Of Many Threats, The Gravest Israel Faces Comes From Washington

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Of Many Threats, The Gravest Israel Faces Comes From Washington

By Franz Schurmann Pacific News Service Article Dated 7/20/2001

EDITOR'S NOTE: While the Western media wonder whether the Israelis will or will not undertake a major offensive against the Palestinians, Arab newspapers focus on what stance America will take on Israel. Israelis too focus on America but see it as their greatest threat because it no longer acts as Israel's unquestioning ally. PNS editor Franz Schurmann, professor emeritus of history and sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of numerous books on foreign politics, reads widely in the Arab language media.

Almost a year after the resumption of the Palestinian Intifada, Israeli officials describe three grave threats -- two from Iran and one from the Palestinians. But an even graver threat undermining Israel's options comes from the United States, the very country that has pledged to come to Israel's defense in the event of mortal danger.

Israel's defense minister Binyamin ben-Eliezer says Iran is developing operative nuclear tipped rockets that by 2005 could hit anywhere in Israel. To retaliate, Israel could launch a full-scale nuclear attack against Iran, using some of the 100 to 200 nuclear tipped rockets it allegedly possesses. But it cannot safely do so without a green light from the U.S. and the chances of that happening are zero.

No nuclear weapons have been used in war since the bombing of Nagasaki on August 9. 1945. From the time the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic device in late summer of 1949, a world consensus has evolved that, regardless of who begins a nuclear war, the end result will be the destruction of the planet. If Israel strikes Iran with nuclear rockets but without U.S. permission, the U.S. and the world community will brand it a nuclear rogue state and for all practical purposes it will cease to exist.

A second threat, according to Israeli media, comes from some 2000 non-nuclear missiles stockpiled by Iran in southern Israel, which also can reach every spot in Israel. Southern Lebanon is ruled by the Shi'a Hizbullah that has close ties to Shi'a Iran. Last summer, Israel suddenly pulled its forces out of southern Lebanon, and UN troops moved in as peacekeepers. Since then, Hizbullah and Israeli forces have repeatedly clashed, and Defense Minister Eliezer has charged UN forces with tilting towards the Hizbullah by failing to hand over tapes of captured Israeli soldiers.

Here again, the chances that the White House will support a major Israeli strike to take out the alleged Iranian missiles are practically zero. Iran has become a good friend with key American allies, especially oil rich Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Notes Ghasan al-Imam, veteran commentator for the Saudi-owned As-Sharq al-Ausat, "Iran these days no longer hits below the belt and plays by the accepted rules." While not overtly friendly to Iran, George W. Bush no longer talks about "dual containment of Iraq and Iran" as did George Bush Sr.

Reinforcing these ties is the overriding priority the United States attaches to accessing oil and natural gas. Saudi oil and natural gas reserves are the largest in the world and Iranian reserves come in at number three. Under the Shah Iran was friendly to Israel. Under Khomeini it turned hostile. Opposition to Israel is the one issue bitterly polarized Iranian hardliners and reformers can agree on. Number two on the fossil fuel reserve list is Iraq, once extremely hostile to Israel but now upstaged by Iran.

The third threat that Israel claims it faces is Arafat's unwillingness or inability to stop the violence in the Occupied Territories. This threat is the source of many reports that Israel is planning a massive offensive against the Palestinians. In the extreme, such an offensive would aim at killing Arafat, destroying the Palestinian Authority and breaking the will of the Palestinian people.

Ariel Sharon's political goal is quite clear. He wants the report on the Middle East submitted to President Bush by Clinton appointee and former Maine senator George Mitchell removed as the basis of any peace talks. The ultimate aim of that report is the removal of most, if not all, Jewish settlements from the Occupied Territories.

So far, the Bush administration has taken a firm line against Sharon. Bush's visit to Europe is in part aimed at making certain the Europeans support him on this. That they will do so is evident from French president Chirac's statement that there is no substitute for the Mitchell Report.

If Washington gets firm international support, Israel may well seek allies in the American Congress. Yet the once enthusiastic support Israel could command for almost anything it wanted has waned. And this leaves the final question of what Sharon will do if all turn against him.

Two indicators from Sharon's past suggest he will cave in rather than challenge the Americans. In October 1973, Sharon was leading Israeli soldiers toward Cairo on the West Bank of the Suez Canal. A panicked Henry Kissinger rushed to Moscow and rapidly Sharon turned tail. In June-July of 1982, Sharon's forces were besieging Beirut. It looked as if Arafat and his Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) were finished. But, under American protection, they soon sailed away to Tunis.

Sharon's stance of defiance may have gained some time for Israel, but not much. There is no chance the US will accept an Israeli war to the death against the Palestinians. More likely is that Sharon will resign once the crisis passes.

Sharon often retreats to his farm. That farm will be safe but not those of the thousands of Jewish settlers who, under Sharon's urging but defying most UN members, built their own farms on Palestinian land.



-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), July 20, 2001

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