Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Israel worries on US reset in Middle East

Netanyahu upset about US close ties with Iran
There are widespread hopes, and fears fewer in number but more virulent, of the relationship between Natanz [the Iranian nuclear fuel enrichment site] and Itamar [one of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank], that is, the connection between Iran’s relations with the West and Israel-Palestine peace. US Secretary of State John Kerry, in remarks made since the Iran channel showed its promise, leaves no doubt that the Obama administration considers these two threats to regional security to be conceptually connected.
In Washington, the decision to turn a new page in relations with Iran has, for the first time in more than a generation, begun to remove both practical, operational, bureaucratic and ideological constraints that have defined US policies in the region. There are encouraging signs that this “new thinking” is already enabling US policymakers to consider possible opportunities that Washington has shunned for decades — Iran, of course, is at the top of the list. Since 1979, no one within US policy and security bureaucracy has seen any value in thinking outside the box on Iran. Challenging the consensus view of Iran as a charter member of the “axis of evil” was a terrible career move.
Today, however, thinking about the possibilities of an improved US relationship with Tehran is back on the agenda. And, as a consequence, there is space for more critical thinking by the Washington policymaking bureaucracy. And if Iran is no longer a taboo subject, then what is preventing Washington’s reassessment of other “little Irans” formerly beyond the pale — for example, Hamas, Hezbollah and even Syria’s terrible Bashar al-Assad?
The decision to open a dialogue on Iran’s nuclear program, if it is to be fruitful, must necessarily engage both US and Iranian policymakers, and therefore everyone else, in far broader considerations aimed at defanging other threats to regional security and devising “win-win” solutions across a range of issues according to the model being discussed by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, or P5+1.
A quick look at the map identifies both the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and Lebanon’s Hezbollah as important factors in this equation. Each has long been considered by its enemies as a “spoiler” — crashing the party organized by Washington and Israel. But without underestimating the continuing power of this view, the blinkers that have long limited Washington’s space for considering these charter members of the axis of evil are being lifted. In both cases, new US thinking on Hamas and Hezbollah would have to be reciprocated by its respective leaders Khaled Meshaal and Hassan Nasrallah, while each attempt to navigate an improved place in the new Middle East being imagined by Washington and Tehran.
Such moves would represent a regional reflection of the potential advantages of rapprochement with Iran. All threaten to upend Israel's view — and not only Israel’s — of how the future should unfold. In this new context, every car bomb in Dahia or shelling of the Gaza Strip is viewed, perhaps with justification, as a provocative challenge by dead-enders of all stripes to embryonic reconciliation orchestrated by US President Barack Obama and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. There is a real potential indeed for such actions to threaten or even overwhelm the still-fragile connections being forged. Washington and Tehran together are each obligated to communicate their commitment to succeed and steel themselves against being whipsawed by those anxious to change the subject and resume more familiar, comfortable — if deadly —business as usual.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to revise his attitude toward Obama’s efforts on Natanz and Itamar promises to cause him increasing trouble in the months ahead. During an October visit to Rome, Netanyahu acknowledged that “the solution of the Iranian issue may have a decisive influence on the Palestinian issue — for bad and for good.” Obama has left no doubt that the train on Iran has left the station, apparently without Netanyahu aboard. Less so on Palestine, but here, too, Obama has broken new ground by endorsing a US effort to think and plan for mutual security in the context of a final status agreement “that preserves Israel’s core security needs” without permanent occupation.
Netanyahu sees only the potential perils of this holistic connection and the challenge that it presents to his worldview. Under his leadership for most of the past 18 years, Israel (according to his own calculations, at least) has fared better than others in this toxic, bloody environment. And he is far from reconciled to permitting — yes, that’s the right word — Obama to rearrange the furniture without his approval, even when one critical standard of this new relationship defined directly and explicitly by Washington, and indirectly by Tehran, is an improvement in Israel’s security.
In both Natanz and Itamar, Kerry is adopting the standard of increasing mutual security through agreement — not force, or war, or continuing occupation — and enabling a US-led diplomacy to create a stable framework for peace that will in each case increase Israel's security.
As Obama stressed in remarks on Dec. 8 in Washington, “The United States' military cooperation with Israel has never been stronger. Our intelligence cooperation with Israel has never been stronger. Our support of Israel’s security has never been stronger."
For Netanyahu, these soothing words are not a source of comfort, but rather a cause for concern. If Bibi’s warning against a diplomatic solution for Natanz is rejected by Obama, then what, Bibi fears, will stop Obama from having his own way on Itamar? And he is right.

Whatever, happens in the Middle East would be cause of concern for US to extend their friendly hands for a golden handshake - and corner the frowns of Israel for the time being!

Re-Edited By:

Kanwal Abidi
-Karachi