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Hamas Claims Army of More Than 10,000


A Hamas spokesman claimed Sunday that its Al-Kassam military wing has a force of more than 10,000 fighters. In response to Israeli reports that the Hamas terrorist organization has about 7,500 men, Abu Obaida said, "If the Israeli enemy thinks al-Kassam has [only] 7,000 fighters, we tell them we have twice as much as this number." He did not comment on reports that Hamas has acquired Russian-made Katyusha rockets but asserted that Hamas is continuing to manufacture and smuggle weapons.

Assad: It's Either Peace or War


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been alternating calls for war and peace with Israel, claiming Israel is planning to attack his state. He stated in an interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Anba, "We are preparing for an Israeli attack at any moment."

Israel sharply denies any plans to attack Syria, which would likely start a regional war. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak commented on the situation during an interview this weekend, "The Middle East is on the verge of exploding,"

Since the end of the recent war in Southern Lebanon, Syria has been offering conflicting statements regarding the desire for war, and the desire for a peace treaty with Israel. During the war in Lebanon, the international community accused Syria of aiding Iran in the smuggling of arms to Hizbullah.

Assad claims he learned a great deal from the recent Israel-Lebanon conflict, a war that he believes was won by Hizbullah. Assad was encouraged by the fact that Israel did not attack Lebanon with its full arsenal, and allowed an international resolution to end the conflict.

"During the aggression against Lebanon, there was vast pressure from among the population to fight against Israel and liberate the Golan. Many people made suggestions to this effect, directly and informally," Assad stated.

"As far was we're concerned, the prospect for peace is unrelated to the changing circumstances and constitutes a basic principle, but, at the same time, we are preparing for an Israeli attack at any minute," Assad said. We all know that Israel is militarily strong and backed by the US.

"Ever since Ariel Sharon came to power, Israel has given up on the peace process. Sharon's election was a sign that Israel had comprehensively given up on the peace process and the US government only strengthened this trend. Therefore, naturally, our expectation is that there will not be peace and perhaps will be war. "This is why we have to prepare, to the best of our ability," Assad added.

Assad's comments this weekend are not the first he has made since the Lebanon conflict with regard to security with Israel. He has extended overtures of peace to Israel, which many believe are a futile attempt by the Syrian leader to improve his diplomatic standing internationally. This past week, Assad stated that peace treaty negotiations with Israel could be achieved within six months.

Syria would like to reclaim the Golan Heights, which Israel formally annexed after defeating Syria and claiming the province during the Six Day War of 1967. The Golan, which overlooks northeastern Israel, is a region crucial to Israel's security, as it provides a critical buffer between Syria and Lake Kinneret, Israel's primary source of water.

Israel has had mixed reactions to Assad's counter balancing statements. Politicians are downplaying Assad's comments. Likud Member of the Knesset Silvan Shalom, a former foreign minister, told Galei Tzahal (Army Radio) on Sunday morning that he does not view recent Assad's peace overtures as genuine.

Shalom added that Assad's military threats should be taken seriously, stating that the IDF remains prepared against any Syrian threat. "Israel will not hesitate to respond appropriately if compelled to do so," he said. Meretz-Yahad party leader MK Yossi Beilin stated a peace agreement with Syria is of critical importance, something that would bring stability to the region.

The IDF has been carefully monitoring Syria's increased state of preparedness for war, but will not mobilize along the Syrian border for fear this would trigger a military conflict.

Senior Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad stated Sunday that the army has not been placed on a state-of-emergency along the border, although military sources indicate the border forces are instructed to remain increasingly vigilant.

Gilad said that "appropriate steps" are indeed being taken, actions in line with current political realities.

Will Iran Wipe Israel from the Map?

By Scott Sullivan (The Conservative Voice, NC, Commentary)

This question is not academic. Countries have been wiped from the map. In the late 20th century the USSR and Yugoslavia were wiped from the map, both with Israeli-US encouragement. The Polish experience is even more relevant for Israel. Poland has twice been wiped from the map -- the first time by Russian-Hapsburg Empire machinations, and the second time by the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of 1939.

In fact, the world owes Iran's president Ahmadinejad a huge vote of thanks for dragging Adolph Hitler back into the discussion of contemporary issues. This is because Israel is in the exact same position as Poland in 1939. Poland in 1939 faced two powerful enemies in Germany and the USSR. The Polish response was to steer clear of both and align with a group of far away allies including France and the United Kingdom, as well as the Central European states led by Czechoslovakia.

Today Israel faces powerful enemies in the form of Syria and Iran. Israel today, like 1939 Poland, is trapped by the unyielding enmity of its neighboring adversaries and the lack of local allies.

Moreover, just as the international community in 1939 was prepared to sacrifice Czechoslovakia to Hitler via the Munich Agreement, which collapsed Poland's hopes for a Central European alliance, the international community today is prepared to sacrifice Lebanon – Israel's only hope for a local ally – to Syria and Iran.

Furthermore, following the western betrayal of Czechoslovakia, a far more severe and direct threat to Poland came in the form of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of 1939. The Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact literally wiped Poland from the map by dividing it between the USSR and Germany. In effect, Stalin was emulating Chamberlain's Munich Agreement that betrayed Czechoslovakia with his own Munich agreement with Hitler that betrayed Poland.

Today Israel is facing its own versions of the Munich Agreement and the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. As noted earlier the new Munich was the West's betrayal of Lebanon. The new Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact today is the tactical alliance between Assad's Syria and Ahmadinejad's Iran.

Syria and Iran are anything but natural allies. Syria is secular, socialist, and essentially pan-Arab in outlook. Iran is theocratic, Islamic, and Persian in outlook. Syria is essentially a status quo power. Ass Assad likes to say, he has never advocated "wiping Israel from the map." Iran, in contrast, is anti-status quo, revolutionary, messianic, and expansionist. Syria wants to be left alone by Iran, whereas Iran wants a change of regime in Damascus and the other Sunni states, and will bring this about once Iran consolidates in Iraq.

In short, think of Assad as Stalin and Ahmadinejad as Hitler.

What was Poland's mistake in 1939, and will Israel make the same mistake today? Poland's mistake was not to reach out to Stalin as an ally. Poland lived in a fantasy land of rescue by France and the UK, who would not or could not help Poland.

Today Israel lies in a fantasy land of rescue by the US. In reality, the US is now part of the Iran-Syria Axis, as shown by President Bush's concept of a US-Iran strategic partnership (see "Washington Signals Tehran," Ha'aretz, 26 September).

Even worse, the US is actually pro-Iran and anti-Syria. In other words, the US favors Ahmadinejad, who wants to wipe Israel from the map, over Assad, who does not. In line with this approach, the US sees Iran as a strategic partner (as in Iraq) and Syria as an implacable adversary. On Secretary Rice's current trip to the Middle East, she is more adamant on sanctions against Syria than sanctions against Iran.

The choice for Israel is obvious -- make peace with Assad/Stalin, or be wiped from the map by Ahmadinejad/Hitler, who will then turn against Syria and the Sunni Arabs, as Hitler turned against Stalin. Israel can ask Poland.

British Historian Claims to Have Found the Temple Treasures


What happened to the 50 tons of gold, silver and sacred treasures looted from Herod's Temple following the Roman legionnaires' sack of Jerusalem on Tisha b'Av in the year 70 CE?

The Arch of Titus in Rome, erected shortly after the death of Titus who reigned as emperor from 79 to 81, clearly depicts Roman soldiers bearing on their shoulders the golden candelabrum, silver trumpets and bejeweled Table of the Divine Presence, which the Roman emperor Vespasian and his son Titus carted back to Rome as trophies of war. Between 75 CE and the early 5th century, the treasure remained on public display in the Temple of Peace in Rome's Forum. Many Jews believe – almost as an article of faith – that the Temple artifacts remain there in Rome, secreted away in vaults beneath the Vatican.

But in a newly published book, British historian Sean Kingsley, basing himself on untapped historical texts and new archaeological sources, argues that the treasures were removed from Rome after the Vandal invasion of 455 CE.

Kingsley, whose book God's Gold: The Quest for the Lost Temple Treasure of Jerusalem was released October 5th by John Murray, says that the loot was first taken to Carthage in Tunisia, then to Hippo Regius in Algeria, and on to Constantinople – today known as Istanbul, Turkey, before finally being returned to the Holy Land in the mid 6th century. At that time, the treasures were ultimately hidden in the Judean wilderness, beneath the remote Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Theodosius, 12 kilometers east of Bethlehem.

It's a plausible argument that has almost messianic implications. If the Temple treasures were retrieved, the discovery could help lead to the actual rebuilding of the Temple, the resumption of biblical sacrifice – and the coming of the Messiah.

"One thing is for sure – it is not imprisoned deep in Vatican City. I am the first person to prove that the Temple treasures no longer languish in Rome," says Kingsley, an expert on the East Mediterranean economy in Late Antiquity.

Kingsley's sources include Josephus Flavius, the 1st-century Jewish general turned renegade who chronicled the history of the failed Jewish revolt against Rome. Kingsley also found evidence in, among others, the works of Procopius, a court historian of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, who died in 562, and from Theophanes Confessor (c.760-817), a Christian monk from Constantinople.

In Chronographia, which spanned 284 to 813, Theophanes recorded that Geiseric the Lame, king of the Germanic tribe of the Vandals, loaded the treasures that "Titus had brought to Rome after the capture of Jerusalem" on a boat and took them to his North African capital Carthage in 455. Although history remembers the Vandal sack of Rome as extremely brutal (and their act made the word 'vandalism' a term for any wantonly destructive act), in actuality Geiseric honored his pledge to Pope Leo I not to make war on the people of Rome. The Vandals did however take gold, silver and many other things of value away from the city.

In the crusade of 533 to restore the lost Roman provinces of North Africa, the Byzantine general Flavius Belisarius seized the treasure from a Vandal ship fleeing the harbor of Hippo Regius, today known as Annaba or Bone, Algeria. It was then shipped to Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium. In recognition of Belisarius' great victory, the Emperor Justinian granted him a Roman triumph (the last one ever given) upon his return to Constantinople. In the procession were paraded the spoils of the Temple of Jerusalem which Belisarius had recovered.

In the 7th century, the Persians sacked Jerusalem, killing thousands of Christians, and dragging the Patriarch Zacharias to Persia. Kingsley believes that his replacement, Modestus, spirited away the treasures to their final hiding place in the Judean Desert in 614. The Monastery of St. Theodosius, where Kingsley believes the relics may be today, was founded in 476.

According to Kingsley, "The treasure resonates fiercely across modern politics. Since the mid-1990s, a heated political wrangle has been simmering between the Vatican and Israel, which has accused the papacy of imprisoning the treasure.

"The Temple treasure remains a deadly political tool in the volatile Arab-Israeli conflict centered on the Temple Mount [the site of the Jewish Temple and the Muslim Dome of the Rock]. The treasure's final hiding place - in the modern West Bank ... deep in Hamas territory - will rock world religions."

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