Saturday, 20 April. 2024
Your Key to Palestine
The Palestinian Initiatives for The Promotoion of Global Dialogue and Democracy

America is confronted in Iraq with one of its gravest crises since the Second World War. It has lost control of the situation. It is haemorrhaging men and treasure. It is facing if not defeat then utter failure. There is a sense in the US of an impending national catastrophe, reflected in President George W. Bush's collapsing approval ratings.

How can America extricate itself from a disastrous war which has strained its armed forces, sapped its finances and squandered its moral authority?

The prescription offered by the high-level Iraq Study Group in its recent report is that US combat brigades should be withdrawn by early 2008 and that the US should engage in direct talks with Iran and Syria to secure their help in stabilising Iraq.

Above all, the underlying premise of the report is that the Iraq problem cannot be solved in isolation. It is linked, one way or another, to other major conflicts in the region with at their heart the unresolved problem of Israel's relations with its neighbours. A "comprehensive strategy" is required.

This is what James Baker and Lee Hamilton, co-chairmen of the Iraq Study Group, meant when they wrote: "The US will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the US deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict."

In the US, the report has sparked a huge national debate indeed a battle royal between America's old foreign policy establishment led by James Baker on the one hand and, on the other, the pro-Israeli neocons, backed by the Jewish lobby and right-wing think tanks the very fanatics who captured America's Middle East policy under Bush's administration and were largely responsible for taking America into war.

This neocon camp rejects any notion of linkage between the savage war in Iraq and the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is because the one thing it fears is that the US might pressure Israel to withdraw from the Palestinian occupied territories and from Syria's Golan Heights in the context of a peace settlement.

And yet, the evidence of linkage between the various Middle East's conflicts is overwhelming. Would Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have even conceived of staging the recent absurd and provocative conference questioning the Holocaust were it not for Israel's cruel oppression of the Palestinians? Would Ahmadinejad have a platform for his obnoxious ideas and wide support among Muslims were it not for Israel's destruction of what remains of Palestinian society by its targeted killings, expanding colonies, separation wall, bypass roads, checkpoints and all the inhuman machinery of military occupation?

Would Iran be so determined to master the uranium fuel cycle were it not for Israel's formidable arsenal of nuclear weapons, estimated by most experts to contain between 80 and 200 warheads? And are not Israel and its friends pressing the US to attack Iran's nuclear facilities?

Beyond doubt

Does linkage between Israel and the war in Iraq still need proving? Has it not been shown beyond dispute that it was concern for Israel's security the wish to remove any threat to Israel from the east and the ambition to reshape the entire region in Israel's favour that impelled deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz and his colleague Douglas Feith to press ardently for war in Iraq?

For these pro-Israeli ideologues, invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussain was not enough. The country and its army had to be smashed beyond repair.

In his latest book, State of Denial: Bush at War, Bob Woodward, the celebrated US investigative journalist, makes clear that Paul Bremmer took two momentous decisions on his first full day as chief administrator in Baghdad. The first was to order the "De-Baathification of Iraqi Society", followed a day later by his Order Number 2, disbanding the Iraqi ministries of defence and interior, the entire Iraqi military and all of Saddam's bodyguard and special paramilitary organisations.

Who instructed Bremmer to take these disastrous decisions, which have been largely responsible for the subsequent mess? The answer is Wolfowitz and Feith.

What about the crisis in Lebanon? Has Israel nothing to do with it? Hezbollah, the Shiite resistance movement, was created as a result of Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and its occupation of the south for the next 18 years. Without the invasion and occupation without Israel's constant pressure on Lebanon since the 1960s and its repeated incursions there would have been no militant Shiite resurgence, no Hezbollah, and no challenge to Lebanon's delicate inter-confessional balance.

The present trial of strength in Lebanon between the Faoud Siniora government and pro-Syrian forces is largely to do with Syria's concern to retain a measure of influence in Beirut. But why is Syria so concerned with Lebanon? The two neighbours are, in any event, bound together by innumerable ties of family, of commerce and finance, of shared history, culture, language and ethnicity.

But there is another over-riding factor. It lies in the Arab-Israeli conflict of which Lebanon is a battleground.

Syria needs to retain influence in Lebanon to prevent Israel or any other hostile power, gaining a foothold there and mounting hostile operations against Syria from Lebanese soil.

These are among the reasons why observers of the Middle East scene point to the obvious linkages between the various conflicts and insist that the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict is the poison which has infected the whole region and ruined America's relations with Arabs and Muslims.

In recognition of this obvious fact, Baker and his colleagues called for "renewed and sustained commitment [by the United States] to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts". Does the case still need to be argued?

Only way

Bush should heed Baker's advice in order to rescue his presidency and his own place in history. He should embrace the "comprehensive strategy" advocated by the Iraq Study Group. It is the only way, in the words of the report, "to restore America's standing and credibility in that part of the world".

Israel, too, should reflect on the damage the unresolved conflict is doing to its image in the world, to the health of its citizens and to its long-term security. According to most polls, some 65 per cent of Israelis two thirds of the population are ready for peace with the Arabs on the basis of the land-for-peace formula enshrined in Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

What is Prime Minister Ehud Olmert waiting for? The way to disprove Ahmadinejad's prediction that Israel is heading for extinction is to make peace with the region and with the Palestinians in the first place not to resort to force, and still less to reach for the nuclear button.

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