Saturday, February 17, 2007

Israel: be careful what you wish for

The level of gloom inside the Israeli government is accompanied by a creeping sense of paralysis -- one that could be dangerous not just for Israel, but for U.S. interests in the region, and for the Middle East as a whole. Gregory Levey - Salon
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Like a political capsule, the above phrase contains most of the ingredients in the relationship between the Israelis and reality and the relationship between Israel and the United States... and the relationship between Americans themselves and reality.

The idea of using American military and diplomatic power to "remake" the Middle East had its origins in the Israeli right-wing, but it is important to note that much of the rise to power of Israel's right-wing and its use of that power has been encouraged by the American right-wing, both Jewish and gentile, who have seen the IDF acting out their most cherished fantasies of dominating peoples of color with violence: fantasies which the realities of American political life have made inexpressible... except against Arabs. Since the Six Day War, the relationship between the once marginal Israeli and American right-wings has been very much a two way street.

The Neocon/Likud/Evangelical/Wingnut's vessel, their
chosen instrument to enact this tellurgic metamorphosis was George W. Bush... a frail reed upon which to pin their hopes, nu? Remember when the Neocons talked about a pipeline bringing Iraqi oil through Jordan to Haifa? To the degree that idea now seems grotesque and absurd, to that degree reality has brought them low. And that low is also a two way street.

Americans are culturally repelled by failure and its flavor of the great iceman of positive thinking, death. Famous for their short attention spans, Americans are restless to "move on", from Iraq, to put this horrible, disgraceful mess "behind them". The Israelis, however, are stuck holding the bag. The whole idea of Israel is that of a place from which the Jewish people would never have to "move on" from.
Israel would love to "move on" from the mess created too, but that is impossible... They cannot put the Middle East "behind them".

Let me collapse and condense Gregory Levey's phrase to clarify its meaning. "The level of gloom inside the Israeli government (...) could be dangerous for U.S. interests in the region, and for the Middle East as a whole." To me that reads like a suicide note and since the days of Samson, Middle Eastern suicides tend to to travel in company. DS

Gregory Levey - Israel's surge of despair - Salon (hat tip to John Brown)
A series of recent interviews with current and former Israeli government officials revealed a level of pessimism across the Israeli government that is unprecedented in recent decades.(...) In light of Israel's close strategic ties with the United States, and particularly with the Bush administration, it has been all but taboo in the past for Israeli officials to openly criticize U.S. policy. But some officials I spoke with also voiced rising fears -- and disapproval -- over the Bush administration's handling of Iraq and Iran.(...) The level of gloom inside the Israeli government is accompanied by a creeping sense of paralysis -- one that could be dangerous not just for Israel, but for U.S. interests in the region, and for the Middle East as a whole.(...) I raised this striking level of gloom with another high-ranking diplomat, who told me he was not surprised to hear of it. "There is a lot of frustration right now," he nodded, "and it's not just felt in the Foreign Ministry." He agreed that it was caused by "all the corruption in the political layers, and the perception in Israel that the war was a failure." Yet, the roots of the seemingly ubiquitous sense of despair may stem more from the goings-on in the corridors of power in Washington than those in Jerusalem. In December, Daniel Levy, who served as a special advisor to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and is now a senior fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, told me that the Bush administration's Middle East policies are "just so out of sync with what are good politics for the U.S. and Israel." Those policies, he said, "have led Israel into the most dangerous situation anyone remembers it being in."(...) Every year, an influential assessment of the security situation in the Middle East is published by Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center, one of Israel's premier think tanks. This year's assessment, published in January, was not only bleak, but also openly critical of U.S. policy. "The threats to Middle East security and stability worsened in 2006," the assessment announced, because "the American failure in Iraq has hurt the standing of the U.S. in the Middle East." It went on to state essentially that American actions in the Middle East over the past few years have harmed Israeli security. It also argued that the United States should withdraw from Iraq in the near term, rather than add more troops, as Bush's surge plan is now doing. As one of its authors, Mark A. Heller, explained after the report was published, "There is no Israeli interest being served by a continued American presence in Iraq." These sobering conclusions might provide a jolt to those in the United States -- whether American Jews or conservative evangelicals -- who have supported the Bush administration's policies in part because they were supposedly intended to help Israel.(...) Last week, I raised these assessments with Eitan, himself a former spymaster who led the Israeli capture of Adolf Eichmann in 1960, and who was the handler of the infamous spy Jonathan Pollard in the 1980s. "Sooner or later, a year or two, America will go out from Iraq," Eitan said. "Iran will unite with the Shiites of Iraq -- with or without force -- and then with the Shiites of Syria. Is this good for Israel? No, it is bad for Israel." Against the backdrop of deepening turmoil in the region, the paralyzing depression within the Israeli government has clearly weakened it. This could play out badly in two different ways with regard to Iran. From a hawkish perspective, it could create a situation where, even if all diplomatic options fail and the United States does not step in, Israel might need to act militarily on its own against Iran -- but the government might be so paralyzed that it might not have the confidence or political capital to launch the incredibly risky military strikes deemed necessary. Perhaps even more dangerously, from a more dovish point of view, government leaders may choose to overcompensate for Israel's -- or their own -- perceived weakness by engaging in a potentially disastrous bombing campaign, without thoroughly weighing the huge risks involved or first exploring all the alternatives.(...) Ra'anan Gissin, who was Prime Minister Sharon's longtime advisor, used to tell a story that illustrates this current predicament. In the days leading up to the Iraq war, Ra'anan sat in on a meeting between Prime Minister Sharon and President Bush. As always, Ra'anan explained, Prime Minister Sharon was very careful not to directly counsel any particular action to President Bush -- because of the rightful fear that it would be unwise for Israel to be seen in any way as pushing U.S. policy. Sharon did, however, make one of his beliefs very clear. Whatever the United States did or didn't do in the Middle East, he said, it would eventually leave -- and Israel would be left behind, forced to deal with the consequences. READ IT ALL

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