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Syria Denies MiG Deal Cancelled


Syria on Sunday denied a report by the Russian newspaper Kommersant that Moscow had cancelled a $500-million deal agreed to in 2007 to sell the Damascus government eight advanced MiG-31 fighter aircraft. (See story below.)

Kommersant cited pressure from Israel and Syria's inability to pay for the planes. An official Syrian statement said, "This is part of attempts to undermine the friendly relations and cooperation between Syria and Russia."

Netanyahu: Building in West Bank Settlements will Continue

By Robert Berger (VOA-Jerusalem) &

An American demand to curb settlement activity topped the agenda at Israel's weekly Cabinet meeting.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet that Israel would not build new West Bank settlements, but would continue construction in existing communities to accommodate "natural growth." The announcement follows a White House summit last week, during which President Barack Obama urged Netanyahu to halt settlement activity.

In response, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he intends to dismantle 22 illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank. and if the settlers resist, he said, they would be removed by force.

Cabinet Minister Yitzhak Herzog is from Barak's dovish Labor Party. Herzog told reporters the outposts, which often consist of just a few trailers and makeshift structures, are blight on Israel's image. He said they must be removed to show the international community that Israel is serious about advancing the peace process.

The internationally-backed "Roadmap" peace plan demands that Israel remove the outposts as a first step toward a settlement freeze. But key members of Netanyahu's right-wing government want something in return.

Nationalist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the outposts should not be dismantled until the Palestinians keep their commitments under the Roadmap and crack down on terrorist groups.

Cabinet Minister Eli Yishai of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party said the peace process is a two-way street. He said Israel cannot halt building in the settlements while illegal Palestinian construction, which he described as "rampant," is ignored.

Palestinian officials said they would not resume peace talks with Israel until Netanyahu agrees to freeze construction in the settlements. Palestinian minister Khatem Abdel Kader told Ynet that the Obama administration understands that implementation of Israel's plans in Jerusalem "jeopardizes establishment of (a) Palestinian state," which he says is 'vital to US national-security interests.

The Palestinians warn that Israel's "continued construction and appropriation of land" in east Jerusalem may be grounds for another uprising.

The Obama administration, Kader maintained, "Realizes that Jerusalem will never be unified under Israeli sovereignty and has made it clear that Jerusalem must be accessible to everyone – but not united under Israel's rule."

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported Sunday that an unwritten agreement between the Bush administration and former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, according to which some of the larger settlements in the occupied West Bank would ultimately become part of Israel, was hindering President Barack Obama's efforts to pressure Jerusalem into halting all settlement expansion.

Nearly 'One in Four Israelis Would Consider Leaving Country if Iran Gets Nukes'

By Ha'aretz

Some 23 percent of Israelis would consider leaving the country if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, according to a poll conducted on behalf of the Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Some 85 percent of respondents said they feared the Islamic Republic would obtain an atomic bomb, 57 percent believed the new U.S. initiative to engage in dialogue with Tehran would fail and 41 percent believed Israel should strike Iran's nuclear installations without waiting to see whether or how the talks develop.

"The findings are worrying because they reflect an exaggerated and unnecessary fear," Prof. David Menashri, the head of the Center, said. "Iran's leadership is religiously extremist but calculated and it understands an unconventional attack on Israel is an act of madness that will destroy Iran. Sadly, the survey shows the Iranian threat works well even without a bomb and thousands of Israelis [already] live in fear and contemplate leaving the country."

Women are more fearful than men that Iran will obtain nuclear weapons: 83 percent of female respondents said they fear such a scenario in contrast to 78 percent of men; 39 percent of women said they would consider leaving the country in such an event as opposed to 22 percent of men.

Age was also a factor for respondents: 89 percent of those aged 42 and above said they were fearful of a nuclear Iran, in comparison to 61 percent of those aged 18 to 41.

Some 80 percent of left-wing voters and 67 percent of right-wing voters expressed deep concern over a nuclear Iran. Respondents describing themselves as centrists were the most fretful, with 88 percent saying they feared Iran would obtain the bomb. The poll was conducted among 509 people representative of Israel's adult population.

Israel Ups Drone Delivery Date after Russia Cancels Syria MiG Deal


Israel Aerospace Industries has agreed to speed up production of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for Russia after the Moscow government agreed to cancel a deal to provide Syria with eight MiG-31 fighter planes.

Sources said that the expected delivery date for the UAVs would be moved up to the end of 2009, according to The Jerusalem Post. A Defense Ministry spokesman contacted by Israel National News declined to comment on the report.

Israel signed its first deal to provide military technology to Russia in April, promising $50 million worth of drones to replace the outdated Russian fleet. The deal included the second-tier Israeli UAVs Bird-Eye 400, I-View MK150, and Search MK II.

Russian took an interest in Israeli drone technology after its brief war last year with Georgia. Russian military officials concluded that the Israeli UAVs used by Georgia were tactically superior to current Russian drone technology.

Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad traveled to Moscow in December and gained assurances that in exchange for the Israeli technology, Russia would agree not to sell the S-300 missile defense system to Iran and would consider canceling the $500 million MiG-31 deal with Syria.

Last week, the Russian Kommersant newspaper reported that the country's defense ministry had halted production on the planes destined for Syria in response to Israeli pressure. Syria has since denied the report.

Mubarak Cancels Washington Trip Following Grandson's Death


Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has canceled his planned visit to Washington following the death of his 13-year-old grandson, the White House confirmed on Wednesday.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that President Barack Obama and Mubarak would instead meet next month when the US president visits Egypt. Gibbs offered condolences to the Mubarak family on Obama's behalf and that of the president's family.

Mubarak's grandson, Mohammed Mubarak, died last Monday in a Paris hospital after his health suddenly deteriorated, apparently due to food poisoning. The London-based daily 'Al-Quds Al-Arabi' reported earlier this week that the Egyptian president would likely cancel the trip, saying the Egyptian president was greatly affected by the death of his eldest

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