-From Australia to Venezuela: A weekly wrap-up of news for Friday, August 7, 2009.

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING


Chavez denies Hezbollah operates in Venezuela

353198014_f60d47858ePresident Hugo Chavez has harshly condemned Israel for suggesting that Hezbollah is operating in Venezuela. Chavez hurled insults at Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, after another Israeli diplomat was quoted as saying Hezbollah has established cells in the South American country. Chavez noted during speech Thursday that Israeli police have recommended the ultranationalist be indicted for a string of alleged corruption offenses. He called Lieberman “a mafia boss,” and added: “He’s on trial there for money laundering.” Dorit Shavit, an Israeli diplomat for Latin America, told Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper last month that Hezbollah cells are operating on Venezuela’s Margarita Island and along the Venezuelan-Colombian border. – Gulf News

Ed.Note: See jewishinfoNews’ Venezuela-Hezbollah article of June, 2008.

Hamas

The perception of Hamas as an organization intrinsically incapable of compromise has driven Western policy for more than 20 years and remains one of the most influential dogmas in Middle East diplomacy. Western observers justify their belief that any rapprochement with Hamas would be futile by pointing to its history of terrorist attacks and the movement’s supposedly inflexible ideology. They bolster their argument by referring to the Hamas charter, the group’s 1988 founding manifesto, which outlines a militant doctrine aimed at “liberating the land of Palestine” by force and invokes such antisemitic tracts as “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”  However, such critics fail to grasp the transformation currently taking place within Hamas. Today, the charter has ceased to play a significant role in the group’s ideology. As early as 1990, Hamas began to distance itself from the document, which has since fallen into neglect. Although Hamas has not officially renounced the charter, no references to it can be found in any of the group’s recent statements. Moreover, Hamas leaders, such as Mahmoud Ahmad al-Ramahi, the secretary-general of the Palestinian Legislative Council, have recently begun downplaying the charter’s relevance by clarifying that “it should not be confused with the Holy Koran.” – Foreign Affairs

Israel begins campaign to impose sanctions on Iran

Israeli radio reported on Friday, the government launched a global diplomatic campaign to impose broad sanctions on Iran outside the framework of the UN Security Council. The radio pointed out that Israel is preparing after the failure of dialogue between Iran and US to persuade Washington, European countries, European Union, Canada, and Australia to tighten the economic embargo on Iran. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had conducted in the past period a series of assessments and consultations in this matter. – Kuwait News Agency

Give back Golan Heights, says British Foreign Office Minister

British Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis has called for Israel to give back the Golan Heights as part of a peace settlement with Syria. Mr. Lewis, on his first visit to the Middle East, made the call during a press conference in the Syrian capital Damascus after talks with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and his deputy. Mr. Lewis, who is Jewish and the MP for Bury South, said: “We think that there is now a very important opportunity for one of the world’s great conflicts to begin to come to an end.” A solution, he said, should include “a viable Palestinian state” alongside Israel and a “comprehensive peace between Syria and Israel which includes the return of the Golan Heights”. Andrew Balcombe, chairman of the Zionist Federation, said: “The British government is trying to pull Syria away from Iran. We hope that the minister is also telling Syria to stop assisting the rearming of Hizbollah.” – Jewish Chronicle (UK)

Belarus and Iran continue their love affair

Preidents Ahmadinejad and Lukashenko

Preidents Ahmadinejad and Lukashenko

A specialized roundtable was held on Monday to examine ways of improving economic ties between Iran and Belarus and to familiarize traders and companies with the country’s investment capabilities and trade opportunities. Head of Tehran’s Commercial Organization told the roundtable that at present trade exchanges between the two sides stands at about $100 million and the value of contracts for exporting technical and engineering services to Belarus has reached $1.7 billion. Iran’s Ambassador to Belarus Abdollah Hosseini, also addressing the roundtable, said the greatest advantage of making investments in Belarus is its exemplary security. “Moreover, this country is in a suitable position in terms of geopolitical considerations.“ He recalled that at present Iran’s political ties with Belarus is at the highest possible level. “Another advantage regarding investments in Belarus is that its embassy in Tehran renders extensive support to Iranian businessmen. Iran Daily

Australia and the Somali-linked Melbourne terrorist group

For more than six months, security agencies collected evidence of alleged plans by a Somali-linked Melbourne terrorist group for an attack police say could have been Australia’s worst. And yet, during regular reviews of the overall terrorism threat in Australia, the security and intelligence system saw no need to elevate the threat level from medium, the second-least urgent assessment. It didn’t move either after Osama Bin Laden insisted on his right to attack Australia late in 2003, or after the 2005 anti-terrorism raids across Sydney and Melbourne, or after the London public transport attacks in July that year. Indeed, the Australian Government Counter-Terrorism Committee has seen no need to change the alert level since the four-level system was introduced six years ago. The committee last met on Wednesday, the day after the Victorian arrests. As usual, the status quo decision was unanimous: an attack could occur but was not likely or imminent. This is not to say the ever-expanding security and intelligence authorities are complacent. The committee met several times after the Mumbai attacks and recent Jakarta bombings, and has the authority to set specific alerts for specific states or communities or industrial and infrastructure sectors such as ports or banks. Anthony Bubalo, a West Asia specialist at the Lowy Institute, says the international threat has declined since 2001 while the ”nature of the threat has become much more diffuse”. – The Sydney Morning Herald

Fatah conference suffers a blow from Hamas

The first Fatah party conference in 20 years has been extended amid infighting between delegates. The meeting of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ movement in Bethlehem was scheduled to end on Thursday after resolving disputes over how to vote for a new leadership. But it has been extended into the weekend after some reformists walked out of the conference on Wednesday after Abbas was accused of manipulating their choice of delegates. There have also been widespread calls for a full report on how party funds have been spent over the last two decades. The Fatah conference suffered a blow before it began after Hamas, which effectively rules the Gaza Strip, refused to allow 400 Fatah delegates based in Gaza to attend unless Fatah releases hundreds of Hamas activists detained in the West Bank. – The Palestine Chronicle

And finally . . . from Al Jazeera

If Israel strikes Iran

Iran is one of the world’s most significant nations in terms of history, culture and intellectual capacity, and is matched in the Middle East perhaps only by Israel.

It is a small wonder, then, that when Iran’s hard-line and irascible president talks of building military capability and destroying Israel, Tel Aviv feels its survival is menaced and that Tehran’s regime is its nemesis.

For all of its 61 years in existence, Israel has considered itself in a permanent war of survival. It has developed a national system which places great emphasis on its military and intelligence capabilities.

Starting from scratch, Israel has developed technologies which are truly world-leading, especially in the delivery of shock and awe on any potential enemy.

For the early part of its statehood, Israel had shared the support of the United States, as its protector and military hardware supplier, with the Shah’s Iran.

When a belligerent Saddam Hussein took power in Iraq, both the Shah and Israel were uneasy and often co-operated in exploiting technology, both US and home-grown in Israel.

There is documented evidence that Israel supplied Iran with communications equipment and the supporting paraphernalia needed to allow both countries (and probably the US Central Intelligence Agency) to eavesdrop on Iraq.

The great divide

The Iranian Revolution changed all that and since 1980, Israel and Iran have grown apart. So far apart, in fact, that there is a real risk of armed conflict between the two states.

What makes the world sit up and take note is that Israel is a nuclear power with delivery systems which can reach Iran – and Iran is, according to US experts, just two years away from creating a nuclear strike capability of its own.

US experts believe Iran will be able to produce nuclear weapons material in the next few months.

For Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia – and even the Gulf states – this is particularly worrying as any nuclear-tipped missiles would fly overhead no matter who launches them.

In addition, Israel has a sophisticated – and tested – anti-missile system called Arrow, which could knock out a potential Iranian first strike. The problem for Israel’s neighbours is not the technology but where the debris might fall if the Arrow were ever to be used.

Israel has watched with growing horror as the rhetoric from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, stokes tensions and as Tehran appears to be determined to create a full nuclear weapon capability.

Israel has taken steps to improve its nation’s defences and its long-range strike capability. There is no doubt that the Israeli military could mount a successful air strike against targets in Iran and certainly that the Jericho series of ballistic missiles could hit targets with great accuracy. – Al Jazeera

(Photo credit: Chavez denies Hezbollah . . .Paul Keller)

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