Thursday, September 29, 2011

MEPGS: On Egypt, the US's 'silver lining' is Amr Moussa!

* On Lebanon, the 'Red Line' in US-Lebanese relations, as understood by PM Mikati,  is the Hariri Carnival ...
* On Iran, there is 'a curious lack of “creativity” in trying to dissuade Iran... 
While most attention was focused on events at the United Nations, US officials found themselves struggling to keep up with rapidly changing developments throughout the Middle East.... 
            Despite determined opposition from the US supported by key European allies, Palestinian Authority head Abu Mazen forged ahead at the United Nations in calling for acceptance as a full fledged member of the international organization..  While some diplomats noted that the Palestinian leader took what one called a “minimalist” approach by not demanding an immediate vote at the Security Council [which has ultimate say on full membership], others noted that may have reflected the fact that the Palestinians by most counts still lack the necessary votes for passage.  And, of course, they are aware that should they achieve the required nine votes, the promised US vote against would act as a veto, dooming the attempt.
            Instead, the Palestinians have been presented by the so-called “Quartet”    a plan considered by most, including the Israelis, to be much closer to Israel’s view of negotiations than that of the Palestinians [eg. There is no mention that Israel freeze construction of new settlements in the West Bank or East Jerusalem].  “We are just trying to buy time,” said one well-placed source.” Others are not so cynical.  They believe that there is at least a one month “window” in which the Quartet could get Israel and the Palestinians back to the bargaining table and away form the potentially destabilizing attempt to gain a limited form of statehood recognition from the UN General Assembly.. For some, especially the Europeans, there always the chimera of an emboldened second term US President unencumbered by domestic politics of reelection [If anything convinced these skeptics, it was President Obama’s speech to the UN, in which he used some of the most pro-Israel rhetoric employed since he was a candidate in 2008].
'Silver Lining & Red Lines'
            While the Israelis may be feeling more secure about support from the Obama Administration, they are increasingly concerned about developments next door in Egypt.  Yet again this week, the pipeline that brings natural gas from Egypt to Israel was sabotaged... more worrisome was the attack on its embassy in Cairo and the growing hostile rhetoric from individuals engaged in politicking in the upcoming Parliamentary and Presidential elections....  The one possible silver lining is that the US may get its wish with moderate Amr Mousa ...
            If Islamists like Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, who is running for President, worry US policy makers, he and other former associates from Egypt’s Moslem Brotherhood, are considered tame when compared to their namesakes in Syria.  This fear of an extremist Islamic takeover has helped the regime of Bashar al-Assad keep a variety of factions loyal as it continues unabated its crackdown on the opposition.  Helping too, is the fractured nature of the opposition which, according to one veteran US official “…is riven with organizational and resources issues.”  Also, hampering the opposition is the inability and unwillingness of outside powers to intervene in any way resembling the NATO action in Libya.  In fact, some officials worry that the US and the European Union  have run out of pressure points to move Bashar from power.  Still, few believe that Bashar will ultimately weather this storm.  Most analysts give him, at most, a year more in power.  But for the outside world to act decisively {eg. Bringing world wide pressure thourgh a UN Security Council resolution similar to the one passed against Qaddaffy’s  regime}, it would take, in the words of one State Department official “a major massacre of civilians on a level many times the ones we have witnessed since the revolt began.”
            But even as Bashar clings to power, Syria’s influence has begun to wane.  Lebanon’s new Prime Minister Mikati has been given enough room to gain support from his cabinet to allow Lebanon to continue to pay its share of the international investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri, something that Syria and its Hezbollah ally have vehemently opposed.  For the US, this action is, what one top official calls a “red line” in US-Lebanese relations.  And when Bashar’s Alawite dominated regime is replaced by a Sunni led alliance (Sunnis make up about 75% of Syria’s population), US officials, as well as nearly all regional analysts say it will be a major setback for the Shias of Hezbollah and especially Iran.
            In Iran, as noted above, Ayotollah  Khameini has, in effect, made President Ahmanejad a lame duck as he serves out his term into 2013.  But that has not, in the opinion of most US and Israeli officials, deterred Iran from its efforts to develop an ability to produce a nuclear weapon.  For many in the State Department, the Pentagon and the Intelligence community, there is a curious lack of “creativity” in trying to dissuade Iran from continuing on its current path.  As one State Department official put it recently, “Our policy amounts to applying pressure and when this doesn’t work, apply more of the same.”  Proponents of the current policy, which is clearly driven by the White House, counter that adding pressure will work, they just cannot predict when.  “There is a tipping point” says one veteran analyst.  Or as another observer puts it, “Nothing will happen until it happens.” (WHOA! And the guy is a VETERAN Analyst-expert...!)
            In the meantime, the Israelis, in particular would like to see more brandishing of the military option.  “Only a credible military threat will dissuade the Iranians,” says one Israeli official.  But, for the time being, efforts continue, mainly with the Treasury Department at the helm, to tighten sanctions against Iran’s energy and banking sectors.

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