Monday,20 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1136, 21 - 27 February 2013
Monday,20 August, 2018
Issue 1136, 21 - 27 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

Nothing is enough

Israeli pundits ponder the significance of Obama’s announced upcoming visit to Israel, and the possible ways to use it to further Tel Aviv’s strategic goals, writes Saleh Al-Naami in Gaza

Al-Ahram Weekly

Professor Yehezkel Dror has not missed an opportunity in recent days to advise Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to take advantage of the upcoming visit by US President Barack Obama to Israel to improve Israel’s strategic environment. And when Dror speaks, many in Israel listen since he is known as “the father of Israeli strategic thinking” and is worried that Tel Aviv has not done everything it can to improve relations with Washington.
In an article published Friday in Haaretz newspaper, Dror made it clear that Obama’s visit is critical, especially in the wake of rising Islamist powers in the region “that can potentially play a bigger role on the world stage”. He also warned that Arab revolutions have undermined the US’s geostrategic position, “diminishing its ability to interfere in the region’s affairs at a time when Israel’s enemies are growing stronger.”
Dror believes the nightmare scenario that Israeli should worry about is that international events would force the world community to impose a political settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict that does not serve Israel’s interests or strategic goals. Thus, he argued, Israel’s leadership should take advantage of Obama’s visit to reach agreement on formulae for a political settlement with the Palestinians that Israel can live with.
This is why Obama’s visit is historic and Israel should ask the American president’s help in finding a settlement format with the least losses, Dror says, since “it is impossible for Israel to continue prospering while controlling occupied territories and insisting on being the sole sovereign ruler of Jerusalem.”
“Anyone who believes that the solution is for Palestinians to become accustomed to Jewish sovereignty or that the Palestinian issue can be resolved at the expense of Jordan is delusional,” Dror wrote. “Therefore, a political settlement must be reached to curb future threats against Israel.”
It seems Netanyahu agrees with Dror that Obama’s visit is critical, but disagrees that Israel needs to pay a real price for the visit to succeed. According to leaked reports from Tel Aviv, the Israeli government will focus on three issues during the visit: Iran, Syria and the conflict with the Palestinians. Israel believes Iran’s nuclear programme attracted a lot of attention after the discovery of a recent nuclear test by North Korea.
Israeli security sources claim that Iranian experts are constantly present at North Korean nuclear facilities, and Pyongyang is regularly transferring nuclear technology to Tehran. The sources added that uranium enrichment protocols in Iran are the same as those in North Korea.
Israel knows that Obama believes it is in the US’s interests to convince Israel to coordinate its actions against Iran, since there are signs that US officials are suspicious of Netanyahu’s recent statements that Israel does not have a military solution to Iranian threats. The Americans believe the statements are a foil so that Iran will let down its guard, enabling Israel to robustly strike Iran’s nuclear programme with the least risk. But the opposite could also be true: Netanyahu wants the US to think he is being deceptive so they take him seriously and agree to Israel’s demands to tighten sanctions against Iran.
Meanwhile, there is evidence that Netanyahu no longer really wants to order a military strike against Iran, after Israeli leaders ascertained that attacking Iranian nuclear facilities would not achieve the top political goal: inciting the Iranian masses to revolt against the Iranian regime. An Iranian opinion poll conducted by an American pollster, who leaked the results to Israel, showed that although 85 per cent of Iranians say their living standards have severely dropped because of economic sanctions by the West upon Israel’s urging, 65 per cent hold the US responsible for this problem, while 10 per cent blame their own government.
Even more worrisome for Tel Aviv is that 72 per cent of Iranians support the country pursuing its nuclear programme and possessing nuclear weapons, which makes Israeli officials conclude that Iranian public support for the nuclear programme would increase if Israel were to attack Iran’s nuclear assets. Accordingly, Tel Aviv is focussing more on tightening the siege and economic sanctions against Iran, while decreasing spending on military preparations to strike nuclear facilities. This is rooted in the belief that economic sanctions could eventually deter Iran from continuing to develop its nuclear arsenal.
Maariv newspaper quoted Israeli and US sources as saying that Iran is losing nearly $4.5 billion a month as a result of economic sanctions and blockade.
Meanwhile, there is a clear US desire to prevent Israel from taking any military action against Iran since it would critically jeopardise US interests in the region. Israelis believe that Netanyahu and Obama could reach a strategic understanding about dealing with Iran based on stiffening economic penalties and expanding the secret war against Iran’s nuclear programme, especially through electronic warfare and other stealth operations.
On the Syrian issue, there are obvious disputes between Israel and the US. Although Washington is not lifting a finger in any practical way and refuses to use force in confronting Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, Tel Aviv believes the US should revise its position of political support to the Syrian opposition after Israeli leaders realised the strategic environment after Al-Assad’s overthrow will most likely be hostile to Israel.
But this difference in viewpoints does not offset the fact that Obama’s administration has taken steps in Israel’s direction by giving Netanyahu’s government a green light to carry out all types of military operations to thwart the transfer of Syrian weapons inside and outside the country. Such weapons include traditional long-range Scud missiles and chemical weapons. At the same time, the Americans made it clear to the Israelis they should be careful of the backlash of forcing Al-Assad to respond to Israel, so he does not appear to be focussed on confronting his own people and ignoring Israeli strikes.
But Israel is now acting as if Al-Assad’s overthrow is inevitable and imminent. It constructed an electronic wall along its border with Syria, described as “the most advanced in the world” because of its advanced high-tech that would alert border guards of the slightest movement in the area. Israeli strategic analysis states that Sunni Islamist groups fighting Al-Assad’s regime could turn their guns on Israel even before the regime collapses, which is a serious challenge for the Israeli army that must be prepared for all possibilities.
The question remains, however, whether Israel will be able to convince the West — especially the US — to withdraw political support from the Syrian opposition? Israel believes there is a rational argument made by some in the West that overthrowing Al-Assad’s regime now is important because the longer Al-Assad remains in power the more influential Sunni Islamist groups will become, threatening Western and Israeli interests and goals.
Although Obama’s visit is not for another two months, it has already negatively impacted Palestinian interests. Abdallah Abdallah, parliament member and leading Fatah member, said the US has put stifling financial and political pressure on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to block inter-Palestinian reconciliation. Abdallah added that the US is clearly uninterested in ending Palestinian divisions since Washington, which had reportedly vetoed Palestinian national reconciliation moves in the past, is worried that Netanyahu would view reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas as a logical justification to reject US and international pressure to re-launch peace talks.
Like Tel Aviv, the PA believes Obama will offer a deal to the PA leadership to save it from financial ruin by sending funds to pay for salaries in return for the PA agreeing to resume talks and promising not to resort to international courts to prosecute Israel for continued settlement building and Judaisation policies.
The stakes during Obama’s visit are high, but it is clear that Israeli leaders believe the US administration should offer its services without thinking about showing more flexibility to boost US credibility in the region. For Israel, however, “nothing is enough”.

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