Israel: October 13, 1999


: Following separate rocket and mortar attacks by Amal and Heabollah in southern Lebanon, Israel made two air attacks on suspected enemy positions in southern Lebanon.

October 12; Amal attacked four Israeli positions in South Lebanon with rocket grenades, Israel responded with an air attack on Amal positions in South Lebanon.

October 12; TROUBLE BREWING IN SYRIA: A succession crisis is brewing in Syria as President Hafez Assad's health continues to fail. Syrian television now uses archival footage when referring to him; there have been few if any public appearances of late. The contestants in the succession struggle are Rifat Assad (brother of Hafez, former Vice President, living in disgrace) and Bashar Assad (son of Hafez, groomed by him to take over the government). This has serious implications for the Arab-Israeli peace process, since Bashar seems to want a deal while Rifat wants only the destruction of Israel and as soon as possible. Rifat had (once the failing health of Hafez became known) begun lining up his old guard supporters to back his bid for the presidency. Rifat has used his son Sumer Assad as a stalking horse, dispatching him on unofficial visits to various Arab leaders, including Arafat. Bashar, who controls the security forces, launched a crackdown on 19 Sept, arresting dozens of Rifat's supporters for "corruption". Several dozen of Rifat's closest supporters (known as "the private militia" were barricaded inside Rifat's estate in Latakia and surrounded by a battalion of 600 troops from a unit known to be personally loyal to Bashar. Rifat had tried to seize power in 1983 when Hafez had his first heart attack; he was banished to Europe but allowed to come home in 1992. Bashar never wanted power (he is a doctor) but when his brother was killed in an accident, Bashar was quickly transformed into a military leader and political statesman, given high level posts and high profile assignments, and became the heir apparent. Bashar is 35, while the Syria constitution requires the president to be 40. Hafez is unlikely to survive for another five years. The Syrian Ba'ath Party is due to hold a convention in November at which Hafez will elevate Bashar to an even higher post while stripping Rifat of what little power he has left. This convention may also change the constitution to allow Bashar to take power despite his youth; such changes for obvious nepotism would not set well with the Syrian political and military establishment.--Stephen V Cole

October 10; The "final status negotiations" for an Arab-Israeli peace deal were predicated on the concept that everyone would compromise on these incredibly difficult issues to avoid losing whatever had been gained by earlier stages of the talks. For example, if the Palestinians refused to accept some part of the final status, Israel might well just re-invade the "Palestinian Authority" in a move that could trigger a blood bath neither side could accept, or possibly avoid. The key issues of the final talks include:

Borders: Israel has already made it clear that it will keep the Jordan Valley, as well as four roads running across the West Bank to provide rapid reinforcement for the defense line. These four roads would effectively divide the Palestinian State/Authority/Entity into five separate areas, keeping it militarily and politically impotent. Israel has suggested that the Palestinians could avoid the need for checkpoints crossing these controlled roads (and their 4km right of way) with a series of overpasses. The Palestinians are likely to accept this as only an interim step, with the Israeli roads (and eventually the Jordan Valley) to be handed over on a timetable. 

Water: Israel cannot exist without the ground water it takes from the occupied territories. One solution would be to install huge desalinization plants on the coast (such as those Saudi Arabia uses), but Israel is not happy with this idea for two reasons. First, they would be terrorist targets that could amount to the jugular veins of Israel. Second, the Palestinians could, by overpumping their wells, effectively lower the water table in Israel and pull sea water into Israeli wells. 
The Palestinian State/Entity: The Palestinians (not to mention the other Arabs) will accept nothing less than a Palestinian state, but exactly what a "state" is remains nebulous. The Palestinians will doubtless accept some limits on their armed forces (e.g., no artillery, no armor) so long as they can have a seat at the UN as a nation.

Jerusalem remains the key to the entire problem, and the area least likely to be resolved. The Palestinians want "Arab East Jerusalem" as their capital Al Quds, and are backed by the Arab states. The Israelis point out that East Jerusalem has always had a strong Jewish element, which is currently a majority of the population. The Palestinians insist that much of this population consists of illegal Jewish immigrants and settlers who must leave as part of a peace treaty. The Israeli solution is already known: Annex a couple of Palestinian villages (e.g., Abu Dis and El Azariya) into the city limits, THEN turn THOSE over to the Palestinians. This would avoid giving up any of the "indivisible" capital. The Palestinians have already rejected this idea, but would probably compromise and accept it if they also got some Arab-majority areas within the current city limits, and the Israelis might manage to get this past their electorate. The problem would be to reach some agreement on how much of the current city to give up, and one possible solution would be to designate some Arab-dominated areas as "subject to future negotiations" which might never actually take place. The solution to the Temple Mount problem has been known for years; it will be declared "extra-territorial" and remain under control of the local Islamic officials, more as a museum than a part of the Palestinian capital city. The Palestinians would be provided with a corridor through East Jerusalem by which they could reach the religious shrines without passing through Israeli checkpoints..--Stephen V Cole


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