Secretary Hillary Clinton, after briefly nurturing husband Bill, is in the Mideast skirting [in pantsuits] two dangerous games of chicken.
Headlined, of course, is confrontation with Tehran’s mullahs over their nuke ambitions. She’s there to buck up Washington’s Persian Gulf minipetrostate allies. Touring Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier promised new weaponry for the shaky sheikhs who might be first casualties if hostilities explode. But despite Mrs. Clinton’s “crippling” sanctions threat, Iran’s defiance – backed by Russian and Chinese obdurate opposition to ratcheting them up – trips the Geiger counters.
Mme. Secretary is skipping Israel. Just as well not to have eye-to-eye contact what with Israel’s implied threat to unilaterally attack to slow Mr. Ahmedenijad’s efforts. As the Obama Administration keeps redrawing the “red lines” closer and closer to accepting a nuclear-clad Iran – first enrichment, then weaponization, then delivery — aggravated by Tehran’s threats, the Israeli “never again” syndrome swells.
That’s why part and parcel of Washington’s Iran confrontation is a parallel nuanced tit-for-tat between Israelis and Washington. The President’s extensive pre-White House Palestinian, Pakistani and other Muslim acquaintanceship lurks quietly offstage. That seems the only justification for Washington’s renewed efforts to woo Syria, keystone in regional forces arrayed against Israel. For, defying Washington, Syrian Dictator Bashar al-Assad reasserts control in Lebanon, transfers Tehran’s weapons to Hizbullah, provides sanctuary for radical jihadists, allows terrorists infiltration into Iraq, all the while tightening Tehran ties.
On the Israeli-Palestinian front, Mr. Obama’s dramatic initiative to feature Israeli “settlements” in Occupied Territories taken after Jerusalem’s 1967 victory got his peacemaking efforts off to a bad start. No American, Israeli – or even Palestinian – negotiator had ever made their disposition sine qua non for starting negotiations. That gambit, apparently, was dreamed up by the first ever retired uniformed National Security Adviser, Marine Gen. James Jones. Earlier he tried to draw up a minimal security agenda — for the Israelis, if you please. It didn’t. And he hasn’t been heard from recently on this subject, and not much on other issues.
In any event, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu grabbed the ball and ran. Sentiment for expanding suburban Jerusalem for Israeli metrosexuals, military Jordan River strongpoints for Israel Defense Forces, and Judea and Samaria hilltops for the religious have coalesced behind him. Howsoever growing European criticism, Israel’s crushing Gaza campaign at least temporarily halted Hamas’ missiles. So “Bibi” has more support than “normal” for an Israeli PM facing the notoriously fractious Knesset and Washington’s incessant intrigue to wangle a more pliant replacement.
Mr. Netanyahu did throw a sop to U.S. negotiators with a temporary postponement of “settlements” construction. Mme. Hillary, stroking a sow’s ear into a silkpurse in Israel last fall, labeled it an “unprecedented” concession. It’s the only one she is likely to get, confronted with Israeli dominance of an Arab Palestine divided between dissolving West Bank Fatah and Tehran-backed jihadist Hamas in Gaza.
Furthermore, Mr. Netanyahu deals from a pretty tall deck. It was he, after all, as finance minister – with PM Ariel Sharon – who broke the back of the traditional Histadrut-socialist lock on the economy. Unleashed, finally, old fashioned Jewish entrepreneurship has blossomed – not least in digitals, pharmaceuticals and weaponry exports. Building an independent central bank with Stanley Fisher, Nairobi-born professor, quintessential New York Citibanker, and IMF veteran, Mr. Netanyahu has led Israel through the perils of the worldwide financial crunch better than most. The economy dipped only briefly into negative growth. There’s even been some unacknowledged spilloff for Palestinian West Bankers.
So when U.S. Special Emissary George Mitchell publicly threatened to scratch U.S. loan guarantees unless “settlements” were halted, the current shoot-from-the-hip Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz brazenly countered that Israel could do without them — and besides, he said, they had already been negotiated for the next round. Now Mitchell, whose stock and trade is his role in the Northern Ireland settlement [which keeps coming apart], leaves no footprints as he commutes around the region. In fact, just before getting off, Mrs. Clinton boosted former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair into the so-called “peace process” leadership. Blair is more acceptable to Jerusalem – even if he will likely arouse Israeli allergies when he taps Foreign Office Arabists for expertise.
Quietly, too, the U.S. is pressuring the Israelis through weapons transfers. Washington refuses [as it does Britain] special Israeli adaptations of F35 joint fighter radar. There has also been a hold on the latest helicopters. With American supply lines overstretched in two wars, Israel’s American partisans who argue there is no formal Obama Administration embargo are probably correct. And, at a time when Mr. Obama’s huge Congressional majority is fracturing with medical “reform”, blue dogs, abortion, and growing apprehension about the fall elections, Rahm Emanuel doesn’t need a showdown with Israel’s staunch, extensive [mostly Democratic] Congressional Jewish [and Christian Evangelical] lobby.
Still, games of chicken have a way of getting out of hand – especially in the world’s most volatile poultryroost fitted out with escalating weapons buildups.