Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Israel’s Ill-Kept Secret Is Finally Official

By: Linda Heard, sierra12th@yahoo.co.uk

Israelis are stunned. The incoming US Defense Secretary Robert Gates actually admitted their country has...wait for it...a nuclear arsenal. What a surprise! Israeli columnists are falling over themselves penning analyses as to the reasons behind Gates' disclosure that was tantamount to pointing out a giant wart on the tip of a friend's nose.

Ze'ev Schiff, writing in Ha'aretz, blames Gates for ending "Israel's policy of nuclear ambiguity in one fell swoop" even though, he adds, "Washington has always supported this policy". Naturally Schiff indulges in the fleeting thought that Gates could be shock, horror anti-Israel. After all what other reason could there be for his truth saying during the Senate Committee Confirmation Hearing?

Gates told the senators that the Iranians "are surrounded by powers with nuclear weapons: Pakistan to their east, the Russians to their north, the Israelis to the West" as well as the US, which is based in the region.

Indeed Gates is appearing more and more like Jim Carrey in the 1997 movie "Liar, Liar", the story of a compulsively mendacious lawyer who succumbs to his son's birthday wish that for one whole day he is forced to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. Who could have imagined the new kid on the Pentagon block would say with disarming frankness that the US was not winning in Iraq?

Like the Iraqis, the Israelis are also ticked off about the James Baker— Lee Hamilton report that sets out a clear strategy for an American exit, but for different reasons. For instance, they do not appreciate Baker and his bipartisan friends advocating direct talks with Syria and Iran so as to gain their help in quelling the insurgency.

Israel fears that the occupied Syrian Golan Heights would become a bargaining chip along with American acquiescence to Iran's ongoing uranium enrichment program.

It's hardly surprising, therefore, that the Israeli authorities have seemingly launched a coordinated attack to ensure that Iran and Syria remain pariahs in Western eyes.

The head of the Research Division of Israel's Military Intelligence Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz has issued a statement indicating Syria is preparing for military conflict with Israel. Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, the Israeli Defense Forces deputy chief of staff, predicts Iran will soon possess nuclear weapons.

Anyone with an iota of common sense would quickly realize that both the above statements are patently false. If Syria wanted war with Israel it would have joined its ally Hezbollah during the previous round, while intelligence agencies and nuclear experts predict that any Iranian nuclear weapons capability is years away. That's if Iran is, indeed, seeking such a capability.

Rosner, another Ha'aretz columnist asks, "Is Baker an enemy of Israel?" and suggests that "anyone who rummages through Baker's history will find that at several junctures he acted against the Israeli government."

America's pro-Israel lobby has also come out against the report's recommendations due to the linkage it forges between the Israel-Palestine conflict and regional turmoil and because buried within the document is a mention of Palestinian right of return.

To put this in context, the US has never accepted that right, which was neither enshrined in the Oslo agreement nor in the so-called "road map". This slip of the pen is so astonishing that some commentators believe it might have been inserted in error.

The question is do these developments signify a subtle change in US foreign policy?
Israelis who believe they do fear the US might sell their country's interests down the Tigris in exchange for a stable Iraq. Some actually predicted a chasm between US and Israeli interests when Israel was given a bloody nose during the recent conflict in Lebanon.

Given that Israel was fighting a proxy war on behalf of Washington its abject failure reflected badly on the White House, which made no secret of the fact it was disappointed with Israel's performance. After all, what use is a tail that can't wag?

If Israel has let down its chief ally and benefactor in Lebanon the same can be said for America's disastrous intervention in Iraq, which ironically has strengthened the hand of Israel's No. 1 foe Tehran.

From an ideological perspective, Israelis have little to fear. Washington is riddled with pro-Israel bias and anti-Islamic paranoia. Like Bob Gates and James Baker, who are being labeled as anti-Israel, anyone in US politics or in the media that dares to question the US-Israel relationship leaves himself open to anti-Semitic slurs.

However, on a practical level the climate has, indeed, changed. George Bush is, no doubt, as vehemently anti-Iranian as he always was, while Vice President Dick Cheney probably salivates over toppling the Iranian regime, but subsequent to losses suffered by Republicans during midterm elections, their options have narrowed.

It is highly unlikely that a Democrat-controlled Congress would offer necessary support to a pre-emptive strike on Iran or that the American people would tolerate their military getting embroiled in another Middle East conflict when only nine percent believe there is any chance of the US exiting Iraq victorious.

All of this means that in the short-term Israel faces a lonely future. Israelis do perceive Iran as a very real existential threat and are concerned at Iranian influence in Iraq, Lebanon and the occupied territories. The idea that the US should cozy up to the Iranian mullahs to extricate itself from a quagmire in Iraq is anathema to Tel Aviv but is supported by many US and European politicians and think tanks.

Israel's perceived military isolation coupled with its existential concerns could eventually trigger a worse case scenario: An Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. They did it before in Iraq and they could do it again. But this time the repercussions would reverberate around the entire region.

Iran and many other countries in this neck of the woods including Saudi Arabia and Egypt have long called for a nuclear-free Middle East. If this plan was implemented everyone could sleep better at night including the Israelis, whose nukes are not only deadly weapons but also instruments of suicide.

There is another way, one that is foreign to a succession of Israeli governments. It's called peace. What is it about mankind that finds death and destruction an easier option than getting together around a table, breaking bread together and making an effort to discover the common threat of humanity that binds us all?

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