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Entries in Israel (45)


The Latest from Iran (22 March): The Economic Clash

2100 GMT: Connection of Day --- Baghi's Detention and the "Killing" of Khomeini's Son. Fatemeh Kamali, the wife of the detained journalist Emadeddin Baghi, in an interview with Iranian Students News Agency, said: "The main charge held against him is that he believed that the death of Seyed Ahmad Khomeini was suspicious." (Ahmad Khomeini, the son of Imam Khomeini, died in 1995,allegedly from a heart attack. There have always been rumours of foul play,however; Khomeini had criticised the regime a month before his demise.)

Kamali produced a letter from Seyed Hassan Khomeini, Ahmad’s son, to Baghi which mentions that a Mr. Niazi, the head of judiciary for Iran's armed force, has confirmed the existence of some evidence of the murder of Ahmad Khomeini.

2045 GMT: Yes, This Parliament v. President Thing is Real. Mehr News Agency's English-language site puts out a summary, but the news is clear: Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani (see 1450 GMT) and his Parliamentary allies are not going to give way on President Ahmadinejad's demand for a reconsideration of their decision on his subsidy reform and spending plans.

NEW Iran Analysis: Politics and Subsidy Reform (Harris)

NEW Iran: View from Tehran “Changes within the System are Impossible”

Latest Iran Election Video: Nowruz and the Green Movement

Iran Snap Analysis: A Rights-First Approach in Washington?

Iran Video and Summary: Karroubi’s New Year Message

The Latest from Iran (21 March): Happy New Year, Mr Ahmadinejad

2030 GMT: Back from a long academic break to post the full video and transcript of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Included are remarks on Iran's threat to the Middle East and its nuclear programme.

1450 GMT: Larijani Stands Firm. Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani has pointedly rejected President Ahmadinejad's call for a national referendum on the proposed subsidies reductions and spending. Larijani said that Ahmadinejad had been authorised to spend $20 billion extra from the savings from the reductions, and he would not get any more. The Parliament's decision was not up for revision.

1440 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. A reliable EA source confirms that Hasan Lahouti, the grandson of Hashemi Rafsanjani and son of Faezeh Hashemi, was arrested by Iranian authorities at Imam Khomeini airport this morning. While the story broke in Fars, which has been known to post disinformation, it is also being carried in Tabnak and Alef.

Lahouti, who is studying at a British university, was returning to Iran for the Nowruz holidays when he was detained. There has been no comment from Rafsanjani or Faezeh Hashemi.

A few weeks ago, Lahouti was interviewed by BBC Persian, and he criticised the Government's harassment of his mother and grandfather. There is also speculation that Lahouti may have been arrested to put pressure on Mehdi Hashemi, Rafsanjani's son, to return to Iran. Mehdi Hashemi, who was named by Government prosecutors in the Tehran trials as culpable for election manipulation and misuse of funds, remains in Britain --- he has not been to Iran since last summer.

1430 GMT: Economy Watch. We've just posted a new analysis by Kevan Harris of "Politics and Subsidy Reform".

1250 GMT: Communications Battles. Fulfilling an initiative that we noted last week, European Union foreign ministers have declared, "The European Union expresses its grave concern over measures taken by the Iranian authorities to prevent its citizens from freely communicating and receiving information through TV, radio satellite broadcasting and the Internet. The EU is determined to pursue these issues and to act with a view to put an end to this unacceptable situation."

What that action might be was left undefined.

1140 GMT: Holding the Line. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's office is briefing the press that she will tell the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that the US "is taking time to produce these sanctions [against Iran]... but we will not compromise our commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring these weapons".

The surprise here is not Clinton's insistence on "sanctions that will bite" as "the United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons". She has to say this, given the tightrope the US is walking in trying to get the Israeli Government to make a commitment to talks over Palestine.

The surprise is that she is not offering the prospects of tougher sanctions in the near-future: is that because of difficulties in getting international acceptance or because the Obama Administration does not think sanctions --- at least the sweeping version proposed in the US Congress --- are an optimal way of dealing with Tehran?

1120 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. Fars News is claiming that Iranian authorities have detained the grandson of Hashemi Rafsanjani. Hasan Lahouti was allegedly arrested in Tehran airport upon arrival from London late Sunday.

0750 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Student Mehdi Kalari has been released from Evin Prison, reportedly after a protest by 2000 candidates at Sharif University last week against the detention of three classmates.

0720 GMT: In Case You're Still Wondering. Continued coverage in media of Ayatollah Khamenei's blasting of the US in his Nowruz speech in Mashhad. Press TV gives the state line: "Sometimes the US government appears as a wolf or a fox and looks violent and arrogant, and sometimes they look different."

For a different perspective, see the video we have just posted of chanting during Khamenei's speech.

0700 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. It is reported that Mohammad Davari, the imprisoned editor-in-chief of Mehdi Karroubi’s website Saham News, has gone on hunger strike.

Davari was arrested at Karroubi’s office on 8 September. Recently he was moved to solitary confinement, allegedly after complaining about harsh prison conditions during a visit by a Deputy Minister of Intelligence. He went on hunger strike a week ago.

0500 GMT: We begin the morning with a special from inside Iran. The friend of a top EA source has written from the Iranian capital to report on the latest political situation: resistance is alive, the Supreme Leader's "honour is broken", and sanctions are necessary.

Elsewhere, we are watching the ongoing Parliament-President battle over the budget, subsidy reform, and revenues. After three leading members of Parliament --- Tavakkoli, Naderan and Mesbahi Moghaddam --- declared Ahmadinejad's suggestion of a referendum is a defiance of the Majlis' authority and the Constitution. Mohammad-Nabi Habibi, the head of the Motalefeh Party, insisted that Ahmadinejad should obey the Majlis and there was no need for a referendum, while another observer noted that if the President wanted a public vote on the budget, there should also be one on his Government.

Economist Fereydoun Khavand, who is based in Paris, assesses that there is an unprecedented turmoil in economic policies, with the fight over the subsidies and possible 50-60% inflation.


Israel-US: Four Palestinians Killed as Netanyahu Goes to Washington

The death toll so far is four Palestinians. On Sunday, two farmers, who allegedly attacked Israeli soldiers with pitchforks near the West Bank city of Nablus, were shot dead. Earlier Sunday, a 19-year-old Palestinian died of wounds after he reportedly opened fire on Israel Defense Forces during a demonstration in the south of Nablus. On Saturday, a 16-year-old died after being hit in the heart by a rubber-coated bullet fired by Israeli troops.

Middle East Inside Line: Gaza is Boiling, Israel-Palestine Negotiations, Netanyahu to Washington

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is leaving for Washington on Sunday night. Earlier Sunday, at his weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that the policy on building in East Jerusalem has not changed in Israel's history and that he has informed the US administration of that in writing "Construction in Jerusalem is like construction in Tel Aviv and we have clarified that for the American government."

According to The Sunday Times, in return for his "promised gestures" towards Palestinians, Netanyahu will use a visit to Washington this week to press the U.S. to release advanced weapons, including sophisticated "bunker-buster" bombs needed to break through to Iran's nuclear enrichment installations, many of which are buried underground.

So, what are these "gestures?" Let's recall: suspending but not stopping the construction in East Jerusalem, the release of hundreds of Fatah-affiliated prisoners, the easing of the blockade on the Gaza Strip by allowing the UN to import construction materials, and discussing all core issues during the proximity talks, with the condition of reaching final conclusions only in direct talks with the Palestinian Authority. These are the "gestures" Netanyahu thinks that will bring a "stronger political and military relationship" with Washington.

We do not know what awaits Netanyahu in Washington but Edward Djerejian, former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, offered recommendations to the Obama Administration and revived the question: Should Washington consider suspending its economic aid as leverage? He told Haaretz by phone:
When faced with a similar situation concerning Israeli settlement activity in 1991, President George H.W. Bush and secretary James A. Baker III stopped an additional $10 billion in housing loan guarantees to the Israeli government headed by Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. The stakes are equally high today.

If the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are stalemated, the prospects for violence and instability in the region will be enhanced. The Obama administration should urge both the Israelis and the Palestinians to live up to their obligations in facilitating the onset of direct negotiations on the substantive issues. The sooner, the better.

Middle East Inside Line: Gaza is Boiling, Israel-Palestine Negotiations, Netanyahu to Washington

Gaza Rockets, Israel's Response: Five rockets in 48 hours have been launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel, one of them taking the life of a Thai worker. In response, Israeli Air Forces carried out two air strikes on two tunnels which wounded 14 Palestinians, two seriously.

Middle East Analysis: Syria, Thomas Friedman, & “Why We Fail” (Narwani)

Latest on Israel-Palestine Negotiations: On Friday, the Quartet (Russia, the United States, the UN and the European Union) called on Israel and the Palestinians to renew peace negotiations to achieve a two-state solution within 24 months. The statement said:

The Quartet believes these negotiations should lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties within 24 months, that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors.

The Quartet urges the government of Israel to freeze all settlement activities ... and to refrain from demolitions and evictions.

In response, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman bombarded the Quartet:
Peace will be established through actions and not by force.

The Quartet is ignoring the last 16 years of Israeli attempts, and is giving the Palestinians the impression that they can achieve their demands by continuing to refuse direct negotiations under false pretexts.

The Israeli government has made many significant gestures. Now it's the Palestinian's turn to prove that they are really interested in negotiations.

The Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was satisfied with the Quartet's decision and called it as "very important" but had one thing to add:
It is very important, but what is more important is for Israel to comply with what came in it so that we can launch the peace process.

According to the London-based pan Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, the chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority Saeb Erekat has demanded that the international community place supervisors in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem in order to ensure Israeli building halts completely. He said: "Even if Netanyahu would accept the position of the Quartet, in their call for a building freeze we wouldn't believe him because the building continues secretly."

On Saturday, UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon landed in Israel and went to Ramallah were he criticized Israeli settlement building by saying that it undermines peace efforts. He said:
The world has condemned Israel's settlement plans in east Jerusalem. Let us be clear. All settlement activity is illegal anywhere in occupied territory and must be stopped.

Having finished his meetings in the West Bank, General Secretary is going to return Israel to meet with President Shimon Peres. On Sunday, he is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and to visit the Gaza Strip. He said:
I go to Gaza tomorrow to express my solidarity with the plight of the Palestinians here and to underscore the need to end the blockade.

Netanyahu to Washington: Meanwhile, Israeli officials have confirmed that United States President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.

In interview with BBC television on Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked whether escalating the tone with Israel had paid off. She replied:
I think we're going to see the resumption of the negotiation track and that means that it is paying off because that's our goal.

Middle East Analysis: Syria, Thomas Friedman, & "Why We Fail" (Narwani)

Sharmine Narwani writes in The Huffingon Post:

Nothing annoys me more about New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman than his tendency to scuttle his occasionally insightful commentary with fabricated assumptions to fit his narrative.

This makes it really hard for me to like him.

You know that irritation that grows under your skin when somebody is making a lot of sense and then suddenly -- wham -- they hit you with a doozy so ridiculous you feel disproportionately deflated?

Well, that is my Friedman experience time and time again. Not always though -- sometimes I am irritated from the get-go.

In his latest column on Tuesday, Friedman shines a light on a very true Middle East reality -- one that quite deliberately gets downplayed in Washington's power centers: The Mideast is now, for the first time since the Cold War ended, largely defined by two blocs of influence and their respective worldviews.

The first, is the US-led bloc consisting of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan -- the latter three often ignominiously referred to as the "moderate" Arab states. The second, is the grouping sometimes referred to as the "resistance" bloc that consists of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.

Friedman's column posits that there are five key actors in the Israeli-Palestinian equation today: Israel, America, the "moderate" Arabs, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and the resistance bloc.

Look, I can give him that -- I don't have a fundamental problem with the fact that he only includes one key individual from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority to represent the entire Palestinian side. Fatah, on its own, is rather irrelevant these days, except in the minds of the US bloc. And kudos to Tom for recognizing this nuance.

Friedman then makes his main thrust, which is that only two of these actors actually have clear strategies for a Palestinian-Israeli solution:  Fayyad, the former World Bank economist who, peace or no peace, wants to create a de facto Palestinian state on the ground within two years -- and the resistance bloc. That's true enough. Friedman goes on to press the other three players to forge a clear, unified strategy -- preferably backing Fayyad's plan -- which can foil the agenda of the resistance bloc.

And then I did my double take. Iran... Hezbollah... Hamas... Where was Syria?

Ah, Thomas. You did that doozy-thing.

The Alliance of Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas

It is more than abundantly clear that in Washington, Tel Aviv, Riyadh and Cairo, all efforts are being made to wrest the reluctant Syria from this "resistance" bloc. It is equally obvious for those who live in the real world, that Syria has no intention of parting ways with its longtime friends.

When US President Barack Obama moved ahead with plans to reinstate an American ambassador in Damascus in 2009, the gleeful thinking in Washington was that Syria would prostrate itself in gratitude, jump at bilateral peace talks with Israel and walk into the US bloc's fold. Increasingly, however, even US analysts are grumpily acknowledging that the chances of this now happening are akin to Sarah Palin embracing a vegetarian diet.

But not our Thomas. He decided that this is how he wanted things to be, and so -- voila -- it just was.

As an opinion writer, Friedman still has the responsibility to convey the facts as they are - he can always spin his analysis around them or not include them in his deliberations if he wants to produce substandard commentary. But to just unilaterally change the facts? That isn't just wishful thinking -Friedman is trying to create the facts. And here is why his exclusion of Syria from this bloc is so completely disingenuous:

Syria Makes Its Position Clear

Renewed Syrian-US relations, rapprochement between Damascus and Riyadh, and Syria's disengagement from Lebanon brought hopes last year that the government of Bashar Al-Assad would take a more independent regional stance. When speculation reached a fevered pitch, Assad decided to nip it in the bud by staging a photo op worth a thousand words.

Last month, he convened a high-profile meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejadand Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah just to underline the cohesiveness of this bloc and quash all speculation of potential rifts.

The message, according to savvy, Damascus-based political analyst, journalist and author Sami Moubayed, was two-fold. Firstly, it was a warning for Israel to abandon all thoughts of launching another war in the region -- as in Gaza in 2008/9 and Lebanon in 2006: "The meeting de-escalated tension in the region and served as a deterrent by reminding all parties that the amount of destruction that would result from any war would be too much to bear."

Secondly, the meeting represented a clear signal to the US that this alliance will stand firm and cannot be ruptured because of the will of external players. Moubayed explains:
You don't sever relations just because another party wants you to -- you only do so when you have been wronged or there is a state of war, and those conditions don't apply at all to Syrian-Iranian relations.

In fact, throughout the 1990s Syria enjoyed relationships with Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US -- relationships with one party never precluded relations with another. That is not the way of diplomacy.

London-based Syrian diplomat Jihad Makdissi concurs: "We have always enjoyed good relations with both Iran and the West, so why is there suddenly a necessity to break links? This Iranian-Syrian relationship is devoted to the stability and security of the region, and the West should take advantage of this friendship instead of antagonizing both countries."

Invest, Not Divide

What does this mean? In the world of realpolitik, far, far away from Friedman's Mideast musings, this means that the US and others can "use the leverage that Syria has within this group to moderate them", says Moubayed.

He believes that after over a year of active engagement with Syria, the US bloc has in effect tacitly surrendered to the notion that "if they can't break this alliance, the best possible alternative is to invest in it instead."

There is evidence of this "investment" already: in the past two years, Syrian backdoor diplomacy has gained the release of high-profile Western captives in both Iran and Gaza. And recognition of Syria's role has come from the highest quarters in European capitals.

As Moubayed notes, the departure of US troops in 2012 will leave a vacuum in Iraq, which Iran and Saudi Arabia will compete to fill. Secular Syria is in the enviable position of enjoying a "cross-confessional network of allies (read Shiites and Sunnis) which it can use to stablilize and normalize Iraq - to the collective benefit of Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States".

Even if the Syrians and Israelis struck a deal to swap the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights for peace -- highly unlikely given the make-up of the current, right-wing Israeli government -- Jihad Makdissi insists that nothing would fundamentally change in relation to an alliance with Iran:
In Syria's view, for normality to prevail in the Middle East, Israel needs to withdraw from all occupied Arab land. The occupation is the problem in the region, not Iran.

So, Tom -- peace talks or not, nuke talks or not -- Syria is an active adherent of the increasingly popular regional worldview that includes Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. All the wishful thinking in the world won't alter a relationship that has outlasted five US presidents, and provides vital strategic value to its participants.

In all fairness, Friedman is just doing something that has been a hallmark of US policy in the Middle East for decades. Denying inconvenient facts that have left us deaf, dumb and blind to the realities we face in the region. It is no wonder we cannot claim any lasting victories.

Blind spots everywhere, and then we wonder why we fail.

Israel-Palestine Video: Biden's Settlements Humour

On Thursday, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden made an appearance at Radio and Television Correspondents' Dinner in Washington. He said:
I just got back from five days in the Middle East. I love to travel, but it's great to be back to a place where a boom in housing construction is actually a good thing.


Israel-Palestine: Gaza Rockets, Settlements, & Relations with Washington

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