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Gloria Center’s Barry Rubin on the attempted assassination of Ehud Olmert, and Syria meddling in Lebanon.

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HH: We begin this hour by talking in Israel with Barry Rubin of the Gloria Center. Barry, good to make your acquaintance, and your most recent book, The Truth About Syria. Tell us what the Gloria Center is.

BR: The Gloria Center stands for Global Research and International Affairs. It’s a research center focusing on Middle East politics, and the West’s relationship with the Middle East. And we publish the largest Middle East journal in the world, and follow all these issues on a daily basis by sometimes, I feel, 18 hours a day. And there are always things that are new and exciting and different and complex and misunderstood.

HH: Now Barry, yesterday, you put out a story which I had not seen anywhere else, which is that the Fatah attempted to assassinate Ehud Olmert. Can you explain what that was all about?

BR: Sure. A few weeks ago, there was a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. They planned the Annapolis meeting, and to try to work some agreements beforehand. At the last minute, Israel changed Olmert’s route. And later on, it turned out that it had discovered that a number of Fatah people, that is people who work for Mahmoud Abbas, who were in the security services, who were assigned to protect Olmert’s motorcade, had decided to assassinate him instead. Some of them, I believe three were arrested by Israel. Israel asked the Palestinian Authority to arrest two more, and then discovered that while they had been taken into custody, they had been quickly released. It complained a lot, and they were rearrested, and they’re being held, but probably, it’s quite possible they’ve been released, or sort of being held under very loose guard in very comfortable circumstances. So I raised the question how do we explain this.

HH: Right. And so, how do you explain it? You write in your column that based on his own interest, Abbas should have them shot, but you write that the rules of Palestinian politics, which are absolutely fatal to the hopes of getting a Palestinian state, will prevent them from being, getting community service. Why is that?

BR: Right. Well, you know, one of the points I make is that Palestinians and Arabs know these things and take them for granted. But when you say this to people in the West, they’re very shocking, basically because while some things have changed, the same basic rules and ideas prevail now as to twenty and thirty and forty years ago, that basically, it’s accepted that violence against Israel and Israeli civilians is good, that people who commit terrorism are heroes, and you can’t punish somebody for being a hero. So you can’t really justifiably do anything to these people. And equally, you can’t tell your people that this is a wrong thing, it’s bad, it’s against their interest and it should be punished. So the most extremist is always right. Somebody who’s more moderate has to be ashamed of being a moderate, and can’t do very much about it. And by the way, this is what we saw throughout the 1990’s with the Oslo process, too.

HH: Right.

BR: Except for some very specific signs.

HH: Now do you believe that the Annapolis gathering is doomed before it begins as a result of these fundamental dynamics?

BR: Oh, sure. And I mean, there’s a saying in Washington, you don’t commit the prestige of the president of the United States unless you know, to a specific project, unless you know it’s going to work. And I talk to a lot of people in a lot of governments, and it’s an open secret that people who are doing this really don’t know what they’re doing, they don’t know the outcome, the purpose, they don’t know who’s coming, they’ve had to postpone it once. And who knows? They may have to do it again. Now there are four reasons why they’re doing this. One reason is because they want to show they’re doing something on the Arab-Israeli conflict, to show the Europeans, to show the Arabs they’re trying. Okay, but you don’t want it to turn out badly. It’s better that they think the U.S. isn’t doing enough than that the U.S. has ability to do anything. And the basic problem isn’t the fault of the U.S. It’s the problem that the Palestinian side can’t get it together. The second reason they’re doing it is because they want Arab and European help on Iraq. And again, that’s understandable, but I don’t know if this is going to produce this. The third reason is that they hope to make some progress on shorter term stuff. Maybe we can talk about that a little longer. And the fourth reason is because Condoleezza Rice decided that she wanted to do this, that they want to pull off some big foreign policy success at the end of the administration, that she wants to look good in history in the next time she applies for a job. And it’s a very ill-conceived project.

HH: Now then let me ask you, given that…and I’m talking with Barry Rubin from the Gloria Center in Israel, stayed up late to talk to us tonight, given all that dynamic around there, what’s going on in Israel that would send Olmert there?

BR: Well, I mean, Israel wants to show that it cooperates with the United States, that it cooperates with the Europeans, and it wants peace. And so that’s what it’s doing. But I mean, I don’t think anybody here really expects anything great to come out of this meeting. I mean, look, I think people here really accept, and I think Palestinians really accept, is the idea that we are unfortunately years away from a comprehensive negotiated peace agreement. I mean, we’re talking, let me put it this way, I talked a well known Israeli intellectual on the left. He said what do you think, I said I think we could be twenty, thirty, forty years from a peace agreement. I’m a pessimist. He said you call that a pessimist? I think a hundred years.

HH: Interesting.

BR: And that’s the attitude here. But in the short run, I mean, you know, we do need some kind of interim situation. We don’t want Hamas to take over the West Bank. We would like to see the Palestinian Authority make more of an attempt to stop attacks, to end incitement, which they continue on a daily basis as they prepare to receive a promised $450 million dollars in U.S. aid every day. Palestinian Authority official media is broadcasting glorification of terrorists. So you know, we do want an interim, we do want to cooperate with the United States and with Europe, and Israel will go along with this. And I don’t think anything, I don’t think anything terrible will come out of it in terms of what’s agreed to. I think the problem is that there’ll be a decline in American credibility.

HH: Now Barry Rubin, I want to cover two subjects with you in the brief time that we have.

BR: Sure.

HH: Iran and Syria, first of all, do you expect the United States to strike at Iran within the next twelve months?

BR: I definitely don’t, but I’ll tell you, something very important has happened in the last few days, and I think a lot of people misunderstand what it is. I don’t think that the U.S. is going to attack Iran now or in the next year or two or more. What’s happened is I think people in the U.S., and also people in Israel, recognize that this is the last moment at which one can hope that sanctions and tough diplomacy can dissuade the Iranians. If you don’t get sanctions now, if you don’t get the Europeans to be tougher now, then one day, there will, more likely than not, be an attack. So the attempt is to say to people look, this is really serious, you know, we’ve got to get on this now or else.

HH: How long do you think until they go critical? How long until Iran has the capability of having nuclear…

BR: I think that people really view, I think people really view Iran being some years out from getting actual nuclear weapons. But what they do think at the same time is that Iran has reached the point where they’re going to be able, even if it takes them three or four years, to get nuclear weapons without any additional outside help.

HH: And that last question…

BR: So if you’re going to stop them, now is the time to do it, because otherwise, sooner or later, you’re looking at a military operation.

HH: Last question, Barry Rubin…

BR: But not in the next year.

HH: …is about Syria, and their interference in Lebanon. Reports on Memory Blog today that they are attempting to dictate the election of the president there. You’ve written the book, The Truth About Syria. What is Syria attempting to do in Lebanon right now? We’ve got about a minute and a half.

BR: I think controlling Lebanon is Syria’s number one goal. Look, I mean, if they wanted the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in ’67, they could have had that seven years ago. Golan Heights isn’t worth much. Lebanon’s a gold mine. Lebanon has hundreds of thousands of jobs for Syrian, the Syrian elite becomes rich on smuggling, on growing opium, on counterfeiting U.S. dollars. That’s the real prize. And they want to control it, and they want to basically, with the help of Hezbollah, take over the Lebanese government. Lebanon is electing a new president, and between appealing to the Europeans to sell out Lebanon, and killing anybody in Lebanon who stands up for the independence of the country, they hope to get power. They are, again, unless real steps are made to support the Lebanese and stop them, they may succeed. This is the first time in history when the Syrians and Hezbollah are trying to murder off a parliamentary majority in order to get power. And I think, I’ll have to check my math, but I think they’re down to about five.

HH: Wow. Barry Rubin, we will check back with you as we get closer to the day of decision in Lebanon. From the Gloria Center in Israel, thanks for joining us this evening. Barry Rubin, The Truth About Syria, his book, Gloria Center, is linked at

End of interview.


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