Israel & Palestine

The Jerusalem Post reports:

Iran tested a newly-developed ballistic missile on the day of the Annapolis conference, Channel 10 reported Wednesday.

The Ashoura missile has a range of 2,000 kilometers and is capable of reaching Israel, US Army bases in the Middle East and eastern European cities.

According to the report, the new missile is an improvement to the existing Shihab-3 missile. The Ashoura uses solid fuel instead of the Shihab’s liquid fuel, giving it a significantly faster launch sequence which is harder to detect.

Iranian Defense Minister Gen. Mostafa Muhammad-Najjar had announced the development of the new missile on the day of the summit, but had not specified whether it had actually been tested.

According to the country’s IRNA news agency, Najjar said the missile was named the “Ashoura,” meaning “the tenth day” in Farsi – a sacred reference among Shi’ite Muslims to the martyrdom of the third imam.

The Iranian defense minister said that “the production of the new missile was one of the Defense Ministry’s greatest achievements.”

Analysts believe much of Iran’s military production has benefited from assistance from Russia, China and other countries, but many of their weapons development claims have not been independently verified.

Recent weapons development has been motivated by Iran’s standoff with the US over its controversial nuclear program.

The Shihab-3, which means “shooting star” in Farsi, has a range of at least 1,300 kilometers.

In 2005, Iranian officials said they had improved the range of the Shihab-3 to 2,000 kilometers, a range equal to that of the new missile reported Wednesday.

Experts also believe Iran is developing the Shihab-4 missile, thought to have a range between 2,000 and 3,000 kilometers that would put much of Europe in range.

Well, that’s one way of expressing your displeasure about being left off of the tea party invite list …


TEHRAN (AFP) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday predicted that Israel would not survive, as he lashed out at the US-hosted conference seeking to relaunch the Middle East peace process.

“It is impossible that the Zionist regime can last,” state media quoted Ahmadinejad as saying in a cabinet meeting.

“Deterioration is in the nature of this regime as it has been built on aggression, lying, crime and wrongdoing,” he added.

He said the meeting which united Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Annapolis, Maryland had “failed already and was stillborn. It lacked the cornerstones of effective political work.”

The Islamic republic — which has made non-recognition of Israel a cornerstone of its ideology — was left isolated after its chief regional ally Syria and Saudi Arabia attended Tuesday’s meeting.

“We regret that some people fell victim to the cursed Zionist regime and they are mistaken if they thought this meeting was an achievement for them or helps reinforce the Zionists,” added the president.

See full article here.

The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) remains officially optimistic on talks with Iran:

TEHRAN (Reuters) – A U.N. nuclear agency official described cooperation with Iran as “good” ahead of talks on Monday about Tehran’s atomic work, after an Iranian warning that new U.S. sanctions could harm ties.

Iranian news agencies quoted Olli Heinonen, deputy director of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as making the brief comment upon arrival in Tehran for a new round of negotiations with senior Iranian officials.

Iran and the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog agreed in August on a timetable to answer outstanding IAEA questions about the nuclear programme, prompting world powers to postpone a third round of U.N. sanctions on Tehran until at least November.

Full article here. Meanwhile, an unnamed Palestinian intelligence officials forecasts a U.S. attack, supported by some Arab nations with an Israeli deal on the West Bank, if there is no diplomatic progress:

A senior Palestinian intelligence official said that based on meetings with American diplomats he “understood” the US plans to target Iran’s suspected nuclear installations in two to three months if negotiations with Tehran don’t generate a major breakthrough.

The official, speaking to WND yesterday on condition of anonymity, said according to what he “understood,” the US will “pay” for Arab support for a US strike against Iran by creating a temporary Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank by next summer.

The official met last week with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her trip here earlier this month to prepare for a US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian summit slated for next month in which Israel is expected to outline a future

Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in recent weeks hinted at willingness to give away sections of Jerusalem.

Full article here.

Damascus – Syria was ready to improve relations with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but would not take part in the US-sponsored Annapolis peace conference, President Bashar Assad said in an interview with Tunisia’s Ash-Shrouk newspaper published by Syrian papers Thursday.Assad said Syrian relations with both countries were ‘not as they should be,’ and that ‘Syria doesn’t mind making an initiative to improve these relations.’

Damascus’ relations with longtime US allies Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan have been cool, partly over what they see as Syria’s role in promoting Iranian interests in the Arab world.

‘It’s in Syria’s interest to have Arab solidarity … to discuss what we should do, especially with regards to the next months,’ which would shape the country’s destiny, Assad said.

He said his country would send envoys to Arab countries soon to discuss the recent non-binding US Senate resolution that proposed a reshaping of Iraq into three sectarian or ethnic territories, underlining the need to assist Iraq to face the resolution.

Assad also said his country would not take part in the US- sponsored November peace conference as Syria would ‘not participate in a conference that lacks the chances of success.’

Assad also says that the Golan must be included on the agenda if the U.S. wants Syria’s participation. Full article here. Of course, Syria’s position on the Peace Conference comes within weeks after Israel’s recent air strike on Syria:

On September 6, Israeli war planes entered Syrian airspace. Syria initially claimed that the planes fled after being engaged by Syrian air defenses, dumping their ammunition on a deserted area. While Israel has remained largely silent over the incident, U.S. and British media sources, citing U.S. and Israeli officials, report that a successful military strike took place. Israeli opposition party leader Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to confirm these claims in a television interview on September 19. On October 1, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad admitted that a strike had taken place, saying that Israeli jets had struck an unused military building. Reports, however, have suggested that the target of the raid was either a shipment of arms from Iran to Hezbollah or a nuclear installation being constructed by Syria with the assistance of North Korea. Syria and North Korea both deny these claims.

Full article here. Complicating matters is the report that the Bush administration, which apparently had been briefed by Israel prior to the air strike, has an internal disagreement over how to proceed with Syria:

A sharp debate is under way in the Bush administration about the significance of the Israeli intelligence that led to last month’s Israeli airstrike inside Syria, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

At issue is whether intelligence that Israel presented months ago to the White House — to support claims that Syria had begun early work on what could become a nuclear weapons program with help from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) — was conclusive enough to justify military action by Israel and a possible rethinking of American policy toward the two nations.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and conservative hawks in the Bush administration have been portraying the Israeli intelligence as credible and arguing that it should cause the U.S. to reconsider its diplomatic overtures to Syria and the DPRK.

By contrast, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her allies within the administration have said they do not believe that the intelligence presented so far merits any change in the American diplomatic approach.

Full article here.

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, faced an unprecedented outburst of public opposition yesterday from student demonstrators who burned his picture and chanted “Death to the dictator”.In the first sign of open dissent since he took office last year, dozens of activists shouted abuse and set off firecrackers as Mr Ahmadinejad addressed students at Tehran’s Amir Kabir university. They were voicing anger at what they say is an increasing repressiveness on Iran’s campuses under his government. A presidential aide said 50 to 60 students took part in the protest.The heckling prompted scuffles between the protesters and the president’s supporters, who chanted: “Ahmadi, Ahmadi, we support you.”

Mr Ahmadinejad, who was marking Iranian students’ day, answered the “dictator” taunts by saying: “Everyone knows the real dictator is America and its servants.” He added: “A few who claim there is a stifling climate are trying to stifle the majority by not letting them hear what is being said.”

As students set fire to his picture, he said: “Everyone should know that Ahmadinejad is prepared to be burned in the path of true freedom, independence and justice.”

Full article here. Meanwhile, the Iranian president issued another anti-Semitic rant yesterday, this time to a Holocaust “fact-finding” conference:

Iran attracted international condemnation yesterday for hosting a conference of Holocaust deniers which was described by Tony Blair as “shocking beyond belief”.

As the two-day conference in Tehran wound up by forming a “fact-finding” committee into the extermination of six million Jews by the Nazis, Mr Blair accused Iran of posing a “major strategic threat” to the Middle East.

Speaking at his monthly press conference, he said he had been so taken aback by the reports the Iran president had invited a leader of the Ku Klux Klan to the conference that he asked a No 10 aide to check on it, twice. “To go and invite the former head of the Ku Klux Klan to a conference in Tehran which disputes the millions of people who died in the Holocaust … what further evidence do you need that this regime is extreme?”

The White House also issued a strong condemnation yesterday, describing the conference as “an affront to the entire civilised world as well as to the traditional Iranian values of tolerance and respect”. Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, expressed outrage, saying: ‘Germany will never accept this.” The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said on Monday that the gathering, attended by more than 60 people from 30 countries, was a “sick phenomenon”.

The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the closing session, saying: “Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out.”

Full piece here.

An Israeli businessman has offered $1 billion dollars to Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniye if he reaches a peace agreement with his Israeli counterpart.

Billionaire Israeli businessman Avi Shaked, whose great fortune came from running internet gambling sites, told the Reuters news agency that he wanted the killing to stop.

“My offer is to both leaders: please sit down, start negotiations and try to reach an agreement.”

The Internet tycoon said that he was ready to hand over the money through a consortium of international financiers he has lined up if a deal was made.

Full piece here.

SYRIA is to demand American help in securing the return of the Golan Heights from Israel as the price of co-operation over Iraq.

With the White House under pressure to talk to its adversary, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has resolved that his assistance will not come cheaply.

Mr Assad has been considering how to respond to an American overture following reports that the Iraq Study Group will recommend that the US engage Syria and Iran in talks on Iraq, a position backed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair last week.

The Syrian President wants the US and Britain to use their influence with Israel to raise the return to Syria of the Golan Heights, seized by the Israelis in the 1967 Six Day War.

“It will be the top demand,” said Ayman Abdel Nour, a leading reformer in the ruling Baath party.

Full piece here.

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