Jane’s: Syria building chemical weapons plant (& Dubai bans novel with gay characters)

February 19, 2009

* Shimon Peres: Gaza disengagement was a mistake
* Hamas steals seven tons of weaponry from UN warehouse
* Syria allows import of Israeli apples

* Rupert Murdoch orders Wall Street Journal to pull sponsorship of tennis tournament after Dubai bans Israeli player
* But other sponsors (Barclays, Rolex, Sony Ericsson and The Washington Post Co.’s Newsweek) continue to pay for tournament
* African-American Venus Williams and Ana Ivanovic of Serbia say they will quit next year’s tournament if Israeli Jews are excluded

[Some of the items below are follow-ups to other recent dispatches on this email list. Previous dispatches can be read at: www.tomgrossmedia.com/mideastdispatches]



1. Jane’s: Syria building chemical weapons plant
2. Peres: I was wrong about Gaza disengagement
3. Handshake of the day
4. Attacks on Jews and Israelis continue worldwide
5. European media continue to promote anti-Semitism
6. Howard Jacobson’s article dismissed as “adolescent”
7. Hamas rockets continue, unreported
8. Palestinian Authority continues to glorify terrorist murderers
9. More footage of the ongoing executions by Hamas

10. Hamas steals seven tons of weaponry from UN warehouse
11. EU announces additional 41 million euro for UNRWA
12. Norwegian Muslims blast sheikh’s Holocaust remarks
13. The Wall Street Journal drops Dubai tennis sponsorship
14. Some African-American and east European players speak out
15. Swedish police to ban fans from Davis Cup matches
16. Dubai bans British novel because it has a gay character
17. Export of apples from Israel to Syria

[All notes below by Tom Gross]


The well-informed defense analyst group Jane’s reported yesterday that Syria has been conducting extensive construction work on a chemical weapons facility in the country’s northwest. Jane’s said it had obtained satellite images of the facility at al-Safir.

It reported that DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-1 satellite had shown that extensive construction has taken place at the facility, as well as at an adjacent missile base. Jane’s said “the images showed that the site contained a number of the defining features of a chemical weapons facility.”

The al-Safir base already houses many of Syria’s long-range Scud D ballistic missiles that have a range of 700 kilometers and can hit most of Israel. Al-Safir is reported to have several dozen underground fortified bunkers where the launchers and the missiles are stored.

In September 2007, Israel was reported to have destroyed Syria’s clandestine nuclear reactor. There are reports that Syria has since secretly restarted its nuclear program with Iranian and North Korean assistance.



In a remarkable about-face, Israeli President Shimon Peres said yesterday that he had erred in supporting Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

“What will happen in the future, we shall not repeat the wrongs we did in leaving Gaza,” Peres said. “It should have been done otherwise. I was for leaving Gaza. I consider myself as one of the persons mistaken.”

The president, who has long been a champion of territorial withdrawals to attain peace, added that “lessons must be drawn” from the Gaza pullout, and “democratic considerations” must be taken into account in future.

Peres, previously a leader of the Israeli left, appeared to support the long-held position of the Israeli center-right that Israel can’t attain peace by withdrawing from territory unless there is first a peaceful and democratic Palestinian party to hand that territory to.



The Iranian ambassador to Turkey tries his best to avoid shaking hands with women. From yesterday’s Iranian media.



A package containing caustic or poisonous materials was sent to the Israeli embassy in Oslo. Two employees were injured.



Anti-Semitism is continuing to sprout up in European media.

For example, the Spanish newspaper El Mundo this month published an openly anti-Semitic piece by columnist Antonio Gala, titled “Chosen People,” which blamed “Jewish greed” for the persecution of Jews throughout history.

Referring to Israel, Gala wrote: “Unless it puts a stop to avarice and false accounts, the Jewish people will succumb once more [to pogroms]. Wouldn’t this people do right to ask itself why it always goes through the same thing? Or is it maybe the rest of the world that is mistaken?”

Spanish law prohibits anti-Jewish hate speech and attempts to justify the Holocaust.

For more on anti-Semitic media coverage of Israel, including in the Spanish newspaper El País, please see the dispatch from earlier this week: Denmark – no Jews at our schools please (and “anti-Semitism in London’s theatreland”).


While Spaniards admonish Israel, readers of yesterday’s International Herald Tribune might have noticed a single paragraph at the foot of an article mentioning that 21 African migrants, many of them children, drowned to death just meters off the coast of Spain’s Canary Islands on Tuesday, while sunbathers looked on.

(See also my item from last year: Roma girls dead on a beach in Italy, ignored by sunbathers... )



Yesterday, The Independent of London (one of the most anti-Israeli newspapers in the world) published a long essay by Howard Jacobson in which he took up some of the themes and points already written about on this website. For example, he writes of “a new hate-fuelled little chamber-piece by Caryl Churchill.”

He talks of “the hatred of Israel expressed in our streets, on our campuses, in our newspapers, on our radios and televisions, and now in our theatres.”

Jacobson’s piece, titled “Let’s see the ‘criticism’ of Israel for what it really is,” can be read here.

While several people have written to me saying that it’s “amazing that The Independent published this piece,” in fact The Guardian, Le Monde, The Independent, the BBC, and their like, do occasionally publish pieces sympathetic to Israel. They then point to these to demonstrate that they are not anti-Semitic while they continue to publish daily diatribes and misinformation about Israel, many of which verge on the anti-Semitic.

Only last week The Independent’s chief Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk compared Palestinian children in Gaza to Jewish children “on the back of a lorry in Auschwitz.”

Personally, I have mixed feelings about Jacobson’s piece. It is very rare for a left-wing paper such as The Independent to give an entire double page spread to explain why so much of the anti-Israel invective these days is anti-Semitic, but (while it is generally a good piece) I’m not sure that Jacobson has used the space provided in the most effective way. For example, he hasn’t sufficiently indicated the glaring factual inaccuracies in the reporting of Israel’s operation in Gaza.


There has been a furious reaction to Jacobson’s article in the online readers’ comments section and in today’s printed letters column of The Independent. The paper chooses to print blatant lies by its readers, such as “no Hamas missile had fallen in Israel for six months before Operation Cast Lead” and other letters using that old racist trick – blaming the victims of racism (in this case Jews) for causing the racism themselves.

The main letter The Independent selected for publication today just dismisses Jacobson’s article as “adolescent” and says “He really should grow up or else leave the floor to more reasoned commentators.”



Yet more Kassam rockets were fired at Israel early this morning, to add to the mortar shell that was fired into Israel yesterday. Over 40 rockets have been fired by Hamas since it declared a ceasefire less than a month ago. The international media (so obsessed with covering any Israeli defensive actions) have barely mentioned these.

A Palestinian terrorist was also apprehended this morning as he tried to plant a bomb on the Israel-Gaza border. He was lightly wounded in an exchange of fire and has been taken to hospital in Israel for treatment.

(For background articles on the many people who don’t understand why Israel stopped its operation against Hamas last month before it had been completed, please see previous dispatches on this list including: “Dear Palestinian Arab brethren…” (& “Israel refuses to win”)



It is not only Hamas that continues to promote terrorism, but the supposedly more moderate Palestinian group Fatah too. Fatah controls the Palestinian Authority, which is lavishly funded by western governments.

The official Palestinian Authority daily newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida yesterday (Feb. 17) praised Thaer Hamed, the terrorist who murdered three Israeli civilians in a 2002 ambush, and is presently in prison in Israel.

The article, written by the paper’s editor-in-chief, Hafez Barghouti, said Hamed “is a hero of the Intifada... doing what tens of brigades and platoons, and hundreds of missiles and heroic stories, failed to do,” according to a translation by Palestinian Media Watch.

The article also praised the kidnapping by Hamas of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and called on Palestinians to view Hamed as a top priority for release in any future prisoner exchange. The article also noted how willing the present Israeli government has been to release Palestinian prisoners, adding that “while the Kadima and Labor parties are still in government desperate to get back Shalit they will release Hamed too if we insist.”

Glorifying terrorists is a regular practice in Palestinian society on the part of both the Fatah and Hamas leadership. The PA continues to honor terrorists as role models for children by naming schools, summer camps and sports facilities after some of the most heinous killers.

It is doubtful there will ever be peace in the Middle East until western governments make aid to Fatah conditional on their stopping this mass incitement of an entire generation of Palestinian schoolchildren.



Hamas execution of Fatah members in Gaza.

Please see recent previous dispatches on this list for other film clips of executions of Palestinians by Hamas in Gaza. The international media barely mention these killings. Instead many news organizations continue, dishonestly, to add the Palestinians killed by Hamas onto statistics they provide for Palestinians killed by Israel.



Following the recent theft of aid supplies in Gaza by Hamas (see previous dispatches on this list for details), on Tuesday evening Hamas stole seven tons of weaponry and ammunition in Gaza.

The material had been stored in UN warehouses and was slated to be destroyed by sappers. Senior UN officials said they were “outraged.”

Hamas will no doubt try to use these weapons to murder more Israeli Jews and moderate Palestinians.



The European Commission yesterday announced an additional contribution of 41 million Euros to support the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

This is despite the theft by Hamas that had taken place the evening before (see item above), and accusations of continued collusion between UNRWA and Hamas.



The Islamic Council of Norway on Tuesday took the rare step of publically distancing itself from the leading Sunni Islamic scholar, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who gave a speech broadcast on al-Jazeera in January saying the Holocaust had been “a divine punishment against the Jews.”

Criticism of the Qatar-based al-Qaradawi, who has been hugged and embraced by left-wing European politicians such as former mayor of London Ken Livingstone, is rare among Muslims.



The Wall Street Journal Europe revoked its sponsorship of the Dubai women’s tennis tournament, one of the world’s richest tennis tournaments, after the United Arab Emirates refused to allow an Israeli player to participate. The Journal is owned by News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch.

Israel’s Shahar Pe’er had already qualified and been placed in the woman’s draw. Last year, Pe’er participated in the tennis tournament in Doha, Qatar without incident. In 2007 Pe’er reached the quarter-finals of two grand slam events, the Australian Open and the U.S. Open.

The Journal Europe said in a statement that “The Wall Street Journal’s editorial philosophy is free markets and free people, and this action runs counter to the Journal’s editorial direction.”

The paper also said it will cancel a special tennis-themed advertising section scheduled for Monday and is withdrawing its sponsorship of a related men’s tennis tournament beginning next week in Dubai.

The other sponsors of the women’s Dubai event, including Barclays PLC, Rolex, Sony Ericsson and Washington Post Co.’s Newsweek, said they will continue with their sponsorship.

The Washington Post Co. said in a statement that: “If Israeli player Andy Ram is not permitted to enter Dubai to play in the men’s tournament, which begins Monday, Newsweek will withdraw from sponsoring the event.” (Andy Ram is ranked No. 7 in the world in doubles.)

The Tennis Channel, which owns the U.S. broadcast rights to the tournament, said it won’t televise the event. The channel’s chairman and chief executive said “If the State of Israel were barring a citizen of an Arab nation, we would have made the same decision. But it doesn’t.”



Wimbledon champion Venus Williams (from the United States), and reigning French Open champion Ana Ivanovic of Serbia made forceful statements in support of Pe’er and offered to withdraw from the tournament but Pe’er said they should stay. They said they won’t play next year if Pe’er is excluded.

Dinara Safina, the Russian world No 2, said: “It’s pretty disappointing she’s not playing here. She’s a great player and a great athlete. I hope she will have many more chances. I hope the WTA [Women’s Tennis Association] is doing its best for her.” French player Amélie Mauresmo also criticized the Dubai decision.



Officials in Sweden have decided to keep the 4,000-seat Malmo arena empty when Swedish and Israeli tennis players compete in first-round Davis Cup matches next month. Only tennis officials and select journalists will be allowed to watch.

Amazingly, the police in supposedly free and democratic Sweden say they can’t guarantee that the Israeli players won’t be harmed and instead have given in to intimidation by anti-Semitic and pro-Hamas elements in the country.



Dubai is not only banning Israeli tennis players. Yesterday it also banned a book by British author Geraldine Bedell because it contained a gay character.

Geraldine Bedell’s book “The Gulf Between Us” was greeted with enthusiasm by the first International Festival of Literature in Dubai – but then immediately banned once it was discovered that a minor character was a homosexual.

“It calls into question the whole notion of whether the Emirates and other Gulf states really want to be part of the contemporary cultural world,” Bedell said. “You can’t ban books and expect your literary festival to be taken seriously.”



Apples grown by Israeli apple growers in the Golan Heights were exported to Syria this week, via the Kuneitra crossing. The Kuneitra crossing is usually used only by UN personnel and forces.

The shipment will continue over the next few weeks. More than 20 truckloads of apples are scheduled to cross every day. Most of the Israeli apple farmers are Druze. Such trade is very unusual between two countries still officially at war.

-- Tom Gross

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.