement among all rival factions to accept Suleiman as President has been stalled, due to the far more contentious issues of the composition of the next government. Hezbollah and its Christian and Amal allies have insisted for the past year that they be given 11 Cabinet seats in any government, giving them more than one-third of the posts, which assures them veto power over any major policy decision. Under pressure from Washington, the European Union, and Saudi Arabia, according to regional sources, the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has refused to meet the Hezbollah demands, resulting in paralysis. In the aftermath of the July 2006 Israeli invasion, Hezbollah's popularity soared among a majority of Lebanese, as the result of the military stalemate, and Hezbollah's ability to retaliate against Israeli targets, which was widely seen throughout the Arab and Muslim world as a serious defeat of Israel. The Bush Administration had been Israel's silent partner in the war, and had hoped that the Israeli bombings and ground incursions would cripple Hezbollah, and remove it as a political factor in Lebanon.
Both the Bush Administration and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have been trying to pressure the Syrian government to get Hezbollah to back down from its power-sharing demands, but the Syrian Foreign Minister yesterday delivered a sharp rebuke to Washington and Paris, refusing to pressure France's Lebanese ally to accept a rotten deal.
France Offers Help to Jordan To Develop Nuclear Energy
Jan. 5 (EIRNS)French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in Jordan on Jan. 4 for a semi-private, two-day visit, and met with King Abdullah II. Israel's Ynet news agency reports that the two discussed the Israeli-Palestinian situation and the Lebanon crisis, as well as France's support for the Jordanian kingdom and assistance in implementing several major economic plans, including nuclear energy. Sarkozy pledged France's assistance in developing Jordan's nuclear energy program for peaceful use.
Sarkozy made a similar promise to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last week, during his visit there. "Paris can help Egypt create a nuclear energy program for peaceful use," said Sarkozy, adding that "Egypt is as entitled to make [peaceful] use of nuclear energy as any other country."