MEPGS: Excerpts:With Netanyahu's meeting with President Obama now slated for next week, key US officials are hoping for a continuation of the recent improvement in relations between the two countries. The meeting, postponed from last month because of the crisis resulting from the deadly Israeli takeover of the aid flotilla bound for Gaza, was designed to show that the Administration in general and President Obama in particular "had gotten past" the strained relations of earlier this year. Key Obama advisors are determined, in the words of one Administration official, "To find a way to fix US-Israel relations." Israel's Ambassador to the US, Michael Orens, underlined the problem when, in a meeting with Israeli journalists, he spoke of a "tectonic shift or rift" in US-Israeli relations. Many of Israel's supporters in the US attribute this to the significant change in views from the Bush to the Obama Administrations. Others say the real shift has occurred in Israel, where a strong right of center government reflects the near disappearance of a dovish point of view among the Israeli electorate. In any event, all agree that the Administration has become more adept at dealing with Israel. Even among those most critical of the way the Israeli military handled the Gaza bound flotilla, there is widespread agreement that the Administration wisely chose to fend off harsh international reaction, while at the same time using the incident as an opportunity to press Israel to significantly modify its land blockade of Gaza ["Although the final results are not yet in," noted one State Department insider] and produce a credible official investigation of the incident. "We wanted to make certain there would be no repetition of the Goldstone report," said one well-placed US official, a reference to what many consider an unbalanced critique of Israel's military campaign against Hamas in early 2009. But the real challenge for the Administration lies ahead in September. At that time, Israel's self-imposed partial settlement freeze is due to end after ten months as are the current "proximity talks" between Palestinians and Israelis being brokered by US Special Envoy George Mitchell. "While little of substance has been accomplished in the talks, at least by being indirect, they were protected from outside events," notes one State Department analyst. "Israel is now pressing for direct talks, an argument that the Palestinians will find hard to counter," adds this official. This official, as well as a number of other like-minded analysts, believe Netanyahu would grant an extension of the settlement freeze in exchange for direct talks. "I wouldn't want to be in Abu Mazen's shoes," says one US official, a reference to the President of the Palestinian Authority. When Netanyahu comes calling at the White House, it will likely not be the Palestinian issue that tops his agenda. Instead, these days, as has been the case for some time now, the Israeli leader, not to mention his security establishment and a large part of the Israeli population, has been preoccupied with the growing nuclear capability of Iran. US leadership at the UN Security Council in gaining another resolution aimed thwarting Iran's nuclear ambitions, won some time as well as kudos from Israelis. While the resolution itself is relatively weak (and the fourth in a series stretching back several years), there was no shortage of congratulations when the Administration pushed ahead despite last minute obstacles ..... More important than the UN vote was that it opened the way for stronger sanctions to be implemented by the European Union and other so-called "like-minded" countries, including Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea. ......US officials argue that the objective is to steadily apply pressure until Iran reconsiders its current course. While they say it is too soon to assess the impact of the latest moves on Teheran, they believe that the Iranians were "caught off guard" when the Security Council went ahead despite the last minute deal they had concocted with Brazil and Turkey. "There is no question in my mind that they are nervous in Teheran," said one senior US official last week. Still, there are many veteran officials in the Administration (and not a few in Israel) who believe that preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapons capability is impossible. For some, the question now is planning how to contain a nuclear Iran. However, this is not the prevailing opinion in Washington or Jerusalem. The fears of the adverse effects of Iran going nuclear on non-proliferation efforts motivates a number of key US officials. While others take seriously the possibility that Israel, in the end, will act alone militarily. As one veteran analyst put it recently when asked if he was skeptical about Israel's ability to significantly set back Iran's nuclear program through the use of force, replied, "Feasibility isn't the question. The objective is. Would they use force to demonstrate their deterrent capability or as a political signal? In either case, the results would be the same as hitting nuclear installations: chaos in the region." One arena that could quickly feel the impact of Israeli military action is Iraq. Although the US continues to draw down its forces with every intention have having only 50,000 troops on the ground by August 31 [There are approximately 87,000 there today], the delicate power structure and considerable US civilian presence will remain targets of any instability in the region. As to the former, the Iraqis have, so far, made little headway in forming a new government. Still, US officials say a number of conclusions can already be drawn about the situation there. First, "Al Qaeda in Iraq" is a spent force. As one US official puts it, "They have been reduced to a mafia-like operation, robbing, stealing to keep themselves in business. This, in turn, has led to what one US official calls a "sustainable plateau in violence." What does worry Administration officials, however, is how long the Iraqis, particularly the Sunnis will tolerate a political stalemate. While they implicitly acknowledge the suzerainty of the Shia- though not one that could be characterized as "Shia autocracy" -- to use one veteran analyst's less than felicitous phrase. At a minimum, say US officials, the Sunnis need to be able to claim a quarter of the government ministries, including either Defense or Interior as well as heading another key Ministry such as Finance and the post of Deputy Prime Minister. "What we like about the Sunni shopping list is that it accurately reflects their place in Iraqi society," says one US official. "The outstanding question is whether Iraqi society is ready to act in such a responsible way."
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
US & Israeli Officials: "...Preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapons capability is impossible..."
Posted by G, M, Z, or B at 2:49 PM