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February 5, 2007 - Vol. 8, Issue 14


NO OUTPOST EVACUATIONS: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday reportedly rejected a proposal by Defense Minister Amir Peretz to evacuate three or four West Bank outposts, saying that the timing is not right. Olmert reportedly wants to defer any action until a more comprehensive plan is developed.

Peretz's motivation for making this proposal came under attack this morning. "Peretz proposed evacuating two to three minor settlement outposts, here a trailer and there a concrete barrier; the timing of his proposal is transparent and not serious," said a senior Kadima member this morning. Another source in Olmert's party commented that "Peretz tried to pull a cheap political trick at the expense of the state before the Labor Party primary. Peretz's situation in the party is critical and everyone in Israel knows this." Those attacking the defense minister's proposal did not forget to note that since Peretz took office more than a half year ago, he has not evacuated even a single settler.

Peretz claims that he decided to push for the evacuation of some outposts now after "exhausting" efforts to negotiate the issue with settler leaders. He also expressed optimism regarding Olmert's willingness to take action, saying that "I hope we will reach an agreement on the timetable in the next few days." Peretz added that "Olmert announced he has no intention of reneging on Israel's commitment."

Former prime minister Ariel Sharon promised the Bush Administration to dismantle illegal outposts created since 2001. The cabinet has debated the matter several times, but not a single outpost has been dismantled in practice. This summer, Peretz promised U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that action would be taken after the Jewish holidays in the fall. (Ha'aretz, 2/5/07; Ma'ariv-NRG, 2/5/07; Ynet, 2/5/07)

THE SYRIA-HAMAS CONNECTION: The notion that engaging Damascus might lead to progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track has been gaining steam. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, former Secretary of State James Baker said that "we could get them (Syria) to get Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist. It would be a huge step in the right direction." Baker also noted that U.S. talks with Syria also "could get them to stop arming Hezbollah." Indeed senior Egyptian presidential advisor, Osama el-Baz revealed last week that Hamas floated a proposed to recognize Israel in face-to-face talks with Israel.

In this vein, former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami wrote on Thursday that the "2002 inter-Arab peace initiative, which Israel's prime minister praised in his speech at Sde Boker, calls for a regional solution to the conflict now that attempts to resolve it through bilateral negotiations have failed. In this initiative, the Arab League seized the monopoly on the decision to end the conflict from the Palestinians and moved it into an international forum. Internationalizing the solution is also the only chance to strengthen moderates and completely isolate Hamas, if it does not accept the conditions of the agreement. The Arab world is screaming for an Israeli-Arab agreement not because of a sudden affection for Israel, but because it sees such a move as a way to curb radical Islam and stop the spread of the Shi'ite regime under Iranian patronage. If Rice and the Quartet members are unable to cut the Gordian knot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, instead of continuing the Sisyphean task of untying it, they're better off deciding on what steps to take so they can move over immediately to an Israeli-Syrian peace track. Such a move would have an unprecedented effect on creating the conditions for the maturation of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement."

Palestinian leaders also have been traveling to Damascus regularly in an effort to make progress to end the intra-Palestinian violence and towards a national unity government. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with Syrian President Bashar Assad and exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashal two weeks ago. A delegation representing jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti returned from Damascus last week after holding talks with Mashal. According to a report in Al-Quds, the delegation - consisting of former Palestinian Foreign Minister Kadoura Faris and attorney Khader Shkeirat - held lengthy sessions with Mashal and other Hamas officials to discuss the formation of a national unity government capable of "ending the siege on the people of Palestine by means of its formation and political platform."

The costs of continued stalemate are increasingly evident. Palestinian police forces loyal to Fatah allegedly arrested seven Iranians on Wednesday in Gaza. The Iranians, including an intelligence officer and chemistry experts, were presumably offering technical assistance to Hamas. Police also captured 1,400 rifles and anti-tank rockets, as well as a lathe for manufacturing rockets. (Ynet, 1/31/07; Al-Quds, 2/1/07; Israel Radio, 2/2/07, Yedioth Ahronoth, 2/2/07; Ha'aretz, 2/2/07)

ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly approved rerouting the separation barrier five or more kilometers eastward from the Green Line in the area of Modi'in Ilit, so that the settlements of Nili and Na'aleh will be included on the "Israeli side" of the barrier. The new route will create two Palestinian enclaves containing about 20,000 people. The combined population of Nili and Na'aleh is roughly 1,500 residents. The new route will lengthen the fence by about 12 kilometers, which is estimated to cost NIS 120 million ($28 million).

Originally, Nili and Na'aleh were supposed to be surrounded by two fences: one along the Green Line and one to their east. That plan would have also trapped five Palestinian villages between the fences. Following the 2004 Israeli High Court ruling that the barrier caused disproportionate harm to Palestinians elsewhere, the defense establishment feared that the court would do the same in this area. It therefore proposed - and the Cabinet later approved - a new route that eliminated the eastern fence.

Chairman of the Na'aleh local council, Rani Hernik - who lobbied for the change - said that a new road is also due to be paved, which will connect Modi'in Ilit, Nili, and Na'aleh with the settlement of Ofarim. Palestinians will reportedly not be permitted access to this road, but two tunnels will be built under it to allow Palestinian traffic to pass.

Settlers are also unhappy with the barrier in the area south of Bethlehem. Activist Nadia Matar explained that "now that the cement is really going up, people are beginning to understand that it is not a security fence. It is a Partition Wall, and in the age of Kassam rockets, such a border only keeps us [Israeli civilians] out, while rockets fly freely overhead." Matar is organizing a demonstration to take place on Tuesday, and sees the political weakness of the incumbent government as an opportunity: "We are in the final days of this government and we must already start passing on the message to the next MKs, ministers and government that the first issue should be to stop this fence." Other settlers are skeptical, however. One wrote in an email to his neighbors that opposing the barrier is like "knocking out collective heads against the wall - literally."

In the Judean Desert, concerns about the barrier's impact on wildlife might lead for the placement of holes in the barrier to let animals cross. Environmental organizations and the Southern Hebron Hills Regional Council protested a 27-kilometer stretch on which construction had begun. Following these complaints Defense Minister Amir Peretz froze the construction. The Defense Ministry has prepared an alternative whereby the width of the barrier would be reduced from 40 meters to 24 meters, and that holes of various sized be included for wildlife. Cameras and special sensors would ensure that people do not make sue of these crossings. (Ha'aretz, 1/31/07; Arutz 7, 2/2/07; Yedioth Ahronoth, 1/30/07)

ROOT CAUSES: Israeli and Palestinian farmers planted approximately 1,200 olive trees near the Palestinian village of Salem, near Nablus, this weekend to replace those allegedly uprooted or cut down by settlers. The planting was organized by a Kibbutz Movement special task force, headed by Yoel Marshak, who explained that "the message is from farmer to farmer - wherever a person is hungry for food and water, we will be there. Olives are the [Palestinians'] food and main livelihood," About 150 Palestinians and 150 Israelis participated in the event, including Knesset Member Rabbi Michael Melchior. "Particularly on Tu Bishvat [the Jewish holiday celebrating a new year for trees], the holiday of trees, we would like to transmit a message of solidarity between Israeli and Palestinian farmers and the importance of obeying the law," an organizer said. (Ha'aretz, 2/4/07)

ROCKET SCIENCE: On Thursday, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz selected a plan to develop a system to intercept short-range rockets. The "Iron Dome" system, proposed by the Israeli Rafael company, will be guided by ground radar. As the missile nears the rocket it seeks to intercept, it will explode nearby, disintegrating the enemy rocket. Rafael's plan beat proposals by Israel Military Industries, Israel Aircraft Industries, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman.

Rafael is also collaborating with Raytheon to develop a system called "Magic Wand" to intercept long- to mid-range rockets. Both systems will be developed simultaneously and will be based on a single detection and firing system. The radar for both systems is being developed by Elta, a subsidiary of Israel Aircraft Industries, and is derived from the Arrow's radar system. A single firing mechanism will also be used by both systems, and either an Iron Cap or Magic Wand interceptor will be launched based on the speed and altitude of the incoming rocket.

The systems are expected to be technologically ready in about two years at an expected cost of NIS 2 billion ($470 million) The relatively inexpensive cost of the interceptor - about $30,000 - was reportedly a major factor in the choice of the Rafael system.

Peretz' decision followed the recommendation of incoming IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who oversaw the decision making process, but it was second-guessed by a number of officials. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made it clear that the final decision would be his. Knesset Member Otniel Schneller called Peretz's announcement a display of underhanded opportunism. While Pensioner's Party leader Rafi Eitan, who concluded a long career in Israel's defense establishment in 1993, said that it was premature to bet on a single system. Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh defended the decision saying that this was "a professional decision based on the recommendations of the best experts, and is devoid of external considerations."

Early last week the Syrian army reportedly conducted a successful test of a surface-to-surface Scud D missile, with a range of 700 kilometers. The missile, which was reportedly upgraded to make it hard to intercept, is capable of hitting any point in Israel. An Israeli security official was quoted saying that "the test is a cause for great concern. The Syrian missile force is continuing to improve, and poses a real threat to Israel." (Ma'ariv 2/2/07; Israel Radio, 2/2/07; Ha'aretz, 2/2 & 2/4/07; Yedioth Ahronoth, 2/2/07)

HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY: Former Education Minister Yossi Sarid suggested on Friday that the IDF's incoming Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi "must restore telling the truth to the IDF." He noted that the "culture of telling lies" became an integral part of the military "after 1967 - following the splendid and wretched victory - and it had to happen, because this is what happens to a fighting army that becomes an army of occupation. Every occupation is a beast of prey; there is no such animal as an `enlightened occupation.' And excuses need to be given for the villainies, in order to justify bad deeds. When the vermin multiply and the excuses run out, there is no alternative but to enlist the lies, which are the last refuge of the robber who is robbed. Even decent people start to lie, to others and mainly to themselves.

"The IDF not only occupied the territories, it also took their administration upon itself. All the governments of Israel refrained from deciding on the fate of the territories and on the future borders of the country, and the IDF was pushed into the vacuum, to its detriment. From that moment on, it was no longer possible to take politics out of the army or the army out of politics. And the politicians, for their part, were glad to see the uniform-wearers stoop to pull the chestnuts out of the fire. But this was not comfortable for the IDF, so it disguised its face with camouflage paint. Thus the `Civil Administration' arose, which is a military government in every respect. And the Civil Administration had to cover not only for its mistreatment of the Palestinians: It also covered for the doings of the Jewish settlers in the territories throughout their generations. The army became a collaborator of the heads of the Yesha settlers' organization, whose art is mendacity. They lied right and left, and the IDF shut its eyes or winked, and consciously allowed scores of settlements to spring up like toxic mushrooms on stolen land."

After the first Intifada broke out, writes Sarid, "all too often we are informed that `the IDF is investigating,' and only all too infrequently are we informed of what the findings are hiding. In the IDF arsenal, there is no better deterrent weapon than the truth, and like the rifle and the tank it, too, must be cleaned every day lest it rust. When the lie sticks, it is like a contagious disease and like an ineradicable ink blot. Even in recent weeks it was stated that the IDF had lifted barriers in the territories, as had been promised to the Palestinian Authority; there was no such thing. Ostensibly about 40 of about 500 roadblocks were eliminated, and they were in any case superfluous and hadn't been needed for a very long time. And at Tel Rumeida, which is now better known as Tel Sharmuta (or Tel Slut), the IDF continues to pretend to be an army that enforces the law and embodies the human spirit. And the illegal outposts are not being evacuated and will not be evacuated, because it is hard for the IDF to define its legitimate children as bastards born of forbidden marriages. Gabi Ashkenazi, thank God, is not alone in the battle for telling the truth. He still has quite a number of partners, even in the army, and not all is lost. Young officers are no longer children and they no longer play truth or consequences as though an either-or contradiction is inherent in their missions. In war games as in war itself, truth and consequences, consequences and truth, must spring from one and the same root." (Ha'aretz, 2/2/07)