Thursday, July 17, 2008

George Bush and the Diplomacy of Inadvertence

4 March, 2008

The recent Jerusalem Post article, Vanity Fair: Bush approved plot to oust Hamas, gives an insider’s look into decision-making in the Bush White House. While the article deals only with the Palestinian elections and the resulting Hamas victory, it throws light on how this administration arrives at other decisions such as the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, its encouragement of an Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

But let’s start with the article’s focus, the Palestinian elections and their aftermath. In pursuit of what can only be called his Dogma of Democracy Bush not only disregarded input from Abbas and Olmert, both of whom clearly foresaw the Hamas victory and warned the president, but he also chose to ignore the advice of Cheney's chief Middle East adviser David Wurmser who, according to the article, “resigned a month after the Hamas takeover.” Even Muhammad Dahlan, Abbas security chief and designee by Bush to carry out the military coup against Hamas is quoted in the article as saying, “Everyone was against the elections, everyone (that is) except Bush. He (Bush) decided, ‘I need an election. I want elections in the Palestinian Authority.’”

Immediately after Hamas’ election victory, “Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams were entrusted with provoking a Palestinian civil war…” Following his resignation Wurmser said, "it looks to me that what happened wasn't so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was preempted before it could happen.” The article concludes, “Instead of driving its enemies out of power the US-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007.” Woops, and here we were led to believe that Hamas was the aggressor!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Nobody believes Hamas is merely the innocent victim of US-Fateh-Israeli wrath. Following decades of terrorism, of obstructing and derailing Israeli-Palestinian talks, few would sympathize with the Islamist party as victim. But this is not about Hamas. It is all about Bush and the administration’s pursuit of a diplomacy fed by a questionable world-view. Clearly in the instance of the elections Bush policy was a failure as predictable as it was disastrous. Was this a single instance of misjudgment, or does it represent a fundamental failure of Bush policy?

A quick look at today’s Middle East leaves little doubt that things are far worse in 2008 than before Bush was elected president. Following regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq both countries remain in a state of anarchy and civil war. In Afghanistan NATO commitment to the war is faltering in face of a resurgent and apparently undefeatable Taliban. In Iraq the United States is faring no better, facing defections by its few allies in what appears increasingly another Vietnam. And on Israel’s war fronts, Gaza and Lebanon, as he achieved with Iran Bush policy has inadvertently promoted more powerful and popular enemies in Hamas and Hezbollah.

Nor is the Bush failure from his diplomacy of inadvertence limited to the military sphere. Before and after his promotion of the disastrous Palestinian elections Bush opted out of an Israel-Palestine peace process, which atrophied as a result. Where Bush did choose to get involved he vetoed Israeli contact with Syria in face of that country’s public invitation to return to the negotiation table. But most dangerous from a regional standpoint is the fallout from Bush diplo-military decision-making regarding Iran.

Did Bush-Cheney-Rice set out to promote Iranian hegemony, probably not. Were they aware of the potential impact of regime change in Iraq on promoting resurgent Iran? Evidently not. But consider what was a matter of public record. Iraq and Iran were regional adversaries, each fearful and respectful of the other. That they had, within the decade, fought a long and bloody war in which the United States had armed and supported its ally, Sadam Hussein. Iraq and Afghanistan served to restrain Iranian ambitions. That restraint ended with regime change in those countries. Should that have been obvious before the fact?

Whose advice did Bush seek in the run-up to the decision to invade? Not the Saudis or Israelis, arguably the two best informed on the topic; nor, according to retired CIA head George Tennant, did the administration turn to, in fact chose to ignore, the CIA whose analyses, according to Tennant, did not accord with what the Administration wanted to hear. Israelis at all levels of decision-making, intelligence, military and political strongly advised against invading Iraq. Iran, they explained and not Iraq posed the greater danger. And even in the case of Iran Israel advocated diplomacy over war.

As regards the impact of the two-term Bush presidency on Israel, it is interesting to speculate on how the Middle East might have looked today had a less ideological administration won the presidency in 2000. Would a more pragmatic successor administration to Clinton have actively followed up on the near success of Camp David, 2000; might they have been able to bring post-Arafat Palestinians and Israelis further down the road to peace? Would a president unburdened by the blinders of a worldview reduced to an Axis of Evil have encouraged rather than obstructed Israel engaging Syria as follow up to that other nearly successful negotiation during the Clinton years? Would a less emotion-driven administration have encouraged Israel’s ill-fated Lebanon adventure as part of a strategy to contain Iran? Would there even have been the Iraqi debacle to free up Iran, to allow that country the strategic opportunity to flex muscle and assert its hegemonic and nuclear ambitions? Would a less dogmatic, more rational administration have even considered overthrowing Sadam in light of his obvious strategic value as counterweight to Iran?

The problem of a misguided and mismanaged superpower is in its collateral as well as intentional damage. It may be argued that the United States deserves the fallout from the Bush legacy since we twice elected him. Yet it is the entire world which is condemned to live with the Bush legacy, and for many years to come. For Israel collateral damage created by Bush is having an impact on peace and war. On the peace side the debacle of the Palestinian elections had a direct and negative impact on a possible accommodation with the Palestinians (although I, for one, doubt Abbas would have or could have pulled it off anyway), and a possible re-engagement with Syria to conclude the nearly completed agreement over Golan. On the war side, continuing terrorism from the West Bank leading to the costly construction of a wall separating the two peoples; rockets from Gaza; and the Lebanon II debacle which resulted in a Hezbollah more popular and politically influential than before the war.

Possibly any Israeli prime minister is obliged to identify with the incumbent US president, but Olmert’s association with THIS president does not enhance his or Israel’s credibility and standing in the world. And the decisions Olmert appears to have made in identification with, or in order to appease Bush will be around to haunt Israel long after George W leaves the world stage.

Israel’s strategic partner is Syria, Assad and the Golan, not Palestine, Bush and Annapolis

14 November, 2007

Why are Abbas and Olmert playing the Bush/Condi Annapolis charade? For Abbas it’s about the courage: the courage to finally assert control, if he is able, first over Fateh and the machinery of governance he inherited from Arafat. Should he achieve that he must then abandon his obviously failed two year-long effort to appease Hamas and the other extremist groups in the Territories and beyond, to absorb them under the umbrella of Palestinian political unity. A leader capable of leading is the precondition for any possibility of negotiating statehood with Israel.

For Olmert it is also about courage. Outside of Bush Administration pressure there is no logical reason for Israel to expend time and emotion on a pre-acknowledged fantasy. Years of “negotiating” with the Palestinians have produced naught but a weak, if apparently dovish successor to Arafat’s hawk. Olmert must know that, even if a Palestine track offered a possibility of success, still the Syrians are far more important to Israel’s security and strategic needs. Olmert must demonstrate the courage to respond to the public overtures of Baathist Syria, to test President Assad’s seriousness and ability to deliver across the negotiating table. As prime minister an guardian of the state he must take the politically unpopular but necessary step of finally accepting the cost of peace with Syria already agreed to by Israel in 2,000, the return of the Golan. Or would he be alone in exploring the Syrian option. Defense Minister Barak, Military Intelligence and the IDF all agree in assessing Syria sincere in its desire to negotiate peace.

As to Bush and Rice, they have spent the past seven years destabilizing the Middle East, devoting the past four years concentrating their efforts on destabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan. Had they the capacity for diplomatic foresight and strategic thinking they might have understood that neutralizing those two traditional enemies of the Islamic Republic would unleash the Sh’ia Iranian tiger to threaten the Sunni oil producers across the Gulf; to support anti-Lebanon and anti-Israel terror through their allies, Hezbollah and Hamas; and, in fact, to openly challenge the US in the Iraqi civil war that followed President Bush’s declaration of victory. By their actions Bush/Rice encouraged by incompetence Iranian nuclear ambitions, providing that country yet another and credible weapon with which to threaten her neighbors and the Gulf shipping lanes supplying a world economy dependent on oil. And then there was the single significant Bush contribution to the Israel-Palestine quagmire, his insistence against the advice of Abbas and Olmert, that the Palestinian elections take place with Hamas. Of course Hamas won as Olmert and Abbas had tried to warn the president. And eventually Gaza was separated from Palestine. Enter the Annapolis peace conference.

The list of Bush-bungling is endless. The obvious conclusion for Olmert should be that Israeli priorities must take precedence over pandering to this failed American president. And while Palestine may be important to Bush/Rice as a final effort to achieve some appearance of success, no matter how small and temporary, as they slink out of office, for Israel the strategic future is with Syria.

What makes Syria strategically important? In the first place, in regards to a Palestinian peace, Syria houses and protects Palestinian anti-peace terror precisely to assure that Syria will not be left in the cold to face Israel alone. Syrian policy has long been, Syria First, then Palestine. But beyond the obvious if, as MI and the IDF suggest, a Syrian peace is possible then negotiations would certainly include removing Iran from Syria and the Levant and expelling anti-peace Palestinians from Damascus (both of which Asad has signaled would serve him as well). A Syrian peace would also open the door to a dialogue with the Saudis and the extended Arab world; it would reduce the constant distraction of possible war on Israel’s northern frontier.

Should a Syrian peace be achieved then trade with Syria and the Arab world would open new and untapped markets for Israeli goods and services, unleashing the full potential of Israel’s economy. The reduced threat of war would mean fewer reservist call-ups and, as a result, lower taxes and increased manpower hours available to grow the economy.

The cost for peace with Syria was formally accepted by Israel seven years ago, recognized as pre-condition years earlier. Negotiating with Palestine is, in the foreseeable future, a waste of time, energy and emotion. Peace with Syria is Israel’s next diplomatic challenge. It’s time to accept the challenge.

Bush, Condi and the Decline of US Diplomacy: Annapolis, 2007

13 October, 2007

Upon taking office seven years ago President Bush insisted he would avoid the mistakes of his predecessor and stay out of the quagmire of Israel-Palestine peacemaking. The only exception to his commitment was to overrule Abbas and Olmert and insist on democratic elections for Palestine just over a year ago. Now, with just over one more year to the end of his presidency, Condoleezza Rice travels to Middle East capitals apparently intent on achieving in months what her predecessors failed to achieve in years. What are the chances of her succeeding, and what the cost of failure?

The headlines in Israel’s press in the run-up to the November summit provide interesting commentary on the anticipated outcome. Take, for example, “Annapolis, here we come - or, at least, here we go again,” or; “(Public Security Minister Avi) Dichter is ‘pessimistic’ ahead of parley.” Then there are the misgivings about the Secretary of State and her mission: “Can Condi 2007 trump Baker 1991” (not likely, according to the commentator) and, as if in response; “(former chief US Middle East negotiator Dennis) Ross to Rice: Let's hope you know when to back off” (why would Ross even ask such a question?).

How do America’s long-time allies in the Arab world view the peace “initiative?” Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are all sitting on their hands, unwilling to lend support to what they see as a likely diplomatic failure. And insult to injury, they appear unconcerned at possible repercussions for their defiance of Bush.

Then there is Condi’s decision not to invite Syria, the most likely spoiler in the unlikely event of a diplomatic “breakthrough.” The American rebuff is intended to signal the administration’s displeasure with the actions of the Assad Government. But, then, what is the purpose of summitry if not to bring adversaries to the negotiating table? Or is this “summit” meant merely as a public relations event, a farewell photo-op for President Bush and friends?

In fact President Bush has nothing by way of success, and much failure, to show for past Middle East “diplomacy.” For example, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. These achieved only social chaos and political instability for the countries overrun. But among the unanticipated consequences, Bush removed two natural enemies of Iran, thereby freeing up and paving the way for the Islamic Republic to pursue its hegemonic ambitions in the region. As a result Iran today threatens the US-protected oil producers across the Gulf as well as the shipping lanes which carry their product to an oil-dependent world economy. And again, due to Bush strategic inadvertence, Iran now challenges the US in Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza; Ahmadinejad shrugs off Bush threats regarding his country’s nuclear ambitions.

A second example of failure of diplomatic foresight is the Bush-inspired Palestinian elections. Just over one year ago Bush insisted that Abbas and Olmert carry through with “full and free” elections in the West Bank and Gaza. Ignoring the warnings of the two leaders that elections would only achieve a Hamas victory, Bush overruled them. Apparently surprised at the Hamas victory, Bush belatedly remembered that Hamas is on his list of “terrorist organizations” and cut off communication and aid to his creation, the democratically elected government of Palestine. Just one year later Hamas was confident enough to challenge and evict the Fateh, numerically twice as strong, from Gaza.

With this as background, the hesitancy of all parties regarding Bush Administration intentions and capabilities is reasonable and justified. That Dennis Ross, veteran American Middle East diplomat and negotiator felt it necessary to publicly question Condoleezza Rice’s ability to even be aware of when to “back off” goes a long way in validating the pessimism, the fears of disaster this latest adventure in diplomacy by the Bush Administration inspires.

But Bush-Rice competence and motives aside, what chance what remains of Palestine and its present leadership could deliver should the summit confound the experts and achieve a breakthrough?

Since the death of Arafat and his accession to the presidency Mahmud Abbas has repeatedly promised to reign in terrorism, reform Fateh and end corruption in the PA as pre-condition to peace with Israel and statehood for the Palestinians. Unable to deliver on any of the above even when Palestine was more unified geographically and politically, while Hamas but one among several armed rejectionist groups, what possibility today, with Abbas a virtual powerless prisoner in Ramallah, that he can credibly negotiate, to say nothing of deliver on peace “on behalf of the Palestinian people?”

As the headlines above suggest, as the fence-sitters and nay-sayers Jewish and Arab clearly recognize, negotiations between Abbas and Olmert are destined for still-birth. Even were Bush and Rice strong leaders with a successful diplomatic record and clear agenda the conditions and timing for this summit are just plain wrong. But given that they are neither strong nor successful and lack an agenda convincing to any but themselves, the more likely outcome of their “summit” will be yet another festering wound in the body of the Middle East, chaos and rage in the wake of yet another Bush misadventure. And as for the victims, the peoples of Israel and Palestine, they will quickly forget that the failure was the result of Bush overreaching; that Bush was responsible for creating the expectations leading to disappointment and despair; that Bush created the conditions which may leave in its wake yet another round of self-bloodletting, another “Intifada.” And then, along with the rest of the world, Israelis and Palestinians will return to blaming themselves and each other for the crime of their unfulfilled dreams.

And Palestinians will continue in their familiar identity as victim; Jews in their post-1967 persona as oppressor. And the US and the world will tut-tut at a conflict conveniently projected on the victims, self-generated, self-perpetuated and self-deserved.

And Bush will disappear into a well-deserved historical oblivion, self-righteous, innocent and blameless to the end.

The US, Israel and the phony road to peace

19 August, 2007

One may forgive the Bush Administration for failing to recognize that there is zero possibility of Israel and the Palestinians entering serious negotiations any time soon. But how explain the Israel government’s participation towards this goal?

Long before Hamas did its land grab in Gaza and seceded from the PA, infighting within the governing Fateh party made even the control of territories under their control shaky at best. Responding to the primary condition of the Bush Roadmap, Abbas long insisted he had neither the political nor popular support to reign in Hamas terror. What possibility then that he could deliver the political unity and support needed to engage in talks leading to peace with Israel and statehood for Palestine? But that was yesterday. Today, now that there are two competing Palestinian governments each claiming to represent roughly half the total population; with whom should Israel negotiate, the more unified and stable Hamas, or the chronically fragmented and unpopular Fateh?

Even before Bush insisted a year ago that Israel and Abbas overcome their fears that popular and democratic elections in the Territories would result in a Hamas win; peace talks were already at a standstill with little hope for the future. Palestinian politicians were unable to even agree to terms of peace among themselves; how expect them to agree to terms of peace with the outside enemy, Israel? Palestine today is generations away from achieving the internal stability necessary to even think of a unifying policy towards Israel. And until that minimal governmental threshold is achieved there is no point in expecting them to be “credible partners in peace.”

So how explain the familiar, but always new-sounding slogans of commitment to the Road Map, to Palestinian Independence, to Peace? The motives of the Bush Administration are fairly transparent. This presidency has demonstrated total incompetence and amateurism in the area of war and diplomacy. It hungers for at least one “victory” to point to as it leaves office. It clings to that last straw of hope. But whatever this presidency touches turns out opposite to the anticipated. The Bush “faith-based” push for “democracy” and “justice” in the Middle East has left in its wake nothing but political and social chaos, Muslim extremism at every turn.

By invading Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush removed the distraction of two long-time enemies of Iran, thereby allowing the Islamic Republic to concentrate on other matters, other ambitions. Thanks to Bush Iran was now in a position to pursue its hegemonic ambitions in the region, emboldened to pursue a nuclear potential giving credibility to those claims. It could now threaten its regional neighbors Israel and the Arabian Peninsula, openly challenge America’s presence in Iraq, support indigenous and foreign elements at war with the invaders and each other inside Iraq, and elsewhere.

With this long and consistent trail of failure it is no wonder that Bush would be willing to take one last throw of the dice in the forlorn hope of at least a single diplomatic success. But Palestine-Israel, Mr. President, is just another presidential pipedream.

And Israel. Surely after six decades Israeli politicians have enough experience to know the illusion for what it is. So what purpose Palestine as “peace partner?” Can it be that dealing with the fleeting chimera of negotiations on this front frees her politicians of the responsibility of defying the pie-in-the-sky American administration and taking on the responsibility of possibly substantive negotiations with its far more important and likely peace partner in Syria? Certainly the costs of that peace, the return of Golan, have already been agreed to by successive Israeli governments.

As rumors of war increase along Israel’s northern frontier, would anything act as effectively to calm those fears than for the two states to sit down at the negotiating table to iron out what are described as relatively few and minor details to agreements already achieved between the adversaries over the years? Not only might this result in removing a perennial threat to Israel’s northern border but the agreements would also address other, and more regional issues such as Iran. All Israeli intelligence seems to agree that Syria is threatened by its dependency on that aggressive, but only ally, that it would welcome a way to extricate itself from the Iranian grip. Peace between Syria and Israel holds the potential of pushing Iranian influence back to the international boundary, distant both from Israel, and as a threat to the Arabian Peninsula from the north.

Peace with Syria holds the promise also of breakthrough to what has been called the Saudi Initiative, the opening to peace and integration into the Middle East which has been the elusive strategic goal of Israel since 1949.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Nuclear Iran and the US-Israel “special relationship”

27 July, 2008

Since the November, 2007 Annapolis summit conflicting, sometimes contradictory statements from Washington throw into doubt President Bush’s commitment towards Israel and his intentions regarding Iran. On 26 July Israel’s prime minister made explicit reference to the problem in a report in DEBKAfile, In secret note, Olmert says Bush has deserted Israel against Iran. As reported, the prime minister openly accuses Bush of taking “strategic steps toward rapprochement with Iran…violating agreements between the two countries (Israel and the United States).” The prime minister went on to characterize Washington’s actions as posing a “threat to Israel’s security and indeed survival…” While the November summit saw public disclosure of US contacts with Iran, they had been ongoing for months. I believe that, while the past seven years have seen a significant change in how the US views the “special relationship” with Israel, Israelis have always read more into the American commitment than was warranted, or wise.

We need go no further back than July to understand the background to the Olmert note. A 10 July Jerusalem Post article, Rice: US will stand by Israel on Iranian threat, although far more subtle than Olmert’s note to Bush, illustrates the developing problem. The headline refers to Rice apparently warning Ahmadinejad that, "we will defend American interests and the interests of our allies." Who precisely those “allies” are is not specified, but the Post assumes she means Israel, and perhaps that is so. But Rice’s language is diplospeak, kept intentionally vague to allow deniability should conditions or convenience necessitate. But is Rice’s vague reassurance sufficient to justify the assumption that, should Israel decide to go it alone against the Iranian bomb, that “America is behind you, Israel” as the Post headline suggests? The very next paragraph has Rice limiting even her vague offer of assistance to providing a “missile defense as a key means of complicating (my italics) Iran's ability to threaten the Region (again my italics)." And what about Bush’s previous threatened use of military force to encourage Iran to abandon her nuclear ambitions? Surely Bush meant US and not Israeli force to back up that threat? After all, the Region means first of all those Arab oil fields, then the US troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Certainly Israel has an interest in the Iranian bomb; but the main thrust of the Iranian threat is not Israel but America’s strategic interest, the Arab oil producing states. In his rush to find a face-saving exit from Iraq, to help fellow Republican McCain get elected, is Bush willing to compromise those oil fields and the war in Afghanistan? Is anything not expendable under the expediency-driven Bush Doctrine?

So now, regarding the defense of Arab oil and American troops, it appears that Bush has thrust the IDF as front-line defender against the Iranian threat. But not even this sacrifice gains Israel administration support and thanks. Following his recent visit to Israel Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff went on record as saying, “Washington has not given Israel a "green light" to do anything.” That statement closely accords with Robert Gates, Bush’s Defense Secretary's public position that “widening the conflict in Iraq by attacking Iran does not fit the current strategic thinking.” According to the US Defense establishment, Israel appears a “loose canon,” a threat to American interests.

A 13 July Post article, 'Bush gave Israel amber light to attack,' clarifies the White House position regarding an Israeli attack on Iran. A Bush spokesman defined “amber light” as, "get on with your preparations, stand by for immediate attack and tell us when you're ready." Shades of the old warrior Bush; at least until his spokesman informs Israel that she should “not count on the US to lend it military (my italics again) support." And probably not diplomatic backing either.

So, according to Defense and reinforced by Bush, attacking Iran is an extension of Iraq and not another, and perhaps most important front line in Bush’s wavering War on Terror.

Which is not to say that Bush negotiating with Iran has not been productive, even successful; in fact its success underscores the failure of his preferred policy of military over diplomatic engagement: Sh’ia Iran did take the Mehdi Army of Sh’ia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr off the battlefield. And quid pro quo, Rice recently offered diplomatic relations to Teheran. It is even reported that the US and Iran are cooperating in war game exercises in Pakistan.

Not that alternative ways of viewing the diplomatic dance between the principles do no exist. The most popular of these describes the US and Israel as playing “good cop, bad cop,” (with tiny Israel cast as “bad cop”) in an effort to encourage Iran to abandon the bomb. But if true, the ruse is unlikely to succeed, and such a high stakes gamble is so risky in provoking the war it is intended to avoid that the idea is beyond reckless. During the Cold War the US and the USSR also threatened each other with ballistic missiles. But those adversaries were separated by thousands of miles and had many minutes to evaluate intentions, and possibly stand down. In the Middle East the adversaries are separated by mere hundreds of miles and seconds from lift-off to impact: a powder keg with a hair trigger.

As the Olmert protest confirms, the Bush Administration seems to be changing the rules also regarding the “special relationship” between the two states. From the dawn of the partnership in the 1960’s, Israel served the US as background deterrent, a mostly implied counter to threats by radical nationalist regimes towards the conservative oil producing monarchies. Since the Bush presidency, and especially since the overthrow of the Iraqi regime, Israel appears to have been assigned a more active role in American policy. For example, Lebanon II: Bush saw an opportunity to confront Iran through Hezbollah, so encouraged Israel in the run-up to the war. But he overestimated the speed with which Israel could overcome the Iranian proxy. So, as the war dragged on, Rice ordered Israel to halt ground forces south of the Litani River, all but assuring an inconclusive end to the war (the long range missile batteries and Hezbollah leadership were based far to the north of the river). For Bush “inconclusive” was but a minor setback in his confrontation with Iran. But for Israel it meant a loss of military credibility, a sign of weakness and vulnerability.

Since the end of the Second World War and the exit of Imperial England the United States became protector and defense shield for the Arabian oil producers. Oil, not the survival of the Jewish state, was and continues America’s strategic priority. But Israel, small, isolated and vulnerable understandably craves security in alliance with a super power. This goes a long way in explaining why generations of Israelis have clung to and exaggerated the "special relationship” with the United States. The tone of Olmert’s note to Bush sounds as much the reaction of a deceived sibling as a defrauded partner. For Israel the relationship is family, a mutual commitment; for the United States it is more a matter of business, of convenience. Certainly US domestic politics had, over the years, played a part in encouraging a "special relationship." But with the weakening of Jewish identity in the United States, and particularly of younger Jews towards Israel, with American Jews less likely to vote as a bloc, even political considerations are a lesser factor in American politics.

Assuming Israel is without military or diplomatic cover in her war of nerves with Ahmadinejad, can and should she act alone? According to some Israeli intelligence analysts an Iranian missile counterstrike would be effectively countered by Israel's missile defenses. Those same sources contend that Iran’s main local allies, Hezbollah and Syria, are unlikely to join in the war. Assuming this to be the case, what might Israel achieve by attacking Iran? At best, those sources suggest, Iranian production of the bomb would be delayed for a year or two.

And what of the costs? Should Israel go it alone she can expect fallout resulting from the following: the attack would pose a heightened threat to Gulf oil and transport which would immediately and dramatically increase the cost of oil; American and EU troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have been threatened, and are targets for Iranian missiles; anti-west agitation on the Arab and Muslim street would provide volunteers and feed terrorism world-wide; oil price rises would likely increase the global economic recession and, just possibly, result in economic depression. And while Israel would be blamed for it all, Bush and the US, the bottom-line responsible party for protecting the region and its oil from the Iranian threat, would get a free pass.

Or Israel could stand down as front line cats paw for a questionable US military and diplomatic ally in the conflict with Iran, which likely would force her super power partner to accept responsibility for a problem the offshoot of a disastrous Bush Middle East policy. The primary threat of a Sh’ia Iranian bomb is not, after all, the Little Satan Israel but the Sunni oil producers across the Gulf, and their Great Satan defender.

In the event the next US administration fails to recognize and accept responsibility for its own strategic interests then Israel can always reevaluate her options. After all, Israel is assumed to have a nuclear deterrent and delivery system generations ahead of any likely adversary, while the Iranians are still in the early stages of development and production.

Israel need not be in a hurry to strike. In this instance time is on Israel’s side.