Pro-Israel News

Friday, August 2, 2013

WASHINGTON | Thu Aug 1, 2013 6:46pm EDT

(Reuters) - President Barack Obama spoke separately by phone on Thursday to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the White House said, as the United States seeks to keep up the momentum for peace negotiations.

The calls came days after Israeli and Palestinian negotiators broke a three-year lull in talks and met in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

"President Obama called Prime Minister Netanyahu today to commend his leadership and courage in resuming final status negotiations with the Palestinians," the White House said in a statement.

"The president underscored that while the parties have much work to do in the days and months ahead, the United States will support them fully in their efforts to achieve peace."

A similar statement was sent regarding Obama's call with Abbas. "The president reaffirmed that the United States stands ready to support the parties in achieving a just and lasting peace based on the two state solution, and will continue to work closely with the Palestinian Authority to achieve this goal," it said.

The Israeli and Palestinian negotiators gave themselves about nine months to try to reach an agreement on ending their long-running conflict.

The talks are expected to go to a second round by the middle of August. The conflict has resisted all previous attempts to resolve it, which has led to skepticism about whether this round will have a successful end.

WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency, said Obama, in his call to Abbas, stressed his support for the efforts that led to launching the peace process and the need to exploit the current opportunity by acting fast to keep up the momentum.

Abbas stressed the Palestinian commitment to a two-state solution and the need to reach a solution in the nearest time possible, the report said.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Thursday, July 25, 2013
By Calev Ben-David - Jul 25, 2013 7:26 AM ET

Israel’s Regional Cooperation Minister Silvan Shalom said there is “a good chance” Israelis and Palestinians will renew long-stalled peace talks on July 30 in Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced last week that the sides had agreed on a basis to restart negotiations that broke down in 2010. No date was set, and Shalom, speaking to reporters today in the West Bank city of Jericho, was the first official on either side to publicly give a specific day.

“There is a good chance that negotiations with the Palestinians will resume next week in Washington on Tuesday, provided there are no last-minute complications,” he said.

Shalom said Israel would not agree to freeze construction on lands the Palestinians seek for a future state, a longstanding Palestinian demand that had stymied the renewal of talks. The Palestinians say they have not given up that condition, and neither they, Israel nor the U.S. have disclosed on what basis the talks are to resume.

Shalom’s visit to Jericho -- the first by a high-ranking Israeli official to Palestinian-administered territory since 2007 -- was another sign of diplomatic thawing. He and Palestinian Planning Minister Mohammed Abu Ramadan pledged to cooperate economically, and to make that tangible, signed a joint declaration backing an industrial park in Jericho whose opening has been held up for years by political disputes.

No Substitute

“I believe it is better to talk than to fight,” Shalom said. “That doesn’t mean that economy is a substitute for the political track; the two should go together.”

Israel contributed water and electricity infrastructure to the park and has agreed to extend hours at the bridge between the West Bank and nearby Jordan to ease the shipment of goods, he said. While the Palestinians are responsible for administering Jericho, Israel maintains security control over all of the West Bank, which it captured in 1967.

The Japanese government, which is financing the project’s construction, said in a statement that the park is expected to create 7,000 jobs for Palestinians after it opens next spring.

“This project will have a high risk of failure if we fail to reach a just and lasting solution to the conflict,” Abu Ramadan said.

Twenty-four companies have agreed to be tenants in the project, which is being built with Japanese grants to total about $200 million, according to a statement handed out at today’s ceremony. So far, all the businesses are Palestinian-owned, and efforts are being made to bring in foreign investors, officials said. Japan’s foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, attended the event.

To contact the reporter on this story: Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

JERUSALEM –  A spokeswoman for Israel's ruling Likud Party says parliament could vote as early as next week on a bill requiring a national referendum on any peace deal with the Palestinians.

Michal Gerstner said Tuesday that Israel already has a referendum law. The bill would shield the referendum idea against legal challenges.

Existing law calls for a referendum if the government cedes land under Israeli sovereignty, including east Jerusalem, annexed by Israel after the 1967 Mideast war and claimed by the Palestinians as a capital.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday he'll fast-track the bill to prevent a rift in Israeli society. Critics say a referendum adds an obstacle to the process.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said he has made progress toward restarting long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Read more:

Monday, July 22, 2013
July 20, 2013 - 6:36 PM

BY IAN DEITCH, Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry steps out of a vehicle as he prepares to depart from a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday, July 19, 2013 in the West Bank city of Ramallah. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stepped up his drive to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, meeting with the Palestinian president Friday as he sought to close a deep divide between the two sides over a formula for resuming peace talks after nearly five years.(AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to resume peace talks with Israel only after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gave him a letter guaranteeing that the basis of the negotiations will be Israel's pre-1967 borders, two senior Palestinian officials said Saturday.

A Western official, however, later denied that the '67 lines would be the basis of negotiations.

The Palestinian officials, both of whom are close to the Palestinian leader and privy to internal discussions, said the U.S. letter also stipulated that both sides are to refrain from taking any steps that would jeopardize the outcome of the talks. Israel is not to issue new tenders for Jewish settlements in the West Bank, while the Palestinians are not to pursue diplomatic action against Israel at any international organizations, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief the media.

"The talks with Kerry were about to collapse, and the letter came as a lifeline in the last-minute bargaining," one of the Palestinian officials said.

U.S. officials have said in the past that Kerry would reiterate standing American positions on the goals for renewed talks, including that a Palestinian state should be negotiated on the basis of Israel's borders before the 1967 Mideast war, when Israel captured the Gaza Strip, West Bank and east Jerusalem.

There was no immediate comment from the State Department, though a Western official denied the Palestinian officials' claim about the '67 borders.

"There are no terms of reference or any other agreements that the '67 lines will be the basis for negotiations," the official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as the official had no authorization to speak to the media.

After a round of intense shuttle diplomacy, Kerry announced on Friday that Israel and the Palestinians had agreed on a basis for returning to the peace process, which broke down five years ago. The two sides are to meet — likely in the coming week — to work out final details on actually resuming their negotiations on the toughest issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Kerry would not give details on the agreement on the negotiations' framework. "The best way to give these negotiations a chance is to keep them private." he said. "We know that the challenges require some very tough choices in the days ahead. Today, however, I am hopeful."

The Palestinians long refused to return to the negotiating table unless Israel agreed to several preconditions, including that the talks be based on Israel's pre-1967 borders. Israel frequently called for talks to resume without preconditions, insisting that all core issues should be resolved through dialogue.

Speculation has been rife for weeks that the sides would find a way to sidestep Israel's reluctance to offer assurances of the 1967 lines as the framework for talks by having the guarantee provided by the United States.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces sharp opposition from within his majority coalition to such a move. One key ally, Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, has threatened to pull his Jewish Home Party out of the government altogether if the prime minister agrees to the border conditions.

The basis of the negotiations themselves — not the core issues at the heart of the conflict — has been a major impediment to resuming talks. On Thursday evening, the Palestinian leadership balked at dropping a main condition: They demanded a guarantee that negotiations on borders between a Palestinian state and Israel would be based on the cease-fire line that held from 1949 until the 1967 war.

Kerry's announcement late Friday suggested that the question had been resolved, although the top U.S. diplomat offered no details.

Netanyahu issued a statement Saturday evening welcoming Kerry's announcement and thanking him for his efforts, saying he "views the resumption of the political process at this time a vital strategic interest."

Earlier Saturday, Israel's intelligence and strategic affairs minister offered a few details on the framework. He confirmed that Israel would release some Palestinian prisoners, but said it will not meet other long-standing Palestinian demands before negotiations resume, such as a settlement freeze or defining the 1967 borders as the basis for talks.

Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio that prisoners Israel has agreed to release include some who "have been sitting in jail for dozens of years," He did not say how many would be freed, adding only that they would be released in phases.

The fate of the prisoners is extremely sensitive in Palestinian society. After decades of fighting Israel, many families have had a member imprisoned and the release of prisoners has been a longstanding demand. The Palestinians are held on a range of charges, from rock throwing to deadly assaults like shooting attacks or bombings targeting Israeli soldiers and civilians. The Palestinians mostly view the prisoners as heroes while Israelis tend to see them as terrorists.

In a sign of the opposition Netanyahu faces even within his own government, deputy defense minister Danny Danon issued a statement condemning the prisoner release, saying "these murderers must not be released as an 'act of good will' or as a prize for returning to the negotiating table."

Steinitz said it a nine-month timetable was agreed to for the talks to prevent them from collapsing along the way. He also said the Palestinians agreed to refrain from taking action against Israel at the United Nations while the talks are taking place — echoing the statement from the Palestinian officials.

Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians, Tzipi Livni, welcomed the revival of the peace process. She said it was difficult to restart talks after years of mistrust between the sides, but that she is "hopeful" about them.

"This is a very heavy responsibility," Livni told Israel's Channel 2 TV of the talks. "All the issues will be on the table."

Final status negotiations aim to reach a deal on the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Jerusalem, borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees and security arrangements. Talks ground to a halt five years ago, and previous efforts to revive them have stalled, particularly over Palestinian demands that Israel announce a freeze in construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which they claim as part of a future state along with Gaza. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said his group rejects Kerry's announcement, saying it does not recognize Abbas' "legitimacy to negotiate" on their behalf. The militant Hamas group rules Gaza, and has been at odds with Abbas since taking over the seaside strip in 2007.


Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.


Friday, July 19, 2013
Posted on July 18, 2013 by

( More than 5,000 pro-Israel Christians are expected to attend the annual Washington, DC summit of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) from July 22-24.

CUFI says that it is the largest pro-Israel group in the U.S., with 1.2 million members.

“Israel needs unwavering friends to stand and speak up on her behalf more than ever,” CUFI said on the summit’s webpage. “From Cairo to Beirut, from Gaza to Damascus, and from Ramallah to Tehran, the Jewish people are surrounded by enemies who seek to destroy them. These are truly dark and dangerous days for our ally Israel.”

Legislators speaking at the summit will include U.S. Reps. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), John Barrow (D-GA), Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Tom Price (R-GA), and Peter Roskam (R-IL), as well as U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

“Over 5,000 Christians standing up and speaking up for Israel in our nation’s capital makes a powerful statement to our leaders that they cannot ignore!” CUFI said of the summit.

On July 24, summit attendees “will meet with their elected officials throughout the day and present the Biblical positions of our support for the nation of Israel and the Jewish people,” CUFI said.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

JERUSALEM (AFP) –  The Israeli military is preparing to lift some restrictions on Palestinian movement in advance of possible renewed peace talks, army radio said on Thursday.

"It appears that in the next few days the future of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will be determined," its reporter for the Palestinian territories reported.

"In the light of security assessments, two roads in the territories are expected shortly to be opened to Palestinian traffic; one north of Ramallah and one close to Beit Haggai," he added, referring to a settlement near the southern West Bank city of Hebron.

The radio quoted the military spokesman's office as saying that the plans were a gesture for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and not linked to peace efforts.

The office did not immediately reply to an AFP request for comment.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was to meet senior members of his Palestine Liberation Organisation in the West Bank city of Ramallah later on Thursday to brief them on his meetings in Jordan with US Secretary of State John Kerry, a Palestinian official said.

Kerry said Wednesday that his intense diplomacy in six visits to the Middle East was bearing fruit, narrowing gaps between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Palestinians have said that they will not renew peace talks, stalled for almost three years, until Israel agrees to accept as a baseline the borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war, when it occupied the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

They say Israel needs to freeze all settlement construction in the occupied lands, including in east Jerusalem, which it annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

Israel rejects such "preconditions".

Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom told the radio that easing some restrictions on Palestinians' daily lives did not constitute bowing to preconditions.

"I think that in the framework of opening negotiations, if we carry out what is known as confidence-building measures which do not endanger security, such things have always been possible as part of a larger context," he said.

"If it is the judgement of security officials that such a thing does not damage security, then of course we have the possibility to do that."

Read more:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Egypt’s New Government Doesn’t Include Muslim Brotherhood


CAIRO — Egypt’s interim president swore in a new cabinet on Tuesday that was dominated by liberal and leftist politicians, sweeping away the brief era of Islamist political rule built by the country’s deposed president, Mohamed Morsi.

Not one of the 34 cabinet members belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, the 80-year-old Islamist movement that propelled Mr. Morsi to the presidency a year ago, or to any other Islamist party. The cabinet does include three women and three Coptic Christians, making it slightly more diverse, in some respects, than Mr. Morsi’s cabinet.

Egypt’s defense minister, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, who has emerged as the country’s de facto leader since Mr. Morsi’s ouster two weeks ago, added the title of deputy to the prime minister to his portfolio, though the specific powers it carried remained vague.

Even as analysts credited some of the ministers for their competence and for bringing badly needed expertise to Egypt’s escalating economic crisis after a year of mismanagement, the composition of the cabinet exposed it to the same criticisms once heaped on Mr. Morsi: that he excluded his opponents from governing and, in the process, demolished any sense of political consensus.

That seemed likely to widen the political fissures that appeared during Mr. Morsi’s presidency and after his ouster, as his supporters took to the streets, vowing to remain until he was released from custody and restored to his post, a demand that was echoed by the Brotherhood.

“In this political scene, they are sending a signal that says, ‘We won and you lost,’ ” said Moataz Abdel Fattah, a political economist at Cairo University.

A spokesman for Adli Mansour, Egypt’s interim president, denied Tuesday that anyone had been “excluded” and said that positions had been offered to members of the Brotherhood and the ultraconservative Islamist Al Nour Party.

But a Brotherhood spokesman, Gehad al-Haddad, said the party was not offered any posts. At the same time, he made clear that the Brotherhood was unwilling to take part, saying, “The whole thing is illegitimate.”

In a statement, Al Nour, which initially blessed the military takeover and called for a purely technocratic government, said the new government’s partisan makeup was a “repetition of the same mistake they blamed the former government for.”

“The policy of monopoly and the exclusion of others,” the statement continued, “deepens the state of division, confusion and instability.”

The formation of the government is part of a military-led transition plan that is supposed to lead to parliamentary elections within six months. The interim prime minister, Hazem el-Beblawi, a respected 76-year-old economist, faces an economy in free fall, deepening security challenges in the Sinai Peninsula and elsewhere, and a drop in tourism that has choked off a critical source of foreign currency.

At the same time, his government has received critical aid, including from gulf Arab states that provided nearly $12 billion after Mr. Morsi’s ouster. This week, the new finance minister said the financial assistance might allow the government to put off negotiations for an aid package from the International Monetary Fund, as well as the painful cuts in subsidies that the loan would require.

Analysts said questions about the government’s legitimacy would depend on Mr. Beblawi’s ability to deliver results quickly to a frustrated public and prove that his government is independent from General Sisi, who brought it to power.

The widespread perception that Egypt’s sprawling state bureaucracy had stopped cooperating with Mr. Morsi means that the new government will face even harsher scrutiny than its predecessor, analysts said.

“These people came in on top of tanks,” said Emad Shahin, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo. “It is not an inclusive government.” At the same time, he said, the government will most likely face fewer obstacles because of “a will from the military and certain regional powers.”

“People wish this government to succeed, unlike the previous one,” Mr. Shahin said.

Several ministers who had served under Mr. Morsi’s widely criticized cabinet returned to their posts. Despite frequent blackouts before Mr. Morsi’s ouster, the electricity minister kept his job, as did the interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, whom rights advocates criticized as having done nothing to overhaul security services that are notorious for abuse accusations.

Other appointments, though, seemed to indicate a willingness to try something new. Kamal Abu-Eita, a trade unionist known for opposing former President Hosni Mubarak, was chosen as the minister of manpower, and Laila Iskander Kamel, a community organizer who has worked with Cairo’s garbage collectors, became minister of environment.

Analysts also noted that Mr. Beblawi, who served in a previous government after Mr. Mubarak was deposed in 2011, had shown some independence from the military when he offered his resignation after the army was accused of killing protesters.

In a book he wrote about his time in government, Mr. Beblawi described the shock of the killings. “The state didn’t seem to exist, or seemed completely lost,” he wrote. The head of the armed forces, which was ruling Egypt at the time, refused to accept the resignation, Mr. Beblawi said, so he returned to work for a few weeks before stepping down.

Tuesday’s swearing in of the cabinet, broadcast live on state television, was eclipsed by clashes in Cairo early in the day between Mr. Morsi’s supporters and riot police officers that left at least seven people dead and hundreds wounded. The fighting, the worst in days, accentuated the challenges facing the new government as Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters appeared to escalate their campaign to reinstate him.

His supporters had largely confined themselves to a central encampment since June 8, when soldiers and police officers fired on a pro-Morsi demonstration, killing more than 50 people. But late Monday, they ventured out, snarling traffic in some of the city’s busiest roadways before the police responded with force.

The government’s legitimacy “is going to be very hard to measure,” said Zaid al-Ali, a Cairo-based constitutional expert with the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. “Under normal circumstances, the government would be accountable to the people, through elections and the media,” he said. “Now there is no parliamentary institution. The only institution that can hold government accountable is the people, through demonstrations.”

“Legitimacy,” he said, “is hanging by a thread.”

Mayy El Sheikh, Asmaa Al Zohairy and Sarah Mousa contributed reporting.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013


07/15/2013 19:02

Demonstrators condemn meetings, call for "cleansing" the PLO of “the generals of normalization with Israel.”


Rabbi Menashe Zlika (Shas) in Ramallah Sunday. Photo: Mati Milstein/The Geneva Initiative

Palestinians demonstrated in Ramallah on Monday in protest against recent meetings between PLO officials and Israeli politicians.

The protest took place outside the PLO headquarters, where demonstrators condemned the meetings as a form of normalization with Israel.

The protesters chanted, “Abed Rabbo, go away!” and “Normalization is destructive!” The protest came following meetings in Ramallah and Jerusalem organized by the Geneva Initiative group.

On July 7, the group took several Shas and Likud officials to a meeting with Abed Rabbo and a number of PLO officials in Ramallah.

The move has since drawn sharp criticism from many Palestinians and various political factions, including Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction.

Fatah and other Palestinian groups have been waging an “anti-normalization” campaign to prevent Palestinians from meeting with Israelis.

Ibrahim Ajouri, one of the organizers of Monday’s protest, said that he and his friends were demanding the removal of Abed Rabbo from the PLO for meeting with Israelis. Ajouri said it was “disgraceful” that the July 7 meeting with Israelis was held at the headquarters of the PLO, “which was built over the remains of martyrs and heroes.”

Jamal Juma’ah, another organizer, said that they would not allow any Palestinians to engage in normalization activities with Israel. He also voiced opposition to the resumption of peace talks with Israel.

Fatah legislator Najat Abu Baker said that the protest was aimed at preventing Palestinians from “drowning in normalization with Israel.” She said that Palestinians were strongly opposed to meetings with Israelis that are aimed at promoting normalization between the two sides.


Friday, July 12, 2013


Josh Mitnick explains why the Israeli is downsizing and revamping its conventional arsenal while increasing its technological prowess. Photo: Getty Images

TEL AVIV—Israel's military plans to downsize its conventional firepower such as tanks and artillery to focus on countering threats from guerrilla warfare and to boost its technological prowess, in a recognition that the Middle East turmoil has virtually halted the ability of neighbors to invade for years to come.

Associated Press

An Israeli tank operates near the Gaza border Thursday. A military overhaul will focus on countering threats from guerrilla armies such as Hamas.

The plan marks a sea change in Israel's decades-old outlook toward the main military threats it faces. Ever since it fought a multiple-front offensive by Arab armies in its 1948 war for independence, Israel's strategic planners and public have been dogged by fears of being overrun by enemy armies, with their backs to the sea.

Formidable militaries in Egypt and Syria, which fought together against Israel three times in a quarter century, are now mired in domestic unrest. The war against President Bashar al-Assad has worn down the Syrian army; Egypt's military is busy trying to stabilize the country amid a political crisis.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said in public remarks that the army plans to be less dependent on heavy armaments. "In another few years we will see a different" Israel Defense Forces, he said. "Wars of military versus military—in the format we last met 40 years ago, in the Yom Kippur War—are becoming less and less relevant."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has often highlighted Israeli concerns about the rise of instability in the region since 2011. The new direction is significant because it underlines a new belief among Israeli military planners that the turmoil wreaked by the Arab Spring has eased some of the major risks to Israeli national security.

The army plans to cut thousands of career officers, shut ground-force units, eliminate air-force squadrons, and decommission naval ships over a period of five years, said an Israeli army spokesman who declined to provide more details.

The changes are part of a plan which will come up for parliamentary government approval in the coming months to cut about $830 million from the military budget. Israel's government has had to deal with an unexpectedly large budget deficit in 2013, because of overspending and lower-than-projected tax revenue. The military has come under pressure from the Israeli treasury and the public, which has come to view it as bloated, to chip in with cuts after years of spending increases.

Defense chiefs and military analysts said that the overhaul would focus on countering threats from guerrilla armies with rockets embedded in civilian areas, such as Hezbollah and Hamas—conflicts known as asymmetric warfare.

Instability in Egypt and Syria has prompted Israel to bulk up forces against cross-border terrorist attacks from small militias which have filled the power vacuum along the Sinai Desert and Golan Heights border regions.

Israel will also focus on cyberwarfare and confronting its arch-nemesis Iran, which it accuses of seeking to build a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Yaalon said future battles would be decided based on the IDF's technological superiority.

The military reform is the most ambitious overhaul plan since the 1990s, when then chief of staff Ehud Barak proposed a makeover that would make IDF a "small and smart army.'' The plan was never fully realized amid the exigencies of the Palestinian uprising.

Israel's 1979 peace treaty with Egypt led to a military downsizing that drastically reduced its defense expenditures from more than 25% of GDP to under 10%.

The working assumption of military planners over the past 30 years was that war with Egypt was highly unlikely for at least two years going forward, said Giora Eiland, a former major general and national security adviser, in an interview with Israel Radio.

The current overhaul adds another three years to the comfort zone for military planners. "To say that there isn't the possibility of a war with Egypt within the next five years is a pretty bold decision,'' he said.

The Arab Spring has accelerated a shift under way for decades in the Middle East, analysts said. Israel hasn't fought an all-out conventional war against a rival military since 1973. At the same time, the U.S.'s two wars in Iraq eliminated Baghdad's ability to threaten invasion from the east through Jordan.

"The announced changes are serious. A lot of the cuts will not be restored easily,'' said Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar Ilan University. "The strategic situation has changed to a more significant degree than it was thought to have changed in the 90s. It's hard to imagine the type of the wars that were once fought.''

Write to Joshua Mitnick at

Thursday, July 11, 2013



8:00PM BST 10 Jul 2013

Images analysed by experts at IHS Jane's Intelligence Review has revealed a hitherto undisclosed surface-to-surface missile base deep in the Saudi desert, with capabilities for hitting both countries.

Analysts who examined the photos spotted two launch pads with markings pointing north-west towards Tel Aviv and north-east towards Tehran. They are designed for Saudi Arabia's arsenal of lorry-launched DF 3 missiles, which have a range of 1,500-2,500 miles and can carry a two-ton payload.

The base, believed to have been built within the last five years, gives an insight into Saudi strategic thinking at a time of heightened tensions in the Gulf.

While Saudi Arabia does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel, it has long maintained discreet back channel communications as part of attempts to promote stability in the region.

The two countries also have a mutual enemy in Iran, though, which has long seen Saudi Arabia as a rival power in the Gulf. Experts fear that if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia would seek to follow suit.

Analysts at IHS Jane's believe that the kingdom is currently in the process of upgrading its missiles, although even the DF3, which dates back to the 1980s, is itself potentially big enough to carry a nuclear device.

The missile base, which is at al-Watah, around 125 miles south-west of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, was discovered during a project by IHS Jane'sto update their assessment of Saudi Arabia's military capabilities.


It serves as both a training and launch facility, with the missiles stored in an underground silo built into a rocky hillside. To the north of the facility are two circle-shaped launch pads, both with compass-style markings showing the precise direction that the launchers should fire in.

The Chinese-made missiles, which date back to the 1980s, are not remotely-guided and therefore have to be positioned in the direction of their target before firing.

"One appears to be aligned on a bearing of approximately 301 degrees and suggesting a potential Israeli target, and the other is oriented along an azimuth (bearing) of approximately 10 degrees, ostensibly situated to target Iranian locations," said the IHS Jane's article, which is published on Thursday.

While the lorry-launched missiles can theoretically be fired from any location, the idea of having pre-planned directional markers is to ensure that they can be deployed in accurate fashion as quickly as possible, said Allison Puccioni, an image expert at IHS Jane's.

"There is a marked out spot for the launch truck to park in, which will facilitate an expedited launch," she said.

Robert Munks, deputy editor of IHS Jane's Intelligence Review, said: "Our assessment suggests that this base is either partly or fully operational, with the launch pads pointing in the directions of Israel and Iran respectively. We cannot be certain that the missiles are pointed specifically at Tel Aviv and Tehran themselves, but if they were to be launched, you would expect them to be targeting major cities.

"We do not want to make too many inferences about the Saudi strategy, but clearly Saudi Arabia does not enjoy good relations with either Iran or Israel."

Officials at the Saudi Embassy in London did not get back with a response when contacted by The Telegraph. The Israeli Embassy in London said: "We have no comment on this matter."

David Butter, an associate fellow with the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, the London-based foreign affairs think-tank, said there was "little surprise" that the Saudis had the missiles in place.

"It would seem that they are looking towards some sort of deterrent capability, which is an obvious thing for them to be doing, given that Iran too is developing its own ballistic missiles," he said.

He added, though, that the Saudis would know that the site would come to the attention of foreign intelligence agencies, and that the missile pad pointed in the direction of Israel could be partly just "for show".

"It would give the Iranians the impression that they were not being exclusively targeted, and would also allow the Saudis to suggest to the rest of the Arab world that they still consider Israel a threat."

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia considers itself one of the pre-eminent powers in the Gulf region, but its Sunni Islam leadership has long been at loggerheads with the Shia mullahs of Iran. The ongoing conflict in Syria, which Saudi Arabia has backed the Sunni-dominated rebels and Iran has backed the Shia-dominated regime of President Bashar al-Assad, has heightened fears of a wider sectarian conflict.

A confidential diplomatic cable revealed in the "WikiLeaks" disclosures of 2010 said that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia repeatedly exhorted the United States to launch military strikes against Iran's nuclear programme and "cut off the head of the snake"