Monday, July 31, 2006

Olmert - Blair conversation press release

Jerusalem, 31 July 2006

PM Olmert speaks with UK PM Blair
(Communicated by the Prime Minister's Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke this afternoon (Monday), 31 July 2006, with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who telephoned in order to be updated on the situation in Lebanon regarding the stationing of a multi-national force.

Prime Minister Olmert said that Israel was interested that an effective multi-national force come to Lebanon in order to deploy along Blue Line and at the border crossings between Syria and Lebanon. The Prime Minister added that it would be possible to implement a ceasefire immediately upon the deployment of the force.

At the end of their conversation, which was held in an excellent atmosphere, the two men agreed to be in close touch in the coming days.

U.N. talks on hold

(Excerpt from CNN)

Developments on Monday pointed to a lengthening of the 20-day-old conflict.

The United Nations Security Council postponed indefinitely a meeting on setting up a new peacekeeping force for the area.

At the United Nations, a Security Council meeting on planning for a new peacekeeping force had been delayed "until there is more political clarity" on the path ahead in the Middle East conflict, Reuters news agency reported

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had called the meeting last Friday, but the world's major powers have said no force can be put in place until fighting stops and Israel, Lebanon and Hezbollah agree to its deployment, Reuters reported.

And Israel's defense minister told the nation's parliament it would increase military pressure against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Raise readiness, Assad tells Syrian Army

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the Syrian military on Monday to raise its readiness, pledging not to abandon support for Lebanese resistance against Israel.

In an annual address on the anniversary of the foundation of the Syria Arab Army, Assad called on the military to "work on more preparedness and raise readiness of all units.

"We are facing international circumstances and regional challenges that require caution, alertness, readiness and preparedness," Assad said in the written address.

Diplomats in Damascus say the Syrian army has been on alert since the Israeli onslaught on Lebanon began on July 12 after Hizbollah fighters captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border operation.

Assad said Israel's war on Lebanon was an attempt by Israel to settle scores with Hizbollah, whose war of attrition forced Israel to pull out of southern Lebanon in 2000 after a 22-year occupation.

"The barbaric war of annihilation the Israeli aggression is waging on our people in Lebanon and Palestine is increasing in ferocity," the 40-year-old president said.

"All these threats by the powers supporting the aggression will not stop us from the liberation march and from supporting the resistance."

Over the last three weeks Israel has raided targets just inside the Lebanese side of the border with Syria, but it has not attacked Syria proper since 2003, when it raided installations belonging to a pro-Syrian Palestinian group near Damascus.

The Israeli army, which has forces in the occupied Golan Heights, 35 km (22 miles) from Damascus, has repeatedly said it has no intention of attacking Syria.

On Monday, an Israeli official said a Syrian-made bomb was detonated next to an Israeli army patrol in the Golan Heights, causing no casualties.

Israel's Channel Two television quoted military sources as saying the blast in the Golan, which Israel occupied in 1967, was believed to be an act of solidarity with Hizbollah.

Syrian officials have occasionally said they could consider activating the Golan front, which has been quiet since a 1974 cease-fire with Israel.

Israel's aims in the current conflict with Hezbollah

An analysis from BICOM on Israeli aims in the current conflict

A diplomatic exit from the conflict: the requirements for a resolution

As the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah continues into its third week, determined diplomatic activity is taking place with the intention of bringing hostilities to a conclusion in the shortest possible time. There are media reports of a crystallising plan, which may form the basis of a future ceasefire. As the possible basis for ending the violence takes shape, it is worth recalling and clarifying Israel's key aims in the current round of conflict with Hezbollah. This article will outline these aims and will include a brief discussion of the initial details of the current ceasefire plan, in light of them.

The current crisis, as is known, began on 12 July with an unprovoked Hezbollah attack, in which three IDF soldiers were killed and two abducted. This act of terrorism, carried out on Israeli sovereign territory, was not an isolated incident. Rather, it formed an extreme manifestation of a problem that has been growing on Israel's border with Lebanon since Israel withdrew its forces from Lebanon in May 2000: south Lebanon has become a Hezbollah-controlled region, a 'state within a state' serving the strategic goals of the Iranian-backed terror organisation. Unhindered by the government in Beirut, Hezbollah has built up a formidable arsenal of missiles and rockets, supplied by Iran and Syria, which puts the entire north of Israel under direct threat.

Facing this reality, a key Israeli goal in the current round of conflict is to permanently defuse this threat, by ensuring that the diplomatic outcome to the fighting includes the removal of Hezbollah from the Israeli-Lebanese border area. As a result of the determined action undertaken by the IDF since the commencement of its operations in Lebanon, Hezbollah's deployment along the Israeli-Lebanese border has been seriously degraded. But this situation can only be made permanent by future arrangements that will hand over the control of this area to the Lebanese government, conceivably with the assistance and involvement of an international force.

The second Israeli goal in the operation in Lebanon is to ensure, once Hezbollah is no longer present on the border, that the terror organisation is not able to begin a process of rearming. To achieve this goal, it will not be sufficient simply to assist the Lebanese government with imposing its sovereignty throughout Lebanon. Hezbollah is supplied with long-range Iranian missiles that were provided with the active assistance of Syria. Preventing any future use of these weapons will mean the involvement of any international force in the careful monitoring of the smuggling routes along Lebanon's eastern border with Syria. These are the main supply routes used for the transport of arms and supplies.

Hezbollah’s weaponry includes advanced missile systems, such as the Zelzal 2, which has a range of up to 200 km. Its possession of such weaponry means that Israeli communities will remain in Hezbollah’s missile range and thus vulnerable to attack, even after Hezbollah is removed from the border zone. Clearly, it is inconceivable for a terror organisation to retain such capabilities, and provision will need to be made in any ceasefire agreement, for the addressing of this issue.

Finally, of course, any conclusion of the current conflict must include the return of the two kidnapped IDF soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, who are being held by Hezbollah.

In all these goals, Israel's stance is in full accordance with the position stated by the international community, and officially outlined in UN Security Council Resolutions 425 and 1559. In addition, this stance received the international community’s support in the concluding statement of the G8 summit in St. Petersburg earlier this month. The members of the G8 summit concluded by saying thatwe extend to the Government of Lebanon our full support in asserting its sovereign authority over all its territory in fulfilment of UNSCR 1559. This includes the deployment of Lebanese Armed Forces to all parts of the country, in particular the South, and the disarming of militias. We would welcome an examination by the UN Security Council of the possibility of an international security/monitoring presence.“

Syria opposes int'l force for Lebanon

Officials: Syria opposes int'l force for Lebanon

(Associated Press)

Syria has told Egypt's foreign minister it opposed the creation of any new international force in Lebanon, but would not be averse to the expansion of the current UN force there, widely regarded as ineffectual, officials said Monday.

"The Syrians are talking about expanding the UNIFIL," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told reporters in Cairo, referring to the widely criticized UN force created in 1978 to restore stability in the area.

He acknowledged to reporters that Syria did oppose the sending of any new international force, as the United States and others are pushing, to police the border region.

Privately, diplomats in Cairo said that Aboul Gheit had advised Syrian President Bashar Assad, during a meeting Sunday in Damascus, that Syria should not voice opposition if an international force was sent to southern Lebanon.

"Egypt is trying to convince Assad not to stand in the way of a diplomatic solution," said one diplomat.

'Hopeful' Thinking

(Please note that this is a personal contribution under my own name, as indicated at the bottom)

Below is a Policy Paper sent by IPCRI - a joint Israeli - Palestinian public policy think-tank. Its outlook is firmly (I would say far) left-wing, but its Israeli director does have the ear of certain influential centrist and right-leaning actors, not least in the Israeli media. Personally, I consider the paper wishful thinking. I post it here though, because NCF is about conflict resolution and hope. Both are urgently required. So whilst I do not for a second believe that any of the recommendations are realistic at the moment, I have no doubt some of our members will agree with them. Let's hope that we will soon see developments that make these recommendations more realistic.

New IPCRI Policy Paper

A Comprehensive Approach to the Current Crises

JULY 25, 2006

General Comprehensive Approach

It has been said that wars create opportunities for political changes. The current Middle East crisis should be used by decisions makers to create opportunities to bring the region into a new era of regional and bilateral negotiations aimed at dealing with the Israeli-Arab conflict in a comprehensive fashion.

Some of the opportunities which could be created by the crises include:

  • Greater will of all parties involved to replace the paradigm of violence with one of political dialogue and negotiations.
  • The implementation of UN Resolution 1559 and other relevant UN Resolutions.
  • Creating a peace process between Israel and Lebanon.
  • Creating a peace process between Israel and Syria.
  • Stabilizing a long-term Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire leading to the renewal of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
  • The utilization of international forces in various effective peacekeeping roles.
  • The integration of several of the regional actors in the international forces in various effective peace keeping roles.

This paper outlines several new directions that seek to exploit and to materialize the opportunities created by the current crises. These opportunities include several bilateral tracks with specific steps that should be taken to resolve the current immediate crisis and to bring the region back to the peace track. The comprehensive approach of dealing with bilateral tracks in parallel enables the entire process to be concluded by addressing the root causes of the conflict. The comprehensive approach detailed below could lead to the development of peaceful relations between Israel and all of its neighbors in accordance with the vision of the Arab League Peace Initiative from March 2002. That initiative takes the most comprehensive approach which includes the end of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, the establishment of an independent Palestinian State along the 1967 borders and a just and agreed upon solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. Together with the advancing of an Israeli-Lebanese Track and an Israeli-Syrian Track, the end result could be the establishment of peace and normalized relations with all of the countries of the Arab world.

The following describes in brief the measures that we believe must be taken in order to return the region to a political process.

Israeli-Lebanon Track

  • A ceasefire agreement will be reached supported by the international community. The Lebanese government will ensure immediately that signs of life of the two Israeli soldiers are transmitted to the Government of Israel. A mutual exchange of all prisoners will take place immediately after the ceasefire agreement comes into force.

  • Israel will withdraw all of its forces in Lebanon and an effective international peace keeping force led by NATO and mandated by the Security Council will be sent to south Lebanon. The force will work with the Lebanese Army to strengthen it as it is deployed in southern Lebanon and along the Lebanon-Israel border. The Government of Lebanon will implement UN Resolution 1559. Hezbollah forces will be immediately removed from the south of Lebanon.

  • Israel will withdraw from the Shebaa farms which will be turned over to the United Nations until transferred either to Lebanon or Syria.

  • Israel and Lebanon will enter into bilateral peace negotiations assisted and/or supervised by France and/or others with the aim of reaching a full peace treaty including normalized relations between them addressing all outstanding issues. The peace treaty will be ratified by the United Nations Security Council. This process is part of the larger regional process involving bilateral negotiations on other tracks and will be considered within that framework.

The Israeli-Palestinian Track

  • The Palestinian captors of Israeli soldier in Gaza must immediately show a sign of life from him.

  • The Palestinian President and the Palestinian Prime Minister should announce an immediate ceasefire agreed to by all of the factions including all acts of aggression against Israel, especially the Qassam rockets from Gaza. The Government of Israel should respond by announcing an immediate Israeli ceasefire including all acts of aggression against the Palestinians, especially targeted killings and Israeli military incursions in Gaza and the West Bank.

  • The kidnapped soldier will be released in Gaza to one of the international representatives in Gaza. The Egyptians could probably fulfill this role.

  • Within one week after the release of the Israeli soldier held in Gaza, and as part of the framework of the ceasefire agreement, Israel will release all of the women and minors Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons.

  • One week later the continuation of the ceasefire, Israel will release all of the Palestinian PLC members and Ministers from prison.

  • An Olmert-Abbas summit will be held immediately to begin the renewal of the political process that could focus on the ultimate coordination and cooperation of all future Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank and on outstanding issues concerning Gaza such as the passage between Gaza and the West Bank, the air and seaports, and internal Palestinian issues such as the unification of the Palestinian forces, the rule of law and order in the Palestinian territories.

  • Within six months from the Olmert-Abbas summit, Israel will release all of the Palestinian security-political prisoners in Israeli jails from before September 1993.

  • Within one year from the Olmert-Abbas summit, permanent status negotiations will ensue that will be completed within six months time leading to the establishment of an independent and viable Palestinian state and peaceful relations between the two states based on the Clinton parameters and the Arab League Peace Plan. This process is part of the larger regional process involving bilateral negotiations on other tracks and will be considered within that framework. The peace treaty will be ratified by the United Nations Security Council.

Israeli-Syrian Track

  • The United States will undertake to support a renewed track of negotiations between Israel and Syria following the undertaking of Syria of several steps that will demonstrate Syria’s willingness to change its current course. These steps will include the sealing of its borders with Iraq, the closing of the offices of Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Damascus, and the closing of the “pipeline” of transferring weapons to Hezbollah.

  • In agreement between the United States, Syria and Israel, the Israeli-Syrian track of negotiations will be immediately renewed.

  • The basis of the Israeli-Syrian track have been mostly agreed to in the past and it entails a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. The territory of the Golan will be demilitarized forever with a ten year mandated international peacekeeping force in place.

  • Israel and Syria will sign a full peace treaty between them with full normalized relations. This process is part of the larger regional process involving bilateral negotiations on other tracks and will be considered within that framework. The peace treaty will be ratified by the United Nations Security Council.

  • The United States and the EU will provide significant funding for the economic development of Syria and the advancement of regional cooperation and economic development programs.

Concluding the comprehensive approach

  • The implementation of these steps in all three bilateral tracks would enable the conclusion of peace treaties and normalized relations between Israel and all of the countries of the Arab League.

  • Once the three trilateral tracks have reached peace treaties, the multilateral aspects of the Madrid process should re-resume with the convening of the original five multilateral working groups.

Rice statement on Israel-Hezbollah truce terms

From Reuters:

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Monday she believed a ceasefire can be reached this week to end fighting between Israel and Hizbollah.

Here is an edited text of her comments:

"This morning, as I head back to Washington, I take with me an emerging consensus on what is necessary for both an urgent ceasefire and a lasting settlement. I am convinced we can achieve both this week and I am convinced that only by achieving both will the Lebanese people finally be able to control their country and their future, and the people of Israel finally be able to live free from the threat of attack from terrorist
groups in Lebanon.

"Based on what we have accomplished, and the urgency of the situation, we will call for the United Nations Security Council action this week on a comprehensive settlement that includes three parts: a ceasefire, the political principles that provide for a long-term settlement, and the authorisation of an international force to support the Lebanese army in keeping the peace. We are working simultaneously on all three tracks so that a ceasefire can be supported by the deployment of an international stabilisation force as soon as possible after Security Council action.

"Lebanon, Israel, and the international community agree that the government of Lebanon must be able to extend its authority over all its territory. To help achieve this, Lebanon, Israel and the international community agree that an international stabilisation force should be deployed. There is broad agreement that armed groups must be prohibited in the areas where the international force is deployed; an international embargo must be enforced against the delivery of weapons to anyone other than the government of Lebanon or the stabilisation force; no foreign
forces will be allowed unless specifically authorised by the government of Lebanon, and Lebanon should, as assisted where appropriate by the international community, disarm armed groups.

"During this proposed settlement, Israel and Lebanon would also agree to respect the Blue Line that divides them.

"I also found substantial consensus on the role of an international stabilisation force: this force would support urgent humanitarian work and enable the return of internally displaced persons; assist the Lebanese Armed Forces to deploy tothe Blue Line and police the border with Syria; help create a stable and secure environment, especially in southern Lebanon, so that U.N. Security Council resolution 1559 and the Taif accords can be implemented.

"I believe our work has prepared the way for the United Nations Security Council to act on both an urgent and comprehensive basis this week.

"I have been deeply grieved by the tragic losses we have witnessed, especially the deaths of children, Lebanese and Israeli. Too many families have been displaced. Too many people urgently need medical care, or are living in shelters.

"I welcome Israel's decision to suspend aerial attacks for 48 hours as it investigates what happened at Qana. We also obtained agreement on a 24-hour period of safe passage to help innocent civilians who want to escape southern Lebanon. I hope this can be renewed. I hope that this will improve the humanitarian situation and allow much faster and more significant delivery of desperately needed aid.

"These are important, yet temporary measures. An urgent and more permanent end to this violence is something that we all want, and that we must work together to achieve. To make a ceasefire more than words alone, the international community must be prepared to support and sustain it and I call on my international partners to do so this week in New York."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

An interesting piece from today's Telegraph

This conflict will long outlast Blair and Bush

Matthew d'Ancona (today's Sunday Telegraph)

As so often when these two men meet, George W Bush was the host and Tony Blair the choreographer. "We feel deeply…" the Prime Minister declared - and, on cue, the President shared his pain. There were many professions of empathy for the suffering of the Lebanese and of the Israeli casualties of this conflict. Even as Mr Bush and Mr Blair prepared for their press conference in Washington, early reports flashed on the screen that Hezbollah had struck an Israeli hospital in Nahariya - already evacuated, as luck would have it.

The President and Prime Minister were as one in their public show of sympathy for the victims of what Mr Blair called the Middle East's "tragedy", and agreed that a UN Security Council resolution this week was needed to mandate an "international stabilisation force". But there was no shift in strategy, no anti-Israel wobble. All the empathy was a consolation prize for those who had been deluded enough to expect such a shift.

Time and again, the two men made clear that they have no interest whatsoever in a temporary ceasefire that merely salves the consciences of those outside the region. The President repeatedly used the phrase "lasting peace". The Prime Minister cautioned that "we shouldn't forget how this began" and that the nations of the West should "stop apologising" for the actions they take against Islamism. Mr Bush said that "it's important that we do what's right" rather than what is "immediately popular". For good measure, Mr Blair warned Iran and Syria of "the risk of increasing confrontation". The grim possibility of escalation lurked beneath every call for a truce.

Not for the first time, the two men have arrived at a point of convergence from very different starting-points. Israel, as has often been said, is the only foreign country that can truly affect domestic politics in America: in Washington, the West Bank is routinely referred to as "Judea and Samaria". Indeed, for Mr Bush to weaken in his support for Israel now would be a grave political risk in a year of mid-term elections.

For Mr Blair, the pressures are precisely opposite. Public opinion, according to all recent surveys, is ranged squarely against him over the Middle East and his relationship with Mr Bush. The Labour movement despises the President with a passion and is generally hostile to Israel. The Cabinet is riven with doubts and weary of Mr Blair's foreign adventures. "There are now three fronts: Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon," one senior Blairite minister fretted to me last week. "It's not even clear that the Israeli strategy is working."

And the differences between Blair and Bush do not end there. Far more than the President, the Prime Minister has an unshakeable belief in supranational institutions such as the UN and the potential of dynamic diplomacy: he will have much higher hopes of this week's Security Council meeting than his American ally.

Mr Bush is what physicists would call a "steady-state" politician: a man of set beliefs who believes that the relentless application of his convictions will achieve results. Mr Blair, by contrast, is a kinetic force, a perpetuum mobile, and a veteran of Northern Ireland's Good Friday Agreement who believes in the magic of urgency and the power of pace. Part of the Prime Minister's "irreducible core" is a touching faith - unbroken by countless European summits and the failure of the UN second resolution on Iraq - that people will agree if they sit for long enough in a room well-stocked with coffee, ProPlus and goodwill.

So different, then, and yet so united. In the analysis of the Bush-Blair relationship, the greatest distraction is the fixation with the balance of power: whether or not the Prime Minister is the President's "poodle", who says "Yo!" to whom, whether Mr Blair puts enough pressure on Mr Bush. All that one needs to know in this context is that the US is a hyper-power, and that Britain is not. "People keep pointing out that we're the junior partner as if this is some blinding revelation," one exasperated Downing Street insider said to me. "Of course we are. What nation would be anything else in comparison to America?"

In truth, what the Prime Minister has in Washington is not power, but access - more so than any other head of government. The question the rest of the world ought to ask is: should Mr Blair make the most of that access or not? Should he go for the cheap thrill of criticising the President in public - to what end, it is not clear - or stick with the arduous, often frustrating, and occasionally humiliating business of cajoling, coaxing and schmoozing him in private?

It was, after all, Mr Blair who persuaded Mr Bush's predecessor to go to war in Kosovo. It was Mr Blair who urged Mr Bush to become the first US President explicitly to endorse a two-state solution and convinced him to sign up to the (now-defunct) Middle East road-map on the eve of war with Iraq. It was Mr Blair who persuaded him at least to try the UN route before that conflict.

When it comes to the facts of geopolitical life, Mr Blair - unlike so many of his Continental counterparts - is not in cosy denial. He acknowledges that America is by some margin the most powerful country in the world, and in the history of the world; that the Atlantic alliance is still the only military coalition that counts; and that nothing the UN or the EU says makes a blind bit of difference to an American President - Republican or Democrat - who has made up his mind.

Mr Blair's belief that the British Prime Minister must always engage with the occupant of the Oval Office is pragmatic politics of the purest sort. It is those who declare that he should "stand up to Bush", denounce the President in public or otherwise throw his weight around, who inhabit a fantasy world. A Bush in the hand, so to speak, is better than the alternative: an isolated America.

And so the diplomatic caravan moves on to New York, where the UN will thrash out the details of the planned multi-national force. By the time these troops arrive - assuming they ever do - the conflict will have lasted the best part of a month, perhaps longer. The world will sigh with relief, and avert its gaze once more. Thank heavens, some will say, that Bush and Blair will soon be gone.

They will indeed. Be in no doubt, however: the Islamists are not going anywhere, whoever occupies the White House or Number 10. Last week, Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, declared that "the war with Israel does not depend on ceasefire… it is a jihad… all the world is a battlefield open in front of us. We will attack everywhere." More than anything that the President and Prime Minister said on Friday or the UN agrees this week, that should be a text for our times.

Qana deaths

At least 40 people, the majority women and children, have died in the southern Lebanese village of Qana in the largest single attack in the 19-day Israeli offensive against Hizbollah.

More than 20 children were killed in the attack, which an Israeli army spokesmen said was aimed at destroying Hizbollah rocket launching sites.

Following the attack, Lebanese protesters stormed the United Nations headquarters in Beirut today, smashing windows and ransacking offices.

Read this Telegraph report here

The IDF Spokesman has released the following statement:

Jerusalem, 30 July 2006

Incident in Qana
(Communicated by the IDF Spokesman)

This morning, July 3m 2006, the IAF attacked missile launch sites in the area of the village of Qana, an area from which hundreds of missiles were launched towards the city of Nahariya and the communities in the western Galilee.

The IDF will defend the citizens of Israel from attacks by the Hizbullah and the responsibility for any civilian casualties rests with the Hizbullah who have turned the suburbs of Lebanon into a war front by firing missiles from within civilian areas.

Residents in this region and specifically the residents of Qana were warned several days in advance to leave the village. Eighteen Israeli civilians have been killed and over 400 have been wounded by these rocket attacks which have disrupted the lives of tens of thousands of Israeli citizens.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Diplomatic Urgency

Though nearly a week old, this is a useful contribution on the current conflict by Niall Ferguson

This might not be a world war, but it still needs a sense of urgency

This is not the first time that world leaders have had their summers ruined by "a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing". In the summer of 1938, the quarrel between Germans and Czechs over the Sudetenland - which inspired Neville Chamberlain's notorious phrase - brought Europe to the brink of war.

Chamberlain's shuttle diplomacy, which saw him fly three times to see Hitler in Germany, was inspired by memories of an earlier quarrel over another obscure country. In August 1914, the world had gone to war as a result of a quarrel between Serbs and Austrians over Bosnia. In September 1939, despite Chamberlain's efforts at appeasement, another quarrel between Germans and Poles over Danzig (now Gdansk) led to the Second World War.

Could today's quarrel between the Israelis and Hezbollah over Lebanon produce a Third World War? That's what the former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, called it last week, echoing earlier fighting talk by Dan Gillerman, Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations.


Such language can - for now, at least - safely be dismissed as hyperbole. This crisis is not going to trigger another world war. Indeed, I do not expect it to produce even another Middle Eastern war worthy of comparison with those of June 1967 or October 1973. In 1967, Israel fought four of its Arab neighbours, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. In 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. Such combinations are very hard to imagine today.

Nor does it seem to me likely that Syria and Iran will escalate their involvement in the crisis beyond continuing their support for Hezbollah. Neither is in a position to risk a full-scale military confrontation with Israel, given the risk that this might precipitate an American military reaction.

Crucially, America's consistent support for Israel is not matched by any great power support for Israel's neighbours. During the Cold War, by contrast, the risk was that a Middle Eastern war could spill over into a superpower conflict. Henry Kissinger, secretary of state in the twilight of the Nixon presidency, first heard the news of an Arab-Israeli War at 6.15am on October 6, 1973. Half an hour later he was on the phone to the Soviet ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin. Two weeks later Kissinger flew to Moscow to meet the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev.

The stakes were high indeed. At one point during the 1973 crisis, as Brezhnev vainly tried to resist Kissinger's efforts to squeeze him out of the diplomatic loop, the White House raised America's state of military readiness to Defcon 3, putting its strategic nuclear forces on high alert. It is hard to imagine anything like that today.

In any case, this crisis may soon be over. Most wars Israel has fought have been short, lasting a matter of days or weeks (six days in 1967, three weeks in 1973). Some Israeli sources say this one could be finished in a matter of days. That, at any rate, is clearly the assumption being made in Washington.

Last week's overheard exchange between President Bush and Tony Blair was much analysed for the light it shed on their not-so-special relationship. The unprecedented contempt with which this President treats our Prime Minister (can you imagine Richard Nixon greeting his British counterpart with "Yo Wilson"?) was not, however, the most interesting thing revealed.

The Prime Minister was offering to make an immediate visit to the Middle East "to try and see what the lie of the land is".

"You need that done quickly," he argued, "because otherwise [the war in Lebanon] will spiral." Bush was dismissive, replying that he "thought" his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, was "going to go pretty soon".

"But," remonstrated Blair, "it will take some time to get that together."

Bush: "Yeah, yeah."

Well, at least Mr Blair has no illusions about his role. "Obviously if she goes out," he reasoned, "she's got to succeed, as it were, whereas I can go out and just talk."

"Just talking" is, of course, the Prime Minister's great talent. Yet Bush wasn't interested. He was in no rush (other than to escape from the tedium of the G8 talking shop). Miss Rice is expected in Israel no earlier than today and will then attend a foreign ministers, conference on the crisis in Italy on Wednesday. Compare this leisurely response to the frenetic shuttle diplomacy of the Kissinger era. While striving to secure a settlement between Israel and Syria, Miss Rice's predecessor travelled 24,230 miles in just 34 days.

All this puts in a different light Mr Bush's much mocked observation that "what they need to do is to get Syria, to get Hezbollah to stop doing this s*** and it's over". The reality, as the President knows, is that it will be "over" only when the Israelis are satisfied they have reduced Hezbollah's capacity for "doing s***".

In one sense, Mr Bush is right that there is no rush. As we have seen, there is no risk of a Third World War. And yet there are other forms that an escalation could conceivably take. A war between states in the Middle East may not be on the cards, much less a superpower conflict. What we must fear, however, is a spate of civil wars - to be precise, ethnic conflicts - across the region.

Between 1975 and 1990, Lebanon's multi-ethnic society was torn apart in one of the most bloody internecine conflicts of modern times. A repeat of that scenario cannot be ruled out as Beirut burns again. Elsewhere, ethnic conflict is already a reality. Israel's undeclared war against the Palestinians in the occupied territories shows every sign of escalating. There were lethal Israeli air strikes on the Mughazi refugee camp in Gaza last week. Palestinians were also killed in Nablus on the West Bank. There is no longer a peace process; no road map towards peaceful coexistence. This is a war process, and the map Ehud Olmert has in mind will create not a Palestinian state but Arab reservations.

The policy of the Israelis today is motivated above all by pessimism: for not only are they encircled, they are also being out-bred. According to the forecasts of Arnon Sofer of the University of Haifa, by 2020, Jews will account for little more than two-fifths of the total population of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. In Israel alone, nearly a third of the children under 14 will be Arabs. Yet there is one (albeit grim) source of solace. For the biggest ethnic conflict in the Middle East today is not between Jews and Arabs. It is between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims.

With every passing day, the character of violence in Iraq shifts from that of an anti-American insurgency to that of a sectarian civil war. More than 100 civilians a day were killed in Iraq last month, according to the UN, bringing the civilian death toll this year to a staggering 14,338. A rising proportion of those being killed are victims of sectarian violence.

For Israel, spiralling Sunni-Shiite conflict is a dark cloud with a silver lining. The worse it gets, the harder it will be for Israel's enemies to make common cause. (Fact: Syria is 74 per cent Sunni; Iran is 89 per cent Shi'a.) But for the United States, such conflict, emanating from a country supposedly liberated by American arms, must surely be a cause for concern.

It may not be the Third World War. It nevertheless calls for a much more urgent diplomatic effort than the Bush administration seems to have in mind.

Paddy Ashdown's view

I do not entirely agree with the wilder alarmist premises in the second part of the article. However, it is an engaging piece, particularly in the first part posted here:

Sometimes events surpass hyperbole - and this, I fear, is one of them. It is impossible to overstate what is now at stake in the Middle East. As Tony Blair returns from Washington he must confront the fact that the shape of the region cannot be the same again. But with so much dry tinder about and so many firebrands, what we cannot know is whether this will affect us all on a much wider and more dangerous scale.

It is also difficult to comprehend the delicacy of the dilemma on whose horns we are impaled.

On the one hand we would all like to see a ceasefire as soon as possible, backed by a settlement and the quick interposition of a peacekeeping force on the ground in Lebanon and Gaza. But I remember the ceasefires in Bosnia. They came and went like sunny afternoons. And when they had gone they left the soldiers of the intervening force, Unprofor, once again as impotent observers to a conflict neither side wanted to end and no one in the international community was prepared to stop.

A ceasefire without the ingredients of a lasting peace and a willingness by both sides to observe it would place any intervening international force in an equally impossible position. If it were weak it would very quickly be turned into another Unprofor. If it were strong it would soon become an occupying force standing between the combatants and the war aims they had not yet forsaken.

On the other hand, the chances of this conflict widening grow every day. Shutting it down quickly must now be an imperative aim of western policy.

Hizbullah may have started this with an outrageous breach of international law and a sustained and flagrant contravention of a UN security council resolution. But it is not Hizbullah's position that is weakening now. It is Israel's. Its stated war aim was to destroy Hizbullah. It is not clear why, having failed to do this by occupying Lebanon, it thought it could achieve it by bombing. But whatever its thinking, it has been unable to deliver the knockout blow that was its primary military aim.

From now on, Hizbullah does not have to win. It merely has to survive as a potent force - and it appears to be doing just that. Meanwhile the political damage done to Israel through miscalculation, overreaction and targeting errors is incalculable. But there is no comfort to be taken in the thought that Israel may be reaping the whirlwind it has helped to sow. A defeat for Israel and a victory for Hizbullah would have terrifying consequences for the Middle East, which would probably begin with regime change on a wide scale (but not the kind Washington looks for) and could end with the very battle for survival that Israel has always claimed that its use of military force was designed to avoid.


Read On

An International Stabilization Force for Lebanon: Problems and Prospects

By Michael Eisenstadt
July 24, 2006


As diplomacy to halt the violence in Lebanon slowly gathers momentum, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has endorsed the idea of an international “stabilization force” to keep the peace, seconding proposals previously put forward by UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, British prime minister Tony Blair, and European Union foreign policy envoy Javier Solana. Such a force, however, is liable to face major obstacles and incur substantial risks that could jeopardize its prospects for success. For this reason it is essential to consider what past experiences in Lebanon, the Middle East, and elsewhere teach about peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations, the sort of challenges such a force could encounter, and the kind of mandate and capabilities required to meet these challenges.


Here is the rest of this excellent paper

The Potential for Escalation in the Hizballah-Israel Conflict

By Jeffrey White
July 26, 2006

The critical question of whether or not the current conflict in Lebanon will escalate to a broader regional war is being answered in two overly simple ways. One such analysis is that this is a “meltdown” with escalating violence and mounting pressures for further escalation. A second, equally simplistic view is that since no one has an interest in escalating to a regional conflict it will not happen. Both of these views do not account for the complex set of dynamics and the real possibility that accident and error can intervene.

Read this short paper from the Washington Institute here

Also, see this paper on Hizballah's global terror network

OneVoice statement

With thanks to Jane for sending this

From OneVoice Youth Leaders, Saed Bilbeisi and Elad Dunayevsky

Saed has been involved with OneVoice for around a year. He visits the OneVoice office to meet with other youth leaders and staff at least once a week and has even pioneered his own workshops on OneVoice in Ramallah, which have recruited many new volunteers. He spoke about OneVoice in Synagogues, community centers and campuses during OneVoice’s International Education Program tour to Canada.

Elad has also been volunteering for around a year. He uses his Arabic and Hebrew language skills to speak with both Arabs and Jews about the work of OneVoice and has served to educate and recruit activists in the Region and also in the US, where he spoke at over 10 venues on behalf of OneVoice during their International Education Program tour to New York.

OneVoice is a grassroots, non-partisan Israeli-Palestinian group working to empower moderates to stand up against extremism and seize back the agenda for conflict resolution. At a time when extremists are once again dominating the agenda, its need to exist and to deliver could not be more crucial.

Dear International Friends of OneVoice,

There are rockets flying into Israel’s Northern towns as far down as Haifa as we write this, while the people of Gaza are in fear for their homes and lives, without electricity and running water. People are suffering, people are dying and people are afraid. It’s a crisis. We are writing to tell you though not to give up on us, or to give up on hope for an end to the conflict.

The situation today makes it very difficult to talk about conflict resolution - to see an end to the conflict. Sometimes it is easy to see the light at the end of the tunnel, at the moment the tunnel is dark. But this crisis and this conflict will end, and we say that with sobriety and rationality. As much as we feel helpless today, as rational people we must see any crisis as an opportunity to rise up and overcome the reasons that brought that crisis.

The situation will come to an end, when we do not know. In the meantime both people suffer so badly. Believe us that no-one is happy with this life. We want everyone around the world to know that we, and many friends and colleagues like us at OneVoice, are working to change this situation. We are ready. We are ready to do anything necessary to help end this situation. We have done so many activities and introduced so many people to OneVoice and it always gives them hope and energy. We can not and will not lose all of this however hard it is at this moment. We will strive to improve this life.

A resolution to the conflict may seem like a dream, but let us dream it and keep helping us do whatever we have to do to make it a reality. The day will never come when Israelis and Palestinians are prepared to accept living with this situation. How far we are from the day when we have a situation we will accept is hard to say, but we will work for it, even as the fighter jets and rockets go overhead, we will work for it.

Thank you,

Saed and Elad

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Lamentable

Those on the ground in Israel and Lebanon have nowhere else to go.
As each side targets the other it's the vulnerable that suffer most.

Again yesterday, more children were killed in attacks.

The bible is full of laments. When the psalmist writes, "by the rivers of Babylon . . . I lay me down", he is not merely calling in lament; this is also a cry for help.

There will be laments in Israel and Lebanon for years to come.

- Giles Frindon, Vicar of Putney

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Criticism of West Bank withdrawal

Aluf Benn writes in Haaretz about growing disagreement inside Israel's ruling Kadima party as regards 'convergence':

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said yesterday that the current wave of violence in Gaza would not prevent Israel's planned withdrawal from most of the West Bank or the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

"I am absolutely determined to carry out the separation from the Palestinians, and establish secure borders," Olmert said.

The prime minister wants to withdraw from most of the West Bank by 2010 to allow the Palestinians to gain independence and to secure a long-term Jewish majority for Israel.

We want to separate in a friendly manner and to live alongside each other... in a peaceful way," Olmert said. "If the terrorist organizations will impose a violent confrontation, both Israelis and Palestinians will have to bear the consequences. That can't stop the inevitable process of separation of Israelis and Palestinians."

The prime minister's comments came amid increasing disagreement among the leaders of his Kadima party over the feasibility of a unilateral withdrawal.

"The chances of implementing the convergence plan at the moment are very slight," Housing and Construction Minister Meir Sheetrit told the Knesset television channel yesterday. "There are many doubts, my own among them. I do not believe in unilateral disengagement."

Olmert's bureau said it was "convinced that Minister Sheetrit will change his mind when the plan comes up for approval, and will honor government and faction discipline."

But Sheetrit wasn't the only Kadima official to urge caution.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who responded on behalf of the government yesterday to no-confidence motions, told the Knesset that Israel needs to protect its security interests during the convergence, and warned against a hasty unilateral move.

"If someone thought that convergence is a way of throwing the key over the fence and walking away, while thinking that everything will be alright - that is not my thinking, and the convergence will not be like that."

Thursday, July 06, 2006

PRESS DELEGATION

Following the recent NCF International Media Council Press delegation to Israel - the International Media Council of the Next Century Foundation will now arrange a press delegation to Palestine. Anticipated departure, last week of July, Duration six days to Gaza and the West Bank. If you wish to joinj this delegation please e-mail NCFPeace@aol.com

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Olmert Seeks Support In Europe

I thought this article by Jane Kinninmont from Business Moniter International might be interesting eventhough the events have moved on.

BMI View: As Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert lobbies European leaders to support his West Bank withdrawal plan, prospects for negotiations with the Palestinians are slim, but not yet non-existent.

Israeli officials say they are keen to gain international approval of the government's West Bank withdrawal plan - which has not yet been set out in full - in order to gain domestic support for the controversial moves. To this end, having secured what his government saw as tacit backing from Egypt on June 4, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has arrived in to Europe to drum up support for the plan. Ordinarily, we would expect the international community to oppose a unilateral plan for West Bank withdrawal,and to continue backing negotiations - but the election of Hamas, proscribed as a 'terrorist organisation' by many countries, has radically altered the playing field.

This bodes well for Israel's relations with key players like the UN and EU. However, we remain very pessimistic about the potential for unilateral steps to bring security, let alone peace, when it comes to relations with the Palestinians. While Palestinians support Israeli withdrawal, they see the planned West Bank pullouts as a distraction from Israel's ongoing consolidation of settlements around East Jerusalem, which Palestinians seek as a future capital.

The government has not yet published a full plan for its West Bank withdrawal, largely reflecting the government's stated position that it would prefer a negotiated solution and will only pursue unilateralism as a last resort. However, Olmert has outlined a rough framework, whereby Israel would withdraw settlers from around 90% of the West Bank, but would retain the three large settlement blocs of Gush Etzion, Ariel and Ma'ale Edumim. Although this would be a withdrawal from the vast majority of the land occupied by Israel in 1967, it would only require the relocation of 30-35% of West Bank settlers, because around 130,000 of the roughly 200,000 settlers live in the three major blocs that Israel plans to retain. Olmert describes the idea that Israel might pull out of the entirety of the West Bank (returning to 1967 borders) as 'a fantasy'. Israel would continue to build the separation barrier, which would take in the three major settlement blocs as well as the territory internationally recognised as Israeli.

Palestinian Power Struggle Raises Small Hope For Talks - In theory, negotiations could yet alter this plan, but the prospects for peace talks are dim. They are not, however, non-existent. Olmert said on June 4 that he was willing to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, though he did not give a date, and said he hoped to proceed with the internationally backed 'road map' peace plan. However, Abbas's position has been greatly weakened by the Hamas victory in January, which displaced his ruling Fatah party in parliament, and undermined his mandate to negotiate. At the same time, Israel is not willing to negotiate with representatives of the Hamas government unless Hamas meets the preconditions of recognising Israel's right to exist and disarming its militant wing; neither of which seems likely.

In the meantime, Israel is waiting to see the outcome of the internal Palestinian political struggle between Fatah and Hamas, before deciding whether to carry out its withdrawal on a negotiated or unilateral basis. A power struggle between Hamas and Fatah has been simmering (with occasional violence) since the Hamas electoral victory, exacerbated by the fact that Fatah still controls the bulk of the Palestinian security forces (whose ranks are stuffed with Fatah members, a legacy of twelve years of one-party rule).

This rivalry flared into heightened violence between the factions in June as Abbas called for a referendum on the 'prisoners' document', a text prepared by several influential members of both factions who are currently held in Israeli jails, which in effect calls on Hamas to moderate its position. Specifically, the document calls for all Palestinian factions to seek statehood on 'the territories occupied in 1967' (the West Bank and Gaza), a lesser claim than Hamas' stated ambition of ending the entire state of Israel. It also recognises the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), which is headed by Abbas, as the primary representative of the Palestinian people, implicitly reducing the role of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority (PA). Predictably, Hamas opposes Abbas's calls for a referendum, but there is a strong possibility that it will go ahead.

Referendum Could Shake Up Palestinian Politics - Many Israeli officials are reluctant to comment on the referendum issue, for fear that Israeli backing would undermine the credibility of Abbas' initiative in Palestinian eyes, but it is clear that the Palestinian prisoners would not have been able to organise and publish their proposal without the tacit co-operation of their Israeli captors. In itself, the document would not be acceptable to Israel as the basis for a peace deal, because it does not formally recognise the state of Israel and because it claims that 'resistance' (including armed attacks) is legitimate within the territories occupied in 1967.

However, Israel sees Abbas' referendum plan as a clear sign that he is reasserting his authority. Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev told BMI on our June visit to Jerusalem that 'Abbas has taken the initiative with this referendum. Fatah today is more united than ever before.' Moreover, a popular endorsement of the prisoner's document would undermine Hamas's hardline position, potentially forcing a policy change. Labour party Knesset member (MK) and Education Minister Yuli Tamir told BMI , 'If the referendum succeeds, Palestinian internal politics will turn upside down, perhaps opening the door to a change of government. It would show the vote for Hamas was a protest against Fatah's corruption, rather than a vote against an agreement.'

Amidst the current uncertainty about the Palestinian position, talks remain possible. But even if they do occur, they are only likely to deal with the interim phase of Israel's next withdrawal, while the most sensitive 'final status' issues will be deferred. Much depends on the level of international support that Olmert is able to secure for his plan. All parties say negotiations are preferable, but both the UK and Egyptian leaders have so far suggested that 'other solutions' are possible if negotiations fail.

Since it is not yet clear what would constitute a definite failure of negotiations, it is unclear to what extent world leaders are giving tacit backing for unilateralism. This lack of clarity was reflected in the contradictory descriptions of the Blair-Olmert meeting in the British press: the Times newspaper ran the headline 'Blair Risks Arab Anger By Backing Israeli Plan To Impose New Border', whereas the Guardian said 'Blair Refuses To Back Olmert's West Bank Plan'. Israel will be hoping for more decisive backing from France and Germany in the next few days.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

How to lose the war on terror

How to Lose the 'War on Terror', by Mark Perry and Alastair Crooke, Asia Times

In a five part series on “The War on Terror,“ Conflicts Forum co-directors Mark Perry and Alastair Crooke (a member of the Next Century Foundation and former MI6 boss in the Middle East) explore why the West has misconceived its enemies in Islam. As a result of this fundamental misconception, which is based on the fatal inability to differentiate moderate from radical Islamist groups, Perry and Crooke argue that the West is and will continue to lose the “war on terrorism.“ Mark comments to us: "The articles are getting a lot of attention, thankfully, including in the US government. It is good to see that the printed word still has some impact." We re-publish them on this blog because of their importance.

For the Conflicts Forum Website go to:

http://www.conflictsforum.com/

In a series of articles in Asia times that began in March and concluded most recently on 8 June 2006, Perry and Crooke trace the intellectual foundations of the West’s conflict with Islam and explore and critique the tactics that have been adopted, and that continue to fail. Conflicts Forum’s exchanges with the leaders of political Islam (with representatives of Hamas, Hezbollah, Jamaat e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood) forms a baseline of information for their narrative.