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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

UPDATED Olmert to sacrifice the Golan to save his political career?

In a move that is beneath any standard of cynicism known to modern man, Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert's office announced Wednesday that his 'government' is conducting indirect negotiations through Turkey to give the Golan Heights to Syria. Olmert is due to be interrogated by the police again on Friday, in preparation for the pre-trial testimony of 'donor' Morris (Moshe) Talansky on Sunday. Olmert's lawyers, having already lost in the Supreme Court on whether Talansky could testify before trial, are now seeking to lengthen the proceedings as much as possible by seeking a postponement of two weeks in Talansky's testimony. Talansky has already told the police that he gave Olmert envelopes filled with cash that were not to cover election debt. Talansky is insisting on returning to the US on Monday. What remains of the gag order on the investigation is due to be lifted at 8:00 tonight.

The 'indirect negotiations' with Syria were announced simultaneously in Jerusalem, Damascus and Ankara for maximum effect.
"Israel and Syria have begun indirect peace talks with the Syrians, under the auspices of Turkey," the statement read. "The two sides have declared their intention to conduct the negotiations in good faith and with openness."

The statement said Syria and Israel have agreed to carry out the dialogue in a serious and continuous manner with the aim of reaching a comprehensive peace within the framework set up at the Madrid Conference.

According to the statement the two sides thanked Turkey and its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for their role in the talks and for their "generous hospitality."

The indirect talks started in February 2007 when Olmert visited Turkey and in a two-and-a-half hour private conversation with Erdogan agreed that Turkey would begin mediating between Israel and Syria with the goal of beginning peace negotiations.

Olmert placed responsibility for the Syrian dossier in the hands of his chief of staff Yoram Turbowicz and his foreign policy adviser Shalom Turgeman. The two have traveled to Turkey a number of times over the last year and held talks with Turkish officials. Currently they are in Ankara, and have been there since Monday, together with high ranking Syrian officials. The two teams, however, are not believed to be holding direct talks.
Israel Radio reported on its 2:00 newscast on Wednesday that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem has already announced to the media that Israel has agreed to withdraw to the indefensible June 4, 1967 borders. Israel declined comment (which likely means Olmert did agree). But Haaretz reports that Olmert has given Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a 'secret formula' that has satisfied the chinless ophthalmologist:
An Israeli official said that Olmert gave Syria a "formula" on the Golan Heights "that (President Bashar al) Assad wanted," though the details remain secret.

Another Israeli official familiar with the two country's relations said, "It will be a very long process. The direct talks themselves have not yet started."
In 2000, 'negotiations' for Israel's last attempt at peace with Syria fell apart because then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed to withdraw only to the 1949 armistice lines and not to the June 4, 1967 lines, leaving Israel with a narrow strip of land on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee.

According to the officials, one question being discussed in exchanges Turkey has carried between Jerusalem and Damascus over the last few months is what comes first; an Israeli announcement - in some yet-to-be-determined form - regarding withdrawal from the Golan, or a Syrian announcement of ending support for Hamas and Hizbullah.

Israel is also keen on a Syrian commitment to distance itself from Iran as part of any future peace agreement.
The reactions to Olmert's announcement can be summed up as utter contempt from the right side. Here's a sampling.
"The recipient of cash envelopes will not touch the Golan," Likud faction chairman, MK Gideon Sa'ar, said Wednesday in response to the announcement by the Prime Minister's Office confirming the existence of indirect peace talks with Syria being conducted via Turkey.

"The PM's announcement confirms that there is no end to this cynicism in playing with Israel's strategic assets for the sake of Olmert's personal survival," Sa'ar said.

Olmert "doesn't have a majority for making concessions on the Golan - not in the Knesset and not among the public," he added. "Shas needs to leave the Olmert government immediately."

Likud MK Gilad Erdan charged that "Olmert has finally proven that he is willing to sell everything, including Israel's security, in order to cause us to forget the severe criminal offenses that he suspected of."

"If Shas, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak do not quit his corrupt government forthwith then they are fully complicit in selling the Golan and relinquishing our defense," he continued.

Likud MK Yisrael Katz, who is the head of the Golan Lobby in the Knesset also lambasted the PMO's announcement.

"The prime minister and the president of Syria must thoroughly understand that there is a clear Knesset majority against an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan," Katz said. "More than 61 MKs signed a petition against relinquishing the Golan and they won't allow the prime minister to continue the process."
On the left side, the reactions are more mixed:
Among left-wing MKs, Ran Cohen of Meretz [which is not in the coalition. CiJ] praised the Prime Minister's Office for the announcement.

Cohen said that he "encourages the representatives of both sides to continue bravely, that this will assist in stabilizing the region and in isolating Iran."

Education Minister [Comrade] Yuli Tamir (Labor) also expressed her approval of the move.

"I'm pleased regarding the opening of negotiations with Syria, which can stabilize peace in our region," Tamir said. "We must break the Iranian-Syrian axis and arrive at a comprehensive peace agreement with the Syrians in exchange for a withdrawal from the Golan."
But even the left does not universally favor Olmert's tactic.
Knesset Member Shelly Yechimovich (Labor), who is associated with the left-wing of the party, has charged Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with cynicism for announcing two days before he testified in a criminal probe that Israel is holding indirect talks with Syria.

"This is a new spin by the Prime Minister, whose objective is to take away attention from the envelopes stuffed with money" that he received, said the former journalist.

On the political left, Meretz MK Zahava Gal'on said she supports talks with Syria, but agrees that Olmert does not have the mandate to do it.... Labor's Eitan Cabel said talks with Syria must be held no matter who the Prime Minister is.
And Mrs. Cohen in Hadera (a euphemism for the average Israeli) opposes abandoning the Golan.
The War and Peace Index of last month - a survey of 600 Israeli adults conducted by the B. I. Cohen Institute of Tel Aviv University - found that a whopping 75% of Israelis oppose an Israeli withdrawal from all of the Golan Heights for a full peace treaty with Syria, whereas only 19% favor this.

Governmental talk of giving away the Golan in 1996 and 1999-2000 was repressed by widespread popular national campaigns against it. In the mid-90's, thousands of banners and a million stickers reading "HaAm Im HaGolan" (The Nation is With the Golan) graced porches, billboards and cars throughout the country. In January 2000, some 300,000 people took part in one of the largest demonstrations in Israeli history, calling on then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak not to withdraw the IDF from the Golan Heights.
There's more to the Golan than land. The biggest issue is actually water resources. Much of Israel's water supply originates in the Golan and this entire region is arid. More on that in later posts.

Finally YNet reports that the Israeli 'gestures' to Syria have already begun.
Meanwhile Wednesday, media outlets in Syria reported that a Syrian citizen from the village of Ghajar [a village that straddles the Israeli-Lebanese border. CiJ] had been released from an Israeli jail. The man, Mohammed Abed Al-Shmali, was arrested in December 2003 on suspicion of delivering information to Hizbullah in exchange for an approval to sell drugs on the border. There are 13 more Syrian citizens jailed in Israel.
Having reported the news, I would like to comment on it. Olmert's despicable cynicism and egomania know no bounds. I have no words that I can use to express how much I detest him that do not run the risk of attracting a defamation lawsuit (yes, even politicians sue for defamation here). It's long past time for Shas (at least) to get their heads out of the sand and their butts out of the government. For that matter, it's time for Livni and Barak to get out too.

UPDATE 5:11 PM

Israel is now denying that it agreed to a 'full withdrawal' from the Golan Heights.
The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) denied Wednesday a statement by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem to the effect that Damascus received commitments for an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights up to the June 4, 1967 border during Turkish-brokered indirect talks.

"As (Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert has said in the past, Syria knows what Israel demands of it and Israel knows what Syria expects it to do," officials in the PMO said.

"We received commitments for a withdrawal from the Golan to the June 4, 1967 line," Moallem had told AFP during a visit to Bahrain. "This is not new. It started since Rabin's pledge [for a pullout] in 1993, and all subsequent Israeli prime ministers abided by it."
Also, I almost forgot to mention that JPost reported Wednesday morning that Russia may be selling advanced weaponry to Syria, including MiG 29 fighter jets, surface-to-air missiles, surface-to-surface missiles and submarines. If we're going to have 'peace,' I wonder why they need those....
According to reports in the Russian media, the delegation, led by Syrian Air Force commander Gen. Akhmad al-Ratyb, will be in Moscow for five days and meet with Russian Defense Ministry and Air Force officials, as well as visit several military bases and units.

According to the reports, the talks will focus on arms sales - including submarines, anti-aircraft missiles, the latest model MiG fighter jets and advanced surface-to-surface ballistic missiles.

Israel is particularly concerned with a Syrian request for long-range S-300 surface-to-air missiles that could threaten IAF jets flying on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights.

The S-300 is one of the best multi-target anti-aircraft-missile systems in the world and reportedly can track 100 targets simultaneously while engaging 12 at the same time. Syria recently received 36 Pantsir S1E air-defense systems from Russia. [That didn't work out too well, did it? CiJ] Iran is believed to have already procured several S-300 systems to protect its nuclear facilities.

Israeli defense officials expressed grave concern over the possibility that Syria would obtain these new military platforms. Damascus, the officials said, had dramatically increased defense spending recently. In the past three years, Syria has spent more than $3 billion on weapons, up from less than $100 million in 2002.

Officials said that Israel was working diplomatically with Moscow to prevent the sales, but that for the right amount of money, Russia would likely approve the sales in any case.

According to the reports, Syria is also discussing a purchase of MiG 29SMT fighter jets. Currently, the Syrian Air Force is extremely weak, so advanced long-range MiGs would give it a significant boost.

Israel is also extremely concerned about a possible sale of the Iskander surface-to-surface missile system. The Iskander, Israeli weapons experts said Tuesday, was the heir to the Scud and was far superior to the ballistic missiles currently in Syria's arsenal. The Iskander is propelled by solid fuel and has a range of 300 kilometers, with accuracy of about 20 meters.

"This would without a doubt be a major threat to Israel," one Israeli expert said.

Lastly, Syria is also reportedly interested in buying two Amur-1650 submarines from Russia. The Amur 1650 is a diesel-electric operated vessel and reportedly can strike salvo missile blows at multiple targets simultaneously.

Syria has a navy but does not have operational submarines.
But 'peace' is breaking out next week, right?

3 Comments:

At 3:18 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Ehud Olmert's trump card to escape indictment and being force out of office is pursuing the "peace process." Since the Palestinian front is stalled, there's the prospect of a deal with the Syrians. Today's announcement at least temporarily diverts public attention from the scandal surrounding Olmert. He's always found lucky breaks and he's always managed to escape the noose. We'll know in the coming days if the Talansky investigation leaves him unscathed.

 
At 6:20 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Olmert's denial about a commitment to a full withdrawal from the Golan is about as believable as his denial he never took a bribe. If you believe him, then what's the point of announcing the two sides held talks? What Israel would get from Syria is a postdated check - in the form of a cold peace and Israel as I mentioned earlier, has had that with Syria since the Yom Kippur War. Olmert must be kidding if he thinks eating hummus and visiting Damascus bazaars is high on the priority list of most Israelis.

 
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