The U.S.’ strategic position in the Middle East is becoming increasingly muddled by internal conflicts in the Obama Administration’s strategy.
For one thing, Washington finds itself engaged in a conflict with the Russians through surrogates in the complex Syrian civil war. Moscow supports the regime of Basher al Assad whose ruthlessness against its internal enemies now seven years ago turned popular peaceful demonstrations into an escalating armed conflict.
Obama gave tepid support, if from time to time withdrawing behind red lines he had drawn. to a small democratic position to al Assad. But it has been virtually annihilated in the growing conflict against the regime led by various terrorist groups, including Daesh [ISIS or ISIL] and al Qaeda. The most recent episode has been a devastating attack by Russian aircraft on a splinter of the democratic moderates ostensibly supported by Washington. The growing success of Daesh in Syria, of course, becomes a problem on the larger screen for Washington who is still pondering how to curtail its growing worldwide influence, including on so=called American “lone wolf” terrorists.
A minor crisis ensued when the Russians a few days ago bombed a group of anti-al Assad rebels backed by Washington. Moscow, apparently attempting to avoid a more open conflict with the U.S., claims its bombers were not informed adequately about the nature of the largely civilian population it attacked. But that seems a lame excuse given the access of the Russians not only to al Assad’s intelligence but the increasingly active participation of the Tehran mullahs, now cozying up to the Russians.
The U.S. position, too, is becoming less transparent and more committed with its alliance to the Saudis who support rebel Syrian groups. Inferentially, the U.S. Sec. of State John Kerry’s solution, a negotiated settlement which would see the departure of al Assad, seems further away than ever. Negotiations among all the parties in Geneva have achieved little more than a further definition of their varying positions.
The American position has become even more confused with the denunciation of the earlier aspects of the problem by a memorandum signed by 51 career foreign service officers. Leaked to the mainstream media, it blames the Obama Administration for refusing to pursue a policy of destruction of the al Assad regime. Aside from a violation of the unspoken code of ethics among career appointees to contain their opposition to policy within official channels, the memo seems tries to shut the barn door after the horse had long been stolen. That may have been a solution early on in the Syrian Civil War, but with al Assad at least temporarily improving his position with growing Russian and Iranian assistance, it hardly seems an answer to the present difficulties.
Critics of the American diplomats’ position point out it offers no solution to the current military impasse. The danger, of course, is that Vladimir Putin, up against European and American opposition in his seizure of Crime, and efforts to dominate Ukraine, and his threats to the Baltic States, may overplay his hand. A further escalation by Russian forces in Syria, with the likelihood they could defeat al Assad’s internal opposition, would help solve the growing problem of Islamic terrorism, a threat to Moscow as it its to other powers. But it would likely require an American response rather than see the Russians – with their new Tehran mullahs’ assistance – reestablish a strategic hold in one of the Mideast’s most important states.
The Russian threat, in part, has already forced the Israelis – on not very good terms with the Obama Administration – into a series of personal negotiating trips to Moscow by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. How far Netanyahu is coordinating these negotiations with the Obama Administration isn’t altogether clear. Nor is the Chinese position, although of lesser importance, apparent.
One thing does seem obvious. The Obama Administration is rapidly losing any ability to influence the outcome of the Syrian civil war. With so many players – and such enormous potential impact on its Arab neighbors – that becomes another major defeat for Obama’s foreign policy and another hot potato he is leaving for his successor next year, whoever he may be and however qualified to deal with the situation.
Tag Archives: Netanyahu
The U.S.’ strategic position in the Middle East is becoming increasingly muddled by internal conflicts in the Obama Administration’s strategy.
Most wars and many continual near-war conflicts revolve around a different interpretation of history. But usually those are relatively minor interpretations of great past events.
The current outbreak of stabbings in Jerusalem, Israel and the West Bank are very much symptoms of the continuing struggle over the presence of two peoples and three of the world’s religions on one small piece of land. Claims and counter-claims are asserted; some with some authentic historical evidence, others political slogans but enshrined in long held conflict.
The Israeli-Palestinian argument over Jerusalem is, of course, an important part of the conflict. The modern Palestinian Arab nationalists call for Eastern Jerusalem, the older part of the ancient city, traditionally home to both Arabs and Jews, as their capital for an independent state. Jews, for hundreds of years called for their return to Jerusalem in prayer and in the modern Zionist movement to restore a Jewish state in which a unified Jerusalem plays an integral role.
The arguments take all sorts of form. But in this instance, the continued denial by the Arabs that the archaeological pile on which the Al Aqsa Mosque is built was also the site of the ancient Hebrew temples reaches a new level of distortion. Not only does it fly in the face of the historical record, but it adds one more barrier to any possible settlement.
When at the end of the 1967 Israeli-Arab War – the six-day event in which the Jews captured most of the former British Mandate of Palestine, East Jerusalem, the Sinai and the Golan Heights – the question of the holy sites became paramount.
The Israeli Defense Minister, the dashing, one-eyed hero, Moshe Dayan, made a deal: The Jordanian wagf [an ostensibly independent religious trust] would retain control over what the Jews called The Temple Mount and the Muslim Arabs called The Noble Sanctuary. A secular Jew, Dayan used the rabbinical prohibition forbidding prayer on the site [except at the so-called Wailing Wall or Western Wall at the foot of the area]. That was to prevent trampling on the unknown position of the Holy of Holies, the sanctuary where the Ark of the Covenant, the ancient sacred Jewish writings, allegedly resided. Dayan’s arrangement was despite violation during the Jordanian occupation of sacred Jewish places, e.g., Jewish tombstones used as road paving blocks. The Jordanian authorities also had denied Jews and Christians access to the sacred sites.
Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Koran, the word of God for Arab Muslims. Al Aqsa was built more than 800 years after the death of Mohammed. But contemporary Moslems have designated it the third most holy Islamic site after Mecca and Medina, the site of Mohammed’s preaching. It was here, according to Islamic lore, that Mohammed ascended to heaven.
The current squabble has broken out over rumors that the Israelis are changing the rules of the game, pushed by religious Israeli Jews to permit prayer on the Mount. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly affirmed that no such move is contemplated. And he has suggested installing cameras in order to show that Jews visiting the site are not conducting prayers.
But that hasn’t satisfied many Palestinian Muslims, including the grand mufti of Jerusalem, the highest Moslem cleric in the area. He has again disputed the existence of the Hebrew temples, recorded in Roman as well as Jewish literature.
In defiance of their pledge to protect the site, the waqf in the 1990s permitted excavation of the site for building another underground mosque. This week a 10-year-old apprentice Israeli archaeologist who with his adult colleagues has continued to sift the excavated debris found an engraved limestone about the size of a thimble from the time of King David, or 3,000 years ago. That, of course, is not likely to change any minds on either side, but it does add one more piece of evidence to the written and oral history of the Jewish holy places.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under siege on several fronts.
At this critical moment, the traditional close collaboration of the U.S.-Israeli alliance is troubled, not least by Obama Administration’s pettiness. That’s been characterized by vulgar leaks from the White House and the recent staged absence of senior American officials for Netanyahu’s UN speech. Such designated protocol lapses are bound to have an impact on the kind of intimate relations the alliance has always had.
On the home front, there has been the outbreak of what appears to be “lone wolf” violence by Palestinians against Israeli individual civilian and military targets. [In one recent case there was interception of a badly prepared car bombing in Jerusalem that would have cost large casualties.]
The knife-wielding attacks are often perpetrated by young suicidal fanatics reared in United Nations-supported refugee schools where hatred and violence against Jews is indoctrinated. Unlike the two earlier intifadas [Arabic for shakeup, uprising], there appears to be no central direction. But the Moslem terrorists Hamas, Islamic Jihad and once Soviet-supported Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, have publicly acclaimed the attacks.
Given their nature, the defense often results in the death of the Arab attackers, leading to new accusations in the Western media and among Palestinian sympathizers of Israeli “overreaction”. At the same time, Israeli authorities find defense difficult given the spontaneity of the terrorists in civilian settings, including for example, using an automobile to run down groups waiting at bus stops. Some attacks inside the so-called “green line” [Israel before the 1967 conquest of East Jerusalem and the West Bank] suggest support may be coming from Israeli Arabs as well as those living in Occupied areas.
With 60% of Israelis telling pollsters they fear for their personal safety, the government is being pushed toward more stringent controls. And the outbreak has found an echo among Jewish fanatics, sometimes in attacks on innocent Arabs.
In a sense, the attacks, while encouraged by statements of Arab “moderates”, are an evidence of the disintegration of the secular Palestinian leadership and the growing influence of Islamicists. That will inevitably lead to more linkage to the Islamic terrorists ravaging the whole region, particularly in neighboring Syria. There, its growing professionalism with heavier armament supplied by Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah, an important ally of the al Assad regime, is a growing menace on Israel’s northern border. That is coupled with renewed missile shelling from Gaza and border incidents by Hamas-organized protesters crossing into Israel.
When Netanyahu flew to Moscow Sept. 20 for a one day meeting with Putin, he apparently wanted to eliminate any possibility Israeli aircraft intercepting arms transfers Hezbollah would engage the growing Soviet presence. It seems clear he foresaw the growing Moscow effort to prop up the al Assad regime, tighten its de facto alliance there with Iran. [The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani had made two Russian visits himself shortly before].
The Israeli prime minister’s highly advertised concern highlights the equally publicized Obama Administration surprise at the sudden Russian Syrian buildup. That suggests Netanyahu’s bitter and public opposition to Pres. Barack Obama’s “deal” on Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and Washington’s response may be eroding intelligence liaison. That’s despite the Obama Administration insistence new military aid and cooperation with Israel would be order of the day after the successful completion of the pact with Iran.
With the Obama Administration admitting that its nuclear arms deal with lifting of sanctions, whatever else it has done, will provide new financing for Tehran’s worldwide terrorist activities, the situation can only get worse. It’s time the Obama Administration, as the senior partner in the alliance, and particularly Susan Rice, national security adviser, ends her childish antics and tightens the alliance and its intelligence liaison in the face of a growing regional crisis, now involving the Russians as well as the bevy of Arab antagonists.
Obscured by all the hullabaloo over the Congressional speaking invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the more fundamental mystery of the Obama Administration’s Iranian strategy.
Laying aside the increasingly evident incompetence of the political hacks, wordsmiths and other amateurs the President has surrounded himself as foreign policy advisers, there is still the unanswered question of what Obama intends with his policy toward Tehran.
The pettiness of the White House stance toward Netanyahu notwithstanding, it is unlikely that the Israeli leader will add more than detail and reinforce the vast array of background threat we already have about the Tehran regime: It has violated international obligations for almost four decades, pursued a policy of state terrorism throughout the world, made every effort to diminish and expel American influence in the Mideast region, and seeks a role as a major power. Furthermore, there is unfortunate evidence that is close to achieving regional hegemony with its domination or alliance now with four, however embattled, Arab regimes – in Damascus, Hezbollah in Beirut, Hamas in Gaza, and the new Yemen Sana government. Having squared the Arabian peninsular, it has created near hysteria in Saudi Arabia, the U.S.’ nominal principal ally in the region and a leader of Sunni Islam, which like the other Gulf Arab states feels abandoned by Obama’s Washington.
Were Tehran to succeed in its program to build weapons of mass destruction– nuclear bombs and intercontinental missiles to deliver them– it would consolidate its place as Washington’s premier foreign policy problem.
Although the Administration spokesmen claim the final details of an agreement with Tehran are still not finalized, every indication is that Washington is prepared to extend earlier concessions which would give the mullahs “nuclear weapons threshold” capacity. That would include the ability within a short period through an inventory of enriched uranium and large batteries of centrifuges to produce more weapons fuel quickly to become a nuclear power.
It has been the stated policy of previous U.S. administrations– and by the Obama Administration itself– Washington would not permit the Iranian religious fanatics to cross that red line. That position has been endorsed not only by all the NATO allies but also inferentially by Moscow and China, despite their underhanded cooperation with Tehran in pursuit of nuclear power capability. It should be noted that Tehran’s enriched uranium pursuits are not a requirement for a country– still endowed with enormous oil reserves– for a nuclear power program as some two dozen other countries have demonstrated under United Nations and bilateral political and technical agreements eschewing any capacity to enrich fuel.
As this situation inevitably moved toward crises with the Iranians continuing to build nuclear capacity– despite their announced cutbacks under preliminary agreements with the Obama Administration– it behooves us to try to understand the Obama strategy. Incidentally, the Netanyahu controversy has obscured the news just this week that the UN Atomic Energy Commission to which Iran must report its activities under the control treaties has found evidence of new, secret and unreported Iranian nuclear activities. This was the pattern for some 17 years before the Iranian enrichment activities were revealed by Iranian scientists in exile to the UN control group. It is this history which puts a question to any claims by the Administration that it is creating under any new agreement the ability to monitor and halt any violations of the Washington-Tehran pact.
Given this only partial background of U.S.-Tehran negotiations over its attempts to create nuclear weapons capability, there is great puzzlement over what the Obama Administration is attempting in its current search for an agreement. That search, in itself, has created confusion about Obama policies which in the past have supported the Moslem Brotherhood– even after its overthrow by an Egyptian government– with its dedication to the destruction of Shia [Iranian] influence, and the Sunni Arab allies who see Tehran as their principal rival and enemy in the region.
Conflicting statements from the White House, Secretary of State John Kerry and his State Department, it is virtually impossible to discern a central Obama strategy in this miasma.
Since the beginning of the Cold War in the 1940s, of course, the possibility that Iran with its inherited mantle of the long history of the Persian empire, its size and the sophistication of its elite, might become a powerful ally of the U.S. in the region. That earlier strategy collapsed in 1979 when a combination of internal forces and the tacit support of the Washington foreign policy grey eminence, Averill H. Harriman and his protégé, U.S. Ambassador to Iran William Sullivan, helped bring down the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Reza Shah was, to some extent, the victim– as he himself had sometimes warned — of his “white revolution”, an attempt to destroy the landlord-back feudal system he had inherited and moved to modernize. Washington’s hand-handed efforts to back a military government collapsed in the face of the onslaught of religious fanatics, who have periodically dominated Persian history even in pre-Islamic eras.
Whether Obama is attempting a new modus vivendi with a new more powerful Iran, despite the Mullahs’ anti-American record, or not, I the negotiations already endanger the current shaky balance of power in the area. Cairo, long considered the leader and center of the Sunni world, which has just declared war on Hamas, once the Egyptian protectorate, feels doubly threatened by a distant American policy and Iranian terrorist inroads on its doorstep in the Sinai. A tacit approval by the U.S. of nuclear weapons capability by Iran would likely set off a nuclear arms race in the area– with the Saudis already tacitly allied to Pakistan whose nuclear weapons are generally seen as financed through grants and loans from Riyadh.
Whatever information and advice Netanyahu may offer in Washington, is not likely to unlock this mystery of what exactly the Obama Administration thinks it is accomplishing with an Iranian policy which keeps slipping away from original stated intent of removing all possibility of Iran obtaining weapons of mass destruction.
Events are drawing Israel into a major war with neighboring Arab terrorist organizations to result in another total reordering of Mideast relationships.
Comparison of the current scene with the eve of the Six Day War in 1967 is almost unavoidable. Then, too, a reluctant Israel waged a preemptive action because of what it saw as an existential threat from an alliance of Arab neighbors.
As great as the possibility for another complete regional redispositioning is, the outcome of events is even more unpredictable than it was in 1965. Today’s situation is vastly different:
First, Egypt, the largest and traditionally the leading Arab state, will not be the tripwire which brought on Israel’s preemptive strike then. This time Cairo could well be a benevolent neutral if not an ally in any new encounter between Israel and its principle enemy, the radical Arab Islamicists. Cairo’s military junta is waging a ruthless campaign against the jihadists, voted into power but which it dislodged with considerable popular support.
Secondly, the prospect of a Soviet Union intervention is missing – and a clash of the then two superpowers – which hung over the earlier events. Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin’s nuclear arsenal notwithstanding, his ability to influence events in the region with conventional military forces and aid is marginal. In part, that is because his imbroglio in Ukraine having produced early victories is now turning into a Russian disaster.
Thirdly, the ambivalent position of the Obama Administration despite all its public protestations of loyalty to a U.S. ally, is a sharp contrast to Pres. Lyndon Johnson’s profound pro-Israel sympathies at a time when the U.S. Left had not made a bogus Palestinian crusade a central issue.
And, fourthly, there is a new aggressive and potentially nuclear-armed Iran, dedicated to the destruction of Israel, mobilizing long suppressed Shia minorities throughout the region in a Muslim sectarian conflict. Tehran’s mullahs have been able to bridge the historic Arab-Persian divide to bolster Arab Shia and even non-Shia allies.
Instead of the pan-Arab ideology so successfully evangelized by the charismatic Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser.— however dented by the earlier Egyptian defeat in 1956 – the cement of any anti-Israel alliance today is radical Islam. Rather than the artificial national entities drawn by the World War I victors, Jerusalem today faces on all sides fanatical regional guerrilla organizations evolved into threatening major organized terrorist entities.
In the south, Hamas, a child of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood so favored by the Obama Administration as a “moderate” political force, has crossed over the sectarian line in the past to accept Iranian aid. Despite what is a tacit combined Israeli and Egyptian embargo, it has accumulated a growing and increasingly sophisticated arsenal. In the north, the Hezbollah with its roots in southern Lebanon, is now bloodied with its significant participation with Iran in salvaging the al Assad regime in Syria. Both these organization now could inflict far more pain on Israel’s civilian population than the artillery, mortar and rocket attacks of ’67.
On the east, the always fragile Jordan, beset with enormous destabilizing refugee flows from both Syria and Iraq and the growing seduction of its own majority Palestinians by the radical Islamicists, now faces the ultra-fanatical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on its once secure border with Iraq. ISIL’s claim to restoration of a trans-national caliphate, a Muslim empire headed by a religious figure invoking 7th century codes of justice, may not be sustainable. But its announcement in the half of Iraq it tentatively controls with like-minded allies is a powerful rallying cry for traditional Muslim jihad, holy war against all “non-believers”. That appeal to ruthless and bloody fanaticism, always just below the surface in traditional Islam with its validation in Koranic text, is cutting through yesterday’s regional allegiances.
Washington has not caught up. Obama’s tentative choice to meet the new threat in the area incrementally – dribbling advisers to a crippled Baghdad government – is not likely to stem the tide of success against the jihadists’ bandwagon. There is already evidence that the new ultra-radical Muslims have adherents in both the Israeli-Occupied West Bank and under relatively more moderate Hamas’ nose in Gaza. Washington indecision confirms the belief throughout the umma [the Muslim world]that the U.S. is no longer the major factor in the region’s power struggle. They see an American retreat providing the opportunity for dedicated minorities to determine events.
Thus, Israel faces the same dilemma as in 1967, that is, whether to wait for the always powerful fissiparous tendencies of Arab and Muslim societies to tear themselves apart or to move before a new and aggressive enemy tyranny consolidates. In that earlier conflict, by happenstance as much as design, Israel established itself as the region’s military “superpower”. That, in turn, produced however recalcitrant and imperfect, peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Their defection from the anti-Israel front formalized the division of the Arabs despite their profession of unity which had been one of the sources of the Israeli victory.
Today the Arabs are no less divided. And, in fact, the Syrian civil war has not only set Muslim fanatics against a pretended secular if dictatorial regime, but because of Damascus’ Alawite [an offshoot of Shia] leadership and the Iranian Shia mullahs’ support, it has set off a new regional test between the majority Sunni regimes and long oppressed Shia Arab minorities.
Their tactics, claiming as many Muslims as non-Islamic lives – from suicide bombings to kidnappings – strike deep at the vulnerability of Israel’s Western-style civil society And whether targets are a relatively new light rail system in Jerusalem or vacationers on a foreign beach, Israel’s growing prosperity and sophistication as a leading world industrial society make it all that more susceptible.
Ironically, Israeli leadership today – while as contentious and disputatious as ever – is probably freed from two of the principal concerns on the eve of the Six Day War in deciding strategy. Regard for the UN – even then under the hapless leadership of Sec. Gen. U Thant – is less a consideration. UN peacekeeping in the region, as elsewhere, has come and gone with little if any effect. One suspects, too, that despite frequent public obeisance to the Obama Administration for the U.S.’ invaluable source of military hardware, no one in Jerusalem is blind to its pro-Muslim sympathies and its incompetence.
Obama’s insistence on prioritizing Jewish settlements in the traditional sites of the ancient Hebrew kingdoms, the basis of Israel’s legitimacy, was a guarantee of failure of Israel-Arab negotiations. [No one seems to ask if there is to be a two-state solution with a 1.8 million Israeli Arab minority, are Jews to be excluded from the proposed Palestinian state?] In continuing to insist on direct negotiations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abas who has had to concede the growing power of the Islamicists by a coalition government with Hamas, Obama and Sec. of State John Kerry appear totally at sea in the Arab desert.
Yet Jerusalem has other deepening concerns. The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers and a subsequent kidnapping and brutal murder of an Arab teenager – perhaps by Israeli vigilantes in retribution – are dramatizing a deterioration of the domestic scene. The civil strife in predominantly Arab northern Israel is further evidence. The fact that Hamas cannot or will not control escalating missile strikes against southern Israel and the new ISSL threat to Jordan are forcing the Israelis into consideration of more dramatic action to preserve their stature. While future action might become a full-fledged invasion, or even reoccupation. of Gaza, it is likely as in 1965, to coincide with developments on the other “fronts”.
Assuming the Israeli military superiority, including the tacit endorsement of Cairo and the Gulf states to action against the jihadists, a new perspective would unroll in the Mideast. But given the incredible complex of cross currents [as in 1967] the outcome is totally unpredictable.
Gossips report when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gifted Vice President Joseph Biden a glass-framed photograph taken in Israel of his recently deceased Zionist-sympathetic mother, he accidentally crushed it. Apparently, in an apologetic malapropism, the usually suave Bibi blundered again. Psychobabblers would conjure up a subconscious working overtime.
It wasn’t meant to go that way. On the eve of Passover, the Jews’ ancient feast of liberation, Mr. Biden had been sent with words of support to salvage a deteriorating relationship. But the Vice President had nothing the Israelis wanted to hear. In essence, his message was that Mr. Obama’s efforts, first to appease the Tehran mullahs, patently had failed. And then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “crippling sanctions” came a cropper. Penciled in bottom line: the Israelis must not move unilaterally unleashing Armageddon, the world was going to have to live with an Iranian bomb.
For Mrs. Clinton’s efforts were stymied. Never mind the Chinese and Russian UN Security Council veto. Even Brazil’s Pres. Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva publicly lectured Mme. Secretary on how she should play nice with the mullahs. Lula, likeBrazil, is on a roll with enormous new deepwater oil discoveries. [BP is now desperately trying to buy in.]
Almost forgotten were Brazilian ethanol imports blocked to protect Midwest corn producers and all the other frictions nearing trade war proportions. The Brazilians could smirk at the Obama Administration’s “green energy” subsidies after decades of their dumping billions into developing sugar-based fuel. Now Brazil, soon to be a net oil exporter, wants to play with the big boys. That includes Iran with the world’s second largest fossil fuel reserves. Old roustabouts recall how way back under the Shah, Tehran was prime mover in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries calling for higher priced energy.
If Washington really believes it is going to cobble together sanctions against the bloody Revolutionary Guard – Mrs. Clinton publicly guessed they are now in the Tehran driver’s seat — the mist really has closed in on Foggy Bottom. Many of the U.S.’ two million Iranian exiles, traditional Persian-speaking merchants and hawala money launderers on the west bank of the Persian Gulf, are in bed with the Pasdaran.[IRG]. Even The New York Times found out that major U.S. corporations are violating American sanctions through dummy corporations cluttering every new skyscraper directory in bankrupt Dubai and its neighboring sugar-teat, Qatar.
Whether the Israelis gird their loins for a strike to slow Iranian bomb and missile development may be as disputed inside their government as it is among American TV talking heads. But it may be that Pres. Ahmadenijad’s threats to wipe Israel off the map are less important than just the very existence of a Mullah Bomb. It would reconfigure Mideast geopolitics. The Saudis, whose only foreign policy is to try to buy whomever, and the feckless oil-rich Emiratti, would likely knuckle under to Persian dominance if and when Tehran succeeds. Mercurial Syrian Dictator Basher al-Asaad already publicly threw personal insults at Mrs. Clinton during a kumbayah with Pres. Ahmadenijad only days after she refurbished diplomatic relations and dropped some sanctions. At the other end of the Mideast, Egypt totters on in a succession crisis having long since lost Sunni leadership.
Following in Bush Administration footsteps, Mr. Obama is behind the time curve by refusing to aid Iranian dissidents in Cold War fashion. Washington could well face a strengthening regime. The twentieth century taught us just how far terror would go in castrating much more sophisticated societies. Add nationalist fervor if and when Iran becomes the tenth world nuclear power, and you have a recipe for dramatic erosion of America’s influence in the region.
Tehran holding a bomb could wield enormous power on world energy markets. The Obama Administration’s “green energy”import independence is at best a distant mirage. New technologies to develop abundant domestic gas face the same old enviromentalistas’ fury. A parallel is bankrupt California tolerating pollution of its beeches from seepage in the Santa Barbara Channel rather than go for offshore drilling.
The matriarch Golda Meir’s lament that Israel was the only place in the Mideast without fossil fuels is no longer true. An American outfit has struck gas off the Mediterranean coast. It’s enough to limit Israel’s dependence on Egypt and end airy-fairy tales of underwater pipelines from Turkey carrying water and Central Asian crude.
But none of this solves the pressing problem of how to get U.S.-Israel relations back on track. One could hope Pres. Obama would turn away from his Palestinian-Syrian-Pakistani friends who thought blocking settlements would carry the day. It never had been an a priori consideration in the endless negotiations. Netanyahu, stronger in part because of his Washington nose-thumbing, can’t and won’t buy it. The self evident fruitless negotiations with divided, unrealistic Palestinian leadership – including Gaza’s jihadists — are striking. But when does realism set in at the State Department?
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.