By Avi Davis
As the time for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress rapidly approaches, the skies around him are beginning to darken in an ominous way.
Yesterday a report from a Kuwaiti paper alleged that some time in 2014 Netanyahu, in consultation with his general staff, had authorized a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities for fear that the United States and Iran had concluded a secret agreement which would have compromised Israeli national security. Yet when informed of the prospective assault, Barack Obama warned that the U.S. military would shoot the Israeli planes out of the sky if they so much as dared to cross into Jordanian airspace.
While the story is almost certainly false (the U.S. army or navy has had a very limited capacity to interdict any squadron over Jordanian airspace – or even more likely Saudi Arabian airspace – since the complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2011) , the fact that so many people registered their alarm that U.S. and Israeli pilots might be involved in a real military engagement against one another, only illustrates its believability. Relations have apparently sunk so low that the United States government now appears to view the State of Israel itself as the most significant obstacle to peace in the Middle East.
Such a view of course makes a convenient detour around both Islamic State and al Qaeda, both of whom possess a far more serious claim to that title. Netanyahu might then be forgiven for a little exasperation with the U.S. President and his administration – who do not seem to be responding to Israeli intelligence nor its analysis of the situation on the ground.
But the Israeli prime minister knows that he is dealing with an amateur in foreign relations, a leader who has demonstrated time and again a failed grasp of statecraft and whose stubbornness, even in the face of the most exigent facts, blinds him to the consequences of his actions and the catastrophic impact that they might have on the region.
Throwing caution to the wind is not a luxury afforded a tiny state like Israel, surrounded by hostile forces seeking its destruction. But Netanyahu is not coming to Washington to represent just his own nation. When he stands before the two house of Congress on Tuesday, he will, sotto voce, also be representing the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia , Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, all of whom have witnessed the United States’ abandonment of leadership in the region and its apparent willingness to appease a determined Iran, glowing with the satisfaction of having gulled and outsmarted the Americans.
For Netanyahu the gambit to address Congress, at the risk of raising the ire of the Obama administration, is a supremely dangerous one; Obama still has now a little less than two years left in office and during that time there are many measures he can take to either punish Israel or else continue to endanger Israeli security – a perilous position in which to be in, considering that Iran’s military advisers now sit virtually on Israel’s very doorstep on the slopes of the Golan Heights.
Democratic supporters of Israel in Congress, alarmed by the widening rift, have urged the Israeli prime minister to cancel the appearance. After all, does he not know that Obama has repeatedly stated over the years that he would not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons ( recycling those very words at a press conference with David Cameron not three weeks ago)? And hasn’t Obama just as often stated the United States’ commitment to the defense of Israel – implying that it would back that commitment with military assistance – if not force – if necessary?
Why is he doing it then?
The first reason is that the negotiations, conducted in camera in Geneva, have not involved the Israelis at all. The country most threatened by Iranian aggression – in fact the one singled out repeatedly by the theocratic regime for annihilation, has also been the one not even consulted about the outcome of the talks. The Israelis are well aware that this is no oversight. And it must surely invoke the memory of the Czechs who were not invited to join the British, French and Italian leaders at their negotiations with Hitler at his Berchtesgarden retreat in September, 1938. The Czechs were handed a fait accompli and thereafter completely abandoned by the Allies – forced to surrender a sizeable chunk of their territory while dismantling their formidable defenses.
And while drifting down memory lane, the Israeli leaders are no doubt recalling the events of November, 1956 and May, 1967.
On November 5, 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower, enraged by the surprise joint, coordinated attack by British, French and Israeli troops on the Suez Canal – just recently nationalized by the Egyptian dictator Gamal Nasser, issued an ultimatum to the victorious armies – immediate withdrawal or face a Security Council denunciation at the United Nations. The swift and sweeping conquest of the vast Sinai peninsula by the Israel Defense Forces relieved the country of a direct threat in the south from cross border fedayeen raids and Egyptian military insurgents and the Israelis were not about to give it up without something in return. Eisenhower decided to give them a guarantee – that in the event of a future attack by Egypt in the south, an international force would be stationed from now on in to help defend the southern border.
Fast forward eleven years and Nasser was seen again threatening Israeli national security, this time mobilizing troops in the Sinai Peninsula and sabre rattling, in blood curdling national speeches, for the annihilation of the Jewish state. Israel, pressed on three borders by hostile armies made urgent entreaties to President Lyndon Johnson, pointing to the guarantees offered by the Eisenhower administration. Johnson hesitated, claiming his staff could not find the document but promising to organize an international flotilla to break the blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba imposed by Nasser’s navy. Weeks went by and no such flotilla appeared. Frustrated and alarmed, the government of Levi Eshkol realized it was truly alone – the U.S. guarantees were not worth the paper they were written on. With nothing else to lose he authorized a pre-emptive strike on the Egyptian air force, a mission which was ultimately so staggeringly successful that it essentially determined the outcome of the war – concluded in Israel’s favor within six days.
This history lesson can surely not be lost on the current Israeli leadership. They see the writing on the wall – a President who takes their security concerns with a passive non-chalance; who believes that Iran, for all its 30 years of fostering terrorism and instability in the Middle East, can be transformed overnight into a partner for peace; a leader who cannot grasp that the ideological engine which fuels the nuclear ambitions of the Mullahs in Tehran is the same motor spinning in the minds of al Qaeda and ISIS.
Benjamin Netanyahu, a far more savvy and focused strategist than the American president, knows all of this and knows the limited time the Israelis now have to make to make their arguments- if not to the U.S. president who has ceased to listen, then at least to the American people through their representatives in Congress.
In doing so, Netanyahu will be making the case that the quashing of Iran’s nuclear ambitions is not just an Israeli interest, nor just an American interest – but an interest of the world community which must combine to recognize the most significant threat to world peace since the end of the Cold War and deal with in an unequivocal and final manner.
by Avi Davis
One could ask many questions about Barack Obama’s outrage regarding John Boehner’s invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress before first having consulted the White House.
Why has the U.S. administration allowed the President’s contempt for the Israeli Prime Minister to seep into public view?
What does the Administration hope to gain by so publicly insulting Netanyahu (as well, it might be added, Congress) by characterizing the supposed breach of protocol as such a heinous act of betrayal?
When, exactly, was the White House actually informed about the invitation since Boehner’s office has now revealed that it notified the White House of its intentions many weeks ago?
How, in creating a storm of controversy around this issue, particularly when exactly the same set of circumstances occurred in 2011 without a peep of protest from the President, are the United States’ national interests truly served?
The open contempt Barack Obama so regularly displays for the Israeli Prime Minister often skirts the boundaries of credulity. After all, Israel is the one stable democracy in the Middle East; its situation, given the rise of ISIS and a revitalized al Qaeda has given the United States an unquestioned advantage in addressing the threats to both America and to the West from those insurgencies; and its sophisticated intelligence network is an invaluable ear to the ground in a war torn, violent area of the world, necessary for protecting not just Israelis but other Westerners and Americans too.
Should the U.S President, no matter what his personal rancor or feelings towards another head of state, really allow them to color and subsume his statecraft?
Since both men entered their respective offices in 2009, they have famously failed to see eye to eye. Obama and his Administration seems fixated on finding petty and trivial matters with which to flay the Israeli leader while at the same remaining equally committed to loading him with full responsibility for the failures of any potential peace deal with the Palestinians.
Yet the Administration’s veiled threat to the Israeli prime minister – that there are ‘consequences’ for abrogating protocol, coupled with the reminder that the President still has 24 months to serve in office – is a signal of the fear that the Administration possesses of being upstaged by the charismatic and silver tongued Israeli leader.
Perhaps it has good reason to fear. Netanyahu seems to have taken the measure of Barack Obama, knows that the President’s term is steaming towards a conclusion and realizes that the next president of the United States may well be sitting among the gathered senators and representatives on Capitol Hill on March 3rd. Why waste time appeasing the wishes of a churlish, unreliable American leader, who has demonstrated a disturbing nonchalance towards Israeli security issues and has even suggested solutions which would leave the Israelis nakedly exposed? The pressing existential demands of Israeli’s national security with the rise of a nuclear Iran, does not give this Israeli leader the luxury of attempting to mollify an American leader with juvenile antipathies.
Better, it would seem, to deal with an American representative body that has historically been extraordinarily supportive of the Jewish state, has looked skeptically at Arab promises of peace and has vowed to support its democratic ally in almost every crisis it has encountered over the past 40 years.
Is Obama’s petulance and open disdain for the Israeli prime minister then just the manifestation of a fear of irrelevance?
Not entirely. For there is another issue at play here, one that has much less to to do with the personal relations between the two men and much more to do with ideological differences.
And that is Obama’s visceral, deep seated uncertainty about Israel’s moral legitimacy.
Schooled in the politics of the far left, which since at least the Six Day War has traditionally seen the State of Israel as an imperialist force which draws its historical momentum from colonial power, he became emotionally invested in the Palestinian narrative at a relatively young age. He now sees the Middle East, much as his bedfellows on the far left still see it, as a fine Arab tapestry whose interwoven threads were twisted into ugly knots by the intrusion of Zionism. The dispossession of the Palestinians, a people who of course did not exist before 1965, is an international crime which weeps in his mind for justice – and he won’t be deterred nor beguiled by eloquent Jewish statesmen who wish to read to him from another another chronicle altogether which contradicts the one with which he is already so familiar.
This really gets to the root of the Obama Administration stance towards Israel – and no change of Israeli leadership is likely to alter it. It would be the same attitude he would instinctively demonstrate towards any Israeli prime minister who makes clear that his first duty is the protection and security of Israeli citizens and insists on raising the roof about Iranian intentions. In his weak policy towards the Iranian Mullahs and his concomitant lack of will in the fight against ISIS and al Qaeda, Obama has exposed his thinking that the Israelis need to pay for the grave misdeed of their country’s founding which occasioned another peoples’ displacement and that their security concerns must take a back seat to his realist vision of a necessary accommodation of Iranian power. If then their exposure is what is necessary to lead to a greater sense of regional security, it will be the price the Israelis will have to pay.
There is almost no doubt that Netanyahu understands this thinking and has ascertained that this most ideological of presidents cannot be moved. He cannot afford to waste valuable diplomatic capital reeducating him on the realities of the Middle East and though he must know it will bring him into direct conflict with Obama’s own policies, he also knows he has no choice.
Barack Obama has created quite an art out of identifying the wrong enemies of the United States. Contrary to what you might read, our real foes are not oil barons, fracking exponents, Tea Party activists, the Koch Brothers nor Republican congressmen. Our real enemies are the 7th Century barbarians wreaking havoc in the deserts of Syria and Iraq and the beturbaned Mullahs in Tehran baying for the blood of Jews and Americans.
The struggle between Obama and Netanyahu ultimately represents the contest between those who see the world as it is and those who see it as they want it to be. Yet in the coming race to reach the moral high ground on this issue you will see that it is Benjamin Netanyahu who will ultimately triumph – supported by Congress and the majority of Americans. It is this constituency which will come to view the animus of Obama towards Israel as strangely perverse when seen in the context of the decapitated heads and burning corpses left from ISIS’ rampages or in the roaring eliminationist rhetoric of an emboldened Iran.
They will recognize that the President of the United States has allowed his personal animus and skewed biases to color his view of countries and their leaders whom the United States needs most to cultivate. And history will not be kind to that legacy.
by Avi Davis
The Saudi Royal Family must be blessing the fact that polygamy has always been practiced so prodigiously in their country.
The ascension to the Saudi throne of Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud (79), following the death of his 90 -year- old half brother King Abdullah on Friday, marks the fourth time a son of the Abdul Aziz al Saud, founding patriach of the Saud dynasty, has assumed power following the death of a brother. Indeed, the fecundity of that first monarch, who had, over time, married close to 40 wives, should be noted for yet a fifth half-brother, Prince Muqrin, now stands in line as heir apparent.
Abdullah had been a capable king, steering his oil rich country into a close cooperative relationship with the United States, offering itself as a mainstay of moderate Arab power in the Persian Gulf. His cooperation as regent for his ailing half brother Fahd during the first and second Gulf Wars were essential to American victories in Iraq and the kingdom has functioned as an oasis of stability in a time of tumultuous revolutions in the region.
That is not to say the Saudis are the most savory of our allies. The kingdom, despite recent modernization and reforms by Abdullah, is still a despotic autocracy, ruled largely by personal fiat where sharia law enforcement police roam the streets, women are routinely stoned, journalists whipped and free speech severely repressed. But the United States does not have the luxury of choosing its allies in the Middle East and the Saudis have generally come through on their commitments despite their trenchant resistance to American styled freedoms and deep seated hypocrisy.
But during the years of the first and second Obama Administrations, the strength of the U.S.- Saudi alliance has been shaken as the Saudis saw a weak U.S. President buckle on his commitment to oust Iranian backed Bashar al Asad in Syria; an unwillingness to shore up a long term ally such as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and the seeming intent to appease a belligerent and nuclear seeking regime in Iran. Since 2011, the Saudis have therefore increasingly set their own course in determining how to confront their most pressing security concerns, even reaching a tacit, if diplomatically discreet agreement their avowed enemy – the State of Israel, in the event of that country’s need to launch a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
A new complication now arises with the collapse of the American leaning government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in Yemen. The coup of the Houthi, who represent an offshoot of Shiite Islam and are closely aligned with Iran, represents a dynamic shift in the balance of power in the Persian Gulf. For now we can speak of a Shiite archipelago in the Gulf with Iran linking with Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Asad Alawites in Syria and Hamas in Gaza. This situation for the Saudis will be completely intolerable as their Sunni government will become an obvious target of an emboldened Shiite Iran.
Given the geopolitical layout of the present day Middle East, the Obama Administration is looking increasingly flat footed. The President’s insistence that the P5 +1 negotiations with Iran in Geneva must be allowed to run their course, without the imposition of any further pressure on the Iranians by way of increased sanctions, has infuriated U.S. allies in the region – which includes Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The recent decision of the Obama Administration to ignore Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the United States in early March only seems to fit an eerie pattern of nonchalance regarding the Iranian threat. It leaves us with the most incomprehensible of scenarios: the U.S. paying court to our country’s avowed enemy – a regime which has notoriously financed or else perpetrated the continuous murder of American servicemen and civilians for over 30 years – while ignoring and snubbing those who are its most reliable supporters in the region.
The new king, the frail Prince Salman Ibn Abdulaziz is now presented with a troubling dilemma. Without the guarantee of U.S. backing the Saudis will almost certainly need to strengthen cooperation with the more moderate Arab regimes in Egypt and Jordan while firming up its relations with the State of Israel. It make look even further abroad to China for superpower protection. This should not exclude a likely decision to begin to construct its own nuclear facilities, leading to an arms race which cannot have a happy ending. Such developments could leave the United States out in the cold as its policy of engagement with the Iranians falters and then collapses.
The other element which could play a decisive role in determining relations in the region is that of oil. As the price of oil has tumbled below $50 a barrel – and looks likely to go even lower – the Saudis and OPEC have defiantly refused to pull back on their own production levels which has in turn contributed to a world wide oil glut and driven prices down even further. This has caused many of the new U.S. shale oil producers to scale down production with an accompanying painful reduction in their profits.
But the Saudis should not be able to have it both ways. They cannot strangle the U.S. oil producers while demanding U.S. protection from an aggressive Iran. Here savvy statecraft on the part of the Obama Administration could have played to the U.S.’ advantage – forcing the Saudis to scale back their oil production in exchange for a tougher stance towards the Mullahs. Unfortunately that may beyond the abilities of this Administration and this President whose own linear thinking rarely takes into account the variability in relations between states.
Committed to one course of action, Barack Obama is unlikely to switch gears mid-course. But that, unfortunately, may portend a crash which could take with it an alliance that successive U.S. administrations over 70 years have fought determinedly to maintain.
By Avi Davis
As love affairs go, there could not be one more honeyed than that between the State of Israel and the United States Congress.
For decades, through one Administration after another, Israel has been able to count on Congressional backing no matter what its alleged sins. Thus, when Israel hit Iraq’s nuclear reactor in Osirak in 1981, and severe condemnation followed from the Reagan White House, there was not even a squeak of denunciation from Congress. When the the George H.W. Bush Administration in 1990 refused to follow through with promised loan guarantees in protest of continued Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, outrage in Congress forced the White House to back down; When George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Condeeleza Rice began pressuring Israeli leaders to return to negotiations, Congressional counter pressure ensured that her efforts were weakened.
Netanyahu, who has served in office for almost exactly the same length of time as Obama himself, has endured the testiest relationship of any Israeli prime minister with a sitting U.S. President.
The Obama Administration has repeatedly displayed its disdain for the Israeli leader, citing his intransigence on peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and picking fights over trivial matters such as housing developments in Jerusalem proper. Relations hit a low most notably in 2010 when, during a visit to the White House, the Israeli prime minister was deliberately snubbed as he sat alone with his advisers in the West Wing while Obama abruptly departed their meeting to eat dinner with his family. As recently as this summer, when Israel was engaged in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza to silence the rocket attacks pouring down on its population, Obama and Netanyahu exchanged harsh words with one another and the Administration delayed an Israeli request for replacement of spare parts for its weaponry while also almost certainly instructing the FAA to ban, for a short while, commercial flights to Tel Aviv.
It is little wonder then that at this nadir of relations between the State of Israel and the U.S. Administration, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, has invited Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of both houses of Congress?
In response to the Boehner invitation, the Obama Administration stated that there would be no scheduled meeting between the two leaders during the prime minister’s Washington trip, having previously indicated that protocol had been breached since planning for such visits is traditionally conducted through the White House alone and not through other branches of government.
So with a deep freeze crystallizing on the already frosty relationship, the two questions which might be asked are: why did Boehner invite Netanyahu now to speak to Congress?; And what does Netanyahu hope to achieve by his appearance?
The answer to the first question probably has as much to to do with the exercise of political muscle for Boehner as it does with the realities of Israel’s geopolitical challenges. The sweeping victory of the GOP in November’s Congressional elections, gave notice to the White House that Republican control of both houses of Congress would signal a shift in power that the GOP would not hesitate to exercise when it felt the time appropriate. That time might be now as negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program become continuously extended. The recent joint press conference of the President with British prime minister David Cameron in which the two leaders insisted that Congress not impose new sanctions during on-going talks has been greeted in Congress with frustration and a degree of contempt. In fact Robert Menendez, the Democratic co-sponsor of a bill to impose those additional sanctions on Iran has labeled the President’s as “sounding like talking points that come straight of Tehran. ”
The lack of seriousness with which the Obama Administration views the Iranian nuclear threat was on full display when the President stated in the same press conference that the talks had less than a 50% chance of succeeding. This was of course another way of stating his belief that negotiations are actually bound to fail. If so, what contingency plans is the President offering should negotiations come to nothing? He refuses to say or even address the issue.
Congressional leaders have taken this as evidence of an emerging policy of appeasement which they justifiably view with alarm. Many, even in his own party, see a President out of touch and out to lunch (or out to dinner in the case of Netanyahu) on foreign policy, living, as Daniel Henniger has commented in the Wall Street Journal, on his own private fantasy island, marooned from the pressing realities of a dangerous world. Although the President has stated that he is resolved that Iran will never obtain a nuclear weapon, what he is really saying is that it will not obtain such a weapon on his watch – a very different thing.
In the meantime, Benjamin Netanyahu has accepted Boehner’s invitation and will speak before a joint session of Congress on March 3rd.
With an approaching national election in Israel on March 17,, many have speculated that Netanyahu engineered the invitation himself in the hope of boosting his political fortunes in his own country. However that does not entirely square with Israel’s pressing existential concerns about the Iranian menace – which are reflected across Israel’s political spectrum. For years Netanyahu has issued public warnings – before joint sessions of Congress and at the United Nations – about Iran’s nuclear arms program, emphasizing not only how it threatens Israel’s security, but how it challenges world peace. The Israelis have been insistent on a tough sanctions regime but have equally insisted that the West must be united in confronting the Iranian regime, (by force,if necessary) since that regime has been, for decades, a sponsor of international terrorism and whose leaders have repeatedly threatened not just Israel but neighboring states.
It is obvious that Netanyahu has abandoned any hope that Obama will come to view the threat of a nuclear Iran as seriously as either he or as Israelis in general do. He recognizes, as many Israeli prime ministers have before him, that Presidents come and go but Congressmen can retain their seats for multiple terms. He also understands the shift in power in Washington DC as the GOP gears up for a full frontal assault on the Obama agenda and seeks to expose the President’s weak grasp of foreign policy. The Israeli prime minister’s transparent attempt to conduct an end run around the presidency and speak directly to those whom he regards as true friends of the State about an issue central to its physical survival, should not be seen as a cynical electoral calculation but as a responsible act of statecraft, that is extremely time sensitive.
In this way he will be speaking not just to the representatives of the American people but just as surely to the next American president – a man or woman whom he hopes will have a much broader and more incisive understanding of the geopolitical threats facing both the United States and Israel – and with a greater political will to act than the current resident in the White House.
by Avi Davis
When Iranian Brig. Gen. Mohammad Ali Allahdadi was killed on the Syrian -Israeli border on Sunday, along with six Hezbollah operatives, the news faded quickly. Military deaths in the Middle East are, after all, a dime a dozen in these times, so why would Allahdadi’s make any difference?
Since hostilities ended between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006 Israel’s northern border with Lebanon has been relatively quiet. But that belies the devastating fire power buried by Israel’s most implacable enemy beneath the soils of the Litani watershed.
For in Lebanon, the Israeli army is faced with the prospect of 100,000 long-range rockets – far more accurate and effective than the missiles used by Hamas in its confrontation with Israel over the summer and far more likely to cause damage to life and property than the former offensive.
Hezbollah is therefore the Hamas threat multiplied tenfold.
The 2006 conflict is believed to have killed at least 1,191–1,300 Lebanese people and 165 Israelis. It severely damaged Lebanese civil infrastructure, and temporarily displaced approximately one million Lebanese and 300,000–500,000 Israelis.
During that war, Hezbollah fired close to 4,200 rockets at a rate of more than 100 per day, unprecedented in any military confrontation since the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.
About 95% of these were 122 mm (4.8 in) Katyusha artillery rockets which carried warheads up to 30 kg (66 Ib) and had a range of up to 19 miles. A minor percentage (22%) of these rockets hit cities and built-up areas across northern Israel, while the remainder hit open areas. The attacks in that conflict included the Fajr-3 and Ra’ad 1 rockets both liquid-fuel missiles developed by Iran. It is now known that Hezbollah possesses the far more advanced Fajr-3 and Fajr-5, with ranges of 27 and 45 miles; and a huge quantity of simpler 107mm and 122mm rockets with ranges up to 12 miles. These rockets are capable of striking many cities in northern Israel, such as Haifa, Tiberias, Afula, Nahariya, and Safed. In addition, Hezbollah has a cache of sophisticated antiaircraft and antiship cruise missiles which can significantly impede reconnaissance and deter attack.
This is not to mention the labyrinthine network of tunnels and deep underground bunkers Hezbollah has been constructing in the eight years since its last encounter with the IDF. The IDF believes it likely that tunnels, extending for several kilometers, have been burrowed deep into Israeli territory allowing a rapid strike force to mimic the planned Hamas Jewish New Year attack on Israeli settlements in the south. The rolling topography of the north is of course of no benefit to a potential large-scale attack, but the capture of even a handful of IDF soldiers or civilians will become a great boon to the Hezbollah war effort.
To state that the recent military confrontations between Israel and the terrorist groups who occupy territory adjacent to it are mere proxy wars between Iran and the Jewish State is to underline the obvious but still bears repeating. Iran’s geopolitical interests lie in establishing a military hegemony of the region, intimidating much lesser military powers — Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Jordan — into effective neutrality, so as to free itself to deal with its only serious challenger to its regional supremacy. The ongoing development of Iran’s nuclear arsenal — essentially unimpeded by negotiations with the West — acts as a clever strategic wedge for the theocratic regime which allows it to build its deterrent capabilities while intimidating its neighbors into quiescence. Seen in this light, Hamas’ recent confrontation with Israel may have been guided by Iran as a means of deflecting attention from its drive for status as a nuclear power and avoiding an eventual showdown with Israel. After all, Israel will be in no mood for another military confrontation so soon after its recent engagement with Gaza.
But if Hezbollah, the far greater asset, remains so useful to the Iranians, why wasn’t it then unleashed to wreak havoc on Israel’s northern border while hostilities ensued with Hamas in the south?
The answer may lie in the prospect of an imminent direct military confrontation between Israel and Iran. While Israel’s plans to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities are cloaked in ambiguity, most Israeli leaders are resigned to the fact that they will have to act unilaterally and decisively to severely retard, if not eliminate, Iran’s emerging nuclear clout. In the event of a strike against Iran, and threat to their own power, the mullahs may come to rely on Hezbollah’s arsenal’s retaliatory capabilities and perhaps even believe it acts as a significant deterrent against such an eventual attack.
Yet the Iranian strategy is now deeply complicated by the destabilization of both Syria and Iraq. The growing strength of ISIS in Iraq and its threat to the Baathist regime in Syria has presented a new challenge to a key Iranian ally in Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who has proved himself indispensable to the fulfillment of Iranian objectives regarding Israel. If Assad in Syria falls, then the Iranian hold on Southern Lebanon and its ability to resupply its proxy Hezbollah is compromised. Alarmingly for the Iranians, the Lebanese Republic itself may now have come into play with ISIS’ taking of the Syrian/ Lebanon border town of Arsal on August 4th. Hezbollah may well have its hands full in the coming months not only attempting to reinforce Assad in Syria, but keeping ISIS from control of Northern Lebanon.
Signs of a strange realignment of interests and forces in the Middle East are therefore evident. It should surprise no one that the Israelis have been engaged in secret negotiations with the Saudis for years over use of Saudi airspace in the event of an Israeli strike on Iran; Additionally, the failure of any of the moderate Arab states to rise in support of Hamas’s recent actions (in fact there were outright condemnations in both the Egyptian and Saudi press) is another signal of a growing rapprochement between Israel and some of its former enemies.
Predicting future conflicts in the foggy and endlessly complicated Middle East is a risky business, to be sure, but a clearer picture may now be emerging with Israeli interests aligning with those of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt — and perhaps even Lebanon itself — in some kind of awkward but coordinated confrontation with Iran. In this confrontation, Israel may well need to prepare itself for a neutralizing, preemptive strike on Hezbollah’s military installations in Southern Lebanon — just as the IAF is winging its way over Riyadh and into Iranian airspace.
by Avi Davis
Those who remember Theodore Roosevelt’s admonition for muscular state craft: ‘speak softly but carry a big stick’ will also remember how boisterously and boldly he deployed it. At the turn of the 20th Century, Roosevelt projected an aura of strength for the United States, which, though not yet one of the Great Powers, felt sufficiently emboldened to advance its influence in both the Pacific and the Atlantic and cast a jealous gaze over the western hemisphere.
But it seems Roosevelt’s model has never been seriously considered by the Obama White House. And certainly not when it comes to dealing with an avowed enemy of the United States like the People’s Republic of Iran.
Iran, as I have commented before, has effectively run rings around the United States in its fourteen months of negotiation over its nuclear ambitions, using protracted talks to bide time to enrich uranium and build the centrifuges it might find necessary to fuel an atomic weapon. But more than this the negotiations have led to the Mullahs’ sense that the West is weak that it will never commit to backing up its sanctions regime with a credible threat of military force.
Now it may have reason to believe that it won’t even back up its present sanctions regime with the threat of even greater sanctions.
This became particularly relevant last week when Iranian leaders announced that they were building two new nuclear reactors -signaling that Iran’s intention to continue expanding, rather than dismantling, its nuclear infrastructure; and that it had advanced the case against imprisoned American journalist Jason Rezaian – using him as an obvious human pawn in the regime’s attempt to gain leverage in the negotiations.
A bi-partisan bill now before the Senate – the Menendez-Kirk Bill – which was presented last year but shelved under pressure from the White House, calls for increasing sanctions against the Iranian regime should negotiations fail by June 3o this year.
However, in a joint press conference with British prime minister David Cameron on Friday, Obama made clear his intent to veto the Menendez- Kirk Bill if it passes the Senate – which it is certain to do on Thursday. During question time he and Cameron spent nearly 35 minutes explaining why it was so important for Congress to delay the contingent imposition of new sanctions.
The reasoning of the President is obscure but worth examining.
It goes something like this: the initial agreement with the Iranians to enter negotiations, signed nearly 14 months ago, required that there would be no new sanctions imposed on the regime before negotiations conclude. If we now impose new sanctions, we may:
a) lose any leverage we have over the Iranians to prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon
b) lose the support of our partners in this process (including both Russia and China) who will declare that it we, rather than the Iranians, who have subverted the process.
Both of which will make it increasingly difficult to bring Iran back to the negotiating table while giving the regime both the time and opportunity to construct heavy water reactors, underground bunkers and an accelerated weaponization program, making it extremely difficult to strike militarily.
The reasoning is flawed on several levels.
First, the entire drive of the Iranians for nuclear power contravenes international law – particularly United Nations resolutions which have repeatedly demanded Iranian compliance with IAEA regulations. How is it that Iran has acquired sufficient leverage in these endless negotiations that it can effectively cow the international community into believing that it is on the same moral playing field as its negotiating partners? Clearly, the negotiations themselves have created a framework by which Iran can see itself egarded with dignity and with its sovereign rights respected – rather than being treated as the serial violator of the norms of civilized conduct that it is.
Second, why has the support of countries such as China and Russia become so vital? Both are rogue regimes in their own separate ways – whose every effort in the United Nations is to thwart the United States and whose own self-aggrandizing behavior in recent years should win it no validation from us. The whole idea of the P5+1 negotiating alliance – being as it is a reflection of the President’s internationalist outlook – was fraught with compromise from the beginning and has now given regimes who have enjoyed playing the threat of a nuclear Iran against the United States far too much say and leverage in the process.
Third, the measure the Senate is likely to take up, sponsored by a Democrat and a Republican, would mandate new sanctions only if Iran failed to accept an agreement by the June 30 deadline established in the ongoing talks. Common sense suggests the certain prospect of more punishment for an already damaged economy would make the regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei more, rather than less, likely to offer the concessions necessary for a deal.
But more important than any of these is the likelihood, admitted in the press conference by the President himself, of a less than 50/50 chance of the P5+1 negotiating team ever coming to terms with the Iranians. If the President is equivocal in his belief that the negotiations will succeed and yet remains adamant that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon, then what contingency plan is he really presenting? Why can the Iranians not be put in absolute fear of an extremely heavy sanctions regime or else a combined military assault itself if they fail to come to terms? There can be no greater incentive than the potential destruction of one’s regime – or else its slow strangulation – to get a rogue motivated.
Teddy Roosevelt would have understood this. He would have demanded that the Iranians arrive at the negotiating table already shaking in their boots for fear of the reprisals which would be visited upon them should they not bow to our terms. The big stick would have been very much in evidence behind TR’s famously flashing smile.
Sadly his 21st Century counterpart has not learned this valuable lesson of statecraft, bearing not a stick, but little more than a twig as a weapon of intimidation. If you read between the lines of the President’s contorted logic the only conclusion that can reached is that his contingency plan for this very real threat to our national security is a future policy of containment of a nuclear armed Iran.