More Radical Palestinian unrest in store to torpedo talks
6 March: Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas complained to the UN about Israel's enforcement of order on Temple Mount Friday, March 5, even though the disturbances were staged by radical Hamas and Islamist elements to destroy the US-mediate peace track which he has agreed to join.
He was referring to a clash earlier than day, in which Israeli riot police stormed the mosques from which Palestinian youths hurled rocks at the Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall shrine below, forcing its hurried evacuation. Some 50 Palestinian rioters and 18 police officers were injured before order was restored.
Three hands stirred the pot: The Iranian-backed Palestinian Hamas, the Tahrir Islamists, who control the technical administration of Temple Mount, and the radical Northern Wing of the Israeli Arab Muslim Movement.
Last week, the Netanyahu government took steps to strengthen the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem – both on the West Bank – were added to the list of national heritage sites to preserve the status quo between Jews and Muslims in anticipation of Palestinian demands for their acceptance as Muslim holy places.
Shortly after its capture in the 1967 war, Israel arranged for the Cave to be shared between Jewish and Muslim worshippers, although it was cherished by Jews long before the rise of Islam. Relinquishing it and the historic Jewish presence in the ancient city to exclusive Palestinian Muslim control would not be an option for most Israelis.
Rachel's Tomb has additional contemporary value as a defensive line for Jerusalem's southeastern neighborhoods.
US-Israel tough sanctions strategy falls apart. Tehran is sitting pretty
6 March. The Western powers are scrapping tough measures incorporated in the original motion they drafted for a UN Security Council sanctions resolution against Iran to make the draft more acceptable to Russia and China. In particular, the blacklisting of Iran's central bank has been replaced by a decision to "strengthen vigilance" over the bank's transactions, leaving only new overseas Iranian banks to be targeted.
The text earlier dropped the restrictions proposed by France against Iran's oil and gas industries, as well as the original US plan to halt supplies of gasoline and other refined oil products to Iran.
debkafile reports: By the time it is tabled, the resolution will be toothless as an instrument for holding back Iran's dash for a nuclear bomb and the weapons of delivery and leave Tehran sitting pretty with its economy and military assets unimpaired. It is fading mainly because the Obama administration failed to lead the way by clamping down stiff sanctions unilaterally to give the initiative momentum
March 7, 2010 Briefs
• Turkish PM Erdogan: Aqsa site, Cave of Patriarchs, Rachel's Tomb are Muslim," never were Jewish".
• Tehran official: Sanctions against Iran will not materialize for lack of big power consensus.
• The rebuilt 300-year old Hurva Synagogue of Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter to be consecrated next week.
• Israel grants UN secretary Ban Ki-Moon and EU external affairs executive Kathryn Ashton permission to enter the Gaza Strip during their Israeli visits.
Gates' surprise arrival in Kabul foils Ahmad's trip
8 March: Despite Tehran's denial, president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delayed his trip to Kabul by 48 hours because of the US defense secretary Robert Gates's sudden arrival in the Afghan capital Monday, March 8.
The Iranian president set the scene for his visit by accusing the US of "fabricating" 9/11 as a pretext for invading Afghanistan and unveiling the production of new missiles, including Iran's first cruise missile, the short-range Nasr 1 (Victory 1), which was claimed by Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi Sunday, March 7 to be capable of destroying warships of up to 3,000 tons when launched from the ground or sea vessels.
The new weapon imperils US naval carriers and US and Israeli submarines stationed in the Persian Gulf.
By calling the September 11 attacks "a big fabrication" and "a provocation" to justify America's war on terror and invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian president sought to undermine the legitimacy of the US military presence in Afghanistan, in the same way as he denies the Nazi Holocaust to question Israel's right to exist.
Israeli, Palestinian negotiators to talk directly, in Washington
8 March: debkafile's Middle East sources reveal that the US Middle East envoy George Mitchell presented his mission to Israeli and Palestinian leaders Monday, March 8, as getting direct talks started without delay and moved to Washington. Reporting this to prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Mitchell said the US president was out of patience with the two sides' objections, gripes and maneuvers
Their lead negotiators are the Israeli prime minister's adviser Yitzhak Molcho and the senior Palestinian negotiator Saab Erekat. Administration officials have recommended the 11th Wing's facility at Bolling Air Force base as the venue for the talks where the teams can talk in private, sequestered from the media. Mitchell will act as their spokesman.
The Palestinian negotiators will be controlled by two monitoring committees, one set up by the Arab League and other by the Fatah movement.
March 9, 2010 Briefs
• Seven Muslims – 3 men, 4 women – arrested in Irish Republic for plot to murder Swedish cartoonist. Lars Vilks drew Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog.
• Barak urges finger on the trigger at all times when it comes to Iran.
• Tehran asks Beijing not to surrender to US pressure on sanctions.
• Iran offers to help Zimbabwe stand up to future sanctions.
• David Kimche, one of Israel's Mossad founders-turned-diplomat, dies aged 82.
Iraqi PM Maliki sweeps polls, defeats pro-Iranian bloc
9 March: Preliminary Iraqi election results show incumbent prime minister Nouri Maliki's State of Law Coalition, which was backed by Washington, returned with a commanding 100 parliamentary seats out of 325 and the ability to form a pro-American coalition with Iyad Allawi's secular alliance and the Kurdish bloc that will be stable enough for US troops to depart Iraq on schedule.
The Tehran-backed Iraqi National Alliance – INA, led by ex-prime minster Ibrahim Jafari, trailed Maliki with 45-50 seats. Because this alliance was a conglomerate of Iraq's pro-Iranian factions – Moqtada Sadr's radicals, the Dawa group, Amer al-Hakim's supporters and Ahmad Chalabi – Iran faces the loss of significant support in the new Iraqi parliament.
Maliki's foremost contender, ex-prime minister Iyad Allawi and his al-Iraqiya secular alliance of liberal Shiites and Sunni Muslims, won 70 mandates. The Saudi royal house and Syrian president Bashar Assad had backed him to the hilt in the hope of unseating Maliki altogether. A third partner would be the Kurdish bloc lead by president Jalal Talabani and Kurdistan leader Masoud Barzani, which came third with 50 parliamentary seats.
debkafile's Middle East sources report that a government of these three blocs would not only be pro-American but stable enough to ward off attempts to stir up sectarian strife and allow the US to pull its troops out of Iraq next year on schedule.
March 10, 2010 Briefs
• Nigerian Muslims slaughter 500 in weekend atrocities against three mostly Christian villages.
• The Anglo-Dutch oil major Shell stops selling gasoline to Iran.
• Indonesian police raid kills Dulmatin, mastermind of 2002 Bali massacre of 202 people and other Islamist attacks. This was a blow to al Qaeda-affiliated Jemaah Islamiah ahead of Obama's visit March 20.
Biden's clampdown on Israeli action on Iran spurs Jerusalem housing measure
10 March: The roundly condemned decision to add 1,600 housing units to Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem was apparently the Netanyahu government protest against the way US Vice President Joe Biden lay down the law on the Iran issue in their talks Tuesday, March 9. The key objective of Biden's visit was clearly to hold Israel back from attacking Iran's nuclear installations, even after the Obama administration backtracked on its promises of tough sanctions instead.
Biden arrived for dinner with the prime minister an hour-and-a-half late, after he was instructed from Washington to condemn the "substance and timing" of the Jerusalem announcement of 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem with the launching of proximity talks. This, he said "undermined the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions I've had here in Israel."
Israeli officials later assured Washington there had been no intention to undermine the Biden visit, but Netanyahu took no steps to reverse the decision made by ultra-Orthodox, hard-line Shas interior minister Ellie Yishai.
Even the oft-repeated American commitment to Israel's security was delivered by Biden with a notable reservation: I can promise the people of Israel that we will confront every security challenge that we will face, he said. This statement ruled out unilateral Israeli operations in its defense. Forget unilateral, he was saying: From now "we" make the decisions about the levels of "security challenge" facing Israel and how to "confront it."
The Biden visit to Israel, therefore, far from meeting its avowed goal of smoothing over the differences between the Obama administration and Israel, has left Jerusalem more distrustful than ever.
Gates in Riyadh to clarify US Iran policy after Biden's failed Israel mission
10 March: US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrived in Riyadh Wednesday, March 10, flying in unexpectedly from Kabul in Afghanistan, after the Saudis demanded urgent clarifications of the Obama administration's Iran policy. debkafile's military sources report the demand followed the failure of US Vice President Joe Biden's talks with Israeli leaders to resolve their differences on Iran.
Then on Sunday, March 7, US Centcom Commander Gen. David Petraeus, asked by a CNN interviewer, whether countries in the Persian Gulf wish to see a US military attack on Iran, said: “…there are countries that would like to see a strike, us or perhaps Israel, even…”
debkafile's military sources report that Petraeus' comments referred mainly to the two main Persian Gulf state, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In fact, the UAE foreign minister, referring to the assassination of Hamas member al-Mabhouh, noted this week that his country and Israel see eye to eye on the Iranian issue.
March 11, 2010 Briefs
• Qassam missile from Gaza hit an empty kibbutz building in W. Negev. No one hurt.
• Gates, Ahmadinejad trade more accusations. Gates accused Iran of limited aid to Taliban. He spoke at Abu Dhabi at military base housing an air refueling wing for Afghanistan. Later he visited a mosque.
• Ahmadinejad: The Iranian nation will not allow the world power (US) to create chaos in Persian Gulf.
• The US, EU and other governments denounce Israeli construction in E. Jerusalem. Arab League Secy Amr Mussa says Israel must reverse 1,600 homes decision for proximity talks with Palestinians to begin.
• European parliament calls for release of Israeli soldier Shalit forthwith and Red Cross visits without delay.
• Israel permits UN bomb disposal unit to enter Gaza Strip to defuse munitions from last year's war.
US VP Biden links Iran dispute with ME peace effort
11 March. In a speech at Tel Aviv University, Thursday, March 11, US Vice President Joe Biden urged Arab states worried about a nuclear Iran to support the Israel-Palestinian peace effort. Regarding that effort, he stressed:
The status quo is unsustainable. If Israel wanted to remain a democracy it must negotiate the foundation of a Palestinian state. In Biden's view, the final-status issues of Jerusalem, borders and refugees can only be resolved in direct talks.
If Iran doesn't respond to demands to stop developing nuclear weapons, "we will intensify our efforts against it," said the Vice President, without explaining.
Political sources reported that the US-Israel crisis over the new housing units in East Jerusalem has been patched up. Biden arrived more than an hour late for his speech, after hearing personal assurances from prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu that a new mechanism was in place now to prevent bureaucrats from encroaching on political decisions – as apparently happened in the case of the 1,600 new housing units announced for Ramat Shlomo on the second day of the Biden visit.
The government secretary earlier called it an "embarrassing slip-up" – not because of its content; building in Jerusalem was no different from building Tel Aviv and would go on – but because of its unfortunate timing. No one wanted to embarrass the US leader or spoil his warm and friendly visit to Jerusalem.