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Linkage is the subject of our symposium and a major theme this quarter, from the balance of power in the Persian Gulf, to the relationship between Turkey and its rival neighbors Iraq and Iran, to the Middle East connections of Russia and South Africa. Of course, linkage has always existed between the problem of Israel and other U.S. foreign-policy concerns, particularly after the Six-Day War generated a military occupation lasting 43 years and counting. During the 1970s, several U.S. administrations tried to bring about a comprehensive Arab-Israeli settlement on the basis of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338: an exchange of land for peace. Then Anwar Sadat short-circuited the process, seeing that he could become a U.S. client by removing his army from the field in return for the Sinai. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was eager to agree, the Egyptian forces being the only impediment to Israel's regional hegemony. Strife continued; an Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and a Palestinian uprising in 1987 spawned the asymmetrical threats of Hezbollah and Hamas.

Then, in 1991, the Cold War being over, George H.W. Bush forced rogue invader Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and initiated an international peace conference bringing all the players together in Madrid. Another short circuit interrupted the effort, however: Israel's new Rabin government cut a separate deal at Oslo with PLO leader Yasser Arafat, who had been sidelined at Madrid because the previous Israeli government refused to deal with him. Euphoria reigned briefly, but the promises of 1993 seem utopian now, notwithstanding the ritual motions the parties continue to go through. Despite a pledge by all 22 countries of the Arab League to recognize Israel in return for an agreement along the lines of UN 242, Israel will not budge. It had been assumed this was what the Israelis wanted--acceptance in the region. But no; they are demanding that the United States neutralize the threat from Iran first, all the while claiming there is no link between Iran and Palestine.

What's a democratic superpower to do in an election season? Polls in Arab and Muslim countries showing American credibility at rock bottom do not carry much weight; only Americans can vote and give money to candidates. With neoconservatives and their promoters in the media spreading war fever and suspicion of Muslims, it is difficult for policy questions on Iran and Palestine to get a fair hearing. Pressure is building for the Obama administration to "take out" Iran's nuclear facilities (see the August 12 Atlantic cover story, "The Point of No Return"), and the president is asking Israel nicely to make a fair deal with the Palestinians over land. Although much alarmist hot air has been generated in the mainstream press about what Iran is cooking up in its laboratories, a more important worry, I submit, is what the Netanyahu government and its lobbyists here might have in store for the United States. The ground is being prepared throughout the country by hate-filled anti-Muslim rhetoric to blunt public opposition to a third Middle East war.

The fact that these wars are very difficult to withdraw from should give U.S. leaders pause about starting another one. And it is reasonable to point out that Israel's judgment is suspect, given its recent attacks against Hezbollah (2006), Gaza (2008) and the Turkish aid flotilla (2010). But the same might be said of a U.S. administration that allows itself to become the victim of coercive diplomacy--if Washington refuses to attack Iran, Israel will take matters into its own hands. What are the odds? In the much-discussed Atlantic article referred to above, Jeffrey Goldberg assesses the likelihood as over 50 percent. If you are worried, that is the intention; Goldberg also claimed in 2002 that there was a strong connection between Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qaeda. Fear of an Israeli strike is supposed to prompt Washington to act, even though Ehud Barak is quoted to the effect that Iran is not an existential threat. It is just that Israel will experience a "dilution in quality" from the brain drain caused by fear of living under the shadow of a nuclear Iran (see Ian Lustick's analysis of Israeli hysteria in our symposium). The "A-list" has been voting with its feet for years, though the number of emigrants, estimated at 20 percent, is a state secret. Apparently, in the minds of Israeli leaders, this is serious enough to warrant putting in harm's way not only U.S. pilots and flight crews, but thousands of American young people serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are few indications in Israel's history to justify the fear that it would undertake this air strike itself. The risks are evident--overflying hostile states without permission, having to refuel twice in remote desert locations, inciting a retaliatory rocket assault from Hezbollah. By contrast, most Israeli military actions since 1948 have been wars of choice, as both Begin and Rabin describe them in their memoirs, often walkovers against shockingly weak opponents. The one exception was the 1973 surprise attack from Egypt and Syria, which resulted in three months of fighting, a nuclear alert by the Nixon administration, the deaths of 3,000 Israelis and the eventual collapse of the Golda Meir government. So, despite the enthusiasm of the neoconservatives here, I contend that there will be no Israeli bombing of Iran. They do not really fear the regime in Tehran, in any case, and have made no strategic preparations for war. For example, the Netanyahu government has not tried to negotiate with Damascus in order to weaken or end its alliance with Tehran. Bashar al-Asad is said to be eager for a deal with Israel featuring a return of the Golan in exchange for an end to Syria's support for Hezbollah and any other reasonable demands (see Landis, page 64).

This sounds desirable for Israel, but apparently it is not part of the "long game" Netanyahu is said to be playing to overturn Oslo and keep as much of the West Bank as possible while seeming to be in favor of peace. Giving land back to Syria would set a precedent, reinforcing the 1967 lines and generating Palestinian false hope. Better to have direct talks with the weak Fatah leadership, without a mediator to balance the conversation. In addition, Netanyahu wants to begin from a blank slate, jettisoning the land-for-peace albatross to keep East Jerusalem and the Jewish colonies. Of course, Mahmoud Abbas cannot agree to such concessions and will be blamed when the "negotiations" fail.

Arab and Muslim publics see "Made in USA" stamped on Israel's policies and will not join us to fight jihadist terrorism unless we get serious about a fair deal for the Palestinians. Someday they may even hold their own governments accountable for pro-American loyalty. This has been a theme over the past year in statements by the highest-ranking U.S. military leaders, although they, too, are vulnerable to the same political pressure that ensures conformity among the rest of the socio-political elite.
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Publication:Middle East Policy
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Sep 22, 2010
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