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BICOM Daily Briefing November 18 2003

Last updated: 2003-11-18

The focus of today’s newspapers is the investigation into the Istanbul synagogue bombings. The issue of renewed anti-Semitism also continues to feature in the British press, with editorials in The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph. The Daily Telegraph also runs an article focusing on praise afforded to suicide bombers in Palestinian school textbooks. The Daily Telegraph, Financial Times and International Herald Tribune all publish reports on President Chirac‘s unveiling yesterday of new measures to combat anti-Semitism in France. In Middle East coverage, The Independent features an article comparing the situation in Tikrit in Iraq to conditions on the West Bank. Israeli newspapers, Yediot Ahronot and Ma‘ariv  and Haaretz cover the arrests of individuals suspected of involvement in the Istanbul bombing, and the reported identification of one of the bombers.

Quotes of the Day

Israeli Prime Minister on negotiations with the Palestinian people:

Ariel Sharon (17/11 Newsweek): “Only performance counts. I would like very much to move the process forward. It should be implemented in three stages. The first should be a full cessation of terror. Then Israel will recognise a Palestinian state, without final borders. If relations develop, the third stage will be where final borders are decided upon. One thing that is very important is that all the security forces, many of which are involved in terror, come under the full control of the prime minister and that Yasser Arafat be removed from any position of influence.”

Ariel Sharon discusses the construction of Israel’s Security Fence:

Ariel Sharon (17/11 Newsweek): “It is a means to stop terrorist infiltration into the centre of Israel-to make it harder to send suicide bombers into Israel. But this fence is not a political fence. [Its location] doesn't represent the border between us and the Palestinians.”

Behind the News

Turkish citizens behind Istanbul bombings:

According to Israeli newspaper Maariv, Turkish security authorities have identified both suicide bombers from Saturday's terror attack on two Istanbul synagogues. The two Turkish citizens, who were members of the "Front of Simple Muslims in the Greater East," were identified due to security cameras installed in the synagogues. Investigators in Turkey are carrying out DNA tests on the bodies of the two suspects to confirm the identification.

Turkish sources said that one of the men was a Turkish terrorist who had visited Iran six times in the past few years and trained with explosives. Mossad head Meir Dagan told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Security Committee yesterday that the attacks in Istanbul are believed to have been perpetrated by organisations belonging to the Global Jihad and Al-Qaeda. He said the synagogues were guarded by the Turkish police and by a private security company, and that no flaws had been found in the security. He said attacks on such a scale require careful planning, a large amount of explosives and exact timing to coordinate the arrival of the vehicles carrying the bombs at the target site.

Palestinian terrorist kills two Israelis:

A Palestinian terrorist early Tuesday killed two Israelis standing at a checkpoint on the Tunnel Road, which links Jerusalem and the Bethlehem-area Gush Etzion settlement bloc. The terrorist, armed with an rifle, ambushed a group of Israelis who were standing near the checkpoint. One man was killed instantly and a second died of his wounds in hospital soon after.

Hopes are revived for the continuation of the peace process:

The visit by Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman to the territories has revived hopes in the possibility of renewed momentum and a return to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian sources report that Suleiman intends to achieve a more comprehensive agreement than that constituted by the previous, short lived ‘hudna’(ceasefire) during the summer of 2003. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon confirmed yesterday that he does not oppose a ceasefire agreement. He nevertheless expressed scepticism regarding the likely adherence of terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad to such an agreement, noting that in the past these organisations have used periods of quiet in order to re-group and re-arm. Prime Minister Sharon announced that he may meet Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) as early as next week. He said the delay in the planning of the meeting had been in order to allow Qureia to consolidate his power base.

In related news, Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot has reported that according to an internal document of Yasser Arafat's Fatah, the Fatah al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades has agreed to a ceasefire proposal under which the members of this leading terror group responsible for many of the terrorist attacks in the last year could be integrated into the Palestinian Authority security services. A senior member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades told the paper that the United States has already accepted the proposal.

Iran is existential threat to Israel:

Mossad head Meir Dagan told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Security Committee yesterday that the Iranian nuclear potential is an existential threat to the State of Israel. Dagan said that the Iranian reactor in Bushehr has a 100-megawatt capacity and is scheduled to be operative around the end of 2004. He also told the committee that the Iranians are nearing the completion of a uranium-enriching plant in Kashan and that if no technological problems arise, this plant may reach a production potential of ten nuclear bombs.

Comment and Opinion

The Daily Telegraph (18/11): “Anti-Semitism used to be known as the socialism of fools. Today it might more appropriately be known as the liberalism of fools. Last weekend's suicide bombing of two synagogues in Istanbul killed 23 people and wounded some 300, but it might have been far worse. According to the authorities, the death toll might have been up to 800 if security had not been tightened. Yet this massacre prompted a curious article in yesterday's Guardian by Fiachra Gibbons, who is an expert on minorities in the Ottoman empire. Rather than concentrate on the Islamist extremists responsible, Gibbons depicted a Jewish minority that had lived in harmony with its Muslim neighbours until the creation of Israel. "Of all the trials that have befallen them over the last 500 years, none has brought more threat than the existence of Israel." The mere existence of the Jewish state, apparently, "may unwittingly provoke attack".

What has happened to the liberal media in Europe that the slaughter of innocent worshippers and the desecration of ancient synagogues in Istanbul should evoke implicit criticism, not of the perpetrators, but of Turkey's ally Israel? Since the last attack on an Istanbul synagogue in 1986 by Palestinian terrorists led by Saddam's late protégé Abu Nidal, a great deal has changed. Then, the condemnation of the killers was universal and unconditional. Now, each new atrocity against Jews is greeted by new attempts at justification or relativisation. When Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir expounded his anti-Semitic conspiracy theory at a recent gathering of Islamic leaders, all 57 present applauded. Western responses were muted. As the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, said yesterday: "Radicals are preaching hate and nobody is protesting."

Nor is the new anti-Semitism limited to the Muslim world. On Saturday, a Jewish school near Paris was burnt down. So common have such attacks become in France that Le Monde did not even consider this incident worth reporting yesterday, but President Chirac appears to have woken up to the danger - late in the day. A poll sponsored by the European Commission finds that Israel is now considered by EU citizens to be the greatest threat to world peace. A liberal consensus is emerging that holds Israel responsible for the resurgence of anti-Semitism. To blame the victim is to exonerate the perpetrator. The carnage in Turkey should be a warning to Europe.”

The Guardian (18/11): “A new anti-semitism is on the march across the globe. It is no wonder that the Jewish community in the UK feels unsettled, uncomfortable and fearful. If the random attacks here have not been as ugly as in Turkey, they have nevertheless included schools, synagogues and cemeteries. The community is well aware of widespread violence in France, home to the largest Jewish community in Europe, along with rising attacks in Belgium and Germany. Then there has been the deliberate targeting of Jewish civilians in Moroccan and Tunisian attacks, in which, like Turkey's car bombs, the al-Qaida network is believed to have been involved. Where once, which was bad enough, terrorists concentrated their attacks on targets with clear ties to Israel - its embassies, airline or shipping offices - they are now wider in scope. All Jews are now seen by some extremists as legitimate targets. Here in Britain, some ultra-orthodox Jews have been stoned. They have no link to Israel. Indeed among their number are many who for theological reasons do not even recognise the state at all.”

“In a lecture to the parliamentary council against anti-semitism last year, the Chief Rabbi spoke of his surprise in having to raise the issue at all.

“He went out of his way to emphasis that he was not equating criticism of Israel with anti-semitism: "No democratic state is entitled to consider its beyond approach, and Israel is a democratic state. Indeed it was ancient Israel which, in the biblical prophets, invented the art of self-criticism. Zionism is categorically not, as it is sometimes claimed to be, 'My people right or wrong'."

The challenge which the Chief Rabbi issued last year, remains as relevant today: why is the liberal left not sufficiently concerned about the growth of anti-semitism? On this year's anti-war march in Paris, Jewish peace activists were beaten up by other demonstrators. There were less dramatic confrontations on London's million-strong march. It did not matter to the attackers that Jewish writers and activists have been vocal against the Iraq war. Nor did the attackers care that many criticise the current Israeli government's policies towards the Palestinians. Their victims were targets just because they are Jews.

Even the police are now being more proactive in pursuing people spreading virulent anti-semitic literature or inciting religious hatred. Could not the liberal left, which in an earlier era vigilantly sought to protect Jews from prejudice and bigotry, rediscover its old values?”

Barry Rubin (Jerusalem Post, 18/11): “At last Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala) has formed a Palestinian government. Israel and the United States will test out the new cabinet's interest in making a real cease-fire. Yasser Arafat is nevertheless still in control. What does this all mean? First, Qurei is a genuine moderate, if a rather weak-willed one. From its inception in 1996, he headed the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). One might hope that the PLC would be a force for moderation and democracy. But what about Qurei's successor? When it was decided that Prime Minister Qurei must resign as PLC chair, he was replaced by Rafik al-Natsha, also known as Abu Shaker. I have not seen a single analysis of this fact but it is really pretty horrifying.

Natsha is the former PLO ambassador to Saudi Arabia and a former member of the Fatah Central Committee, as well as, of course, a PLC member. In 1988, he became an outspoken opponent of the Palestine National Council resolution which hinted (albeit cynically and obliquely) that the PLO might not keep trying to destroy Israel. So virulent was his opposition to any hint of peace that he denounced Arafat at the 1990 Fatah meeting. Subsequently, he was the only person not reelected to the Fatah Central Committee. Naturally, it is not surprising that Natsha then became an outspoken enemy of the Oslo agreement and the peace process.”

“Thus, the PLC, formerly under somewhat independent leadership, is now controlled by a complete Arafat loyalist who is a hard-liner and who opposes even minimal steps for peace. Translation: the PLC will not be a force for moderation or democracy.”

“Qurei's government was held up for some weeks because of a heated debate over who would be the minister of interior, an important post since it controls (at least theoretically) the security forces. Arafat was minister of interior until former PA premier Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) tried to reform the system. Abbas then functioned in that job formally but let Muhammad Dahlan take the leading role. There was some hope of a strong hand trying to mobilize the security forces to stop the terrorism that preys on Israelis and the anarchic rule by thugs that menaces Palestinians.

Qurei wanted to put Nasser Yusuf, another tough guy, into the job. Arafat rejected this idea. So who is minister of interior in the end? Hakam Balawi. He is Arafat's valet, one of his closest and most trusted assistants, who served as PLO ambassador to Tunisia when Arafat was in Tunis but was basically Arafat's office manager. Balawi has no military experience whatsoever and no base of support other than that which Arafat gives him. It would be impossible for Arafat to have picked anyone more servile and less capable of pulling the security forces into line. Is Balawi going to order these people to arrest terrorists, stop Hamas, end corruption? No. And if Arafat had any intention of doing so, he would not have picked Balawi.

Nahum Barnea (Yediot Ahronot 18/11): Revelations of antisemitism in the Arab and Muslim world did not cause a storm among Israelis in the past. They were ignored in favour of more urgent subject: peace and war, terror and the fight against it, contacts and desputes between leaders. There were even those who thought that Islamic antisemitism played a certain positive role: the legend of Jewish world control increased Israeli deterrence. If the Jews must be seen as a monster, better they be seen as a terrifying one.

We were mistaken, it seems. We were mistaken all along. The terror attack at the two synagogues in Istanbul, like the attacks that came before it in Morocco and Tunisia, like the speech on the ‘protocols‘ by the Malaysian prime minister, all bear painful testimony to the extent of the error. The language of antisemitism goes far, and results in the harming not only of Israelis, but also of all Jews, and first and foremost those Jews who live in the countries of Islam."

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Israel Briefing supplied by BICOM