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BICOM Daily Briefing January 9 2004

Last updated: 2004-01-09

Israel-related coverage in the world media focuses on remarks made by Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Ala yesterday, regarding the possible imminent demise of the ‘two-state solution,’ and a Palestinian return to a preference for a single state arrangement. The Guardian, Reuters, Associated Press and BBC Online all report Abu Ala’s statements. The Times, meanwhile, has an optimistic piece regarding the latest regional developments, arguing that they are the fruit of America’s action in Iraq. London Jewish News has an editorial expressing similar sentiments, but recommending Israeli caution.

The Independent highlights a terror report published yesterday by the Israeli security services which reveals a 50% drop in number of Israelis killed by terror in 2003. The Times reports on the latest developments in the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the shooting last April of British activist Tom Hurndall in Gaza. The paper also runs a story on renewed Ethiopian immigration to Israel, a story also covered by Reuters. The Economist has an in-depth investigation into the phenomenon of suicide bombings. The Financial Times reports remarks made by PA official Nabil Sha’ath urging the British government to take action to promote the Road Map. BBC Online focuses on the Syrian track, and on calls by Israeli ministers for a more forthcoming response to Damascus’ overtures.

In the Israeli press, Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, Maariv and Yediot Ahronot all afford major coverage to the remarks made by Abu Ala. Haaretz and Maariv note US Secretary of State Colin Powell ‘s support for the ‘two state solution.’  The Israeli papers also cover remarks made by Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who announced that Hamas would agree to a ‘temporary peace’ with Israel and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital. The Jerusalem Post leads with PM Sharon’s demand that Syria cease support for terror as a pre-condition for negotiations.

Quotes of the Day:

United States opposes one-state solution

Colin Powell, US Secretary of State (Haaretz, 09/01): “We're committed to a two-state solution. I believe that's the only solution that will work: a state for the Palestinian people called Palestine and a Jewish state, state of Israel.”

Colin Powell (Haaretz, 09/01): “Mr. Sharon ... is looking for reliable partners he can work with and his plans that he has spent some time presenting recently suggest what he feels he might have to do if he doesn't have a reliable partner. What we are trying to do is to get that reliable partner to stand up and start acting.”

Colin Powell (Haaretz, 09/01): “They've got to get going and they have got to wrest authority away from (Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser) Arafat that will allow (Qureia) to start taking action with respect to terror and violence.”

On Hamas remarks regarding de facto two-state arrangement

MK Yuval Steinitz, Chair of Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, (Haaretz, 09/01):" Of course, in order to see that this is a strategic policy change and not just a tactical declaration, similar statements are needed from all Hamas leaders. What's even more important is a change in behaviour, and when on the one hand Sheikh Yassin expresses such readiness [for temporary peace], but on the other the terror continues, we need to remember that with all the excitement surrounding this development...that we are fighting Hamas not because of its ideology, but because it's a terror organization.”

Israel cautious about the prospects of negotiations with Syria

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (Ha’aretz, 09/01): “Israel wants peace with all the Arab states, including Syria. There can be no preconditions for negotiations, nor can [talks] begin from the point at which they broke off [in 2000]. Obviously each party has demands of the other party, but the situation in which [the Syrians] export terror to Israel must end.”

Behind the News:

Powell expresses opposition to ‘one-state solution’

US Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday expressed his opposition to the idea of the so-called ‘one-state solution.’ This notion, support for which is being expressed with growing frequency by Palestinian leaders, envisages the replacement of the State of Israel with a single, bi-national state in the area currently encompassed by Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians hope that the higher Palestinian birth rate would in a short time turn Israeli Jews into a minority within such a state, allowing Palestinians to shape its character according to their will.

Secretary Powell’s remarks came as a response to a statement made by Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala) yesterday, which hinted at possible Palestinian adoption of this idea, should the negotiation process remain deadlocked. Qurei placed his remarks, made in an interview with the Reuters News Agency, in the context of criticism of the construction by Israel of the Security Fence. “We will go for a one-state solution... There's no other solution. We will not hesitate to defend the rights of our people when we feel the very serious intention (of Israel) to destroy these rights.”

Powell, speaking at a State Department press conference, said that the United States remains committed to the two-state solution, in which an independent Palestinian state will border Israel. Powell expressed disappointment at the Palestinian Authority’s failure to take the necessary decisive action against terror and said that he hoped Assistant Secretary of State William Burns “can build a little momentum to get a little more pressure from Egyptians and others to place on the Palestinian Authority.”

US and Israel sceptical of Syrian intentions

US officials have echoed Israeli scepticism regarding the intentions behind Syrian President Bashar Assad’s remarks this week, seemingly expressing a willingness to return to the negotiating table. According to Haaretz, the Americans consider that were Assad serious in his intentions, he would be pursuing them via diplomatic channels and contacts, rather than baldly announcing them in a newspaper interview. As such, Washington does not intend to urge or pressure Israel to respond to Assad’s words. Rather, Damascus should be required first of all to take concrete steps in ending support for Hizballah and Palestinian terror groups, and acting to dismantle Syrian WMD capabilities.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday expressed his preference for a measured response on the Syrian track: “We must be realistic and, above all, cautious,” the Prime Minister said, “We want to investigate how serious the Syrians are, and we are not interested in being a 'springboard to the White House' [for the Syrians]. Instead of running or jumping, we must thoroughly examine their intentions.”  Prominent figures in the Israeli political establishment, however, including Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, are calling for a more pro-active Israeli response to the Syrian leader’s remarks, which would include an early re-commencement of negotiations. President Moshe Katzav is also known to favour this view.

Hamas spiritual leader indicates willingness for temporary peace
Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin appeared to break new ground on Wednesday in an interview with the German DPA news agency. Yassin seemed to indicate a willingness to contemplate a de facto two-state arrangement between Israelis and Palestinians. He remarked that once a Palestinian state came into being, Palestinians would then leave the area of land remaining under Israeli control ‘to history.’ Yassin nevertheless ruled out any recognition of Israel, and denied that Hamas had agreed to any formula whereby attacks by the organisation on civilians within the Green Line would cease.

Israeli officials recommended against reading too much into Yassin’s remarks, noting that Hamas’ active current involvement in terror, rather than speculation on its historical and ideological conceptions, must of necessity be Israel’s primary concern.

Number of Israelis killed by terror in 2003 halved

According to information released by the Shin Bet security service yesterday, the number of Israelis killed in terror attacks last year dropped by more than 50% compared to the previous year, while the number of terror attacks dropped 30%. Haaretz reports that Shin Bet officials claim the main reason for the lower figures is the security services' success in thwarting attacks. Other reasons include the completion of the first stage of the Security Fence, and the six-week hudna that took place during the summer.

Comment and Opinion:

The Economist (09/01): “Suicide terrorism, like the slippery concept of terrorism in general, is harder to define than it may appear… The fact that Hizbullah started the trend, and that its spread has coincided with the rise of other Islamic groups—Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), al-Qaeda and others—has led some to surmise that Islamic fundamentalism somehow explains it. Proponents of this theory can cite the lengths to which some terrorists go to justify their attacks in Islamic terms, manipulating the precedents set by the Prophet and his companions and finessing the meanings of three key concepts: suicide, martyrdom and jihad.”

“Another sort of explanation for suicide terrorism focuses on its practitioners' travails and poverty in this world, rather than their imagined delights in the next. It used to be the case that a Palestinian bomber conformed to a recognisable type: he was young, male, single, religious and unemployed… But the affluence of many of the September 11th hijackers cast doubt on the notion that poverty was a necessary, let alone sufficient, condition for suicidal terrorism. And since the start of the second intifada in 2000, the profile of Palestinian bombers has changed: several have been well educated and less devout than those of the mid-1990s. Some Palestinian groups (though not al-Qaeda) have also used women, conjuring up fresh religious sophistries to justify female martyrdom. Globally, says Yoram Schweitzer, an expert in suicide terrorism at the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, the bomber has no clear profile.

A better way to understand the popularity of suicide attacks may be to focus on their advantages for the groups who commission them. Such operations are rarely, if ever, the work of lone lunatics. Hamas, PIJ and the other Palestinian groups who practise suicide terrorism recruit, indoctrinate and train their bombers. They write the texts for the video testaments filmed shortly before each self-immolation (making them unreliable records of the true motives of the “martyr”), which the bombers themselves watch to redouble their resolve. They take the photographs that will later appear on propaganda posters. Then they deliver their foot-soldiers to pre-identified targets. Al-Qaeda is remarkable for the expertise and independence of its agents, but they too are trained and primed for their missions.”

“Counter-intuitive though it may seem, terrorists also regard suicide attacks as low-risk, given the scale of devastation they can inflict. As Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's right-hand man, has put it, “the method of martyrdom operations [is] the most successful way of inflicting damage against the opponent and least costly to the mujahideen in terms of casualties.” No accomplices are needed for rescues or getaways. Nor is there much danger of bombers betraying their comrades…  As well as these tactical benefits, suicide terrorism offers a strategic one... Suicide bombings juxtapose these groups' disdain for life with their victims' supposed love of it. This helps to create the impression of an undeterrable enemy, one freed by his self-disregard to strike anywhere.”

“How can the targets of such attacks protect themselves? By picking on democracies, the terrorists can be reasonably sure that their adversaries will stop short of “the Mongol method” (ie, wholesale slaughter of the population from which the bombers derive). Even so, suicide campaigns are often designed to madden their victims into inflicting collective punishment, thus further radicalising the terrorists' actual or potential supporters, who might otherwise be repulsed by the carnage that such extreme violence causes.

But there are subtler methods. Because they are corporate enterprises, disrupting or preventing attacks is not just a question of catching the bomber: there are also recruiters, trainers, reconnaissance agents, bomb-makers and safe houses. Israel prevents many attacks by penetrating these networks—though as Shlomo Gazit, a former head of military intelligence, points out, Israel knows roughly where its enemies can be found, and so can monitor their movements and cultivate informers. Police in, say, London or New York do not enjoy that luxury. Israel's checkpoints and cordons (also unlikely to be emulated elsewhere) intercept some killers; they also reassure the public that something is being done, thus countering the terrorists psychologically as well as militarily. Even when the bomber gets through, vigilant security guards who manage to keep pedestrian attackers out of restaurants or discotheques can massively reduce the number of casualties. Other sensible defensive measures include the rapid dispersal of crowds at the scene of an explosion, to protect them from follow-up strikes.

Such vigilance can make life grindingly tense. If possible, the best answer must be to choke the supply of the terrorists' prize asset—the bombers—through political compromise. Yet against the ultra-extremists of al-Qaeda, intelligence, disruption and vigilance may be the only ways.”

London Jewish News (09/01): “Unlike rogue regimes in the middle east and elsewhere, Israel is unlikely to pass on unconventional weapons to terrorists for either hard cash or to prosecute its own agenda by proxy. And unlike some of its neighbours, it is unthinkable that Israel would use them to launch an offensive and unprovoked strike.

It would be naïve to be utterly convinced by the sudden enthusiasm on the part of pariah states to reinvent themselves as cuddly members of the global family. These new overtures are born out of strategic and economic necessity rather than the product of soul-searching or an ethical paradigm shift.”

“But the unpleasant realities with which Israel is forced to live means that nuclear disarmament remains an impossibility. The vision of a middle east, or even a world, free of unconventional weapons is a pacifist dream, but it is not one Israel should commit suicide to pursue.”

Ze'ev Schiff (Haaretz, 09/01): “There is a common denominator between the sudden readiness of Iran and Libya to agree to inspection of their development of weapons of mass destruction and what Iraq had done in this area for years. The common denominator is that three of Israel's enemies, one of which is calling to this day for the destruction of the Jewish state, were involved in huge acts of deception and the violation of an international agreement for many years; and before they admitted this, they always accused Israel of being the one to make false accusations about them.”

“We are now witnessing a ridiculous phenomenon, when a state like Iran, which has been caught out telling lies, is preaching to Israel because it is not giving up weapons of mass destruction in its possession. Israel does not owe its answer to Iran and to Libya, or to Pakistan, but it is not exempt from responding to approaches by various international elements, among them friendly ones, that are asking what its plans are - if Iran and Libya do make a real turnaround in the area of their unconventional weapons. The steps that have been taken by Iran and Libya following the war in Iraq derived from the sense of threat they felt when their lies were uncovered - for example, the revelation that nuclear equipment destined for Libya was intercepted on its way from Abu Dhabi to Rome. The positive step that has been taken by Iran and Libya cannot eradicate the years of lies. From the formal about-face that has occurred, it is not possible to conclude that in the Middle East, the lion is curling up with the lamb.

The lies that have been exposed demonstrate that an extra measure of caution, close supervision and invasive inspection are needed in countries that have been involved in deception. The lesson for Israel is that it cannot see the promises of the International Atomic Energy Agency as an insurance policy. Israel has an interest in ridding the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction and missiles, and also in the reduction of conventional military threats. This is a long process. The solution must be regional. The way is not to deal separately with each threat, chemical weaponry on its own and atomic or biological weaponry on their own, and then with threats of terror and missiles as if they were a separate issue. A state that assesses the threats that it faces must see things as a single entity. In accordance with this, it plans its system of deterrence and defense.”

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Israel Briefing supplied by BICOM