Shorts: Mideast

Olmert indicates Israel has nukes

Ehud Olmert has drawn fire for apparently confirming that Israel has nuclear weapons.

The Israeli prime minister said in a German television interview broadcast Monday, Dec. 11 that Iran’s atomic ambitions had to be curbed because of its diplomatic stance.

“Iran openly, explicitly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map,” he said. “Can you say that this is the same level when they are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel, Russia?”

While Olmert’s aides said his comments were taken out of context, members of the political opposition accused him of violating Israel’s decades-old policy of nuclear ambiguity. — jps

Israelis warned not to travel to India

The Foreign Ministry released an urgent terror alert Wednesday, Dec. 13 warning Israelis not to travel Goa, India.

The ministry said it had received concrete information regarding an imminent al Qaida terror attack in the region. Foreign Ministry officials said the warning applied until the end of December.

Goa, a popular tourist spot in India, is currently home to a significant number of Israeli tourists.

Counterterrorism officials highly recommended that Israeli citizens avoid sites in the Goa region for the “next few weeks.” They also said that crowds or attractions popular to Israelis and Westerners should be avoided. — jps

Stephen Hawking visits Israel

Stephen Hawking, the renowned theoretical physicist from Cambridge University, has embarked on a weeklong visit to Israel.

The visit, arranged by the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, will include a meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and lectures and visits to Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Weizmann Institute, Tel Aviv University and Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, as well as meetings with representatives of the Israel Academy of Sciences. — jta

Israeli arms sales up

Israel’s arms exports are reportedly at an all-time high despite the setbacks of the Lebanon war. Defense News journal reported that by late November, Israel had tallied $4.1 billion in new foreign weapons orders for 2006, outdoing the previous record year, 2002.

The figures made Israel the world’s fourth-biggest arms seller after the United States, Russia and France.

According to Defense News, Israel’s foreign arms clients have been placing orders despite the difficulties faced by Israeli forces in driving back the poorer-equipped Hezbollah during the Lebanon war. — jta

Intifada law overturned

Israel’s top court overturned a law preventing Palestinians from suing the army for damages caused during military operations.

The so-called “intifada law,” passed by the Knesset last year, designated the West Bank and Gaza Strip as combat zones and in effect rendered Israeli forces immune from lawsuits for damages they caused there.

The law was overturned Tuesday, Dec. 12 by the High Court of Justice, which ruled that Palestinians who suffered damages in a situation that was demonstrably not tied to combat could seek financial compensation. — jta

Israel and India to expand trade

Israeli Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai and Kamal Nath, his Indian counterpart, hope to see trade double to $5 billion in the next few years, the officials said during a recent meeting.

Israel’s top exports to India are pearls, precious stones, fertilizers, electronic goods and instruments. India mainly exports gems and jewelry, drugs, textiles and chemicals to Israel. — jta

Shin Bet cracks Islamic Jihad ring

Israeli security forces have cracked a major West Bank terrorist ring.

The Shin Bet security service announced Tuesday, Dec. 12 that it had arrested 50 suspected terrorists from the Hebron area in a swoop timed to prevent a major series of attacks. The detainees are said to belong to Islamic Jihad. — jta

Haniyeh, Ahmadinejad meet

The Palestinian Authority prime minister and Iranian president, in their first official meeting, vowed to see Israel eliminated.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, on his first foreign tour since his faction took power in March, met with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Qatar earlier this month.

An Iranian news agency quoted Ahmadinejad, who has stepped up support for Hamas in a bid to offset a Western aid embargo on the Palestinian Authority, as saying that “there is no doubt the Palestinian nation and Muslims as a whole will emerge victorious.”

Haniyeh, whose Islamist faction is similarly sworn to the Jewish state’s destruction, thanked Ahmadinejad for Iran’s support. — jta

Report criticizes IDF leaders

A report on the kidnapping of two Israeli army reservists that set off this summer’s war with Hezbollah criticized top military brass.

The report, presented in early December by Maj.-Gen Doron Almog, criticized army chief of staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz and the General Staff, Military Intelligence, the Operations Directorate and the Northern Command.

The report said military leaders were not prepared for the possibility that an incident such as a kidnapping could lead to war. — jta

Minister favors Barghouti release

An Israeli Cabinet minister said he would favor freeing Marwan Barghouti.

Barghouti, 47, a Fatah lawmaker, was captured in the West Bank in 2002, tried and sentenced to five life prison terms for masterminding terrorist attacks that killed five people.

But Israeli Environment Minister Gideon Ezra said that releasing Barghouti, which other Israeli governments have ruled out, would be worthwhile if it won the release of Galid Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive in the Gaza Strip, and led the Palestinian Authority to halt violence. — jta

Number of AIDS patients rises

The number of new HIV carriers and AIDS patients diagnosed in Israel last year has risen somewhat, from an annual average of 322 between 2000 and 2004 to 350 cases in 2005, according to the Health Ministry.

The latest statistics, released Nov. 29 to mark World AIDS Day, may reflect increased infection or more people going for testing.

Since 1981, when the AIDS virus was first discovered, there have been 4,662 known Israeli HIV carriers and AIDS patients; 3,647 of them are still alive, while the rest either died or left the country. — jta

El Al faces religious boycott

A fervently Orthodox group declared a boycott of El Al over recent Shabbat flights.

Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, leader of the powerful Lithuanian religious community, issued an edict this week ordering his followers not to use the private Israeli airline. His move could be mirrored by other fervently Orthodox sects, which together make up as much as 30 percent of El Al’s clientele.

The controversy was sparked by the carrier’s decision, after a public-sector strike disrupted work at Israeli airports late last month, to relieve the backlog by letting some flights operate into Friday evening. — jta

Syria believed to be preparing for war

Syria is preparing for war with Israel, Israeli military intelligence’s chief analyst said.

Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidaz was quoted as telling Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Cabinet that Syria has stepped up production of long-range missiles and moved anti-aircraft batteries closer to the border with Israel.

The recent war between Israel and Hezbollah, Syria’s proxy in Lebanon, has stirred speculation that Damascus could be involved in the next confrontation.

Olmert has said Israel does not seek war with Syria. — jta

Thousands march for Hezbollah

Hundreds of thousands of protesters led by Hezbollah marched in downtown Beirut on Sunday, Dec. 10.

The protesters demanded that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora either cede some government power to the militant group and its allies or resign.

Hezbollah has been pressing for increased power since its war with Israel in Lebanon last summer. — jta

Hamas fires on Fatah protest

Hamas security forces opened fire on a Fatah rally in Gaza, wounding four Palestinians.

The demonstration in Khan Yunis on Tuesday, Dec. 14 was to protest the deaths a day earlier of three young sons of a Fatah intelligence official, the result of a botched assassination attempt widely blamed on Hamas. — jta