In 2007 Tony Blair assumed the position of Quartet Representative. Against the background of mounting criticism at home over his role in the 2003 Iraq War, this profile examines the record of Blair’s activities in the Middle East over the past five years. The picture that emerges is one of rapid self-enrichment through murky consultancies and opaque business deals with Middle East dictators, and an official role whose main results appear to be an unhappy Palestinian Authority and the perpetuation of the status quo.
Last February Britain’s then defense minister Liam Fox attended a dinner in Tel Aviv with a group described as senior Israelis. According to reports in the British media, the Israelis in attendance were representatives of the Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, while Fox was accompanied by Matthew Gould, Britain’s ambassador to Israel. A former British diplomat has claimed that the topic of discussion that evening was a secret plot to attack Iran.
The furore last week over Sheikh Raed Salah, described by the Daily Mail newspaper as a “vile militant extremist”, goaded the British government into ordering his late-night arrest, pending a fast-track deportation. But the outcry in Britain against Sheikh Salah has shocked Israel’s 1.3-million Palestinian citizens. For them, he is a spiritual leader and head of a respected party, the Islamic Movement. He is also admired by the wider Palestinian public.
Efforts were under way by the British government yesterday to deport the leader of Israel’s largest Islamic group after he was arrested on charges of entering the country illegally. Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement and a vocal critic of Israeli policies, was detained at his London hotel on Tuesday.
Israel has admitted that it was behind the abduction of a Gazan engineer who went missing more than a month ago while travelling on a train in the Ukraine. The whereabouts of Dirar Abu Sisi, the operations manager of Gaza’s only power plant, have been the subject of intense speculation since he disappeared on February 18 as he travelled on a train to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.
There were growing indications last week that the international community has abandoned hopes of reviving Middle East peace talks, effectively leaving Israel and the Palestinians to battle out the next few months with their own unilateral strategies. The daily Haaretz newspaper reported on Thursday that the Quartet, the international group overseeing the peace process, had reached its pessimistic conclusion after meetings with local officials in Tel Aviv and Ramallah earlier this month.
Israel chose to “lie low” yesterday in response to Britain’s decision to expel an Israeli diplomat over the use of forged passports in the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai, though senior officials were reported to be seething in private. According to the Israeli media, the foreign ministry was surprised by the British move against its embassy official, widely believed to be the London station chief for Israel’s Mossad spy agency. Israeli officials noted the gravity of the decision: no Israeli diplomat has been expelled from a western country in more than two decades.
The Israeli government has indicated that it will press ahead with a plan to enlarge the Jewish prayer plaza at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, despite warnings that the move risks triggering a third intifada. Israeli officials rejected this week a Jerusalem court’s proposal to shelve the plan after the judge accepted that the plaza’s expansion would violate the “status quo” arrangement covering the Old City’s holy places.
A new government campaign to train Israelis in how to use propaganda in order to improve their country’s image when they are abroad has been condemned for advancing a right-wing agenda. The public relations drive, which includes giving travellers tips on how to champion the country’s illegal settlements, is the government’s latest attempt to shore up support abroad. According to a recent government survey, 91 per cent of Israeli Jews believe foreigners have a strongly negative view of Israel.
An exclusive club of the world’s most developed countries is poised to admit Israel as a member even though, a confidential internal document indicates, doing so will amount to endorsing Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territories. Israel has been told that its accession to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is all but assured when the 30 member states meet in May.
The hit squad who killed a Hamas leader in Dubai six weeks ago injected him with a strong sedative before suffocating him in his hotel room, post-mortem results have revealed. Dubai Police said yesterday that toxicology tests on Mahmoud al Mabhouh revealed traces of succinylcholine, a fast-acting muscle relaxant that causes temporary paralysis and would have made it impossible for him to struggle against his assassins.
Australia’s prime minister yesterday issued the stiffest diplomatic rebuke so far to Israel over the misuse of five countries’ passports in the assassination last month of a Hamas leader in Dubai, as new indications emerged implicating the Israeli spy agency, Mossad. Kevin Rudd said he was “not satisfied” with the Israeli ambassador’s responses during a meeting with the Australian foreign minister and that the government would be taking an “absolutely hard line” in defending its passports’ integrity.
The Israeli government and its right-wing supporters have been waging a “McCarthyite” campaign against human-rights groups by blaming them for the barrage of international criticism that followed Israel’s attack on Gaza a year ago, critics say. In a sign of the growing backlash against the human-rights community, the cabinet backed a bill last week that, if passed, will jail senior officials from the country’s peace-related organisations should they fail to meet tough new registration conditions.
Israeli ministers were reported to have emerged from their weekly Cabinet meeting last month smugly satisfied at the news that the Hamas official Mahmoud al Mabhouh had been killed in a Dubai hotel room. Those smiles have turned sour during the past two days. Yesterday, the finger of suspicion pointed with increasing confidence at Israel, as Dubai police said they were “99 per cent” certain that Israel’s spy agency, Mossad, had been involved.
The assassination of the Hamas leader Mahmoud al Mabhouh last month in a Dubai hotel room had all the hallmarks of an operation by Israel’s Mossad spy agency, Israeli experts agreed yesterday. But, as the names of seven of the 11 members of the hit squad were rapidly identified as belonging to Israeli citizens, all of whom claimed their identities had been stolen, commentators were divided on whether Mossad would have risked implicating Israeli nationals.
The Israeli courts ordered the release this week of two foreign women arrested by the army in the West Bank in what human-rights lawyers warn has become a wide-ranging clampdown by Israel on non-violent protest from international, Israeli and Palestinian activists. The arrest of the two women during a nighttime raid on the Palestinian city of Ramallah has highlighted a new tactic by Israeli officials: using immigration police to try to deport foreign supporters of the Palestinian cause.
The debate reverberating in the human rights community one year after Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip is not about whether Israel committed war crimes during its attack last winter, but whether and how its political and military leaders can ever be brought to book. The problems were highlighted this month when an arrest warrant was issued in Britain for Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister during the war, after it was mistakenly believed she was visiting.
Israel celebrated at the weekend its success at the United Nations in forcing the Palestinians to defer demands that the International Criminal Court investigate allegations of war crimes committed by Israel during its winter assault on the Gaza Strip. The about-turn, following furious lobbying from Israel and the United States, appears to have buried the damning report of Judge Richard Goldstone into the fighting, which killed some 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians.
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