Monday, May 18, 2009

Obama and Netanyahu- Iran and Pakistan

Shalom All,

The big debate going on right now concerns whether or not President Obama will bring pressure to bear upon Israel to make peace with the Palestinians when PM Netanyahu comes to Washington. The wisdom to this point has been that with Israel desiring a stronger tack against Iran by the US, there is leverage against Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians. This is wrong on multiple accounts and Netanyahu is aware of all of them.

First, Iran is at least as big a threat to the US and its interests as to Israel. Yes, an atomic bomb is an existential threat against Israel. However, just imagine the impact of a single detonation of a terrorist atom bomb in any major city in the United States. Such a strike would cripple our nation, result in the immediate rollback of liberty, and dramatically alter how we go about life. It would not kill us all, but the world would change fundamentally. Let's not pretend that the United States is not concerned about even atomic weapons, even without ballistic capabilities, in the hands of those who might use them. Thus, the entire "It's Israel's concern" argument is false. It is OUR existential concern as Americans as well.

Second, we need Israel to do something for us. You see, while Iran may primarily hate Israel, but certainly also despises the US, the US has tremendous problems in Pakistan and with the Pakistani government. You see, the Pakistanis, despite the fact that they are fighting a civil war against the Taliban who are being helped by Al Qaida, are far more concerned with India than with their own insurgents. India is a close ally of Israel. The plot thickens. It is of the utmost importance for the US to secure the Pakistani nuclear arsenal and in the grander scheme of things to prevent Pakistan from going Taliban. If the Pakistanis could be convinced that India is not a threat or more to the point, if India would agree not to be an immediate threat to Pakistan, the Pakistanis could take the fight to the Taliban far more than they are today. The key to getting India to agree just may be Israel.

This leads me to envision an intriguing situation. Netanyahu shows up in Washington with the press buzzing about whether or not he will agree to a two state solution when pressured by Obama. Meanwhile, Obama may well need to ask a favor rather than put forth pressure. The US needs Israel's influence. Take a look at recent news.

Just as an example, the US is asking Israel to warn it before it attacks Iran. Excuse me? I thought the US could pressure Israel to avoid doing that? In fact, I thought that the US told Israel not to attack already.

Rumors are already circulating that pressure is OFF Israel to concede a two state solution. Why? Because that is not currently the primary need of the US. If Israel seeks an exchange for US efforts against Iran, the US has greater priorities than a Palestinian state. Israeli influence with India is more important now than restarting fruitless peace talks with the Palestinians, even if it would make the Arab world happy. Moreover, the US is now the one doing the seeking. Israel likely feels that the only workable solutions with Iran involve sanctions that are only short term solutions and not immediately effective anyway. Hence, the US is holding WEAK CARDS. Israel is holding a royal flush.

Take a look at the two major problems:

1. Problem: Taliban control over Pakistan is an existential threat against the US since Al Qaida would be welcomed and the Taliban would be in control of vastly superior weapons technologies than they currently possess. Imagine Al Qaida roaming the world with several suitcase sized atomic weapons. The Taliban would also destabilize Afghanistan and force the US to redirect resources away from Iraq, allowing Iran to assert itself there. Answer: Pakistani forces need to be diverted from paying attention to India to fighting the insurgency. Solution: Israel can intercede with India, while the US allies itself with India's arch enemy, Pakistan.

2. Problem: Iran's pursuit of nuclear weaponry threatens to destabilize the Middle East and to potentially bring WMDs into the hands of religious zealot terrorists who hate America and American values almost as much as Zionists and Israel. The reality of course is that much of the rest of the Arab world hates Iran also. Answer: The nuclear program must be stopped. Either dramatic sanctions are effective and the weapons program is halted OR military strikes must occur against both nuclear facilities and refined petroleum facilities in Iran. Solutions: Option 1- garner international support for sanctions so that they are effective; Option 2- a major about face regarding the use of US military force and not diplomacy in Washington; or Option 3- a reliance upon Israel's military to get the job done.

The assertion that somehow by forcing Israel to appear to make concessions to the PA, moderate Arab nations would side against Iran is false, because those nations who would be willing to do so are already allied against Iran. They are also allied against the Taliban and Al Qaida. Israel's concessions cannot possibly bring new allies. Worse in fact for those who want the US to pressure Israel vis-a-vis the Palestinians, negotiations between Israel and the PA, which are destined to fail, will only damage the coalition against Iran by weakening any Arab leadership working with Israel as their citizenry revolts against cooperation with Israel. In other words, even Arab support against Iran is likely to WEAKEN if the peace process is restarted because it is likely to fail right now. Additionally, as it would be politically impossible for the Obama administration to launch attacks against Iran, US options are limited.

Avoiding military conflict with Iran at ALL COSTS is NOT necessarily in anyone's interests other than Iran's, especially if the sanctions regime is not ramped up to the point of strangling the Iranian economy short of war. The currently imposed sanctions are not stopping Iranian nuclear progress. If the US does not want Israel to strike Iran, IT, not Israel, may have make a concession to the other on this issue as well.

In essence, the two major foreign policy problems facing the United States right now have few solutions and they all involve supporting Israel as it solves the above problems for the United States. One can only hope that the scare tactics being used now, hinting at Israeli strikes against Iran, for example, will be good enough to deter Iran short of actually military conflict. The US may have to offer OTHER concessions to Israel either to avoid attacking Iran or to help with India or BOTH.

Just about all of the bargaining chips that were on the table for the Palestinians are now gone again. More problematic for the Palestinians is that there is a disincentive to reinstate them going forward. Palestinian suffering is diplomatically more beneficial than Palestinian uprising. The risk from failure in the peace process is so damaging at the moment that it is greater than the reward of success.

Obama will almost certainly speak out publicly about the need to create a Palestinian state in the near future, while privately pleading with Israel to help on other issues and conceding the impossible position that the US is in regarding both Pakistan and Iran with Israel being the sole source of help to resolve its problems in both areas. Netanyahu may even help the US diplomatically by talking about the possibility of two states in the future, IF.... Meanwhile, there are bigger fish to fry for both nations.

The Palestinian bargaining position worsens day by day and semi-state status for the foreseeable future, rather than full sovereignty, becomes more and more likely. It isn't just Netanyahu who fears a Hamastan in the West Bank and Gaza, so do Egypt and Jordan as well as anyone who ever wants to see peace in the Holy Land, much less visit its holy sites. What will truly restart the peace process are major concessions by the PA to Israel that allay its security fears, including SUPPORTING, much less recognizing, its status as a Jewish state, and that allow it to move forward diplomatically with its own population. I certainly would not want to be negotiating from that position, which is significantly worse than that faced by Arafat in 2000.

People have wondered what the impact of 9/11 would be on relations between the US and the Arab world. Here is the result. Pakistan and Iran are now far and away the biggest security concerns because they possess, or might possess in the case of Iran, weapons that would make 9/11 pale by comparison. Afghanistan remains a top tier concern as well because it is from there under the Taliban that Al Qaida operated and the Taliban threaten to retake power. Iraq was included with Pakistan and Iran prior to 2003 regardless of whether or not it actually had WMDs because it could easily have constructed them, had them in the past, and had belligerent leadership that was associating with known terrorist entities, Hamas in particular. Internal Arab and Muslim world conflicts including Lebanon, the Palestinians, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, women's rights issues, modernization and a whole host of others have been relegated to second class concerns since 2001 and my friends, that is not simply because George Bush was President.

The simple fact of the matter is that our security trumps others' suffering. Their prosperity and their liberty are dependent on our security. Threatening the United States will result in the United States securing the prosperity and liberty of its own citizenry at the expense of those of others.

This brings me to the final point: OIL. The free flow of oil is still our primary concern PERIOD. Just imagine a Middle East in which a nuclear armed Talibanistan operates from a territory spanning Afghanistan and Pakistan, threatening the entire Indian Ocean, not to mention India, another nuclear power. Imagine on the other side of Afghanistan an Iran possessing nuclear weapons of its own. Now, envision them looking greedily at the vast amounts of money flowing into the hands of abusive despots in the major oil producing nations of the Persian Gulf and looking north toward the Muslim states of the former Soviet Union. Why stop there? Let's put Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of Gaza and the West Bank, operating major arms smuggling in the Sinai Peninsula, and threatening Egyptian sovereignty as well as the Suez Canal.

There could be real ugliness on the horizon and the key to all of it is the US-Israel relationship.


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