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Israel acted out of concern Iranian arms convoy carrying Fajr rockets

The New York Times reported on Friday that senior American intelligence officials who are “privy to classified intelligence assessments” have confirmed its account of an Israeli airstrike on an Iranian weapons convoy in Sudan in January that was bound for Gaza.

The paper also quoted another unnamed US military officer who said that this was a regular activity of the Israeli air force. Ha’aretz adds that Israel undertook the risky long-range mission out of concern the arms shipment included Iran’s mid-range (70 km) Fajr rockets which could strike Tel Aviv from Gaza.

Meanwhile a new report by Sudanese sources claims there may have been an additional strike on a ship possibly making its way to Sudan from Iran. “There were indeed two strikes in Sudan, in January and February,” Sudan’s deputy transportation minister told Israel’s Channel 10 television on Thursday. “The second strike was against a ship at sea and it was completely destroyed,” another Sudanese official said.

Israeli officials have yet to confirm or deny the reports, but Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a gathering at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya yesterday that Israel can strike terrorists “anywhere” and that those who were wondering what Israel’s capabilities were should “use their imagination.”

In a related development, a senior Israeli intelligence source revealed that the Egyptian army has recently beefed up its presence along the border with Sudan to try to block the flow of Iranian arms to Gaza via Sinai. Sudan’s radical Islamist regime maintains close ties to Tehran and is apparently serving as a major link in the smuggling network the Iranians have established in East Africa to move weapons to Hamas in Gaza.

The Israeli official also noted that Iran and Hamas are very concerned about a recent memorandum of understanding signed by Israel, the US and eight other NATO countries to combat arms smuggling, as well as the recent confiscation of a vessel carrying Iranian arms. The ship was en route to Syria with arms for the Syrian army, but the US believed that the arms would really be going to Hizbullah, and put pressure on Cyprus to impound the ship.


ICEJ News – is a free email service providing news and comment on Middle East affairs compiled by journalists at the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and supported by donations from subscribers. Photographic content subject to copyright, do not use without permission of copyright holder. 

Today’s bulletin was written and compiled by Matt Carmichael and Aaron Hecht
Editor: David Parsons

The ICEJ stands at the forefront of a growing mainstream movement of Christians worldwide that supports Israel based on Biblical principles and promises


From The Jewish Chronicle
Simon Rocker
March 19, 2009

Islamic scripture actually recognises the Jewish link to Israel, tells a British imam

Classical Islam accepts there is a divinely ordained bond between the Jewish People and ‘the Holy Land’, say some scholars

According to the Hamas charter, Palestine is an Islamic endowment “for all generations of Muslims until the Day of Resurrection” which no one may renounce. The Arab-Israeli conflict is seen as not just a political dispute but an implacably religious one.

But there are Muslim scholars who will tell you that this claim has no basis in the Koran: not only that, but the foundation text of Islam, in fact, recognises the special link between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. “You will find very clearly,” says Sheikh Dr Muhammad Al-Husseini, “that the traditional commentators from the eighth and ninth century onwards have uniformly interpreted the Koran to say explicitly that Eretz Yisrael has been given by God to the Jewish people as a perpetual convenant. There is no Islamic counterclaim to the Land anywhere in the traditional corpus of commentary.”

Dr Al-Husseini is a British imam who teaches a course on the Koran as part of interfaith studies at the Leo Baeck College, the Progressive rabbinic college in Finchley, north London. One of the texts he has taught is the following verse in the Koran (5:21), “O my people! Enter the Holy Land which God has decreed for you, and turn back on your heels otherwise you will be overturned as losers.”

He examines this passage through the eyes of one classic commentator of the Koran, Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (838-923), who says the remark is “a narrative from God… concerning the saying of Moses… to his community from among the children of Israel and his order to them according to the order of God to him, ordering them to enter the holy land.”

Al-Tabari, Dr Al-Husseni says, is “our Rashi”, the founder of tafsir, “the science of exegesis” — the Arabic word is similar to pesher, Hebrew for interpretation. “One of the key rules of Islamic exegesis by which Islamic scholarship is bound is that the authority to interpret lies in the hands of the Prophet and of the Prophets’ Companions alone,” he says, “Nobody can go to the text and just freely interpret the text for their own purposes. This is really important… because if the Prophet, or one of his Companions, has given an interpretation, then we are bound by it.”

Just as you find in the Talmud that one rabbi quotes a saying in the name of one of his teachers, so al-Tabari will cite the interpretations of earlier, oral commentators in a chain going back to one of the Prophet Muhammad’s Companions, the ultimate source of authority for that interpretation.

The Muslim commentators may differ over exactly where “the Holy Land” is — one says the area around Mount Sinai, another the Levant. But what is significant, Dr Al-Husseini, is that “they are pointing to the same area — it is not Egypt, Saudi or Iraq.”

The Arabic for “the holy land”, al-ard al-muqaddasa, is close to the Hebrew, eretz kodesh and refers to this piece of land rather than other sites sacred to Muslims. “During the life of the Prophet, there was an enormous territorial ambition to get Makka back from the Makkans,” he says. “There was no territorial ambition to claim Jerusalem, Palestine.

“What happens during his lifetime is what God wants to happen for the Muslim community. His prophecy and his objective was the reclamation of the Islamic holy site which is Makka. If God had decreed that His Prophet should have Jerusalem, then it would have been something that he would have been preoccupied with during his lifetime and he conquered the whole of the Arabian peninsula.

“It was never the case during the early period of Islam…that there was any kind of sacerdotal attachment to Jerusalem as a territorial claim. Jerusalem is holy but Mount Sinai is more holy. Sinai is mentioned far more often, and Jerusalem isn’t actually mentioned by name.” (Jerusalem is alluded to in the phrase “the further mosque”).

Al-Tabari’s commentary also notes that the word “decreed” — kataba in Arabic, related to katav, “written”, in Hebrew — has the connotations of “ordered”: in other words, settling the land was regarded as a mitzvah for the children of Israel. Al-Tabari also observes that the decree is confirmed in al-lawh al-mahfuz, the eternally preserved tablet” — a reference to the Islamic idea that in heaven exists a sacred blueprint from which the Muslim, Christian and Jewish scriptures emanate, hence the covenant with the Jewish people over Israel is everlasting.

Dr Al-Husseini— who stresses his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — points out that other contemporary Muslim scholars draw attention to this tradition, such as Professor Khaleel Mohammed in San Diego and Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi in Rome.

But he also observes that many Muslims are unfamiliar with al-Tabari’s work because it is mostly untranslated and accessible only to an educated elite who understand Arabic. By contrast, the teachings of 20th-century radicals linked to political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood are often widely available in English. Since the militants cannot contradict the Koranic precedent for Jewish attachment to the Land of Israel, they adopt another tactic, Dr Al-Husseini says: they argue that Jews are a wicked people who “must be punished” — hence the spread of antisemitism within the Muslim world. “But no fundamentalist, no matter how hard they try,” he says, “can overrule the existing tradition to say there is, in fact, an Islamic counterclaim to Eretz Yisrael.”

Studying Islam in a Jewish setting

Leo Baeck College, the Progressive rabbinic academy, has long been at the forefront of dialogue between Jews and members of other religions. Interfaith dialogue forms part of its rabbinic training.

Last autumn it launched a weekly, 10-part introduction to the classical study of the Koran, open not only to serving and trainee rabbis but also to Jewish community leaders. It is taught by Shiekh Dr Muhammad Al-Husseini, a Cairo-trained British imam who grew up in Hertfordshire with many Jewish schoolfriends — “I’ve been to more Jewish than Muslim weddings!” he said.

Committed to challenging antisemitism within the Muslim community, he is keen to demonstrate “the common DNA that exists between Judaism and Islam”.

His course is part of a larger Leo Baeck project, Scriptures in Dialogue, to encourage the comparative academic study of Jewish, Muslim and Christian texts. You can download his lecture and other resources from

To visit Joel’s weblog site and get the latest developments in Israel, Iraq and the epicenter — including the latest on Netanyahu’s efforts to form a new government in Israel and an analysis of the U.S. economic crisis in light of Bible prophecy — please click here


The big question in Israel right now is this: Will Ehud Barak join Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu to form a government that can and will defend Israel from the apocalyptic ayatollahs in Iran?

Netanyahu has said from the beginning that he wants a broad, “unity” government rather than a narrow, partisan one. He believes that he made a mistake in 1996 not asking Labor Party leader Shimon Peres not to join his government. So now he’s going the extra mile to invite Labor’s current leader onto the team. Privately, he has offered Barak the opportunity to stay on as Defense Minister, and has offered key positions to other members of Labor.

Personally, I hope Barak says yes, not for partisan political reasons but to unify the country in the face of the threat of Radical Islam. I met Barak once at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem and I have come to like him. True, he was not an effective Prime Minister. In 2000, he made a serious error of judgment. He gave away southern Lebanon for nothing. In 2006, Israel paid for that error, receiving 4,000 rockets and missiles from Hezbollah as a “thank you” present. Political leadership has not been Barak’s strong suit. Still, he was an amazing general – one of the most decorated in Israel’s modern history. He helped rebuild the IDF after the 2006 debacle (which he was not in government for) and led a brilliant campaign into Gaza in January (which PM Olmert ended too quickly). Most importantly, Barak understands the Islamic revolution. He understands the existential threat Israel faces now from the ayatollahs in Iran who are feverishly trying to acquire or build nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. Bibi could really use him at his side.

The challenge: the Labor Party’s rank and file membership – as well as some of its top officials – can’t stand Netanyahu. The party is filled will “ABBs” – people who want “Anybody But Bibi” to lead Israel. So it’s not clear by any means that Barak can persuade Labor to accept Netanyahu’s generous offer. What has become clear in the last 24 hours that Barak wants to accept Bibi’s offer. To his credit, I believe he sees it as his patriotic duty, not a matter of partisan politics. He knows the future of his country is on the line, and like the good soldier he has always been, Barak wants to suit up and help.

Please pray faithfully for Messrs. Netanyahu, Barak and their advisors. Pray for wisdom. Pray for unity. Pray for clear vision and courage to do the right thing. The deadline to submit the final coalition is Sunday at 3pm local time. Netanyahu could ask for a two week extension, but he has indicated he does not want to. Let’s pray he can finalize a broad, stable, “unity” government quickly and get on with the urgent business of governing right away. Time is short and the stakes are high. 



Fri, 20 Feb 2009
updated Thu, 26 Feb 2009

In 2007, I conjured up the notion of a strategist who directs Islamist movements and mused on what his thinking might be:

Imagine that an Islamist central command exists — and that you are its chief strategist, with a mandate to spread full application of Shariah, or Islamic law, through all means available, with the ultimate goal of a worldwide caliphate. What advice would you offer your comrades … ? Probably, you would review the past six decades of Islamist efforts and conclude that you have three main options: overthrowing the government, working through the system, or a combination of the two.

I then concluded that a clever strategist would conclude that “overthrowing the government rarely leads to victory. In contrast, recent events show that working through the system offers better odds … But working within the system, these cases also suggest, has its limitations. Best is a combination of softening up the enemy through lawful means, then seizing power.”

This imaginary position of Chief Islamist Strategist does not exist, but Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, an Egyptian who goes by the nom de guerre Dr. Fadl, comes as close to filling the bill as anyone. And, interestingly, he has drawn roughly the conclusion I sketched out for him, reports David Blair in the Daily Telegraph.

Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, an Egyptian who goes by the nom de guerre Dr. Fadl.

he has launched a frontal attack on al-Qaeda’s ideology and the personal failings of bin Laden and particularly his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Twenty years ago, Dr Fadl became al-Qaeda’s intellectual figurehead with a crucial book setting out the rationale for global jihad against the West. Today, however, he believes the murder of innocent people is both contrary to Islam and a strategic error. “Every drop of blood that was shed or is being shed in Afghanistan and Iraq is the responsibility of bin Laden and Zawahiri and their followers,” writes Dr Fadl.

The terrorist attacks on September 11 were both immoral and counterproductive, he writes. “Ramming America has become the shortest road to fame and leadership among the Arabs and Muslims. But what good is it if you destroy one of your enemy’s buildings, and he destroys one of your countries? What good is it if you kill one of his people, and he kills a thousand of yours?” asks Dr Fadl. “That, in short, is my evaluation of 9/11.”

He is equally unsparing about Muslims who move to the West and then take up terrorism. “If they gave you permission to enter their homes and live with them, and if they gave you security for yourself and your money, and if they gave you the opportunity to work or study, or they granted you political asylum,” writes Dr Fadl, then it is “not honourable” to “betray them, through killing and destruction”.

Blair concludes: “Terrorist movements across the world have a history of alienating their popular support by waging campaigns of indiscriminate murder. This process of disintegration often begins with a senior leader publicly denouncing his old colleagues. Dr Fadl’s missives may show that al-Qaeda has entered this vital stage.” (February 20, 2009)

Feb. 23, 2009 update: MEMRI published today a 9,000-word summary of the Sharif book, At-Ta’riya li-kitab at-tabri’a (“Exposing the Exoneration”) by Daniel Lav. Lav notes that the founding figures of the jihadist movement today fall into three camps. 1) Al-Qaeda and its unconditional supporters; 2) jihadist scholars who are supportive of the global jihad, but critical of specific tactics and practices (e.g. Al-Maqdisi and Al-Tartusi); and 3) those who support jihad in theory, but are highly critical of Al-Qaeda and believe that most jihad operations should be stopped at present due to various contingencies (e.g. Sayyid Imam [al-Sharif, or Dr. Fadl]).

Mon, 26 Jan 2009
updated Sun, 1 Mar 2009

I have devoted an entry, “The West Bank to Jordan, Gaza to Egypt,” to those voices (including mine) who have given up on the two-state solution and instead advocate for or against the idea that the Jordanian and Egyptian governments take over, respectively, the West Bank and Gaza.

But this leaves out the growing debate over the two-state solution that does not mention the Jordan-Egypt option; their ideas will be recorded here, as a complement to the original weblog entry.

I shall also include a few prominent voices that continue to place their hopes in a Palestinian state – starting with the newly-inaugurated Barack Obama, who said today, “I think it is possible for us to see a Palestinian state—I’m not going to put a time frame on it—that is contiguous, that allows freedom of movement for its people, that allows for trade with other countries, that allows the creation of businesses and commerce so that people have a better life.” (January 26, 2009)

Feb. 1, 2009 update: Nathan J. Brown of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace concludes in “Palestine and Israel: Time for Plan B” that “the international effort to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict has come to a dead end.” His Plan B offers makes no mention of Jordan-Egypt but involves three steps that center on recognizing Hamas:

The first step in a new diplomatic approach must be to establish a cease-fire that builds on the common interest of both Israel and Hamas to avoid fighting in the short term. …

The second step must be an armistice that would offer each side what they crave for the present—Israel would get quiet and a limit on arms to Hamas; Palestinians would get open borders, a freeze on settlements, and an opportunity to rebuild their shattered institutions. Such an armistice must go beyond a one-year cease-fire to become something sustainable for at least five to ten years.

Finally, the calm provided by the armistice must be used to rebuild Palestinian institutions and force Palestinians and Israelis to confront rather than avoid the choices before them.

Comment: One has to wonder what planet Brown lives on, making plans on the basis that Hamas can be tamed and made to accept the existence of a sovereign Jewish state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

Feb. 17, 2009 update: Giora Eiland, a leading Israeli strategist, has issued a study, “The Future of the Two-State Solution,” in which he calls the two-state solution “a big illusion.” In its stead, he offers a baroque plan whereby Cairo grants Gaza 600 sq. km. of its territory, Jerusalem annexes 600 sq. km. of territory on the West Bank and it grants a final 600 sq. km. of territory in the Negev desert to Egypt. Eiland does not explicitly say this last tranche would cut Israel in two, but that is implied when he writes that “Egypt could get a land corridor to enable movement from Egypt to the rest of the Middle East without the need to cross Israel.”

Comment: This has to be concurrently the least likely and least good idea anyone has come up with lately.

Feb. 28, 2009 update: Binyamin Netanyahu punts when asked in an interview if he endorses the 2-state solution, saying neither yes or no:

Q. What do you say when asked if you believe in a two-state solution as George Bush outlined in 2002?

A. Substantively, I think there is broad agreement inside Israel and outside that the Palestinians should have the ability to govern their lives but not to threaten ours.

Israel’s Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with Foreign Minister and Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni in Jerusalem February 22, 2009.

Mar. 1, 2009 update: Emerging from unsuccessful talks with Netanyahu to form a Likud-Kadima government, Tzipi Livni of Kadima blamed their failure in large part on Netanyahu’s unwillingness to commit to pursue a two-state solution.

Israel is facing challenges and I told him that Kadima would support the correct moves made by the government. But to deal with the challenges, I wanted three basic principles that you know about. Two states for two peoples is not an empty slogan. It is the only way Israel can remain Jewish and fight terrorism. It’s a fundamental issue. … This meeting has ended without agreements on issues that I see as essential.

(The other two demands were changes to the electoral system and reforms in the Interior Ministry.)

Comment: (1) Coalition talks are where the real platform gets hammered out. (2) But the evolution of Likud’s Ariel Sharon in 2003 shows how the real platform can change dramatically. Here is my account of what happened then:

Mr. Sharon decisively won re-election in January 2003 over Amram Mitzna, a Labor opponent who advocated an Oslo-style unilateral retreat from Gaza. Mr. Sharon unambiguously condemned this idea back then: “A unilateral withdrawal is not a recipe for peace. It is a recipe for war.” After winning the election, his talks in February 2003 about forming a coalition government with Mr. Mitzna failed because Mr. Sharon so heavily emphasized the “strategic importance” of Israelis living in Gaza. By December 2003, however, Mr. Sharon himself endorsed Mr. Mitzna’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.

So, coalition talks are a good but not entirely reliable guide to future policy.

Mar. 1, 2009 update bis: Aluf Benn of Ha’aretz points to “obvious political reasons” to explain Netanyahu’s reticence on this issue: “It would cost him his potential coalition with the right-wing National Union and Habayit Hayehudi, and force him into a rotation arrangement with Livni.” Plus, writes Benn, his opposition to a Palestinian state “is also a matter of principle, one he has held for many years.” Finally,

Netanyahu also has a tactical reason for objecting to a Palestinian state: He believes that this must come through negotiations, rather than being something conceded by Israel in advance. He considers the Annapolis process that outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Livni conducted with the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qureia to be a joke. In his opinion, Israel must not offer a near-total withdrawal from the West Bank in advance, which he believes would achieve nothing and only encourage the Palestinians to demand more.

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