Commentary: Iran's pawns move

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large   |   May 14, 2008 at 8:42 AM   |   0 comments

WASHINGTON, May 13 (UPI) -- Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain, with an assist from Sen. Joe Lieberman, competed in freshly minted assurances of allegiance to Israel as it embarked on a weeklong 60th birthday party. Neocons have hinted darkly that Obama, whose middle name is Hussein, was born a Muslim who later grew up as a Christian -- which, they say, makes him an apostate and puts him at risk of execution by an Islamist extremist. Proof of Obama's extraterritorial allegiance? A Hamas official who said, in an interview, "We like Mr. Obama and we hope he will win the election." That was enough for McCain to suggest Obama was soft on terrorism.

This was, needless to add, twaddle in all its unrationed splendor.

Obama didn't stray from Politics 101 in Washington. Time and again his self-portrait is one of unwavering support for Israel -- "though that doesn't mean that I would agree with every action" Israel takes. He called Israel America's most important ally.

Israel, as it entered its seventh decade as a nation-state, celebrated by emphasizing its military prowess, from air supremacy in the Middle East, to the long reach of its paratroopers, to its fast-growing navy, to military battle reconstructions since the war of independence. Israel's battle casualties in seven wars in 60 years: 22,437 killed, the population equivalent of 180,000 U.S. killed in action, or 69,000 more than the United States lost in Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm in 1991, Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

President Bush arrived in Israel this week as the celebrations wound down. It was not a propitious time to lean on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for the kind of concessions that might facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had commuted once a month to the Middle East for the past 12 months and seemed to be the only player who still believed a legacy-starved Bush presidency could produce by the end of 2008 a national Palestinian rabbit out of Israel's silk hat, as pledged at the Annapolis summit last November.

Olmert's job as prime minister hung by a thread. He's the target of a bribery investigation that involves Long Island businessman Morris Talansky to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. "Legal contributions," says Olmert, "for legitimate political party activities."

If indicted, he would be forced to step down, and Condi's opposite number Tzipi Livni would become acting prime minister. Fresh elections would almost certainly bring back to power superhawk Benjamin Netanyahu as PM -- and end any thought of making a Palestinian state possible. Israel now has an Iranian puppet state to the south in Gaza and another one in the making to the north with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The latest near-civil war fracas in Lebanon gave the edge to a Syrian- and Iranian-backed militia and its allies as they defeated pro-Western Sunni and Druze forces in Tripoli, the Bekaa Valley and Mount Lebanon.

As Olmert's opposition reads the geopolitical tea leaves, Israel has retreated twice -- Lebanon in 2000, Gaza in 2005 -- and got nothing in return. So this is no time to be pressuring Israel into another retreat, e.g., dismantling some of the 160 West Bank settlements now inhabited by 240,000 Jews, many of them American citizens. Netanyahu sees more disincentives than incentives in facilitating the creation of a Palestinian state.

With pro-Iran Hamas as a key ingredient, such a Palestinian entity is bound to be a base for a wider anti-Western agenda.

Over the past decade, including almost eight years of the Bush 43 administration, Israelis have continued below-radar, illegal expansion of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory. Israelis now control 40 percent of West Bank land, including a network of interconnecting roads banned to Palestinians, and IDF "zones" reserved for the Israeli military.

The Israeli High Court recently ordered the government to re-route part of its controversial 420-mile barrier of walls, fences, ditches, razor-wire and checkpoints that separates Arabs and Israelis because a mile-long portion at Billin separates Palestinians from 60 percent of their agricultural land. But this will take months to accomplish.

Israel is so deeply dug in on the West Bank that a two-state solution strikes many longtime observers as a pipe dream.

Out of 10 million Palestinians in the diaspora, 70 percent are refugees or their descendants; 2.5 million live in the West Bank under Israeli control; 1.5 million are in Gaza, now a vast slum with no access to the outside world, where they are ruled by Hamas, a freely elected rejectionist party dedicated to the destruction of Israel; another million are Palestinian Israelis who live inside Israel as "co-equal" citizens who are not allowed to travel to the West Bank, Gaza and most Arab countries. Sixty-two percent of Israel's Arabs believe one day they will also be expelled. And another 250,000 Palestinians still live in Arab East Jerusalem.

With Lebanon on the verge of losing a pro-Western government to become a full-fledged Iranian satellite state, President Bush's national security team presumably has concluded that to pressure Israel into meaningful concessions at this juncture would precipitate the very events it seeks to avoid.

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