‘Conflict may only buy few years of relative calm’

Unfortunately, too many commentators and international diplomats seem to believe that in Israel’s case there is a moral equivalence between a democratic country seeking to protect its people using lawful military means and terrorist groups directing indiscriminate explosive attacks against civilians.

The EU‘s call for both sides to act ‘proportionately’ is an example of this. Israel must of course do so – and from my observations was scrupulous in its efforts to minimise civilian casualties and to focus only on attacking terrorist leaders, their attack teams and their munitions.

Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad on the other hand should not conduct their attacks ‘proportionately’. Their attacks are illegal and should be stopped altogether.

That is Israel‘s demand, plus the requirement to cease the stockpiling of munitions, many from Iran, that has continued relentlessly over several years.
No country in the world would accept anything less and nor should Israel. Watching the build-up of the IDF around Gaza in the past few days I was in no doubt its members meant business.

But among Israeli military commanders and government officials there was a great reluctance to launch a ground offensive.

I am confident the IDF would have taken every possible step to keep casualties among innocent people to a minimum. But they know only too well a land assault involving massed infantry, tanks and artillery is a blunt instrument and increased civilian deaths would have been inevitable, along with equally-inevitable Israeli military casualties.

Israel, however, may have had no choice. Until the ceasefire, there was a case that if a lasting and verifiable end to hostilities could not have been achieved, the IDF might have had to go in on the ground until sufficient pressure was applied to Hamas to come to terms.

But stopping rocket fire is just part of the equation. Preventing and verifying that new munitions are not smuggled in over the long term is far more demanding.

Ultimately, I do not believe the current conflict will do more than buy perhaps a few years of relative calm around Gaza.

Now the intensive combat has ceased, international politicians, diplomats and human rights groups have a moral obligation to intervene if Hamas and other Gaza-based groups should resume their ballistic terrorism.

The fact that those members of the international community who were intent on bringing about the ceasefire ignored years of Hamas attacks against the Israeli population contributed to the horrific situation we have just experienced.

• Colonel Richard Kemp is a former commander of the British armed forces in Afghanistan.

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Jewish Couple Among Superstorm Dead

The main umbrella group for Jewish communities, the Jewish Federation of North America, will raise the money for recovery and reconstruction efforts.

It comes after the superstorm, which tore through the Caribbean, eastern United States and Canada this week, left at least 130 dead, including more than 20 in New York.

Among the dead were Jacob Vogelman and Jessie Streich-Kest, a young Jewish couple, who were killed by a falling tree in Brooklyn.

JFNA President Jerry Silverman said in a statement: “We send our support and prayers to those affected by the hurricane, and stand beside them during the recovery and rebuilding.”

The Union of Reform Judaism also started a relief effort to help communities struck by the devastating storm, with URJ chairman Steve Sacks saying: “This storm will require a long-term, coordinated recovery effort.”

The news came as the Jewish community on the east coast slowly began opening its doors once again. The Jewish Cultural Centre in Manhattan and the UJIA Federation of New York reopened on Wednesday after the closure of schools and businesses across the city. Jewish organisations in Long Island however remained closed due to power outages.

Earlier, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had led evacuation efforts, leaving the financial capital largely shut down.

On Wednesday, US President Barack Obama surveyed the city’s wreckage and described the disaster as “heart-breaking.”

The Republican Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, was among those praising the president for his handling of the crisis so far, calling it “outstanding.”

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Knesset panel discusses UK as ‘anti-Israel hub’

The sub-committee on diaspora affairs, chaired by Atzmaut MK Dr Einat Wilf, was hearing evidence from British Jewish leaders on the state of Israel advocacy in the UK.
Among those representing British Jewry were Jewish Leadership Council chair Mick Davis, who suggested appointing the adviser, its CEO Jeremy Newmark, UJIA’s Doug Krikler and Bicom director Dermot Kehoe.

The meeting, on Tuesday, was convened because of the perception that Britain was “a hub of anti-Israel activity”.

Originally, the meeting had been entitled: “UK – World Leader in Anti-Israel Rhetoric”.
However, after concerns from the British attendees that this title sensationalised the situation, Wilf agreed to tone it down to a debate on “Zionism in Britain”.

Newmark told the Jewish News: “Mick Davis reaffirmed our commitment to fighting delegitimisation. He made it clear that some of the delegitimisation is home-grown and some is imported into Britain from other hubs. He said that every hub had to have people to counter the delegitimisation. Dr Wilf said she would recommend to the PMO that it appoint a special senior adviser to assess the impact of Israeli policies on world Jewry.”

This echoed comments Davis made last year, when he said: “I think the government of Israel… has to recognise that their actions directly impact me as a Jew living in London, the UK… and the impact on me is as significant as it is on Jews living in Israel.”

Wilf told the Jewish News: “We heard some very interesting views. I particularly like the idea that anything we learn about fighting delegitimisation in Britain can be transferred to other hubs of anti-Israel activity. We have to make sure our voice is heard in Britain and elsewhere.

“Britain is a huge media and political hub and a lot that goes on there later takes place elsewhere. If we do well in Britain, we will do well in other countries, too. My impression is that British Jewry is a vital and dynamic community and that anti-Israel rhetoric is a serious problem. But we don’t have to blow it out of proportion.”

She added that at a later date, British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould would make his own presentation to the sub-committee, where he would display that, in fact, Israel’s standing in the UK had never been better.

Kehoe, who presented several poll findings about Israel’s standing in the UK, told the Jewish News: “It was extremely important for Bicom to take the opportunity to bring its expertise on the Britain-Israel relationship, and on British public opinion towards Israel, to a Knesset forum. There are challenges to Israel’s standing in the UK which we take seriously. We are robustly responding at both elite and grassroots levels.”

Kehoe made it clear that “there is an issue and it is very worrying. But put into context, there’s another story”.

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Meridor: World must step up sanctions against Iran

Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, in London for talks with Foreign Secretary William Hague, told the Jewish News: “We are beginning to see the fruits of the sanctions. Iranian banks can no longer get funds through SWIFT” – the global company through which the financial world conducts its business operations – “and the Iranian currency has lost 50 percent of its worth.”

And in his only interview with the British Jewish media, the minister added: “We need to step up sanctions and have more countries join our coalition – which now includes the US, the EU, most of the Arab world, which is just as worried about a nuclear Iran as we are, as well as Israel.”

Meridor, who is also minister of intelligence and atomic energy and a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner circle of eight ministers, said that Iran was “on track in pursuing the weaponisation of its nuclear programme. It has 5.5 tonnes of low-grade and 110 kilogrammes of higher-grade uranium and it is still developing and building missiles”.

He noted that President Barack Obama, when he met Netanyahu earlier this month in Washington, made it very clear that “he ruled in the military option. It wasn’t just that all options are on the table – he specifically mentioned the military option. We aren’t just talking about containment, we are talking prevention”.

Reports also surfaced this week that Obama, in 2004 facing election to the Senate, said he preferred military action to a nuclear Iran. “Having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse. So I guess my instinct would be to err on not having those weapons in the possession of the ruling clerics in Iran,” the future US President told the Chicago Tribune.

Meridor said his talks with Hague displayed that Britain had a “clear understanding that a nuclear Iran had to be stopped. We have intensive co-operation with the British on this.”

After his working lunch with the Israeli minister, Hague said: “We both recognise the seriousness of the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear programme and agree on the urgent need for Iran to co-operate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency and engage in meaningful talks. I outlined Britain’s policy of a dual-track approach of pressure and engagement, while keeping all options on the table.”

Meridor said the peace process with the Palestinians was “not a zero-sum game. Both sides would benefit from talks, but unfortunately the Palestinians are refusing to return to the table”. Hague said: “The dramatic events in the region over the past year mean that finding a lasting peace is more important than ever and even more vital for Israel‘s long-term security. Achieving this will require bold and courageous leadership on both sides.

“I outlined our concerns about the continuing occupation of the Palestinian Territories, including the impact of continued settlement-building and restrictions on Gaza on the prospects for peace. All sides need to make active efforts to prevent deterioration and to avoid steps that run counter to a two-state solution”.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron told NBC TV in the US that he didn’t “think as we stand today that military action by Israel would be justified. I don’t think the Israelis should take that action now. We told them they shouldn’t and said we wouldn’t support it if they did. We’ve been very clear.”

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A parent’s worst nightmare

It was an act of terror that’s surely caused sleepless nights for every parent who sends their child to a Jewish school.

On a bright, spring morning in Toulouse, as children were filing into the Ozar Hatorah School, a gunman on a scooter, Mohammed Merah, a French-Algerian with al-Qaeda sympathies, opened fire.

Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, and his children – Gavriel, six, and Aryeh, three, – died instantly. Miriam Monsonego, eight, the daughter of the head of Otzer Hatorah, was shot as well and died of her wounds shortly after.

In Britain, the Community Security Trust said the tragedy was “a reminder of why we need security measures against terrorism at all Jewish buildings, and especially schools. There was initial media speculation that the Toulouse terrorist was a neo-Nazi, but it now appears that he is supportive of al-Qaeda. The distinctions are important, but make no fundamental difference to the fact that a Jewish school fell victim to an antisemitic terrorist.

“We have reissued our request that the community continue its close cooperation with our security measures at this difficult time, but stress that there is no information suggesting a UK aspect to these tragic events.”

The murderous attack sparked a wave of condemnation from within France and across the world, with Muslims joining Jewish organisations and Israel expressing their revulsion.

The head of the French Muslim Council, Mohammed Moussaoui, said: “These acts are in total contradiction with the foundations of this religion. France’s Muslims are offended by his claim of belonging to this religion.”

Marc Sztulman, a leader of the Jewish community in Toulouse, said: “We are left in disillusion and despair. We are still in utter shock and disbelief. We don’t know what happened exactly.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Interior Minister Claude Gueant visited the French city shortly after noon.

“It’s a tragedy. And it’s a tragedy that there are insane people who are capable of doing such a thing. I can’t accept this idea that one can massacre Jewish children in front of their school.” said Sarkozy.

Gueant said that Merrah – who had earlier reportedly killed three French soldiers, two of whom were Muslims – wanted to “avenge Palestinian children” and denounced “French crimes in Afghanistan”.

As Rabbi Sandler, his children and Miriam Monsonego were buried in Jerusalem on Wednesday morning – attended by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe – Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said: “Anyone seeking to justify hate must know that hate is senseless. The murder of the school children in Toulouse was senseless.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at the international community. “In France, we witnessed the reprehensible murder of Jews, among them young children,” he said. “I heard no condemnation of the murder from the UN. What I did hear was that the United Nations Human Rights Council hosted a senior member of Hamas who spends his days plotting to murder Jews. I have only one thing to say to the UN Human Rights Council: You know nothing about human rights. Shame on you.”

And Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad also condemned the massacre, saying: “It’s time for criminals to stop using the Palestinian cause to justify terrorist actions. The children of Palestine want nothing but dignified lives for themselves and for all children in the world.”

In Britain, the Board of Deputies said: “This attack is a terrible reminder of the threat which minorities, across Europe, face from extremists of all political persuasions.”

Meanwhile, a row broke out when EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton appeared to compare the Toulouse murders with the death of Palestinian children in Gaza.

Visiting Israeli deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor told the Jewish News that it was a “miserable phrase” and urged her to “retract it”.

Lady Ashton herself said she had “strongly condemned” the Toulouse murders and that her words had been “grossly distorted” by the Agence France-Press wire service.

A statement said she “referred to tragedies taking the lives of children around the world and drew no parallel whatsoever between the circumstances of the attack and the situation in Gaza”.

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Israeli Bedouin women face double discrimination

Hannan al-Sanaa, who was in London this week at the invitation of the Zionist Federation – and took part in a joint ZF-UK Taskforce talk at King’s College, University of London – told the Jewish News: “More than 80 percent of Bedouin women in the Negev are illiterate. The government won’t implement its own laws towards us, so we have had to take matters into our own hands.”

“The association I set up, Sidreh, has had to lobby the government to get what all Israeli citizens have a right to. And when the government doesn’t deliver, we go to court – and win.”

The feisty 33-year-old al-Sanaa is the youngest of 13 children born into one of the largest tribes of the Negev. The only one of her family to be university educated – “I always wanted to be a strong and independent women,” she said – she has been working on behalf of the Bedouin in both recognised and unrecognised communities.

Israel has set up seven “recognised” Bedouin communities in the Negev. However, the move to urban communities has meant that they have lost their agricultural lands. Despite promises from successive governments to ensure skills training and replacement work, al-Sanaa said that the move had “led to massive unemployment especially among women and chronic social problems, such as domestic violence”.

Sidreh, she said, lobbied on behalf of the women and “teaches them old traditional skills, such as weaving. We use the money from the sales of what we make to fund our work, including an Arabic-language women’s newspaper”, which goes out in 11,000 copies every week. “We also help educate the women on their rights and teach them how to read and write,” said al-Sannah.

She was proud, she said, that Sidreh had produced “the first Bedouin nurse, the first Bedouin woman driver and – unfortunately – the first Bedouin divorce instigated by a woman who opposed her husband’s polygamy”.

The ZF event was the first in a series of meetings for Hebrew-speakers set up by new emissary Nir Cohen. He said: “Our aim is to reach out to Israelis in London. There will be more events like this.”

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Gilad’s release: the untold story

Azzam Tamimi was a conduit between veteran Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin and Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Hanniyeh during the most delicate phases of indirect talks between Israel and the Hamas leadership.

Baskin, formerly head of the IsraelPalestine Centre for Research and Information thinktank, told the Jewish News: “Azzam Tamimi was a great help. He used his close ties with Ismail Hanniyeh – they are childhood friends – to keep channels open even in the darkest moments when everybody else had given up. Every time I sent a message through Tamimi and Hanniyeh to those holding Gilad, I got a response.”

Baskin was in London this week to meet MPs and communal organisations to discuss the peace process and his crucial role in the release of the Israeli soldier after more than five years in captivity last October, in exchange for 1,040 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

However, Baskin said his role was born out of unfortunate circumstances about a year before Shalit was captured on the Israel-Gaza border. “A cousin of a friend was abducted in Ramallah and his family asked me to use my contacts in the Palestinian Authority to get him released,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the kidnappers killed the man before I could do anything. I was so devastated, that I vowed there and then that if there was a repeat abduction, I would do what was humanly possible to help get the person released from captivity.”

He added: “At about the same time, I met a Palestinian professor of economics, Muhammad Migdad, who was a Hamas member. He had never met an Israeli and I had never met a Hams member, but we spoke for six hours and agreed to have continued discreet meetings. Unfortunately, both the Hamas and the Israelis vetoed any continued talks, despite the fact that four countries were willing to host talks.”

When Shalit was kidnapped, “Migdad phoned me and said we had to do something and that’s how the back-channel talks started.”

There were many ups and downs, with Baskin being told repeatedly by the previous Olmert government (despite having close ties with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s daughter Dana) – “don’t interfere, because the Egyptians and the Germans are working on a deal”.

He did manage, however, to “arrange a deal whereby Hamas would deliver a letter from [Gilad’s father] Noam to Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal in return for information that Gilad was alive”.

It was only when Benjamin Netanyahu’s government took office that the Israelis started to take Baskin more seriously.

“First, the government-appointed mediator Haggai Hadas resigned his position and was replaced by David Meidan, who decided to verify my claims that Hamas wanted to do a deal. Netanyahu then gave the green light for the back-channel talks as long as they remained secret, which they did.”

Meidan, said Baskin, had “very good ties with the Egyptians because he was born there and got on very well with the Egyptian intelligence officer who was in charge of the case in Cairo.”

By July last year, “Hamas and I had agreed a document of principles for the exchange and in October, Gilad was freed.”

There was, Baskin said, a lesson for the future in all of this. “Hamas wants to deal with Israel and kept out of this week’s tit-for-tat attacks. The rocket attacks were by the extremists of Islamic Jihad and the Popular Committees, not Hamas.”

Both sides, he noted, would find it hard to talk to one another. “We are dealing with the unimaginable for both sides. But let’s not forget that no one would have dreamed a few years ago that Israel and the Palestinians could get to such a high level of security co-operation on the West Bank that both sides share intelligence and the PA hands over to Israel weapons it confiscates from the extremists.”

Meanwhile, in Israel, Gilad – who will be released from military service at the end of the month – has received extensive help from Amos Levitov, an Israeli pilot who was shot down during the 1970 War of Attrition with Egypt and was a PoW for more than three years. Levitov, in the UK this week for a Magen David Adom speaking tour, told the Jewish News that the processes he helped “develop after my return from being a PoW have helped Gilad with his struggle against post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]. For example, we exposed him to stimuli gradually. First, he was allowed only limited access to TV, radio and the papers. Now he’s allowed more and has his own Facebook page.” The army, he added, “has been very helpful. It will continue to pay his salary and fund his treatment until later this year. He plans on studying, but he hasn’t decided what yet”.

Gilad is being given “space by the Israeli media, too. It has agreed that it will not pursue him or ask for interviews while he is recuperating.”

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Netanyahu cites Auschwitz in warning over Iran

Addressing the AIPAC conference after a three-hour meeting – an hour longer than planned – with US President Barack Obama, Netanyahu expressed appreciation for Washington’s efforts to impose tougher sanctions.

But he added: “As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.” He noted that Israel could not “accept a world in which the Ayatollahs have atomic bombs… We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer. We are determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. We leave all options on the table. And containment is definitely not an option. [We] will not allow those seeking our destruction to possess the means to achieve that goal”.

While forcefully asserting Israel‘s right to defend itself, and spelling out the dangers Iran poses to the world, Netanyahu stopped well short of providing any indication of how or when Israel might act. “Every day, I open the papers and read about these red lines and these time lines,” Netanyahu said. “I read about what Israel has decided to do or what Israel might do. Well, I’m not going to talk to you about what Israel will do or will not do. I never talk about that.”

He criticised those who said that preventing Iran from getting a bomb was more dangerous than letting it have one. “They say that a military confrontation with Iran would undermine the efforts already underway, that it would be ineffective, and that it would provoke even more vindictive action by Iran,” he said, adding that he had heard, and even read those arguments before.

Netanyahu then spoke of the Holocaust, displaying copies of an exchange of letters between the World Jewish Congress and the US War Department in 1944 that implored Roosevelt to bomb Auschwitz. Netanyahu read: “‘Such an operation could be executed only by diverting considerable air support essential to the success of our forces elsewhere, and in any case would be of such doubtful efficacy that it would not warrant the use of our resources.’ And here’s the most remarkable sentence of all. And I quote: ‘Such an effort might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans.’

“Think about that. ‘Even more vindictive action’, than the Holocaust?” Netanyahu declared. “My friends, this is not 1944. The American government today is different. The Jewish people are also different. Today we have a state of our own. The purpose of the Jewish state is to secure the Jewish future. That is why Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.” Netanyahu also reiterated what he said earlier in public statements before meeting Obama: “We must always remain the masters of our fate.”

In an interview with Atlantic magazine last week, Obama emphasised the US position on Israel and Iran. The US, he stressed, “has Israel’s back”, adding: “Every commitment I have made to the state of Israel and its security, I have kept. Why is it that, despite me never failing to support Israel on every single problem that they’ve had over the last three years, that there are still questions about that?”

And he made it clear: “I think that the Israeli government recognises that, as President of the United States, I don’t bluff. I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognise that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”

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‘Don’t ignore Munich’

The Guildhall will be the venue for a commemoration, marking four decades since the killing of 11 Israeli athletes and other delegates by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Games – one of the darkest chapters in the sporting event’s history.

Organisers are hoping to hold the event – being led by the Israeli Embassy and featuring high-profile speakers – on 6 August, 10 days into London‘s record-breaking third Olympics.

Efraim Zinger, Secretary General of the Israeli Olympic Committee – which has hosted memorial ceremonies at each Games since Atlanta in 1996 – said he was “pretty sure” that both London 2012 chairman Lord Coe and International Olympic President Jacques Rogge would be present. Rogge becoming the first IOC head to attend such a commemoration, eight years ago in Athens, was described by Zinger as “a very positive step”.

But he told the Jewish News that the Israelis were calling on the IOC to finally “take responsibility” for honouring the athletes. He said: “After 40 years, it’s about time that the IOC will find the right way to commemorate the 11 athletes, coaches and referees. They were not just Israelis but Olympians killed during the Olympic Games.

“The only way such a thing will not happen again is to talk about it, commemorate it and give it the right space in the history of this wonderful Olympic movement.”

He added: “We used every way possible to repeat our message that the IOC should find the proper way not to ignore its own history and commemorate the memory of the 11 athletes.”

Zinger stressed that persuading the IOC to “take responsibility for commemorating” was “an ongoing process” that began more than a decade ago.

However, he said there were a number of ways to remember those killed and the method chosen was up to officials.

But, turning to the Guildhall event, he said one of its messages would be that “nobody will frighten us and Israeli athletes will continue to compete in every sporting event”.

Lord Janner, who is a member of the Jewish Committee for the London Games, said: “I hope that the International Olympic Committee will acknowledge this terrible tragedy. It is vital that we never forget the foul murder of the Israeli athletes, 40 years ago. I am proud to know we will commemorate the lives and deaths of these great athletes, at the Guildhall.”

Also playing a role in the event’s organisation are UJIA and the International board of trustees of the Israeli Olympic committee, which was established to raise funds to support Israel‘s current athletes.

The latter’s founder, Ynon Kreiz, who is also former CEO of Endemol, said: “Now, 40 years on, it’s more important than ever to commemorate an event symbolising the challenges we still face.”

Adrian Cohen, Chair of the Jewish Committee for the London Games, said the event would provide the Olympic Movement with “a moment to reflect on the loss of life at Munich, while at the same time renewing hope in the ‘Olympic Spirit’ that we can build a more peaceful and better world through mutual understanding, friendship and solidarity”.

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‘It’s crazy that we still think the Israelis are our enemy’

In London last week, Sunni politician al-Alusi – he is the leader of the avowedly liberal and secular Democratic Party of the Iraqi Nation – told the Jewish News: “I’d do it all again. I have no regrets.”

Israelis, he said, were “normal human beings. It’s crazy that we have to look at each other as enemies. They have families, they have kids and they want to enjoy life.”

Al-Alusi – sentenced to death by Saddam Hussein because of his outspoken views – was astounded to find there were “400,000 Israelis of Iraqi origin, and they have contributed hugely to the state, in the arts, in politics, in sport. This isn’t surprising to me, because Iraqi music and culture were developed by Jews who were in Iraq before Islam and before the Arabs. I am so happy now to say I have friends in Israel“.

Although he has no connections with the Israeli government, he said he would “love to have it in the future, when I have a role in Baghdad. And a future Iraqi-Israeli relationship will be the real support for peace in the region.”

He said: “Most Iraqis don’t want, don’t like and resent having to wait for someone in Gaza, Ramallah or Cairo to tell them: ‘Now you can have peace with Israel.’ So far, I have visited Israel three times and I’d do it again, despite everything. I even stood up in the Iraqi Parliament and said it.

“The fascists, extremists and even friends have to understand, there is no other way,” he said. “We will pave the road for peace. If the fascists and extremists thought that by attempting to kill Mithal al-Alusi the advocates of peace in Iraq will be stopped, then they have made a grave mistake. We will be calling for peace with all neighbouring countries. We will be calling for peace with all countries of the region. And we will be calling for it to be fought by any means.”

He added: “Terrorists like to show that Islam has a message of killing, but true Islam has only a message of peace. They claim that Islamic principles encourage killing, while the only principles that encourage this are the principles of the Ba’ath Party and the heathens of al-Qaeda.”

Al-Alusi says the biggest threat to the region are the “fascists and extremists” running neighbouring Iran. “I’m trying to do my best in Iraq, helping to rebuild the nation, working on human rights, working for peace and understanding in the Middle East,” he said.

And he was grateful to the Americans, “for playing an important role in rebuilding Iraq, despite all the mistakes they made – and they made a lot of mistakes. But one of the problems now is that we have no security, no army, and we have very dangerous neighbours. The fascists and extremists who run Iran are filling the vacuum left by the Americans, not the Iraqi government, because it is not capable of running the country.

Iran is playing the main role in Iraq. And this is terribe because it is human beings who are paying the price daily.”

Iraq, he maintained, was a unified society – not just split into three main groups, the Shia majority, the Sunnis and the Kurds. “Shia Iraqis are Iraqis, just like Sunni and Kurdish Iraqis. The society is made up of human beings, of individuals, and that’s what my party believes in. We want internal peace, because we do not differentiate between Shia, Sunni or Kurd.”

The Iranians were “using religion as a tool to reach their goals – to dominate Iraq. If they really cared about Iraqi Shi’as, they’d support the current Iraqi government, which is Shi’a-led. But the good news is that from Iraqi Shi’as, some other Arab countries and Turkey, is that Iran is not getting it all its own way in Iraq. And the internal opposition to their methods is growing because the Iraqi democratic process is very important to ordinary Iraqis.”

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