To buttress Iran deal, a NATO-like treaty with Israel


When America faced fears of a nuclear attack during the Cuban Missile Crisis more than 50 years ago, President John Kennedy offered a strong statement to the Soviet Union: “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”

While President Barack Obama has repeatedly said he stands behind Israel, he should now issue a statement similar to Kennedy’s to make it crystal clear to the Iranians that, whether or not the nuclear accord is ratified by Congress, the United States will consider an attack on Israel as an attack against the U.S. and “a full retaliatory response” will follow. Congress should then endorse that statement.

There is more the president can and should do to deter Iran and allay Israel’s fears concerning the agreement with Iran.

His Aug. 19 letter to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), published by The New York Times, is a good step. In it, he made further security assurances, pledging, among other guarantees, to increase missile defense systems and boost tunnel detection. Additionally, Obama wrote, “I have proposed to Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu that we begin a process aimed at further strengthening our efforts to confront conventional and asymmetric threats” and is prepared to enhance information sharing.

That Israel is the country most threatened by the agreement with Iran is indeed a realistic assessment, one offered by Israel’s prime minister as the reason for his taking controversial and rare steps to interfere in the domestic American process of foreign policy-making. He spoke intensely on the floor of Congress in March to urge American legislators to oppose the agreement. He is now directly lobbying American Jews to pressure their representatives in Congress to vote against the accord.

Thus, Netanyahu not only publicly and forcefully opposes the president of the world’s greatest power — Israel’s only reliable ally; he asks others to do the same. It is not surprising that Obama answered in kind, noting that if Israel continues to fight against the deal, it will be further isolated and more vulnerable if the agreement is rejected.

This regrettable breach in the Israeli-American relationship need never have occurred. Israel was not a participant in the negotiations, and its defense needs could have been, and still should be, handled by means other than getting mired in bitter arguments over whether Congress should disapprove the accord. This battle served only to seriously erode U.S.-Israeli relations.

There is a far better and more direct way for Netanyahu to ensure Israel’s safety, and the U.S. has other ways to protect Israel: a U.S.-Israel bilateral treaty analogous to the Rio Pact in Latin America, the NATO treaty in Europe, and U.S.-bilateral treaties with such countries as Japan and Australia.

It was Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who began the move toward a U.S.-Israel defense treaty. Obama has come closer than any other president to implementing these ideas by his comments in the wake of the Iran deal that America will protect Israel.

Now the president must take the next step: a specific treaty. But with or without one, the U.S. needs to put in writing that any weapons of mass destruction threat to Israel will be treated as an attack against the territory of the U.S., perhaps backed by a vote of Congress. This kind of deterrence would offer a far more effective means of ensuring Israel’s security and allaying its fears arising from the nuclear agreement than the Israeli prime minister’s staunch opposition to the Iran nuclear deal or by the U.S. trying to
defend Israel without dramatic, practical
actions.

This is what Netanyahu and Israel’s supporters should have been lobbying for throughout these many months of heated debate over the deal. Unfortunately, they didn’t. Hopefully, their efforts in the U.S. to scuttle the nuclear agreement have not damaged the U.S.-Israel relationship to such an extent that it is too late to ask Obama to unveil an effective deterrent to Iran’s ever attacking Israel: unequivocal statements similar to Kennedy’s and a defense pact. 

Steven L. Spiegel is a professor of political science and the director of the Center for Middle East Development at UCLA and a scholar at the Israel Policy Forum

Israel says Syrian mortar strike was attack on NATO


Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said on Thursday a deadly Syrian mortar strike on a Turkish town had to be considered an attack on a member of the NATO alliance.

Israel is technically at war with Damascus and occupies the Golan Heights that it seized in the 1967 war and later annexed, but it has generally taken a cautious line on the uprising in its Arab neighbor.

“One has to say that according to the NATO treaty, it was an attack on a member of NATO, and that means France,” Meridor told reporters during a visit to Paris, referring to France's membership of NATO.

Syria and Israel have not exchanged fire in three decades, and a parliamentary briefing in July by the Israeli armed forces chief about the risk of “uncontrollable deterioration” in Syria were interpreted by local media as a caution against opening a new fighting front with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Meridor said he did not want to go into details about the incident but said the deaths in Syria had to end.

“Syria is in a horrible situation, a civil war. Each day men, women and children are being killed and it must be stopped,” Meridor said after meeting France's foreign and defense ministers.

“We are in a process that isn't finished. We don't see the end for now.”

Turkey's government on Thursday said “aggressive action” against its territory by Syria's military had become a serious threat to its national security and parliament approved the deployment of Turkish troops beyond its borders if needed.

Immediately after the incident, Ankara, which has the second-largest army in NATO, called a meeting of the organization's North Atlantic Council.

Syria has apologized through the United Nations for the mortar strike in Turkey and said such an incident would not be repeated.

Israel has been particularly worried that Hezbollah, the Iranian-inspired Shiite militia in neighboring Lebanon, may gain access to the chemical weapons should Assad's grip slip amid a 18-month-old insurgency.

Assad, from the minority Alawite sect, considered an offshoot of Shia Islam, has close ties both with Shi'ite Iran and Hezbollah, which was originally set up to oppose Israel.

“The alliance with Iran is extremely worrying (for us). Iran on one side, Hezbollah on the other, with Syria in the middle. For us, it's very important that this unholy alliance is broken,” Meridor said.

“If the Assad regime were to fall, it would be a vital strike on Iran,” he said.

Reporting By John Irish

Israel moves tanks to border with Egypt after attack kills civilian


Israel reportedly moved tanks close to the border with Egypt following a cross-border attack in which an Israeli civilian was killed.

The move Monday was in violation of the Camp David Accords. The tanks were later withdrawn from the area, according to Haaretz. 

The terrorists who infiltrated Israel from Egypt killed an Israeli contractor during a border attack.

The terrorists detonated an explosive device Monday morning near two Israeli vehicles carrying contractors who are working on the border fence between Israel and Egypt. Gunfire was also directed at the vehicles, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Three terrorists had infiltrated into Israel in a place where the border fence is not yet complete. Some terrorists remained on the Egyptian side of the border, the IDF said. The incident took place near the Philadelphi Corridor, a narrow strip of land along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt

Golani Brigade soldiers who arrived at the scene within minutes of the incident opened fire on the terrorists, killing two. One of the terrorists was carrying a large explosive device that went off after he was fired upon, according to the IDF. No terrorists remain inside of Israel, according to Brig.-Gen Yoav Mordechai of the IDF Spokespersons Unit.

The attack comes a day after two long-range Grad missiles fired from the Sinai Peninsula were discovered in southern Israel.

“We see here a disturbing deterioration in Egyptian control in the Sinai,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday during a meeting with his Polish counterpart, Tomasz Siemoniak, in Tel Aviv.  “We are waiting for the results of the election.  Whoever wins, we expect them to take responsibility for all of Egypt’s international commitments, including the peace treaty with Israel and the security arrangements in the Sinai, swiftly putting an end to these attacks”

IDF troops returned later Monday to the scene of the attack to retrieve the terrorists’ bodies, according to reports. A helmet, vest, uniforms, and Kalashnikov rifles were found near the terrorists.

The Israel-Egypt border project currently employs 1,500 workers, according to Ynet.

Egypt ends gas deal with Israel, stakeholder says


Egypt’s energy companies have terminated a long-term deal to supply Israel with gas after the cross-border pipeline sustained months of sabotage since a revolt last year, a stakeholder in the deal said on Sunday.

Ampal-American Israel Corporation, a partner in the East Mediterreanean Gas Company (EMG), which operates the pipeline, said the Egyptian companies involved had notified EMG they were “terminating the gas and purchase agreement”.

The company said in a statement that the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation and Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company had notified them of the decision, adding that “EMG considers the termination attempt unlawful and in bad faith, and consequently demanded its withdrawal”.

It said EMG, Ampal, and EMG’s other international shareholders were “considering their options and legal remedies as well as approaching the various governments”.

Before the sabotage, Egypt supplied about 40 percent of Israel’s natural gas, which is the country’s main energy source.

Israeli officials have said the country was at risk of facing summer power outages due to energy shortages.

Companies invested in the Israeli-Egyptian venture have taken a hit from numerous explosions of the cross-border pipeline and are seeking compensation from the Egyptian government of billions of dollars.

Ampal and two other companies have sought $8 billion in damages from Egypt for not safeguarding their investment.

The Egyptian decision is a potential blow to the country’s ties with Israel, already tested by the toppling of Israeli ally President Hosni Mubarak a year ago.

Egypt was the first of two Arab countries to sign a peace treaty with Israel, in 1979, followed by Jordan in 1994.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch, Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Michael Roddy

West pushes U.N. Syria vote despite Russian criticism


Western powers brushed aside Russian criticism of a U.S.-drafted Security Council resolution authorizing an advance team of U.N. observers to monitor Syria’s fragile ceasefire and said on Friday they hoped to put it to a vote this weekend.

The U.N. missions of Britain, France and Germany said the U.S.-drafted resolution was co-sponsored by Britain, France, Germany, Portugal and Morocco, the sole Arab nation on the council.

The draft, obtained by Reuters, calls for the initial deployment of up to 30 unarmed U.N. observers to Syria in line with a request by U.N.-Arab League mediator Kofi Annan.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who had criticized an earlier version of the U.S. text, presented the 15-nation council with his own draft that Moscow would prefer to vote on.

“We have put together a shorter version of (the U.S.) text,” Churkin told reporters after closed-door discussions on Syria. “We had this understanding yesterday that it should be to the point, pragmatic, specific about putting in boots on the ground, (an) advance party of the monitoring team.”

Several diplomats said negotiations with Russia to find mutually acceptable language were slow and difficult. They said the council was unlikely to reach an agreement on Friday and they would likely reconvene on Saturday after delegations have had a chance to receive instructions from their capitals.

U.N. diplomats say Syrian ally Russia supports Annan’s peace efforts but is working hard to shield Damascus from what it sees as a Western push for Libya-style “regime change.” Russia and China have vetoed two resolutions condemning President Bashar al-Assad’s 13-month assault on anti-government protesters.

The competing draft resolutions are a response to Annan’s request that the council move quickly to get the first members of an observer force, which will ultimately have up to 250 monitors, in Syria to lock in the fragile ceasefire.

Several Western diplomats said negotiations were focusing on the U.S. draft, not the Russian one.

U.N. OBSERVERS ON STAND-BY

Annan spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said the U.N.-Arab League envoy hoped the council would pass the resolution on Friday.

“The (U.N.) Department of Peacekeeping Operations is working around the clock to find the necessary number of troops for the full observer mission eventually,” he said.

“At the moment we have the advance team standing by to board planes and to get there, to get themselves on the ground as soon as possible,” he said.

A U.N.-backed ceasefire aimed at halting more than a year of bloodshed in Syria appeared to be holding on Thursday, but forces loyal to Assad fought rebels near the border with Turkey on Friday, threatening the truce.

The latest U.S. draft would have the council say Damascus should “ensure full, unimpeded, and immediate freedom of movement and access throughout Syria for all (observer) mission personnel as deemed necessary by the mission.” Russia’s draft, seen by Reuters, has deleted that paragraph.

The first U.S. draft had made a number of demands on the Syrian government and did not explicitly demand anything of the opposition. That, council diplomats said, annoyed Russia.

The new U.S. draft includes proposed Russian language about the rebels, saying the council “demands that all parties in Syria, including the opposition, immediately cease all armed violence in all its forms.”

It also has the council “condemning the widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities, recalling that those responsible shall be held accountable.”

It ends with a vague threat of “further steps” by the council if Syria does not comply with the resolution.

Editing by Doina Chiacu and Mohammad Zargham

Egypt: U.S. aid cut may force Israel treaty review


The Muslim Brotherhood has warned that Egypt may review its 1979 peace deal with Israel if the United States cuts aid to the country, a move that could undermine a cornerstone of Washington’s Middle East policy.

Washington has said the aid is at risk due to an Egyptian probe into civil society groups which has resulted in charges against at least 43 activists, including 19 Americans who have been banned from leaving the country.

Egypt has been one of the world’s largest recipients of U.S. aid since it signed the peace treaty with Israel, and the Brotherhood, which does not yet hold the reins of power, said any decision to cut that aid because of the investigation would raise serious questions.

“We (Egypt) are a party (to the treaty) and we will be harmed so it is our right to review the matter,” Essam el-Erian, a senior Brotherhood leader, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

“The aid was one of the commitments of the parties that signed the peace agreement so if there is a breach from one side it gives the right of review to the parties,” added Erian, the deputy leader of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the biggest group in the newly elected parliament.

His remarks are likely to increase pressure on all sides to resolve one of the worst crises in U.S.-Egyptian ties since the treaty was signed. In similar comments, FJP leader Mohamed Mursi said in a statement that U.S. talk of halting the aid was “misplaced,” adding that the peace agreement “could stumble.”

He said: “We want the march of peace to continue in a way that serves the interest of the Egyptian people.”

The 1979 treaty made Egypt the first Arab state to forge peace with Israel and underpinned Washington’s relationship with Cairo during Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule, during which the Brotherhood was officially banned.

The Sinai peninsula, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, was handed back to Egypt under the agreement, and diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt were established.

The Brotherhood has emerged as the single biggest political force in Egypt since Mubarak was ousted a year ago, winning more than 43 percent of the seats in recent parliamentary elections.

But for now Egypt is ruled by a council of military generals to whom Mubarak handed power on February 11, 2011. They are due to make way at the end of June for an elected civilian president – a post the Brotherhood has said it will not contest.

The military council has repeatedly pledged to honor Egypt’s international obligations, including the peace deal with Israel, a position the Brotherhood has shared until now.

The group has become increasingly outspoken on foreign policy since its parliamentary success, directing harsh criticism at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government over its efforts to crush a revolt against his rule.

CLERIC SAYS FOCUS MUST BE ECONOMY

In his annual budget message to Congress this week, U.S. President Barack Obama asked for military aid to Egypt to be kept at $1.3 billion and sought $250 million in economic aid.

But General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Tuesday he had told Egypt’s ruling generals that the NGO issue must be resolved satisfactorily to allow military cooperation with Cairo to continue.

A State Department spokeswoman also said that failure to resolve the impasse could endanger the funds.

Charges filed against those accused in the investigation include that they worked for groups not properly licensed in Egypt and received foreign funding illegally. The Egyptian government has said the case is a matter of law.

But Egyptian NGOs accused the authorities on Wednesday of mounting a scare campaign aimed at deflecting attention from what they said was the failure of the army-led administration.

The 29 NGOs issued a statement accusing the authorities of “creating imaginary battles with other states.”

Tensions were further inflamed with the release of remarks made last year by Minister of International Cooperation Faiza Abul Naga in which she linked U.S. funding to civil society to an American plot to undermine Egypt. She spoke of what she called an attempt to steer the post-Mubarak transition in “a direction that realized American and Israeli interests.”

The rise of Islamist groups since Mubarak was ousted has caused deep concern in Israel. But despite their worries, Israeli officials do not believe the next president of Egypt will tear up the peace treaty.

A cleric seen as close to the Brotherhood said in an interview published on Wednesday that Egypt could not risk any military confrontation with Israel, adding that the country’s main concern must be its economic problems.

“Egypt cannot enter a struggle in the military sense and leave the affairs of building on the internal front,” Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian who lives in Qatar, told Shorouk newspaper. “Now the citizen cannot remain without work.”

Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy; Editing by Andrew Osborn

Palestinians unmoved as Israel presents border ideas


Israel has presented Palestinians with its ideas for the borders and security arrangements of a future Palestinian state, in a bid to keep exploratory talks alive, Palestinian and Israeli sources said on Friday.

However, Palestinian officials said the verbal presentation by Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho at a meeting on Wednesday was a non-starter, envisaging a fenced-off territory of cantons that would preserve most Jewish settlements.

“He killed the two-state solution, set aside previous agreements and international law,” said a Palestinian Liberation Organisation source. “Basically, the Israeli idea of a Palestinian state is made up of a wall and settlements.”

It was the first time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration has broached the issue of borders with Palestinians. An Israeli official said the presentation was in line with a framework for talks set by the Quartet—the United States, European union, Russia and the United Nations.

Its aim is to ensure that the core issues of borders and security were clearly set out by January 26, with the goal of relaunching negotiations stalled since November 2010, to reach a framework peace accord by the end of this year.

After five rounds of talks in Jordan, including Wednesday’s session, the Palestinian source said there are no more meetings scheduled. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he wants to consult Arab League states on the next move.

According to the Palestinian source, Molcho’s team suggested that any solution creating a Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel needs to “preserve the social and economic fabric of all communities, Jewish or Palestinian.”

The idea presented by Molcho “does not include Jerusalem and the Jordan valley, and includes almost all (Jewish) settlements,” the Palestinian official said.

No maps were presented at the meeting, he added.

The Palestinians want a state including the West Bank, the Jordan Valley, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

The Gaza Strip is ruled by the Islamist Hamas faction which rejects a permanent peace settlement with Israel and refuses to recognize it. Politically and geographically, Gaza is split off from Abbas’s West Bank territory.

An Israeli official said Molcho presented guiding principles that determine Israel’s positions on the territorial issue.

Israel’s approach to territorial compromise in the occupied West Bank includes the principal that “most Israelis will be under Israeli sovereignty and obviously most Palestinians will be under Palestinian sovereignty,” the official said.

He noted that Netanyahu had acknowledged, in a speech to the United States Congress, that not all Jewish settlements “will be on our side of the border” of a future Palestinian state.

“We think it is very important that these talks continue. They are only at a preliminary stage, but they contain potential and obviously in less than a month it would have been illogical to talk about a breakthrough,” he said.

“But in many ways the talks are progressing better than expected and it would indeed be a pity to bring about a premature ending of this process.”

Palestinians dispute this. “The Israelis brought nothing new in these meetings,” said one official familiar with the talks.

Peace negotiations foundered in late 2010 over a Palestinian demand that Israel suspend settlement building in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Reporting by Jihan Abdalla and Dan Williams. Writing by Douglas Hamilton; editing by Crispian Balmer

Egyptian Islamist party says it will recognize treaty with Israel


A radical Islamist party in Egypt said it will respect the country’s peace treaty with Israel.

The spokesman for the Salafi Al-Nour party, which won up to 30 percent of the vote in the first round of parliamentary elections in Egypt, announced Tuesday that the party would respect all treaties signed by Egypt, including the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. Party leaders later clarified that the party is looking into the matter, Ynet reported.

The Salafi Al-Nour party finished second behind the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party; the Muslim Brotherhood refuses to negotiate with Israel.

Meanwhile, violence continued for a fifth day in Egypt as soldiers and police fired live ammunition and used batons on protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. At least 13 protesters have been reported killed and hundreds wounded as protesters demand an end to military rule.

Egypt’s foreign minister talks tough on Israel


Egypt’s new foreign minister said the days of Israel getting cheap gas and strategic benefits are over.

In an interview Sunday on Egyptian television, Nabil al-Arabi said Egypt will demand that Israel pay the difference between the reduced prices it received and market value on the natural gas it purchased under deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. 

It was the first time an Egyptian official has spoken of a retroactive payment. The new oil minister has called for the price to be renegotiated on future purchases, according to Ynet.

Reports have circulated that the Egyptian government exports natural gas to Israel at prices lower than the cost of production.

Arabi also threatened to review and amend security arrangements agreed to in the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty, but he stressed that the two countries would have to agree on any changes.

”We will stick to all of the treaties we signed, and we will demand that they keep their side of the deal,” he said, before adding that “We will not be a ‘strategic treasure’ for Israel as they used to say during the time of Mubarak. We will only abide by the treaties.”

Arabi also said that although the Sinai Peninsula is required to be demilitarized according to the treaty, Egypt keeps a military presence there.

The foreign minister stressed that the Egyptian government continues to play an important role in the Middle East peace process and said that “the Palestinians want peace, but Israel has not yet met their demands.”

”There must be some decisiveness in the issues Israel has not abided by, such as the clause that states that Israel must maintain peace with countries that want peace, which has not happened with Palestine, which has agreed to peace with Israel,” he said. ”The conflict between Palestine and Israel should be ended and not managed … for the benefit of Israel, Palestine and the entire world.”

Egyptian media reported over the weekend that Arabi also said that he would work to renew diplomatic ties with Iran since he did not consider it an enemy state.

Egyptian presidential hopeful Moussa: Treaty with Israel is safe


Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League and an Egyptian presidential candidate, said he would not break his country’s peace treaty with Israel.

According to several news outlets, Moussa said he would keep the treaty but would plan to renegotiate the deal supplying natural gas to Israel.

Egypt has not provided any natural gas to Israel for more than a month following an attack on the gas line between Sinai and Egypt. The attack occurred during the recent uprising by the Egyptian people that forced President Hosni Mubarak from office after 30 years.

“We cannot rebuild Egypt … while adopting an adventurous foreign policy,” Moussa said, adding that “we would be kidding ourselves” if Egyptians didn’t recognize Israel as a state, The Associated Press reported, saying Moussa made the statements Tuesday.

A presidential election in Egypt is set to take place this summer, six weeks after parliamentary elections in June called by the military, which is currently in power. Moussa participated in a town hall-style meeting Tuesday in Cairo, according to The New York Times.

Moussa served for a decade as Egypt’s foreign minister until 2001, when he was fired by Mubarak. Moussa’s dismissal came as a result of the popularity of a song called “I hate Israel and I Love Amr Moussa,” according to reports.

In his position as Arab League secretary general, Moussa has been a harsh and vociferous critic of Israel on a variety of issues.