Israeli-Palestinian peace will isolate Iran, suggests Peres

Israeli President calls for Israeli-Palestinian peace as a means to isolate Iran. As the US and Pakistan foreign ministers meet to agree a new arms package, it is reported that the US will severe military aid to Pakistan army units implicated in committing atrocities in the Swat valley. Six Pakistan troops are killed in a roadside blast on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. All this and more, in today’s security update…
Oliver Scanlan
22 October 2010

"We fought alone, but we cannot exist alone. For our existence we need the friendship of the United States of America,” such were the terms within which Israeli President Shimon Peres attempted to frame a call for Israel to re-engage with the peace process. Speaking on Thursday evening to Jewish leaders on Radio Israel, the elder statesman attempted to make his suggestion palatable by appealing to real politick and the logic of Israel’s security. He thus emphasised for Israel to recognise the security needs of the United States and stated that peace with the Palestinians would help to ‘isolate’ Iran.

Calling for an ‘anti-Iran’ coalition, the Nobel Peace Prize winner described the current impasse between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority as the ‘secondary conflict’, underscoring the Israeli perceived threat presented by the spectre of a nuclear Iran. His comments come during an increasingly acrimonious deadlock over Israeli settlement construction. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said that he will not return to US-brokered direct talks with Israel unless Israel agrees to a further suspension of such construction. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of the governing coalition have proven intransigent on this issue.  

The impasse has led to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad calling for the Palestinian Authority to continue ‘resistance’ against Israel, a suggestion quickly rebuffed by Mahmoud Abbas on Monday. On Friday, it was reported that the PA had seized an arms cache, comprising rockets and automatic weapons, belonging to the Islamist Palestinian group Hamas in a warehouse in Ramallah. PA security spokesman Adnan Damiri said that the matter will be investigated. Hamas, which governs the Gaza strip, has denied the claim, stating that it is a falsehood designed to legitimise continued PA attacks on Hamas.

The openSecurity verdict: Shimon Peres showed on Thursday that he has lost none of the political acumen that saw him on three occasions rise to the post of Israeli prime minister. In the fraught environment of the ideologically charged coalition government, which Ha’aretz commentators have suggested is paralysed by the deadlock between Netanyahu and his extreme right wing foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, Peres argued for peace on the only terms available to him: security.

Adopting a security-focused discourse is one of the few tactics likely to win the support of those who feel little moral obligation to surrender land to Palestinians or Israel's Arab neighbours. He sought to downplay the Israel-Palestinian conflict and highlight Iran as the real enemy. Concessions to the Palestinians, he appeared to say, is not an anathematic threat to Israeli identity, but rather a vital weapon in the Israeli arsenal when staving off the real, physical existential threat posed by a potential Iranian bomb. And yet it may remain impossible, given the extent of Iran's support for groups hostile to Israel, to achieve peace in Palestine without reconciliation with Iran.

His intervention comes at a time when the impact of continuing delay on domestic Palestinian politics is uncertain. Abbas’ rejection of al-Assad’s call for resistance is sincere, as illustrated by the seizure of the arms cache. But tensions between the two men continue to centre on Syria’s promotion of Khaled Meshal, the Hamas prime minister of Gaza, as Abbas’ equal. Notwithstanding signs of growing rapprochement between the two movements, just because the PA will not take direct action against Israel does not mean that Hamas will not.

At a time when the 2008-2009 Gaza war is under the spotlight, with the government probing the decision by the then Givati brigade commander, Ilan Milka, to order an airstrike that killed 21 members of the same family in the face of warnings from subordinates, how Israel will respond to any such attack is uncertain. With a fragile political coalition and a painful investigation at home, the possibility cannot be ruled out that Netanyahu might try to escape the deadlock with a new round of hostilities. 

It is also unlikely to be an accident that Peres made his speech at a time when, in a world still recovering from financial crisis, the prospect of escalating measures to reign in Iranian nuclear development, risking another conflict in the middle east, is finding fewer proponents. On Friday Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called for a less confrontational approach with Iran, doubting the efficacy of sanctions. Russia is also encouraging Iran to move forward with nuclear talks in November, raising the possibility of a diplomatic resolution, though one which is unlikely to deprive Iran of all nuclear capacity, an outcome that Israel has always rejected.      

US cuts aid to Pakistan army units suspected of atrocities

On Friday, as US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton prepares to meet with her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi, it was reported that the US will suspend military aid to Pakistan army units implicated in committing atrocities. Human Rights Watch has said that it has briefed officials from both the State Department and Congress regarding more than 200 extra judicial killings of civilians by the Pakistani army.

The killings took place during last year’s Pakistani offensive against the Swat Valley in the country’s restive north-west. Those killed were believed to have been Taliban sympathisers. Clinton and Qureshi are meeting to discuss a new, multi-billion dollar military aid package to Pakistan and analysts suggest that the move to restrict aid to units implicated in the swat atrocities, if implemented, will not affect US – Pakistani military relations. The US government provides $2 billion of such support annually to Pakistan.

Pakistani soldiers killed in Afpak borderland

On Friday, six Pakistani troops were killed when their convoy hit a roadside bomb believed to have been planted by the Pakistan Taliban. The blast occurred as the convoy was travelling through the Yakh Kandaw region of the Orakzai Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA). It is believed that this attack is the third to have targeted Pakistani soldiers in the area since Tuesday. Orakzai is believed to be one area where Taliban militants, having had safe-havens in the Swat and south Waziristan regions disrupted by successive Pakistan military offensives, are attempting to rebuild a stable base of operations. 

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