Commentary: Wilderness of mirrors

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large   |   April 30, 2008 at 11:11 AM   |   0 comments

WASHINGTON, April 30 (UPI) -- "Every lie contains a truth and every truth contains a lie" is a safe rule of thumb when Shakespeare's powers of observation are applied to the Middle East. With each shake of the kaleidoscope, the configuration of the key players becomes a wilderness of mirrors. Add to the mix a whispering campaign in which rumors and innuendo are spread to conceal ulterior motives, and sorting fact from fancy is frequently mission impossible. Good disinformation contains a kernel of truth spun with a tissue of lies. Even if you understand the game, there is still no Rosetta Stone that can decipher the Middle East's geopolitical hieroglyphics.

Some recent samples:

-- Brokered by Turkey, a Syrian-Israeli deal is in the works. Israel will abandon the Golan Heights and Syria will ditch its alliance with Iran and Hezbollah. If your marker's on this square, you're already out of the game. Israelis are not about to become fish in a barrel below the Golan Heights, even if demilitarized. The Heights command Israel's most densely populated regions.

-- A "viable and contiguous" Palestinian state becomes reality before President Bush leaves office Jan. 21, 2009. You lose again. The Israelis continue to build illegal settlements in the West Bank to make sure a Palestinian state is unworkable and discontinuous. There is no peace with Hamas as it spreads its underground influence from Gaza to the West Bank. Conversely, there is no peace without Hamas. Commented Haaretz, Israel's leading newspaper: "The dynamic of deception is continuing. Deception of the Americans, deception of the voters for parties that etched peace on their standard, deception of the Palestinians and above all self-deception. Our top leaders have joined together on a course that has no objective."

-- Arab nations don't much care about the Palestinians. Bold move on the board. The $7 billion pledged to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank by the oil-rich Gulf states has yet to materialize. With $3 billion cash, the "Gulfies" could have launched Gaza on its way to becoming the next Dubai on the Mediterranean. On the other hand, Israel's short-to-medium-range interest is to keep fanning the embers of an incipient civil war between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank.

-- Israel plans to do something about what most Israelis believe is an existential threat: an Iranian nuclear weapon in the nosecone of an intermediate-range ballistic missile. You're still in the game. A "60 Minutes" segment reported by Bob Simon last Sunday was a rare and heavily censored look inside the Israeli air force, which owns the airspace over the Middle East, or rather shares it with the United States. Gen. Eliezer Shkedy, the IAF chief, categorized Iran as "a very serious threat to Israel but more than this to the whole world. They are talking about wiping us from the Earth." The CBS piece left little doubt the IAF could duplicate the June 1981 bombing of Osirak, Iraq's French-built nuclear reactor, just before it went critical. The Israeli general's Mona Lisa smile left little doubt the IAF, no longer concerned with aerial dogfights, had been honing its long-range bombing skills. They also have enough air-to-air refueling capacity for a flying pit stop over Iraq.

-- President Bush will not leave office with Iran's nuclear bomb-making capacity intact. Still in the game here, too. Bush, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Michael Mullen and new Central Command Gen. David Petraeus, whose area of responsibility includes 25 nations that stretch from Egypt to Pakistan, including two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, take turns accusing Iran's Al Quds Revolutionary Guard Special Forces of smuggling weapons and explosive devices into Iraq that are killing U.S. soldiers. New pictures of Iran's uranium enrichment plant show the mullahs' defense minister in the background -- a geopolitical thumbing of the nose. U.S. Defense Secretary Bob Gates said, "What the Iranians are doing is killing American servicemen and women inside Iraq." The casus belli is now in place. Also in place off the Iranian coastline are two U.S. aircraft carriers. Mullen waned Iran not to assume the U.S. military can't strike. Vice President Dick Cheney, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain and prominent neocons like former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, Bill Kristol and Michael Ledeen use different formulations to say there is only one thing worse than bombing Iran -- and that's Iran with a nuclear bomb. The rationale for doing it before Bush retires to his Texas ranch in January is that a Democratic president would most probably opt for learning to live with Iran's nuclear weapon. And if McCain becomes president, he may be hobbled by two Democrat-controlled houses of Congress.

-- The United States will be involved in Iraq militarily for several more years, probably the entire length of the next administration. Good bet. No sooner than Petraeus' surge was successfully completed than the insurgents reappeared with rocket and mortar barrages against the green zone where the largest U.S. Embassy in the world is now open for business. Four U.S. soldiers were killed in Baghdad in one day this week. If a Democratic president were to order a total pullout over 18 months, there is little doubt among Arab and European intelligence personnel based in Iraq that civil war would break out and democracy would not long survive.

-- Pakistan's new democratic coalition government will negotiate with the Taliban to cease and desist using their privileged sanctuaries in the seven tribal areas that abut the Afghan border to attack U.S., NATO and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Faulty assumption. The new team is bending over backward to distance itself from the United States and negotiate live-and-let-live peace pacts with the likes of Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban chieftain who controls both South and North Waziristan.

-- All restraints removed, the Pakistan-based Taliban is now free to focus on Afghanistan. Safe bet. This week Taliban insurgents opened fire on an Afghan military parade in downtown Kabul. Mortars and automatic fire killed six and wounded seven in the reviewing stand. Army and police officers fled the scene. Afghan state television shut down its coverage as President Hamid Karzai escaped his fourth assassination attempt unscathed.

-- Rashid Shah, another Taliban chief based in Waziristan, told a Swiss journalist, "It is impossible to stop us." Another safe assumption.

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