Monday, November 13, 2006

In New Middle East, Tests for an Old Friendship - New York Times

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I have made an extremely long excerpt from this front page article of the New York Times and have taken the liberty of putting certain key phrases in bold face, because for a careful reader they spell out the clear message that the Israelis feel that they have only a narrowing window of opportunity to solve the Iran question to their satisfaction. The Republican "realists" led by James ("fuck the Jews") Baker are back. The only way for the USA to leave Iraq with even a shred of dignity is to make a deal with Iran. The only way to preserve US interests in the Middle East is to ensure the independence and safety of the Palestinian people. That means the Israelis would have to abandon the land they took in 1967. What comes after Bush? How much traction are Mearsheimer and Walt getting among American elites? The entire flow of the situation is going against Israeli interests. It is quite possible that before the new US Congress takes office that Israel will attack Iran and that the Democrats (Hillary Clinton is Senator from NY) will accuse Bush of "abandoning Israel". This may be the only chance the Israelis have of postponing the internationalization of Jerusalem for another few years. DS

Abstract: Even before the American elections, a certain wariness had crept into the intimate friendship between Israel and the United States. The summer war in Lebanon produced questions in Washington about the competence of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In Jerusalem, there were worries about the American approach to Iran and the Palestinians. (...) the Israelis balk at President Bush’s embrace of regional change through promotion of Arab democracy. They view his effort as naïve and counterproductive, (...) officials here have long focused on what they consider a much bigger concern: preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. They say the American policies that have empowered Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have been counterproductive to Israel’s interests That concern is bound to be the subtext when Mr. Olmert goes to the White House on Monday. And now the Democratic sweep has created fresh concerns that the administration(...) will turn more to accommodation and compromise. President Bush has chosen as his next secretary of defense Robert M. Gates, who in the past has been highly critical of the administration’s refusal to engage in dialogue with Iran. The defeat for the party of Mr. Bush, “possibly the friendliest president we’ve ever had,” said Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington, “raises question marks regarding the administration’s ability to promote its diplomatic and security objectives.”(...) one senior Israeli official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, after long, recent discussions with top Bush administration officials. “Are they committed to keeping the Iranians from actually building a weapon? I think so. Are they committed to keeping them from putting together all the parts they need? I’m not sure.” The Israelis say Washington was disappointed in their performance against Hezbollah. They are right: inside the White House, said one senior official there, who agreed to speak about internal deliberations on condition of anonymity, “Bush and Cheney believed that this would be another Six-Day War, or on the outside, two weeks.” “They believed it because that’s what the Israelis said,” the official said For Israelis, this failure to deliver poses a risk that cannot be ignored, especially when Iran is on the table. “Most people in Israel are not satisfied by our performance in Lebanon,” said Moshe Arens, a former defense minister, foreign minister and ambassador to Washington. “So if Israel enjoys this preferred position as an ally of the U.S. and a valuable ally in the fight against terrorism and now is shown to be not that effective and maybe not even that valuable, and to some extent even disappointing, that could put something of a damper on what’s happening.(...) Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States who is president of Tel Aviv University, said that Israelis, no matter their appreciation for American support, could not hand over the problem of Iran to Washington. He said: “Can we rely on the United States alone and say we abdicate our responsibility for dealing with the matter, and let the United States do what it wants? No, by no means.”(...) In September, Israel was abuzz over a speech by an American official that got little coverage in the American news media. Philip D. Zelikow, counselor to Ms. Rice, had addressed the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, considered sympathetic to Israel’s interest(...) Mr. Zelikow, in the last of 10 points, suggested that to build a coalition to deal with Iran, the United States needed to make progress on solving the Arab-Israeli dispute. “For the Arab moderates and for the Europeans, some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is just a sine qua non for their ability to cooperate actively with the United States on a lot of other things that we care about,” he said. The message seemed perfectly clear to Israelis: the Bush administration would demand Israeli concessions on the Palestinian issue to hold together an American-led coalition on Iran.(...) Mr. Zelikow’s close ties to Ms. Rice are well known, and the furor over his comments was amplified because they appeared to some to echo criticisms published in March in The London Review of Books by two American scholars, John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen M. Walt of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.They suggested that from the White House to Capitol Hill, Israel’s interests have been confused with America’s, that Israel is more of a security burden than an asset and that the “Israel lobby” in America, including Jewish policy makers, have an undue influence over American foreign policy. In late August, appearing in front of an Islamic group in Washington, Mr. Mearsheimer extended the argument to say that American support of the war in Lebanon had been another example of Israeli interests trumping American ones. The essay argued that without the Israel lobby the United States would not have gone to war in Iraq and implied that the same forces could drag the United States into another military confrontation on Israel’s behalf, with Iran. It urged more American pressure to solve the Palestinian question as the best cure for regional instability.(...) The Iran confrontation, Mr. Arens said, will bolster that partnership. “The president said that he sees a clear and present danger with Iran arming itself with nuclear weapons and it’s obvious that this is a clear and present danger for the state of Israel,” he said. “Although a small country, we are not a minor party. When people talk about the possibility of a military option, what are they talking about? The U.S. or maybe Israel to take that move, not the U.S. or Germany or France.” He acknowledged, however, “That inevitably will lead people who are critical of the position of the president to be critical of Israel, because we are seen as a partner in this campaign, and it is not a very big step to say that Israel is leading the U.S., or misleading the U.S., by the nose in this thing.”(...) No Israeli knows if the next American president will be as tough on Iran or as loyal to Israel as Mr. Bush. If Mr. Bush does not act, Israelis say, by the time the next president takes office, in January 2009, Iran will be well on its way to a bomb, and Washington may not back Israeli responses.(...) Mr. Alpher, the former Israeli negotiator, is concerned that if Mr. Bush ultimately negotiates with Iran, “we need to ensure that the United States doesn’t sell us down the river.” It is fine for Israel to say that Iran is the world’s problem, he said. “But if the world solves it diplomatically,” he added, “will it be at our expense?” The world looks different to nearly all Israelis across the political spectrum than it does to people in most other countries. “Unlike Bush, an Israeli leader looks at Iran through the prism of the Holocaust and his responsibility to the ongoing existence of the Jewish people,” Mr. Alpher said. “It may sound pompous, but at the end of the day it matters, and so we may be willing to do the strangest things.” (...) Despite the anxieties here over Lebanon, Iran and academic essays, opinion polls show that Americans are solidly in support of Israel, with new support coming from evangelical Christians. Mr. Arens, the former defense minister, said of the Europeans: “They don’t like us — what can we do? What else is new? We would like to be liked by everyone, of course, but it’s the relationship with the United States that really matters. (emphasis mine) READ ALL

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