|Southwest Asia News Digest
Moscow Middle East Peace Conference Will Be Held
June 27 (EIRNS)The Quartet of Middle East mediators has agreed to hold a Middle East peace conference in Moscow in November, on the level of foreign ministers. It will include not only the Palestinians and Israel, but other countries, including Syria. The Quartet, which includes the U.S. Russia, the UN, and EU, made the decision at a Palestinian donors conference in Berlin this week. The conference is a Russian initiative, first voiced last November at the Annapolis Peace Conference, and was to deal with the Syrian-Israel track.
Meanwhile, commenting on Syrian-Israeli talks, Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa told al-Jazeera news agency, "The negotiations currently taking place between Syria and Israel are exploratory negotiations, meant to prepare the sides for the possibility of moving on to direct talks."
Yossi Beilin Calls for Quick Action on Mideast Peace
June 23 (EIRNS)Israeli peace activist and former Israeli justice minister Yossi Beilin told an audience in Washington on June 23, that the time is short for reaching a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. "All the elements are on the table, " Beilin said; "it just requires the political will to bring it about. The gaps between the parties are very small." And although all the main players are weak now, including lame duck President Bush, who would have a role to play here, this could be an advantage, since none of them have anything to lose in crafting a deal, but everything to gain.
"We are now somewhere between Camp David and Taba," Beilin said, referring to the peace signed between Israel and Egypt in 1978, in which the Palestinian issue was somewhat placed on ice, and the extensive Taba agreement that was negotiated in 2000, but which had no force of law because of the change of regime in Israel. Beilin also mentioned that Bush had told one of the Arab leaders that he was prepared to get engaged at the end of the year, if a deal seemed to be at hand. Beilin urged him to do so. The deal would be worked out between the parties, and all that Bush would have to do would be to give it his blessing. Beilin also indicated that an agreement could also be worked out with Syria, in spite of U.S. opposition, although he claimed that for Israel to give up the Golan Heights would create more domestic resistance than dividing Jerusalem!
He warned, however, that if something is not worked out by the end of the year, the situation will become more explosive. The truce with Hamas will run out; Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will, with luck, make it to November; Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has limited his term himself, and will probably be out by next year. Frustration on the streets will create an explosion, he warned, and there will be no more partners to make peace. He also expressed his fear that a new U.S. President will be told advised not to put the Middle East high on the agenda at the beginning. That would be a mistake, Beilin said. He pointed to the idiotic advice that Barack Obama had received, to make his inflammatory statement on Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, as an example of the advice that a new President will be given.
Olmert: The Likud Doesn't Want Peace
June 25 (EIRNS)The attempt by opposition figure Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party to overturn the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been stopped, following an agreement reached between Olmert and Labor Party leader Ehud Barak. The latter agreed not to support a bill to dissolve the Knesset submitted by the Likud, without which the bill could never pass. Barak has been calling for Olmert to resign because he is under criminal investigation, and has also been threatening to withdraw from the government coalition. In order to appease Barak, Olmert agreed that a leadership primary will be held by Olmert's Kadima Party by Sept. 25.
Speaking in the Knesset today, Olmert attacked the Likud Party for trying to bring down his government "because they do not want peace." He defended his peace talks with the Palestinians and Syria, and said, "For eight or nine years there were no negotiations with them," adding sarcastically, "Of course, we can drag it out for another ten years." He accused the opposition of not presenting a positive alternative. Referring to the fact that the Likud only has 12 seats in the Knesset, he said, "The government of Israel is far from done with the issues facing it, and a little party of 12 Knesset members will not dictate the national agenda."
Netanyahu, who is Dick Cheney's top ally in Israel, had hoped to profit from early elections, because the polls show that Likud could make big gains.
Arab League Head Calls for End to Boycott of Hamas
June 24 (EIRNS)At an international donors conference for the Palestinians, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa called for an end to the international siege against Hamas, now that a truce with Israel is in effect. He said that reconciliation between the Hamas-run Gaza Strip and the government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on the West Bank is critical for peace, and therefore the international "veto" on contacts with Hamas must be lifted. "This is a responsibility of all of us," he said. "...The Palestinians have to have one front."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denounced the proposal, saying, "You cannot have peace if there is not a partner who respects the right of the other partner to exist."
Moussa's proposal would further efforts by Abbas to negotiate a reconciliation between the two Palestinian factions. Abbas has been on tour of Arab countries in this effort, and talks are under way for a meeting between Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, most likely in Damascus. These efforts would be more successful if Western countries were involved as mediators, but the European Union and the United States refuse, demanding that Hamas explicitly recognize the right of Israel to exist. Hamas has done so implicitly.
The Berlin conference is aimed at raising money for the Palestinian police forces.
Former Mossad Chief: Attack Iran Within a Year
June 29 (EIRNS)In an interview with Britain's Sunday Telegraph, former Israeli Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit argued that Israel must be prepared to attack Iran within the next 12 months, or Israel itself could be the target of an Iranian nuclear attack.
Adding to the drumbeat for a Western attack on Iran, Shavit, who serves as an advisor to the Knesset's Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was certain that Iran would use nuclear weapons against Israel as soon as it had attained that capability.
Time is running out, he said. "We should be prepared. We should do whatever necessary on the defensive side, on the offensive side, on the public opinion side for the West, in case sanctions don't work. What's left is a military action."
Shavit indicated that were Barack Obama elected President in the United States, Israel would probably have to move up its timetable for striking Iran. John McCain could be counted on to more readily attack Iran, but American agreement is not a precondition for Israel to launch an attack, he underscored.
The June 28 arrival in Israel of Adm. Michael Mullen, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, to meet with his Israeli counterpart, provoked considerable speculation that Israel might be seeking U.S. approval for such an attack, or that the two nations were jointly planning to strike Iran.
Mubarak: Striking Iran Would Be a Mistake
June 25 (EIRNS)Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told Israeli television that "use of force against Iran would be a mistake. Whether this force is used by the U.S. or Israel, it will lead to tragedy." He also said that Egypt was opposed to the existence of any nuclear-armed power in the region, "whether it is Iran or Israel." He said that Egypt "strongly backed" the "preparation talks" between Israel and Syria, and advised both Hamas and Israel to adhere to the cease-fire that went into effect last week.
Iran Military Chief Threatens To Use 'Oil Weapon' If Attacked
June 28 (EIRNS)Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander-in-chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, said Iran would "impose control" on shipping along the Persian Gulf oil transit route if Iran came under attack, an Iranian newspaper reported today.
"Naturally every country under attack by an enemy uses all its capacity and opportunities to confront the enemy. Regarding the main route for exiting energy, Iran will definitely act to impose control on the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz," he told Jam-e Jam newspaper. "If there is a confrontation between us and the enemy from outside the region, definitely the scope [of the confrontation] will reach the oil issue. After this action [of Iran imposing controls on the Gulf], the oil price will rise very considerably and this is among the factors deterring the enemies," he said. "If enemies from outside the region use the soil of regional countries against the Islamic Republic of Iran ... the governments of those countries will be responsible and it is our obvious right to act in the same way against their military capabilities and abilities of enemies anywhere," Jafari said.