Thursday, October 5, 2006

Bush and Israel: With Friends Like These, Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle

Bush and Israel: With Friends Like These


Gidon D. Remba

October 4, 2006

Published in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle

If we’re to believe the Republican Jewish Coalition, President George W. Bush is the best friend Israel has ever had. “George Bush is right to stand up to those who have waged a war of terror on the world’s civilized nations,” boasts the RJC. “Whether it’s Iran, Hezbollah or Al Qaeda, President Bush has refused to back down.”

But take a closer look: In fact, Bush’s Mideast policies have done more to endanger the security of Israel than those of any president in history. Ever. The Bush Administration has caused Israel's gravest threats almost literally to mushroom: Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program fast approaches the point of no return. Its militant Lebanese Shiite ally Hezbollah, armed with the latest Iranian, Syrian and Russian high-tech weapons systems, launched an unprecedented 4,000 rockets against northern Israel for an entire month, forcing a million Israelis to flee or hide in shelters, while fighting the IDF in a conflict most Israelis now view as a loss for Israel. 68% of Israelis believe that the Lebanon war has weakened Israel's deterrence in the Arab world, while only 23% feel the country’s deterrence posture was strengthened, according to a recent Tel Aviv University opinion survey.

Iran-backed Islamic Jihad joined the Sunni terror group Hamas to rain hundreds of rockets on communities in southern Israel, while Hamas, emulating Hezbollah’s “success” and with its help, is building underground bunkers and smuggling long-range rockets, advanced anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza, and eventually the West Bank. The newly empowered Shiite-dominated government and militias in Bush’s new Iraq, together with Hezbollah, form the molten core of a pro-Iranian Shiite eruption sweeping the region, emboldening oil-rich nuclearizing Iran, threatening to destabilize America’s Sunni Arab allies from Egypt to Jordan, Saudi Arabia to the Gulf emirates.

Fueled by Syria and Iran, Hamas waged war on Israel from Gaza after wresting control of the Palestinian Authority, while Sunni jihadist groups inspired by Al Qaeda are proliferating globally, reports the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), representing the consensus of all sixteen US intelligence bodies. The NIE warns that “threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.” Al Qaeda itself has spread to areas surrounding Israel, mounting attacks in Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai, a gathering threat to the Jewish state. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden's deputy, celebrated the fifth anniversary of 9/11 by announcing that Israel was among Al-Qaida's next targets.

The Bush Administration came to power drunk on the fantasy that the US could forcibly mold a more America-friendly “New Middle East,” where Islamist terrorists and their state sponsors in Iraq, Iran and Syria would be rolled back. The overthrow of Saddam and the imposition of democracy in Iraq would set in motion the fall of the radical dominoes, with a little nudge from bonus US military assaults against rogue states as needed. The Islamist radicals vanquished, pro-America moderates would emerge triumphant, paving the way for Arab-Israeli peace. Sworn to steer clear of land-for-peace bargaining, the Bush administration dodged any serious talks between Israel and its neighbors until the US had decisively tipped the balance of power in the region against the extremists.

But things didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, precisely the opposite scenario has unfolded. “The Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives,” concludes the NIE. “The Iraq conflict has become the cause célèbre for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.” Yet the Bush Administration remains in an ostrich-like state of denial, as told in Bob Woodward’s new chronicle. Bush’s dogmatic devotion to remaking the Middle East by force of arms, and studied refusal to support diplomatic engagement—with Palestinian moderates, Syria or Iran—has cost Israel and America dearly.

Item: The hard-line former IDF Chief of Staff Lt-Gen Moshe Ya’alon recently told Ha’aretz: “In the summer of 2003 I suggested to Prime Minister Sharon that he accede to the requests of [Syrian President] Bashar Assad and enter into negotiations with him. I thought that the very existence of negotiations with Syria on the future of the Golan Heights would crack the northern alignment of Iran-Syria-Hezbollah and perhaps also cause its dismantlement… Even if we did not reach a land-for-peace agreement, the very fact of the renewal of the dialogue channel with Syria would have distanced it from Iran and would have weakened the northern alignment, which I defined as a strategic threat.”

A group of prominent neocons who rose to high positions in the Bush Administration had long rejected “land for peace” deals on the Golan Heights in favor of regime-toppling military adventures, publicly suggesting after Iraq that Syria was next. Even had he been so inclined, Sharon could hardly have contemplated negotiations with Syria given the Bush Administration’s wish to depose Assad. Nor would Bush seize the initiative to bring Sharon along in a US-led rapprochement with Syria, conditional on ending its material support for Hezbollah, Hamas and Iraqi insurgents in exchange for renewed peace talks with the US and Israel. The arming of Hezbollah and Hamas continued apace, setting the stage for this summer’s bold Islamist attacks on Israel’s north and south.

Item: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, which spearheaded the Oslo peace accords with Israel, has worked to renew negotiations and end all violence. Much as Hezbollah had pushed Israel out of Lebanon in 2000, Hamas has flaunted its success in forcing Israel to withdraw from Gaza last summer with no Palestinian peace or security recompense. Loath to truck in Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, Bush did little to help Abbas gain credit for Israel’s departure from Gaza. When faced with Hamas’ growing popularity, Abbas sought to postpone Palestinian elections to give his moderate party time to regroup, Bush, the great democratizer, would not hear of it. A Former PA cabinet minister from Fatah told our delegation this summer that Bush insisted Abbas proceed on schedule with democratic Palestinian elections. Hamas won, Fatah lost—another victory for the American leader who stands strong against terror and “appeasement.”

Item: Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, the outgoing director of Israel’s National Security Council, lamented to the Jerusalem Post last week: “In the end, Iran will attain a nuclear capability. The international opportunities of a few years ago were not exploited, and today it’s too late. I don’t see the [international diplomatic] processes unfolding now as being strong enough to stop them, or even to temporarily suspend them.” “America is going to have to learn to live with a nuclear Iran, US intelligence analysts have concluded at a secret meeting near Washington,” echoed the London Times. “Senior operatives and outside experts from the intelligence community were almost unanimous in their view that little could be done to stop Iran acquiring the components for a nuclear bomb,” as Pentagon and intelligence analysts have warned the administration that a military strike on Iran, and economic sanctions, would both fail.

Item: In the spring of 2003, Iran sent Washington a detailed proposal for comprehensive negotiations to resolve all outstanding differences, including its suspected nuclear weapons programs and aid to anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. “The proposal was presented as having support from all major players in Iran's power structure, including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,” according to former senior CIA Mideast analyst Flynt Leverett. Iran’s opening positions in the proposed negotiation were spelled out:

“1. WMD: full transparency for security that there are no Iranian endeavors to develop or possess WMD, full cooperation with IAEA based on Iranian adoption of all relevant instruments,” allowing spot intrusive inspections of suspected nuclear facilities anywhere in Iran.
“2. Terrorism: decisive action against any terrorists (above all Al Qaida) on Iranian territory, full cooperation and exchange of all relevant information.
“3. Iraq: coordination of Iranian influence for activity supporting political stabilization and the establishment of democratic institutions and a non-religious government.
“4. Middle East:

1) stop of any material support to Palestinian opposition groups (Hamas, Jihad etc.) from Iranian territory, pressure on these organizations to stop violent action against civilians within borders of 1967.
2) action on Hizbollah to become a mere political organization within Lebanon [Iran would disarm its Shiite militia in Lebanon]
3) acceptance of the Arab League Beirut declaration (Saudi initiative, two-states-approach)”—committing Iran to peace between all Arab states and Israel.

True to form, Bush spurned the Iranian 2003 offer of direct negotiations, leaving Israel, and the world, in a far more dangerous and disadvantageous position today. With friends like these…