Israel and Iran – and the Bush Administration

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There has been
a qualitative leap in military technology that makes all inherited
conventional wisdom, and war as an instrument of political policy,
utterly irrelevant, not just to the United States but also to any
other state that embarks upon it. Nations should have realized this
a century ago but they did not. But there have been decisive changes
in balances of power, and more accurate and destructive weapons
— and soon nuclear bombs and the missiles to deliver them — are
becoming more and more available to the poorer countries. Technology
is moving much more rapidly than the diplomatic and political resources
or will to control its inevitable consequences.

The United
States should have learned its lesson in Vietnam, and its public
is aware of it to a far greater extent than its politicians. The
war in Iraq has reaffirmed the decisive limits of technology when
fighting against enemies who are decentralized and determined. It
has been extraordinarily expensive but militarily ineffective, and
America is ineluctably losing its vast undertaking. Rivals are much
more equal, and wars more protracted and expensive for those who
persist in fighting them. America's ambitions for hegemony throughout
the globe can now be more and more successfully challenged. Nowhere
is this truer than the Middle East, where the U.S.' long-standing
alliance with Israel, which shares its fascination with military
power, has produced colossal political failures for both nations.

The ultra-modern
Israel Defense Force finally learned this in Lebanon last July,
when Hezbollah rockets destroyed or seriously damaged at least 20
of its best tanks and they were fought to a draw — abandoning the
field of battle and losing their precious myth of invincibility.
Growing demoralization well before the Lebanon war plagued Israel,
and the percentage of Jews with higher academic degrees that migrated
grew steadily after 2002. Israel exports brainpower to an extent
very high by world standards. The Lebanon war and talk — both from
Israeli and Iranian leaders — of "existential" threats
to the state's very existence only gravely aggravated this defeatism
and the desire to leave. At the end of January, 78 percent of the
Israeli public was "unhappy" with their leaders for a
variety of reasons.

Israeli politics
has always been highly unstable by any standard but the corruption
and other scandals that are now plaguing it exceed any in its history,
paralleling its loss of confidence in its military power. Alienation
from the political class in Israel has never been greater and Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert and his cronies hope that spreading fear of
the Iranian bomb will help them ride out a political storm that
has seen his poll-rating plummet to a record low. But fear works
both ways, frightening the people who can migrate most easily and
keeping out tourists and foreign investors.

Moreover, the
Israeli public's anxiety has not been lessened by reports of the
efficacy of anti-missile systems that Israel has installed at great
expense. The Iranians have mastered all of the technical bases of
missile technology, according to Israeli experts, and although the
quality and precision of its missiles may leave something to be
desired they can inflict immense damage. Israeli specialists also
argue that the missile defense shield that Israel possesses — in
common with those of all other nations — is not sufficient to protect
it. Syria has missiles also — not so effective as the Iranian but
much closer and capable of inflicting much damage if used.

the apocalyptic proclamations on Iran's imminent nuclear power by
Olmert's major rival, Binyamin Netanyahu, or by the prime minister
himself and some of his cabinet on occasion, this hysteria is politically
motivated and intended to garner public support.

Meir Dagan,
the head of Mossad, told the Israeli Knesset last December that
diplomatic efforts were "far from being over" — and that
an Iranian nuclear bomb was at least two years or more off. Many
Israeli strategists, including Yuval Diskin, head of Shin Bet, now
regard Bush's war in Iraq as a highly destabilizing disaster for
the entire region and a major boon to Iran's power, and they regret
having endorsed it. A war with Iran would be far more dangerous.
Worse yet, efforts to demonize Iran have failed. Only 36 percent
of the Jewish population of Israel polled last month thought an
Iranian nuclear attack the "biggest threat" to Israel.

Serious Israeli
strategists overwhelmingly believe, to cite Reuven Pedatzur in Ha'aretz
last November, that "mutual assured deterrence, can be forged,
with high degree of success, between Israel and Iran." Israeli
strategic thinking is highly realistic. Early this February a study
released at a conference by the Institute for National Security
Studies at Tel Aviv University predicted that Iran would behave
rationally with nuclear weapons and "that the elimination of
Israel is not considered to be an essential national interest"
for it. Iran "will act logically, evaluating the price and
risks involved." A preemptive attack on Iran nuclear research
sites would "be a strategic mistake," Pedatzur warned
the conference, and the use of tactical nuclear weapons against
them sheer folly. "Our best option is open nuclear deterrence."

Israeli experts
have come to the realization that American policy in the Middle
East is not merely an immense failure but also a decisive inhibition
to Israel reorienting its foreign policy to confront the realities
of the region that the Jews have chosen to live in. It has ousted
the Taliban from Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein from Iraq and created
an overwhelming Iranian presence. In Palestine its campaign for
democracy has brought Hamas to power. Troop escalation in Iraq is
deemed futile. "It's a total misreading of reality," one
Israeli expert is quoted when discussing America's role in the region.
Israeli interests were no longer being served. American policies
have failed and Israel has given a carte blanche to a strategy that
leaves it more isolated than ever.


The only security
Israel can have will be a result of its signing peace accords with
the Palestinians and the neighboring countries. It is no more likely
than the U. S. to defeat its enemies on the field of battle and
its arms have been neutralized. The war in Lebanon was only an augury
of the decisive limits of its military power. It is in this context
that secret Israeli talks with Syria have enormous significance.
They began in January 2004 in Turkey with the approval of Sharon,
moving on to Switzerland, where the Swiss Foreign Office played
the role of intermediary. By August 2005 they had reached a very
advanced form and covered territorial, water, border and political
questions. Details remained to be ironed out but they were a quantum
leap in solving one of the region's crucial problems. When the Baker-Hamilton
Study Group filed its recommendations last December, negotiations
with Syria were especially stressed — a point Baker reiterated when
he testified to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations last
January 30th. Baker undoubtedly knew about the secret talks and
Syria's explicit statements it wished to break with radical Islamic
movements and was ready to discuss its ties with Iran, Hezbollah,
and Hamas.

These nominally
secret talks were made public on January 8, 2007 when Egyptian president
Hosni Mubarak accused the United States in an interview with an
Israeli paper of obstructing peace between Israel and Syria.

Akiva Eldar then published a series of extremely detailed accounts,
including the draft accord, confirming that Syria offered a far
reaching and equitable peace treaty that would provide for Israel's
security and is comprehensive — and divorce Syria from Iran and
even create a crucial distance between it and Hezbollah and Hamas.
The Bush Administration's role in scuttling any peace accord was
decisive. C. David Welch, Assistant Secretary of State for Near
Eastern Affairs, sat in at the final meeting, two former senior
CIA officials were present in all of these meetings and sent regular
reports to Vice President Dick Cheney's office. The press has been
full of details on how the American role was decisive, because it
has war, not peace, at the top of its agenda.

Most of the
Israeli Establishment favors it. On January 28 important Israelis
met publicly in Jaffa and called the Israeli response "an irresponsible
gamble with the State of Israel" since it made Cheney arbiter
of Israeli national interests. They included former IDF chief of
staff Amnon Lipkin Shahak, former Shin Bet chief Ya'akov Perry,
former directors of the Foreign Ministry David Kimche and Alon Liel
(who negotiated the deal and believes it is very serious), and the
like. Shlomo Ben-Ami, former Foreign Minister, has since supported
their position and argued that it is "too important" for
Israel to endorse yet "another failure in the U.S. strategy."

But Olmert
has explicitly said that the Bush Administration opposes a negotiated
peace with Syria. Therefore he is opposed to it also. Olmert's contradiction
is that he wants to remain closely allied to the U.S., whatever
its policies, yet he is now one of the most unpopular prime ministers
in Israel's history and in power only because of Sharon's stroke.
Israel is a crucial pillar of American policy in the entire region
but this policy is failing. An alliance with America is Olmert's
recipe for political defeat when the inevitable election is called.
That is his problem.

power after 1947 was based on its military supremacy over its weaker
neighbors. It is in the process of losing it — if it has not already.
Lesser problems, mainly demographic, will only be aggravated if
tension persists. It simply cannot survive allied with the United
States, because the Americans will either leave the region or embark
on a war that risks Israel's very existence. It is time for it to
become "normal" and make peace with its neighbors, and
that will require it to make major concessions. It can do that if
it embarks upon an independent foreign policy, and it can start
immediately to do so with Syria.

12, 2007

Kolko is the author, among other works, of Century
of War: Politics, Conflicts and Society Since 1914
, Another
Century of War?
, and Anatomy
of a War: Vietnam, the United States and the Modern Historical Experience
His latest book is The
Age of War

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