"The Arabs' `Eastern Flank' --Iraq-- is gone," commented one Administration insider this week by way of explaining some of the most strident anti-Iran language heard in recent years. For example, the United Arab Emirates' Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahiyan, on a visit last week in Washington, in effect endorsed an Israeli strike on Iran [When asked if this would not cause a terrible reaction in the region, the Foreign Minister replied that it would be no worse than the Israeli attack on Gaza]. Even in relatively far away Morocco, .... a growing fundamentalist threat inside Morocco, that the authorities there say is being promoted by Iran.
Meanwhile, the Israelis need little encouragement to add to their growing concerns about Iran. Key Israeli officials have become ever more insistent that Iran must be denied a nuclear capability. So far, they say they have been completely supportive of diplomatic efforts to alter Iran's current path to nuclear empowerment. And this extends to US efforts now being designed by a team led by Dennis Ross, Secretary Clinton's senior advisor on the issue. As one key Israeli diplomat put it last week, "We know [the US] is not developing a new plan in order to fail." But he adds, "They can't keep this going without something positive happening on the ground and soon." The Israelis are still being a bit coy about the possibility of employing force. One well-placed Israeli puts it this way: "Not to have a military option would be irresponsible for any Israeli government." But a number of US and European officials are convinced that Israel, particularly under its new harder line government is likely to act militarily to retard Iran's program. As one veteran US official said this week, "They have the capability and appear to have run out of other options." This official quickly adds that even if an Israeli attack is successful, it will only set back the Iranians by "a couple of years", while provoking Iran to accelerate its program and become the irresponsible actor that the Israelis [but not this official] believe them to be.
There are some observers who say that Israel will ultimatelyThere are some observers who say that Israel will ultimately flinch at the prospect of such a high risk venture. One veteran analyst says that Prime Minister Netanyahu's repeated public warnings about Iran belie an insecurity peculiar to his personality. "Bibi [Netanyahu's nickname] is a bully. I don't think he is cut out for taking on such a formidable task as attacking Iran." Another official believes that ultimately Israel will adopt a "bigger deterrent", for example letting the world know more about its extensive and highly sophisticated nuclear arsenal. At the same time, the US would reinforce its backing of Israel, in effect extending greater support and protection to the Jewish state.
If this latter course is pursued, say well-placed officials, then Ross' role will become even more vital. He is trusted by the Israelis to an extent that few others in the Administration can hope to attain. As one Israeli official says, "Dennis understands Iran from the Israeli as well as the US perspective." One veteran analyst compares Ross' role to that of Paul Wolfowitz and Lawrence Eagleburger when the two served under the first President Bush. On the eve of the 1991 Gulf War, these two were dispatched to Israel to persuade then Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, not to retaliate against expected Scud missile attacks from Iraq. Their success is restraining that hard line
Israeli Prime Minister was due in no small part to choice of messengers -- two trusted "friends" of Israel. However, complicating matters this time may well be the current messenger of US policy towards Israel, George Mitchell. While the politically savvy and cautious Mitchell has beencareful in his approach so far to Arab-Israeli peacemaking, there are already signs of strain. The first salvo was fired by the very hard line Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who publicly repudiated the understandings achieved at the 2007 Annapolis conference, which reinforced the basic concept of a two-state solution. While Prime Minister Netanyahu has not gone that far in public, he has made it clear that his priority is economic development for the Palestinians not "final status" political agreements with them. Both the President and Mitchell have pushed back with a reiteration of the American commitment to a two state solution. Many Israelis believe this is only the beginning of inevitable strains between the two governments. "This will grow as Mitchell dives more deeply into the process,"says one veteran analyst.
Arab governments have made it clear they want nothing less than an "American plan" put on the table for the two sides to negotiate. And, at least among some lower level officials in the Administration, there is anticipation that pressure will have to be applied to Israel to get its government to come around. One term of art used to describe this anticipated new approach is called "disincentives." According to well-informed sources these would be a list of possible pressure points to be used on Israel, that at least in the initial stages would stop well short of harsh measures. While the large military aid package to Israel would not be in jeopardy, smaller assistance programs could be put on hold. Another example being bruited about is a recall of the US Ambassador for "consultations." Senior US officials flatly deny that they have asked for any list of so-called "disincentives". However, lower level State Department officials admit they have been approached about the feasibility of withholding some funding for modest US aid programs to Israel.
Mitchell's trip to the Middle East this week does not include stops in Lebanon or Syria. On Lebanon, the Administration is treading warily in advance of its June Parliamentary elections. Although the US would prefer to see the current pro-Western government retain power, they are prepared for an Opposition victory, despite its likely enhancement of the already formidable power of Hezbollah [Although they will not follow the example of the British government which earlier this month decided to begin dealing with the "political arm" of Hezbollah -- a move which surprised and infuriated Secretary Clinton]. They are even prepared for the formation of a national unity government, for as one State Department official says wryly, "To be Lebanese is to be expert in the art of compromise."
Policy toward Syria will continue to evolve at a slow pace, say key US officials. "You will not see a `roll out' of a Syria policy like we are doing with Iran," explains one key US official. Even the return of the US Ambassador [who was withdrawn after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005] is not considered imminent. "That move is still a couple of steps away," says one well-placed official
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Abdullah bin Zayed: We endorse an Israeli strike on Iran ...it would be no worse than the Israeli attack on Gaza..
Excerpts from the MEPGS:
Posted by G, M, Z, or B at 2:49 PM