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BICOM Daily Briefing December 16 2003

Last updated: 2003-12-16

The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph both report on new Israeli technology that allows soldiers to shoot around corners while The Financial Times reports on the likely content of Ariel Sharon’s policy speech to be given on Thursday at the Herzliya Conference.

Israeli newspaper Maariv breaks the story that in 1992 the IDF had plans to assassinate Saddam Hussein while the Jerusalem Post describes a Palestinian bid to upgrade its status in the UN, a move which is thought likely to fail. All of the Israeli papers discuss Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s discussions with senior political figures yesterday, and signs that he may be planning unilateral moves in the territories, despite US insistence that both sides stick to the roadmap.

Quotes of the Day:

Settlements may be moved unilaterally:

Ariel Sharon (Yediot Ahronot, 15/12): “Does anyone really believe that Jews will remain in [Gaza Strip settlements] Netzarim and Morag?”

Limor Livnat, Education Minister (Maariv, 15/12) “We must not take unilateral steps which will be seen by the Palestinians as running away or weakness. But if we move settlements and also impose Israeli law on the large settlement blocs, the Palestinians will understand that they have something to lose in this process.”

Arafat “saddened” by the fall of Saddam:

Senior Palestinian source (Jerusalem Post, 15/12): “President Arafat was sad to see an Arab leader in an humiliating position.”

Israel prepares for Iraqi war crimes trials:

Shimon Peres (Jerusalem Post, 15/12): “The world must see the image of a dictator and the impact that he can have. We learned a lot abut the Holocaust from the Eichmann trial, and it set a precedent for public trials. It is also important for the Palestinians to see the depths to a dictator can take them to.”

Tommy Lapid, Justice Minister (Galei Zahal radio, 15/12): “The firing of missiles, without any provocation, at a country that had nothing to do with the war, is a war crime in every legal sense. This crime will not be simply wiped away.”

Behind the News:

IDF had plans to assassinate Saddam Hussein in 1992:

According to an exclusive report in Maariv, the IDF planned to kill Saddam in 1992. The operation was in retaliation for Iraq's firing 39 Scud missiles at Israel during the 1991 Gulf war and under the assessment that the Iraqi leader posed a continuing threat to the Jewish state.

During training, however, a live missile was fired by mistake, and five soldiers were killed. The soldiers, members of the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, were playing the part of the targets, Saddam Hussein and his bodyguards. The mishap led to cancellation of the assassination attempt. Maariv reported that in fact, as predicted by Israeli intelligence, Saddam did attend the funeral at which he was to have been targeted.

Speculation rife as Sharon’s Herzliya speech nears:

According to reports this morning, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is considering taking unilateral moves in the territories, including the evacuation of settlements, if the Palestinians do not implement their commitments outlined in the Road Map. Whilst it is not expected that he name specific settlements for removal, Sharon is expected to announce this policy at the Herzliya Conference on Thursday.

In meetings with senior Likud and Labour leaders yesterday, Sharon appeared to be sending a message to the right that he is able to implement the policy in the framework of a national unity government. However, in a step apparently to appease his right-wing coalition partners, Sharon yesterday refused to consider Tommy Lapid’s request to reroute the separation fence so that it follows the Green Line rather than jutting into the West Bank in places.

The intense discussions over the details of the Herzliya speech have added further delays to preparations for a Sharon-Abu Ala meeting.  Meetings between the premiers’ bureau chiefs in which arrangements were to be finalised have been postponed.

Libya is seen as new threat to regional stability:

Galei Zahal radio reported this morning that the Israeli defence establishment is now increasingly concerned by reports of Russian and North Korean cooperation in the Libyan nuclear project. Chair of the Knesset Defence and Foreign Relations Committee, Yuval Steinitz expressed his concern that Libyan delivery systems not only threatened the Middle East, but also included European cities such as London within their range. Libya had made signs of renewing relations with the West, following the ending of trials connected to the Lockerbie bombing, and Libyan diplomats have won high-profile positions in the UN administration.

Comment and Opinion:

Mark Steyn (The Daily Telegraph, 16/12): “For the Palestinians, who never met a loser they weren't dumb enough to fall for (the Mufti, Nasser, Yasser), Saddam still has an honoured place in the Pantheon of Glorious Has-Beens. But for millions of Iraqis a monster has shrivelled away into a smelly bum too pathetic even to use his pistol to enjoy the martyrdom he urged on others.”

Gadi Baltiansky (Maariv, 16/12): “No more left, no more right, at least not like we used to know. The recent currents in Israeli politics - from Geneva to Olmert - have washed the old, and not so wonderful, political map away. In the face of changing reality, it’s time to redefine the different blocs on the political scene.

There was a left that called itself the peace camp, as if those who didn’t swear allegiance didn’t want peace. It sang the Song of Peace, the dream of the New Middle East was its platform, and the pursuit of co-existence was its credo. And now, demographics tops the agenda, the future of the Jewish State is in the balance and they are willing to swap the Nobel Peace Prize for lighting a torch [at the annual Independence Day ceremony] at Har Herzl. The peace camp isn’t what it used to be. From now on: the Zionist camp.

There was a right that called itself the national camp, as if the other camp was anti-national. Patriotism ran through the veins of the camp, regimental pride and its symbols were in its heart and its chant was “all the world’s against us, never mind - we’ll get over it.” And now - only territory, the settlements, another acre and another goat, particularly if it’s a goat the government can’t shift. It doesn’t matter how many millions of Palestinians are under our rule, the main thing is how many thousand of settlers join the cause. Not willingly, and even maybe not knowingly, the national camp has disappeared. From now on: the bi-national camp.

And now the two are facing each other: the bi-nationals versus the Zionists.”


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Israel Briefing supplied by BICOM