WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING
A selection of current news reports from the Middle East
Three firms short-listed to build nuclear plant
The Jordan Times – The government has notified three international companies that they have been short-listed to build the Kingdom’s first nuclear power plant, according to a senior energy official.
Following the official notifications, which were sent out this week, the government will enter negotiations with the three companies, which were short-listed from seven firms, in order to select the final bidder within the next year, Jordan Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Khaled Toukan told The Jordan Times on Monday.
The selected bidder will provide the technology for a Generation III reactor, and is expected to serve as a strategic partner in operating the plant, he indicated.
This year, the JAEC will embark on a nationwide survey of uranium resources through its commercial arm, Jordan Energy Resources Inc.
Although Jordan is known to have significant uranium reserves, their full extent is not known in several areas, such as the northern and southern regions.
Gaza tunnelers use torches to cut Egypt’s steel wall
The Kuwait Times – Palestinian tunnel-diggers are using welding torches to cut through a steel wall Egypt is building to block the smuggling of goods and weapons into the Gaza Strip, a tunnel operator said yesterday. “Even if the Egyptians installed 10 walls, we would find ways to cut through them,” said tunnel builder Abu Nimer.
Under US and Israeli pressure to stem subterranean smuggling into the Gaza Strip, Egypt has been hammering a steel wall into the ground along its border with the enclave, which is under Hamas Islamist rule and an Israeli-led barricade. Abu Nimer told Reuters it took the operator of an oxy-acetylene torch, a commonly-used industrial welding and cutting tool, a day to carve out a hole 1.5 metres in diameter.
After shoring up the breach, tunnelers resumed their work and “business is going well,” Abu Nimer said. Besides a wide variety of consumer goods ordered by Palestinian merchants, weapons are also smuggled through the tunnels to Hamas and other militant factions. Abu Nimer said several hundred tunnels were operational, down from about 3,000 that were open before Israel launched a three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip in December 2008.
Muslim leaders warn against Jerusalem settlements
Arab News Saudi Arabia – Muslim leaders [in Istanbul] warned on Monday the establishment of new Israeli settlements in Jerusalem would push the region to “the brink of an abyss,” a day after Palestinians declared the start of indirect talks with Israel.
Palestinians say the US-mediated talks will become direct if Israel announces a complete halt to settlement building on occupied land. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, a strong critic of Israel, stressed the importance of such a move.
“Jewish settlement activities, which represent the biggest obstacle to the peace process, must be halted,” he told a meeting of Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) nations.
A draft Istanbul declaration of the OIC’s Parliamentary Union condemned what it said were provocative Israeli acts at holy places in Jerusalem and urged the international community to prevent geographical and demographic changes in the city.
“(The meeting) warns Israel that its intransigence and persistent defiance of the international community by the establishing new settlements in Al-Quds (Jerusalem) will push the region to the brink of an abyss,” it said.
Israel primed for war on Iran
The Jordan Times – “I believe that, by the middle of June, there will be international sanctions that will be watered down, with very low chances of being effective,” Defence Minister Ehud Barak told a closed-door parliamentary committee, according to a spokesman.
“With that said, there is nevertheless importance to such sanctions, because the delay has only served Iran,” he said, adding: “It is very possible that there will be other, more effective sanctions by a specific set of European countries.” Dan Meridor – another deputy prime minister who, like Yaalon and Barak, belongs to Netanyahu’s inner council – sought to play down Israel’s particular interest in having Iran reined in, calling it a global challenge.
“If in the end of the day, Iran does get nuclear, in spite of what America says and wants, this will have grave implications for world order, the balance of power and the rules of the game,” Meridor told foreign journalists in Jerusalem.
In his address to the Fisher Institute for Air & Space Strategic Studies, Yaalon said Israel was in a proxy war with Iran due to its sponsorship of Lebanon’s Hizbollah fighters and the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas.
“There is no doubt, looking at the overall situation, that we are already in a military confrontation with Iran,” he said. “Iran is the main motivator of those attacking us.”
Israel can’t conceal nukes now
Arab News, Saudi Arabia – There is a subtle shift in US policy that indicates Israel can no longer conceal its nuclear weapons under its so-called policy of “nuclear ambiguity.”
For decades, American leaderships have emulated the three wise monkeys whenever anyone has challenged them on the topic. When it comes to their Middle East ally Israel, they’ve chosen to see no evil, hear no evil and say no evil, even when such a stance has made them vulnerable to accusations of bias and cut the ground from under their WMD disarmament arguments vis-à-vis the rest of the planet.
American officials regularly shy away from the subject seen as an absolute taboo in Washington akin to Holocaust denial, but behind closed doors many would say that there is no moral equivalence between a responsible democracy such as Israel being armed with nuclear weapons and Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions. Translated, this means that Israel is “our friend” whereas Iran isn’t.
However, given that Israel has twice been on the point of unleashing its nukes, such arguments fail to stand up to scrutiny. Ernst David Bergmann, the man who from 1954 to 1966 was the chairman of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, said it all: “There is no distinction between nuclear energy for peaceful purposes or warlike ones…We shall never again be led as lambs to the slaughter.”
Iran should turn the tables on Israel
Gulf News (UAE) – With the help of friendly nations, Iran is playing a smart game. In an effort to take the heat off its nuclear programme, Tehran has agreed in principle to accept a uranium exchange scheme proposed by its allies Turkey and Brazil. Under the scheme, Iran would swap its low-level enriched uranium for nuclear fuel rods enriched abroad to a maximum level of 20 per cent, required to produce radioisotopes for medical use.
Although Iran, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has the right to enrich uranium to such levels to meet its energy needs, it is considering the scheme to allay suspicions that it is planning to build a bomb. In particular, it is keen to ward off additional sanctions currently being mulled in the UN Security Council, to which China and Russia are opposed in varying degrees.
Uranium enrichment is the nub of the long dispute between Iran and western powers — spurred on by Tel Aviv, which views Iran as an existential threat. Tehran insists that its programme is peaceful and maintains there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. That is, indeed, the case, although a recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors Report dated February 18 discloses concerns that “Iran has not provided the necessary cooperation to permit the Agency to confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is [used] in peaceful activities.”
Syria and Russia meet over dinner
Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) – President Bashar al-Assad held on Monday evening a dinner banquet in honour of President of the Federal Republic of Russia Dmitry Medvedev.
The banquet was attended by members of official delegations and senior officials in the two countries.
In a speech during the banquet, President al-Assad referred to Russia’s special place among the Syrian people because of its support to Arab issues, adding that there are human and family links between citizens of the two countries.
President al-Assad said that this visit will be an important and historical milestone on the road to promote the bilateral relations in which the cultural communication has played a major role in consolidating it through hundreds of years.
President al-Assad added that the policy of supporting the just struggle of third-world peoples for liberation and independence played by Russia during the Soviet Union era and nowadays has sustained its highly-valued position by the peoples of the Middle East.
President al-Assad said that the Syrians will not forget Russia’s support to Syria to liberate the Occupied Syrian Golan and all occupied Arab territories and its continuous pursuit to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in the region.
(Photo Credits: Gaza -Hatern Omar/Maan Images; Israel Primed- Islamic Republic News Agency; Syria – SANA)
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