Thursday, January 05, 2006

With Friends like Pat Robertson....

"Ich bin ein Jewish Settler"

When I heard the news about Sharon I told a friend to expect one of the crazy Jewish settlers to proclaim that the Israeli PM was punished by God for the withdrawal from Gaza. Well, I was wrong. Instead, it was the most enthusiastic American supporter of the Greater Israel project, "Television evangelist" Pat Robertson who suggested on Thursday that Israeli Sharon's stroke was "divine retribution" for the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, which Robertson opposed.

"He was dividing God's land, and I would say, 'Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the [European Union], the United Nations or the United States of America,'" Robertson told viewers of his long-running television show, "The 700 Club." "God says, 'This land belongs to me, and you'd better leave it alone,'" he said.

More about Nutty Pat here There has been some criticism by a few American-Jewish "leaders" (like "Abe" Foxman from ADL) and by the Israeli Ambassador to Washington(google these items, if you're interested). It would be interesting to see if these Jewish organizations do the right thing and demand that Roberstron return the many awards he received from them in the past. More important, American-Jews and Israelis alike have to recognize the following: Many of Robertson's followers, inclduing those who reside in the Holy Land agree with what he said about Sharon. Indeed, if you get through the ads for underwears and perfume, you should read Craig Unger's article in Vanity Fair on what these guys think (or fantasize) about Israel. And check this out: According to recent reports, the Israeli government
The Israeli government is planning to give up a large slice of land to American Christian evangelicals to build a biblical theme park by the Sea of Galilee where Jesus is said to have walked on water and fed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish. A consortium of Christian groups, led by the television evangelist Pat Robertson, is in negotiation with the Israeli ministry of tourism and a deal is expected in the coming months. The project is expected to bring up to 1 million extra tourists a year but an undeclared benefit will be the cementing of a political alliance between the Israeli rightwing and the American Christian right.
More here about the project The article suggests that some Israelis are opposed to the idea since they're concerned that Robertson and his crew would use the theme park to convert Jews to Christianity. I'm not sure about that. But what about the next argument: Why should the Israelis help establish a center led by a group of people who are opposed to -- and would probably try to subvert -- what most of the Israelis, including Sharon's party agree on, that Israel should withdraw from most of the occuppied territories in the West Bank and Gaza and allow the establishment of an independent Palestinian state? That doesn't make a lot of sense to me, especially after several neocons have accused American-Jewish groups who advocate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq of acting against "Jewish interests." As I see it, giving up a large slice of Israeli land to Robertson and his groupies runs very much against "Jewish interests."

"Bibi" Netanyahu AKA He Who Dances on Graves

Rabin's wife accused "Bibi" of inciting against her husband

"Arik" Sharon was struggling for his life, and the Likudniks/neocons were already celebrating. Michael Oren, an author of an over-rated book on the 1967 War and a scholar with a creepy neocon think tank in Jerusalem, made it clear, in an interview with the New York Times that this was great, great news for his political man, Binyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu

Many Israelis followed Sharon away from Likud into Kadima because they believed he represented the best guarantee for Israel's security in the near future," said Michael B. Oren, an Israeli historian. "In his absence, they are likely to fall back on the next likeliest guarantee, Bibi Netanyahu."

Mr. Netanyahu has also worked to purge Likud "of some of its more unsavory figures and restored some of its tainted image," Mr. Oren said. Mr. Netanyahu is also given high marks for his stewardship of the Finance Ministry before he quit the cabinet over the Gaza withdrawal.

Yep. That one more Israeli leader who was trying (perhaps) to get Israel out of the occupied Palestinian territories was (almost) dead could mean that the Weekly Standard's favorite Israeli could find himself once again in the Israeli PM office. The conventional wisdom is that the collapse of the Camp David talks and the start of Intifadah II were responsible for the death of the Olso peace process. I totally disagree. I'm sure that it was Rabin's assassination by a right-wing Israeli militant that led eventually to all the mess we are facing now in the Holy Land. Leah Rabin, like many other Israelis, blamed the anti-Rabin incitement promoted by "Bibi" for creating the environment that resulted in his murder
Mrs Rabin said Prime Minister Netanyahu - the leader of the opposition Likud party at the time of the assassination - was responsible for creating a climate of incitement that led to the shooting. She complained that he scorned Mr Rabin for giving away land to the Palestinians, and was still making similar, inaccurate claims today. She reserved her strongest criticism for Mr Netanyahu's approach to the Palestinians. "Why draw a picture that the Palestinians are a threat to our existence?" she said. "They are not. They want peace. They deserve peace. They are entitled to have peace as much as we want and are entitled to have peace."

The rest was history. Netanyahu was elected and he did his best to sabotage what was left of the Oslo process. Now after Sharon left Likud, creating a political party that could have won election and marginalized the Likud, there was a danger that "Bibi" would become history, perhaps even return to the United States and join the American Enterprise Institute as a Senior Fellow. It could still happen if Sharon's party elects a winnable candidate and run on its platform that calls for the creation of a Palestinian state. For more on "Bibi" check out a profile I had written a while ago aboutIsrael's own "Joe Isuzu"

More about Iran and U.S.

Iraqi PM Jaafari and Iranian VVP Aref: A Marriage made in Teheran (through U.S. matchmaking)

My recent analysis of U.S.-Iran tensions:

January 4, 2006
US Headed for Confrontation With Iran
But probably not all-out war
by Leon Hadar
I've been embarrassed a few times in the past with my predictions (for example, that it was going to be U.S. President John Kerry in 2004), but I've also been right on a few occasions (for example, my book, Quagmire: America in the Middle East, was published in 1992). So let me put my credibility as a political analyst on the line again and make another forecast: The news this year will be dominated by the growing confrontation between Washington and Tehran (if that doesn't happen, well, I promise not to remind you about that early next year).

Notice that I'm hedging my bets here. I refer to "confrontation," as in diplomatic and military confrontation, and not to war, as in the war with Iraq. I don't think that the United States at this point has the needed military resources and the necessary political support at home and abroad for launching a full-scale attack on Iran, including the possible American occupation of that country (or even parts of it).

In short, don't replace the "q" with an "n" and expect a rerun of Iraq in Iran. The military and political realities are quite different than they were three years ago when the Bush administration decided to oust Saddam Hussein from power. One doesn't have to be a veteran military expert or a diplomatic observer to recognize that the U.S. armed forces are overstretched in Mesopotamia (150,000) and around the world, and that the Bush administration wouldn't be able to persuade even Tony Blair to invade Iran.

Most important of all, the American public is exhausted with the war in Iraq. Hence, short of a 9/11-like terrorist attack that could be linked (really, that is, and not through deceptive "intelligence") to the ayatollahs in Tehran, Congress is not going to provide President Bush with the green light to send U.S. ground troops to Iran, especially since none are actually available (there are less than 400,000 combat troops in the U.S. Army and only 150,000 of those are on active duty).

A total war with Iran, the world's second-largest oil producer, in 2006 could also lead to a huge hike in petrol prices in the United States that would make it less likely that the American SUV owner would reelect a Republican Congress in the November midterm elections.

But a U.S. confrontation with Iran is inevitable for several reasons. Much of the public's attention has been focused of course on the U.S.-led push, backed by the European Union (EU), to block what seems to be Iran's drive to speed up its nuclear-development program. The recent American efforts have been taking place through multilateral channels, suggesting to some observers that the Bush administration has been adopting a "realist" strategy. The EU-3 countries (Britain, France, Germany) have been negotiating on and off with Iran, and meetings between the Americans and the other 34 members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) governing board have produced resolutions calling on Iran to adopt a more cooperative approach.

But the Bush administration agreed last November to go along with a European recommendation to delay asking the IAEA board members to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council for action, after Russia and China indicated that they would block UN action to punish Tehran.

And while the EU-3 negotiations with Iran seem to be reaching a dead end, there have been signs of growing tensions between the Iranians and the Israelis. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has publicly threatened to eliminate Israel and suggested that the Jewish Holocaust didn't take place.

At the same time, Israeli officials have stressed that they would not permit Iran to develop a nuclear military capability, igniting some reports that they are planning an attack against Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor similar to the Israeli raid on Iraq's Osirak nuclear site in 1981.

But it seems very unlikely given the conditions that exist today in the Middle East – with the United States occupying Iraq, a state that borders Iran – that Israel would take military action against Tehran that could affect U.S. interests without receiving a go-ahead from its patron in Washington. The Israeli tail won't be allowed to wag the U.S. dog.

More likely, the Israeli threats serve the U.S. strategy of pressing Iran to make concessions over the nuclear issue. In fact, recent reports in the German media that the Bush administration was preparing its NATO allies for a possible military strike against suspected nuclear sites in Iran in 2006, which appeared after similar news was published in the Turkish press, should be regarded as part of the U.S. campaign to pressure Tehran to agree to make compromises during the negotiations with the EU-3 and the IAEA.

Most observers are speculating that without any breakthrough in the talks with Iran, Washington will demand that the UN Security Council impose sanctions on Iran, and if the Russians and/or the Chinese decide to veto a resolution along those lines, the Bush administration will urge the Europeans and other governments to join in an embargo on technologies that Iran can use in its nuclear program.

Both the Americans and the Iranians are aware that such moves, assuming the Europeans and others back them, would have very little effect on Iran. With the continuing rise in oil prices, the Iranians are now awash with oil and money, while the Russians, the Chinese, and probably the Indians remain important trade partners for the Iranians and can be expected to reject a U.S. call to isolate Iran and to continue to make major economic deals with Tehran on energy and arms.

Moreover, the Iranians are familiar with the argument made above, that the United States won't be able to "do an Iraq" in Iran, among other reasons because of the high military and economic costs for the United States involved in maintaining the occupation of Iraq. If anything, the Iranians could probably raise those costs for the Americans by encouraging their political and military allies in the majority Shi'ite community in Iraq, some of whom are now in power in Baghdad, to make life miserable for the occupiers through violence (the use of the Shi'ite militias) or by sabotaging moves toward political accommodation in Iraq.

As an Iran expert suggested to me: "All the Iranians need is to push their Shi'ite button, and Iraq would explode in the face of the Americans." Indeed, note the irony here. By ousting Saddam Hussein and his Arab-Sunni allies in Baghdad and by destroying Iraq's military power, the Americans have removed the major regional counterbalance to Iran's power in the Persian Gulf on which other Sunni-Arab regimes in the region, including Saudi Arabia, have counted as a way of containing the Shi'ite ayatollahs in Tehran, who seem to have adopted an even more radical style than before.

Compounding this sense of irony is the fact that democracy and free elections in Iraq – under U.S. occupation! – are bringing to power a Shi'ite political coalition with strong ties to anti-American Tehran (where another exercise in democracy led to the election of the Holocaust denier and anti-American Ahmadinejad).

It's not surprising, therefore, that the Saudis and other Arab Gulf states, not unlike the Israelis, have been putting pressure on the Americans to "do something" about Iran before a regional Shi'ite bloc led by Iran emerges in the Gulf and threatens the interests of the Saudis (who also have a large Shi'ite minority).

All of which means that if the Americans want to make sure that Iraq under Shi'ite rule doesn't turn into a satellite of Iran, they need to use their own diplomatic and military power to contain Tehran while continuing to occupy Iraq.

The Iranians, however, assume that they are in a win-win situation. They can drag out the negotiations with the EU-3 and the IAEA, create a sense of a diplomatic brinkmanship, and make a few last-moment, minor concessions on the nuclear issue. That option would leave Washington isolated and with no support to take action against Tehran.

Or the Iranians could decide to raise the diplomatic ante and reject any compromise, counting on the Russians and/or the Chinese to block UN action and on Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and other anti-American Third World nations to join them in countering U.S. diplomatic moves, which in turn would put enormous pressure on oil prices.

Doing nothing about Iran would not only demolish what remains of the U.S.-led nuclear arms-control regime, it would also turn the balance of power in Iraq and the Persian Gulf against the United States and create incentives for the Saudis and others to make deals with Tehran.

Short of trying to open direct diplomatic channels with Iran (very unlikely), the United States will probably try to increase the diplomatic and military pressure on Iran in the coming months, demonstrating that the Pax Americana project in the Middle East is becoming more expensive.

That the central banks of China and other Asian economies are paying for it is probably the most intriguing element in this evolving story.

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