|Southwest Asia News Digest
Carter, in Beirut, Hopes for New Peace Initiative
Dec. 15 (EIRNS)Speaking at the American University of Beirut, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said he was optimistic that the incoming Obama Administration would act to conclude a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, and with Syria. Speaking of the deteriorating conditions suffered by the Palestinians since the 1979 Camp David agreement, negotiated under his administration, Carter said, "Almost steadily since that time, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have seen their basic human rights lost." He continued, that since the election victory of Hamas in 2006 in Gaza, "the Israelis have not been willing to negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians."
Carter accused his White House successor, Ronald Reagan, of inaction, and praised the "efforts" of Bill Clinton, but expressed profound disappointment with George W. Bush, who "for six years, did not orchestrate one day of negotiations." Carter described Israeli policies in the Occupied West Bank and the siege of Gaza as international crimes. He appeared optimistic over the election of Obama, who he said had privately assured him that he would not wait until his last year in office to begin talks.
He praised the Palestinians' 2006 elections, saying that of the 72 elections the Carter Center had observed, "the most perfect three were the ones conducted by the Palestinians," and the 2006 polling was "a completely open, honest, and fair contest."
On Dec. 13, Carter traveled to Syria where he met President Bashar al-Assad, to discuss the Middle East peace process, the Turkey-mediated talks between Syria and Israel, and the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. Assad and Carter had also met in April. Carter met with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, who was accompanied by Deputy Foreign Minister Mikdad and the Director of the Special Bureau at the Foreign Ministry.
At a press conference following his meeting with Assad, Carter said: "Peace will not be achieved in the region without the full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Syrian Golan and from the rest of the occupied Arab territories." He stressed that Syrian-U.S. relations will improve: "Everything will be better when the U.S. President-elect Barack Obama takes office," he said.
Barak Backs 'Purposeful' U.S.-Iran Dialogue
Dec. 18 (EIRNS)Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he would support a U.S.-Iran dialogue if that would stop Iran's nuclear program. Such an endorsement by Israel's Mr. Security will be hard for the neocons to criticize, if the Obama Administration goes through with a dialogue with Iran.
Speaking at a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, Barak said: "There is sense in brief and purposeful dialogue with Iran, on condition that if it turns out that [Iran] continues to deceive the world and is producing nuclear weapons, there will be a way out of this obligation." Nonetheless, "we are not taking any option off the table, and we recommend to the world not to take any option off the table, and we mean what we say."
He said that a nuclear Iran would pose a threat to all the countries in the region. "I do not view any kind of world order with Iran in possession of nuclear weapons," he said. "Neighboring countries in the region, or even just some of them, will embark on efforts to build or acquire a nuclear weapon as well."
Barak is the first Israeli official to endorse a dialogue with Iran, according to Ynetnews.com.
Fallon Tells Israel To Get Real on Iran
Dec. 20 (EIRNS)Retired Adm. William Fallon, former commander of the U.S. Central Command, in an interview with the Jerusalem Post, advised the Israelis to stop giving in to the "fear factor" with regard to the prospect of a nuclear Iran. He said he could not understand why Iran would even contemplate using nuclear weapons against Israel, unless it wanted to be destroyed. He also dismissed most threats issued from Iran as rhetoric. "They are not nearly as strong as their rhetoric indicates," he said. "They are not particularly strong militarily outside of their own internal entity, and they have huge economic issues and political instability." He advised Israel to come up with a strategic plan that includes other tools besides military ones. This, he said, was missing in Israel's 2006 war in Lebanon. "You need to have your house in order and then you can take on other challenges," he said.
Retired General Says Israel Cannot Defeat Iran
Dec. 20 (EIRNS)Gen. Giora Eiland (ret.), former chairman of Israel's National Security Council, poured cold water on any notion that Israel could deal with Iran's nuclear program militarily. In an address to a conference at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, Eiland said, as reported by Ynetnews.com: "To our regret, there is no Israeli military capability that would enable us to reach a situation whereby Iran's nuclear capabilities are destroyed without the possibility of recovery. The maximal achievement that Israel can accomplish is to disrupt and suspend Iran's nuclear program." He added that Israel "cannot defeat Iran" nor can it force Iran to capitulate or give up its nuclear development efforts via military operations.
Eiland also warned against the price of a failed attack. "If you undertake a failed military operation, you pay three-fold," he said. "Firstly, you didn't succeed in hitting what you wanted; secondly, you've hurt your deterrence capabilities; and thirdly, you're perceived as the aggressor." He noted that "Iran is not Iraq of 1981 and not even Syria of 2007." An attack on Iran is likely to cause responses from elsewhere in the region and not merely from Iran.
Syria Offers Israel Map of Potential Golan Borders
Dec. 16 (EIRNS)In an effort to restart Syrian-Israel peace talks, Syria has presented Israel with a map showing what it considers to be the lines of withdrawal from the Golan Heights that Israel must make. A Reuters wire story, published in Ha'aretz, cites Syrian and Western sources saying that Syria expects a full withdrawal to the lines as they were just prior to the 1967 war. The document has been presented through Turkish mediators to Israel, and Syria is awaiting a reply. The Syrians expect to have the same access to Lake Tiberius as they did prior to 1967.
"The president was clear that Syria wants to know the Israeli view about what constitutes occupied Syrian territory before progress could be made," one of the sources said.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Majali Wahhabe responded by saying that Syria must cut off all contact with Iran before making any demands of Israel.
This demand is a non-starter with Syria, as is the demand that Syria cut support for the Lebanese Shi'ite movement Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamist groups. Nonetheless, Syria has sent a reply to this demand as well, but has not made it public. Assad told unnamed Western visitors that Syria had received a document from Israel through Turkey, with queries about Syrian relations with neighboring states after a possible peace. "The president said Syria has responded, but he did not say how," one said.
The series of talks, mediated by Turkey between Israel and Syria, have been suspended, since Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's legal problems have led to new elections that will take place in February.
Olmert: Syria Is Ripe for Peace Deal
Dec. 19 (EIRNS)Speaking at a conference of the Institute for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Syria's President Bashar Assad is "riper than ever for a peace deal with Israel." Olmert is leaving for Turkey to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Dec. 22, where he will discuss the Syrian talks. He said that indirect Israel-Syria talks mediated by Turkey can lead to direct negotiations, adding that "the talks with Syria were thorough and important. Removing Syria from the radical axis is one of Israel's top priorities.... Tough sacrifices will be required, but the prevention of lost lives is worth it. Syria is not interested in belonging to the axis of evil, and wants to forge ties with the U.S."
Speaking the previous day at the same conference, Israeli Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak said he is working with Israel Defense Forces Chief Gabi Ashkenazi and Military Intelligence head Amos Yadlin to advance talks with Syria.
"I am taking action to advance peace in the real world, not in an imaginary one," Barak said. "I am active more than anyone else in trying to reach peace with Syria. The director of Military Intelligence, the chief of staff, and I, in contrast to others, are pushing for a settlement with the Syrians. We are the ones who are saying that we must not wait, that we must move ahead, take risks."