Posts Tagged ‘Ehud Olmert’

“Caught With Their Hand In The Cookie Jar,” Or Why The World Is Pretending To Be Surprised About Iran’s Nuclear Program

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

By Tommy Brown

From the article  “Obama’s Iran Trap” in Foreign Policy:

The conventional wisdom on last week’s astonishing revelations about Iran’s secret uranium-enrichment site, tucked in a mountainside near the holy city of Qom, holds that Barack Obama has just pulled off a diplomatic coup, raising the pressure on Tehran going into a critical Oct. 1 big-powers meeting and finally getting the Russians to agree to U.N. sanctions with real bite.

First off, you should treat any paragraph that begins with “the conventional wisdom” with deep skepticism, because what it really means is “what the chattering class thinks” and that’s never a good barometer of reality.  Secondly, how in the world is the fact that Iran has multiple sites for its nuclear program an astonishing revelation? Even cable news has been talking about this for four years, how airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear installations would involve hundreds of sorties on dozens of targets. Is the fact that President Ahmadinejad disclosed the existence of just one of the numerous sites that even the public knows exists, let alone the CIA or Mossad, really all that jaw-dropping?

Don’t be so sure. Obama may not have had much choice given that Iran had just notified the International Atomic Energy Agency of its new nuke plant, but the U.S. president is the one with a problem now. By revealing this information, he has painted himself into a corner and made an Israeli strike more likely.

Obama has not painted himself into any sort of corner with this declaration. Here’s why. This “astonishing” announcement is just yet another in a series of posturing United Nations pressers that have been going on since former president Bush threw down the gauntlet concerning the Iranian nuclear program years ago, and almost all of it has been for naught.

And the chance of an Israeli strike on Iran  against the wishes of  Washington is virtually nil. A little known story is that at the end of the Bush Administration, then-Prime Minister Olmert had decided that Israel would take out the nuclear facilites at Natanz and other sites with, of all things, nuclear bunker-busters, to reach the facilities deep underground. Apparently oblivious to the irony, the Israelis approached the Bush White House with a request for the latest in air-dropped tactical nukes, and Olmert was told in no uncertain terms by Bob Gates and Condi Rice that the United States would not support it. The strikes, which were far enough along that pilots were already flying practice sorties, were quietly  scrapped.

Besides that, an Israeli attack into Iran would require traversing Iraqi airspace. Under the new Status of Forces agreement, Iraqi airspace actually belongs to the Iraqis again, and their Shi’ite-dominated government is very buddy-buddy with the mullahs.

For one thing, it’s not clear that “the Russians” have really agreed to sanctions. Yes, President Dmitry Medvedev emerged from his meeting with Obama last week to suggest he was on board. And we know that U.S. national security advisor James L. Jones pulled aside Sergei Prikhodko, his Russian counterpart, to tell him the news about the second Iranian plant. (Officially Medvedev’s advisor, Prikhodko is really Putin’s top foreign-policy boss, and chances are he accompanied Medvedev to New York to be the prime minister’s ears and eyes on the ground.)

What we don’t know is what Putin thinks. But as demonstrated last year when the prime minister abruptly left the Olympics to supervise the war with Georgia, he’s still very much in charge. (Right on schedule, a Russian foreign ministry source reportedly said today that everyone should “calm down” over Iran’s latest missile test and “not give way to emotions.”) And then there’s China, which came out with a typically milquetoast statement after Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy made their dramatic announcement Thursday morning at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. Everyone knows that serious sanctions mean fuel, as Iran, for all its oil, still has to import a great deal of refined petroleum (just how much is disputed) to make its economy run. But the Chinese get 15 percent of their oil from Iran. Needless to say, getting meaningful sanctions through the U.N. Security Council is far from assured.

It really doesn’t matter whether or not sanctions are actually pushed through the Security Council, Iran has been under sanctions for well over a decade and doesn’t seem too distraught about it. The only sanctions that would truly hurt them would be oil sanctions, but there is no way in hell China or especially Britain would ever go for that. The faux-dramatic press conference is just the usual dog-and-pony show while the real action takes place in the smoky back room.

The real dope is that whether or not the Russians will support tougher economic sanctions against Iran, they are in a position to make Iran’s life difficult in much more meaningful ways. They are their main arms supplier and have been supplying them with nuclear tech and know-how. The deal that was struck to scrap the anti-ballistic missile system in Eastern Europe seems to have been a straight-up horse trade with Medvedev (well, Putin really, as the article points out): Russia gets breathing room in the Near Abroad, and America gets transit rights involving Afghanistan and a stronger public stance from Moscow on an Iranian nuclear breakout. How much pressure Medvedev is willing to apply outside the auspices of the UN is the real question.

. . . .[T]he Iran issue is going to become a major headache for Obama. It’s going to strengthen Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s argument that Iran’s nuclear program, not West Bank settlements or the plight of the Palestinians, is the real crisis in the Middle East. It’s going to put wind in the sails of neoconservatives and Republicans in Washington, who are all too eager to paint the U.S. president as weak and ineffectual when Tehran doesn’t buckle. What is Barack going to do then? Bomb Iran himself and wreck his Middle East hopes? Let Iran go nuclear and turn the nonproliferation regime into a sick joke? Give sanctions “time to work” — and consign a generation of Iranians to radicalism, growing ethnic strife, and crushing poverty?

I’m not sure how much of a headache it’s really going to be, considering that no one in any position to affect American foreign policy should give a tinker’s damn what the American neoconservatives or the Likudniks (the Israeli neocons), especially Netanyahu, after seven years of watching that failed ideology drive our country’s national security and international clout off a cliff. Of course, there is a valid point to the observation, because our Very Serious journalists in the op-ed pages and cable news will hang on the prognostications of Bill Kristol et al. as if they have any credibility left after being spectacularly wrong about everything since 2002.

The one thing I wholeheartedly agree with is that Obama does not really have any good options concerning Iran, at least not if people expect the endgame to be Iran giving up their nuclear program. Like chess, where there are scores of possible opening moves but only a few that won’t result in your quick defeat, the president doesn’t have many diplomatic options to choose from. The absolute best-case scenario is that Iran only wants to attain a status like Germany and Japan, with no actual atomic built but the capability to put one together in a couple weeks if necessary. The more likely scenario, given that an Iranian nuclear breakout is virtually assured unless someone goes to war over it, is that America will have to switch its priorities from nonproliferation to counterproliferation, keeping Iran from selling its knowledge to even nuttier and more unstable Third World countries.

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The Five-State Solution: Idealism Trumps Reality Yet Again Concerning Israel

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

by Tommy Brown

The New York Times‘ Thomas Friedman,  he of the fabled Friedman Unit (“The next six months in Iraq. . . .”), has written yet another slightly creepy op-ed where he pretends to be a foreign leader writing to the American president. This time he’s pretending to be Saudi Arabia’s King ‘Abdullah:

Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on your inauguration and for quickly dispatching your new envoy, George Mitchell, a good man, to the Middle East. I wish Mitchell could resume where he left off eight years ago, but the death of Arafat, the decline of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war in Lebanon, the 2009 Hamas-Israel war in Gaza, the continued expansion of colonial Israeli settlements and the deepening involvement of Iran with Hamas and Hezbollah have all created a new reality.

Specifically, the Palestinian Authority is in no position today to assume control of the West Bank, Hamas is incapable of managing Gaza and the introduction of rockets provided by Iran to Hamas has created a situation whereby Israel won’t turn over the West Bank to any Palestinians now because it fears Hamas would use it to launch rockets on Israel’s international airport. But if we do nothing, Zionist settlers would devour the rest of the West Bank and holy Jerusalem. What can be done?

I am proposing what I would call a five-state solution:

I’d like to tackle each part of the solution he proposes separately. They are idealistic, noble and totally unconnected from reality.

1. Israel agrees in principle to withdraw from every inch of the West Bank and Arab districts of East Jerusalem, as it has from Gaza. Any territories Israel might retain in the West Bank for its settlers would have to be swapped — inch for inch — with land from Israel proper.

Total withdrawal for the West Bank, for one, is a total nonstarter. Israel relies on the headwaters of the Jordan River (inconveniently located within the Occupied Territories) for the majority of its water. This is naturally a major security interest for the Israelis; they fought a war with the Arab League over the attempted damming of the Jordan, water being a big deal in the desert, go figure.

The other two are just as fantastic. While there is the chance that Israel would recognize mostly-Arab East Jerusalem as the ceremonial capital of a Palestinian state, there is no way in hell they are going to give up control of probably the most holy city in the world, or let it be divided Berlin-style that way it was between Israel and Jordan before the Six Day War of 1967.

Regarding a land-swap, settler territory for actual Israeli land to become part of the Palestinian Authority: The fundamentalist right wing in Israel, the characters who are the force behind the attempt to settle the entire area that was once ancient Judea and Samarra, will never ever let an inch of Israeli territory be given to the Palestinians. They’re not even that hot on giving them land in the Occupied Territories. And they have never shied away from violence to prevent this; Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords and was assassinated shortly afterward by a “lone gunman” right-wing Zionist; Ariel Sharon withdrew the settlements from the Gaza Strip and shortly afterwards fell victim to a mysterious stroke (I’m no conspiracy theorist, but still).

2. The Palestinians — Hamas and Fatah — agree to form a national unity government. This government then agrees to accept a limited number of Egyptian troops and police to help Palestinians secure Gaza and monitor its borders, as well as Jordanian troops and police to do the same in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority would agree to five-year “security assistance programs” with Egypt in Gaza and with Jordan in the West Bank.

With Egypt and Jordan helping to maintain order, Palestinians could focus on building their own credible security and political institutions to support their full independence at the end of five years.

The ground truth is that Hamas and Fatah are locked in a civil war for control of the Occupied Territories (leaving America in the bizarre position of financially backing Fatah when we pushed for the elections that knocked them out of power and started the war in the first place). Hamas is a fundamentalist Islamist group, while Fatah, the former Palestinian Liberation Organization, is a secular nationalist organization composed of Muslims. Huge difference. There is pretty much zero chance of the two reaching any sort of power-sharing agreement, as Hamas considers Fatah to be apostate rulers.

The idea that the Israelis letting Jordanian security forces into the West Bank is similarly insane; the Israelis took the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the first place. It’s never ever ever going to happen. And despite the Camp David Accords with Egypt, letting them put guys with guns into the Territories is another fantasy. Despite their mutual diplomatic recognition and the return of the Sinai to Egypt, the received wisdom in Israel is that President Hosni Mubarak pays but lip service to the agreement, while turning a blind eye to the smugglers supplying Gaza despite the blockade.

3. Israel would engage in a phased withdrawal over these five years from all of its settlements in the West Bank and Arab Jerusalem — except those agreed to be granted to Israel as part of land swaps — at the same pace that the Palestinians meet the security and governance metrics agreed to in advance by all the parties. The U.S. would be the sole arbiter of whether the metrics have been met by both sides.

Removing the settlements is not a bad idea at all, but, as noted above, attempting to give the Palestinians their own land or withdraw the settlements seems to lead to the death or incapacitation of Israeli prime ministers. And if Bibi Netanyahu of the Likud Party becomes PM, this will become another fantasy.

The real issue with this one is that it somehow assumes that either the Palestinians or the Israelis will somehow view America as some kind of impartial judge after eight years of abandoning the role of mediator and siding with the Israelis entirely. Not to mention the aforementioned elections that made Hamas the legitimate government of the Territories. Less than a few weeks ago, during the Gaza War, Prime Minister Olmert actually demanded to speak with President Bush and convinced him not to sign onto to a UN-brokered ceasefire that Condi Rice, his Secretary of State, had drafted the majority of. Something tells me Israel is going to attempt to continue this kind of relationship, though with the new administration it’s totally up in the air. And both Fatah and Hamas view America as betrayers of their interests more than ever.

4. Saudi Arabia would pay all the costs of the Egyptian and Jordanian trustees, plus a $1 billion a year service fee to each country — as well as all the budgetary needs of the Palestinian Authority. The entire plan would be based on U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338 and blessed by the U.N. Security Council.

This one is my favorite suggestion of Friedman’s, for a couple reasons. One, Saudi Arabia is already the major funder of both Fatah and Hamas. They have financed the PLO and other resistance groups since the creation of Israel in 1948, financed the Arab League in both the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, and their resident religious nuts (which is most of the country) strongly supported and backed Hamas during the still-smoldering Gaza War.

Despite King ‘Abdullah’s profession that he wants peace, and it is little known that in 2003 he offered diplomatic recognition of Israel in return for the US dropping its planned invasion of Iraq, his proposals always contain enough caveats that make them basically impossible to implement. This is remarkably similar to former President Bush’s “road map for peace,” in which Israel quietly logged seventeen “reservations” about the plan that effectively scuttled it.

And “basing the entire plan” on UN Resolutions 242 and 338 is the problem to begin with, because they call for Israel’s total withdrawal to its pre-1967 borders, which would include returning the Golan Heights to Syria (not a huge deal) and returning the West Bank and East Jerusalem to the Jordanians. As discussed in detail above, the West Bank is too important to Israel’s strategic interests and they will never accept a divided Jerusalem again. It also means that the Jordanian security forces Friedman proposes would not just be there to help the Palestinians, but would be a precursor to Jordan’s eventual reintegration of the territory into their country.

And this is from supposedly one of the finest foreign policy minds in the country?

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The Israel Lobby

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

One of the reasons I never read John Mearshimer and Stephen Walt’s book The Israel Lobby (I have read the original article) is that the conclusions seem to be fairly benign and glaringly obvious. I don’t think anyone watching the political scene could actually say, in good faith, that there isn’t a lobbying sector devoted to promoting Israel’s interests the same way there’s a sector devoted to guns, abortion rights, environmental issues, etc. It’s also the case that everyone’s heard plenty of stories of journalists, commentators, academics, and politicians making critical statements about Israel and subsequently facing a campaign to sanction them for it. So ultimately I just never saw much of a reason to buy a book and spend time reading something to learn things I was already well aware of.

I’m pretty sure, however, that Walt and Mearshimer have never claimed that the Israeli government could dictate the actions of the U.S. government and force their votes at the U.N. That claim was just made, however, by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

In an unusually public rebuke, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel said Monday that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been forced to abstain from a United Nations resolution on Gaza that she helped draft, after Mr. Olmert placed a phone call to President Bush.

“I said, ‘Get me President Bush on the phone,’ ” Mr. Olmert said in a speech in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, according to The Associated Press. “They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn’t care: ‘I need to talk to him now,’ ” Mr. Olmert continued. “He got off the podium and spoke to me.”

Israel opposed the resolution, which called for a halt to the fighting in Gaza, because the government said it did not provide for Israel’s security. It passed 14 to 0, with the United States abstaining.

Mr. Olmert claimed that once he made his case to Mr. Bush, the president called Ms. Rice and told her to abstain. “She was left pretty embarrassed,” Mr. Olmert said, according to The A.P.

Now to be fair, there’s plenty of reason to doubt this, not the least of which being that there are elections coming up in Israel, and Olmert really goes out of his way to puff up his chest. Either way, however, it’s at least telling that the Israeli Prime Minister thinks he can make these claims with credulity, both at home and abroad.

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