Brian Ulrich’s blog – American Footprints

Over the past few days, Israel has suddenly become awash with rumors that the end may be near for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. At issue are allegations that he accepted bribe’s from American businessman Morris Talansky during his days as Jerusalem mayor. Israel is under a tight gag order that even Reuters is forced to follow, so we rely on the New York Post to explain this development that could end what remains of the Annapolis peace process.  Of course, it’s not actually clear to me why this might force Olmert out when nothing else has.
Olmert’s coalition is actually at least temporarily down to 64 after three MK’s left the Pensioners to form a new Social Justice party linked to Russian billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak. However, they are interested in joining the coalition. Gaydamak has previously been rumored to have his sights on becoming Jerusalem’s mayor himself, and even toyed with making a supermarket chain he acquired kosher to appeal to the city’s religious voters.
“The agreement would be a temporary one – valid for five years – during which the PA would be granted some municipal sovereignty in the capital and would be allowed to provide various services to the Palestinian residents of the city.
“Ynet has learned that this new outline has been presented to Israel and the Palestinians by US mediators, and that the two sides have been discussing it in recent weeks. While both sides are reluctant to accept the proposal, a source involved in the talks said that American pressure may force them to do so…
Regular readers won’t be surprised, though, to learn I think this might be the best we can expect. The largest obstacle to peace right now, frankly, is the Qassam fire from Gaza. (And yes, I know Palestinians are just as bothered by IDF operations as Israelis are by the situation in Sderot, but the power imbalance is such that I simply don’t see that mattering much.) Resolving that will mean either dealing with Hamas or an improvement in Israel’s defensive technology that is still a few years away.
Imtiaz Ali discusses the Haqqani network, which is apparently the target of our recent missile strikes within Pakistan:
“On the Pakistani side of the border, Sirajuddin’s influence has been growing as a ‘revered jihadist commander.’ He strongly opposed Maulvi Nazir’s campaign against Uzbek and other foreign militants waged earlier this year by the militant tribal leader in South Waziristan (see Terrorism Monitor, January 11). He is reported to have played an important role in stopping the fighting between Maulvi Nazir’s tribal militia and Uzbek militants in Wana and the surrounding area in March last year. Sirajuddin took part in a tribal jirga, attempting to sort out differences between combatant foreigners and local militants, but the talks collapsed when Maulvi Nazir asked for the surrender of all foreign militants residing in the region bordering Afghanistan (Dawn, March 24, 2007). In late January, two arrested members of the Haqqani Network revealed that up to 200 suicide bombers had infiltrated into Pakistan’s cities in preparation for the current wave of bombings (Khabrain [Lahore], January 28)…
“Afghan officials as well as Coalition forces in Kabul have cited Sirajuddin’s use of North Waziristan as operational headquarter for his alleged cross-border terrorist activities as one example of Pakistan’s inability to eliminate terrorist sanctuaries in its tribal areas. Though the Pakistan government regards these claims as baseless, it is known that two years ago Sirajuddin issued a circular urging militants to continue their ‘jihad’ against the United States and the Karzai government ’till the last drop of blood.’ But in the same statement he pointed out that ‘fighting Pakistan does not conform to Taliban policy… those who [continue to wage] an undeclared war against Pakistan are neither our friends nor shall we allow them in our ranks’ (Dawn, June 23, 2006). There are signs that this is no longer the policy of the Haqqani faction of the Taliban.”
Thursday night’s attack on the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem was clearly an unacceptable terrorist act. It is a radical yeshiva, the flagship institution of the religious Zionist movement associated with Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, but contrary to some reports, it did not combine study with military service, and in fact was involved in many charitable community projects. Most of the students killed were under 18, and children under international standards.
“The people directly affected by the deadly terrorist attack on the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva are not just the students, their relatives and friends, but the much wider larger segment of the religious Zionist public. This segment of the population, already seething with anger, which started with the Disengagement in 2005, the Amona pullout, the government promises to America remove illegal outposts, the continued diplomatic process launched at Annapolis and its emphasis to talk about all topics, including Jerusalem, is going to be extremely unhappy about this attack. Together with the grief and sorrow, there is going to be a lot of angry talk about good and evil, about a religious war over the Holy Land…
“Being messianic religious people, the religious Zionists are going to see this attack through the prism of messianic prophecy. Already I am hearing on religious Zionist radio stations people talking about the attack in prophetic terms, such as Isaiah 59 verse 20: And a redeemer will come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord.
“Settler radio talk-show hosts are interpreting this prophecy by saying that if the Jews don’t stop Hamas, the Palestinians, Hizbullah and any other Islamic fundamentalists God will force the Jews to do it. The talk-show hosts blame Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and President Shimon Peres, and several callers into the broadcasts are unanimous in their condemnation of the Israeli government and calling on its removal.”
“According to Pakistani authorities, Mehsud is behind the murderous bomb attacks that have shaken the country in the last year. They also accuse him of ordering the Dec. 27 killing of Bhutto, a charge that the CIA has backed up. Mehsud has denied any role.
“So many accusations have been hung around Mehsud’s neck that some observers question whether he can be so powerful. Others say his brutal rise is only beginning.
“Mehsud operates from South Waziristan, within a wild mountainous region bordering Afghanistan that’s known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. He reportedly commands at least 5,000 armed followers — maybe many more — and models himself on Mullah Omar, the fugitive leader of the Afghan Taliban, with whom he acknowledges spiritual links.
“Cunning but not well-educated, Mehsud orchestrated the killings of more than 100 maliks — traditional tribal leaders — in his area, many of whom wanted to talk peace with Pakistani authorities. Late last year, he humiliated Pakistan’s army by kidnapping 250 soldiers, holding them for weeks and letting them go only in exchange for militants held in Pakistani jails.
From a political standpoint, Mubarak has no choice in the matter. If his troops had acted differently, they would be contributing to Palestinian suffering in a direct way rather than just the indirect way of providing Israel with diplomatic legitimacy for which he is criticized with Egypt. His actions here are a bow to political reality from which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas should take lessons, as his people, apparently caught flat-footed, sputter that Hamas is trying to reap political benefits.
Hamas won this round even if they did manufacture the crisis, which I frankly don’t believe. The world sees people suffering more than those in Sderot saved by Hamas actions. I hate Hamas, and even I have some fuzzy feelings about this. Even sources in Israel’s Defense Minstry say that, “the situation did not unfold in recent days precisely as we would have wanted.” On the eve of the release of the Winograd Report, Ehud Olmert led Israel full throttle into international condemnation and probably a lasting defeat in terms of its ability to control the Rafah border crossing for the near future.
“On January 9, Kyrgyz officials announced that they had taken possession of a small load of radioactive substance discovered aboard a train bound for Iran. The material has been placed in a special area in Kyrgyzstan, but questions are being raised about the nature and quantity of the substance, who was behind its transport, and how the train carrying it crossed three border checkpoints before being detected…
“Kubanych Noruzbaev, an official from the Kyrgyz Ecology and Environmental Protection Ministry, said on January 10 that the material was Cesium-137, a product of nuclear reactors and weapons testing that is often used in medical devices and gauges. But it could also be used in a crude radioactive explosive device — a ‘dirty bomb’ — and underscores the fact that despite some progress since 1991, parts of the former Soviet Union are still littered with sites where lethal radioactive materials remain largely unsecured…
“The Kyrgyz news agency 24.kg reported on January 9 that the levels of radiation being emitted from the train car were so high that Emergency Situations Ministry asked for volunteers to go and unload the cargo. Four people wearing special protective clothing volunteered to venture into the wagon where they discovered the source of the radiation: dust and waste material on the floor, which they swept up and deposited in a bucket. The bucket was then sealed in concrete and stored in a special facility…
I’ve been traveling recently, and so haven’t been following the news as closely as I often do, but noticed that the individual Pakistan blamed for the attack on Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi was Beitullah Mehsud.  In my discussions of the Taliban in Pakistan, I have often noted his inclination to want to focus on the war in Afghanistan and accept the backing of the Pakistani government under Musharraf, as opposed to those who want to take on both at once.  I have also suggested that he may be a component of a Pakistani plan to co-opt the Taliban for its own strategic purposes in Afghanistan.
“The floodgates have opened. It is the beginning of the end for serious labor repression in the UAE, and the rest of the Gulf is likely to follow. Dubai’s employers have been forced to negotiate with (illegally) organized labor and come out second-best…
“These foreign workers have had just one thing going for them over the past few years- they have gotten a lot more organized. Earlier this year, for instance, a riot by dissatisfied workers at the construction site for the world’s tallest building, Burj Dubai, led to a sympathy strike by workers expanding Dubai airport, which lies on the other side of the city. Such coordination is not easy to arrange given that unions do not exist, and labor organizers are liable to be deported.