NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: March 31

Israel’s covert war on Iran faces disapproving White House

Facing mounting U.S. opposition behind the scenes, Israel still plans to continue a covert operation to delay Iran’s nuclear program by assassinating key Iranian scientists, U.S. officials said.

The Israeli program which has been in place for almost a decade, involves not only targeted killings of key Iranian assets but also disrupting and sabotaging Iran’s nuclear technology purchasing network abroad, these sources said.

Reva Bhalla, a senior analyst for Stratfor, a U.S. private intelligence company, commented publicly that key Iranian nuclear scientists were the targets of the strategy.

“With cooperation from the United States, Israeli covert operations have focused both on eliminating key [Iranian] assets involved in the nuclear program and the sabotaging of the Iranian nuclear supply chain,” he said.

But U.S. opposition to the program has intensified as U.S. President Barack Obama makes overtures aimed at thawing 30 years of tension between the two countries. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — At least one reader doubts the credibility of this story. All I can say is that this isn’t the first time it’s been reported. The February Telegraph report appears to have been based on some of the same sources.

Big sigh of relief in the White House: Israel’s Netanyahu says he can work with Obama

In the weeks since he was chosen to form Israel’s next government, Benjamin Netanyahu has labored to dispel the perception that he’s on a collision course with the country’s most powerful ally.

Never mind his history of spats with Washington, or that he refuses to embrace the goal of an independent Palestinian state, a cornerstone of American policy reaffirmed by President Obama last week.

And never mind that religious parties in his coalition call for expanding the Jewish settlements in the West Bank that Obama has criticized. Or that his foreign minister lives in one.

Netanyahu, expected to be sworn in as prime minister today, speaks with utter confidence that none of this record matters. He claims that Obama, with whom he has met twice, is “open to new ideas” — including his ideas — on how to address the region’s conflicts. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — No doubt Obama’s been sweating it out for the last few weeks wondering whether Netanyahu really likes him and wondering whether Israel’s next prime minister will be gracious enough to accept an invitation to the White House.

Thank goodness! The suspense is over. All that anguish can be set aside. It’s time to roll out the red carpet.

Israel’s moment of decision

Israel’s formation of a national unity government, a common strategy by parliamentary governments in times of war or national emergencies, is a move to gird the Jewish state for an impending crisis involving Iran’s nuclear program.

Though it could have formed a free-standing right-leaning coalition, Likud last week concluded an agreement with Israel’s Labor Party for a national unity government, with Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister. After February’s elections, it had seemed the differences between Likud, the leading right-leaning party, and Labor, the leading left-leaning party, were too great to permit unity.

Later it looked as if Labor would split and just half of its members join with Likud. But Israel’s dire security situation, particularly over Iran’s nuclear program, drove Mr. Netanyahu and Labor’s Ehud Barak, who still disagree on the peace process, to overlook their differences. Iran is at the top of the agenda for the incoming Israeli administration, with the peace process lower down. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Likudnik Meyrav Wurmser makes a fairly persuasive argument — except for one detail. If Ehud Barak joined Netanyahu’s government for the sake of Israel and because the threat from Iran trumps all other political considerations, why wasn’t Tzipi Livni moved by the same argument? After all, a Likud-Kadima coalition would have diminished Avigdor Lieberman’s strength and given Netanyahu an easier working majority and more international appeal. Does Wurmser view Livni as less of a patriotic Israeli than Barak or does this have more to do burnishing the “national unity” image of Israel’s new government?

National unity’s the thing — forget about ultra-nationalist fanatics.

Israeli military investigates itself and discovers that it’s squeaky clean

The Israeli military’s top lawyer on Monday closed an investigation into alleged misconduct by soldiers who took part in Israel’s recent three-week assault on the Gaza Strip, concluding that accusations made by graduates of a military preparatory school were “based on hearsay.”

In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces said that Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit, the IDF’s advocate general, found no evidence to support the most serious accusations, including alleged instances in which civilians were shot without cause.

Israeli human rights groups including B’Tselem and Yesh Din said they still want a broad, independent investigation of the Gaza operation because they don’t trust the Israeli military to police itself. [continued…]

What it means to talk with Hamas

March 2009 may come to be seen as a critical month in the ending of the international community’s isolation of Hamas. Finally engaging Hamas would spell the end of hypocritical Western policy and bring the peace process in line with the realities of the Middle East.

First, a group of high-level US foreign policy officials, past and present, went public with their recommendation that the Obama administration talk to Hamas. Coincidentally, European politicians who visited Hamas officials in Syria about the same time echoed that view.

Typically, meetings between European lawmakers and Hamas leaders are conducted discretely, if not entirely in secret. Now, the trips have begun to be publicized: In March there were trips by a cross-party group of British and Irish members of parliaments, as well as their counterparts from Greece and Italy. [continued…]

Hezbollah says not to carry out operation outside Lebanon

Lebanese Shiite armed group Hezbollah has vowed Monday that it will deter possible Israeli aggressions but will not carry out any military operation outside the country, local Elnashra website reported.

“We will not carry out any operation outside our Lebanese territories, but we will not accept after today that the enemy (Israel) stages any assault against our land,” head of Hezbollah’s members of parliament bloc Mouhamad Raad said at a funeral. [continued…]

Bush’s torture rationale debunked

Abu Zubaida was the alpha and omega of the Bush administration’s argument for torture.

That’s why Sunday’s front-page Washington Post story by Peter Finn and Joby Warrick is such a blow to the last remaining torture apologists.

Finn and Warrick reported that “not a single significant plot was foiled” as a result of Zubaida’s brutal treatment — and that, quite to the contrary, his false confessions “triggered a series of alerts and sent hundreds of CIA and FBI investigators scurrying in pursuit of phantoms.”

Zubaida was the first detainee to be tortured at the direct instruction of the White House. Then he was President George W. Bush’s Exhibit A in defense of the “enhanced interrogation” procedures that constituted torture. And he continues to be held up as a justification for torture by its most ardent defenders.

But as author Ron Suskind reported almost three years ago — and as The Post now confirms — almost all the key assertions the Bush administration made about Zubaida were wrong.

Zubaida wasn’t a major al Qaeda figure. He wasn’t holding back critical information. His torture didn’t produce valuable intelligence — and it certainly didn’t save lives.

All the calculations the Bush White House claims to have made in its decision to abandon long-held moral and legal strictures against abusive interrogation turn out to have been profoundly flawed, not just on a moral basis but on a coldly practical one as well. [continued…]

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1 thought on “NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: March 31

  1. Alex Bell

    I’m astounded that any one could take Brig. Gen. Mendelblit’s statement that the Israeli Defence Forces did nothing wrong seriously. His investigation is about as believable as investigations by Bernie Madoff and Enron would be into their activities.

    Regards, Alex

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