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THIS WEEK 22.10.05

Crucial Choices For Some Key Players

Syrian President Assad - Cooperate With U.N. & U.S. Or Risk His Minority Alewite Regime?

Palestinian Leader Abbas - Did President Bush Rule Out Leapfrogging Terror To Palestinian State?

Likud’s Netanyahu - Quit Politics?

President Assad

The U.N. enquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has placed responsibility at the door of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Syrian dictator must decide how to cope with the mounting crisis, apparently of his own making. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas went to Washington and a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush against the backdrop of the Palestinian Authority’s lack of response in reining in terrorism. Although the Palestinians are trying to put a brave face on the outcome, the fate of the Palestinian state may also be at stake. In Israel, the Maariv daily carried a banner headline that Binyamin Netanyahu may quit politics after his failed attempt to topple Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

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Syria: President Bashar Assad now faces his worst crisis since taking power five years ago – at stake is the future of his minority Alewite regime. The special U. N. enquiry has pointed the finger at Damascus for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Harawi last February. Although Assad has repeatedly denied any Syrian culpability, he is now in the hot seat and in the U.N. Security Council the U.S. and France are determined to hold Syria to account. Assad himself has been caught lying to the enquiry claiming that his meeting with Hariri shortly before the assassination was friendly. A foreign intelligence service supplied wire taps that confirmed that Assad had threatened Hariri who opposed Syria’s domination of Lebanon. If Assad does not cooperate and allow Syrian officials to testify perhaps at an international trial, Syria could face sanctions. Israeli experts believe it is inconceivable that Assad was not made aware of the plot to assassinate Hariri, although he might not have known the details beforehand. This could allow Assad to get off the hook by letting some officials take the rap. It might have started already with the alleged suicide of General Ghazi Kanaan, Syria’s former strongman in Lebanon.The Alewites are an Islamic sect that represents only about 15 percent of the Syrian population. They command absolute control of the power structure in Syria. Former President Hafez Assad ruled the country with an iron fist and put down a rebellion of the Muslim Brothers in the town of Hama by massacring over 20,000 of their number.During the first U.S. war in Iraq, Hafez Assad succeeded in consolidating Syrian domination of Lebanon as the price for Syria’s support of the coalition’s offensive. Now during the second U.S. campaign in Iraq, Basher Assad has managed to not only loose control over Lebanon; he may also facing international sanctions over what is being perceived internationally as a Syrian killing of a popular Lebanese leader. And if this were not enough, Assad junior also risks America’s fury for allowing Islamist guerillas to infiltrate from Syrian territory into Iraq where they have been killing U.S. troops. The crafty Hafez Assad was a master tactician; his son Basher is guilty of overreaching and not realizing the limits of Syria’s power both in Iraq and Lebanon.

Abbas: If this is true for Basher Assad, the opposite is apparently the case for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas has assumed the title of Palestinian President without the resolve to exercise his executive power and enforce his slogan of ‘one gun, one authority’. And it will remain solely a hollow slogan unless the ‘President’ acts instead of talking. Writing in the International Herald Tribune (October 21st), Palestinian lecturer Marwan Bishara, makes this comment on Israel’s demand that Palestinian security forces dismantle’ the infrastructure of terrorism’:"That means fighting the Islamist and leftist factions that command the support of half the Palestinian population. Any such military campaign will swiftly escalate into a civil war, something neither Arafat nor Abbas have been capable or willing to fight…. "

This explanation is the crux of the problem. Dr. Bishara writes that half of the Palestinians support Hamas and the other terror groups which vow openly to eradicate the Jewish state. (The just over 60% support that Abbas received in the previous election is misleading because Hamas supporters boycotted the ballot.) So, the Palestinian jury is still out on whether it accepts the Bush vision of separate Jewish and Palestinian states living at peace. In other words, it is still in doubt whether ‘President’ Abbas enjoys a Palestinian majority for converting his slogan into an actual policy. President Bush is obviously aware of this and that is apparently why he steered clear of any specific timetable for a Palestinian state as long as Abbas refuses to act as a commander-in-chief and keeps his promises. If Israel is pleased with what it views as America’s consistency in the war against terrorism, there are differences over Hamas running in the Palestinian election set for January. Jerusalem rejects the participation of Hamas contending it would be ludicrous for Israel to support an election in which a party calling for its destruction could win. The Bush administration feels if the Palestinian election is to be democratic it should be open to all. There is a public debate developing in Israel about supporting Hamas participation in the upcoming Palestinian election. Those in favor feel it will reveal just where the Palestinians stand and just how much support Mahmoud Abbas has for his ‘one gun, one authority’.

One of the most vociferous Palestinian demands is that Israel remove the IDF checkpoints which interfere with their freedom of movement in the territories. However, time and again the checkpoints have proven to be very effective in foiling terror attacks: so much so, that the terrorists exploit every possible loophole. One female suicide bomber recently tried to conceal her explosives inside her underpants. Now, there’s a new twist. In the village of Asira a-Shamaliya, IDF troops arrested five Palestinian terror suspects. The nervous behavior of one of their wives aroused the suspicion of the soldiers and with good reason. The terrorist had hidden a hand grenade in the blanket wrapped around the baby that the mother was carrying. The woman said she was unaware that her husband had hidden the grenade in the baby’s blanket. A search also uncovered a suitcase with ten kilograms of explosives in the home of one of the terrorists, who were said to be members of Fatah, Mahmoud Abbass’s organization and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Biniamin Netanyahu

Netanyahu? The Maariv daily carried an exclusive story on October 21st entitled ‘At the Crossroads’. After making a series of mistakes in his eleventh hour attempt to oust Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Netanyahu was said to be considering quitting politics altogether. Some friends of the former finance minister have advised Netanyahu to get out of politics after the Likud convention backed Sharon last month. One version is that Netanyahu tends to quit politics; another is that Netanyahu is biding his time waiting for an opportunity to take control of the Likud. In any case, many pundits feel that Netanyahu has blundered his way into a no-win situation. The polls show that Sharon will again win in the Likud this April. Moreover, even if Netanyahu did defeat Sharon, he would probably lose the next election. Although the former finance minister is given credit for getting the economy back on track, he has repeatedly shot himself in the foot politically. This is creating the impression that Netanyahu does not have the right stuff to be prime minister; in Israel that requires nerves of steel and sound judgment.

David Essing

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