Posted by Joshua on Monday, December 29th, 2008
The killing in Gaza has underlined how divided the Arab world is. America’s allies: Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the PLO are ranged against Iran’s allies: Syria, Hizbullah, Hamas, and Qatar. The Gaza violence, meant to topple Hamas, will make the breach wider and general radicalization of the region more serious.
Bashar al-Asad, as president of the Arab League has called for an Arab summit to be held in Doha on Friday. Syria and Qatar are challanging Husni Mubarak and King Abdullah to boycott it, which will embarrass them in front of their people who are outraged by the killings in Gaza. Egyptians demonstrated in front of the Journalists Union and were exceptionally angry. Everyone is asking Egypt to cut its relations with Israel. In response, Mubarak said he would open the Rafah crossing at its border with the Palestinian territory of the Gaza Strip to receive wounded Palestinians, but Palestinians took matters into their own hands before Egypt could move to control the opening. Palestinians near the border areas broke down the Egyptian-Gaza border fence shortly after the Israeli airstrikes stormed the southern Gaza area. Clashes erupted between Egyptian border guards and the Palestinians who tried to cross into the Egyptian side. An Egyptian officer was killed.
Hamas leader Mashaal appeared on Aljazeera to say, “I want to tell President Mubarak and the custodian of the two holy mosques that they will have to answer to God about what they are doing today.”
The Bush administration issued blistering criticism of Hamas. Gordon D. Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said that Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, was responsible for the outbreak of violence and called its rocket attacks “completely unacceptable. These people are nothing but thugs,” he said. “Israel is going to defend its people against terrorists like Hamas.”
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued a statement that said: “The United States strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the cease-fire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza.
Barack Obama’s spokeswoman said that while Mr. Obama was monitoring global events, “There is one president at a time.” In the campaign, Mr. Obama made statements that sounded similar to those issued by the Bush administration on Saturday. “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that,” Mr. Obama said in July. “And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”
Saudi Arabia urges US intervention over Gaza: “Superpowers should take responsibility to stop these attacks,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported, citing a telephone conversation between Saudi King Abdallah and U.S. President George W. Bush.
President Nicolas Sarkozyof France was one of many world leaders calling for an immediate halt to the rocket attacks on Israel and to the Israeli airstrikes. He condemned “the irresponsible provocations that led to this situation, as well as the disproportionate use of force.”
Syria suspends indirect peace talks with Israel, International Herald Tribune
Disinformation, secrecy and lies: How the Gaza offensive came about
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent
Long-term preparation, careful gathering of information, secret discussions, operational deception and the misleading of the public – all these stood behind the Israel Defense Forces “Cast Lead” operation against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, which began Saturday morning.
The disinformation effort, according to defense officials, took Hamas by surprise and served to significantly increase the number of its casualties in the strike.
Sources in the defense establishment said Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for the operation over six months ago, even as Israel was beginning to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with Hamas….
The neighborhood bully strikes again
By Gideon Levy, HAARETZ, 28/12/2008
Israel embarked yesterday on yet another unnecessary, ill-fated war. On July 16, 2006, four days after the start of the Second Lebanon War, I wrote: “Every neighborhood has one, a loud-mouthed bully who shouldn’t be provoked into anger… Not that the bully’s not right – someone did harm him. But the reaction, what a reaction!”
Two and a half years later, these words repeat themselves, to our horror, with chilling precision. Within the span of a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, the IDF sowed death and destruction on a scale that the Qassam rockets never approached in all their years, and Operation “Cast Lead” is only in its infancy.
Once again, Israel’s violent responses, even if there is justification for them, exceed all proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law and wisdom.
What began yesterday in Gaza is a war crime and the foolishness of a country. History’s bitter irony: A government that went to a futile war two months after its establishment – today nearly everyone acknowledges as much – embarks on another doomed war two months before the end of its term.
In the interim, the loftiness of peace was on the tip of the tongue of Ehud Olmert, a man who uttered some of the most courageous words ever said by a prime minister. The loftiness of peace on the tip of his tongue, and two fruitless wars in his sheath. Joining him is his defense minister, Ehud Barak, the leader of the so-called left-wing party, who plays the role of senior accomplice to the crime. …
Blood will now flow like water. Besieged and impoverished Gaza, the city of refugees, will pay the main price. But blood will also be unnecessarily spilled on our side. In its foolishness, Hamas brought this on itself and on its people, but this does not excuse Israel’s overreaction. ….
Jerusalem Post: Peace with Syria? Too costly
By EFRAIM INBAR, 2008-12-28
…A peace treaty with Syria does not improve the strategic situation. Nothing beats the status quo. … Generally, Israel has little to gain from economic or cultural interactions with the Arab world. Our neighbors have not opened up to globalization and have remained poor, an unappetizing market for our products. Moreover, their societies are despotic, corrupt, fanatic and in deep cultural crises. The Arab world has nothing to offer and Israel should keep its distance.
Hysteria in Gaza by Freddy Deknatel
Israel is trying to decapitate Hamas in Gaza, to use an favorite expression of military spokesmen and a docile American media, and the bodies are piling up.
What is the limit? As it stands, over 200 Palestinians are dead. One Israeli died today from a rudimentary rocket fired from the Gaza, the supposed impetus for all this.
When the “operations” subside — after how many days? — what will have changed? More Palestinians will have died because Israeli “security” is sacrosanct in the current international system but Arab lives are not. But it goes beyond American-made bombs and jets and stonewalling in the Security Council. Blame falls also on the supportive Arab regimes in America’s orbit — perhaps Egypt most of all — as Gaza is blockaded, bombed, blockaded, and bombed again, this time among the worst in its history.
Helena Cobban’s analysis: http://justworldnews.org/archives/003281.html
ANALYSIS / How did Assad manage to gain international respect?
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, 26/12/2008
After eight and a half years at Syria’s helm, President Bashar Assad is gaining the respect and admiration that had been reserved for his father Hafez. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been courting him enthusiastically with the help of a Turkish matchmaker, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. European leaders are standing in line to meet with him. Close associates of U.S. president-elect Barack Obama see Syria as the basis for a new balance of power in the region.
Columnist David Ignatius of The Washington Post interviewed Assad this week in Damascus. Five years ago, Ignatius met a rigid and doctrinaire Assad. Now he found him relaxed, informal and even laughing sometimes. In Israel, too, people are speaking differently about Assad, who is perceived as a responsible and serious neighbor you can do business with.
Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Military Intelligence (MI) head Amos Yadlin all believe that Syria can free Israel from its strategic problems since the Second Lebanon War in 2006. They dream of a new Middle East in which Syria disengages from Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, and links up with Israel and the United States in return for an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and “special status” (renewed control) in Lebanon. Compared with the fragmented Palestinians, who cannot be relied on, Syria resembles an island of stability and order. Even Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposes a withdrawal from the Golan, is not attacking Assad personally.
The Israeli attitude toward Bashar Assad has gone through three incarnations. During his apprenticeship, when his father was preparing him to be his heir, people here were impressed by Bashar’s “Western” background: He was an eye doctor living in London who surfed the Internet. In retrospect, it seems there was an element of Israeli provincialism here: Ehud Barak isn’t really comfortable with a computer, Shimon Peres doesn’t have one, Netanyahu prefers to read printouts, and former prime minister Ariel Sharon only learned to use the Web toward the end of his term, with the help of his family. Olmert, however, is addicted to Ynet and online sports reports. Perhaps this is why he was the first to try to connect seriously with Assad.
Sharon was the only Israeli leader since Menachem Begin to refuse to conduct negotiations with Syria. He and his associates described Assad as an overgrown child, a Hassan Nasrallah groupie cut off from reality. A senior intelligence official spread a story he claimed to have heard from colleagues in Egypt: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak wanted to speak to Assad once, but was told he was busy with his PlayStation and couldn’t be interrupted.
The Israeli air force flew a scare sortie over Assad’s palace, and they snickered here that his aides didn’t even tell him about it.
Yossi Baidatz, who was IDF Northern Command’s intelligence officer and now heads the research division at MI, noticed that Assad was quietly working to improve the balance of power vis-a-vis Israel. After Sharon bombed a Syrian radar station in Lebanon in 2001, Assad decided to change his father’s policy and directly provide Hezbollah with Syrian weapons. Until then Syria had served as a way station for Iranian weapons and Nasrallah was kept a safe distance from Damascus. Then the army’s storehouses and arms-production lines were opened and Nasrallah became a regular visitor to Assad’s palace.
Israel paid the price: Most of the Israelis killed in the Second Lebanon War, both civilians and soldiers, were hit by weapons Syria had sent to Hezbollah, not by Iranian weapons. Then it emerged that Assad had taken a far more daring decision and had secretly bought a nuclear reactor from North Korea.
Sharon and U.S. President George W. Bush acted to isolate Assad, and were successful for some time. Negotiations over the return of the Golan, which had stopped when Barak was prime minister, were not renewed. The air force bombed an Islamic Jihad base in Syria after the suicide attack on Haifa’s Maxim Restaurant in 2003. On the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Syrians feared they were next and sent a peace proposal to Israel. Then-foreign minister Silvan Shalom suggested examining it seriously, but Sharon dismissed it.
In early 2005, when Sharon was becoming the darling of the international community because of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, the Syrian army was expelled from Lebanon. The United States and France blamed Assad for the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri; Assad later became the main suspect in the international investigation into Hariri’s killing.
Assad absorbed the humiliation and focused on strengthening his regime by making Hezbollah Syria’s strategic arm against Israel, and building the nuclear reactor. Had he succeeded, he would have achieved the “strategic balance” his father had dreamed of. The war in the summer of 2006 justified the doctrine of “resistance”: Hezbollah came out a winner and Israel was defeated. The Hamas takeover of Gaza showed that Iran and Syria were on the rise, and Israel in retreat.
According to Olmert, he began the peace probes with Syria in February 2007 during a visit to Erdogan in Turkey. If this is so, the Hezbollah victory had shaken Israel’s nonchalance and prompted him to put the Golan up for sale, for fear of a further strengthening of the “axis of evil.”
But the plot thickened with the discovery of the Syrian nuclear reactor. Olmert cut off contact and prepared to attack the reactor, recruiting international support. He was worried about how Assad would react. Would he launch a missile attack on Tel Aviv and deploy in the Golan, or show restraint and continue the quiet in the north? Olmert ordered a psychological profile of Assad from MI, which analyzed his complex relationship with his father and elder brother – the heir-apparent before his death in a car accident in 1994.
Olmert’s gamble paid off. The reactor was destroyed, Syria remained outside the nuclear club and the world supported Israel. The cold war in the north continued with assassinations of high-ranking Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus and Syrian general Mohammed Suleiman, an Assad adviser who had been in charge of the nuclear project. Syrian sovereignty was once again harmed and Bashar decided to sit by quietly.
Olmert began to think of Assad as a responsible leader, and moved to renew the peace talks mediated by the Turks. He was prepared to revive negotiations with Syria despite America’s reservations. The isolation was broken. French President Nicolas Sarkozy invited Assad and his wife to Paris, Sarkozy visited Damascus, and European statesmen followed in his wake.
Olmert depicts revival of the Syrian track as a courageous diplomatic move. It can also be seen differently: In a combination of bullying moves, cautious diplomacy and military restraint, the cunning Assad has driven a wedge between Israel and the U.S., and is being welcomed in Europe without making even one small gesture toward Israel or the U.S. The arms are continuing to flow to Hezbollah, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad command centers in Damascus are thriving. Assad has successfully leveraged his father’s alliance: He is enjoying Iranian economic and military support, but hints that he would give it up for a better deal with Obama.
Bush views Syria as a criminal dictatorship, an incorrigible supporter of terror that’s trying to destroy “the emerging democracy in Lebanon” (which from Israel looks like a bad joke) and is helping bad guys kill Americans in Iraq. At his final meeting with Olmert, last month, Bush asked him: “Why do you want to give Assad the Golan for free?”
In a speech last week, Olmert justified the “down payment” to the Syrians. The prime minister spoke enthusiastically about the chances for peace with Syria, which he said “is not eager to be counted as part of the axis of evil and has a strong desire to emerge from its international and economic isolation and join the West.” From Israel’s perspective, “removing Syria from the axis of evil is of paramount strategic interest.”
Just before he leaves office, Olmert remembered to enlist public opinion in support of an agreement with Assad. It appears his enthusiastic speech is part of a circular deal: Olmert praised the Syrians on Thursday, Assad reciprocated with public support for direct talks on Sunday, and Erdogan hosted Olmert on Monday, in order to discuss a draft on renewing direct talks. Olmert and his diplomatic adviser Shlomo Turgeman sat with Erdogan and his people, who occasionally left the room to phone the Syrians.
Olmert knows he will not sign an agreement with the Syrians before he leaves office and hopes begin direct talks so he can leave behind active negotiations. He wants to renew the talks without having to pay an advance “deposit” of a full withdrawal from the Golan. In his view, his predecessors gave up everything in advance and he will achieve the same thing with a “down payment-minus.”
In the face of the Syrian demand to return the Golan, Israel is demanding that Syria disengage from Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. Olmert is prepared for a gradated Syrian disengagement, and Israel will pay initially with a less-binding declaration about withdrawal. Assad, meanwhile, is not buying the goods and has not yet agreed to the Israeli proposal. But Olmert has another two months to try.
Olmert is not the first to try to gain something from the Syrians. Yitzhak Rabin wanted a security arrangement with demilitarization on the Syrian side. Peres wanted a comprehensive regional agreement with dozens of Arab and Muslim leaders at the signing ceremony and detailed normalization accords. Netanyahu wanted an early-warning station on Mount Hermon. Barak preferred that the payback come from America in the form of extensive military aid. And Olmert wants disengagement from Iran. None of them achieved anything, nor did they evacuate the Golan. The situation on the ground remains as it was, and Israel isn’t making efforts to develop its communities on the Golan.
In his interview with The Post, Assad said he will not wait for the Palestinians for peace talks and proposed integrating Hezbollah and Hamas into the diplomatic process. But he demands a full withdrawal from the Golan and U.S. sponsorship of direct talks with Israel.
It will be interesting to see how he deals with Olmert’s replacement: Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, each in their own way, oppose the Syrian track and prefer Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Will they change their mind, or will Assad need to apply his methods of persuasion?