Israel: Don't Mind Us, Go Strike Iraq

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel has told the United States not to wait for the situation to become calm here before it acts against Iraq, a respected Israeli newspaper reported on Friday.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security advisor Condoleeza Rice on Thursday in Washington ahead of Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to the troubled region.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon enlisted Netanyahu as an unofficial emissary to speak on behalf of the country at this time. Regardless of what Israelis think about Netanyahu's rightwing political stand, he is recognized as the country's greatest spokesman to the West.

Netanyahu told the U.S. administration not to wait until there is calm in the territories before it proceeds with any planned attack on Iraq, according to the Hebrew daily Ha'aretz.

The paper said that Netanyahu had spoken to Sharon prior to his White House meeting and had briefed the prime minister after it ended.

A Netanyahu aide here in Jerusalem could not confirm the content of the meeting but said that Netanyahu usually gets his information from the prime minister's office, although he is not responsible to the government.

Cheney, who toured the region last month, did not get much encouragement for the expected strike against Iraq from Arab countries. At the time they were pressuring the U.S. to become more involved in the situation here to try to bring an end to the violence.

Since then, Arab as well as European nations have been pressuring the U.S. to force Israel to end its military incursion into the PA-controlled cities.

Israel, which entered PA-controlled cities two weeks ago in a declared mission to arrest wanted militants, seize illegal weapons and destroy explosives factories, has resisted intensive U.S. and international pressure to withdraw immediately from the territories.

Powell, who was meeting on Friday morning with Sharon in Jerusalem and due to meet with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in the afternoon, has come to the region to try to bring about a ceasefire between Israel and the PA and get the two sides "back on track," he said.

He is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat at his headquarters in Ramallah, which has been surrounded by Israeli tanks for days.

Sharon earlier said that it would be a 'tragic mistake' for Powell to meet with Arafat. Analysts saying in doing so it will only strengthen Arafat's position.

Media reports quoted an unnamed American official as saying that Powell would stay in the region at least until this coming Tuesday, in order to meet with both Sharon and Arafat two times each. The Israeli Embassy's press center in Jerusalem said they could not confirm that information.

Israel also agreed to allow Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher to meet with Arafat in Ramallah. Israel has kept the Palestinian leader mostly isolated since it entered Ramallah on March 29.

The U.S. is hoping that Egypt and other more moderate Arab states will play a role in convincing Arafat to put an end to terrorism.
Two Dead In Terror Attack

Meanwhile an Israeli border policeman, David Smirnoff, 22, and a Palestinian worker were killed and seven others wounded when a Palestinian gunman opened fire indiscriminately and threw a grenade early Friday morning at the Erez crossing point in that Gaza Strip.

The area is a secured industrial zone where Palestinians have been able to continue to work inside of Israel despite the security clampdown.

The Israeli military operation continued in the major PA cities on Friday. The prime minister's office released a statement overnight saying that the army had withdrawn from a number of Palestinian villages after completing its mission there.

Sharon said that he had informed Bush that when the government decides that it is finished with its mission, it would also withdraw from other locations.

Israeli army spokesman Brig-Gen. Ron Kitrey said in a radio interview on Friday that Israel had probably killed hundreds of Palestinians during a weeklong intensive battle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants.

Israel also lost a number of soldiers in Jenin, including 13 who were killed in a suicide bombing and shooting ambush.

The army also said it had detained more than 4,000 Palestinians, many in the last two days as militants ran out of ammunition and surrendered.

At least 120 of those in custody are on Israel's wanted list, reports say.

In Bethlehem, some 200 militants are still holed up in the Church of the Nativity. Israel believes there are a number of terrorists in the Church who are directly responsible for deadly attacks against Israelis.