Thursday, May 29, 2008

Soli Özel – “America and the Middle East ” - Alternatives Internationale

The American “war of choice” against Iraq as part of a grand project to transform the Middle East and to shape the world order by military fiat has failed. Today despite the limited, and arguably reversible, successes of the “surge”, the United States is not any nearer to accomplish this mission.

Even in its failure though the war changed, indeed transformed, the political and strategic landscape of the region. With the fall of the Baathi regime in Iraq, the majority Shi’a came to rule this critical Arab country. Shi’a elsewhere began to ask more aggressively for their citizenship rights and Hizbullah in Lebanon with the support of Syria and Iran challenged both the domestic political structure of Lebanon and the military might of Israel. Through Hizbullah, Iran the unintended main beneficiary in strategic terms of the American war against Saddam Hussein’s regime and gained much advantage in the Gulf region, also acquired a presence in Eastern Mediterranean.

By destroying the Iraqi regime and throwing the country into turmoil the United States also took the balancer to Iran in the Gulf out of the equilibrium. Given the fact that the rulers of Iraq today, the Da’wa Party or Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (formerly SCIRI) are Iran’s allies also meant that the strategic rise of Iran has also been compounded by significant influence in Iraq until the country settles down.

Such an advantageous strategic condition for Iran scared the Sunni Arab Gulf regimes and turned them into the low profile but keen allies of Israel. Tel Aviv loudly expresses its discomfort with Iran’s rising power, its nuclear program and the strategic challenge Tehran poses to Israel both by its own posturing and through the activities of its allies in the region, notably Hizbullah and to a lesser extent, Hamas. In Syria the Ba’thi regime that was once considered to be at razor’s edge after the assassination of Rafiq Hariri that brought Damascus the ire of Saudi Arabia and isolation in the Arab world and beyond is more relaxed. Despite the open animosity of Washington against the regime of Beshar al Asad, the Syrians hold their own and are bargaining hard to return to Lebanon in their own terms as they open second-track negotiations with Israel through the good offices of the Turkish government.

The next American administration will need to deal with this strategic landscape in the Middle East while the precariousness of the Afghan war and the fragility of Pakistan’s politics still continue. Arguably the most important decision to be made by the upcoming administration will be how to handle relations with Iran once that country elects its new President as well in 2009. Thirty years after the Iranian Revolution, Tehran and Washington face the need to decide between themselves the division of hegemony in the Persian Gulf.

The latest events in Lebanon whereby Hizbullah forcefully challenged the Lebanese government that is backed by most Arab regimes and the United States underscored the inability of the United States to single-handedly determine the pace and direction of events. That Hizbullah ultimately acted with restraint and accepted the position of the army as an arbiter showed that the final goal is not one of dominance but a new power sharing arrangement. Undoubtedly this was also a message on the part of Iran that it did not wish to totally disrupt the Arab order.

Can this be another instance of Iranian-American cooperation like the tacit cooperation that goes on in Baghdad alongside the strategic rivalry between Washington and Tehran as some commentators argue? It is quite obvious by now that without the assistance of Iran the United States will not be able to provide stability by itself including in Afghanistan. The fact that Washington is unable or unwilling to pull all its weight to broker an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that would include all parties and be considered fair undermines its own position as the ultimate arbiter of a settlement in the whole of the Middle East.

The next American administration then will have to prepare its positions with these realities in mind. Many observers suspect or fear, depending on their stance, a military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities before the Bush administration is removed from the stage. As much as the vice President’s office, Sunni Arab states and Israel may wish this to happen, the mood in the country including the elite and the military is not favorable to such an option unless Iran provokes it. As Andrew Bachevich notes “The United States today finds itself with too much war and too few warriors”. Furthermore the limits of military power to attain strategic objectives were made all to clear by the Iraq debacle.

Therefore the next American President is more likely to try non-military means to solve strategic problems and advance American strategic interests in the Middle East and beyond. The issue of withdrawing the troops from Iraq will be the most complex and difficult that the next administration will face. The United States will still want to control access to the world’s energy resources and its presence in the region will continue for the relevant future. Still, the domestic public opinion has turned against the costly war and the military wishes to avoid further straining its institutional health.

The decision to withdraw is a risky one since this would indeed leave a void in Iraq that is likely to unleash conditions for full-scale civil war. The Iraqi state is not yet strong enough to provide security and order as the disintegration of the military during the recent battles in Basra amply demonstrated. Violent instability in Iraq will have repercussions throughout the region. At the limit should Iraq disintegrate, all states in the region will face similar pressures. This is one of the reasons why the dynamics of the region itself will not favor or allow such an eventuality.

As I suggested earlier the United States has the option of accommodation or confrontation with Iran. The latter option, if taken, will further destabilize the region. So, the logical course to take would be accommodation. In this case Iran’s own behavior and whether or not it, too, will be carried away by hubris may determine the outcome. As for the United States the war in Iraq may have taught the American system to know the limits of its enormous power.

IN today’s Middle East it is almost impossible to attain strategic goals without taking into account the interests and the relative power of different players. This imposes upon the United States to seek cooperation and privileges diplomacy and negotiation over military might to pursue her goals. In fact, a regime as weak as the Syrian one successfully defied Washington. It managed to maintain its positions as well as undermine the American efforts in Lebanon.

Although the strategic center of gravity of the region has shifted decisively to the Gulf, the irresolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still presents an obstacle to the realization of any great design. For that reason as big a challenge as the relations with Iran and how to find a balance with Tehran is, ending the conflict in the Holy Land may prove to be still as difficult a nut to crack as any.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Brzezinski & Odom - A Sensible Path on Iran

By Zbigniew Brzezinski and William Odom
Tuesday, May 27, 2008; A13

Current U.S. policy toward the regime in Tehran will almost certainly result in an Iran with nuclear weapons. The seemingly clever combination of the use of "sticks" and "carrots," including the frequent official hints of an American military option "remaining on the table," simply intensifies Iran's desire to have its own nuclear arsenal. Alas, such a heavy-handed "sticks" and "carrots" policy may work with donkeys but not with serious countries. The United States would have a better chance of success if the White House abandoned its threats of military action and its calls for regime change.

Consider countries that could have quickly become nuclear weapon states had they been treated similarly. Brazil, Argentina and South Africa had nuclear weapons programs but gave them up, each for different reasons. Had the United States threatened to change their regimes if they would not, probably none would have complied. But when "sticks" and "carrots" failed to prevent India and Pakistan from acquiring nuclear weapons, the United States rapidly accommodated both, preferring good relations with them to hostile ones. What does this suggest to leaders in Iran?

To look at the issue another way, imagine if China, a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and a country that has deliberately not engaged in a nuclear arms race with Russia or the United States, threatened to change the American regime if it did not begin a steady destruction of its nuclear arsenal. The threat would have an arguable legal basis, because all treaty signatories promised long ago to reduce their arsenals, eventually to zero. The American reaction, of course, would be explosive public opposition to such a demand. U.S. leaders might even mimic the fantasy rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regarding the use of nuclear weapons.

A successful approach to Iran has to accommodate its security interests and ours. Neither a U.S. air attack on Iranian nuclear facilities nor a less effective Israeli one could do more than merely set back Iran's nuclear program. In either case, the United States would be held accountable and would have to pay the price resulting from likely Iranian reactions. These would almost certainly involve destabilizing the Middle East, as well as Afghanistan, and serious efforts to disrupt the flow of oil, at the very least generating a massive increase in its already high cost. The turmoil in the Middle East resulting from a preemptive attack on Iran would hurt America and eventually Israel, too.

Given Iran's stated goals -- a nuclear power capability but not nuclear weapons, as well as an alleged desire to discuss broader U.S.-Iranian security issues -- a realistic policy would exploit this opening to see what it might yield. The United States could indicate that it is prepared to negotiate, either on the basis of no preconditions by either side (though retaining the right to terminate the negotiations if Iran remains unyielding but begins to enrich its uranium beyond levels allowed by the Non-Proliferation Treaty); or to negotiate on the basis of an Iranian willingness to suspend enrichment in return for simultaneous U.S. suspension of major economic and financial sanctions.

Such a broader and more flexible approach would increase the prospects of an international arrangement being devised to accommodate Iran's desire for an autonomous nuclear energy program while minimizing the possibility that it could be rapidly transformed into a nuclear weapons program. Moreover, there is no credible reason to assume that the traditional policy of strategic deterrence, which worked so well in U.S. relations with the Soviet Union and with China and which has helped to stabilize India-Pakistan hostility, would not work in the case of Iran. The widely propagated notion of a suicidal Iran detonating its very first nuclear weapon against Israel is more the product of paranoia or demagogy than of serious strategic calculus. It cannot be the basis for U.S. policy, and it should not be for Israel's, either.

An additional longer-range benefit of such a dramatically different diplomatic approach is that it could help bring Iran back into its traditional role of strategic cooperation with the United States in stabilizing the Gulf region. Eventually, Iran could even return to its long-standing and geopolitically natural pre-1979 policy of cooperative relations with Israel. One should note also in this connection Iranian hostility toward al-Qaeda, lately intensified by al-Qaeda's Web-based campaign urging a U.S.-Iranian war, which could both weaken what al-Qaeda views as Iran's apostate Shiite regime and bog America down in a prolonged regional conflict.

Last but not least, consider that American sanctions have been deliberately obstructing Iran's efforts to increase its oil and natural gas outputs. That has contributed to the rising cost of energy. An eventual American-Iranian accommodation would significantly increase the flow of Iranian energy to the world market. Americans doubtless would prefer to pay less for filling their gas tanks than having to pay much more to finance a wider conflict in the Persian Gulf.

Zbigniew Brzezinski was national security adviser in the Carter administration and is the author, most recently, of "Second Chance." William Odom, a retired Army lieutenant general, is a former director of the National Security Agency. Both are affiliated with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Forecast for the next decade

Yedioth Ahronoth,7340,L-3540899,00.html

Forecast for the next decade

Ron Ben-Yishai foresees nuclear Iran, northern war, but also a stronger, more advanced IDF
Ron Ben-Yishai 05.08.08

First, a personal comment: Everyone knows that since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, prophecy is given to fools, and that 10 years in the Middle East are more or less equal to eternity. Yet when I was asked to write my own forecast for Israel’s 60th Independence Day I couldn’t fight the temptation. Yet as opposed to a prophecy, an assessment for the next decade is a challenge that forces one to ask: Does the current security and diplomatic activity have a chance to improve our situation in the future, and is there a chance that in 10 years we will see peace prevail? Therefore, despite the risk that I will be proven wrong, I will attempt to answer.

My forecast is based on the assumption that current trends in the world and in the Middle East will continue in the next decade and may even intensify. We should also recall that 10 years are, more or less, the time required to develop new weapon systems. The Israeli experience also proves that every 10 years on average we face war or a major military campaign. Therefore, below I detail the main developments that in my estimate will take place within the next decade:

  • Radical militant Islam will attempt to take over Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Pakistan, and Iraq – but it will start the process of fading away. We are not only talking about global Jihad, but also local Jihad movements. The main reason for this is their failure to produce, over time, new operational and political success stories. The West, Russia, and China, as well as the secular Muslim regimes, will cooperate and learn to “contain” the radical Islamic groups. Meanwhile, the masses will be disappointed by the extremist groups’ inability to provide their basic needs and improve their quality of life.

  • The United States will continue to maintain its military and civilian presence in Iraq and operate militarily against Iranian targets that assist Iraqi terror. NATO forces will continue to operate alongside American units and civilian aid groups in Afghanistan. In both regions, the extent of Western forces and aid will be smaller compared to the current situation.

  • Rising food prices and natural disasters, which will become more frequent because of global warming, will increase the dependence of Muslim and Arab states on wealthy Western countries that boast highly developed agriculture and the ability to offer aid of all kinds in order to cope with natural disasters. This is also true with regards to the Muslim oil exporters, which will have to spend more money on food, desalination, and basic necessities – and less money on arms.

  • Iran will acquire military nuclear capabilities and will also possess various strategic launching means. The international community and Israel will not be able to prevent it. As a result, more Mideastern countries will launch their own nuclear activity.

  • Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, and Egypt will accumulate thousands of missiles and rockets that will be accurate, long-ranged, and fitted with larger warheads than in the past. In addition, they will possess modern anti-tank rockets and will significantly improve, through Russian equipment and independent development, their aerial defense systems. All of the above will boost their ability to sow destruction in Israel’s territory, and make it more difficult for our ground forces and Air Force to operate in their territory.

  • In the next 10 years, we will see several more wide-scale clashes between Israel and the Palestinians and possibly with Syria and Hizbullah as well. After these clashes and as a result of them, we will secure partial diplomatic agreements with the Palestinians, as well as with Syria and Lebanon, with active international backing and participation.But those will still not be full peace treaties.

  • The administrations of the next two American presidents will continue to support Israel diplomatically and militarily, and will attempt to advance peace agreements, more or less in line with the current format.

  • In light of the above, I estimate that Israeli governments will continue to adhere to Ben-Gurion’s security doctrine, that is: Avoid war as much as possible via deterrence and diplomatic maneuvers; build and maintain intelligence deterrence power that would enable us to thwart war and prepare for it in advance; and if war is forces upon us, or if Israel initiates war in order to thwart a clear and tangible threat to destroy us – the IDF will win it by defeating the enemy in its own territory; Israel will build its defense force while utilizing its human and technological advantage and with American assistance; on the diplomatic front, Israel will work to advance peace treaties in stages, in a way that preserves Washington’s support and the international legitimacy for our existence and for our defense efforts.

  • The implementation of the above principles will likely lead to the maturation of several processes in the next decade:

  • A multilayered system for intercepting ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, aircraft, and rockets of all types and sizes will be deployed in Israel (this system will also include laser-based systems.) The home front will undergo an intensive process of fortification and preparation for non-conventional attacks. In Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beer Sheba, and Dimona we will be in the process of constructing huge public bomb shelterspublic will undergo drills that will simulate evacuations and long-term stay in bomb shelters. (some of them will have dual purposes such as a subway for example.) The

  • Israel will possess a long strategic arm that would be able to provide an offensive response not only to the Iranian nuclear threat but also to conventional and non-conventional threats posed by other countries in the region. This strategic arm, which will enjoy high survivability, will have four capabilities: Long-distance warning premised on independent intelligence capabilities as well as the global American alert system; the ability to intercept and destroy various types of missiles and rockets on enemy territory or in early stages of launching, via unmanned aircraft; the ability to deliver a long-range “preventative strike” or “advanced strike” on enemy territory; the ability to deliver both a short-range and long-range “second strike” in case Israel is attacked. These strategic arm capabilities, most of which have been published in the foreign media, will be significantly upgraded when Israel acquires from the US one or two squadrons of stealth-type JSF F-35 fighter jets and when the Navy receives the two new submarines being built for it in Germany.

  • The IDF’s ground forces will maintain their current format and scope, with the possible addition of one or two divisions. However, they will be boosted by highly advanced weapons and protective means, which will provide the forces with currently non-existent maneuvering and survivability capabilities in a battlefield replete with anti-tank weapons. The emphasis will be placed on quick movements that would enjoy uninterrupted and tight support and cover from the air in terms of firepower, intelligence, and logistics. The combat divisions will also possess their own heavy and accurate weapons as well as independent logistic abilities.

  • The Navy will possess five Dolphin submarines and possibly another missile frigate,protection of our shores against terror infiltration and the prevention of arms smuggling to Gaza will be increasingly based on unmanned vessels to be operated in every sector by mother ships or from the shore. which will be part of its strategic arm. On the other hand, the

  • The overall trend in the IDF would be to boost to the maximum the utilization of advanced military technologies and unmanned platforms across the military. In 10 years, a significant part of our combat soldiers – in the sea, air, and land – will apparently be the operators of unmanned systems.

As to our northern front, and I hope I am proven wrong here, we will likely see another war.

Part 2 of Ron Ben Yishai’s analysis to be published Thursday evening,7340,L-3541024,00.html

Forecast for the next decade

Part 2: Ron Ben-Yishai says Palestinians won’t have a state, but Iran will possess nukes
Ron Ben-Yishai

Ron Ben-Yishai continues his analysis of what lays ahead for Israel in the next decade:

  • As to our northern front, and I hope I am proven wrong here, we will likely see another war. I am daring to assume that this confrontation, should it take place, will end with a clear Israeli victory. That is: After about two weeks of aerial and ground combat, the missile and rocket attacks from Syria and Lebanon will end or be limited to several dozen short-range rockets a day. Syria and Lebanon will plead for a Security Council ceasefire.

  • Israel will suffer significant destruction of property, but the number of casualties among civilians would be relatively small. In Syria and Lebanon, on the other hand, the extent of devastation and casualties would be unprecedented in the history of Mideastern wars. Iran will issue threats and may send a symbolic force to Syria, but it will not be involved in the fighting.

  • Following the war and as a result of it, diplomatic negotiations will be launched that will see Israel agree to partial withdrawal on the Golan Heights as well as the demilitarization an the area that extends up to the Sea of Galilee. Syria will in turn agree to lease the rest of the Golan to Israel for a period of 99 years, and would also accept internationally monitored security arrangements and phased normalization of ties.

  • In Lebanon, Hizbullah will continue to be the dominant force – yet as a result of the war, Iranian support for the organization will weaken and it would be forced to compromise and share power with other sects in the country. Meanwhile, its appetite for yet another confrontation with Israel will grow smaller.

  • It is reasonable to assume that even in 10 years we will not see the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The talks will continue and may even lead to a “shelf agreement,” yet it’s doubtful whether it will be implemented. The Palestinian people’s political maturation process, which would enable them to assume responsibility for themselves and for the security of their neighbors, will continue, but it will not be reaching the required critical mass. This apparently won’t happen until the radical Islamic wave will fade.

  • It is also doubtful whether Israel will see the emergence of a government with the political power required to dismantle the settlements and outputs located beyond the large settlement blocs. Therefore, we will likely witness, in the next 10 years, more than one wide-scale IDF operation in Gaza, as well as yet another Intifada or two in the West Bank. The result would be reinforcement of Gaza as a separate entity. It would be jointly managed by a multinational force and a Palestinian coalition that would also include Hamas.

  • Israel will construct a “smart” wall around the Strip that will prevent direct fire and the digging of tunnels. This wall will feature crossings for goods and people, yet most supplies and movement into and out of the Strip – including goods, fuel, and electricity – will come via Egypt. The Rafah Crossing will become the main crossing. Meanwhile, the airport that Israel built years ago will serve as the Strip’s airport. A seaport will be under construction as well as a large desalination plant.

  • In the West Bank we will likely see a new political force rise up on the ruins of the old and corrupt Fatah. Mahmoud Abbas will step down, as will other members of the “Tunisia generation. The new political movement will be headed by a collective leadership that will be based on Arafat’s Fatah young guard (either with or without Barghouti.) This group, most of whose members spent time in Israeli prisons, will be better equipped to engage in dialogue and agree on a compromise with Israel. After the third Intifada will die down, Israel will dismantle several isolated outposts and settlementshand over more territory to the Palestinian Authority. and

  • Along the borderlines with the Palestinians, Egyptians, and in the north we will see a fence or wall that will feature advanced technological means, thereby requiring less troops. In the West Bank, the Shin Bet and IDF will continue to engage in anti-terror activity in its current format, but they will have more technological means at their disposal. The major change will be the absence of roadblocks within the West Bank, thereby allowing for free Palestinian movement. Orderly and well-equipped border crossings – between the West Bank and Israel and between the West Bank and Jordan – will enable controlled, secure, and relatively quick movement.

  • As noted, I estimate that Iran will possess military nuclear capabilities in 10 years. Tehran will not admit to this, but hint at it. The United States and Israel will not be putting the military option into practice. However, the international community will tighten the sanctions and economic siege on Iran based on the assumption that skyrocketing food prices and ecological disasters will increase the Ayatollah regime’s dependency on developed countries, and mostly on the world’s leading food producer – the United States.

It is very possible that in 10 years, and maybe even before that, we will see the opening of negotiations between Tehran and the West in line with the North Korean model. The Ayatollahs will bargain with the West on a “nukes in exchange for grain” deal.

At the end of the negotiations, Iran will agree to reveal and dismantle its military nuclear capabilities and subject them to monitoring in exchange for the lifting of sanctions and ongoing supply of food and other aid. Another reasonable possibility is that due to the food crisis pressure and other domestic problems, the Ayatollah regime will collapse, and the Jews shall rejoice, God willing.