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British forces invade Iraq and occupy Baghdad, ostensibly to save the Iraqis from the Ottoman Empire during World War I. In reality, the occupation is at least partly motivated by the desire to secure the Iraqi oil fields for Britain. Lieutenant General Sir Stanley Maude proclaims: “Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators. You people of Baghdad are not to understand that it is the wish of the British government to impose upon you alien institutions. It is the hope of the British government that once again the people of Baghdad shall flourish, enjoying their wealth and substance under institutions which are in consonance with their sacred laws.” Author and former CIA agent Larry Kolb will write in 2007: “That sounded a lot to me like the rosy assurances our own [American] leaders gave the Iraqis in 2003 not long after we flattened half of Baghdad and then drove our tanks into what was left of it. But history shows that eventually the British liberators were driven out of Iraq by pissed-off locals, the insurgency. Just as eventually British liberators were driven out of Palestine, by both Jews and Arabs. And just as Napoleon, the liberator of Egypt, had eventually been forced by the locals to abandon the Nile in humiliation. The track record of Western armies fighting local insurgencies is abysmal. If President Bush didn’t know that, surely someone on his staff should have.” [Kolb, 2007, pp. 93-94] Three years later, the British will find themselves battling a fierce insurgency in central Iraq (see Early 1920).
Following the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel takes over the administration of the West Bank and Gaza. Whereas Egyptian President Gamal Abddul Nasser had been tough on Islamist militants (see 1954-1970), Israel is much more permissive. One of their first actions is to release Sheikh Ahmed Yassin from prison. Yassin, a charismatic radical Islamist and the future founder of Hamas had been jailed in 1965 during one of Nasser’s crackdowns. [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 195] David Shipler, a former New York Times reporter, later recounts that he was told by the military governor of the Gaza Strip, Brigadier General Yitzhak Segev, that the Israeli government had financed the Islamic movement to couteract the PLO and the communists. According to Martha Kessler, a senior analyst for the CIA, “we saw Israel cultivate Islam as a counterweight to Palestinian nationalism.” In the 1970s, Yassin is able to form some Islamic organizations (see 1973-1978). In the 1980s, he forms Hamas as the military arm of his organizations (see 1987). [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 195, 197, 198]
Two of the airliners detonated by the hijackers at Dawson’s Field on September 12, 1970. [Source: Rolls Press / Popperfoto / Getty Images]The first major act of Middle East terrorism on a global scale plays out in Jordan. Militant Palestinian nationalists hijack four Western commercial airliners and fly the planes and their passengers—now hostages—to a desert airfield near Amman. After negotiations, they release the hostages and blow up the empty airliners for the news cameras. Jordan’s King Hussein responds by mobilizing his military for a showdown with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), a guerrilla organization based in his country. Hussein worries that Iraq or Syria might intervene on behalf of the PLO, and lets the US know that he would like US support in that event. Instead, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger makes the unlikely suggestion that Israel, not the US, step in to help Jordan if need be. President Nixon uses the incident to challenge the Soviet Union, warning the Soviets not to intervene if the US moves to prevent Syrian tanks from entering Jordan. Nixon often lets the Soviets and other adversaries think that he is capable of the most irrational acts—the “madman theory,” both Nixon and his critics call it—but Kissinger eventually convinces Nixon to support the idea of Israeli intervention. King Hussein secretly cables the British government to request an Israeli air strike, a cable routed to Washington via Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. Nixon gives his approval and Israel moves in. 3,000 Palestinians and Jordanians die in the subsequent conflict, dubbed “Black September” in the Arab world. Hussein loses influence and prestige among his fellow Arab leaders, and the PLO, energized by the conflict, moves into Lebanon. PLO leader Yasser Arafat takes undisputed control of the organization. Oil-supplying nations rally behind the Palestinian cause, and international terrorist incidents begin to escalate. [Werth, 2006, pp. 90-91]
In 1973 Israeli military authorities in charge of the West Bank and Gaza allow Sheikh Ahmed Yassin to establish the Islamic Center, an Islamic fundamentalist organization. With Israel’s support, Yassin’s organization soon gains control of hundreds of mosques, charities, and schools which serve as recruiting centers for militant Islamic fundamentalism. In 1976 Yassin creates another organization called the Islamic Association that forms hundreds of branches in Gaza. In 1978 the Islamic Association is licensed by the government of Menachem Begin over the objections of moderate Palesinians including the Commissioner of the Muslim Waqf in the Gaza Strip, Rafat Abu Shaban. Yassin also recieves funding from business leaders in Saudi Arabia who are also hostile to the secular PLO for religious reasons. The Saudi government, however, steps in and attempts to halt the private funds going to Yassin, because they view him as a tool of Israel. [United Press International, 2/24/2001; CounterPunch, 1/18/2003; Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 195 - 197] Yassin will go on to form Hamas in the 1980s, which is created with the help of Israeli intelligence (see 1987).
Senator Frank Church. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]A Senate committee tasked to investigate the activities of US intelligence organizations finds a plethora of abuses and criminal behaviors, and recommends strict legal restraints and firm Congressional oversight. The “Church Committee,” chaired by Senator Frank Church (D-ID), a former Army intelligence officer with a strong understanding of the necessity for intelligence-gathering, notes in its final report that the CIA in particular had been overly cooperative with the Nixon administration in spying on US citizens for political purposes (see December 21, 1974); US intelligence agencies had also gone beyond the law in assassination attempts on foreign government officials in, among other places, Africa, Latin America, and Vietnam. Church himself accused the CIA of providing the White House with what, in essence, is a “private army,” outside of Congressional oversight and control, and called the CIA a “rogue elephant rampaging out of control.” The committee will reveal the existence of hitherto-unsuspected operations such as HT Lingual, which had CIA agents secretly opening and reading US citizens’ international mail, and other operations which included secret, unauthorized wiretaps, dossier compilations, and even medical experiments. For himself, Church, the former intelligence officer, concluded that the CIA should conduct covert operations only “in a national emergency or in cases where intervention is clearly in tune with our traditional principles,” and restrain the CIA from intervening in the affairs of third-world nations without oversight or consequence. CIA director William Colby is somewhat of an unlikely ally to Church; although he does not fully cooperate with either the Church or Pike commissions, he feels that the CIA’s image is badly in need of rehabilitation. Indeed, Colby later writes, “I believed that Congress was within its constitutional rights to undertake a long-overdue and thoroughgoing review of the agency and the intelligence community. I did not share the view that intelligence was solely a function of the Executive Branch and must be protected from Congressional prying. Quite the contrary.” Conservatives later blame the Church Commission for “betray[ing] CIA agents and operations,” in the words of American Spectator editor R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr, referencing the 1975 assassination of CIA station chief Richard Welch in Greece. The chief counsel of the Church Committee accuses CIA defenders and other conservatives of “danc[ing] on the grave of Richard Welch in the most cynical way.” It is documented fact that the Church Commission exposed no agents and no operations, and compromised no sources; even Colby’s successor, George H.W. Bush, later admits that Welch’s death had nothing to do with the Church Committee. (In 1980, Church will lose re-election to the Senate in part because of accusations of his committee’s responsibility for Welch’s death by his Republican opponent, Jim McClure.) [American Prospect, 11/5/2001; History Matters Archive, 3/27/2002; Assassination Archives and Research Center, 11/23/2002]
Final Report Excoriates CIA - The Committee’s final report concludes, “Domestic intelligence activity has threatened and undermined the Constitutional rights of Americans to free speech, association and privacy. It has done so primarily because the Constitutional system for checking abuse of power has not been applied.” The report is particularly critical of the CIA’s successful, and clandestine, manipulation of the US media. It observes: “The CIA currently maintains a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and at times attempt to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda. These individuals provide the CIA with direct access to a large number of newspapers and periodicals, scores of press services and news agencies, radio and television stations, commercial book publishers, and other foreign media outlets.” The report identifies over 50 US journalists directly employed by the CIA, along with many others who were affiliated and paid by the CIA, and reveals the CIA’s policy to have “their” journalists and authors publish CIA-approved information, and disinformation, overseas in order to get that material disseminated in the United States. The report quotes the CIA’s Chief of the Covert Action Staff as writing, “Get books published or distributed abroad without revealing any US influence, by covertly subsidizing foreign publicans or booksellers.…Get books published for operational reasons, regardless of commercial viability.…The advantage of our direct contact with the author is that we can acquaint him in great detail with our intentions; that we can provide him with whatever material we want him to include and that we can check the manuscript at every stage…. [The agency] must make sure the actual manuscript will correspond with our operational and propagandistic intention.” The report finds that over 1,000 books were either published, subsidized, or sponsored by the CIA by the end of 1967; all of these books were published in the US either in their original form or excerpted in US magazines and newspapers. “In examining the CIA’s past and present use of the US media,” the report observes, “the Committee finds two reasons for concern. The first is the potential, inherent in covert media operations, for manipulating or incidentally misleading the American public. The second is the damage to the credibility and independence of a free press which may be caused by covert relationships with the US journalists and media organizations.”
CIA Withheld Info on Kennedy Assassination, Castro Plots, King Surveillance - The committee also finds that the CIA withheld critical information about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy from the Warren Commission, information about government assassination plots against Fidel Castro of Cuba (see, e.g., November 20, 1975, Early 1961-June 1965, March 1960-August 1960, and Early 1963); and that the FBI had conducted a counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO) against Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Mafia boss Sam Giancana was slated to testify before the committee about his organization’s ties to the CIA, but before he could testify, he was murdered in his home—including having six bullet wounds in a circle around his mouth. Another committee witness, union leader Jimmy Hoffa, disappeared before he could testify. Hoffa’s body has never been found. Mafia hitman Johnny Roselli was murdered before he could testify before the committee: in September 1976, the Washington Post will print excerpts from Roselli’s last interview, with journalist Jack Anderson, before his death; Anderson will write, “When [Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey] Oswald was picked up, the underworld conspirators feared he would crack and disclose information that might lead to them. This almost certainly would have brought a massive US crackdown on the Mafia. So Jack Ruby was ordered to eliminate Oswald.” (Anderson’s contention has not been proven.) The murders of Giancana and Roselli, and the disappearance and apparent murder of Hoffa, will lead to an inconclusive investigation by the House of the assassinations of Kennedy and King. [Spartacus Educational, 12/18/2002]
Leads to FISA - The findings of the Church Committee will inspire the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (see 1978), and the standing committees on intelligence in the House and Senate. [Assassination Archives and Research Center, 11/23/2002]
Simultaneous Investigation in House - The Church Committee operates alongside another investigative body in the House of Representatives, the Pike Committee (see January 29, 1976).
Church Committee Smeared After 9/11 - After the 9/11 attacks, conservative critics will once again bash the Church Committee; former Secretary of State James Baker will say within hours of the attacks that the Church report had caused the US to “unilaterally disarm in terms of our intelligence capabilities,” a sentiment echoed by the editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal, who will observe that the opening of the Church hearings was “the moment that our nation moved from an intelligence to anti-intelligence footing.” Perhaps the harshest criticism will come from conservative novelist and military historian Tom Clancy, who will say, “The CIA was gutted by people on the political left who don’t like intelligence operations. And as a result of that, as an indirect result of that, we’ve lost 5,000 citizens last week.” [Gerald K. Haines, 1/20/2003]
Entity Tags: Washington Post, Tom Clancy, William Colby, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, R. Emmett Tyrrell, Richard M. Nixon, HT Lingual, George Herbert Walker Bush, Jack Anderson, Frank Church, Church Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sam Giancana, Jack Ruby, James R. Hoffa, Pike Committee, Martin Luther King, Jr., James A. Baker, Lee Harvey Oswald, John F. Kennedy, Jim McClure, Johnny Roselli, Warren Commission
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin forms Hamas as the military arm of his Islamic Association, which had been licensed by Israel ten years earlier (see 1973-1978). According to Charles Freeman, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, “Israel started Hamas. It was a project of Shin Bet, which had a feeling that they could use it to hem in the PLO.” [CounterPunch, 1/18/2003; Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 191, 208] Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies, states that Israel “aided Hamas directly—the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO.” A former senior CIA official speaking to UPI describes Israel’s support for Hamas as “a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative.” Further, according to an unnamed US government official, “the thinking on the part of some of the right-wing Israeli establishment was that Hamas and the other groups, if they gained control, would refuse to have anything to do with the peace process and would torpedo any agreements put in place.” Larry Johnson, a counterterrorism official at the State Department, states: “The Israelis are their own worst enemies when it comes to fighting terrorism. They are like a guy who sets fire to his hair and then tries to put it out by hitting it with a hammer. They do more to incite and sustain terrorism than curb it.” [United Press International, 2/24/2001 Sources: Larry C. Johnson, Unnamed former CIA official]
Secretary of State James Baker tells President Bush that Israel has to negotiate with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Two weeks later, Baker urges Israel to withdraw its troops from the Palestinian territories it occupies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel must, he says, “lay aside, once and for all, the unrealistic vision of the greater Israel.” Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, the right-wing leader of the Likud Party, is furious (see April 6, 1989). [Unger, 2007, pp. 113]
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir tells an audience at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute that he would refuse to comply with the Bush administration’s request to withdraw its troops from the Palestinian territories it occupies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Trading land for peace—i.e. returning the Palestinian lands Israel conquered in the 1967 Six-Day War in return for political recognition and a promise of peace—“is a deception,” Shamir says. “If we leave, there will almost certainly be war.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 113]
Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, CIA Director William Webster acknowledges the West’s increasing dependency on Middle East oil. “I want to mention two key Middle East related issues that will continue to have a major impact on US interests,” he tells senators. “[One] Oil. Western dependence on Persian Gulf oil will rise dramatically. By the year 2000, gulf states will supply an estimated 40 percent of Western oil, up from about 30 percent today. Meanwhile, US dependence is expected to rise from about 10 percent to roughly 25 percent by the end of the decade. [Two] The Arab-Israeli peace process. If the peace process does not advance over the next several years, the Intifadah is likely to become more violent, terrorism will probably rise, and Arab pressure on the United States to impose a settlement will increase.” [US Congress, 1/23/1990]
Demolished and disabled vehicles litter the ‘Highway of Death’ in the hours after Iraqi forces were slaughtered by US strikes. [Source: Public domain / US Department of Defense]Thousands of Iraqi soldiers retreating on two highways from Kuwait City, Kuwait, towards Basra, Iraq, are slaughtered by US forces on what is later called the “Highway of Death.” [PBS Frontline, 1/9/1996] The so-called “Battle of Rumaylah,” or as some call it, the “Battle of the Junkyard,” is not a battle in the classic sense, as the huge losses of Iraqi soldiers and vehicles are contrasted with the loss of a single American tank, lost when an Iraqi tank explodes too close to it. Only one US soldier is injured. In the two separate but connected US assaults that make up the battle, at least 600 Iraqi tanks, armored vehicles, and trucks are destroyed or disabled; estimates of Iraqi personnel losses vary widely, but the losses are well in the thousands. Iraqi, Kuwaiti, and Palestinian civilians, including children, are caught in the heavy US assault as well as innumerable Iraqi soldiers. (Some believe the Kuwaitis and Palestinians were being taken to Baghdad to be used as hostages.) Most of the bodies are buried within hours, making it impossible to ascertain the number of dead. During the US assault, US tanks, using sophisticated thermal-imaging targeting, have little trouble sighting and destroying Iraqi tanks before the Iraqi units are even aware that they are being fired upon. [Time, 3/18/1991; New Yorker, 5/22/2000; Newsweek, 5/29/2000]
Air Strikes - Initially, a force of retreating Iraqi armored units are bombed front and rear by US aircraft during the night of February 27-28, trapping the convoy between the centers of destruction. The remaining units are targets for later air strikes. Most of the vehicles—military tanks, trucks, and armored personnel carriers, as well as civilian cars and trucks—are destroyed.
Five-Hour Air, Armor Assault - The March 2 attack on the Iraqi Republican Guard “Hammurabi” tank division is ordered by Army General Barry McCaffrey (the general who commanded the already-famous “left hook” maneuver days before—see February 23, 1991 and After), in response to what McCaffrey says is an attack on his forces with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). The decision surprises some in the Allied command structure in Saudi Arabia and causes unease among civilian and military leaders in Washington, who worry about the public relations ramifications of an attack that comes days after a cease-fire was implemented (see February 28, 1991). McCaffrey himself later calls the attack “one of the most astounding scenes of destruction I have ever participated in.” The “Hammurabi” division is obliterated in the assault.
Criticism from Fellow Officers - Some senior US officers are not sure that McCaffrey’s unit, the 24th Mechanized Division, was in fact attacked; many senior US officers privately assert that McCaffrey’s five-hour assault was well out of proportion. (McCaffrey, later accused of war crimes by an anonymous but well-informed accuser, will be exonerated by an Army inquiry.) McCaffrey will assert that his troops were indeed attacked—an assertion backed by other field officers on the scene—and that he ordered the retaliation because had he not, his forces would have come under heavy attack by Iraqi armored units. Besides, McCaffrey will later say, the entire war was intended to be a one-sided affair: “We didn’t go up there looking for a fair fight with these people.” The whole war, one British commander said in earlier weeks, was “rather like a grouse shoot.” [New Yorker, 5/22/2000; Newsweek, 5/29/2000]
One critic is the commander of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Unit, Lieutenant General James Johnson, who will later say: “There was no need to be shooting at anybody. [The Iraqis] couldn’t surrender fast enough. The war was over.” Johnson, whose unit is deployed near McCaffrey’s, will add, “I saw no need to continue any further attacks.” Explaining why McCaffrey ordered the assault on his own authority, Johnson will say that McCaffrey—widely perceived as CENTCOM commander General Norman Schwarzkopf’s favorite general—“does what he wants to do.”
Lieutenant General Ronald Griffith, commanding the 1st Armored Division of VII Corps, will later say that many of the tanks destroyed in the assault were being transported on trailer trucks to Baghdad, with their cannons facing away from the US troops, and thus posing no threat. “It was just a bunch of tanks in a train, and he made it a battle,” Griffith will later say of McCaffrey. “He made it a battle when it was never one. That’s the thing that bothered me the most.”
Major James Kump, the senior intelligence officer for the Army’s 124th Military Intelligence Battalion, is monitoring what he believes to be a routine retreat before McCaffrey’s units begin attacking the Iraqi forces. Kump will later recall: “I thought, I can’t believe what I’m hearing! There’s nothing going on. These guys are retreating.” Kump receives a large amount of electronic data indicating that McCaffrey is attacking a retreating force. “I had links to several intelligence systems—more than I can talk about,” he will later say. “And I’d have known if troops were moving toward us.… I knew of no justification for the counterattack. I always felt it was a violation of the ceasefire. From an integrity standpoint, I was very troubled.”
McCaffrey’s orders will be questioned even by one of his own subordinates, Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Lamar, the 24th’s operations officer. Lamar, who is in charge of the assault command post and who relays McCaffrey’s orders to the field units, will later say: “There was no incoming. I know that for a fact.” The battle is “a giant hoax. The Iraqis were doing absolutely nothing. I told McCaffrey I was having trouble confirming the incoming.” But, Lamar will recall, nothing he says matters. McCaffrey wants to attack.
Private First Class Charles Sheehan-Miles, a gun loader in a 1st Brigade tank platoon, will later recall being sent to rescue an American unit under attack by Iraqi armored units. “We went up the road blowing the sh_t out of everything,” he will recall. “It was like going down an American highway—people were all mixed up in cars and trucks. People got out of their cars and ran away. We shot them.” Sheehan-Miles recalls shooting at least one person in civilian clothing. “My orders were to shoot if they were armed or running. The Iraqis were getting massacred.”
Specialist 4 James Manchester, a member of the Scout platoon of the 27th Battalion of the 1st Brigade, will later call the battle nothing more than “f_cking murder.”
Shortly after the attack, an interpreter for the 124th Military Intelligence Battalion interrogates a captured Iraqi tank commander who asks over and over: “Why are you killing us? All we were doing was going home. Why are you killing us?”
After the battle, military analysts will pore over the battle films recorded by the Apache attack helicopters participating in McCaffrey’s assault. One of the analysts will later tell a reporter that the footage was clear: the Iraqi tanks were in full retreat and posed no threat to American forces. “These guys were in an offroad defensive position—deployed in a perimeter,” the analyst will recall. Some of the Iraqi tanks attempted to return fire once McCaffrey began his assault: “We saw T-72s in battle lines, firing away blindly in the air. They didn’t know what was killing them, but they were gamely shooting—knowing they would die.”
Many officers on the ground will later describe actions by McCaffrey and some of his senior subordinates they believe are designed to provoke a response from the retreating Iraqis and thus provide an excuse to begin a counterattack.
Massacre Factor in Decision to End Hostilities - Reporters are not allowed in the area, so no one is there to report on, or photograph, the actual assault or its immediate aftermath. But the area is heavily photographed in the following days, and the swath of destroyed, burned-out vehicles becomes at once a symbol of US military superiority and of Iraqi defeat. It is later cited as one of the factors in President Bush’s decision to accept Iraq’s surrender and cease hostilities. The decision enables the Iraqi Army to survive the war somewhat intact, and keeps Saddam Hussein in power. Bush will later explain: “If we continued the fighting another day… would we be accused of a slaughter of Iraqis who were simply trying to escape, not fight? In addition, the coalition was agreed on driving the Iraqis from Kuwait, not on carrying the conflict into Iraq or on destroying Iraqi forces.”
Dehumanizing the Iraqis - Manchester will later tell a reporter: “I was as patriotic as they come. I was a gung-ho ass-kicking Commie-hating patriotic son of a b_tch. I hated the Arabs. We all did. I dehumanized them. Did the Iraqis commit war crimes in Kuwait? Did they retreat back into Iraq to commit war crimes against their own people? The answer is yes to both questions. But does that make March 2nd justified? There have to be limits, even in war. Otherwise, the whole system breaks down.” [New Yorker, 5/22/2000]
Entity Tags: US Department of the Air Force, Ronald Griffith, Saddam Hussein, George Herbert Walker Bush, Charles Sheehan-Miles, Barry McCaffrey, US Department of Defense, James Johnson, James Manchester, James Kump, Patrick Lamar, Norman Schwarzkopf, US Department of the Army
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Mohammad Salah. [Source: WGN-TV]In January 1993, Mohammad Salah, a Hamas operative living in the US (see 1989-January 1993), is arrested in the West Bank by the Israeli government on suspicion of transferring money to Hamas for guns and ammunition. News reports in February indicate that he is from Chicago and “had been found with more than $100,000 and plans from Hamas leaders in the United States.” Apparently, this causes Chicago FBI agent Robert Wright to begin investigating his fundraising activities (see After January 1993). Salah reportedly quickly confesses to directing certain Hamas military operations, organizing military cells, and to handling more than $1 million to purchase weapons. He names 23 organizations in the US that he says are helping to fund Hamas. He later will claim he was tortured into confessing. One of Salah’s associates is also arrested and reveals the existence of Hamas training camps in the US. Salah secretly will be tried by the Israeli government in 1994 and will plead guilty of the charges in 1995. He will be sentenced to five years in prison and released in 1997. [New York Times, 2/17/1993; Emerson, 2002, pp. 82-83; Federal News Service, 6/2/2003]
Israel’s ambassador to the US, Itamar Rabinovich, tells the influential US lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that Israel is prepared to make territorial concessions to the Palestinians as part of the soon-to-be-signed Oslo Accords (see September 13, 1993). The AIPAC members are stonily silent; soon after, AIPAC president Harvey Friedman calls Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Yossi Beilin “a little slimeball” for helping make the land-for-peace deal. Though Friedman is asked to resign from AIPAC over his remarks, his message is clear: AIPAC is not so much pro-Israel as it is pro-Likud and in favor of that party’s hardline policies. Both the Israeli and US governments support trading land for peace, but US neoconservatives, and many members of Israel’s Likud Party, despise the policy. One of the most prominent US neoconservatives, Douglas Feith, currently a member of Rabinovich’s staff, is asked to leave his position because of his vocal opposition to the peace process. [Unger, 2007, pp. 121]
An Orthodox Jewish law student at Israel’s Bar Ilan University, Yigal Amir, is horrified by the televised handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and by the Oslo Accords peace agreement (see September 13, 1993). Amir tells his father that Rabin has broken God’s covenant as laid down in the holy Torah. It may be necessary “to take down Rabin,” he adds. His father says, “Everything is in God’s hands,” and Amir replies, “But this time it’s necessary to help Him.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 121-122]
The famous handshake between Rabin and Arafat, with Clinton symbolically bringing the two together. [Source: Reuters]President Bill Clinton presides over the historic signing of the Oslo Accords, an overarching peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian people. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has agreed to give up large swaths of Palestinian territory Israel has occupied since 1967 in return for a Palestinian commitment to peace. Rabin is loathe to actually shake hands with his Palestinian counterpart, Yasser Arafat, in part because he knows the gesture would inflame extremists on both sides of the issue. But Clinton insists, and the two sign the accords and, symbolically embraced by Clinton, indeed shake hands. Clinton will later write, “All the world was cheering [the handshake], except the diehard protesters in the Middle East who were inciting violence, and demonstrators in front of the White House claiming we were endangering Israel’s security.” Those demonstrators include Christian fundamentalists, neoconservative ideologues, and Orthodox Jews. “Every grain of sand between the Dead Sea, the Jordan River, and the Mediterranean Sea belongs to the Jews,” says US evangelist and Moral Majority co-founder Ed McAteer. “This includes the West Bank and Gaza.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 121-122]
Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset. [Source: Neuhaus Nadav / Corbis Sygma]During the first Knesset debate on the Oslo peace accords (see September 13, 1993), Likud party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of US neoconservatives and Christian fundamentalists, compares the accords to British attempts to appease Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler before World War II. Referring to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, he shouts at Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, “You are worse than Chamberlain.” Netanyahu is so aggressive in part because he has the public and private support of influential US neoconservatives and Christian fundamentalists. “I was ambassador [to the US] for four years of the peace process, and the Christian fundamentalists were vehemently opposed to the peace process,” Israeli ambassador Itamar Rabinovich will recall (see July 1993). “They believed that the land belonged to Israel as a matter of divine right. So they immediately became part of a campaign by the Israeli right to undermine the peace process.” Netanyahu’s outburst on the floor of the Knesset is a deliberate part of this strategy. [Knesset Homepage, 2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 136]
Yitzhak Fhantich, the head of the Jewish Department of Israel’s intelligence service Shin Bet, opens a file on Yigal Amir (see September 13, 1993), an Israeli law student so outraged by the Oslo peace agreement (see September 13, 1993) that he has talked of “taking down” Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Amir “was a typical religious type,” Fhantich later recalls. “He served in a combat tour, and then went to study law. We knew about him.” Amir was raised in the tenets of haredi Judaism, the most theologically conservative branch of Orthodox Judaism. Amir was stunned by Rabin’s embrace of moderation and peace with the Palestinians—Rabin was once a commander of elite troops in Haganah, the Israeli paramilitary force, and during the 1967 Six-Day War, he led the assault force that retook the Temple Mount. Amir, who according to Fhantich is “fanatically against any compromise whatsoever with the Arabs,” believes that Rabin’s actions are both treasonous and heretical. Haredi Jews believe that Jewish religious law supersedes secular, governmental law, and to Amir and other strict Jewish fundamentalists, Rabin’s actions violate halachic laws forbidding giving Jewish properties to gentiles. [Unger, 2007, pp. 134-136]
Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli-American physician and protege of the extremist right-winger Rabbi Meir Kahane (see November 5, 1990), has been in a deep depression since Kahane’s assassination in 1990. After the signing of the Oslo Accords (see September 13, 1993), Goldstein decided that only an act of Kiddush ha-Shem—ritual self-sacrifice for the sanctification of God—can change history and return the world to what he sees as the pre-ordained path of Israeli domination of its traditional lands in the Middle East. Goldstein enters the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Israel, a sacred site for both Jews and Muslims. He is wearing his army uniform and carrying an assault rifle; worshipers assume he is a reserve officer on active duty coming to pray. Instead, Goldstein opens fire on a group of Palestinians praying there, killing 29 and wounding 150 more. Survivors eventually overcome Goldstein and beat him to death. The reaction among many right-wing Israelis, particularly in the outlying settlements, is ambivalent. Many deplore the violence but express sympathy for Goldstein’s desperation and theological anguish. The spokesman for the settlers’ rabbis committee says he sees no reason to condemn the murders. [Unger, 2007, pp. 136-137]
Palestinian Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat goes to Gaza as outlined by the Oslo peace agreement (see September 13, 1993). The next day, as many as 100,000 right-wing protesters vent their spleen at Arafat, the peace process, and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Jerusalem’s Zion Square, chanting, “Rabin is a homo!” and “Rabin is the son of a whore!” Near a huge banner reading “Death to Arafat,” Israeli Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu attacks the “blindness” of the Rabin administration for precipitating “the destruction of the Jewish state.” Netanyahu tells the crowd: “Arafat, who is personally responsible for the murder of thousands of Jews and non-Jews, this war criminal, is being hoisted aloft by the government of Israel.… What Arafat truly wants is not an Arab state beside Israel, but an Arab state in place of Israel.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 137]
Forty militant Orthodox rabbis in Israel’s West Bank settlements, including Rabbi Eliezar Melamed, the secretary of the Rabbinical Council of the Land of Israel, begin deliberations to decide whether Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his “evil government” are in violation of that most fundamentalist of Jewish religious precepts, halachic law (see September 13, 1993). They discuss whether Rabin’s actions call into play two halachic edicts, a din rodef, the duty to kill a Jew who imperils the life or property of another Jew, and the din moser, the duty to eliminate a Jew who intends to turn another Jew over to non-Jewish authorities. A din moser is sometimes considered the Jewish equivalent of an Islamic fatwa. Most of these discussions take place in private, with no paper trail to provide evidence of the deliberations. [Unger, 2007, pp. 138]
Yitzhak Rabin. [Source: Knesset]Yitzhak Fhantich, a senior Israeli intelligence official, tells IYitzhak Rabin that his life is threatened by Israel’s militant, radical right-wing fundamentalists (see September 13, 1993 and February 25, 1994) over his support of the Oslo peace accords (see September 13, 1993). “I told him, on the hit list, you’re number one,” Fhantich later recalls. Rabin shrugs off the warning. [Unger, 2007, pp. 138]
Most Israeli lawmakers and politicians distance themselves from the Jewish extremists calling for the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin over the Oslo peace accords (see September 13, 1993). However, Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu actively curries their favor (see July 1-2, 1994). On the floor of the Knesset, he often attacks Rabin (see September 21, 1993) for giving away “parts of our homeland.” After one particularly fiery speech, thousands of right-wing protesters gather in Jerusalem’s Zion Square, where they put of posters of Rabin wearing a Nazi SS uniform, display banners calling Rabin “Arafat’s Dog,” and chant, “Death to Rabin! Nazis! Judenrat!”—a particularly odious epithet referring to the “Jewish councils” that were forced by the Nazis to expedite the transfer of Jews to concentration camps. Housing Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer is horrified by the frenzy of the mob, and tells Netanyahu, who is orchestrating the demonstration, “You’d better restrain your people. Otherwise it will end in murder. They tried to kill me just now.… Your people are mad. If someone is murdered, the blood will be on your hands.… The settlers have gone crazy, and someone will be murdered here, if not today, then in another week or another month!” Netanyahu ignores the warning, and, basking in the chants of “Bibi! Bibi! Bibi!,” takes the podium, where he is optimistically introduced as the next prime minister of Israel. [Unger, 2007, pp. 139-140]
Israel’s Knesset approves Oslo II (see September 13, 1993), a complex set of agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) on the future of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. For Israeli law student Yigal Amir (see September 13, 1993), this is the last straw. He has already made three half-hearted attempts to assassinate Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, but as of now he commits himself to carrying the deed through. For his part, Rabin continues to ignore warnings (see Early 1995) from Israeli intelligence and media reporters alike trying to alert him to the danger he is in from radical fundamentalists. [Unger, 2007, pp. 140]
The sheet with the lyrics to the ‘Song of Peace,’ stained with Rabin’s blood. [Source: Knesset]Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated at a rally in Tel Aviv. Over 100,000 people have gathered in Kings of Israel Square to support Rabin and the Oslo peace process (see September 13, 1993 and October 6, 1995). The rally is designed to be light-hearted, in contrast with the angry, combative rallies staged by radical conservatives to oppose the peace agreements (see October 1995). Rabin gives a short radio interview before leaving the stage at the rally, and tells listeners, “People have their personal security but they do not have doubts that the path of peace should be pursued.” Rabin’s wife Leah is asked if her husband is wearing a bulletproof vest. “Have you gone crazy?” she replies. “What are we, in Africa?… I don’t understand the ideas you journalists have.” Meanwhile, law student Yigal Amir (see September 13, 1993 and October 6, 1995) is sitting on a concrete flower planter in the parking lot. A guard notices Amir and whispers into his microphone, “For God’s sake. What’s that dark guy doing down there? Is he one of us?” When Rabin walks by Amir to go to his car, Amir pulls out a gun and fires three shots. Two hollow-point bullets strike Rabin in the chest, severing major arteries and destroying his spinal cord. The third strikes Rabin’s bodyguard in the arm. “It’s nothing!” Amir shouts. “It’s just a joke! Blanks, blanks!” Police seize Amir; the wounded bodyguard rushes Rabin to the hospital, where he is pronounced dead 90 minutes later. When the police inform Amir that Rabin has died, he tells them, “Do your work. I’ve done mine.” Turning to an officer, he adds, “Get some wine and cakes. Let’s have a toast.” Someone later goes through Rabin’s pockets and finds a bloodied piece of paper with the lyrics to a popular tune, “The Song of Peace,” copied on it. Rabin had joined in singing the song at the rally. Author Craig Unger later writes that aside from the personal tragedy of the assassination, “In part because of his legacy as a great Israeli military commander, no one in Israel was, or ever could be, a more forceful figure than Rabin in promoting the peace process. As a result, his murder was a devastating blow to the Oslo principle, the principle of land for peace.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 141-143; Knesset Homepage, 2008]
Three US presidents—Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Jimmy Carter—join in honoring Rabin’s life and memory. [Source: Knesset]The reaction to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (see November 4, 1995) is overwhelming. Millions of Israelis and Americans mourn his death both on a personal level and in concern for the fragile Israeli-Palestinian peace accords (see September 13, 1993). President Bill Clinton calls him “my partner and my friend. I admired him, and I loved him very much.” Former presidents Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush, and Bush’s Secretary of State, James Baker, speak movingly of Rabin’s legacy of peace. But others have different views. Millions of American fundamentalist Christians view Rabin’s assassination as an act of God. The peace talks “were going against the word of God,” says prominent fundamentalist Kay Arthur. “I believe that God stopped [the peace talks] by the things that happened.… I think God did not want the Oslo accord to go through.” Rabin’s widow, Leah Rabin, accuses Israel’s Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu of inciting violence “against my husband and [leading] the savage demonstrations against him” (see October 1995). [Unger, 2007, pp. 142-143]
Right-wing political leader Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu becomes Israel’s new prime minister. When the campaign to replace assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (see November 4, 1995) began in early 1996, even Netanyahu’s fellow Likud leaders did not believe he had a chance of being elected. At at least one rally after Rabin’s death, crowds chanted “Bibi’s a murderer!” accusing Netanyahu of inciting the violence that led to Rabin’s death (see October 1995 and November 4, 1995 and After). Netanyahu’s opponent, Shimon Peres, cast himself as Rabin’s successor, and the Clinton administration tacitly endorsed Peres as the best hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But Netanyahu is a polished orator with a strong following among the hardline conservatives and religious fundamentalists both in Israel and the US. He also knows how to appeal to America’s more secular, cosmopolitan Jewish community. He hired Arthur Finkelstein, a prominent Republican political consultant, to run a campaign smearing Peres as a weak, ineffective leader who will betray Israel to the Arabs. Peres was befuddled by Netanyahu’s slick, US-style attack campaign and his ability to secure financial and other support among American Christian fundamentalists. The election hung in the balance when a timely spate of Hamas bombings in February and March, and a Netanyahu ad campaign blaming the attack on Peres’s supposed weakness, gave Netanyahu enough voter support for him to eke out a razor-thin margin of victory. US envoy Dennis Ross, one of the Clinton officials involved in the Oslo peace talks, later recalls that he and his colleagues were horrified at Netanyahu’s victory. “Our collective relief became a collective dread,” he will later write. [Unger, 2007, pp. 143-144]
In 1999, a retired CIA official will claim that two days after the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996), bin Laden is congratulated by colleagues about the bombing. Both Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda’s number two leader, and Ashra Hadi, head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, are monitored by the NSA as they call bin Laden. This helps confirm that bin Laden was being monitored while using his first satellite phone (see Early 1990s). It will be widely reported that he was monitored after he started using his second satellite phone later in 1996 (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Bin Laden does not exactly publicly take credit for the bombing, but later in the year he will say, “When I got the news about these blasts, I was very happy. This was a noble act. This was a great honor but, unfortunately, I did not conduct these explosions personally.” [Reeve, 1999, pp. 187; New Yorker, 9/9/2002]
The Oslo peace accords between Israel and Palestine (see September 13, 1993) break down, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat accusing one another of noncompliance. Netanyahu has not implemented the first scheduled withdrawal of Israeli settlers from the West Bank, and the second is well overdue. The New York Times’s Anthony Lewis lays the blame squarely on Netanyahu: “There is and always has been only one way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: land for peace. And the Netanyahu government has now made it clear that it has no intention of withdrawing from enough of the land Israel occupies in the West Bank to make a deal imaginable.” When the White House pressures Netanyahu to restart the peace process, he turns for support to America’s Christian Right (see January 19-23, 1998). [Unger, 2007, pp. 156]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in Washington three days before his scheduled meeting with President Clinton and Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat to discuss the stalled peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians (see Early 1998). Before meeting with Clinton and Arafat, Netanyahu meets with conservative televangelist and political activist Jerry Falwell—and a thousand of Falwell’s most devoted followers. “I put together one thousand people or so to meet with Bibi [Netanyahu] and he spoke to us that night,” Falwell later recalls. “It was all planned by Netanyahu as an affront to Clinton.” Falwell promises to mobilize 200,000 pastors across the United States to “tell President Clinton to refrain from putting pressure on Israel.” Falwell’s guest at the proceedings, fellow televangelist John Hagee (who will soon give $1 million to the United Jewish Appeal in hopes of hastening the Biblical “End Times”), tells the crowd that the Jews’ return to the Holy Land is prophecy of the “rapidly approaching… final moments of history.” Hagee then leads the crowd in a frenzied chant of “Not one inch! Not one inch!”—how much land they intend to see Israel give the Palestinians. When Netanyahu discusses the rally with the press four days later, he merely says: “I talk to liberals, I talk to conservatives, I talk to Jews, I talk to non-Jews. These meetings reflect the fact that Israel enjoys support from diverse circles in the United States.” But Richard Haass, a former Bush National Security Council official, says Netanyahu is playing political hardball. “This was a way for [Netanyahu] to push back,” Haass says. “If the White House was trying to make Mr. Netanyahu pay a price domestically for his lack of cooperation, essentially Mr. Netanyahu was sending a return signal: ‘Two can play at this game. I can spend more time with your political opponents and this is something that can come back and bite you.’” [Unger, 2007, pp. 156-157]
Monica Lewinsky. [Source: Fox News]President Clinton meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss restarting the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process (see Early 1998). Clinton immediately chastizes Netanyahu for meeting with American religious conservatives before meeting with him (see January 19-23, 1998), in an attempt to bring Netanyahu back to his side of the political fence. But Clinton is about to turn his attention to something radically different, and all but forget about Netanyahu. As Netanyahu’s political ally, televangelist Jerry Falwell, will recall, “While Netanyahu was sitting there, he was in a very difficult spot. The pressure was really on him to give away the farm in Israel. But while he was sitting there, someone came in and whispered in Mr. Clinton’s ear and Mr. Clinton turned several colors. Someone was telling him that the cat was out of the bag on [Clinton’s paramour] Monica Lewinsky. The meeting was terminated. Mr. Clinton had to save himself. The demands [to relinquish Israeli territory] that would have been forthcoming of Israel which would have been terrible, were not made. Netanyahu flew back to Israel. He was very funny when he told me about it. He said Israel had been saved by Monica Lewinsky.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 157]
Neoconservative David Wurmser, with the assistance of his American Enterprise Institute colleague Douglas Feith, drafts a set of war plans designed around a joint military offensive by the US and Israel. The offensive would, in his words, “fatally strike the centers of radicalism in the Middle East.” Wurmser and Feith’s plans are extensions of an op-ed written by Wurmser weeks before (see November 1, 2000). Wurmser advises: “Israel and the United States should… broaden the conflict to strike fatally, not merely disarm, the centers of radicalism in the region—the regimes of Damascus [Syria], Baghdad [Iraq], Tripoli [Libya], Tehran [Iran], and Gaza [the Palestinians]. That would establish the recognition that fighting either the United States or Israel is suicidal.” Wurmser urges both the US and Israel to be watchful for a crisis, writing, “Crises can be opportunities.” [American Conservative, 3/24/2003]
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah refuses an invitation to meet with President George Bush at the White House. Abdullah, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia with King Fahd unable to perform his position due to illness, says: “We want [the US] to consider their own conscience. Don’t they see what is happening to the Palestinian children, women, the elderly, the humiliation, the hunger?” Brent Scowcroft, a close friend of the president’s father and former national security adviser, echoes Abdullah’s concerns, warning Bush that moderate Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia are “deeply disappointed with this administration and its failure to do something to moderate the attitude of Israel.” Scowcroft adds that the Palestinians will not stop their own violence towards Israel without the prospect of a viable Palestinian state. According to author Craig Unger, it is virtually unthinkable that Scowcroft would have publicly spoken so critically of the Bush administration without the approval of Bush’s father, former President George H. W. Bush, so Scowcroft’s statement has, in effect, put the two Bushes at loggerheads. Unger will write, “In effect, in their own constrained fashion, the father and son had drawn swords.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 209-211]
President Bush faces a foreign affairs crisis he and his neoconservative advisers (see June 2001) had not anticipated. As promised, Bush had withdrawn from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and thrown US support wholly behind Israel (see January 30, 2001). Under the leadership of its new right-wing prime minister, Likud’s Ariel Sharon, Israeli troops had attacked Palestinians almost every day since February, killing civilians (including women and children) on a regular basis. Bush responded by blaming the Palestinians in general and Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat in particular for the violence. But Bush is nonplussed when the US’s close ally and his family’s longtime friends, the Saudi royal family, publicly criticizes the US for its policy towards the conflict. As author Craig Unger writes, “In just five months as president… Bush had managed to jeopardize a relationship with an oil-rich ally of the United States, at a time when America was more profoundly dependent on foreign oil than ever.” Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, had even turned down an invitation to the White House the month before (see May 2001). In the months to follow, President Bush’s father, former President George H. W. Bush, will help smooth over tensions between the Saudis and his son, to the great embarrassment of the younger Bush, who doesn’t like the perception that he needs his father to bail him out of anything. [Unger, 2007, pp. 209-211]
A group of second-year students at the Army School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) produces a 68-page plan for sending peacekeepers to Israel in the event that the Israelis and Palestinians agree to a peace plan and the creation of a Palestinian state. Though the cover of the report indicates that the report has been written for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Maj. Chris Garver, a Fort Leavenworth spokesman, says that it was only an academic exercise. An article about the report appears in the Washington Times on September 10, 2001. The report refers to Israel’s armed forces as a “500-pound gorilla in Israel” that is “well armed and trained” and is “known to disregard international law to accomplish mission.” Of the Mossad, the report says: “Wildcard. Ruthless and cunning. Has capability to target US forces and make it look like a Palestinian/Arab act.” It describes Palestinian youths as “loose cannons; under no control, sometimes violent.” The SAMS officers write that US goals for the first 30 days of such a mission would be to “create conditions for development of Palestinian State and security of Israel”; ensure “equal distribution of contract value or equivalent aid” that would help legitimize the peacekeeping force and stimulate economic growth; “promote US investment in Palestine”; “encourage reconciliation between entities based on acceptance of new national identities”; and “build lasting relationship based on new legal borders and not religious-territorial claims.” [Washington Times, 9/10/2001]
Logo of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. [Source: Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine]The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), a radical Palestinian group, reportedly claims responsibility for the attacks on the World Trade Center. Abu Dhabi television says it has received a call from the group, claiming responsibility for crashing the planes into the Twin Towers. The details of the claim are then picked up by the Reuters news agency. It is unknown who is responsible for saying the DFLP is behind the attacks. The claim is reportedly made in an anonymous telephone call to the Arab television station. [BBC, 9/12/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001; Ma'an News Agency, 9/11/2011] It is soon retracted, though. At around 10:00 a.m., a spokesman for the DFLP will deny the group’s responsibility for the attacks (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Liverpool Daily Post, 9/12/2001; Poynter Institute, 9/2/2002] All the same, the allegation about the group’s involvement will reach a large audience. [Ma'an News Agency, 9/11/2011] The DFLP is a Marxist-Leninist organization that was founded in 1969. It operates mainly in Syria, Lebanon, and the Israeli-occupied territories, and is believed to have about 500 members. It began a relatively small-scale campaign of assaults and bombings in Israel and the occupied territories during the 1970s. [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/11/2001; BBC, 2/4/2002] However, it was removed from the US State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations in October 1999 because of “the absence of terrorist activity” by the group in the previous two years. [Associated Press, 10/8/1999; US Department of State, 10/8/1999]
Abu Laila. [Source: Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine]The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), a radical Palestinian group, denies responsibility for the terrorist attacks in the US after an Arab television station said it admitted responsibility for them. [Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001; Poynter Institute, 9/2/2002] At around 9:43 a.m., Abu Dhabi television reported that it had received a call from the DFLP, claiming responsibility for crashing the planes into the World Trade Center (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [BBC, 9/12/2001] Now, however, a spokesman for the DFLP denies that the group was behind the attacks. [Poynter Institute, 9/2/2002] The spokesman who issues the denial at this time is apparently Qais Abdel Rahim, the leader of the DFLP. Speaking from the West Bank, Rahim says his group condemns the attacks. “We are not responsible for this type of terror attack. We are against it,” he says. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Liverpool Daily Post, 9/12/2001]
Group's Leaders Are Unaware of the Attacks - DFLP officials will subsequently review the group’s worldwide operations to see if the group has any links to the attacks. “I called all the DFLP offices outside Palestine; I made sure they had no connection to the attacks—or even to the media reports,” Abu Laila, a senior figure in the DFLP, will later recall. The group’s leaders will tell him that “they were not even aware of the attacks.”
Official Statement Will Deny Responsibility for the Attacks - The DFLP will issue an official statement later today, denying responsibility for the attacks in the US. [Ma'an News Agency, 9/11/2011] “The Democratic Front rejects any kind of operation outside of the land of occupied Palestine, away from the immediate battlefield confronting the occupation forces and the armed settlers,” the statement will say. The DFLP will blame the false attribution of responsibility on “the Israeli security intelligence agencies,” which, it will state, “are trying to frame us.” These agencies, according to the statement, “orchestrated the set-up to criminalize our struggle because of our fidelity to this struggle, and our sophisticated way of organizing under the leadership of the working class and the progressive people of Palestine.” [Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, 9/11/2001]
Experts Believe that Palestinian Groups Are Not to Blame - Most experts in the US will agree that “no Palestinian faction has the wherewithal to carry out such a coordinated and well-executed series of attacks” as have occurred today, according to the Los Angeles Times. [Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001] One expert, Eli Carmon of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center’s counterterrorism department, will say it is unlikely that any Palestinian groups are involved. “They have a lot to lose because America would react very harshly against the Palestinians,” he will say. [Irish Examiner, 9/11/2001] “The DFLP does not even confront Israel; how would it confront the US?” Laila will comment. [Ma'an News Agency, 9/11/2011]
President Bush asks Mike Morell, his CIA briefer, about a claim that has supposedly been made by a radical Palestinian group, of responsibility for the attacks on the US and is told the group lacks the capability to have carried out the attacks. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 166; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 52] Abu Dhabi television reported, at around 9:43 a.m., that it had received a call from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), claiming responsibility for crashing the planes into the World Trade Center (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but at around 10:00 a.m., the group denied that it was behind the attacks (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [BBC, 9/12/2001; Poynter Institute, 9/2/2002] Now, on Air Force One, Bush calls Morell to his office. He asks Morell what he thinks about the DFLP’s supposed claim of responsibility for the attacks. Morell tells Bush he doubts the validity of the assertion. “Mr. President,” he says, “DFLP is a Palestinian rejectionist group with a long history of terrorism against Israel, but they do not possess the capability to do this.” Before Morell leaves the office, Bush asks him to call CIA Director George Tenet and tell him to make sure that he, the president, is informed right away as soon as the CIA has any definitive information about the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks. “Michael, I want to be the first to know. Got that?” he says. Morell replies, “Yes, sir” and says he will call Tenet right away (see (Shortly After 10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Bush apparently talks to Morell around the time the White House informs personnel on Air Force One that it has received a threat against the president’s plane (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001), since Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, tells Morell about the threat as he is leaving the president’s office. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 52-53]
Men in the Palestiani Shatila refugee camp, Lebanon, celebrating the 9/11 attacks. [Source: Associated Press / Mohamed Zatari]Television news coverage on 9/11 repeatedly shows images of Palestinians rejoicing over the 9/11 attack. According to Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of media studies at New York University who investigated the issue, the footage was filmed during the funeral of nine people killed the day before by Israeli authorities. He said, “To show it without explaining the background, and to show it over and over again is to make propaganda for the war machine and is irresponsible.” [Agence France-Presse, 9/18/2001; Australian, 9/27/2001]
Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, dismisses bin Laden’s claims that al-Qaeda’s fight is in solidarity with Iraqis and Palestinians. Powell argues: “We cannot let Osama bin Laden pretend that he is doing it in the name of helping the Iraqi people or the Palestinian people. He doesn’t care one whit about them. He has never given a dollar toward them. He has never spoken out for them.” [US Congress, 10/25/2001, pp. 6; Slate, 2/11/2003]
Neoconservative Richard Perle, the chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, says during remarks at the Foreign Policy Research Institute that the proposed invasion of Iraq is merely the first step in a much larger military strategy that should encompass most of the Middle East and other states which, in Perle’s view, pose threats to the US. “Those who think Iraq should not be next may want to think about Syria or Iran or Sudan or Yemen or Somalia or North Korea or Lebanon or the Palestinian Authority,” Perle says. “These are all institutions, governments for the most part, that permit acts of terror to take place, that sponsor terrorists, that give them refuge, give them sanctuary, and very often much more help than that. When I recite this list, people typically say ‘Well, are we going to go to war against a dozen countries?’ And I think the answer to that is that, if we do it right with respect to one or two, we’ve got a reasonable chance of persuading the others that they should get out of the business of supporting terrorism. If we destroy the Taliban in Afghanistan, and I’m confident we will, and we then go on to destroy the regime of Saddam Hussein, and we certainly could if we chose to do so, I think we would have an impressive case to make to the Syrians, the Somalis, and others. We could deliver a short message, a two-word message: ‘You’re next. You’re next unless you stop the practice of supporting terrorism.’ Given the fact that until now there has been no cost attached to supporting terror, I think there’s a reasonable prospect that looking at the costs on the one side—that is, that those regimes will be brought to an end—and the benefits on the other—they will decide to get out of the terrorist business. It seems to me a reasonable gamble in any event.” [Foreign Policy Research Institute, 11/14/2001]
Senior State Department official and former CIA analyst Flynt Leverett proposes a new, pragmatic approach to the war on terror. He believes that Middle Eastern terrorism is more tactical than religious: for example, since Syria wants to reclaim the Golan Heights and lacks the military ability to wrest that territory from Israel, it relies on “asymmetrical methods,” including terror attacks, to work for its aims. If one accepts this viewpoint, Leverett argues, one accepts that nations like Syria are not locked in fanatical mindsets, and can be negotiated with. Leverett, with the support of senior State Department official Richard Haass, advises his boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell, to draw up a “road map” to peace for the problem nations of the region—if a nation expels its terrorist groups and stops trying to develop weapons of mass destruction, the US will remove that nation from its list of terror sponsors and open a new era of cooperation with that nation. Powell takes the idea to a “Deputies Meeting” at the White House. The meeting includes Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy director of the CIA, a representative from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. The neoconservatives—Hadley, Wolfowitz, Cheney’s representative—hate the idea, calling it a reward for bad behavior. Sponsors of terrorism should stop because it is the moral thing to do, they say, and until that happens, the US will not encourage their actions. After leaving the meeting, Hadley writes up a memo that comes to be known as “Hadley’s Rules.” They are simple: if a nation such as Iran or Syria offers assistance on a specific item or issue, the US will take it, but will give nothing and promise nothing in return, and the US will not attempt to build on that offer. Leverett believes Hadley’s memo is preposterous, sacrificing a chance at real progress for striking poses of moral purity. Shortly thereafter, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice offers him a position as senior director of Mideast affairs at the National Security Council; Leverett takes the job with the understanding that the Bush administration must begin real negotiations with Israel and Palestine. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]
Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Condoleezza Rice, Richard Armitage, Flynt Leverett, Office of the Vice President, US Department of State, National Security Council, Richard Haass, Paul Wolfowitz
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
Some of the weapons found aboard the ‘Karine A.’ [Source: Associated Press / BBC]Israeli commandos seize a freighter, the “Karine A” (or “Karin A”), in the Red Sea 300 miles off the coast of Israel, in an operation dubbed “Operation Noah’s Ark.” Eli Marum, an Israeli Navy operations chief, says the operation took less than eight minutes and did not require a single shot being fired. “The crew was fully surprised,” he says. “They did not anticipate that we would strike so far out into the Red Sea.” Israeli officials claim the freighter contains a large store of Iranian-supplied weapons—including Katyusha rockets capable of destroying tanks, mortars, grenades, Kalashnikov assault rifles, anti-tank missiles, high explosives, and two speedboats—for use by Palestinian fighters against Israeli targets. The Palestinian Authority is forbidden by treaty to own such weaponry. Israel also claims that the captain of the freighter, Omar Akawi, has direct ties to the Palestinian Authority and to its leader, Yasser Arafat. (According to Israeli sources, Akawi claims he is a member of Arafat’s organization Fatah.) Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer tells European Union (EU) authorities that the freighter “was purchased by the Palestinian Authority after September 11” and that “the whole operation was managed and funded by the Palestinian Authority in cooperation with Iran and other sources.” [BBC, 1/10/2002; Guardian, 1/21/2002; Jewish Virtual Library, 2009] “What Iran is trying to do is create another base, besides its base in Lebanon” to threaten Israel, says Major General Giora Eiland, the Israeli Army’s chief of planning. [New York Times, 1/12/2002]
Arafat's Denials - Initially, Arafat denies any connection whatsoever with the shipment, accusing Israel of fomenting a propaganda attack to thwart US-led efforts to implement a cease-fire agreement, and says Israel “fabricated” the whole affair. Ahmed Abdel Rahman, the secretary general of the Palestinian cabinet, calls the operation “an Israeli trap.” Later, Arafat continues to insist that he had no involvement in the affair, but admits that he cannot control “everyone” in the Palestinian Authority. American and Israeli intelligence officials note that the weaponry on board the “Karine A” is similar to that of a “wish list” allegedly drawn up by senior Palestinian officials under Arafat’s direction. [New York Times, 1/12/2002; Jewish Virtual Library, 2009]
Propaganda by Israel? - Some, such as Guardian reporter Brian Whitaker, believe that Israel is using the incident to persuade the EU to stop funding the Palestinian Authority. And, Whitaker notes, Israeli lawmakers and pundits such as former President Benjamin Netanyahu are using the incident to argue that the idea of Palestinian statehood be permanently scrapped. Whatever the truth of the matter, the attempts suffer setbacks when documents show that an Iraqi, Ali Mohamed Abbas, purchased the ship, and other records disprove the Israelis’ claims about the ship’s cargo, which Israel says it picked up in Yemen. It seems clear that the freighter was indeed carrying weapons, but little of Israel’s other claims—they were Iranian in origin and intended for Palestinian use against Israel—are borne out by ascertainable facts.
Hezbollah Connection? - American intelligence sources later speculate that the weapons may have been intended for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite militant organization with close ties to Iran, and not the Palestinians. Israel is initially resistant to the idea, but Israeli defense sources later tell Israeli reporters that it was “certainly possible that some of the arms were earmarked for Hizbullah,” though it is certain that most “were clearly bound for the Palestinian Authority.” Whitaker echoes skeptics’ disbelief about the Hezbollah claim, noting that there are easier and more secure methods of delivering arms to Lebanon than a risky sea voyage past Israeli patrol boats. [Guardian, 1/21/2002] Israel names reputed senior Hezbollah security officer Imad Mughniyeh as a key figure in the incident. Mughniyeh has not been heard from for years by Western intelligence, but is wanted by the FBI for his participation in kidnapping Americans in Beirut during the 1980s and the hijacking of a TWA passenger plane. The BBC reports, “Correspondents say the Israeli government has been going to great lengths to convince Washington that the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is linked to Tehran and the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, and hence to what it sees as international terrorism.” [BBC, 1/10/2002]
Iranian Connection Unlikely - And the Iranian connection is similarly hard to swallow. Though Israel insists that the arms prove a new and disturbing connection between Iran and Palestinian militants, Whitaker writes, “most non-Israeli observers of Iran ridicule the idea totally, for a variety of historical, political and religious reasons. It also conflicts with the foreign policies adopted by [Iranian] President [Mohamed] Khatami.” He goes on to add: “The trouble with Iran, though—as one Iranian exile remarked last week—is that it has two governments and 10,000 leaders. If you are going to pin blame, you have to determine which one is responsible.” Whitaker is referring to Iran’s religious and secular leaders, who are often at odds with one another, and to the propensity of Iranian leaders from both sides to conduct independent operations without “official” government sanction. [Guardian, 1/21/2002] The New York Times notes: “Iran’s government has dismissed the Israeli accusations. But Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have discretionary funds and access to weapons, and they often run operations independent of the elected government of… Khatami.” [New York Times, 1/12/2002] The “Karine A” incident helps prompt Bush officials to include Iran as a member of the so-called “axis of evil,” disrupting backchannel negotiations between Iranian and US officials (see January 29, 2002).
Entity Tags: Fatah al-Islam, Omar Akawi, Giora Eiland, Hezbollah, Eli Marum, Bush administration (43), Brian Whitaker, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Yasser Arafat, Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Imad Mughniyeh, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ali Mohamed Abbas
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
Three weeks after the “Karine A” is seized, allegedly filled with Iranian weapons destined to be used against Israel (see January 3, 2002 and After), President Bush names Iran as one of the world’s “axis of evil” nations (see January 29, 2002). State Department official Hillary Mann, who has been facilitating secret backchannel discussions with Iranian officials for over a year (see September 11, 2001 and Fall 2001), later confirms that the “Karine A” incident helped prompt Iran’s inclusion in Bush’s speech. The speech prompts the Iranians to skip the monthly meeting with Mann in Geneva. When they resume their meeting in March, the Iranians, according to Mann, are disturbed by Bush’s characterization. “They said they had put their necks out to talk to us and they were taking big risks with their careers and their families and their lives,” she will recall. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]
Norman Podhoretz, the editor of the neoconservative magazine Commentary, writes a call to arms called “How to Win World War IV.” For Podhoretz, the US has already won World War III—the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Now, he asserts, it is time to win the war against Islamist terrorism. The US must embrace this war against civilizations, and President Bush must accept that it is his mission “to fight World War IV—the war against militant Islam.” To win this war, Podhoretz writes, the nations of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea must be overthrown, but also Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority. Bush must reject the “timorous counsels” of the “incorrigibly cautious Colin Powell [and] find the stomach to impose a new political culture on the defeated” Islamic world. The 9/11 attacks caused the US to destroy the Afghan Taliban in the process of battling al-Qaeda, Podhoretz writes: “We may willy-nilly find ourselves forced… to topple five or six or seven more tyrannies in the Islamic world (including that other sponsor of terrorism, Yasir Arafat’s Palestinian Authority). I can even [imagine] the turmoil of this war leading to some new species of an imperial mission for America, whose purpose would be to oversee the emergence of successor governments in the region more amenable to reform and modernization than the despotisms now in place.… I can also envisage the establishment of some kind of American protectorate over the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, as we more and more come to wonder why 7,000 princes should go on being permitted to exert so much leverage over us and everyone else.” A year later, conservative pundit Pat Buchanan will explain why Podhoretz wants to so drastically remake the map of the Middle East: “[O]ne nation, one leader, one party. Israel, [Ariel] Sharon, Likud.” [Commentary, 2/2002; American Conservative, 3/24/2003]
Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, flies to Texas to meet with President Bush at his ranch in Crawford. Abdullah has been working to convince Arab leaders to accept a proposed peace treaty between Israel and Palestine (see April 2002), but has had no support from the White House. The course of the meeting is later paraphrased by National Security Council staffer Flynt Leverett, the head of the NSC’s Mideast affairs division. As Leverett will recall, the usually deferential Abdullah tells Bush that he has a direct question and wants a direct answer. Abdullah asks Bush: “Are you going to do anything about the Palestinian issue? If you tell me no, if it’s too difficult, if you’re not going to give it that kind of priority, just tell me. I will understand and I will never say anything critical of you or your leadership in public, but I’m going to need to make my own judgments and my own decisions about Saudi interests.” Bush attempts to stall, telling Abdullah he understands his concerns and that he will see what he can do. Abdullah refuses to be mollified. Standing up, he says: “That’s it. This meeting is over.” Bush retreats to another room with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell to discuss Abdullah’s position. Bush returns shortly thereafter and gives Abdullah his word that he will deal seriously with the Palestinian issue. “Okay,” Abdullah says. “The president of the United States has given me his word.” After the meeting, Powell calls Abdullah’s threat “the near-death experience”; Bush, rolling his eyes, says, “We sure don’t want to go through anything like that again.” As Powell later recalls, “It was a very serious moment and no one wanted to see if the Saudis were bluffing.” It is unclear whether Bush is expressing relief or making a sarcastic comment. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]
Flynt Leverett, the newly named head of Mideast affairs for the National Security Council (see December 2001-January 2002), has worked hard for the last months to persuade Bush administration officials to consider a proposal by Saudi Arabia for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The proposal, originated by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah, calls for “full normalization” of relations between Israel and Arab nations in exchange for Israel’s “full withdrawal” from the occupied territories. Abdullah promised that he can persuade all the Arab nations of the region to sign off on the accords. But even with concessions insisted upon by the Israelis, the Bush administration refused to consider the deal. Even after Abdullah persuaded every nation of the Arab League to sign his proposal, the White House refused to listen. In April, Secretary of State Colin Powell, accompanied by Leverett, travels to the Middle East to negotiate an end to an Israeli siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s compound. Powell believes he has authorization from the White House to explore what are called “political horizons,” diplomatic shorthand for peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Powell and Leverett use the Saudi proposal as a springboard for discussions. On their final day in the Middle East, Leverett, with a group of senior American officials, is trying to hammer out Powell’s final speech when a telephone call from the White House short-circuits the procedure. On the other end, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley tells Leverett: “Tell Powell he is not authorized to talk about a political horizon. Those are formal instructions.” Leverett responds by telling Hadley it is a bad idea to abruptly stop negotiations. As he later recalls the conversation, Leverett tells Hadley, “It’s bad policy and it’s also humiliating for Powell, who has been talking to heads of state about this very issue for the last 10 days.” Hadley retorts: “It doesn’t matter. There’s too much resistance from [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and the VP [Dick Cheney]. Those are the instructions.” Powell is furious at the instructions. “What is it they’re afraid of?” he demands. “Who the hell are they afraid of?” Leverett responds, “I don’t know sir.” Powell will later recall, “I had major problems with the White House on what I wanted to say.” [Esquire, 10/18/2007]
The King of Jordan, Abdullah II, visits Washington to discuss the Israel-Palestinian peace process. Abdullah’s visit comes on the heels of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah’s earlier visit, where he threatened to break off discussions with the US if President Bush refused to deal seriously with the matter (see Spring 2002). Though the Saudi leader seemingly shook up Bush with his unusually direct insistence on American action, Bush appears surprised that the Jordanian king is also concerned with the issue. Bush listens politely to Abdullah’s appeal, and says that the king’s idea of a “road map to peace” sounds reasonable. National Security Council official Flynt Leverett, the head of the NSC’s Mideast affairs division, promises Abdullah that such a “road map” will be drawn up by the end of 2002. No such proposal is ever completed; neoconservatives in the Defense Department (Donald Rumsfeld and Douglas Feith), the Vice President’s Office (John Hannah and Lewis “Scooter” Libby), and the NSC (Elliott Abrams) continue to oppose the idea, calling it nothing but a reward to the Palestinians for “bad behavior” (see December 2001-January 2002). Only if Palestine rejects terrorism and implements democracy will the US enter into negotiations, they insist, regardless of what promises Bush has made. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]
Entity Tags: Office of the Vice President, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein, Douglas Feith, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Elliott Abrams, George W. Bush, US Department of Defense, Flynt Leverett, National Security Council, John Hannah
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
In a speech to the Economic Club of Florida in Tallahassee, retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, who recently served as the president’s special envoy to the Middle East, argues that there are more pressing issues than Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Specifically, he points to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, instability in Afghanistan, the continuing existence of the al-Qaeda network, and the theocracy in Iran. He adds that the proposed war with Iraq would be expensive and would put considerable strain on the military’s resources, which already are “stretched too tight all over the world.” Furthermore, notes the general, invading Iraq would further antagonize America’s allies in the Middle East. “We need to quit making enemies that we don’t need to make enemies out of,” he says. He also notes, “It’s pretty interesting that all the generals see it the same way and all the others who have never fired a shot and are hot to go to war see it another way.” [Tampa Tribune, 8/24/2002]
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri reads the full text of a statement by Saddam Hussein before the UN secretariat-general. The statement condemns the Bush administration’s attempts to provoke a war with Iraq and accuses the administration of working hand in hand with the hardline Zionists in the Israeli government [Arabic News, 9/21/2002] “I hereby declare before you that Iraq is totally clear of all nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons,” the letter says. “Our country is ready to receive any scientific experts, accompanied by politicians you choose to represent any one of your countries, to tell us which places and scientific and industrial installations they would wish to see.” [New York Times, 9/20/2002] Hussein also states that in pursuing its aggressive policy towards Iraq, the US is “acting on behalf of Zionism which has been killing the heroic people of Palestine, destroying their property, murdering their children,” adding that Washington intends to “control Middle East oil.” The passage draws the applause of several UN diplomats. [Independent, 9/20/2002]
National Security Council official Flynt Leverett, the head of Mideast affairs and the prime proponent of a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians in that organization (see December 2001-January 2002 and April 2002), confronts his boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, over the Bush administration’s continued lack of progress on such negotiations, and over its repeated broken promises to Arab heads of state (see Spring 2002 and Summer 2002). Leverett has fielded a furious phone call from Jordan’s Foreign Minister, Marwan Muasher, who has just been told by Rice that all negotiations over the so-called “road map to peace” are at an end. “Do you have any idea how this has pulled the rug out from under us, from under me?” Muasher demanded. “I’m the one that has to go into Arab League meetings and get beat up and say, ‘No, there’s going to be a plan out by the end of the year.’ How can we ever trust you again?” Leverett demands an explanation from Rice. She tells him that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has called for early elections, and he asked President Bush to put all negotiations on hold until after the elections. Leverett, unable to swallow his indignation any longer, retorts: “You told the whole world you were going to put this out before Christmas. Because one Israeli politician told you it’s going to make things politically difficult for him, you don’t put it out? Do you realize how hard that makes things for all our Arab partners?” Rice remains impassive. “If we put the road map out,” she says, “it will interfere with Israeli elections.” Leverett replies, “You are interfering with Israeli elections, just in another way.” Rice concludes the discussion, “Flynt, the decision has already been made.” Leverett, disgusted with the lack of sincerity towards the negotiations and with the impending Iraq invasion, will quit the NSC in March 2003. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]
Former director of Israeli intelligence Uzi Arad says that many Israelis were keenly disappointed in the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq and not Iran. Arad says: “If you look at President Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ (see January 29, 2002), all of us said North Korea and Iran are more urgent. Iraq was already semi-controlled because there were [UN-imposed economic] sanctions. It was outlawed. Sometimes the answer [from the Bush neoconservatives] was ‘Let’s do first things first. Once we do Iraq, we’ll have a military presence in Iraq, which would enable us to handle the Iranians from closer quarters, would give us more leverage.’” Arad’s words are almost verbatim echoes from three years before (see Late January 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 307-308]
Israel cuts American Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson out of a plan to build an evangelical Christian heritage center along the Sea of Galilee, in apparent retribution for Robertson’s recent statement that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was given a stroke by God as punishment for giving Israeli land to Palestinian settlers (see January 5, 2006). Deputy Tourism Minister Rami Levy says, “From our perspective, such a statement made for a person that is lying in a hospital bed is outrageous.” Robertson led a group of Christian evangelicals in planning the $50 million center, a joint venture with the state of Israel. The center is to be built along the Sea of Galilee, where Christians believe Jesus walked on water. The project will continue without Robertson’s participation, Levy says, adding, “Same joint venture, just the players are going to be changed.” The Reverend Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, calls the decision “a blow to evangelical-Israeli relations.” For the project to go forward, Haggard says, evangelical leaders “must exercise sensitivity and grace towards the people and leadership of the nation of Israel.” [CNN, 1/12/2006]
John Hannah. [Source: PBS]Dick Cheney’s Office of the Vice President (OVP) is so cloaked in secrecy, journalist Robert Dreyfuss reports, that it routinely refuses to provide a directory of staff members or even the numbers of staff and employees. Dreyfus writes, “Like disciplined Bolsheviks slicing through a fractious opposition, Cheney’s team operates with a single-minded, ideological focus on the exercise of American military power, a belief in the untrammeled power of the presidency, and a fierce penchant for secrecy.” The list of current and former staffers includes, as of April 2006: former chief of staff Lewis Libby; his replacement, David Addington; top national security advisers Eric Edelman and Victoria Nuland; neoconservative and hardline Middle East specialists such as John Hannah, William Luti, and David Wurmser; anti-Chinese Asia specialists such as Stephen Yates and Samantha Ravich; a varying number of technocratic neoconservatives in other posts; and an array of communications specialists, including “Cheney’s Angels”: Mary Matalin, Juleanna Glover Weiss, Jennifer Millerwise, Jennifer Mayfield, Catherine Martin, and Lea Anne McBride. It is known that Cheney’s national security staff was assembled by Libby from various far-right think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), as well as carefully screened Cheney supporters from a variety of Washington law firms. [American Prospect, 4/16/2006] Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, will recall in early 2007: “A friend of mine counted noses [at the office] and came away with 88. That doesn’t count others seconded from other agencies.” [Washington Monthly, 1/7/2007]
'Cabal' of Zealots - Wilkerson calls Cheney’s inner group a “cabal” of arrogant, intensely zealous, highly focused loyalists. Recalling Cheney’s staff interacting in a variety of interagency meetings and committees, “The staff that the vice president sent out made sure that those [committees] didn’t key anything up that wasn’t what the vice president wanted,” says Wilkerson. “Their style was simply to sit and listen, and take notes. And if things looked like they were going to go speedily to a decision that they knew that the vice president wasn’t going to like, generally they would, at the end of the meeting, in great bureaucratic style, they’d say: ‘We totally disagree. Meeting’s over.’” The committee agendas were generally scuttled. And if something did get written up as a “decision memo” bound for the Oval Office, Cheney himself would ensure that it died before ever reaching fruition.”
Sidestepping the NSC - The National Security Council (NSC) is designated as the ultimate arbiter for foreign policy options and recommendations for the president. But, according to Wilkerson, Cheney’s office and the NSC were often at loggerheads, and Cheney’s “shadow NSC” had the upper bureaucratic hand. Cheney “set up a staff that knew what the statutory NSC was doing, but the NSC statutory staff didn’t know what his staff was doing,” says Wilkerson.
China Threat - Cheney’s Asia advisers, Yates and Ravich, were most often encountered by Wilkerson. They helped drive Cheney’s agenda for China, which was obsessive to the point of paranoia. China was a grave, if long-term, threat to the US, they believed. The US must begin strongly cultivating Taiwan as a counterbalance to China, whom they asserted was preparing for military action against the US. Former US ambassador to China Charles Freeman compares Yates to the Defense Department’s Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith; all three believed, Freeman says, that China was “the solution to ‘enemy deprivation syndrome.’”
Iraq Policy - Cheney’s current and former staffers played an even larger role in shaping the administration’s Iraq policy than is generally known, and Cheney “seeded” staffers in other departments to promote his war agenda. Luti left the OVP in 2001 to join the Department of Defense, where he organized the Office of Special Plans (OSP). Wurmser, an AEI neoconservative, joined the Pentagon and created the forerunner of the OSP, the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, which helped manufacture the evidence of connections between Hussein and al-Qaeda. Wurmser worked closely with Hannah, Libby, Luti, and another Pentagon official, Harold Rhode. Ravich worked with neoconservative Middle East analyst Zalmay Khalilzad to build up Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, their designated supplanter of Hussein.
US or Israel Interests? - Many of Cheney’s most influential staffers are pro-Israeli to the point where many observers wonder where their ultimate loyalties lie. David Wurmser is a standout of this group. Wurmser worked at WINEP with Hannah, then joined the AEI, where he directed that group’s Middle East affairs, then joined Feith’s OSP before moving on to Bolton’s inner circle at the State Department, all before joining Cheney in the OVP. Most outsiders consider Wurmser’s ideas wildly unrealistic. A former ambassador says of Wurmser, “I’ve known him for years, and I consider him to be a naive simpleton.” [American Prospect, 4/16/2006]
Entity Tags: Elizabeth (“Liz”) Cheney, William Luti, Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), Victoria Nuland, US Department of State, Douglas Feith, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Samantha Ravich, Stephen Yates, David Wurmser, David S. Addington, David Phillips, Aaron Friedberg, American Enterprise Institute, Benjamin Netanyahu, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Central Intelligence Agency, Robert G. Joseph, Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, Chas Freeman, Robert Dreyfuss, American Prospect Magazine, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jennifer Mayfield, Jennifer Millerwise, John Hannah, James Woolsey, John R. Bolton, Iraqi National Congress, Harold Rhode, Entifadh Qanbar, Eric Edelman, George W. Bush, Hudson Institute, Richard Perle, Office of the Vice President, Lawrence Wilkerson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Mary Matalin, Lea Anne McBride, National Security Council, Dean McGrath, Paul Wolfowitz, Office of Special Plans, Juleanna Glover Weiss
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Former foreign policy adviser Brent Scowcroft, who left the Bush administration after a dispute with neoconservatives (see October 2004), writes an op-ed entitled “Beyond Lebanon,” in which he exhorts the administration to help resolve the crisis in Lebanon. Israel is currently locked in a bloody, debilitating struggle with Hezbollah. Scowcroft writes that a peaceful resolution of that conflict will not only help bring about a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but could help stabilize Iraq as well. He writes: “The current crisis in Lebanon provides a historic opportunity to achieve what has seemed impossible. That said, it is too much to expect those most directly implicated—Israeli and Palestinian leaders—to lead the way. That responsibility falls to others, principally the United States, which alone can mobilize the international community and Israel and the Arab states for the task that has defeated so many previous efforts.… This latest in a seemingly endless series of conflagrations in the region just may present a unique opportunity to change the situation in the Middle East for the better for all time. Let us not shrink from the task.” Scowcroft’s arguments are ignored by the White House. [Washington Post, 7/30/2006; Unger, 2007, pp. 341]
Philip Zelikow, who is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s closest aide, gives a speech asserting that the US must seriously address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Otherwise, Zelikow says, the US may have trouble securing the support of Arab moderates and Europeans in dealing with the Middle East. The speech seems to be the result of a long discussion of the topic between Rice and former Bush adviser Brent Scowcroft (see October 2004). The counterattack from the neoconservatives in Vice President Cheney’s office, who want nothing to do with any settlements with the Palestinians, is immediate and fierce. Cheney’s office issues harsh condemnations of Zelikow, and neoconservative-friendly newspapers such as the Jerusalem Post and the New York Sun publish news reports designed to undermine Zelikow’s message. Rice refuses to stand up to Cheney on behalf of Zelikow, and the State Department officially repudiates Zelikow’s remarks. Zelikow resigns his post. The neoconservatives’ views on the Israeli-Palestinian issue remain the guiding force behind the Bush administration’s Middle East policies. [Unger, 2007, pp. 8]
In a setback for the Justice Department, a mistrial is declared in the government’s attempted prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (see 1989), a now-defunct Muslim charity that the government accused of sponsoring terrorism back in 2001. The mistrial was not the first verdict sent down; the judge originally announced a near-complete acquittal of Holy Land’s top officials on terrorist financing charges. However, three jurors stated in court that the verdict was incorrect, the judge sent the jury back into chambers for further deliberations. A mistrial of four Holy Land officials is declared after the jury declares itself locked, and a fifth official is declared innocent of all but one charge, where the jury again finds itself unable to render a verdict. The mistrials and acquittals are a blow to the Justice Department and the White House, both of which have billed the prosecution of Holy Land as the best efforts in years to secure a clear victory against terrorism. “It’s a major loss for the government,” says law professor Jonathan Turley, who has himself represented alleged terrorist financiers against the Justice Department. The case was never as solid as it was presented by government officials. In 2001, after Holy Land was declared a terrorist sponsor by the Bush administration and its funds were frozen (see February 19, 2000 and December 4, 2001), civil libertarians called the government’s definition of sponsorship of terrorism overly broad, and Holy Land fought back in court. In 2004, the government indicted Holy Land and its top leaders, leveling accusations that the charity and its officials had funnelled $12 million to the terrorist group Hamas through secondary charities (see October 1994-2001, May 12, 2000-December 9, 2004 and December 18, 2002-April 2005). A summary of wiretapped conversations between charity officials contained inflammatory anti-Semitic statements, which bolstered the government’s case in the public eye, but when the actual transcripts were examined, no such anti-Semitic statements could be found. And the government’s strategy of adding a long list of “unindicted co-conspirators” to its allegations against Holy Land, a list which includes many prominent Muslim organizations still legally operating inside the US, has caused many to accuse the government of conducting a smear campaign (see December 3-14, 2001 and August 21, 2004). While the Justice Department may well retry the case, the verdict, which seems to favor the defendants, “doesn’t bode well for the government’s prosecution” of this and other similar cases, says export controls lawyer Judith Lee. [US News and World Report, 10/22/2007]
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice convenes a Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland. It is one of the few Bush administration attempts to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and like the other attempts, the Annapolis conference will bear little fruit. Reflecting on the conference and on the Bush administration’s approach to the conflict in general, national security expert Anthony Cordesman will say: “In reality, a great deal of what Secretary Rice did seems to have been based as much on a search for visibility as any expectation of real progress. The fact was that you did not have to contend with [Palestinian] Chairman [Yasser] Arafat, but you did have to contend with a deeply divided Israel, which was far less willing to accept or make compromises over peace. And with the Palestinian movement, which was moving toward civil war. The United States can only make serious progress when both the Israelis and Palestinians are ready to move toward peace. Setting artificial deadlines and creating yet another set of unrealistic expectations [as is done at the Annapolis conference] did not lay the groundwork for sustained real progress. It instead created new sources of frustration and again made people throughout the Arab and Muslim world see the United States as hypocritical and ineffective.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new audio tape calling for attacks on Israeli and Western targets to avenge recent Israeli raids on the Gaza Strip. The tape is released by posting to the Internet and produced by al-Qaeda’s media arm, As-Sahab. “O Muslims. Today is your day. Hit the interest of the Jews and the Americans and all those who participated in the aggression against Muslims,” says al-Zawahiri. “Monitor the targets, collect the money, prepare the hardware, plan accurately, and then attack.” Al-Zawahiri adds, “No one can say today that we should fight the Jews in Palestine only,” and calls for Muslims to support Palestinians in the Gaza Strip against Israel. Demonstrations only serve to let off steam, he says, so Palestinians should focus on armed struggle. “Let them know that they would bleed for every dollar they spend on killing Muslims,” he says. “They cannot… insult our prophet and support Israel, and expect to live in peace in their countries.” Al-Zawahiri also accuses Arab leaders of colluding with the US and Israel in blockading Palestinians in Gaza. “The satanic alliance shows us its ugliness and how low it is, an alliance of the crusaders and the Jews and with them [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, and [Saudi Arabia’s ruling] Saud family, and the son of al-Hussein [Jordan’s King Abdullah].” [Reuters, 3/24/2008]
A new audio message is released by a man thought to be Osama bin Laden. In the message, which lasts about nine minutes and is posted to a website commonly used by al-Qaeda, the speaker calls on Muslims to continue the fight to liberate Palestinian land. The speaker pledges to continue fighting the Israelis and not give up “a single inch of Palestine,” adding that the Palestinian cause is the most important factor driving al-Qaeda’s war with the West. The tape’s release comes around the time of Israel’s 60th anniversary, when US President Bush is in Israel to attend the anniversary celebrations [BBC, 5/16/2008]
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases an audio tape calling on Muslim fighters to help end the Israeli blockade of Gaza. In the tape, released by posting on the Internet, the speaker says it is the duty of every Muslim to fight the “oppressive closure.” The tape is released two days after the previous one (see May 16, 2008), on the day US President Bush ends a visit to the Middle East. [Sky News, 5/18/2008]
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new audio tape criticizing his native Egypt for not opening up its border to Palestinians. The 11-minute tape is released by posting to the Internet to mark the 41st anniversary of the Six-Day War between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors. “The brother from Gaza is refused entry [by Egypt], while an Israeli tourist is allowed to enter without a visa,” says al-Zawahiri, calling for an end to Israel’s economic blockade of the Gaza Strip. He also terms Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his troops “criminal traitors” for perpetuating the siege of Gaza. “Salvation of the Muslim nation is through the march of its sons on the path of jihad,” he adds. [Al Jazeera, 5/5/2008]
Progressive media watchdog site Media Matters reports that conservative radio host Bill Cunningham, who hosts a popular Cincinnati call-in show, accuses Democratic candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) of wanting to “gas the Jews.” In what is apparently intended to be a comedic skit, Cunningham tells a co-host: “This Obama guy loves the PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organization]. Can’t you figure that out?… Obama wants to gas the Jews, like the PLO wants to gas the Jews, like the Nazis gassed the Jews.” Co-host Scott Sloan, playing a fictional Jewish character called “Randy Furman,” tells Cunningham that he is making the accusation because “you just don’t like one-half-percent black people, that’s your problem.” [Media Matters, 10/25/2008] Two weeks before, Cunningham told listeners that Obama may be the Antichrist (see October 10, 2008).
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases a new audio recording calling for violent jihad over a recent Israeli offensive in Gaza. In an audio tape, entitled “A Call for Jihad to Stop the Aggression against Gaza” and posted on Islamist websites, the speaker questions America’s stomach for the fight with radical Islam. “God has bestowed us with the patience to continue the path of jihad for another seven years, and seven and seven years,” the speaker says. “The question is, can America continue its war with us for several more decades to come? Reports and evidence would suggest otherwise.” The speaker also condemns Arab governments for preventing their people from acting to “liberate Palestine,” and adds: “Our brothers in Palestine, you have suffered a lot… the Muslims sympathise with you in what they see and hear. We, the mujahidin, sympathise with you also.… We are with you and we will not let you down. Our fate is tied to yours in fighting the Crusader-Zionist coalition, in fighting until victory or martyrdom.” The London Times comments, “The al-Qaeda leader has placed growing emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years (see May 16, 2008 and May 18, 2008) and today’s audio tape was accompanied by a still of bin Laden and a picture of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest shrine.” [Times (London), 1/14/2009]
President Obama signals a new direction for US policy towards Israel and Palestine by promising to seek a lasting peace between the two warring sides. Obama says the US will always support Israel’s “right to defend itself,” but will also seek an equitable, peaceful solution for the Palestinian people. In conjunction with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama names former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as the administration’s special envoy to the Middle East, and former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as the administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mitchell helped broker the Clinton administration-led peace agreement in Northern Ireland, and Holbrooke helped write the peace agreement that ended the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia. [Associated Press, 1/22/2009; The Nation (Lahore), 1/23/2009]
President Obama and Hisham Melhem, during the interview. [Source: Al Arabiya / Time]President Obama gives his first interview after assuming the presidency to the Dubai-based satellite broadcaster Al Arabiya. He tells interviewer Hisham Melhem that Americans are not the enemy of the Muslim world, and wants Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace negotiations. [Al Arabiya, 1/27/2009] Melhem, Al Arabiya’s Washington bureau chief, originally believes he was slated to interview the newly named US envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell (see January 22, 2009). Melhem believed there was some discussion among White House officials on whether it was the right time for Obama to grant an interview to the Arab media. The selection of Al Arabiya is deliberate, as that channel is considered more moderate and Western-friendly than, for example, Al Jazeera. [Time, 1/28/2009]
Intent to Reopen Talks between Israel, Palestinians - Obama intends to resume negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and says the US will open up new talks by listening to the two sides instead of immediately issuing demands. “[W]hat I told Mitchell] is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating—in the past on some of these issues—and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved. So let’s listen. He’s going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response. Ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what’s best for them. They’re going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that instead, it’s time to return to the negotiating table.” The larger peace plan for the Middle East recently proposed by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah will play an important role in the negotiations, Obama says.
'A Language of Respect' - Language matters, Obama notes. “[M]y job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world that the language we use has to be a language of respect,” he says. “[T]he language we use matters. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name.”
Restoring Relations with the Muslim World - Melhem asks Obama about tensions between the US and the Islamic world, inflamed by demagogues and extremists on both sides. Obama says: “Well, I think that when you look at the rhetoric that they [extremists]‘ve been using against me before I even took office… what that tells me is that their ideas are bankrupt. There’s no actions that they’ve taken that say a child in the Muslim world is getting a better education because of them, or has better health care because of them.” Obama reminds Melhem, and the viewers, that he lived for a time in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, during his childhood. He learned through his experiences in Indonesia and other Muslim countries that everyone, regardless of differences in culture or faith, has similar hopes and aspirations. “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,” he says. “We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that.”
Dealing with Iran - Wrapping up the interview, Melhem asks if the US is prepared to “live with a nuclear Iran.” Obama responds: “I said during the campaign that it is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of US power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran.… Iran has acted in ways that’s not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past—none of these things have been helpful. But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress.” [Al Arabiya, 1/27/2009]
Responses - In Pakistan, Obama’s interview is widely viewed, and receives what CNN calls “a generally positive response from analysts there.” Islamabad author and journalist Imtiaz Gul says, “It’s a good sign of an attempt to reconcile with the Muslim world, to say America wants to reach out to them and not to consider them as an enemy.” [CNN, 1/27/2009] Egyptian student Omar Youssef, who has joined in protests against the Israeli war in Gaza, says of Obama: “He’s a man of diplomacy and speaks well. Bush, Arab people hate him. But the world needs a man like Obama.” Another student, Ahmed Mahmoud, adds, “Maybe if he can solve the problem between white and black people in America, he can also solve the problem between Arab and Jewish people here.” [Time, 1/28/2009] Melhem, who has long criticized US policies towards the Middle East, later says he was touched by Obama’s conciliatory tone and references to his Muslim roots. “You can feel the authenticity about him,” he says. “The interview was his way of saying, ‘There is a new wind coming from Washington.’ Barack Obama definitely sees the world differently from a man named George W. Bush.” [Time, 1/29/2009] Al Arabiya General Manager Abdul Rahman al-Rashed says: “What he did campaigning in the US he is trying to do in the Middle East, convincing people that he is on their side. He is telling Muslims that he is proud of his Muslim roots. This is being received positively.” And Jordanian news columnist Jamil Nimri writes, “The language of force, conceit, and threat has totally disappeared.” [Time, 1/28/2009] Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer disputes Obama’s implication that the Bush administration treated Islam with any disrespect, saying: “[S]omehow he is implying that somehow the Obama era is a break with the American past. Somehow it is undoing a disrespect of Islam that had somehow occurred under the previous administration.… We have no need to apologize. Extend a hand, yes, but to imply that there was a disrespect of Islam in the last administration, I think is unfair and fictional.” [Fox News, 1/28/2009]
Former US President Jimmy Carter says that any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians must include Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement that controls the Gaza Strip. “Hamas has got to be involved before peace can be concluded,” Carter says. Israel, which like the US and many Western nations considers Hamas a terrorist organization, is in the midst of a military operation against Hamas. Carter says that previous presidents have been either unable or unwilling to oppose Israel’s supporters in the US, but he has high hopes for George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s new envoy to the Middle East (see January 22, 2009). “The fact is that very few of the presidents have been willing to confront Israel’s forces in the United States, politically speaking,” Carter says. “If you look at US Middle East envoys in the past, almost all of them have been closely associated with Israel, sometimes even working professionally for Israel. George Mitchell is a balanced and honest broker compared to the others.” He continues by noting that any possible reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the organization led by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, has been “objected to and obstructed by the US and Israel.” He hopes the Obama administration will work to bring Hamas and Fatah together. Abbas and Fatah control the West Bank, while Hamas controls the Gaza Strip. President Obama has indicated he intends to institute new peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, but has reiterated previous international demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel, renounce violence, and recognize previous peace agreements before they can join in any future negotiations. [Al Jazeera, 1/29/2009; Al Jazeera, 1/29/2009]
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman says that Israel’s new right-wing government will not be bound by a US-backed understanding to work towards establishing an independent Palestinian nation, the so-called “two-state solution.” Lieberman’s remarks outrage many Palestinian leaders, and indicate a sharp divide between the Obama administration and the government of newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The conservative Netanyahu has long opposed the idea of a sovereign Palestinian state, though he has recently said he supports an agreement towards limited Palestinian self-rule. Lieberman’s speech, described by the Los Angeles Times as “blunt and openly hawkish” and by the New York Times as “blunt and belligerent,” warns against giving concessions to the Palestinians, saying they “only bring pressure and more wars.” “[T]hose who wish for peace should prepare for war,” he adds. “Those who think that through concessions they will gain respect and peace are wrong. It is the other way around; it will lead to more wars.” The 2007 agreement, made at Annapolis, Maryland between then-US President George W. Bush, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, committed the parties to further “the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine.” Now, Lieberman says: “It has no validity. The Israeli government never ratified Annapolis, nor did parliament.” Palestinian spokesman Nabil abu Rudaineh calls Lieberman’s position dangerous, and recommends that the Obama administration “take a clear position against this policy before things get worse.” Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says Lieberman has “closed the door on Annapolis and closed the door in the face of the international community.” An Obama spokesman says that the US remains committed to a two-state solution. Lieberman’s statement is contradicted by a warning from Israeli President Shimon Peres that “the majority of countries in the world” back the Palestinian quest for statehood, hinting that to withdraw support for a two-state solution will result in Israel’s isolation. “The outgoing government espoused the vision of two states for two peoples, which was initiated by the American government and accepted by the majority of countries in the world,” Peres states. “It is up to your government to decide the shape of the reality to come.” Netanyahu has privately told Western officials that he, not Lieberman, will set Israel’s foreign policy; Netanyahu gave Lieberman the position because Lieberman’s nationalist party, Israel Is Our Home, is a member of Netanyahu’s rightist coalition government. But Netanyahu’s own foreign policy adviser, Zalman Shoval, says that the prime minister also considers the Annapolis declaration nonbinding. Tony Blair, the former British prime minister now serving as an envoy to the Middle East peace negotiations, says the peace process is in “very great jeopardy.” [New York Times, 4/1/2009; Los Angeles Times, 4/2/2009]
President Obama tells Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that “it is past time to talk about starting negotiations—it is time to move forward.” Obama’s meeting with the two Middle East leaders is the highest level of diplomacy of his presidency, although it is reported that expectations for resuming the talks fall short. Obama and State Department officials hoped that the meeting would pave the way for fresh negotiations of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. However, during a recent previous meeting, special Mideast envoy George Mitchell was unsuccessful in securing a deal in which Israel would halt West Bank settlements construction in return for the Arab states taking minute steps toward recognition. “Permanent status negotiations must begin, and begin soon,” Obama tells the two leaders, referring to talks on the fundamental issues that divide the parties, such as borders, Jerusalem’s status, and building settlements. The meetings, held at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where Obama meets with Netanyahu and Abbas separately before all three meet together, produce no real reconciliation, only an Israeli-Palestinian commitment to send negotiating teams to Washington, along with a general agreement that peace talks should quickly resume. “We knew this wasn’t going to be easy,” Mitchell says, adding that the talks were at times “blunt” with Obama importuning the two to “get things done.” Obama seems to concede that his previous calls for a construction freeze on settlements fell on deaf ears, and says that Israel has offered only to “restrain” its settlement activity. He appears to acknowledge that his early calls for a settlement freeze have fallen on deaf ears. Israel, he says, has only offered to “restrain” settlement production. The restraint on settlement building “is not everything we might have wanted,” says a senior State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity—one of the rules set by the White House before the meetings—but “it’s certainly a significant step.” US government officials try to dispel later impressions that Obama sought to play down the settlements issue, although senior Israeli government officials say they left the meeting with a separate message; the Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren says, “That’s not just the impression, that’s the reality.” An additional senior US official says Obama will not cease to press the settlements issue, arguing that the tentative steps Israel has agreed to extend “far, far beyond what any previous government has ever done to control settlement activity.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 9/22/2009]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells journalists for the Jerusalem Post that President Obama’s maiden UN speech was “good and positive” for Israel. Netanyahu expresses his belief that Obama’s speech stressed the legitimacy of a Jewish state as well as backing Israel’s right to live in security. He says that Obama’s address urged Palestine leaders to restart peace negotiations. “He said what we have been saying for months, that we need to restart negotiations without preconditions.” In his speech, Obama also addressed threats posed by Iran and North Korea, and spoke strongly against al-Qaeda and terrorism. “All of us, not just the Israelis and the Palestinians, but all of us, must decide whether we are serious about peace, or whether we only lend it lip service,” said Obama. “To break the old patterns—to break the cycle of insecurity and despair—all of us must say publicly what we would acknowledge in private. Nations within this body do the Palestinians no favors when they choose vitriolic attacks over a constructive willingness to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, and its right to exist in peace and security,” he said. “The United States does Israel no favors when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its security with an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians. The time has come to re-launch negotiations—without preconditions. The goal is clear: two states living side by side in peace and security—a Jewish state of Israel, with true security for all Israelis, and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people.” Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the US, says Obama’s reference to Israel as a Jewish state is vital recognition on which “Israel insists as part of any final status deal with the Palestinians.” Oren says that Israel “was gratified to hear the president reiterate US commitment to Israel’s security,” as well as pleased that the president supported a multilateral rather than bilateral means for bringing peace between Israel and its neighboring states. Netanyahu tells Israeli reporters that he “listened very carefully to President Obama’s call to the Arab countries to publicly support moving regional peace forward.” He also praises Obama for expressing his appreciation about restrictions that have been eased between Judea and Samaria in the last few months to improve the quality of living and upgrade the economy for the Palestinians in the region. However, Obama also said in his address that “America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” while simultaneously calling on Palestinians to end provocations against Israel and emphasizing that the settlements issue should not deter talks. [Jerusalem Post, 9/24/2009]
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