Posts Tagged ‘Ehud Barak’

U.S. to explore upgrades for Israel’s missile defense capabilities

July 29, 2008

Comment: I blogged on this topic earlier, noting that ballistics expert Dr. Nathan Farber’s appeal to bring the Phalanx interceptor system and other systems to the Western Negev received far too little attention — while Israel awaits the slow completion of Iron Dome. This would help Israel take a more defensive posture in the short term while giving the country more breathing space to contemplate a long term political solution. By no means do I believe the advent of any weapons system could solve this problem, of course. Now it appears Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has come around, making the acquisition of these systems a key issue in his current U.S. visit, largely to the credit of Dr. Nathan Farber and Ha’aretz for pushing the story. Kudos. (I did my part, but let’s face it nobody reads my blog)

(Haaretz) — “[Israeli Defense Minister] Barak is considering purchasing or borrowing several Phalanx automated cannons from the United States. The cannons intercept incoming mortar shells and short-range rockets, and would be used to defend Sderot and other Negev towns from rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

The defense minister was expected to ask Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to appraise the Phalanx’s performance.

That assessment will be used to help the government decide whether to bring the anti-missile system to Israel.

The new development comes after a series of articles in Haaretz, in which Dr. Natan Farber – an expert in ballistic missiles from the Technion – expressed his support for the project.

However, several Defense Ministry officials said the Phalanx system is not effective enough, and argue that Israel should focus on developing the Iron Dome defense system, which will not be ready before 2011…” Click for full article

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Israel Hopes to Resume Peace talks with Syria

November 14, 2007

(Associated Press) — Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has sent messages to Syrian President Bashar Assad that he is interested in reopening peace talks and suggested Israel would return territory it captured 40 years ago, Israeli officials said Tuesday.

Israel hopes a resumption of talks with Syria would moderate the bitter foe and win Damascus over in the regional effort to counter Iran’s fundamentalist influence, a Foreign Ministry official said. With a U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace conference two weeks away, Israel also wants a Syrian option open in case talks with the Palestinians fail, they said.

However, the officials said in the contacts with Olmert’s emissaries, Assad indicated he is not interested in renewing negotiations with Olmert, viewing the Israeli leader as too weak politically to implement a peace agreement. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has himself sent Israeli envoys based abroad to meet with Assad, the Israeli officials said.

Olmert’s and Barak’s offices would not confirm that they have sent messages to Assad.

Olmert has said he wants Syria to participate in the Mideast conference, set for Annapolis, Maryland, but the United States has not agreed to Syria’s demand that the agenda include talks on the possibility of Israel returning the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

Israel-Syria peace talks broke down in 2000 with an Israeli offer on the table to return the Golan Heights down to the international border, but Syria insisting on further territory that would give it control of the east bank of the Sea of Galilee. There were also disagreements over the extent of peaceful relations.

Israel hopes the opening of a Syrian track now could offset a possible breakdown of negotiations with the Palestinians, a Foreign Ministry official said. Israel and the Palestinians have so far been unable to agree on a framework document to precede the Annapolis meeting, and Olmert has been playing down its prospects.

Olmert told parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that he was “ready for peace with Syria and prepared to conduct negotiations with no preconditions — on condition they (the Syrians) abandon the ‘axis of evil’ and don’t support terror,” according to participants in the meeting.

Israel and the United States criticize Syria for hosting the headquarters of radical Palestinian groups and backing the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas.

When asked by lawmaker Ran Cohen if he was holding talks with Syria, Olmert said “I don’t have to tell you about everything that I do.”

Cohen said Tuesday that Olmert gave lawmakers the clear impression that contacts with Syria were already under way.

“This is his first hint that he is holding some sort of negotiations with Syria,” said Cohen, a member of the dovish Meretz Party. “It was fairly clear to everyone sitting there that he is doing something and not saying anything about it.”

Assad hopes through possible negotiations with Israel to win favor with the United States, said Alon Liel, an expert on Syria and former Israeli diplomat. Assad will agree to resume talks with Israel only if the United States agrees to mediate them, Liel said Tuesday.

But U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration has been cool to the idea.

“As long as Syria depends on Iran economically and militarily, it can’t hold talks with Israel,” Liel said. “Assad needs the Americans. Even if he gets the Golan and even if he signs an agreement with Israel, he loses Iran, he loses the world.”

Tensions between Israel and Syria have been high following an Israeli airstrike two months ago against a facility in northern Syria. Commercial satellite images have indicated a site for a future nuclear reactor might have been destroyed, but Syria has denied developing such a reactor.

Chances for war between the longtime enemies have dropped in recent weeks in part due to calming statements by Olmert and Barak.

Olmert told the lawmakers that the United States did not oppose the possibility of Israel’s fully resuming talks with Damascus, Cohen said.

FT: ‘Barak Still Bears the Scars From Camp David’

November 8, 2007

(Financial Times) — By Tobias Buck
Even by the volatile standards of Israeli politics, the comeback of Ehud Barak has been a remarkable one.

Ousted as prime minister in 2001 after the acrimonious failure of the Camp David peace talks, Mr Barak left the political stage for almost six years to pursue a career in business. Yet in June, Israel’s most decorated soldier and former chief of staff was back, taking the helm of his centre-left Labour party and assuming the post of defence minister in the coalition government headed by Ehud Olmert.

Mr Barak’s political revival passed yet another milestone on Saturday, when he joined the country’s political grandees at the annual rally to mark the anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s death. Facing a crowd of 100,000 mourners in Tel Aviv, Mr Barak made an emotional vow to defend the legacy of the slain politician. “We will do everything in our hands to reach the peace you dreamed of and fell for,” he said.

Yet to his critics, Mr Barak’s words rang hollow. They complain that the man who was once willing to go further than most to reach a deal with the Palestinians has been absent from the -latest drive to reach a -comprehensive peace settlement. His stance has reportedly sparked tensions not only within his own party but also with Mr Olmert, who is in the midst of preparing for a US-sponsored peace meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, this year.

Analysts and former aides to Mr Barak say his lukewarm support for peace efforts is explained by a complex mixture of the political and the psychological: they say the breakdown of his talks with Yassir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, at Camp David in 2000 has made him wary of making concessions to the Palestinians. His scepticism may also be fuelled by electoral considerations, with Mr Barak positioning himself as an uncompromising defender of Israeli security interests.

Yossi Beilin, the leader of the leftwing Meretz Yachad opposition party and a former minister under Mr Barak, has been at the forefront of the critics.

“It is very difficult for me to understand how he could put himself to the right of Olmert,” he told the Financial Times. “I think this goes beyond the political. He took the failure of Camp David very personally and he is still trying to punish the Palestinians for not accepting his proposal at the time.”

Haim Ramon, deputy prime minister and one of Mr Olmert’s closest allies, told Israeli army radio this week: “Contrary to what we’ve seen so far, I hope that Barak will once again act to bolster the process. I would like to hear from the Labour chairman what he is doing to help the prime minister ahead of the Annapolis -conference.”

Expectations regarding the Annapolis talks have been very low, with little evidence that the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators preparing the meeting are making real progress.

As defence minister, Mr Barak is in charge of upholding security and protecting Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Yet so far there has been no sign that he plans to use his powers to ease the lives of ordinary Palestinians, for example by lifting severe restrictions on travelling around and out of the territory.

The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip seems even less likely to benefit from goodwill gestures ahead of the Annapolis meeting. Mr Barak has taken steps towards cutting fuel and power supplies to its 1.5m residents. He has also repeatedly raised the prospect of a “large-scale military operation” to root out Islamist militants and end the barrage of rockets fired from the territory.

Zvi Shtauber, a former foreign policy adviser to Mr Barak and now the director of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, says: “He doesn’t anticipate a breakthrough [at Annapolis] – don’t forget that Ehud Barak was already there. He is less naive after Camp David.

“His tenure as defence minister is the vehicle to come back in the eyes of the Israeli public. Sooner or later there will be an election and he knows that Israel has been moving to the right.”

Yet according to the latest polls, only 17-19 per cent of Israelis believe that Mr Barak would be the best leader for the country – down from previous polls and far behind Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the rightwing Likud party.

Mr Barak’s political comeback, it seems, still has some way to go.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007