Friday, September 26, 2008

MEPGS: "It too cute by half to think that the Israelis are going to try to present a new Administration with an "Iran-strike" fait accompli,"

" officials are increasingly stepping in to conduct day-to-day foreign policy. Nowhere is this more evident than in the conduct of Middle East policy. On issues ranging from Iraq to Lebanon, veteran US officials are, in the words of one senior State Department official "...trying to leave things [for the next Administration] in as good a state as possible."US officials are also extremely pleased with the Iraqi parliament's decision to proceed with elections next year. Although four of Iraq's fourteen provinces will not participate, formerly insurgent Sunnis will be fully represented [hotly disputed Kirkuk and the three Kurdish provinces will hopefully hold elections at a later date]. Meanwhile, US officials have achieved some success in getting moderate Sunni Arab states to support the Shia-led Iraqi government. "We have repeatedly told them that if they don't want Iranian influence to grow in Iraq, then they need to start treating the Maliki government, not as Shia but as Arab," says one State Department official.....

This joint statement also praised the political process in Lebanon that has followed the so-called "Doha Agreement", which broke Lebanon's political and sectarian deadlock in May. US officials believe that Doha, in the words of one State Department insider "...launched a new dynamic for Lebanon." There is no doubt it led to the election of Michel Sleiman as President. And with his election, US officials began to shift the emphasis of their support to him from the so-called "March 14" coalition which led the successful effort to oust Syrian troops from Lebanon. Sleiman, as former commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces ("LAF"), is seen as a natural link to the one "national institution" which officials are placing their hopes upon. Central to this effort is the supply of new military equipment. As one State Department official put it, "The days of providing the LAF with things like night vision equipment are over. We have to give them something lethal, to be quite honest." As previously reported [Survey May 18, 2008], the Administration is planning to provide attack helicopters to the LAF. State Department officials had hoped to have a package ready in time for President Sleiman's White House visit yesterday, but were unable to meet the deadline due to bureaucratic tie-ups. However, other officials have made it clear that certain political considerations also had to be taken into account, notably the reaction of Israel. Mid-level US officials took advantage of previously scheduled talks in Israel to deliver a message designed to allay Israeli concerns that military equipment intended for the LAF could wind up in Hezbollah's possession. "I think the Israelis appreciate that we have a new, constructive policy towards the Lebanese government," said one State Department official this week. And while they make it clear that there is no expectation that the LAF could ever be built into a force strong enough to challenge Hezbollah, it could, in the words of this official, "Give the Lebanese the confidence so they just don't completely `roll over' for Hezbollah.

What the Europeans had in mind was to attempt some "pre-planning" in the event of an agreement between the parties. "We know we are going to wind up paying much of the bill," says one European diplomat. "So we thought we could do some advance work in anticipation of a happy ending." Specifically, they urged the US to support consideration of issues like compensation for Palestinian refugees; composition of international peace keepers; even a European role in guaranteeing access to Jerusalem's holy places. The Administration's reaction? "They hated it," said one European diplomat. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch told his European counterparts it was not the right time ["Never is for us," sniffed one European diplomat]. In fact, Welch and his colleagues considered the European initiative "unhelpful in the extreme."
With a military option all but ruled out, and absent some unexpected action by Secretary Rice US
analysts believe, as one veteran says "the pace, determination and movement" of Iran's leadership will increase over the coming months.
While some still speculate about unilateral military action by Israel after the November elections [And the Israelis are quick to point out they suffered no "blowback" form their strike at Syria's nuclear site], most analysts consider it unlikely. "It too cute by half to think that the Israelis are going to try to present a new Administration with such a fait accompli," says one veteran observer. More likely, say a number of analysts, Jerusalem will hold out hope, in the words of one Capitol Hill source, "The next President will make a dramatic diplomatic move towards Iran. After all, neither Obama nor McCain is likely to relish the prospect of having to spend the next four years wrestling with Iran."

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