Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that he opposed a broad Israel Defense Forces offensive in the Gaza Strip for the time being, despite the ongoing Qassam rocket attacks on the Negev. Olmert said that he "very much recommends that we not get ourselves embroiled in operations and in [paying] prices that are disproportionate to the constraints we are dealing with." ++++ Israel Airports Authority security personnel on Monday thwarted an attempt to smuggle a chemical substance that can be used to manufacture explosives and rockets, from Israel into the Gaza Strip though the Kerem Shalom crossing. The IAA recovered two tons of the bomb-making material from a truck attempting to smuggle the material into Gaza in the guise of a humanitarian aid delivery. [Wie auf Bestellung, Dan Murphy, "Fertilizer, frustration fuel Gaza's rockets - A visit to a rocketmaker shows a reliance on very basic materials. The range of rockets fired at Israel has slowly been growing."] ++++ The defense establishment's decision to rescind a decision to limit the supply of industrial diesel to the Gaza Strip is part of a plan to end ties between Israel and the Hamas-run territory, defense officials said Sunday. The sanctions were imposed last month as part of Israeli efforts to pressure Hamas and Islamic Jihad into stopping the daily Kassam rocket attacks against Sderot and other communities in the Western Negev. The move came under harsh international criticism and a number of petitions were filed in the High Court of Justice against it.
U.S. President George Bush's tenure has been largely characterized by a "lack of commitment" to the Arab-Israeli peace process, and it seems unlikely that the outgoing president will be able to bring peace to the region before the end of his term, former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer said on Monday. Speaking in Herzliya at the two-day conference, "An Agreement within a Year," sponsored by the Geneva Initiative, Kurtzer said that "Bush inherited a much more challenging [situation] than Clinton, yet throughout his seven years, he failed to look for or exploit opportunities that presented themselves - and there were opportunities." ["An Agreement Within a Year"]
Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni responded to the no-confidence motion filed by the Likud party following the government's decision to launch negotiations with the Palestinian Authority regarding the core issues at hand. Livni said she had no intention of delaying the talks and that furthermore, a refusal on Israel's part to continue negotiations may be costly.
U.S. President George W. Bush, trying to counter Iran's growing military clout, made clear his commitment on Monday to go ahead with a major arms sale to Saudi Arabia as he began his first visit to the Islamic kingdom. Just hours after his arrival in Riyadh, the U.S. administration said it notified Congress of its intention to offer the Saudis a controversial package of advanced weaponry as part of a multibillion-dollar deal with Gulf Arab allies. + The Democratic-led Congress is unlikely to block U.S. plans to sell $123 million worth of sophisticated precision-guided bomb technology to Saudi Arabia, despite concerns from some members that the systems could be used against Israel. President George W. Bush's administration on Monday officially notified Congress of its intent to sell the bomb-delivery systems as part of a multibillion-dollar arms package to bolster the defense of U.S. allies in the Gulf. ... Timed to coincide with Bush's trip to Saudi Arabia, the notification opens a 30-day window during which lawmakers can object to the sale, which envisions the transfer of 900 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, to the Saudis, the State Department said. The proposed deal follows notification on five other packages to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, and brings to $11.5 billion the amount of advanced U.S. weaponry, including Patriot missiles, provided to friendly Arab nations under the Gulf Security Dialogue, spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters. ++++ Washington will raise substantially its aid to Jordan, a staunch Middle East ally, in 2008 to support the kingdom's economic and political stability, U.S. diplomats and officials said on Monday. They said the 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act passed by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush recently provides total grants of $663.5 million -- $363.5 million in economic support and $300 million in foreign military financing. "The economic assistance for fiscal year 2008 represents a 48 percent increase over fiscal year 2007 appropriation," the the United States Agency for International Development USAID Jordan Mission Director Jay Knott told Reuters.
AP: Sarkozy hails Saudi Arabia`s progress on women`s rights, freedom of speech
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Monday that Lebanon's political crisis would have to be taken to the United Nations if an Arab League effort to end the impasse failed. "If it's not working with our friends of the Arab League, we will come back to the UN," Kouchner, who was accompanying French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Riyadh, told reporters. "But we hope strongly that it will work," he added without elaborating on the possible resort to the UN. Sarkozy told the Saudi Shura Council on Monday that France "unreservedly supports" the Arab League plan, describing it as "fully compatible" with proposals made by France.
"Israel-Syria treaty the key to Mideast peace", Arlen Specter [represents Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate] An Israeli-Syrian treaty has the potential to produce beneficial results for the peace process in the entire region: stopping Syrian support for Hamas, which would promote successful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; ending Syria's destabilization of Lebanon, including its backing of Hezbollah; and, perhaps most important, driving a wedge between Syria and Iran. Prospects have improved since President Bush has now taken a personal hand in Mideast issues by participating in Annapolis and traveling to the region. Over reported Iranian objections, Syria was represented at Annapolis. Two weeks ago in Damascus, President Basher al Assad told U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D., R.I.) and me that Annapolis changed his perspective and that he is now optimistic about prospects for a Syrian-Israeli pact.