Jerusalem – IDF Planning Branch Director Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan and Amos Gilad from the Defense Ministry returned Sunday from Washington, where they met with Pentagon officials.

The two IDF officials were dispatched in an attempt to smooth over differences in the wake of an acrimonious dispute between the Israeli and American defense establishments over a large arms deal between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

According to the report, the weapons deal in question involves, among other things, the sale of smart bombs to Riyadh, which made the Israelis fear for the IDF’s qualitative advantage over the neighboring Arab armies.

Tempers between the two sides flared, prompting Israeli officials to threaten to mobilize AIPAC and causing American officials to bar Israel’s return to the Joint Strike Fighter project until further notice.

The deal in question being worked out between Washington and Riyadh is estimated at being worth several billion dollars.

The Saudis are supposed to pay for the sophisticated munitions in cash. The most worrying item from Israel’s standpoint is that the deal includes GPS-guided smart bombs, of a type also possessed by the Israel Air Force.

Extensive use of such bombs was made in the Second Lebanon War, as well as in many other cases where the IAF needed precision-guided munitions. Supplying these bombs to Saudi Arabia is described by the Israeli security establishment as “real damage to Israel’s qualitative advantage in the Middle East.” Israel asserts that the U.S. has a commitment to preserve this qualitative advantage, and therefore Nehushtan and Gilad were dispatched to Washington in order to make this presentation to the Americans.

Palestinians Fleeing Gaza

More than 14,000 Palestinians, which is more than 1 percent of the population, have left the Gaza Strip since the Israeli disengagement plan was implemented. The grinding poverty, the war between Fatah and Hamas, the Israeli military pressure – all these have deepened the despair among the civilian population and caused masses of people to leave the Gaza Strip. The mass exodus can be clearly seen from official data of the European supervision team at the Rafah crossing point, and since the abduction of Gilad Shalit, the numbers have increased significantly.

The Rafah crossing was handed over to Palestinian control in November 2005, shortly after disengagement and the IDF withdrawal from the Gaza Strip were completed.

Since the crossing point was reopened, 226,396 people have left the Gaza Strip and gone to Egypt. But in the same period, only 212,660 have returned to the Gaza Strip. This means that the population of Gaza dropped in that period by approximately 14,000.

The breaking point came on June 25, 2006, when Gilad Shalit was kidnapped. Up until then, an average of about 15 people had been leaving the Gaza Strip per day, or 3,168 people per year. In the year that has passed since, about 30 people have been leaving the Gaza Strip each day. This means that on every day that the Rafah crossing was open, 132 Palestinians left the Gaza Strip and did not return.

High-Ranking IDF Officials: Our Hands Are Tied

There is growing unrest in the IDF over the fact that it has not been given approval for a significant ground operation against the terror organizations in the Gaza Strip, after an attempt was thwarted only two days ago to kidnap a soldier close to the Gaza Strip. The criticism is largely directed at the political echelon, and the main allegation is that “there is no full-time defense minister.”

Military sources say, “Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who long ago announced his intention to quit his post, cannot order far-reaching measures against the terror organizations. As long as the political echelon is tying the IDF’s hands, the kidnapping attempts will continue – until one of them succeeds.”

A senior officer pointed an accusing finger at the defense minister, charging that, “when the prime minister is afraid to order offensive action because of the criticism which he suffered over the decisions which he took last summer, and when the defense minister has long since announced that he will step down after the Labor Party primary and he is very busy with political matters, there is no chance of the IDF’s seizing the initiative.”

EU Resumes Aid To Palestinian Authority

The Palestinian Maan News Agency has revealed that the European Union, representing most of the democratic nations of Europe, has announced that it is to renew economic support to the Palestinian ministry of finance.

Yesterday, Palestinian Finance Minister Dr. Salam Fayyad and European Commissioner Representative John Kjaer signed an agreement to re-launch the European Assistance to the Palestinian finance ministry.

The EU was one of the largest financial supporters of the Palestinian finance ministry. However, following the election of the Hamas government in the January 2006 elections, the EU withdrew aid to the Palestinian government.

However, the EU has now stated in a press release, “With the establishment of the National Unity Government and the appointment of a Minister committed both to the Quartet principles and the development of sound public financial management, the European Commission has decided to renew its assistance to the Ministry of Finance.”

David Bedein can be reached at Media@actcom.co.il. His Web site is www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com

©The Bulletin 2007

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David Bedein is an MSW community organizer and an investigative journalist.   In 1987, Bedein established the Israel Resource News Agency at Beit Agron to accompany foreign journalists in their coverage of Israel, to balance the media lobbies established by the PLO and their allies.   Mr. Bedein has reported for news outlets such as CNN Radio, Makor Rishon, Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, BBC and The Jerusalem Post, For four years, Mr. Bedein acted as the Middle East correspondent for The Philadelphia Bulletin, writing 1,062 articles until the newspaper ceased operation in 2010. Bedein has covered breaking Middle East negotiations in Oslo, Ottawa, Shepherdstown, The Wye Plantation, Annapolis, Geneva, Nicosia, Washington, D.C., London, Bonn, and Vienna. Bedein has overseen investigative studies of the Palestinian Authority, the Expulsion Process from Gush Katif and Samaria, The Peres Center for Peace, Peace Now, The International Center for Economic Cooperation of Yossi Beilin, the ISM, Adalah, and the New Israel Fund.   Since 2005, Bedein has also served as Director of the Center for Near East Policy Research.   A focus of the center's investigations is The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In that context, Bedein authored Roadblock to Peace: How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict - UNRWA Policies Reconsidered, which caps Bedein's 28 years of investigations of UNRWA. The Center for Near East Policy Research has been instrumental in reaching elected officials, decision makers and journalists, commissioning studies, reports, news stories and films. In 2009, the center began decided to produce short movies, in addition to monographs, to film every aspect of UNRWA education in a clear and cogent fashion.   The center has so far produced seven short documentary pieces n UNRWA which have received international acclaim and recognition, showing how which UNRWA promotes anti-Semitism and incitement to violence in their education'   In sum, Bedein has pioneered The UNRWA Reform Initiative, a strategy which calls for donor nations to insist on reasonable reforms of UNRWA. Bedein and his team of experts provide timely briefings to members to legislative bodies world wide, bringing the results of his investigations to donor nations, while demanding reforms based on transparency, refugee resettlement and the demand that terrorists be removed from the UNRWA schools and UNRWA payroll.   Bedein's work can be found at: www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com and www.cfnepr.com. A new site,unrwa-monitor.com, will be launched very soon.