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Mandatory IDF Service to be Reduced to 28 Months


Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz announced that in 2010, service for male soldiers would be lowered from the current three years to 28 months. The decision is based on recommendations of the Ben-Bassat Committee. Soldiers serving additional time would be compensated, with improved salaries and conditions for combat soldiers and special forces. The plan would also result in the elimination of some of the special units, such as Nahal and Hesder Yeshiva service.

Study: Thousands Would Die in Iran Strike

By Reuters

Thousands of military personnel and hundreds of civilians would be killed if the United States launched an air strike on Iran to prevent it developing nuclear arms, a British think tank said in a report released on Monday.

The report by the independent Oxford Research Group said any bombing of Iran by U.S. forces, or by their Israeli allies, would have to be part of a surprise attack on a range of facilities including urban areas that would catch many Iranians unprotected.

The London-based Sunday Telegraph said American Central Command, Strategic Command planners were 'identifying targets, assessing weapon-loads and working on logistics for an operation'; U.N. nuclear watchdog agency strips most surveillance equipment from Iranian nuclear sites

"I think there is at least a 50:50 risk of some sort of real crisis, probably with military action, before the end of next year," said the report's author, Prof. Paul Rogers of the University of Bradford.

"There is always the possibility that the Israelis do (it). I don't think you can rule that out," he told Reuters. "For the Israelis, having an Iran which is getting anywhere close to a nuclear weapons capability is simply not acceptable."

An attack could eventually lead to a lengthy confrontation involving many other countries in the region, could mean the closure of the Gulf, and would probably have a "formidable" impact on oil prices, as well as spurring new attacks by Muslim radicals on Western interests, the report said.

"A U.S. military attack on Iranian nuclear infrastructure would be the start of a protracted military confrontation," the report said. Such a confrontation would probably involve Iraq, Israel and Lebanon as well as the United States and Iran, with the possibility of Arab Gulf states being involved as well.

"Military deaths in (the) first wave of attacks against Iran would be expected to be in the thousands," it said. "Civilian deaths would be in the many hundreds at least," it added. "If the war evolved into a wider conflict, primarily to pre-empt or counter Iranian responses, the casualties would eventually be much higher."

Western states suspect Iran of secretly aiming to build a nuclear bomb. Tehran says its nuclear facilities are intended to produce only electricity. Washington and Jerusalem have said they would prefer to solve the dispute through diplomacy but have not ruled out military action.

The report said an attack by the United States or Israel on Iran would probably spur Tehran to work as rapidly as possible toward developing a nuclear military option. It said U.S. forces, already tied down in Iraq, would have a limited number of military options when dealing with Iran and would have to rely almost entirely on the Air Force and Navy.

Any attack would have a "powerful unifying effect within Iran", bolster the Tehran government, and mean any future U.S. relationship with Iran would be based on violence. The report concluded that a military response to the crisis would be a "particularly dangerous option and should not be considered further."

Netanyahu: "Olmert is Detached from Reality"


Likud Chairman Netanyahu said that Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is dangerously ignoring the Hamas rise to power. "Olmert is detached from reality," Netanyahu told Army Radio

"He did not see that his policy of free withdrawals led to the Hamas victory, and he did not foresee the firing of Kassams at Ashkelon, and he does not see the Hamas state that has arisen atop of Gush Dan [the greater Tel Aviv-Netanya area]."

Netanyahu similarly criticized the media for underplaying the Hamas dangers. When Army Radio interviewer Razi Barkai said, "OK, we've exhausted the diplomatic topic, let's discuss something else," Netanyahu laughed and said, "I know that the media has its limitations, but to think that we've exhausted this topic in two minutes is simply a joke. We have just undergone a veritable earthquake, with the rise of a fundamentalist-Islamic terrorist organization to power, giving it the ability to create another Iran right on our border - and we just pass over it as if it were nothing."

Olmert, in one of his first public speeches since assuming Prime Ministerial duties a month ago, said last night that his Kadima Party is the only alternative for the Israeli public: "On the right is a conservative party that is detached from reality and buried in slogans of the past - the Likud - while on the left is a radical socialist party led by Amir Peretz." Olmert also said, "A government headed by myself will not conduct any negotiations with Hamas."

Both the Likud and Labor responded sharply to Olmert's speech. A Labor Party response attacked Olmert's mention of a seven-year plan to fight poverty: "The amount he spends on cigars is more than the minimum wage."

The Likud initiated a campaign Monday emphasizing the Russian invitation to Hamas - and the French half-hearted approval of such - as an indication of Olmert's perceived weakness. "Putin and Chirac are giving Olmert a lesson," the new Likud slogan states. Kadima's new slogan is, "Israel is stronger than Bibi."

Netanyahu told Army Radio "Olmert reveals inexperience in his attempts to deal with a complex reality that can be dealt with. He allowed Hamas to vote in Jerusalem, gave it money, brought the partition wall closer to central Israel, and now, after the horses have run away, he wants to close the barn doors that he left open."

Netanyahu was asked twice if he regarded Olmert as unfit to serve as Prime Minister. Despite his harsh criticism of Olmert, Netanyahu preferred to dodge this question - apparently in order to leave open the option of the Likud's joining an Olmert-led government in the future.

"The Likud will build a wall against Hamas with international help, and we will ensure that the Jordan Valley and Judean Valley remain a part of the State... It must be understood that Hamas is not Fatah. You have to listen to them and believe them. Olmert will withdraw in order to enable another Iran to be built here. I have to tell the public the truth: This danger can be reduced.

"There is no difference between Kadima and Labor, they are both left-wing parties. Olmert has taken Peres, and Chaim Ramon, and Dalia Itzik. There is a choice: Either the Likud policies that foresee developments, or a policy of illusions led by Olmert, leading to continued strengthening of Hamas."

Outgoing Palestinian Parliament Gives Abbas More Powers

By VOA News

The outgoing Palestinian parliament has given Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas new powers just days before the Islamic terrorist group Hamas comes to power.

The parliament, which is dominated by Abbas' Fatah party, passed an amendment Monday allowing him to name judges to a court that can veto laws passed by the legislature. Hamas leaders called the measure "illegitimate" and vowed to overturn it when the group takes over the legislature Saturday.

Spokesmen for Hamas also say it has settled on a prime minister who belongs to the militant group. Earlier, Hamas said it preferred an independent for the post. The group said it hoped Fatah would join a new Palestinian government, but Fatah has said it would refuse.

Olmert Says Constitution a Must; Netanyahu Agrees but Warns Against U.S. Model


Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Knesset plenum on Monday that the next parliament should seek to draw permanent borders and adopt a Constitution to ensure Israel remains a democratic and Jewish State.

Speaking during a ceremony marking the 57th anniversary of the Knesset, Olmert said: "The members of the 17th Knesset, which will enter this plenum in a number of months, will face a series of historical tasks. We will face a major task of establishing Israel as a democratic and Jewish state. The first step to reaching this objective will be the setting up of permanent borders. Another object which is no less important will be the realization of the commitment made in the Declaration of Independence to adopt a Constitution.

"The Constitution will ensure that the State of Israel will act in accordance with Jewish and democratic ethics. It will ensure the protection of human rights and the establishment of clear regulations for government and of course the introduction of a fair system that will protect the rights of the Arab minority," Olmert said.

Olmert added that the Constitution would ensure government stability in a country where the average life of any government is 23 months. "We need to prevent situations where ministers are replaced before having time to enter their offices. We need to ensure that stable government can overcome everyday considerations and take long-term decisions."

Olmert rival Binyamin Netanyahu also voiced unequivocal support for the adoption of a written Constitution, saying "the reason we need a Constitution is evident in the democratic elections of our neighbors...democratic elections are necessary but insufficient condition for democracy."

Netanyahu also warned of the gradual erosion of Israeli democracy: "On the Knesset's 57th birthday I wish to say something because the truth should be told. Despite Israel's achievements, there is a problem of trust between the Knesset and the voters, between the public and its representatives, and it is true to say that a dangerously distorted image of the Knesset has been developed in the heads of the public and I think it is our task to stop this trend."

He also warned of premising the Constitution on the U.S. model: "The Constitution needs to protect the citizen from the group, from tyranny, but today it also has to provide tools for the government to protect itself and the citizens from the reality we live in."

Israeli Campaign to Nix 'Palestine' Tag on Oscar-Contending Film

By Reuters

Israel and U.S. Jewish groups have lobbied organizers of next month's Academy Awards not to present a nominated film about Palestinian suicide bombers as coming from "Palestine," an Israeli diplomat said yesterday.

With Israeli-Palestinian tensions running high, the provenance of "Paradise Now" is as combustible an issue as its plot in the run-up to the March 5 ceremony, which will be watched by millions worldwide. A drama about two West Bank men recruited to blow themselves up in Tel Aviv, "Paradise Now" is a contender for the Oscar in the "best foreign film" category.

Many Israelis were irked when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in publishing the nomination, said that "Paradise Now" came from "Palestine."

While the tag remains on the Academy's web site, the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he expected the film to be described as coming from the "Palestinian Authority" during the awards ceremony.

"Both the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles and several concerned Jewish groups pointed out that no one, not even the Palestinians themselves, have declared the formal creation of 'Palestine' yet, and thus the label would be inaccurate," the diplomat said. The academy could not immediately be reached for comment.

"Paradise Now" was a broad co-production involving an Israeli Arab director and actors, Palestinian crew and locations, a Jewish Israeli producer and private European funding.

Major Israeli cinema chains have shunned the film, with distributors citing concerns of low audience turnout, given its generally sympathetic portrayal of suicide bombers.

Palestinians have mostly responded well to "Paradise Now," although some voiced misgivings at its depiction of one bomber who undertakes his deadly mission because of social pressure, as well as to avenge the travails of Israeli occupation.

The controversy around "Paradise Now" compounds an already fraught Academy Awards for Israel, thanks to several nominations garnered by Steven Spielberg's "Munich." A thriller about the reprisals Israel launched after 11 of its athletes died in a Palestinian raid on the 1972 Olympic Games, Munich has been accused by pro-Israel groups of skewing history and criticizing Israel's security policies. Spielberg called the film his "prayer for peace."

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