UPI Hears:

By MARTIN WALKER, UPI Chief International Correspondent   |   Sept. 24, 2003 at 4:12 PM
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Why is U.S. envoy to Saudis retiring?

The U.S. capital is starting to buzz with questions about the early retirement of U.S. Ambassador to Riyadh Robert Jordan.

Dissident Saudi groups in London first floated the story that leading members of the royal family had demanded his expulsion, and the non-official Saudi Information Agency then published the report.

Jordan, a partner in the Baker, Botts law firm of Texas (as in former Secretary of State James Baker), is an honorary member of the Bush clan and his premature departure from Riyadh is a shock. The State Department has yet to confirm it, although Jordan himself has told friends he's heading back to Texas.

His offense was to state too publicly -- at private Saudi dinner parties -- Washington's preference for Crown Prince Abdullah to succeed the ailing King Fahd. This supposedly offended Defense Minister Sultan bin Abdul Aziz. Jordan also annoyed other leading Saudis by insisting any American wife of a Saudi citizen should get embassy or consulate help in marriage disputes and child custody cases. Hitherto, U.S. diplomats had usually washed their hands of such matters.

A new look for the Israeli army

The proud tradition of the People's Army. the body that repeatedly saved, embodied and symbolized modern Israel as a nation in arms, is drawing to a close.

A special commission chaired by former General Gideon Sheffer is proposing the high-tech military of the future needs less but better manpower.

As a result, many young Israelis will not serve in the military but perform their national service in new police, medical, welfare and environmental organizations. This would make it easier to introduce another of Sheffer's recommendations, extending the duty of national service to Israeli Arabs.

The Sheffer Commission reflects current Israeli reality, in which the Army no longer plays its post-1945 role as crucible in which a new nation of immigrants from all across Europe was formed and in which draft dodging by young Israelis is increasing. Sheffer also recommends a ten-fold increase in the pay of conscripts -- currently $20 a week.

Soft face of Israeli firepower

Israel is putting a softer face on the armaments being installed along the new security fence in parts of the West Bank -- remote female gunners.

Israelis are installing remote-controlled machine guns to protect the controversial new security fence in the mountainous Galboa district.

To rebut comparisons with the infamous automatic shotguns used by the East Germans to protect the Berlin Wall, the Israeli guns will be controlled by women soldiers monitoring video cameras and infra-red sensors in distant bunkers.

A fracture in the EU Commission

Prospects of another mass resignation of the European Union Commission are rising again, as yet another fraud and cover-up scandal unfolds.

This was the combination that sank Jacques Santer's Commission in 1999. Now Romano Prodi's hapless bunch may go the same way. After probes into "financial irregularities" at Eurostat, the EU's statistical arm, began widening into other sectors and to the Publications Dept., Prodi declared Monday that everything was now under control.

Ouch. As Prodi spoke, officials from Olaf (the EU fraud watchdog) were drafting another letter to the commission warning of a much bigger problem in the EU's technology office. Published in Wednesday's Daily Telelgraph in London, the letter suggests "systematic theft" by EU officials.

Hapsburg Empire redux

Are we about to see the re-invention of the Hapsburg Empire, the multi-lingual entity that ruled much of central and south-eastern Europe until 1918?

Following the successful forging of Dutch-German regional cooperation, and an Anglo-French region that crosses the English Channel, politicians from Italy, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia are proposing a new super-region within the European Union that would would recombine vast stretches of the old Hapsburg lands.

Riccardo Illy, newly elected president of Italy's northeast region of Friule, Venice and Giulia, is currently hammering out details with Croatian and Slovene officials.

The one hiccup is that the other big backer of the Hapsburg Empire Mark II is the Jorg Haider, notorious leader of Austria's anti-immigrant and far right Peoples' Party. As governor of Austria's Carinthia province, Haider is all for the new plan -- but his very name is poison to the EU.

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