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BICOM Daily Briefing December 15 2003

Last updated: 2003-12-15

The news agenda is dominated by the capture of Saddam Hussein yesterday in Tikrit. The Times, The Guardian and The Independent consider the implications for Israel, and for the pursuit of peace in the region. The Glasgow Herald reports on the sense of disappointment amongst Palestinians on hearing of the capture. The Daily Telegraph and the Herald both report that a man has been arrested in connection with last month’s synagogue bombs in Istanbul.

Saturday’s Independent carried a feature on the zoo in Qalqilya, as well as an article by Edward Kessler entitled “We need to offer the world a different Chanukah gift this year” in its ‘Faith and Reason’ section.

Sunday’s Observer contains an article on Jewish pride in New York and an article on the ‘Scourge of anti-Semitism in Europe’. The Sunday Telegraph features a piece on the tax bill presented by Yasser Arafat to the owner of a curio shop in Bethlehem that has forced him to close the shop, as well as an article on the nominations for the title of “Greatest Arab” on an Arab television channel. Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat have all received nominations.

Israeli papers also report on the developments in Iraq, with leads in all the local papers. Yediot Ahronot has an interview with the influential head of the Military-Political Bureau at the Ministry of Defence, Amos Gilad. There is also discussion of the talks with senior US administration officials, and speculation that Prime Minister Sharon will make a major policy statement on Thursday at the Herzliya Conference. Maariv reports that MK Omri Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister’s son, was yesterday questioned for 10 hours in connection with the fraud cases that are being investigated involving his family. Haaretz reports on European moves to file a criminal complaint with the Palestinian Authority against Palestinian lawyer Khader Shkirat, alleging that funds donated for Palestinian development have been misused and misappropriated. In developments in the territories, Kol Yisrael radio reports that Islamic terrorists fired 21 mortar bombs and anti-tank rockets into Jewish settlements over the past 24 hours. Also this morning, Israeli troops killed an armed Islamic Jihad terrorist while on patrol in the West Bank and captured two others nearby.

Quotes of the Day:

Responses to Saddam’s capture:

Ariel Sharon (Haaretz, 15/12): “I believe all dictatorships, especially those contaminated with terror, have learned an important lesson today. The enlightened international community has shown that when it is asked to do so, it can protect freedom and defeat terror.”

Tony Blair (Jerusalem Post, 15/12): “The shadow of Saddam is finally lifted from the Iraqi people. We give thanks for that, but let this be more than a cause simply for rejoicing. Let it be a moment to reach out and to reconcile.”

Behind the News:

Contacts with US envoys, discussion over unilateral measures:

In talks yesterday US envoy David Satterfield met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's bureau chief Dov Weisglass and Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter. This is amidst speculation that Prime Minister Sharon may seek to implement unilateral measures, apparently unconvinced that new Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) can be a partner in the peace process. Sharon has yet to spell out what they would entail but observers believe that he is hoping to take the lead in setting the boundaries of any future two-state settlement with a limited evacuation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

However, Likud politicians were quick to reassure that Israel was not interested in tension with the US. Speaking on Galei Zahal radio yesterday, Absorption Minister Tzipi Livni said that "the whole unilateral process should be coordinated with the Americans, which does not want to be confronted with a situation where overnight Israel takes unilateral measures which will go against the roadmap."

There are still hopes that the talks will be resumed with a meeting between Sharon and Abu Ala, despite repeated delays. Much attention is now focussed on what is expected to be a major policy speech by Sharon on Thursday at the annual Herzliya Conference.

For more information on the debate over unilateral withdrawal, please see BICOM weekend brief (13-14 December).

Saddam’s capture has implications for Israel and the Palestinians:

As news broke of the capture of Saddam Hussein near Tikrit, Israel and the Palestinians are beginning to consider how it may impact on developments nearer to home. Interviewed this morning on Galei Zahal radio, the head of the Defence Ministry’s Military-Political Bureau Amos Gilad noted that Israeli intelligence assessments had considered Iraq a secondary threat. However, the removal of an unstable regime in the area was, he said, a positive development. On the political level, the US administration may be strengthened by the success in Iraq, and this may be translated as pressure on Israel to push forward with peace talks.

For Palestinians, the fall of Saddam means the end of one of their most consistent and generous supporters. Under Saddam, families of Palestinian suicide bombers were given $25,000 (£14,300) each and families of any Palestinian killed by the Israelis $10,000. However, with legislation being debated regarding the imposition of sanctions, it appears that Syria will be the country most dramatically affected. The last outpost of the Ba'athist doctrine, which at one point dominated the Arab world, is now under direct threat if it does not stop supporting Palestinian militants and withdraw its forces from Lebanon. But removing the vice-like clamp imposed by 20,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon could release ethnic and religious rivalries, which may threaten the relative peace along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

Sudan pledges normalisation of relations with Israel:

According to reports yesterday in the Khartoum daily newspaper Al-Anba, the Sudani foreign minister, Dr Mustafa Uthman Isma'il, has offered normalisation of relations with Israel. He said that relations between Sudan and Israel will be based common interests and will be resolved in near future. The Sudanese position towards its relations with Israel was “crystal clear without any hesitation or ambiguity.” Israel has yet to respond officially to the announcement from Khartoum.

Comment and Opinion:

William Shawcross  (The Observer 14/12) “In Berlin last weekend I saw clips from hideous films that portrayed Jews as (literally) bloodsucking murderers.”

“These films were horrifying and impossible to watch. But the worst thing was that they were not relics of Nazi propaganda, borrowed from a dusty Berlin archive. I wish.

No, these films were made recently in Syria, with the help of the Syrian government and were broadcast in 29 episodes last month by a Lebanese television station, Al-Manar, during Ramadan. According to a report on 11 November by the Syria Times, they are part of 'a Syrian TV series recording the criminal history of Zionism'.”

“Millions of people, not just in the Middle East but around the world, watch such anti-semitic horrors on satellite television. As Natan Scharansky, former Soviet dissident and Israeli Minister, said at the European-Israeli Dialogue in Berlin: 'The film is so awful and so normal. Children and their parents watch it at dinner day after day.' And this is the product of the 'mainstream' Arab media, not of Islamic fundamentalists.

With such inspiration, it is not surprising that anti-semitism is marching again across Europe. It seems to be making most progress in France, where 10 per cent of the population of 60 million is now Muslim. Some predict that within 20 years 20 per cent of the country will be Islamic. This will bring a fundamental change in the country's dynamics. Parisian Jews say harassment and aggression are now part of everyday life. The Chief Rabbi of France, Joseph Sitruk, has now suggested that Jews wear baseball caps instead of yarmulkes in public. 'In the current climate there is no point in waving a red flag in public places.'

In France, traditional left-wing 'progressivism' is becoming closer to Islamic extremism. The American writer Christopher Caldwell recently described in the Weekly Standard a meeting of the leftwing Social Forum in St Denis. America's war against Saddam was universally condemned, while Palestinian terrorism against Israel was widely supported. Caldwell listened as George Galloway MP declared that he hoped George Bush would be 'buggered' by one of Prince Charles's servants during his state visit to Britain.

Of course it must be permissible to criticise the Israeli state without being accused of anti-semitism: Israel being a democracy, there are many Israelis who do just that. But there is now almost a conventional wisdom that says, 'Some of my best friends are Jews, but Ariel Sharon's Israel is beyond the pale and must be fought.'”

“There are increasingly strict controls on hate speech against Muslims. While such monstrous hatred of Jews is pumped out by Syria and other Arab countries, there will be less and less chance for peace in the Middle East and growing unrest between communities in Europe.”

Ze'ev Schiff (Haaretz, 15/12): “The capture of Saddam Hussein is the greatest success for the Americans since taking over Iraq. It does not, however, let the Americans off the hook on the question of how long their rule of occupation will remain in Iraq and how power will be transferred to the new Iraqi leaders without shocking the system. Will they wait until a new constitution is drawn up for Iraq and elections are held?

Iraqi delegates say the capture of Saddam will not mean an automatic, immediate end to guerrilla warfare and terror attacks against the coalition forces. The forces opposed to the Americans are mostly made up of former members of the Ba'ath movement, of Saddam's security and intelligence forces and volunteers from Arab states and have merely lost their "symbol" with Saddam's capture. In fact, these elements have been released from the heavy burden of a man identified with bloodshed and mass murder.

Saddam's capture enables the Americans to now define in a more coherent manner what their strategic goals are in Iraq, thus reducing their time there.

Iraqi representatives are divided over Saddam's expected trial. Some claim that since most of his crimes, including the use of chemical weapons on the Iraqi Kurdish population, were committed on Iraqi soil, he should be tried in Iraq. Others claim this is not desirable and there should be an international aspect to his trial. An Iraqi trial would make the internal reconciliation more difficult and could be seen as an American Iraqi-purifying trial. A special international war crimes trial, however, would have greater global resonance and would act as a deterrent against committing war crimes in the future.”

Ruvik Rosenthal (Maariv, 15/12): “In an interview with ‘Maariv’, Abu Ala announced that he would be prepared to share the costs of building the fence “if it goes along the Green Line.” The UN has already handed over the fence to the International Court of Justice in the Hague. I wonder where the UN was when hundreds of Israeli citizens were being killed in buses and restaurants.

The fence has become a central element in this stage of the conflict. It is driving the process, it is dictating the rules and not by accident. When people are unable to run their own lives, there is a place for this silent element, that is no more than a road-block, but the implications it carries have dragged it into the heart of the problem, and it may be that it is now the key to its solution.”


Israel Briefing supplied by BICOM