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Send a Virtual Gush Katif New Year's Card


One may show solidarity with Gush Katif by sending a News Year's greeting card on line, at no charge. By visiting the Gush Katif Hebrew website, one may select one of a number of virtual greeting cards, fill in the email address of the intended recipient, add a message, click and send.

Netanyahu Calls for a National Referendum

By, VOA News and Ha'aretz

In a surprise move, Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during a pre-Rosh Hashanah toast called for a national referendum on the government's decision to move forward with the Gaza expulsion plan. Netanyahu was careful not to directly confront Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has already expressed his adamant objection to a national poll, stating he "suggests" the idea of a referendum, not making it an ultimatum for his support of the cabinet decision.

Netanyahu announced that he was confident that most of the nation would back a simple referendum - "Are you in favor or opposed to the government's decision to accept the Gaza plan?" - stating confidently this would provide the push needed by the cabinet to expedite the process.

Netanyahu's surprise call Monday came hours after tens of thousands of settlers and their supporters demonstrated in Jerusalem late Sunday to protest the withdrawal plan. Under the plan, all Jewish settlers would be withdrawn from Gaza and four small enclaves in the West Bank by the end of 2005. Despite opinion polls showing strong Israeli public support for the withdrawal, analysts say Sharon does not favor a referendum on it because a vote would delay the pullout.

Vice Prime Minister (Likud) Ehud Olmert, an ardent supporter of the prime minister and the Gaza expulsion plan, called Netanyahu's call for a national referendum "dishonorable." He added that the senior minister's statements only serve to discredit Likud.

Iran May Have A-Bomb Production Capability Next Year

By Ha'aretz and Reuters

Israel's chief of military intelligence said in remarks broadcast on Monday that if Iran's atomic program is allowed to continue, Tehran will have the capability to independently develop nuclear weapons by early next year.

In a Sunday speech to the Israel-Jordan Chamber of Commerce, MI chief Aharon Ze'evi-Farkash said, "If the processes continue as we are currently seeing them, the coming half year with respect to Iran will determine if Iran will achieve in the spring of 2005 an non-conventional capability in the sphere of nuclear research and development, that is, it will no longer require external aid to reach an unconventional capability. This does not mean that it will have a bomb in 2005. It means that it will have all the means at its disposal to build a bomb."

If Iran is not stopped, apparently by international efforts, he continued "this may drag the region into a nuclear domino effect."

Chalabi's Party Fires Senior Member for Visiting Israel

By VOA News

The party of former Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi has suspended one of its most senior members for visiting Israel.

Officials in the Iraqi National Congress said Mithal al-Alusi was suspended, because his visit took place without the knowledge or agreement of the party leadership. It also said his statements to the Israeli press do not reflect the party's position.

Al-Alusi went to Israel to attend a conference on terrorism. The Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz, quoted him Monday as saying many elements in Iraq are interested in diplomatic ties with Israel.

The FBI Broke the Rules

By Robbie Sabel (Ha'aretz) Commentary

The Franklin affair raises the question about the transfer of classified information from diplomats to foreign elements. If the matter involves Israeli diplomats, this sort of act is ostensibly a disciplinary violation of the service regulations, as well as a criminal violation. The Penal Code forbids the transfer of any information that came into the possession of an employee "by virtue of his position." In the event that the information is "secret," the law calls for a more severe punishment.

The reality is that there is little chance for an Israeli diplomat, or any diplomat, to carry on a significant dialogue with foreign elements without seemingly committing such a crime. The Israeli diplomat who refers only to published information and public-relations releases in his conversations with foreign elements will very quickly lose his value as a contact.

In the case of the United States, he will no doubt receive a warm invitation at the end of the conversation along the lines of, "We must have lunch," which means, in local parlance, "You're wasting my time and I have no interest in meeting with you again." Diplomatic contact means an exchange of assessments and data. At the same time, there are accepted rules for such conversations; you don't hand over the classified document itself, and you don't use a recording device.

The issue at hand relates to intentions of the government of Iran and its progress in the development of missiles and conventional weapons. It is highly important for Israel to hear assessments from authorized sources in friendly countries. These officials will, of course, also want to hear the Israeli assessments. If the Israeli diplomat responds merely by quoting from The New York Times, or with a regurgitation of the Israeli government's condemnation of Iranian policy, he will have a hard time setting up another meeting.

A significant portion of background material given to Israeli diplomats in world capitals is classified material of one sort or another. Outwardly, the diplomat cannot give one iota of this material to a foreign element, unless he receives the consent of the authorized agency. Based on the law in Israel, it is not clear who that authorized agency is (except as relates to published reports, in which case the agency is the military censor), and there is no practical opportunity to prepare in advance for every nuance of every conversation.

What, then, are the mechanisms that enable the continuation of diplomatic contacts but prevent the serious leak of secret information? One, a country must rely on the common sense of its diplomats and their discretion. Two, the diplomat reports to his country on every such conversation, including what he himself said. Additionally, there is usually a report from the foreign element to his own state - hardly any diplomatic conversation is truly "off the record" - and American diplomats submit full reports on their conversations to any agency that might have an interest in the subject.

Intelligence officials in Israel and elsewhere at times designate sensitive material with a special notation that it should not be used. Based on this notation, one would conclude that the intelligence agencies take into account that classified material that is not so designated can in fact be used as background material in conversations.

Any overly zealous security officer could have, at one time or another, lodged a complaint against nearly every Israeli diplomat for giving away classified material without explicit authorization. In fact, Israeli security officers use their discretion. As for the FBI, the Franklin affair is showing itself to be the product of interference by an enthusiastic investigator who was unaware of the rules of diplomatic dialogue.

Employees of AIPAC, the pro-Israeli lobby in the United States, have always been part of this diplomatic exchange as well. With great prudence, the lobby works in cooperation with the American administration to avoid collisions. Most of its work is with Congress, partly based on the fact that when it comes to Israel and the Middle East, AIPAC is capable of supplying members of Congress and their aides with precise and updated information.

The congressman may vote and speak out in favor of Israel out of sympathy for Israel or as a response to appeals by Jewish voters, but he will do so only after his aides are convinced that the information in their possession is credible. Representatives of both the Israeli Embassy and the American administration have always conducted briefings and exchanged assessments with AIPAC experts.

Other embassies in Washington work the same way - the British Embassy, for instance, has a tradition of effective activity in Congress, parallel with a close relationship with the American administration, even more so than is the case for U.S.-Israel relations. For whatever reason, the FBI broke this gentlemen's agreement on the rules of the game.

(The author has held various positions in the foreign service, including that of legal counsel and diplomatic counsel at the Israel Embassy in Washington.)

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