Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, October 16th, 2007
Is Rice or Cheney on first base? It is hard to tell. I had given up on the MEPP (Middle East Peace Process). The Sept. 6 strike on Syria seemed to be confirmation to me that the Washington hawks had won the struggle over how to deal with Syria – a key player if any real peace process is to emerge. Rice reportedly did not want it bombed. The fellows at the National Security Council did. The bombing has set back the chances of the MEPP developing any momentum.
Eliott Abrams and Hadley have been insisting that the MEPP is all process, meant only to provide cover for Saudi Arabia and "moderate" Arab states to back US policy toward Iraq and Iran. This summer, Cheney had been telling Arab leaders not to take Rice's MEPP seriously. We were also told that the Israeli intelligence on Syria's alleged nuclear plant was not shared with the State Department but was held by the NSC. This makes one wonder if the raid was meant to scuttle Rice's MEPP as much as it was meant to scuttle the North Korean deal that President Bush was signing onto, but which upset his hawkish advisers.
Here is what Abrams told Republican Jews not long ago:
Forward, Fri. May 11, 2007 |
At a regular gathering of Jewish Republicans, sources said, Abrams described President Bush as an “emergency brake” who would prevent Israel from being pressed into a deal; during the breakfast gathering, the White House official also said that a lot of what is done during Rice’s frequent trips to the region is “just process” — steps needed in order to keep the Europeans and moderate Arab countries “on the team” and to make sure they feel that the United States is promoting peace in the Middle East…
Nationally syndicated columnist Robert Novak accused Abrams of preventing the administration from having a “coherent Middle East policy” which would engage Iran and Syria in an attempt to stabilize Iraq. “I do know that there are a number of Israelis who would like to engage Syria,” Hagel told Novak. “They have said that Elliott Abrams keeps pushing them back.”
Foreign ministers, ambassadors and former Americans officials as saying they believe Abrams “is making policy in the Middle East.” Israel, according to sources close to decision-makers in Jerusalem, also sees Abrams as the leading policy figure in the administration on Middle East issues, a status that has led Olmert to keep an open channel of communications with Bush’s senior adviser. According to the sources, Abrams is also a leading voice in trying to convince American Jews to be more supportive of the war in Iraq….
But this morning I was given a boost by Rice's statement that President Bush is fully behind her drive to make something real out of the MEPP.
Ms Rice said President Bush planned to focus his efforts on achieving a resolution to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a news conference with Mr Abbas,
"The president has decided to make this one of the highest priorities of his administration and of his time in office," she said. "It means he is absolutely serious about moving this issue forward and moving it as rapidly as possible to conclusion."
She said the peace conference planned to be held in Annapolis, Maryland, should be "serious and substantive". (BBC)
October 15, 2007
WASHINGTON, Oct. 14 — It was President Bush who, a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, rewrote America’s national security strategy to warn any nation that might be thinking of trying to develop atomic weapons that it could find itself the target of a pre-emptive military strike.
But that was the fall of 2002, when the world looked very different from how it does in the fall of 2007. Now, the case of Syria, which Israeli and American analysts suspect was trying to build a nuclear reactor, has become a prime example of what can happen when Mr. Bush’s first-term instincts run headlong into second-term realities.
Five years later, dealing with nations that may have nuclear weapons ambitions — but are also staying within the letter of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — looks a lot more complicated than it once did.
This time it was the Israelis who invoked Mr. Bush’s doctrine, determining that what they believed was a nascent Syrian effort to build a nuclear reactor could not be tolerated.
In a curious role reversal, some of Mr. Bush’s own top advisers were urging restraint before Israel bombed the site on Sept. 6, raising questions about whether the threat was too murky and too distant to warrant military action. Those are precisely the kinds of questions Mr. Bush’s critics say should have been raised about Iraq.
It may be months or years before all the mysteries surrounding the attack on Syria become clear. The silence of the Middle Eastern countries that would normally condemn an Israeli attack suggested that they, too, were worried about what was happening in the Syrian desert. Then there is the question of whether, and how, North Korea may have been involved, since the reactor project seemed similar to the one Kim Jong-il’s government had designed to generate plutonium for a small but potent nuclear arsenal.
What has become clear is that the risks of taking pre-emptive action now look a lot greater to Mr. Bush than they did in 2003, when he declared that Iraq’s efforts to build weapons of mass destruction — weapons that famously turned out not to exist — justified military action. In the Syrian case he has steadfastly refused to say anything. In the case of Iran, which has defied the United Nations for a year while it builds a nuclear infrastructure that Washington believes is designed to give it the ability to make bomb fuel, Mr. Bush publicly insists there is still plenty of time for diplomacy.
Michael Green, a former director for Asia at the National Security Council and now a professor at Georgetown University, suggested that Mr. Bush was acutely conscious that he had 15 months left, little time for accomplishments that could counterbalance Iraq. Israel’s pre-emptive strike, he said, “could get in the way of his two biggest projects — getting on a path to stabilizing the Middle East, and getting North Korea to give up its weapons.”
By contrast, Mr. Green said, the Israelis are thinking five or 10 years ahead. They saw a chance to thwart the Syrians and to fire a warning shot that the Iranians could not fail to notice.
“If you are Israel and you are looking at this, the value of striking Syria is that it sends a signal, including to the Iranians,” Mr. Green said. “This follows the Chinese proverb that sometimes you have to kill the chicken to scare the monkey.”
That, of course, was part of the logic of Iraq in early 2003. In those days, Mr. Bush’s aides talked about how 9/11 had reduced America’s willingness to tolerate the risk that a hostile state would gain weapons of mass destruction. They spoke of the “demonstration effect” that toppling Saddam Hussein would have around the world. Under this theory, the North Koreans and the Iranians, among others, would see what happened in Iraq and reconsider their nuclear ambitions.
It did not turn out that way. North Korea evicted international inspectors after the Bush administration charged Mr. Kim’s government with cheating on a Clinton-era nuclear accord, and then raced to produce enough fuel for eight to a dozen nuclear weapons. The North Koreans conducted a nuclear test, with limited success, a year ago. Whether they also sold designs or parts of their nuclear infrastructure remains the subject of investigation and debate because of the Syria project.
Iran raced ahead, too, building centrifuges that can enrich uranium, even though the United Nations Security Council has imposed some sanctions and threatened more.
While those sanctions have failed, any rumors in Washington about a strike against Tehran’s nuclear facilities are greeted by senior administration officials with some version of the question, “Then what?” Iran, they say, has too many ways to strike back at American interests — in Iraq, in the oil markets and throughout the Middle East.
With the American military stretched in Iraq, the credibility of any American threat to take pre-emptive action elsewhere in the Middle East — and to deal with the consequences — is questionable. Moreover, Mr. Bush has made no secret of his desire to leave office with some diplomatic victories.
Already, that has muted the talk about pre-emptive strikes; the president who five years ago talked constantly about the dangers of “the world’s worst weapons” in Saddam Hussein’s hands has been far more measured about Iran and Syria.
Getting a deal with North Korea to disgorge its own nuclear fuel and weapons may require looking past whatever North Korea might have sold to another country. And it may mean engaging the Syrians, even before they answer the question of what, exactly, they were building in the desert.
Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times, October 15, 2007
On Sunday, some Israeli analysts expressed skepticism that the target was a nuclear reactor. The reported site of the strike, far from the center of Syria near the borders with Turkey and Iraq, would seem an unlikely venue for a project of such significance, said Efraim Inbar, a weapons expert who directs the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv.
"The location of such a site I don't think would be the best place. It's too close to Turkey and Iraq," Inbar said. "I have my doubts."
Syria has carried out an ambitious chemical weapons program, but Inbar said Syria was not known to have pursued nuclear capabilities.
"They have wanted strategic parity for years with Israel," Inbar said. "But so far, they went with the cheapest and easiest way, which was chemical weapons."
Eyal Zisser, a Syria expert who directs the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, agreed it would be surprising if Syria had made progress on a nuclear program.
But he said Syrian President Bashar Assad feels isolated and threatened by the Bush administration and may have sought a measure of security by trying to develop a nuclear program with the help of North Korea, with which Syria has forged ties.
"It was not on the agenda before these reports, but this is very logical from the point of view of Syria," Zisser said.
VIENNA (Reuters) – The U.N. nuclear watchdog did not know about any undeclared atomic plant in Syria and has asked Damascus about information that such a site was targeted by an Israeli air strike, a spokeswoman said on Monday.
Citing unidentified U.S. and foreign officials with access to intelligence reports, the New York Times said on Sunday the nuclear reactor was partially built and apparently modeled on one in North Korea used for stockpiling atomic bomb fuel. Israel confirmed earlier this month that it had carried out a September 6 air strike on Syria but has not described the target. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad said the target was an unused military building.
"The International Atomic Energy Agency is in contact with the Syrian authorities to verify the authenticity of these reports," said IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.
"The IAEA has no information about any undeclared nuclear facility in Syria and no information about recent reports," she said in a statement issued from the IAEA's Vienna headquarters.