Posted by Joshua on Saturday, June 16th, 2007
"To Israel's undoubted displeasure, France has resumed a dialogue with Syria, which the Quai d'Orsay sees as a necessary part of French efforts to stabilise Lebanon.
The Syrian president's brother-in-law, General Asaf Shawkat, head of military intelligence, has visited Paris for discreet talks, and may indeed still be in the French capital."
A summer of war or peace?
By Patrick Seale,
Gulf News / 15/06/2007
As Ehud Olmert, Israel's Prime minister, prepares to travel to Washington next week to meet President George W. Bush on June 19, the Middle East is awash with rumours of war – but also of peace. Which will Olmert press for with his American "Big Brother"?
Some observers predict a "hot" summer in the Middle East. They think Olmert will seek Bush's backing for another war in Lebanon, perhaps extending this time to Syria, to finish off their common enemies – Lebanon's Hezbollah and President Bashar Al Assad's regime in Damascus – in preparation for a joint assault on their ultimate nemesis, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.
Another theory, however, is that neither Israel nor the US is ready for war. The US and Iran have held a preliminary meeting in Baghdad, which might lead to more exchanges, while the Israeli media have reported that Olmert has sent secret messages to Bashar in Damascus responding positively to the Syrian leader's repeated calls for a resumption of negotiations.
The US has so far vetoed any such Israeli-Syrian contacts but, if the reports are accurate, Olmert may ask Bush for a green light to resume talks with Syria, which have been interrupted since 2000.
How should one read these conflicting signals? Which is it to be? War on all fronts or a possible breakthrough towards peace – or if not peace then at least some stabilisation of a region now erupting in violence in all directions?
The war scenario is, unfortunately, the more plausible. The destruction of Hezbollah, and its Palestinian sister Hamas, is still very much on Israel's wish-list, as is the termination, one way or another, of Iran's programme of uranium enrichment. To Israel's way of thinking, Syria, the vital link between Iran and Hezbollah, must also be neutralised – by war if other means fail.
Olmert and his advisers must be anxious to halt and reverse what, from their standpoint, will be seen as some profoundly unfortunate trends.
Pressure is mounting in the United States for an American withdrawal from Iraq. An American withdrawal, even if phased over a year or two, will inevitably result in a loss of influence. This is not good news for Israel.
Meanwhile Iran, undeterred by international sanctions, seems more determined than ever to master the uranium fuel cycle on an industrial scale. Neither the US nor the Europeans, nor the UN Security Council has yet come up with a formula for dealing with what Israel sees as a deadly threat.
Far from being weakened, Hezbollah is now said to be armed with some 25,000 missiles as well as large numbers of Russian-built anti-tank weapons.
Worse still, Israel's diplomatic campaign to persuade the European Union to label Hezbollah a terrorist organisation has failed. France, on which Israel had placed great hopes in this regard, has invited Hezbollah representatives to Paris to take part in a meeting aimed at re-launching a dialogue between Lebanon's warring factions.
In an allied move, France's new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is ending the boycott of Syria which Jacques Chirac, his predecessor, had insisted on ever since the murder of his close friend, the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
To Israel's undoubted displeasure, France has resumed a dialogue with Syria, which the Quai d'Orsay sees as a necessary part of French efforts to stabilise Lebanon.
The Syrian president's brother-in-law, General Asaf Shawkat, head of military intelligence, has visited Paris for discreet talks, and may indeed still be in the French capital.
Another setback for Israel is that the international isolation of the Hamas-dominated Palestinian government is splintering.
Far from Fatah defeating and destroying Hamas – as was planned for, armed and funded by Israel, the US and some Arab countries – the latest savage bout of inter-Palestinian fighting suggests that Hamas may rout Fatah and seize total control of Gaza.
Israel's shortsighted policy of expanding West Bank colonies while seeking to starve into submission the democratically-elected Hamas government has resulted in extremist groups, whether in Lebanon or the occupied territories, creeping ever closer to Israel's borders.
Olmert will urge Bush to boost military aid to Israel to over $2.4 billion a year and halt the sale to Saudi Arabia of a major arms package, including satellite-guided weapons, which Israel sees as threat to its regional supremacy. But the US needs to placate its main Arab ally and Olmert may not succeed.
In view of these negative trends, some Israeli planners are thought to believe that the last months in office of Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney present what might be a last opportunity for Israel to defeat all its enemies in an extended war.
The call for military strikes against Iran has also come from Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and from his namesake, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's racist and war-mongering Minister for Strategic affairs, that is to say the minister in charge of confronting Iran!
Can this beating of the war drums be dismissed, in the words of Dr Mohammad Al Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as the ravings of the "new crazies"? Or must the stoking of war fever inevitably lead to war?
Olmert has hinted that he is ready for a deal with Syria if it severs its links with Iran and Hezbollah and ends its support for Hamas and other Palestinian militants. These are unrealistic preconditions, rather like asking Israel to sever its ties with the US!
If this analysis is correct, Israel and its friends will continue to press the US to make war on Iran and its allies, much as they pressed for war against Iraq in 2003. They will try, but they may not succeed. The world has changed.
In the wake of the Iraqi catastrophe and the erupting violence everywhere, the international mood is to seek a resolution of conflicts, and especially that between Israel and its neighbours, rather than to pile up still more bitterness and hate.
Patrick Seale is a commentator and author of several books on Middle East affairs.