Friday, January 12, 2007

Is Israel Doomed?

Manila Standard Today
Is Israel Doomed?
By Antonio C. Abaya

IN my article of Nov. 26, 2006 titled The Muddled East—archived in—I wondered out loud why—while US President George W. Bush was meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki in Amman, Jordan—Vice President Dick Cheney flew six hours from Washington DC to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, met with the leaders of that medieval kingdom for eight hours, then flew another six hours back to Washington.

That must have been, by any standard, an extraordinarily important meeting, considering that Cheney is the leader of the neo-conservative cabal which planned the 2003 invasion of Iraq even before Sept. 11, 2001, even before George W was elected president in November 2000, and which now is preparing an escalation (“surge”) of the Iraq war toward the neo-cons’ unwavering primary strategic goal: total control of the Middle East.

My interpretation of that meeting, as outlined in that November article, is that Cheney was preparing, with the help of the Saudi royals, for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. In particular, Cheney wanted Saudi approval for Israeli bombers flying through Saudi air space on their way to Iran, and possibly for mid-air refueling for these aircraft on their way back to Israel after their bombing runs.

After the debacle in Iraq, American public opinion will not support another ground war in Iran. But, given the fabled influence of the Jewish Lobby in US domestic politics, it could conceivably support an air war against Iran ’s nuclear facilities, or even only a supporting role to backstop an Israeli pre-emptive strike, by foiling any Iranian counter strike against Israel right in the Persian Gulf.

The selling point of such US involvement, I wrote in November, would be the expectation that the Iranian middle-class, who are considered pro-Western, would rise up and overthrow the ayatollahs and effect a regime change in Tehran. That expectation was reinforced by the results of local elections in mid-December, in which the political allies of President Ahmadinejad were defeated.

I also wrote in that November article that the Americans may be playing on the Saudi’s and other Arabs’ historical distrust of the Iranians. The Iranians are Persians, not Arabs, and they subjugated the Arabs in pre-Islamic centuries, all the way back to the time of Alexander the Great, 2,500 years ago, when the Persian Empire held sway over an area that stretched from Afghanistan to Turkey and the Libyan desert.

It is significant that about one week after the meeting with Cheney, the Saudi government announced that in the event of an American withdrawal from Iraq, Saudi Arabia would support the Sunnis in their ongoing civil war with the Iranian-backed Shias, a not-so-subtle message to the ayatollahs in Tehran.

Two or three weeks before he was executed on Dec. 31, Saddam Hussein wrote a farewell letter to his (Sunni) people, warning them of “those hateful, devil-worshipping Persians!” This was a reference to the fire-centered practices of Zoroastrianism, the dominant religion in Persia before the advent of Islam in the 7th century AD.

So, if my interpretation is correct, the Sunni-Shia divide in Islam will be cultivated by the Americans and the Israelis, especially in the Arab and Muslim Streets, to create the properly receptive climate for the bombing of Iran ’s nuclear facilities.

Exactly when this will happen, depends on when the Americans and the Israelis feel events are moving toward a point of no return. And this would have to do with their perceptions on when Iran will acquire the capability to make nuclear weapons. President Ahmadinejad’s repeated threats to “wipe Israel off the map” cannot be taken lightly when he is actively working to acquire nuclear weapons.

The American CIA estimates that it would take Iran 10 years to reach that point; the Israeli Mossad thinks it would take only two. The Israeli view seems to have prevailed with the neo-cons in Washington. The Israelis will have to strike soon. Otherwise, they are doomed. So, when?

In an article dated Dec. 21 in the Consortium News, the American writer Robert Parry warns that “the first two or three months of 2007 represent a dangerous opening for an escalation of the war in the Middle East, as George W. Bush will be tempted to ‘double-down’ his gamble in Iraq by joining with Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair to strike at Syria and Iran, intelligence sources say.” (Emphasis mine.)

Parry quotes recent Bush statements that indicate that, rather than being chastised by his party’s defeat in the November elections, Bush is in fact preparing to escalate the Iraq war into a wider Middle East war: Bush wants to demonstrate to the enemy that “they can’t run us out of the Middle East, that they can’t intimidate America.” “I’m not going to make predictions about what 2007 will look like in Iraq, except that it’s going to require difficult choices and additional sacrifices, because the enemy is merciless and violent.”

In another article dated Jan. 8, Parry analyzed the recent changes that Bush has made in the US order of battle. Bush removed (by retirement) Gen. John Abizaid as commander of US Central Command that oversees US military activities in Iraq, Afghanistan and the entire Middle East. He removed Gen. George Casey as overall US commander in Iraq , by kicking him upstairs as US army chief. Both Abizaid and Casey had publicly expressed reservations about Bush’s plan to “surge” the US forces in Iraq by 20,000 more troops by end of January.

To replace Casey, he appointed Gen. Petraeus, who has had experience training Iraqis for their national army and who no doubt shares Bush’s policy of escalation.

More importantly, to replace Gen. Abizaid, he appointed Admr. William Fallon, who until last week was commander of the Pacific Command based in Hawaii. Now, why would an admiral be chosen to oversee two on-going wars, one in the deserts of Iraq, the other in the mountains of Afghanistan?

Elementary, my dear Watson. Admr. Fallon will have under his command two carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf, one already in place, the other soon to be there. Their mission? Almost certainly to back-stop an Israeli pre-emptive strike against Iran and to foil the inevitable Iranian counter-strike against Israel. Or to actively take part in the destruction of Iran ’s nuclear facilities at Natanz, Isfahan, Arak and elsewhere.

Another Bush dis-appointment that Parry finds significant is the demotion of John Negroponte from director of National Intelligence (with oversight powers over 16 intelligence agencies) to a mere undersecretary of state under Condoleeza Rice.

Parry reports that Negroponte had come under fire from the neo-cons’ Frank Gaffney, for his soft reading of Iran ’s nuclear potentials: “Our assessment is that the prospects of an Iranian [nuclear] weapon are still a number of years off, and probably into the next decade” were Negroponte’s famous last words. He was also criticized for appointing senior intelligence analysts who were skeptical of Bush’s claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

That is the American side of the emerging Middle East scenario for 2007. The Israeli side is no less hawkish or portentous.

According to a Jan. 7 article in The Sunday Times (of London ) by Uzi Mahnaimi in New York and Sarah Baxter in Washington, “Israel has drawn up secret plans to destroy Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities with tactical nuclear weapons.

“Two Israeli air force squadrons are training to blow up an Iranian facility, using low-yield ‘bunker-busters’ [known B61-11s], according to several Israeli military sources… Under the plans, conventional laser-guided bombs would open ‘tunnels’ into the targets. ‘Mini-nukes’ would then immediately be fired a plant at Natanz, exploding deep underground to reduce the risk of radioactive fallout.”

According to the Times article, Israeli pilots have been flying off Gibraltar in recent weeks to train for the 2,000-mile round trip to the Iranian targets. Three possible routes have been mapped out, including one over Turkey. One of the two other routes, presumably, involves flying over Saudi Arabia, as I had earlier theorized.

In his Jan. 8 article, Parry quoted investigative reporter Seymour Hersh (in his article in the April 17, 2006 issue of The New Yorker) that a number of senior US military officers were troubled by administration war planners who believed that the B61-11s tactical nuclear weapons were the only way to destroy Iran’s underground nuclear facilities. Hersh wrote that the White House refused to remove the nuclear option from the plans despite objections from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Whenever anybody tries to get it out, they’re shouted down.”

So it looks like the world may see the first nuclear weapons detonated in anger since Hiroshima and Nagasaki sometime during the first two or three months of 2007.

Is Israel doomed? If, with the help of the American neo-cons, Israel beats the Iranians to the draw, probably not, in the short term. In the medium term, however, the more appropriate question may be: “Is the world doomed?