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The day Middle East Peace broke out


Last night I had the strangest dream, I never dreamed before;
I dreamed the world had all agreed, to put an end to war.

For all of us who are used to Middle East wars and war scares, bellicose statements and intractable conflicts, some of the recent headlines seem like a euphoric vision resulting from an exceptionally beneficent psychedelic drug. At least, they are very strange. Suddenly, it appears as though there is agreement and harmony on almost every front, between the most ferocious enemies. If it is all coming together, it is really wonderful, isn't it?

Consider some recent (last two days) headlines:

Paris says Assad will join Olmert at Med Union talks

Syrian official: Peace with Israel will create harmonious Mideast

Israel and Hamas ‘call ceasefire’

Report: U.S. urges Israeli pullout from disputed Golan area

Israeli sources: Deal with Hezbollah likely next week

Israel says it's ready for Lebanon talks

One half expects to find, in the back pages, a feature article that describes lions and lambs living in peace at the zoo, and a little notice about a bearded fellow entering Jerusalem on a white donkey.

When we add to all the improbable peace deals above the Doha compromise in Lebanon, the effect is truly striking - especially as it all is taking place in a relatively brief period. Even more interesting, the hand of the USA is all but invisible in every instance except the case of Shebaa farms negotiations in Lebanon. Until now, the United States was the mainstay of every peace deal between Israel and its neighbors. It was needed to cajole Israel into concessions and to provide money as an incentive for peace deals.

The various deals are even stranger because they don't seem to be very good for Israel or Arab moderates at all. The Doha "compromise" put the Hezbollah a giant step closer to controlling Lebanon. The missing Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev are dead in all probability. Exchanging them or their bodies for convicted murderer Samir Kuntar would hand the Hezbollah another big free victory and invite further kidnappings and loss of life. That can't be a good deal. The truce in Gaza legitimizes the Hamas, opening the way for European recognition of the Hamas government, isolating the West Bank government of Mahmoud Abbas and Salem Fayyad, and giving the Hamas a decisive advantage in any future unity talks. The truce doesn't hold for the West Bank. The moderate Palestinians of the West Bank Palestinian Authority get nothing except new housing starts for Israelis in East Jerusalem and the promise of continued security raids. The Hamas reap the benefits of their obstinacy and violence. Captive soldier Gilad Shalit may or may not be released in return for an enormous number of Palestinian prisoners. The deal was brokered by Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. Why would Egypt, which has outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood Group at home, want to firmly establish the extremist Hamas next door?

Syria has proclaimed time and again that it will not give up its ties with Iran, and pointedly signed new agreements with the Iranian regime. Syria will not allow the IAEA to inspect suspect nuclear sites, leaving a compliant IAEA to report accurately, if misleadingly, that it could "find no evidence" of nuclear projects in Syria. If they could not examine the evidence, then of course they could not find any - the same situation as obtains in Iran. Syria also announced gleefully that they claim not only the Golan heights, but the Sea of Galilee up to Tiberias. Both Hamas and Syria are in relatively weak positions. It is not clear how they seem to manage to pull off negotiating bargains as though they are negotiating from positions of strength. Indeed, it is those bargains that are giving them, or will give them, strength.

Stranger yet, the various peace moves seemed to have no basis in any organic ongoing process. Syria and Israel have been trading insults and threats since 2006 and before. Israel bombed a mysterious (probably nuclear) facility in Syria - to which Syria reacted with a silence that itself spoke volumes. Hamas keeps raining rockets on Israel up to the last moment before the cease fire. A major terror attack was averted last week only because the would-be perpetrators blew themselves and three children to kingdom come by accident. Hamas promptly blamed Israel for the "attack" and launched a massive "retaliation" for the attack it invented, but even that didn't spoil the nice peace talks. Hezbollah continues to rearm in Lebanon, and shows no signs of being less threatening either to Israel or to Lebanese moderates.

It also seems more than a bit premature to talk of peace between Lebanon and Israel. The Lebanese cannot even agree to form a government despite the Doha agreement. It is absurd to think they can agree on a peace agreement with Israel. There is not really anyone to negotiate with at present.

Another oddity is that the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which has hitherto been the focus of peace efforts, remains becalmed, yet nobody seems to be particularly worried - that process has become a side issue. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was expected to apply massive pressure to the Israelis and (West Bank) Palestinians to hammer out a framework agreement. Instead she contented herself with some mild admonishment of Israel for continuing to build housing in the occupied territories, and a very oblique reference to the fact that Palestinians haven't really begun to fulfill their obligations under the road map either. She made the big headlines in Lebanon.

There has been speculation that the wave of peace or peace talk is preparation for a US or Israeli attack in Iran (see here and here for example). A more moderate view is that the deals are meant to weaken and isolate Iran. Indeed, Iran has remained impervious to threats of sanctions, refuses to stop its uranium enrichment program despite the enticements of an attractive European aide offer, and refuses to allow the IAEA access to critical nuclear sites. A day of reckoning might be approaching with Iran. But considering the Hezbollah and Hamas are virtual puppets of Iran, it is not clear how empowering them is going to weaken Iran. In the event of a hypothetical attack on Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas are now poised to rain rockets on Israel undeterred in retaliation. On the face of it, it seems unlikely that any Israeli-Syrian peace deal or Israeli-Lebanese peace deal could mature in the few remaining months of the Bush administration or the perhaps even briefer life expectancy of the Olmert government. It is hard to believe that the Americans would launch an attack on Iran in the waning days of the Bush administration. The Israeli government and defense establishment, decided against a military operation in Gaza against the ragtag Hamas because it is too risky and might result in Qassam rockets and mortars pounding Israeli towns for a long period. Is it credible that this same government would launch an attack on Iran, exposing Israel to massive rocket fire from Hezbollah, from Hamas and from Iran itself? The Olmert government can barely muster the majority needed to stay in office, and is very probably on the way out. Polls predict a victory for the right, headed by the Likud. Is it possible that this Olmert government could get the Israeli public to agree to a peace deal that surrenders the Golan heights in return for a dubious peace with the odious Assad regime?

If the aim of all this peace is to isolate some powers, who is being isolated? As Robert Dreyfuss points out, the Israeli deals with Hamas and Hezbollah drive a wedge in US policy, which has been to isolate these groups. US non-interference in Lebanon, acquiescence in the Doha compromise and its push to get Israel to give up Sheba farms, an issue invented by the Hezbollah, all play into the hands of the Hezbollah. They leave Lebanese moderates loyal to Prime Minister Seniora politically stranded. The French Mediterranean initiative will establish France as an important operator in the Middle East, independent of the US. Meanwhile, there is not the slightest sign that Hezbollah, Hamas or Syria are dissociating themselves from Iran or each other in any way.

Can this all be a super clever Machiavellian USA manipulation? Not likely. The US has proven time and again that it is incompetent in Middle East intelligence and diplomacy. The US can point to precious few achievements in the Middle East. The Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement was the product of President Sadat's initiative and matured behind the backs of the Americans before it was marketed to them. The same is true of Israel's peace with Jordan. For whatever it was worth, the Israeli-PLO deal was the product of separate and secret bilateral negotiations which were not sponsored by the United States.

The U.S. doesn't have the local knowledge or resources or "inside tracks" or the subtlety that are needed to gain success in the Middle East. In Iraq, it was apparently hoodwinked into an unnecessary and disastrous war by clever disinformation, robbed blind by its own and local bandits and mired in a nightmare terrorist war orchestrated by various extremist factions and states. In the Gulf, it spends billions to back regimes that finance Wahhabi extremists and Madrassahs that spawned the 9-11 suicide bombers. In Egypt, the US doles out $2 billion a year in military aid, while almost every page of the Egyptian press is filled with vituperation against America and its policies. In Lebanon, whatever policy the US thought it had seems to have failed miserably. It is hated everywhere in the Middle East except Israel for the unforgivable sins of promoting democracy, protecting friends and giving out money. It would be beyond the capabilities of the United States to orchestrate a "grand move" in the Middle East. If they think that is what they are doing, which is possible, they may be launched on the road to disaster.

Are all these improbable peace moves an unlikely coincidence? Are they preparation for an attack on Iran? Are they just the swan songs of an American and an Israeli regime that are both on the way out and anxious to leave their marks on history? Or are they perhaps, the product of clever manipulation by the able foreign service of the Iranian government, which has lured each player into believing it can isolate Iran by making tempting offers to its allies, giving up real advantages for imagined ones?

It is almost always better when people are negotiating rather than shooting. We all want peace, and as Benjamin Pogrund points out, it is good that people are talking about peace, but the nature of these negotiations warrants a good deal of caution. That is not just because the issues involved are complex, but because there is something very odd about the whole process: the pieces don't fit. The big losers so far are the moderate Palestinians in the West Bank and the moderate democratic regime of Fouad Seniora in Lebanon. The big winners are Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah. The results of the process don't seem to be helping "good guys," but rather terror groups and rogue states whose commitment to peace is very dubious. Waging peace in the Middle East may be far more perilous than waging war.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 3 comments

It shouldn't be surprising that so many peace initiatives are taking place right now. Ohlmert is up to his elbows in corruption, and he's trying to save his skin by acting like a statesman. More importantly, the neocons in both Israel and the United States have seen their policies implemented, and they've been major disasters. Think Israel in Lebanon, or the US in Iraq. It's not that Iran is more clever than either Israel or the US, it's the fact that both countries have been incredibly weakened by their short-sighted policies, and their electorates no longer believe that their leaders have any credibility. Getting peace at this point is thus a response to Israeli-American defeats.

Posted by Karl Eysenbach @ 06/19/2008 07:36 PM CST


You're sounding like a neocon everytime you post. Talking to only partners we like leads to no peace managing to talk to Hamas and Hezbollah could lead to something if we try. Stop making assumptions and start finding out facts.

Also according to Gareth Porter the Iranians have given more access to their nuclear than any other country. How much access has Israel given?

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 06/23/2008 01:02 AM CST

I want to ask from Ami: What is the truth concerning injured "mesianic" Christian Pastor´s son; WHO INJURED HIM? Jews or Islamic Radicals?

This topic has been come big news here in Finland in Christian circles.

Sincerely Yours
Markku Auramo

Posted by Markku Auramo @ 07/02/2008 08:19 PM CST

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