May 4 2009
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu can expect the full force of a bludgeon to be wielded in his White House talks on May 18.
Israeli president Shimon Peres’ task in Washington on May 4-5 is to blunt the sharp edge the White House is honing to force Israel to toe the new Washington line on the Palestinians, Syria and Iran.
DEBKAfile‘s Washington sources report that their host is fired up to be the first US president in decades of close friendship and cooperation to clash openly with Israel and the bulk of US Jewry. Oblivious to Israel’s claim of US support for its security in a hostile regional environment, Barack Obama is expected to squeeze the Netanyahu government hard for immediate engagement on the Middle East conflict without further delay.
US officials in both chairs will intercede with their own ideas to prevent them running into deadlock on disputed issues. DEBKAfile‘s sources confirm that the Obama administration will not spare the whip to force the parties into line.
The US president and his top advisers are convinced that the Palestinian problem is the main obstacle to accommodations for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran. Some of DEBKAfile‘s US sources admit that President Obama is himself under pressure because, despite the high approval rating he gained for his first 100 days in office, his myriad policy initiatives have yet to show results.
The only arena where the White House can hope for quick results is the Israel-Palestinian-Syrian track. It starts out with pressure on Israel to freeze settlement activity on the West Bank and construction in East Jerusalem. At a later stage, Israel would be pushed to abandon large sections of the West Bank, remove authorized communities as well as unauthorized outposts and hand over the historic nucleus of Jerusalem.
Finally, the Israeli government would be required to accept an independent Palestinian state, even if its government is dominated by the rejectionist terrorist group Hamas.
Peres and Netanyahu will find administration officials deaf not only on Israel’s arguments on the Palestinian issue but on a nuclear-armed Iran too. They will see the US president no longer prioritizing the suspension of Iran’s nuclear aspirations, but bent on establishing a new Persian Gulf order that formalizes Iran’s rising power. Washington’s objective now is negotiations for setting the boundaries of Iran’s Middle East expansion and limits for its nuclear program.
Israel will have no say in this process. In fact, by elevating Iran to premier regional power, America is sidelining its longstanding friends, Israel and Egypt, and setting aside their security and strategic interests for the sake of deals with Iran.
But Obama’s new Middle East design is not without powerful opponents:
1. Tehran itself will not let Washington dictate the limits of its expanding influence but insists on dialogue taking place amid “equality and mutual respect.” This attitude also governs its nuclear aspirations.
2. Cairo and Riyadh will resist with all their might the US bid to anoint Iran the crowning Middle East-Gulf power. Both perceive Iran’s nuclearization as the inevitable outcome of this policy. They are also extremely concerned by Obama’s public endorsement of Turkey as the senior Muslim power in the Eastern Mediterranean and Central Asia, a boost for Ankara’s aspirations to resuscitate the Ottoman Empire.
3. Jerusalem will resist being cast into a peripheral role in the strategic and military processes going forward with regard to Iran, the Palestinians, Syria and their terrorist arms, Hizballah and Hamas, all of which bear pivotally on Israel’s future existence. Like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the Netanyahu government may not accept being crushed between two hostile regional powers, Iran and Turkey, whose aggressive pretensions Washington is promoting.
4. The Israeli prime minister will also take advantage of the interests Jerusalem shares with Cairo and Riyadh in frustrating the new Washington orientation – and not only with regard to Iran.
Netanyahu and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak have arranged to put their heads together and are meeting before their separate trips to Washington. Israel has not abandoned its option of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear installations and its economic infrastructure. US officials, led by the defense secretary, are accordingly pouring contempt on the extent of the damage Israel is capable of inflicting. Next, they will try and tie Israel’s hands by discrediting Netanyahu and his administration.
– A final arrow in Netanyahu’s quiver is the ability to enlist American public opinion, which is traditionally supportive and sympathetic to Israel, against Obama’s Grand Middle East Design. He will seek to canvass support among friends in the US Congress and the Jewish community. DEBKA
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