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BICOM Daily Briefing December 30 2003

Last updated: 2003-12-30

Some of the UK papers again discuss the UK government’s decision to place armed sky marshals on some British flights, all referring to Israeli airline El Al and its experience in this field. The Times notes that Special Branch unit SO19, responsible for airline security, has looked at Israeli training programmes. The newspaper also reports that the UK defence establishment is to examine Israeli UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) technology. The Financial Times reports on the Israeli decision to dismantle four settlement outposts in the West Bank. The Daily Telegraph reports on Bishop Tom Wright’s outspoken criticism of Israel, published yesterday in The Independent. Reuters examines Syrian moves to attempt to pass a UN resolution banning weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, a move which may backfire on the Syrian regime itself, suspected of holding chemical weapons.

Maariv reports on an article in the London-based al Sharq al-Awsat, according to which Egyptian Foreign Minister Maher and intelligence chief General Omar Suleiman will visit Ramallah next week in order to press Palestinian groups to issue a ceasefire. Galei Zahal radio reports that an unnamed Likud MK has been invited to Syria, and is to travel to Cairo next week to discuss Syrian peace overtures. In the Jerusalem Post, Khaled abu Toameh reports on the continuing support for Saddam Hussein amongst Palestinians. Haaretz reports that the route of the West Bank security fence has been altered. Veteran military commentator Zeev Schiff suggests that this move strengthens claims that the fence is primarily of security, and not political, value.   Both the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz report that Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has demanded that the Nobel Prize committee rescind the Peace Prize given to Yasser Arafat.

Quotes of the Day:

Israel remains adamant it will remove settlement outposts

Raanan Gissin Media advisor to Prime Minster Sharon (29/12): "The prime minister is determined to fulfil his obligation in terms of personal credibility as well as the credibility of the state of Israel. You are going to see more of this." (Reuters)

Syrian calls for WMD-free Middle East may backfire

Daryl Kimball Executive Director of the Arms Control Association (29/12): "The Syrians must realize that by offering a resolution on weapons of mass destruction, and not just nuclear weapons, they are potentially attracting attention to their own activities, which are suspected to include chemical weapons programs, as well as other states in the region including Iran." (Reuters)

Israeli Foreign Minister urges Nobel panel to rescind Arafat’s peace prize

Silvan Shalom, Foreign Minister (29/12): “Yasser Arafat's holding of the Nobel Peace Prize constitutes an embarrassing stain on the history of the prize. I would be very happy if the members of the prize committee would decide to reconsider if this man is deserving to be a Nobel laureate.” (Haaretz)

Silvan Shalom (29/12): “Alfred Nobel invented dynamite for peaceful use, but Arafat uses it for terror and should be excommunicated from the family of man for this.” (Jerusalem Post)

Behind the News:

Syrian draft UN resolution may backfire

According to Haaretz, Syria is attempting to use its final days on the UN Security Council to push for a ban on weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. Syrian Ambassador to the UN, Faisal Meqdad, whose two-year term on the 15-nation council expires at midnight on Wednesday, yesterday asked the Security Council to take up a resolution that is intended to rid the Middle East region of all nuclear, biological and chemical arms. However, a number of the council's member nations, including the United States, Britain and Pakistan, expressed concerns with the Syrian text and Meqdad said he would not push for a quick vote.

Arab envoys said the draft was aimed at placing pressure on Israel, who allegedly has nuclear weapons though Israel has never officially confirmed or denied such allegations. However, the move could backfire on Syria as well as Iran, two nations believed by US intelligence to have chemical weapons stockpiles.

This move comes days after reports that Britain, France and Germany intend to put pressure on Syria, already facing the threat of US sanctions, to sign up to the chemical weapons convention.  The Guardian reported last week that the plan is modelled on a similar tripartite effort which persuaded Iran to accept nuclear inspections. If agreed, Jack Straw and his French and German counterparts, Dominique de Villepin and Joschka Fischer, would visit Damascus together, mirroring their joint mission to Tehran this year.

Fence to move nearer to Green Line

The government is to change the route of the security fence after discussions between senior IDF officers and politicians. There will be two major changes in plans for the fence, one in the area of Baka al-Sharkiya and one near Qalqilyah. Original plans in these areas will be scrapped and instead the fence will run roughly across the Green Line.

FM Shalom urges Nobel panel to rescind Arafat's peace prize

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom urged this morning that the Nobel Prize committee rescind the peace prize awarded Yasser Arafat in 1994 for the Oslo process. According to Haaretz, Shalom was addressing a Foreign Ministry ceremony late Monday marking the 25th anniversary of the granting of the Nobel Peace Prize to former Prime Minister Menchem Begin. Shalom stressed that Begin and fellow laureate Anwar Sadat of Egypt received the award for having negotiated, signed, and abided by a full peace treaty between former enemies Israel and Egypt. By contrast, Shalom said, Arafat - awarded the prize along with then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and then-foreign minister Shimon Peres, continued to act to spur bloodshed and to foil peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Comment and Opinion:

Haaretz (30/12): “The price of peace with Syria is known to all and it formed the basis of previous discussions between the two states - a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights and dismantling of the settlements and projects that Israel has set up there, in return for appropriate security arrangements, elimination of terror organizations and the military infrastructure of Hezbollah, and normalization of ties with Damascus and Beirut.

The fact that Syria is relatively weak at present is no reason to avoid negotiations. On the contrary, it strengthens Israel's hand and offers hope that the Syrian positions that were so rigid in the past will be more flexible, and that Israel might get more in return for giving back the territory conquered in 1967.

Sharon has avoided looking at the Syrian option so far on grounds that Israel's first priority is to deal with the Palestinian conflict. There is no doubt the major diplomatic thrust of the government should be toward achieving an agreement with the Palestinians that will lead to the establishment of their independent state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But renewal of talks with Syria does not have to preclude parallel attempts to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. It should not be considered a "bypass road" but a complementary diplomatic process. Any successful conclusion to a dialogue with the Syrians would also make it easier for Israel to deal with the Palestinians, since the threat of a second front in the north would be removed.

The government must respond to Assad's proposal and examine the possibility of renewing talks with Syria with the utmost seriousness. The examination should be carried out in close cooperation with the U.S. to ensure that Israel's diplomatic effort is in accordance with the American administration's actions aimed at changing the behavior of the Syrians and that it does not weaken the international struggle against terrorism.”


Israel Briefing supplied by BICOM