Israel Resource Review 21st June, 2005


The Unreported Story

Special Report for Israel Resource News Agency
Meir Javedanfar MA, MSc
Director of the Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Company


16 days after the Iranian revolution of 1979 Yasser Arafat was the first foreign leader who visited Ayatollah Khomeini. This was a historic visit for many reasons. Ayatollah Khomeini gave the PLO its own embassy in Tehran which was at the site of the former Israeli embassy. The PLO was also provided with two other representative offices in the oil rich Arab populated Iranian cities of Ahvaz and Khoramshahr.

The visit also included financial assistance plus promises of political support for the PLO by Iran. Arafat's trip is also famous for being the only occasion in his political life when Ayatollah Khomeini openly smiled for the cameras. He had reason to smile as Arafat had been the only regional figures who provided military training to Khomeini's allies in Lebanon prior to the revolution. Arafat also had reason to be happy. The year before the US had facilitated peace between Israel and Egypt behind his back thus sidelining him. With echoes of US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski's famous phrase "Bye-bye, PLO" ringing in his ear Arafat was looking to get back at the Americans. Now he was being welcomed by a leader of one of the most regionally powerful countries who shared his deep animosity towards the US.

One year after his historic visit, despite the warm reception and aid offered by his Iranian hosts Yasser Arafat sided with Iraq as soon as Saddam Hussein invaded Iran.

Recent Developments

Official political relations were broken until early 2000 which is when the PLO was again allowed to have its representative in Tehran. This was due to a number of reasons the most important of which was the fact that Arafat by then had given up on the peace process. This brought the PLO closer to Iran's rejectionist camp which also included Hamas and Jihad Islami.

Since then Salah Zawawi the PLO representative to Iran has been trying to drum up support for the PLO in the corridors of the Iranian parliament (Majles). His efforts were rewarded when in 2004 he was invited to a special parliament session in Tehran. During the session the Parliament speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel defined the Palestinian problem as a "strategic issue for Iran," stressing the Iranian parliament would do its utmost to support the "brave but oppressed Palestinians."

The highest point in recent Iranian PLO relations was the visit by PLO Foreign Minister Qadummi to Iran on 20th of December in 2004. Since then both Iran and the PLO have continued their diplomatic relations at the same level.

Having relations with the PLO had strategic advantage for Iran. It provided Tehran with leverage over the three strongest Palestinian political and military parties which are Hamas, Jihad Islami and now the PLO. This increased the importance of Iran as a major role player in any future peace process.

It also enabled Tehran to jostle for more position regionally in relation to other Arab countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia who compete with Iran for influence. Furthermore improved relations with PLO would enable Iran to have a second strike capability against Israel in case of an Israeli attack against Iran's nuclear installations.

Relations with Iran also had rewards for the PLO. They provided the organisation with a bargaining chip for future negotiations with the US and Israel. Furthermore for many years PLO's rivals Hamas and Jihad Islami were recipients of training as well as financial and political aid from Iran. With established relations with Iran PLO was hoping that it would now in the same position.

Although the doors of Iranian politicians were not as open to the PLO as they were to Hamas and Jihad Islami, nevertheless the PLO was rewarded in other areas by Iran. The biggest token of Iranian support post re-establishment of relations was the massive arms shipment sent by Iran in the Karine A ship. The cargo which was intercepted by Israel would have bolstered the PLO's military capability immensely.

The way forward

Relations between the PLO and Iran are and have been based more on mutual benefits rather than shared ideology as both entities subscribe to differing beliefs. Iran's ruling system is currently based on the teachings of Shiite sect of Islam which aims to export its system to other Muslim countries in the region.

The PLO however is based on nationalistic secular ideologies. As a result both parties have joined forces when it suited them and have parted when the benefits are better elsewhere. As mentioned this already happened when Iraq invaded Iran. Arafat saw it to his benefit to side with Saddam as both their movements were based on secular ideologies , plus the fact that Saddam had better relations with West and with the rich Arab countries than the regionally and internationally isolated Iran of the Ayatollahs.

Therefore despite the fact that relations between the PLO and Iran have been improving recently there still are areas of considerable weakness in their relations which may lead to relations being reduced or severed again the future.

The most probable scenario for such an eventuality is after Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005. In such a case if a serious political and/or military standoff develops between Hamas and the PLO then it is likely that Iran will take the side of Hamas as its religious ideologies are more in line with that of Iran. Furthermore Hamas has had a much longer and stronger relationship with Iran than the PLO.

Relations between the two sides are also likely to be strained if PLO and Israel reach a peace deal in which not all of pre 1948 Palestine plus its citizens are returned to Palestine as per Iran's vision of a just peace deal for the Palestinians.

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Before Meeting Sharon, Abbas and His Media Issue List of "do's" and "Don'ts"
By Dr. Michael Widlanski

A few hours before his scheduled conference Tuesday with Israel's prime minister, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and his state-controlled media issued a list of things he will demand of Israel and things he will refuse to give Israel:

The lists of demands were promulgated following two Palestinian terror operations carried out by Abbas's own Fatah organization: a woman suicide bomber who tried to smuggle a bomb into an hospital, and a joint Fatah-Jihad attack that killed an Israeli soldier in Gaza.

In its broadcasts Tuesday morning, Voice of Palestine radio and Palestinian television declared that the lists are:

  • Release from Israeli jails of all convicted Palestinian prisoners-several thousand-including those convicted of bombing , shooting and stabbing Israelis-what the Israelis call "men with blood on their hands";

  • Release from British custody in Jericho of Fouad Shoubaki, the "money-man" of Yasser Arafat, who arranged a huge arms transfer from Iran to the Palestinians aboard the transport ship 'Karinne A' that Israel intercepted in 2002;

  • Release from British custody in Jericho of Ahma'ad Saadat, leader of the PFLP terror group that committed and admitted murdering Israeli cabinet minister Rehav'am Ze'evi in Jerusalem in 2001;

  • And removal of all road blocks around Palestinian cities, as well as turning over the Gaza airport and seaport to complete Palestinian control.

For the third day in a row, Palestinian television replayed, at the top of the news, an interview with Dr. Abbas in which he reiterated that he, for his part, was not willing to lift a finger to try and disarm gun-men in Hamas, Jihad or his own Fatah party.

"We will not enter into a civil war for the sake of seizing weapons," declared Abbas, in the interview that has been repeated for three days in a row.

According to previous agreements, Israel has already released 900 Palestinian prisoners in the last few months, several of whom immediately returned to carrying out terror operations including planned suicide attacks in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Abbas has not personally condemned any attacks on Israelis, including the February 25 nightclub attack which left five Israelis dead and 20 wounded, but has made general calls for "not attacking civilians on either side."

Dr. Abbas has called for an end to growing internal Palestinian violence or "weapons anarchy," stating also that attacks on Israel "are not in the Palestinian interest" at the moment.

The Abbas regime has steadfastly refused to arrest members of the Islamic Jihad organization, which carried the February suicide bombing in Tel Aviv and was thwarted in trying to carry out two more bombings there and in Jerusalem last month.

Dr. Abbas released two Jihad terrorists from jail in Jericho this month, and he has demanded the release from British custody of the high-profile prisoners Shoubaki [the arms merchant] and Sa'adat [the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine].

Report compiled by Michael Widlanski Associates.
Commissioned by the Center for Near East Policy Research.
[Permission to quote or reprint from article conditional on citing Michael Widlanski or Michael Widlanski Associates.]
Dr. Michael Widlanski is a specialist in Arab politics and communication whose doctorate dealt with the Palestinian broadcast media. He is a former reporter, correspondent and editor, respectively, at The New York Times, The Cox Newspapers-Atlanta Constitution, and The Jerusalem Post.

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Red Dawn Alert
Rafi Farber
Special Israel Resource Sdeort Correspondent

The phrase "Red Dawn" may sound like a good name for a modern rock band, but in the town of Sderot located just outside of the northern Gaza Strip,it means something entirely different. When the Red Dawn alarm goes off in Sderot as it did twice yesterday, June 16, every soul in the town of starts a twenty-second countdownthe amount of time they have to find some kind of shelter, because a deadly rocket is about to fall right on top of them.

Twenty seconds may not sound like a lot of time, and indeed it isn't at all, considering the fact that twenty centimeters of concrete won't be enough to save you. Only if you are lucky enough to be within a sprint's distance of the newly built shelters, then when the Red Dawn shines through, there is thankfully somewhere to run to. Otherwise, all Red Dawn can tell you to do is hold your breath and hope.

But "Red Dawn" is not the only thing that means something different to the people of this town. Almost anywhere else in the Jewish world, the number 5,752 means 1992 CE, recalling memories of 13 years ago. But in Sderot 5,752 is the number of rocketsQassams and mortar roundsthat have fallen on them and their neighbors in the Gaza Strip since September 2000.

Luckily, most of that number have resulted either in nothing, or at worst, property damage. But rockets can also kill, and in the case of Ms. Ayala AbuKasis, it did. When the Red Dawn alarm went off that day, she simply ran. The rocket exploded behind her, causing a piece of shrapnel to pierce her skull and hit her brain stem. She died a few days later.

Her death brought a massive response from the Israel Defense Forces, including personal attention from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. This, combined with the continuous IDF presence in the Gaza Strip, had the effect of stopping the rockets for a few months. But all that is now overshadowed by Sharon's immanent Disengagement plan set to take place this August.

With the withdrawal plan comes the abandonment of the Gaza Strip by the IDF, which translates into a potentially unhindered barrage of rockets raining down from the Arab town of Beit Hanun, with no internal military threat to stop them. With no IDF in the Strip, the future of Sderot looks to be filled with the call of the Red Dawn.

As for Jews within the Gaza Strip itself, many have ignored the withdrawal plan, doing nothing to prepare for relocation even as it looms ever closer, with less than two months until it is carried out. Such is the case with Dr. Michael Gold, a thirteen-year resident of Neve Dekalim, the biggest Jewish Settlement in Gaza with over 600 families. 5,752 means the same to him as it does to the people of Sderot, and yet the rockets have one death in all of Neve Dekalim. This is why, said Gold, he has made no preparations to leave. He believes that if God has protected the town thus far, He will not let it be evacuated.

Of course, if the plan does go through, Gold will have no choice. And yet, for all the pain leaving his home will cause him, there are other factors still to be considered besides losing one's home.

Iris Chimo, also a resident of Neve Dekalim, brought up another painful factor rarely mentioned or even considered by the mainstream media. Her little boy was killed in a car accident three years ago, and is buried in the local cemetery. What will happen to his remains if the plan goes through is an open question. "They are robbing me of my memories [with my son]," she said of the Sharon government, as she will be forced to leave her son's hometown and resting place.

The withdrawal will affect both the dead and the living in Katif and in Sderot, but it may also directly affect the surrounding environs that have not even seen but one Qassam fall on them these past five years. In that category is the city of Ashkelon, whose main power plant is located just above the Gaza Strip, literally a stone's throw away from the town of Elei Sinai, also slated for evacuation this August.

Elei Sinai, a town built in place of, named for, and founded by the former mayor of the evacuated Sinai settlement of Yamit in 1982, Avi Farhan , will be evacuated once again by the very man who suggested it be built in the first place -Ariel Sharon. From the window of Farhan's living room one can clearly see the tall smokestack belonging to the Ashkelon power plant.

And the call of the Red Dawn at a power plant may cause more than just property damage.

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