Briefs: CIA lifts lid on Israeli raid on Syrian reactor; Iranians raze Tehran shuls


CIA: Syria Could Have Made Two Nukes

Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor that was nearly ready to produce two bombs, the CIA chief said.

Michael Hayden said Monday that the secret, unfinished reactor that the United States believes Israel bombed Sept. 6 in northeastern Syria eventually would have made fissile material for bombs.

“In the course of a year after they got full up, they would have produced enough plutonium for one or two weapons,” he told reporters.

Israel has refused to provide details on the target of the air strike, leaving the CIA to deliver an extensive briefing last week on indications that Syria was pursuing nuclear weapons with North Korean help. In an apparent reference to help from Israeli intelligence, Hayden said that CIA’s disclosures were “the result of a team effort.”

Some Israeli experts have questioned the wisdom of the CIA giving such an expansive account on the reactor because it could compromise intelligence assets in Syria. But Hayden indicated there was no breach of trust with Israel.

“One has to respect the origin of the information in terms of how it is used,” he said.

GOP Lawmakers Target Carter

Two Republican congressmen introduced legislation that would deny the Carter Center federal dollars.

U.S. Reps. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.) and Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) introduced the Coordinated American Response to Extreme Radicals Act , or CARTER Act, last week in the wake of former President Jimmy Carter’s recent outreach to Hamas.

“America must speak with one voice against our terrorist enemies,” Knollenberg said in a statement. “It sends a fundamentally troubling message when an American dignitary is engaged in dialogue with terrorists. My legislation will make sure that taxpayer dollars are not being used to support discussions or negotiations with terrorist groups.”

The Zionist Organization of American praised the legislation.

Carter’s Atlanta-based center focuses mostly on international development. The former president met with Hamas officials against the advice of the Bush administration. He defended his meetings as his attempt to help bring an end to the violence on the Israel-Gaza Strip border.

Pollard: I Don’t Know Kadish

Jonathan Pollard says he does not know alleged spy Ben-Ami Kadish.

Kadish, 84, allegedly passed American military secrets to Israel during the same period as the former Navy intelligence analyst.

Esther Pollard, the wife of the convicted and jailed spy, said in an interview that the first her husband had heard of Kadish was when his arrest was announced last week.

Kadish, a former U.S. Army engineer, is accused of spying for Israel between 1979 and 1985, a period coinciding with Pollard’s activities. Kadish is also believed to have been run by the same Israeli agent.

“He said he did not know Kadish and asked me if this would embarrass Israel, even though this was an affair that had been known for years,” Esther Pollard told Ma’ariv.

She further downplayed speculation that the new affair could hurt Israel’s efforts to win clemency for Pollard, who is eligible for parole in 2015.

Observers believe the U.S. government will likely deny the request.

“It won’t take long for this to drop from the headlines,” she said. “There will always be people who want to interfere, but this must not obscure Israel’s goal, which is to rescue its agent from jail in a foreign country.”

Iranians Raze Seven Synagogues in Tehran

Seven synagogues in Tehran have been razed by local authorities to make way for residential skyscrapers and urban renovation, L.A. Iranian Jewish leaders report. The synagogues were located in the Oudlajan neighborhood of Iran’s capital, a former ghetto with a dwindling Jewish population.

“It is a Muslim-owned area that in the eyes of a neutral observer would justifiably require a major renovation,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Los Angeles-based Iranian American Jewish Federation.

Oudlajan was the poverty-stricken site of Tehran’s Jewish ghetto nearly 100 years ago. After Iran’s Pahlavi monarchs gave Jews new freedoms more than 60 years ago, Tehran’s Jewish community gradually attained prosperity and left the area.

Kermanian downplayed the value of synagogues, saying that they were all but deserted.

“The synagogues there were mostly store fronts,” he said. “They were not the type of structures that would be considered significant historical monuments.”

While he believes the destruction of the synagogues was insensitive, Kermanian says he doubts anti-Semitism played a role.

Calls made to the Central Jewish Committee in Tehran for comment were not returned.

Tehran currently has 11 functioning synagogues, several Jewish schools and a Jewish library.

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Young Jews to Pledge Genocide Fight

Young Jews will pledge to fight all genocide during a Yom HaShoah gathering at Auschwitz. Some 10,000 participants in the annual March of the Living had planned to sign the pledge Thursday — Holocaust Remembrance Day — at the Nazi concentration camp in Poland.

The March of the Living Pledge commits each individual, the majority of whom are aged 16 to 22, “to fight every form of discrimination manifested against any religion, nationality or ethnic group.” It goes on to say, “After the Shoah the promise of ‘Never Again’ was proclaimed. We pledge to create a world where Never Again will become a reality for the Jewish People and, indeed, for all people. This is our solemn pledge to the Jewish People, to those who came before us, to those of our generation, and to those who will follow in future generations.”

The ceremony will be led by Brig. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, in recognition of Israel’s 60th anniversary. Following Thursday’s event, a global effort will attempt to enlist the support of the 150,000 March of the Living alumni to publicly state their condemnation of genocide past and present.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The other refugees



Is there a more loaded word in the Arab-Israeli conflict than “refugee”? Is there anything more visceral or emotional than the sight of millions of Palestinians living in miserable refugee camps for three generations?

If any one thing has symbolized the Palestinian cause and put Israel on the defensive, it is this image — this powerful and constant reminder to the world that Israel’s creation 60 years ago came with an “original sin,” and that Palestinians deserve the “right of return.”

You can debate the fairness of this claim, but in our world of easy sound bites, the image of Palestinian suffering has become an albatross around Israel’s neck. The fact that few Jews would ever agree to this right of return — which would erode Israel’s Jewish character — has made this an enormous obstacle to any reconciliation between the two people.

But here’s the question: Will Israel ever be able to claim the high ground when it comes to justice for refugees?

This week in Montreal, where I am spending Passover with my family, I met a man who thinks the answer is yes. He is one of the leaders of the Jewish community here, and he is actively fighting for justice for Middle Eastern refugees.

Jewish refugees, that is.

As Sylvain Abitbol explains it, the expulsion and exodus of more than 850,000 Jews from Arab countries is among the most significant yet little-known injustices against humanity of the past century. For hundreds of years, and in many cases for millennia, Jews lived in countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Lybia, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Iran, Iraq and Yemen. In several of these countries, the Jewish population was established more than 1,000 years before the advent of Islam. From the seventh century on, special laws of the Dhimmi (“the protected”) subjected the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa to prohibitions, restrictions and discrimination — not to mention harsh conditions of inferiority. Still, many Jews managed to prosper despite these circumstances.

Things took a turn for the worse after the birth of Israel in 1948. Between the 1940s and 1980s, the Jews of Arab countries endured humiliation, human rights abuses, organized persecution and expulsion by the local governments; Jewish property was seized without compensation; Jewish quarters were sacked and looted and cemeteries desecrated; synagogues, Jewish shops, schools and houses were ransacked, burned and destroyed; and hundreds of Jews were murdered in anti-Semitic riots and pogroms.

To this day, Arab countries and the world community have refused to acknowledge these human rights violations or provide compensation to the hundreds of thousands of Jews forced to abandon their homes, businesses and possessions as they fled those countries.

But activists like Abitbol are fighting back, all the way to the White House and the U.S. Congress. Abitbol, the first Sephardic Jew to lead the local Jewish Federation in Montreal and now co-president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, connected with this movement a year ago when he joined the board of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC). Together with other organizations like the American Sephardi Federation (ASF) and the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC), the movement, which is officially called the International Rights and Redress Campaign, toiled for years in obscurity.

A few weeks ago, they hit the jackpot.

That’s when the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed the first-ever resolution to grant recognition as refugees to Jews from Arab and Muslim countries. House Resolution 185 affirms that all victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict must be treated equally, which means it will now be official U.S. policy to mention “Jewish refugees” whenever there is mention of Palestinian refugees in any official document.

It’s a huge victory, but only a beginning. The United Nations and the world media are the next fronts in this battle for Jewish justice. Abitbol, a sophisticated man in his mid-50s who’s fluent in French, English, Arabic, Hebrew and Spanish, has no illusions about Israel’s precarious image in the world. But he’s far from being a cynic. He’s passionate about fighting for the rights of Jewish victims, and he is also a Jewish refugee (from Morocco). Yet he hardly acts like either a refugee or a victim.

Over tea at my mother’s house, he reflected on the major influences of his life. One of the things that stuck with me was something Abitbol said he learned early in his career, when he was in sales. Abitbol, who has two engineering degrees and is chairman of an innovative software company called uMind, calls the technique “listen and adapt:” You adapt your strategy and your communication to the values of your audience.

He gave me a fascinating example. While in Dubai recently on business, an Arab businessman confronted him on the situation in Israel. Abitbol, seeing that the man was a devout Muslim who believed that everything comes from God, gently explained — in Arabic — that if Israel has survived so many wars over 60 years, maybe it’s because it is “Inshallah” (God’s will). Abitbol got the other man’s attention.

Same thing when he spoke recently at a United Nations conference in Geneva on the subject of Jewish refugees. Directly facing representatives of Arab countries, he used the language of indignation and human rights that Arabs have used so successfully against Israel for so many decades, only this time it was on behalf of Jews.

Of course, he added that there is one major difference: Jews didn’t put their 850,000 refugees in squalid camps so they could have a powerful image on the evening news. They helped them resettle, so that one day, one of them would learn five languages and fly to Geneva to speak up on their behalf.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Bush flirts with peace talks but won’t commit to Palestinians


The rug that Syrian President Bashar pulled out from under his widely reported but vaguely defined peace offensive last week was a Persian weave.

He had been talking for months about unconditionally resuming negotiations with Israel over the Golan Heights, and it seemed like Israel, under American pressure, was the disinterested party. Then roles were quickly reversed in a week filled with feints and false starts, but so far there’s been more motion than movement.

President George W. Bush kicked off the week by reaffirming his vision of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it was widely seen as an attempt to divert attention from his debacle in Iraq rather than a commitment to sustained diplomacy.

That view was reinforced by a White House mailing to Jewish leaders recommending an article by historian Michael Oren quoting Israeli officials as satisfied “there were no changes in Bush’s policies.”

White House aides also quickly shot down any notion that the “international meeting” Bush announced would be a peace conference. Just a meeting, they said, chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Bush may not even show up. And don’t look for many Arab leaders to be there, either. The price of admission will be recognition of Israel, Bush said. That leaves out all those who should be there, like Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Iraq.

That’s right, Iraq. Bush’s icon of Arab democracy where leaders have repeatedly denounced the Zionist enemy and have no more interest in peace than that other benefactor of Bush’s democracy crusade — Hamas.

Assad’s shift hardly seemed coincidental, coming on the eve of a visit by his Iranian benefactor, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. According to a London-based Arabic newspaper, Ahmadinejad signed a strategic agreement with Syria promising increased military, political and economic assistance conditioned on a refusal to make peace with Israel.

To press his point, Ahmadinejad also met in Damascus with leaders of Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terror groups, encouraging them to unite in armed struggle against Israel, and he pledged Iran’s support.

Reversing his recent rhetoric, Assad announced he would resume talks with Israel only through a third party and only with advance written Israeli “guarantees” to meet all his demands, including a full return of the Golan Heights.

That came on the heels of a tactical shift by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who after months of dodging Assad’s probes, told Al-Arabiya television last week that he is ready for direct talks without preconditions.

Olmert had been under pressure from Washington to rebuff Assad’s peace feelers on the assumption the Syrian leader was just trying to deflect American pressure to stop aiding the Iraqi insurgents. As a condition for talks, Olmert had demanded Assad withdraw his backing for Hezbollah, Hamas and other anti-Israel Islamic extremist groups prior to any talks.

American sanctions have had little impact on Assad’s behavior, and the Syrian dictator apparently concluded threats of military action were a bluff in light of American problems in Iraq and Israel’s poor performance against Hezbollah in Lebanon last year.

Iran, according to Israeli analysts, has been trying to raise regional tensions by telling Assad that Israel is planning a war against Syria to block Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon and to erase last year’s failures. Ahmadinejad’s real goal may be to discourage American or Israeli attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities, they say.

The other prominent visitor to the region this week, with a totally opposite agenda, is former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the new Middle East envoy for the Quartet (United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia). His assignment is to help the Palestinians rebuild their institutions and economy, but he’d like to expand that and be an active peace negotiator as well.

That’s not what President Bush had in mind when he outsourced Middle East diplomacy to his old friend and loyal Iraq war partner. Blair has been a longtime advocate of accelerating the peace process and has the backing of three quarters of the Quartet.

His greatest obstacle might be Rice, who doesn’t want him treading on her turf. She’s made it clear that he should stick to his official mandate. That’s the way Ehud Olmert wants it, too; he’s no more ready than the Americans for the final status negotiations that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants.

But it’s more than just territorial for Rice; her boss likes to talk about peace but has been unwilling to do the heavy lifting needed to get negotiations off the ground.

Initially he didn’t want to be seen following the failed footsteps of his predecessors –Poppy and Bill Clinton — but Iraq overtook that. Bush paid lip service to Middle East peace because the Arabs, his allies and the Baker-Hamilton Commission said showing movement on that front was essential to convincing others to help rescue him from his Iraq morass.

Bush will hear that again this week when Jordanian King Abdullah II comes to the White House to tell him he’s not moving aggressively enough on the Palestinian front. The president will assure his royal visitor of his sincere desire for peace, but the reality is Bush’s desire to be the father of Palestinian statehood hasn’t gone beyond the flirtation stage. Wishes don’t beget results.

From Damascus to Jerusalem to Ramallah to Washington, these days of summer sizzle are looking like a time of peace fizzle.

Douglas M. Bloomfield, a former staff member of AIPAC, writes about the Mideast and politics of Jewish life in America.

Assad puts Syria on war footing; Righteous Gentile is Poland’s Nobel nominee


Assad puts Syria on war footing
 
Syria’s president said his country was bracing for a possible attack by Israel.Bashar Assad told a Kuwaiti newspaper last weekend that, in the wake of the Lebanon War, he believed Israel had no intent of pursuing peace talks with Syria.
 
“Syria expects Israeli aggression at any time,” he told Al-Anba. “Naturally, in the absence of peace, war can happen. Therefore, we have begun making preparations within the framework of our capabilities.”
 
Jerusalem officials, in response, reiterated Israel’s stance that it sought no confrontation with Syria. In Israel, Assad is regarded as having been frustrated by Syria’s inability to win back the entire Golan Heights through diplomacy. Israel rules out such preconditions for talks, and has called on Damascus to stop supporting Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups if it is sincere about peace.
 
Israel condemns North Korean nuclear test
 
Israel joined the global condemnation over North Korea’s nuclear weapons test. After Pyongyang stunned the world Monday by announcing it had conducted its first controlled atomic blast, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the move was “irresponsible and provocative” and “could pose a serious threat to the stability of Northeast Asia and to global and international security.”
 
Israeli officials noted that a nuclear-armed North Korea was likely to help Iran attain its own atomic arsenal. Army Radio quoted a senior Israeli diplomat as calling for tough Western action against North Korea, including, if necessary, resorting to military force.
 
Supreme Court docket piques Jewish groups’ interest
 
Jewish civil liberties groups are looking forward to a relatively quiet U.S. Supreme Court session in 2006-07, with none of the major church-state issues that have roiled the community in recent years. Instead, Jewish groups are focused on two cases about issues that don’t directly affect Judaism as a religion, but that traditionally have held the attention of Jewish civil libertarians: abortion and segregation. The court will hear two cases Nov. 8 in which federal courts struck down parts of the ban on partial-birth abortion, which President Bush signed into law in 2003. In Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, pro-choice groups argue that the legislation does not have adequate health exceptions for women at risk, and bans such abortions as early as 13 weeks into gestation. Jewish groups opposed to the ban and filing friend-of-the court-briefs include the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Congress and the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW).
 
The other case capturing Jewish interest involves attempts to desegregate districts in Seattle and Lexington, Ky. Groups filing friend-of-the-court briefs include the ADL, the American Jewish Committee and the NCJW. The Jewish groups favor the municipalities.In both instances, the municipalities are introducing desegregation measures because natural demographic trends have rolled back desegregation efforts from the 1970s. In some cases, schools have become more than 85 percent minority.
 
Jewish interest was piqued because the Bush administration is backing parental groups that oppose the desegregation measures in the cases, Parents Involved v. Seattle and Meredith v. Jefferson County. The cases, which have been combined, will be heard in late November or early December.
 
New Jersey Federation as emergency training model?
 
New Jersey may become the first state to use its Jewish federation system to train citizens as emergency first responders. State police and homeland security officials met with representatives from each of New Jersey’s 12 federations on Oct. 4 to discuss how they could offer CERT training to their employees and others in the Jewish community.
 
The federation trainee programs, and those who pass through them, would join a network of trained citizen emergency first responders run out of the federal Office of Homeland Security, which has some 2,500 training programs nationwide.
 
The New Jersey training would be offered for free through county offices of emergency management, according to Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Secure Community Network, the organization that facilitated the meeting. The group operates a communications network that keep tabs on the security of the Jewish community and helps Jewish organizations with security matters.
 
Goldenberg, who has been talking with representatives from the United Jewish Communities (UJC) federation umbrella about getting the training into all of UJC’s 155 federations, said the Jewish community needs to be prepared to respond to emergencies in the post-Sept.11 world, especially after a shooting this summer at the federation in Seattle.

Israel opens pious maternity ward
 
An Israeli hospital unveiled a maternity ward designed for ultra-Orthodox Jews. The five new delivery rooms at Jerusalem’s Bikur Cholim Hospital feature a special partition that allows the birthing mother to see her husband sitting beside her, but not for him to see her, Ma’ariv reported Monday. This provision satisfies Orthodox requirements of modesty. The rooms also have the options of stands for women’s wigs and piped-in Chasidic music.
 
According to the newspaper, the renovations cost Bikur Cholim some $1.3 million, most of it donated.
 
“The delivery rooms are the hospital’s flagship,” said hospital director Barry Bar-Tziyon.
 
Sukkot record crowd at Western Wall

A record number of Jews turned out for Sukkot services at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. An estimated 65,000 worshippers attended Monday’s prayers at Judaism’s most important site, which included the traditional blessing of the Cohanim, or high priests.
 
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, director of the Western Wall and Holy Places authority, described it as the largest turnout in a quarter-century.
 
Righteous Gentile Is Poland’s Presidential Nobel nominee
 
Polish President Lech Kaczynski has nominated a Righteous Gentile for a Nobel Peace Prize.
 
Ha’aretz reported that Irena Sandlar, 96, was a member of the Polish underground group, Zegota, which was dedicated to saving Jews during the Holocaust. In 1965, she was recognized by the Yad Vashem Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority for smuggling Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. The children were either adopted by Christian families or sent to convents, but Sandlar recorded their real names so that they could eventually be reunited with their Jewish families, according to Ha’aretz. She would become the first Righteous Gentile to receive the prize.

 
Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

One More Casualty in Crisis — Unilateralism


More than two weeks into the war in Lebanon, there is a growing consensus that one of the chief casualties will be Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

Pundits on the right and left argue that the war in Lebanon and fighting with the Palestinians in Gaza prove that unilateralism doesn’t work. They note that both previous unilateral pullbacks, from Lebanon in May 2000 and Gaza in August 2005, were followed by rocket attacks on Israeli civilians from the evacuated areas.

The same is bound to happen if Israel withdraws unilaterally from the West Bank without cast-iron security arrangements, pundits say.

But Olmert remains unmoved. Close aides say he is determined to pull out of the West Bank and set Israel’s permanent borders by the end of his current term in 2010. One of the main reasons is demographic — to ensure a democratic Israeli state with a clear Jewish majority.

The question is how to do it.

After the Lebanon and Gaza experiences — sustained rocket attacks on Israel in the wake of unilateral pullouts — will Olmert still want to adopt last summer’s Gaza model of withdrawal without agreement, or will he seek a different formula, such as bilateral arrangements with moderate Palestinian leaders or the introduction of international forces to keep the peace after Israel pulls back?
One of the most influential backers of the unilateral idea was journalist Ari Shavit of Ha’aretz, whose 2005 book, “Dividing the Land,” attempted to explain the rationale of the idea. But now Shavit has become one of unilateralism’s most outspoken critics.

Shavit’s change of heart reflects widespread disillusionment in Israel with the unilateral approach. In mid-July, a day after the outbreak of hostilities in the North, Shavit published an article “The End of the Third Way,” urging the government to come up with a new strategy.

In the article, Shavit argues that Israel has gone through three predominant policy phases since the 1967 Six-Day War, each undermined by an eruption of Arab violence. Initially, Shavit says, Israelis believed the Palestinian conflict could be maintained by occupation, then through a peace deal, and after that through unilateral separation.

But the occupation thesis was discredited by the first intifada in the late 1980s and early 1990s; the peace process it generated exploded with the second intifada in 2000 and unilateralism has crashed against the violence in Gaza and Lebanon, which Shavit calls the “third intifada.”

He concludes that “Israel is now desperately in need of a new diplomatic idea, a new strategic idea, a fourth way.”

A number of ideas are coming to the fore:

  • An international force to keep the peace and oversee the transition to Palestinian statehood after Israeli withdrawal.

    The endgame in Lebanon envisages a multinational force to keep the peace and help the Lebanese government deploy forces in the South and disarm Hezbollah. If that happens and proves successful, analysts say the model could be extended to the West Bank and Gaza.

    There it could take the form of an international mandate responsible for the transition to Palestinian statehood. Its main tasks would be to police the cease-fire, help create a single Palestinian armed force and build democratic institutions.

    The main advantage is that it could provide the stability Israel and the Palestinians have been unable to achieve. The main disadvantage is that an international force could become a target of Palestinian terrorism.
    The idea of an international transitional mandate has been proposed before by former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk.

  • The establishment of a Palestinian mini-state with temporary borders through direct negotiations under American aegis between Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

    The Americans would need to give both sides strong guarantees: To Israel that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved in the emerging Palestinian state, and to the Palestinians that the final border will closely approximate the pre-1967 boundary.

    The main advantage of this approach is that it would be easier to achieve than a full peace deal. The main disadvantages are that the Palestinians have opposed the idea because they fear temporary borders would become permanent; the Israelis suspect that Abbas, even if he signed an agreement, would not be able to deliver.

    The Israeli Foreign Ministry has set up a team to refine this approach.

  • Going back to the “Clinton parameters” of December 2000 for a final peace deal. Left-wingers argue that if the sides are able to begin negotiations on a mini-state they might as well aim for a full peace deal and a full-fledged Palestinian state. Terrorist organizations would be dismantled, the Palestinian state would be demilitarized and border arrangements would be made to prevent weapons smuggling.

    The trouble is that this is precisely the formula that failed so dramatically at Camp David six years ago, and the situation has deteriorated markedly since then.

  • Modified unilateralism. Israel’s West Bank settlements would be dismantled but the army would remain to prevent Kassam rocket fire and other terror attacks.

    The main advantage is that Palestinian terrorists wouldn’t be able to arm and act as freely as they would if the army pulls out. The main disadvantage is that Israeli occupation would continue, creating points of friction with Palestinians and costing Israel international goodwill.

    Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet security service, is the main proponent of this approach.

  • A Palestinian arrangement in the context of a major regional shake-up. This would entail stability in Lebanon under an international umbrella, good neighborly relations between Israel and Lebanon, and possibly even detachment of Syria from the Iranian axis.

    This would depend on the degree to which Israel crushes Hezbollah’s military power in the current conflict. Hezbollah’s defeat would reverberate in the territories and could lead to a strategic reassessment by Hamas leaders, especially if the Syria-Iran axis also collapses.

    The main advantage is that conditions could be created for a final, comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict. The disadvantage is that so far, at least, there is little sign that this scenario is realistic.

It’s clear that Olmert will have to adapt to the new post-war reality — but it’s still too early to gauge which fourth way,” if any, he’ll adopt.

Bush Expands Mideast Agenda


With the death toll mounting in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian "road map" plan in tatters, the Bush administration and Congress want to put out other Middle East fires before they get out of control.

Administration officials and lawmakers recently launched initiatives to sanction Syria and Iran for links to terrorist organizations and plans to develop and obtain weapons of mass destruction. Lawmakers also have focused on Saudi Arabia, accusing it of supporting Hamas and other terrorist groups. Officially, the Bush administration regards the kingdom as an ally in the war on terrorism.

The United States has been keeping an eye on these three countries for years, but attention on them has increased in the wake of U.S. military action against Iraq.

"I think it’s all wrapped up with the Iraq war and concern about the riffraff of the world assembling in Iraq to attack American forces," said Edward Walker, a former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. Walker said some Bush administration officials want to take severe actions against Iran and Syria, including new sanctions made possible by the Patriot Act, passed over Sept. 11, 2001. The new actions could include cutting sources of funding for the three countries and their interests in the United States.

Lawmakers are already highlighting their concerns in Congress. A number of congressional hearings last week produced dire predictions about Iranian and Syrian capabilities and what could be the result if the United States fails to act.

Israeli and U.S. legislators said Wednesday during a committee hearing that Iran could be "weeks away" from achieving nuclear-weapon capabilities.

"If not efficiently tackled, in one year from now we may face a new world, a very dangerous Middle East and a very dangerous world," said Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset’s foreign affairs and defense committee.

Pressure on Syria has been mounting as well. John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told a House subcommittee Tuesday that Syria is a dual threat because of its support of terrorist groups and the possibility that Syria could arm the groups.

"While there is currently no information indicating that the Syrian Government has transferred [Weapons of Mass Destruction] to terrorist organizations or would permit such groups to acquire them, Syria’s ties to numerous terrorist groups underlie the reasons for our continued anxiety," Bolton said.

Bolton also appeared to soften Bush administration opposition to the Syria Accountability Act — legislation backed by pro-Israel groups that would sanction Syria for harboring terrorists, seeking nuclear weapons and occupying Lebanon.

Bolton said Tuesday that the administration has no position on the legislation. The White House had previously claimed the legislation would tie up the administration’s hands in foreign policy. Sources say the State Department is using support for the sanctions act as leverage in discussions with Syrian officials.

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Bush on Tuesday calling for the United States to downgrade relations with Syria.

"Unless Syria changes its policies, no United States ambassador should be sent to Damascus, and the president should refuse to accept the credentials of any proposed Syrian ambassador to the United States," Ackerman wrote.

Walker said unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran and Syria would have little effect.

"We already have unilateral sanctions against both countries, and it hasn’t really stopped them," said Walker, now president of the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank. "Sanctions will only hurt American companies."

In Saudi Arabia’s case, the Bush administration and lawmakers remain miles apart. Lawmakers emphasize the link between the Saudis and terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaeda; the Bush administration says Saudis are aiding the fight against terrorism.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that American law enforcement officials estimate that 50 percent of Hamas’ budget comes from people in Saudi Arabia.

The Bush administration dismissed the report.

"The Saudi government has committed to ensuring that no Saudi government funds go to Hamas," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "We know that private donations from people in Saudi Arabia to Hamas are very difficult to track and stop, and we continue to work closely with Saudi officials to offer expertise and information that can assist them in that regard."

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