News update Feb 21 2008



The news from the Holy Land is currently dominated by reactions to the assassination of Imad Mughniyah in Damascus. He was the top military commander in Hezbollah. Over the years, in addition to organising attacks on Jewish and Israeli targets, he has organised attacks American marines and the hijacking of US citizens. Therefore he was at the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted list. His death is a huge blow to Hezbollah and must be worrying for Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah, because Mughniyah was part of his personal security forces.

Israel has denied any involvement in this daring attack in the middle of Damascus. Others think the assassination was carried out by the US or Syria, or resulted from internal strife in Hezbollah. The Kuwaiti daily newspaper Al-Rai blames “an Arab state” funded by the Gulf States.

Even if Israel is not responsible, and some Israelis doubt that, Hezbollah is making it a reason for an attack on Israel or possibly a Jewish target elsewhere. It can hardly do otherwise if it is to retain credibility in the Arab world.  The Israelis have mounted Patriot air defence missiles near Haifa.

Nasrallah has promised that Mughniyah’s blood “will lead to Israel’s fall.” An Iranian military leader stated: “In the near future, we will witness the destruction of the cancerous germ of Israel by the powerful and competent hands of the Hezbollah combatants.”

However Nasrallah has to bear in mind Hezbollah’s need to appear a legitimate Lebanese political party. This has restrained his terrorist activity in the past. It may discourage him from attacking Israeli or Jewish targets outside Israel, which he has not done since 1994.  If he mounted a massive rocket attack on Israel he would suffer severe retaliation which would not improve his popularity in Lebanon.  A token attack on Israel would not maintain his credibility.  He might send an unmanned drone loaded with explosives over Israel. The Israelis have shot several down already.  Israelis speculate that he might bomb an Israeli embassy in Africa or Asia, attack an El-Al plane, assassinate an Israeli leader or perform some other spectacular attack.

Israeli commentators say that, if Israel is responsible, they need to learn from history that such high-profile assassinations don’t achieve anything. In fact they lead to harsh retaliation and the people who take over from those killed have often proved worse than they were.


Sir John Holmes, who was involved in negotiations over Northern Ireland and now is UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs has warned Israel not to invade Gaza and to rely on diplomacy. He pointed out that Britain never considered bombing the IRA.

The Israelis are in a dilemma: if they invade Gaza this could destroy Mahmoud Abbas politically. If they organise a ceasefire, that would be a victory for Hamas.  They are afraid that, according to Israel’s ambassador to the EU, Europe might recognise Hamas as the legitimate government in Gaza.


Controversy has arisen from contradictory remarks emerging from Olmert and Abbas about discussions over Jerusalem. Olmert said that Abbas had agreed that Jerusalem had been taken off the agenda until later but Abbas denied this.  It is possible that this agreement was meant to be kept private but that, once public, Abbas could not afford to be seen to be in agreement.  It is certainly true that Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei are discussing Jerusalem. Livni and Saab Erekat, Palestinian negotiator, criticised any delaying of the Jerusalem discussions. Only recently, Olmert was saying that discussing the borders between Israel and a Palestinian state was an easy matter. It is difficult to see how that discussion could be settled without discussion about dividing Jerusalem.

However Benjamin Netenyahu, leader of the Israeli opposition Likud party claimed recently that Olmert is secretly negotiating to divide Jerusalem.

Discussions are taking place on Palestinian membership of international organisations, water supplies (a very important and contentious issue), internal security (including entry permits and border crossings), economics, etc.


  1. Pray that it may become clear who assassinated Imad Mughniyah and that no innocent parties will be harmed.2.Pray that tensions between Hezbollah and Israel will not lead to an escalation of violence.3.       Pray for peace with justice in the relationship between Israel and Gaza.4.       Pray for the success of the peace talks.




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