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FALLOUT OF SUNNI-SHIITE CLASH

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni: 'Seven Muslim States Feel Threatened By Sunni-Shiite Confrontation & Not Israeli-Palestinian Conflict'

Senior Israeli Official: 'Muslim States May Intervene In Iraq If U.S. Withdrawal Triggers Total Chaos'

'Muslim States Fear Nuclear Armed Iran'

FM Tzipi Livni

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni says the current confrontation between Sunni and Shiite Muslims has superseded the Israeli- Palestinian conflict in at least seven Islamic states around the globe. In a briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee, Livni disclosed that Israel was telling foreign countries that the recent Mecca Agreement agreed by the Palestinians does not comply with the conditions of the so-called Quartet. A senior Israeli official also said that Muslim states may intervene in Iraq if total chaos follows a future U.S. withdrawal.

Seven Muslim states feel threatened more by radical Islam than the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation ... that's the assessment of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. In Livni's view Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan , Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey fear their regimes may be toppled by the radical Shiite campaign spearheaded by Iran. These countries also view Iranian nuclear weapons as a threat.  In fact, Saudi Arabia was now playing a role in trying to prevent Iran from getting 'the bomb'. Livni said: ' Muslim states see Iran as a threat to Middle East stability in general and to individual countries in particular'. And she added: ' They do not feel threatened by the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.' At the same time, they wanted a solution that would calm the situation and halt the  TV coverage of Palestinian casualties that infuriated 'the Arab streets' of the Middle East.

Syria is not included in Livni's list of moderates; in fact Damascus was isolated by the Muslim world. But Saudi Arabia was now trying to nudge Syria away from its alliance with Iran. An Arab summit meeting was being planned for Riyadh for the end of March and Syria would be invited to return to the fold.

Iraq: The seven moderates were not operating in the Iraqi arena. However, Benny Dagan, the chief of the Foreign Ministry's research and intelligence unit, said Muslim states might intervene in Iraq after an American withdrawal if it lead to 'total chaos' between the various Muslim communities.

Palestinians: Foreign Minister Livni said the recent Mecca Agreement worked out by Hamas and Fatah to end their bloody Fued did not comply with the so- called Quartet's conditions. The U.S., the U.N., the E.U. and Russia had stipulated that the Palestinian government must halt terrorism against Israel, recognize the Jewish state and honor past agreements. Israeli diplomats abroad were conveying this message. Livni went on to say the question was whether the moderates lead by President Mahmoud Abbas or the extremist Hamas would dominate the evolving unity government. So far, the Quartet was holding firm although there was debating by some countries about whether to recognize a Palestinian government that included Hamas. One example was Russia. The Israeli view is that President Putin is simply trying to buck the U.S. as he is on other international issues.

Lebanon: The Foreign Minister said Israel's situation had improved after last summer's war with Hezbollah. Although Hezbollah was reorganizing north of the Litani River, the international force was preventing them from operating freely in the south from where they had launched some 4,000 rockets into Israel. The guerrillas were now being rearmed by 'routine smuggling' of rockets and weapons from Syria.Livni referred to ideas for better international control over the Lebanese - Syrian border but this had to be initiated by Lebanese leader Siniora.At present, Hezbollah was being restrained by its Iranian sponsor which was not interested in again heating up the border with Israel at this time. But the guerrillas were preparing for another round.

David Essing

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