The Day In Israel: Tuesday Mar 9th, 2010

The Obama administration last night announced that Israel and the PA have agreed to resume the peace process through indirect negotiations, facilitated by US special envoy for the Middle East George Mitchell, but hopes they will lead to direct negotiations. Furthermore, according to Ha’aretz, Mitchell told Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas that the understandings reached following the 2007 Annapolis Conference are non-binding in the current round of negotiations.

The American envoy also called on “the parties, and all concerned, to refrain from any statements or actions which may inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of these talks.”

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Bureau expressed satisfaction that negotiations are restarting after more than a year, but refused to comment on the details of the process.

The United States has told the Palestinians that if the sides do not meet expectations, it will “act accordingly.”

A senior Palestinian source told Haaretz Monday that the Palestinians and the Arab League have received American assurances that “we will be actively involved in managing the indirect talks, and also proposing ideas and bridging ideas of our own.”

The U.S. has allotted the process four months to reach results. Regarding whether the U.S. would then announce whether the sides’ positions reflect the international consensus on the conflict, the Americans told the Palestinians that the U.S. “expects both sides to behave seriously, with honesty and in good will because, if one of the sides, in our judgment, does not fulfill our expectations, we will make our concerns clear and we will act accordingly in order to overcome every obstacle.”

The announcement that negotiations are resuming came despite disagreements between the three sides over the structure of the talks.

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In a Jerusalem meeting with quartet envoys on Friday, Mitchell’s deputy David Hale said the negotiations after Annapolis and the understandings reached by Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qureia, as well as Ehud Olmert and Abbas, would not be binding.

The talks will be based on agreements signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, including the road map.

Olmert had offered Abbas an Israeli withdrawal from 94 percent of the West Bank, and Israeli territory in exchange for the remaining 6 percent. In addition, Israel would symbolically accept 5,000 Palestinian refugees and enable international governance for the holy sites in the Old City.

Abbas never responded to Olmert’s offer, but the Palestinians insisted that the negotiations resume from where they stopped during Olmert’s term as prime minister.

The U.S. apparently accepted Israel’s position on the matter, which was to ignore everything that was not signed as part of an agreement.

The talks will also be based on the Obama administration’s two statements from the past year: President Barack Obama’s speech to the United Nations, which described the goal of a secure, Jewish state in Israel alongside a viable, independent Palestine and an end to the 1967 occupation; and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement regarding a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with territory exchanges, combined with Israel’s desire for a secure Jewish state that includes “recent developments,” meaning the settlement blocs

Updates (Israel time; most recent at top)?

8:15PM: More stolen passports. Except something’s different this time.

Three Iranians were caught holding stolen Israeli passports as they arrived in the an archipelago nation of Seychelles, northeast of Madagascar, the Israeli daily newspaper Ma’ariv reported on Tuesday.

The three were reportedly detained at Seychelles International Airport and were returned to Nairobi where their flight originated.

Seychelles authorities informed Israel, who’s authorities allegedly revealed that the passports were stolen from Israeli passengers while they were visiting Thailand.

“Israeli security circles believe the Iranians intended to carry out attacks against Israeli tourists in Seychelles especially as the Jewish Passover holiday nears,” Ma’ariv quoted Israeli security sources as saying.

8:05PM: Today’s must read is from Alan Howe of the Melbourne Herald Sun, who deals with the Mossad’s supposed hit in Dubai, and the resultant backlash.

Here are the latest scores in the war on terror. If you don’t want to know, look away now.

Israelis 1, Palestinians 0.

Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a virtueless scrap of humanity, is dead. All good so far.

But how he died and who killed him have now become the story.

There are two possibilities about his death in Dubai: that he was killed in a pillow fight gone wrong; or that Mossad agents bumped him off in a daring, indeed thrillingly bold, assassination on enemy soil. Israel isn’t saying anything. That’s the second scenario confirmed then.

On the evening of January 19, four people entered the Palestinian’s room at the Al-Bustan Rotana Hotel using an electronic device that decoded Mabhouh’s pass.

The assassins ambushed their target, injected him with a paralysing sedative and then suffocated him using a pillow. It was all over in 10 minutes. Nothing in the room was disturbed. The killers left calmly, leaving the door locked – from the inside.

The agents – and another 23 colleagues who joined them as plotters, spotters and decoys – then headed for the airport, flying to Asia and Europe.

That’s a slick operation. You have to stand in awe at the audacity of the planning and the courage of the men – and one woman – who volunteered for it. Just 19 hours earlier none of them had even arrived in Dubai.

Al-Mabhouh had been gloating recently about how he killed two Israeli soldiers in 1989. He had a brain-squirming hatred for the Israelis who claim evidence that he spent his days smuggling rockets into Gaza. Ever since the Israelis retreated from their territory and left the locals to their own devices Gazans have thanked their neighbours with an almost ceaseless volley of deadly rockets.

Just days off turning 50, al-Mabhouh knew he was a worthy target for assassination. Usually, he travelled with a team of bodyguards, but they couldn’t get seats on his flight, which was said to be the first leg of a weapons-buying trip to Thailand.

To help secure the success of this well-thought-out killing, Mossad’s agents travelled on forged passports appearing to have been issued in Germany, France, Ireland, the UK and Australia.

Foreign ministers from these countries, including our own Stephen Smith, have been mildly critical of Israel, at least compared with the excitable Hamas spokesman who told Israel to “prepare to receive the hellfire of our anger”. What, and that’s new?

Our reaction was more subdued; forging Australian passports was not “the act of a friend”.

Yes it was.

We cancelled the screening in Parliament House of an Israeli film called Noodle.

Take that, Tel Aviv!

Then we sent a small team from the Australian Federal Police to investigate the passport issue.

Uh-oh. That’s asking for trouble. Yet to recover from the laugh-a-minute leadership of Mick Keelty, the AFP is capable of almost anything. Within hours of arriving in Tel Aviv, these Keystone clowns had screeched out of the underground car park beneath the Australian embassy there, hit a woman riding a bicycle and sped off.

The Mossad team also can be said to have done a hit and run, but I know who I’d want looking after my interests.

The woman they hit, Oshra Bar, 22, wants an apology from the AFP. Maybe that will come after they have worked up the courage to grovel to Dr Mohamed Haneef, the Brisbane doctor they falsely charged with providing assistance to terrorists, ruining his life.

If Australia’s security services had to defend Israel, surrounded as it is by Arabs who attack it regularly and who, with a few Persian nutters running Iran – all of them united under the Koran – now plan its nuclear destruction, Israelis would clog their country’s airports seeking a quick exit.

Even that brave people would know the game was up.

What could the agents of our Australian Secret Intelligence Service do in defence of the Middle East’s lone democracy – don monkey masks and take on Hamas?

That’s what they did during exercises at the Sheraton Hotel on Spring St. Disguised in “grotesque masks” they stormed the 10th floor, destroying property, panicking guests and assaulting the hotel manager. Taxpayers attended to the compensation bill, which ran to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Imagine if they – we – had real enemies. Australia’s security services and federal police are a hopeless embarrassment and that would be a serious problem for us all if we had anything other than oceans for neighbours.

It was reported that a former ASIS agent said last week that forging passports was old hat – indeed as old as the espionage game itself. It’s probably fair to assume we have done the same – if your security agency has the words secret in its title, don’t expect to find out – but there is less need for it. Australian agents don’t need to travel the globe eliminating people who threaten our very existence.

In any case, I can picture now passports forged by ASIS. Two innocents from, say, Nunawading, have had their identity stolen, but the pictures are certainly not of them. Standing before the immigration desk at Ben-Gurion Airport are two men. The talkative one is in a blue jacket, red polka dot bow tie and red-and-white striped bucket hat on which is written Peters Ice Cream. “No, I’m Zig!” he insists.

Security in Israel is no joking matter. Except to the United Nations, which last year hosted a conference against racism unforgivably inviting the unpredictable Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak. He ranted about how the Holocaust never happened – he doesn’t want anything overshadowing the modern nuclear holocaust he plans.

IT’S bad enough that the UN cannot get international action to make a rogue state such as Iran adhere to its Non-Proliferation Treaty on nuclear weapons.

So, mostly alone but always threatened, Israel is forced to police its own future. Its defence must always be in its own hands.

That’s why, on a Sunday afternoon in June 1981, using US provided satellite pictures it sent in its American-made fighter jets to bomb and destroy Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility just outside Baghdad.

The nuclear plant – being built using technology supplied by the West’s most unreliable “ally”, France – was near completion, but was to have been used only for the peaceful generation of power. Saddam Hussein had promised.

At the time, Israel’s critics condemned it for trying to be the region’s police, and pointed out that it had long been suspected that Israel itself was moving towards becoming a nuclear power. Golly, why would it be doing that?

Quietly, over the years, after having breathed a sigh of relief, most of the world came to understand what a favour that little country had performed for them.

These days attention has turned towards Iran and its development of a nuclear program. This, too, is to generate power. Then why hide it at terrific expense under the desert?

Gaza is an Iranian proxy state where that country’s hate for the West is played out in fights against Israel.

This is the War on Terror.

Iran is the terror. Its Gaza agents are the terrorists. We must kill them.

And next on the agenda is Iran’s nuclear plant.

Bonus: You can also read Alan Howe’s answers to reader questions at the link, using the same software I did to liveblog the last Israeli elections with my pal Barry Rubin.

6:15PM: Israel has reacted as follows to a claim by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Israel accepted Turkey as a mediator for talks with Syria.

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Office denied that Israel has decided to renew negotiations with Syria with Turkish mediation.

“No decision was made to renew the Turkish mediation, but if this reflects Turkey’s wish to strengthen its relations with Israel and support peace in the region – it is naturally a blessed aspiration,” the statement read.

I would have thought a better response would be “Turkish can take its mediation offer and stick it where the sun don’t shine.”

5:15PM: Separated at birth?

4:40PM: Quote of the day:

“A person like Ahmadinejad, who calls openly to destroy the state of Israel, cannot be a full member of the United Nations.”

“A man who calls for acts of terror, and who hangs people in the street … he should be placed in his proper definition. He cannot go around almost like a cultural hero.”

“Ahmadinejad has to be isolated and not be welcomed in the capitals of the world.”

– Israeli President Shimon Peres, as he met visiting U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden in Jerusalem.

12:50PM: Israeli President Shimon Peres meets with visiting US Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden: I hope he doesn’t kiss me.

Peres: “You know, I really like what you’ve done with your hair.”

6:18AM: Here is Colonel Desmond Travers, one of the members of the UN Fact Finding Mission that produced the Goldstone Report, answering a question regarding evidence that Gaza mosques were being used to store weapons, contrary to his assertions.

Notice how a main part of Travers’ answer is “If I was an insurgent – and I have insurgent ancestors – the last place I would place military material into is a place of worship because it is an unreliable repository of military materials. It is too open and too insecure.” Besides the laughable suggestion that he is somehow qualified to make that statement because of his ancestors, the answer ignores a main reason why the palestinian terrorists do use mosques in this way – it is a great hiding place since many people frequent mosques, they know Israel will be loathe to strike them and if they do, it will cause great pressure and condemnation to bear down on Israel (as has been the case). Travers’ inability to see that the terrorists love to use civilian areas – including open and insecure places like residential houses – to store weapons speaks volumes about the veracity of his findings.

Notice also how he avoids another question regarding an anti-Semitic statement of his.

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David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media