Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Troubling Poll Comes Out Of Israel

Posted in Israel, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Dan on June 15, 2010

I have some bad news.  David Pollock (a senior pollster and researcher for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy) just wrapped up his latest polling project in the Middle East about what Israelis think of their prime minister, peace with the Palestinians, the Gaza blockade, and U.S. President Barack Obama.  And on all accounts, the numbers show a disheartening trend towards further conflict.

From the information that is frequently provided by the international community and Israel’s very own media, you wouldn’t think that a majority of Israeli Jews held hawkish positions on the Mideast peace process.  Similarly, you would also find it hard to believe that most Israeli voters were (and continue to be) supportive of Benjamin Netanyahu, the right leaning politician who has done more to alienate Israel in the court of world opinion than any other Israeli leader in recent memory.  But the new study by Pechter Polls confirm these trends: 53 percent hold favorable views of Netanyahu, 71 percent are unhappy about President Barack Obama’s handling of the conflict, and nearly 75 percent surveyed stated that Israel should do whatever it took to enforce the Gaza embargo (lingo for military force).

If there is anything that can be concluded from these figures, it is this: the Israeli public, for whatever reason, is deeply confused as to how to proceed with the Palestinians.

Generally speaking, Israelis understand what is required for a comprehensive peace agreement.  They recognize that Tel Aviv needs to make dramatic concessions if they want to end the conflict once and for all.  Close to two-thirds of Israelis are emphatic about the very idea of a two state solution, which has the potential of finally establishing a viable and independent Palestinian state peacefully living side by side with the state of Israel.

Yet on the other hand, this same majority is opposed to taking the step that would make the two state solution a sustainable strategy:  engaging Hamas in even the slightest form.  Unfortunately, it may be Israel’s disdain for Hamas (or vice-versa) that is quickly destroying the very prospect of the two state concept.

Over the last four years, Israel has used every tool at its disposal to weaken Hamas.  Successive Israeli Governments have enforced a blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, prohibiting arms and certain humanitarian goods (like construction materials) from crossing into the coastal territory.  It has performed covert security missions inside the Gaza Strip against Hamas instillations, often stoking violence from Palestinian militants in the process.  And it launched a two-month air and ground assault against the movement in 2008-2009, hitting Hamas military facilities and diminishing its ability to carry out rocket attacks against Israeli civilians.

Yet even despite all of these operations, Israel is still hanging in a state of limbo.

As the last half-decade has demonstrated, Israel cannot- and will not- establish peace in the region by marginalizing Hamas in the hopes that it will simply go away.  In fact, this type of “divide and conquer” strategy only emboldens the Movement by giving it an excuse to operate.  Oh, and did I mention that it places an unwanted strain on the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza?

Five years later, what has Israel’s Gaza policy accomplished?  Is the blockade driving a wedge between Hamas and its constituents?  Is it pressuring Hamas to change its ways towards Israel?  Is it even encouraging them to put aside their differences with Mahmoud Abbas for the sake of Palestinian unity?

The answers, respectively, are no, no and no.  Apart from the relative decrease in rocket fire in Israeli towns close to the Gaza border, marginalizing Hamas (and the broader Gazan population) has been a dismal failure.  Hamas is not receding, but becoming stronger in both image and morale.  Palestinians living in the strip are doing so in conditions that dogs in the United States would refuse to accept.  And from a P.R. perspective, states that were previously ambivalent to the entire situation in Gaza are now starting to take notice.

More importantly, Israel’s Gaza blockade is only reinforcing Hamas unhelpful behavior.

The status-quo is obviously not working, yet the polls that were conducted by Dr. Pollock still seem to support Israel’s status-quo mentality towards the conflict: open up to Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and isolate Hamas in the Gaza Strip. This should be troubling to anyone who possesses the slightest desire to find a solution to this lingering stalemate.

More of the same is not what the region needs.  Yet more of the same is probably what we are going to get.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of David Pollock at FP.com**


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Caught Between A Rock And A Hard Place

Posted in Israel, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Dan on May 22, 2010

Now that the Obama administration has finally gotten Israeli-Palestinian peace talks going after a year and a half of stalemate (a plan that could quickly fall apart in a day’s time if something drastic like…uh hum….more settlement building is approved), analysts from around the world are starting to ask if the meetings can produce anything worthwhile.

The short answer is no.  If anyone thinks that a magic formula for peace is going to be struck through shuttle diplomacy- jargon for indirect “proximity talks”- than you will be sadly mistaken.

The good news is that both sides have agreed to address key issues of the conflict instead of arguing about useless formalities.  Issues like settlements on occupied Palestinian land, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, borders, and security will apparently be the focus (although I’m not so sure how this could possibly be discussed without negotiating face-to-face).

Yet even with this supposed “diplomatic breakthrough” now in the works (to be fair, it is a welcomed change from the last 18 months), this development is still a step backwards from what have traditionally been direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  The Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, the Oslo Accords of 1993, and the Camp David Summit of 2000 all involved the active participation of key political players.  But now in 2010, the international community is forced to resort to an impersonal method for resolving the same-old disputes that have destroyed Mideast peacemaking for six decades in the making.

I hate to the be the bearer of bad news, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not exactly a trustworthy and constructive partner, and his religious coalition is the sort of government that you would expect to find in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

And then there was this revelation that I had about a day or two ago.

In the past, I’ve expressed a sense of urgency about Netanyahu’s government and my hope that he would someday smarten up and drop the extreme right-wing members of his coalition…especially if he wants to keep his job amid a frustratingly slow moving peace process. Doing so would not only pave the way for a new governing coalition with a much more centrist and pragmatic partner, but would also severely weaken Netanyahu’s dependence on pro-settler Jewish groups.

While I still support the idea of the Israeli P.M. dumping his more radical allies in the government, I’m now starting to question whether this move would actually change things.

Don’t get me wrong here; a more moderate government would be a fine contrast from the current administration in Israel (most of whom are all too eager to sabotage peace talks before they even start). Likewise, a more centric-oriented coalition would be a great parallel to the P.A.’s moderate leadership under Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad. The chances for a successful Israeli-Palestinian dialogue- perhaps leading to direct negotiations- would improve quite significantly at the executive level.

But what about the bigger picture…that of the Israeli electorate? Poll after poll in Israel has consistently confirmed the Israeli public’s endorsement of the current status-quo. And why not? The Israeli economy is one of the best in the world, security has been tight, and the suicide-bombings that used to terrorize Israeli cities on a daily-basis are now virtually nonexistent.

Surely the Israelis want peace and reconciliation with the Palestinians. Each Israeli Government has been trying to accomplish this goal since the state’s creation in 1948. But at the same time, Israelis don’t want to jeopardize or risk destroying the type of peaceful environment that they have been accustomed too over the last three years.

Talk about caught between a rock and a hard place.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of the Economist*


Israel Can’t Hide From Next Month’s Nuke Meeting

Posted in Israel, Nuclear Proliferation by Dan on April 15, 2010

After two busy days of back-to-back-to-back meetings with some of the world’s most crucial players in the international system, President Barack Obama can finally take a brief moment to pause and regroup.  His Nuclear Security Summit in Washington D.C. – the biggest global gathering on American soil since World War II- was largely successful for the President’s nuclear agenda.  I’m not going to go over all of the agreements that were made on both a bilateral and multilateral basis (I would be in this room all night if that were the case), so here’s the official communique that was released at the end of the conference.  By the way, this wasn’t the only document that was released. For a full picture, check out this link at The Cable.

So congratulations to President Obama for a job-well done.  His staff tirelessly made arrangements for 47 world leaders to travel to the nation’s capital, a difficult task in and of itself.  The conference was successfully concluded without any major diplomatic incident (minus this hilarious exchange between the South African and UAE delegations.  And the two-days of talks actually produced a brief, yet worthwhile document, towards Obama’s goal of locking up all loose nuclear materials in four years.

There’s one problem though; Israel, America’s “special ally,” chose not to participate in the nuclear summit at a head-of-state capacity.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly canceled the trip a day or two before the summit began, and instead sent a mid-level diplomat (Dan Meridor) to take his place.

Was this another deliberate snub by the Israelis, in line with last month’s decision to announce more settlements in East Jerusalem as soon as VP Joe Biden landed in Tel Aviv?  Some may be inclined or tempted to think so, but this would be highly inaccurate.

The reason that Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu chose not to attend Obama’s conference is well-known; he didn’t want his country’s nuclear arsenal to be under assault from Arab countries, particularly Egypt and Turkey. And from a strategic standpoint, it makes sense. Israel is the only nuclear-weapons power in the Middle East (although they haven’t technically declared that they have nukes to begin with), and Arab nations have long used Israel’s nuclear capability as an excuse to start looking into nuclear research on their own.  Of course, America’s ambiguous policy doesn’t help either; Washington looks the other way on Israel’s nuclear program, but gets all hot-and-bothered when Iran or other Arab nation’s show an interest in nuclear technology.  But that’s a whole other story.

Israel may have managed to escape criticism earlier this week. But come next month, when the world once again comes together to look at the Non-Proliferation Treaty (to which Israel will certainly be an attendee), expect a barrage of complaints from Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the like. Questions like, “well if Israel is allowed to have nukes, then why can’t we?” will be asked. And if the United States doesn’t provide a good answer to this question, the threat of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East may very well expand to uncontrollable levels.

The Israelis can expect Washington to do its bidding next May when the topic comes up. But at what cost to its credibility in the Persian Gulf?

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of the Economist**

The AIPAC Lobby Does It Again

Posted in Israel by Dan on April 3, 2010

Why is it that every time I read something by a right-wing Israeli lobbyist, I feel more inclined to support a two-state solution?

Take Steven Rosen’s recent piece on FP.com, where he basically blames the United States for creating the mess that is the Mideast peace process:

“U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to confront Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Israeli construction activity in East Jerusalem has been greeted by a hail of praise, especially from people impatient to proceed with peace negotiations with the Palestinians. The belief seems to be that meeting this issue head-on will accelerate progress toward an agreement ending a conflict that has festered for generations. The historical record suggests a different conclusion.

Consider this: If, 17 years ago, U.S. President Bill Clinton or Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat had insisted that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin freeze all settlement construction, including in Jerusalem, before Arafat would sit down with Rabin, there would have been no Oslo agreements.”

And here is the money quote:

“Today, for the first time in 19 years, we have an administration unable to produce Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. We have a crisis. Netanyahu is doing something that every past Israeli prime minister of the left and right has done, but Obama is doing something that past American leaders considered unwise.”

Just so I don’t get criticized with taking Rosen’s comments out of context, here is the full article.  Read it for yourself, and you’ll understand the frustration that many are currently feeling in the White House.

Don’t get me wrong here.  I am not disparaging the Israel lobby for no good reason (people today throw the anti-Semite label out there all too often).  In fact, the presence of so many lobbyists inside Washington is a cornerstone of American democracy.  I am just questioning the validity of Rosen’s comments; blaming America whenever something goes wrong in the Mideast doesn’t do anything to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire.

It is the right-wing Israeli Government that continues to build settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem- areas, by the way, that have never been accepted or legalized by the international community.  Is America to blame for this policy as well?  Hardly.  The United States is not deliberately carving up Palestinian land and evicting Palestinians from their homes.  This, my friend, is the Israeli Government’s official policy.  One, might I add, that makes the prospects of an independent Palestinian state all the more impossible.

Here is a quick news flash that some on the Israeli right seem to forget; the world has never recognized Israel’s expansion into the West Bank, or in East Jerusalem for that matter. Time and again, U.N. committees have asked the Israelis to scale back their settlement building, and time and again, the Israelis refuse to comply. If Israel’s growth past the 1967 lines was legal and legitimate, expansion wouldn’t be that big of an issue. But as common wisdom reveals, the U.N.’s official policy states the exact opposite.

Comply with global protocol and maybe the peace talks could go forward. Or we could simply pass the buck and blame the United States for Israel’s self-destructive behavior.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Stephen Rosen at FP.com**


Maybe It’s Not All Netanyahu’s Fault

Posted in Israel by Dan on March 18, 2010

I’ve been thinking about this Israel-Palestine thing for the past week now, and for the most part, I’ve laid most of the blame on the Israeli Government.  But how can you not?  P.M. Netanyahu’s administration hasn’t exactly behaved the way a respectable statesman should.  Even Jeffery Goldberg, the most pro-Israel staffer at The Atlantic, concedes that the Jewish state has made a whole series of stupid mistakes that could have been avoided.  Just take a look at his most notable (and surprisingly frank) quote, which tells you everything you need to know about Israel over the past year:

“First, there was the gross insult directed at the Turkish ambassador to Israel by the deputy foreign minister.  Then came the assassination of a Hamas official in Dubai…a country that is obviously important to the formation of a broad, anti-Iran coalition.  Then, of course, came the humiliation dealt to Vice President Biden on his visit to Israel.  Bibi Netanyahu is not in control of his government.”

This got me thinking.  Perhaps it is not all Netanyahu’s fault after all.  Maybe he’s just stuck in the mud, or caught between a rock and a hard place, or any other old adage that describes a stalemated position.  Sounds naïve?  Hardly so, because this is precisely what his happening.  For all of Netanyahu’s bluster and bravado, it looks like he is having a very difficult time controlling his own allies in the government. Essentially, he is being held hostage by the very same “friends” that propelled him to power in the first place.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict obviously cannot be solved by the United States alone. I agree that the Obama administration- especially Secretary Hillary Clinton and Envoy George Mitchell- are doing the right thing by pressuring the Israeli Government by airing their grievances in a very public matter. This is a warranted development, because Israel really hasn’t been pressured to do all that much with regard to the Mideast peace process.

But all of the complaining in the world won’t do any good if P.M. Netanyahu doesn’t smarten up and bring the moderate Kadima Party into his government.

Currently, Netanyahu is unable to concede to U.S. demands, due in large part to his dependence on right-wing settler movements in the coalition. Ditching the religious fanatics and replacing them with a pragmatic party in Israeli politics may be the only way to solve this settlement issue and get the proximity talks back on track.

Or if Netanyahu is prepared to resign his position, he could stop the East Jerusalem project now. But somehow I don’t think that is going to happen.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of the Economist and Dr. Stephen Walt at FP.com**


A James Bond Flick Gone Bad….Israel Feels the Heat

Posted in Israel by Dan on February 27, 2010

Last week, I wrote a little post about the mysterious assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the man responsible for smuggling Iranian-made weapons into the Gaza Strip.  In case you missed it (which you probably haven’t), the killing occurred in a Dubai hotel room on January 19, presumably by a group of 11 Europeans.  Minus the electrocution and suffocation of the victim, the operation was caught by Dubai security cameras from all sides, adding a quality reminiscent of an action flick to the entire thing (by the way, if you want to look at the video, just do a quick Google search).

Well that was then.  A couple of things have happened over the past few days which are of dramatic importance in this case.  First off, more suspects have been named in the operation.  UAE authorities have released the names of another 15 people involved in the assassination.  Eight more people turned up in Israel on Thursday, claiming that their identities were stolen and used to travel to the United Arab Emirates.  And if the claims are indeed confirmed, this brings the total to an astounding 34 people, with the vast majority of them using passports of Israeli origin.

International uproar is at its highest point in the entire affair.  Great Britain, France, and Ireland are extremely upset that Israel may have used European passports in the hit without permission, so much so that the British Government summoned the Israeli Ambassador to the U.K. for a brief sit-down.  And of course, this does not even mention Arab attitudes about the assassination, which typically hasn’t been all that positive in the first place.

Israel hasn’t officially commented to the media, and is not expected to; the Jewish state is known to keep quite on national-security matters, neither confirming nor denying an operation took place.  But others are keenly waiting, and some are starting to ask whether Israel’s spy service (the Mossad) is actually keeping Israel safer.  The Economist devotes an entire article to this question, and people from all over the political spectrum are chiming into the debate.

Naturally, I couldn’t sit on the sidelines without spewing my own assessment of the situation.

While it’s hard to pinpoint with complete accuracy, there is evidence confirming that Mossad has kept Israel relatively safe from potential attacks. The agency is small, yet highly effective in what they do. Intelligence agencies and clandestine network throughout the world view the Israeli spy service as the most proficient in sophisticated operations. The fact that Mossad officials have infiltrated hostile territory with ease in the past demonstrates how meticulous the organization is. Hezbollah and Hamas- the Islamic militants responsible for most of Israel’s troubles over the past few years- know this full well. In fact, the assassination of a top Hamas commander in Dubai only verifies this belief in their minds.

Yet while Mossad may be a highly successful organization when it comes to counterterrorism, you have to wonder why they picked the United Arab Emirates as the location for the killing. Did they assume that Dubai authorities would give Israel a pass in the name of national-security? If so, it would appear that the Israelis forgot that there is a little thing called state sovereignty.

Questions about the assassination continue to circulate, there is still tons of speculation out there, and I suspect we will probably hear more news from Dubai authorities in the coming weeks. But what is clear is that Mossad made a tactical error; they embarrassed a moderate Arab country in front of the entire international community. Israel needs all the help it can get in terms of aid and recognition. Enemies of Israel are prevalent throughout the Middle East, and even traditional allies are becoming less sympathetic to Israel’s aims. Yet despite these circumstances, they chose to alienate an Arab state that is both pro-western and ideologically moderate.

It’s too early to tell, but this incident could severely degrade relations between Israel and the UAE. The last thing the Israeli Government wants is another angry Muslim country, especially when that country is labeled as pragmatic and somewhat tolerant.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of the Economist**

War of Words Between Israel and Syria

Posted in Israel by Dan on February 8, 2010

Just in case anyone out there doubted whether Israel was sincere about Mideast peacemaking, take a glance at Avigdor Lieberman’s recent statement towards Syrian President Bashar al-Assad:

“Our message must be clear to Assad: In the next war, not only will you lose but you and your family will lose power.”

On its face, bellicose rhetoric like this rubs international diplomats the wrong way.  Not only is the Israeli Foreign Minister threatening one of its neighbors by instigating a potential military confrontation, but he is also stopping peace talk momentum right in its tracks.  At a time when Israel is receiving especially harsh criticism from the United Nations over its conduct in last year’s Gaza offensive, comments like this do not necessarily help Israel’s cause.

Unfortunately, we cannot simply accept Lieberman’s remark in a nonchalant way and simply cast it aside as if nothing happened.  What we have to do- and what Arab Governments are already doing- is viewing Lieberman’s hostility through a much larger context.  Citing the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the absence of any real Israeli-Arab peace accord, Arabs are coming to a simple conclusion; Israel is not interested in regional peace.

To a supporter of Israel, this statement sounds hallow and perhaps anti-Semitic.  Some lawmakers in the U.S. Congress may go one step further in totally denouncing the conclusion as nothing but anti-Israeli propaganda…which, by the way, is a P.R. phrase that is basically used to totally ignore the numerous grievances of Arab Governments and Palestinian citizens.  Still others accept Lieberman’s pointed reference as a legitimate warning to Syria if they ever initiated a conflict against Israeli interests.

On the other hand, rational people with actual credibility- like Mideast Envoy George Mitchell- can see through the smokescreen.  Instead of a direct warning to Israel’s enemies, perhaps Lieberman’s comment has a much larger function; creating dissolution in the hopes of further delaying Israeli-Arab reconciliation.  I happen to agree with this camp.

Whether you care about the current situation in the Middle East or not, it is hard to disprove the fact that Israel is the unchallenged hegemon in the region (although Iran would probably dispute this claim).  Compared to its Arab neighbors, Israel is in possession of the wealthiest and most efficient economy in the greater Middle East.  It receives billions upon billions of dollars in exports through its science and weapons industries, all the while racking in billions of dollars in American financial and military assistance on an annual basis.

From a military standpoint, the Israeli armed-forces are unchallenged in terms of sophistication, technology, and conventional fighting tactics.  The Israeli Defense Force is one of the most highly respected in the world, capable of subverting the most heavily fortified autocracy and skilled enough in destroying the Arab world’s most advanced defenses.  Israel’s version of the CIA- the Mossad- is unquestionably regarded as the most proficient in solving the most complex problems, whether it happens to be the sabotage of Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip or the capturing of Iranian weapons depots in the Arabian Sea.

And of course, a discussion of Israeli supremacy would not be complete if we failed to touch upon the huge amount of lobbyists the small country maintains in the United States.

So perhaps Lieberman’s statement is not so much a declaration of war against Syria than an endorsement of the current status-quo.  Because let’s face it, the absence of peace talks with the Palestinians and the lethargic relationship with Arab regimes- in other words the status quo- continues to benefit the Jewish state in countless ways.

As long as the regional status-quo remains, Israel will continue to surpass its neighbors and enemies in all dimensions of power.  At least that’s their opinion.  Rational people in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East recognize that tension only generates more instability.  And if we have learned anything from history, it is that instability tends to snowball into full-fledging conflict.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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Are The Israelis Gearing Up For A Nuclear-Armed Iran?

Posted in Israel by Dan on October 6, 2009

Israel may be replacing preemption with containment

Israel may be replacing preemption with containment

While Iranian representatives are continuing to talk with western powers over their advanced nuclear program, politicians within Israel are starting to cringe.

First and foremost, Israel never truly believed that diplomacy could convince the Iranians to fold over their nuclear aspirations.  Absent the threat of military force, diplomacy with an adversary is often seen as a wasteful process riddled with ineffective formalities.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said so himself, casting a dark shadow over the Islamic Republic as a “rogue” state more deserving of international isolation than collective engagement.

Perhaps the man is right.  Tehran continues to be the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, training Hezbollah militants in Lebanon while funding the operations of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.  Likewise, the Iranian leadership continues to bash Israel with each passing opportunity, whether this includes Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust or overtly aggressive threats towards the Jewish state’s very existence.

Mr. Netanyahu’s declaration is even more relevant when one considers Iran’s most important foreign-policy priority: the destabilization of the Middle East.  Iran’s covert intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan is certainly the most graphic example.

Taking this “rogue” status in mind, the Israelis have not hesitated to pressure President Barack Obama into adopting a more war-like stance towards Iran when the nuclear question is put into focus.  The Israeli Defense Force has made claims in the past of a unilateral and pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities if diplomacy fails to result in meaningful concessions.

The hawkish rhetoric has reached to such an extent that Washington and Europe are attempting to play down the possibility of an Israeli bombardment, placing all of their bets on the prospects of roundtable negotiations.  Understandably, Israel refuses to bow down on this option, perceiving Tehran as the most immediate and dire threat to its prosperity and survival.

Despite the belligerence often portrayed by Israeli politicians, it appears that Jerusalem is beginning to modify this controversial policy.  Robert Haddick of the Small Wars Journal reveals that the Israeli leadership is gradually implementing a more nuanced and traditional stance towards the entire nuclear issue, bolstering their defensive military abilities in response to an Iranian ballistic missile attack.

For instance, the Israelis have recently admitted that they purchased two sophisticated submarines from Germany, loaded with all of the bells and whistles.  Of course, this would not be so newsworthy if it were not for the fact that the subs could carry, and eventually launch, a nuclear warhead.

The point of mentioning this arms purchase is not to alarm the world and exacerbate the already tense relationship (or lack thereof) between two long-time enemies.  Rather, it is to expose a fundamental shift in Israeli military policy towards Iran, one that emphasizes the traditional Cold War principles of deterrence and containment.  Preempting a potential Persian bomb, while still in the works, may be moving aside for the time-being.

Some may be skeptical of this change in mindset.  Certainly, the Israelis have made it quite clear that they will use each and every resource available to defend themselves in the face of a hostile environment.

Nevertheless, Israel’s acquisition of two German submarines- both of which can deliver cruise missiles to a specific target in a manner of minutes- gives this new belief a much-needed clearance.  If the Iranians were so inclined to develop nuclear weapons, thereby threatening Israel and the entire Middle East at the same time, Jerusalem would still possess a mutually-assured destructive capability (MAD) towards Khamenei and Ahmadinejad…complicated jargon that essentially convinces the enemy that a nuclear strike will be met with a more devastating nuclear response.

By facing a sophisticated naval fleet that could easily evade radar detection, the Iranians would be under a constant-cloud of suspicion, even if they joined the nuclear club.  With their newly-purchased tools, the Israelis would retain a second-strike capability if an attack was unfortunate enough to occur on their soil.  Given the small size of Israel, even a conventional ballistic missile strike could have far-reaching consequences for the Iranians (a.k.a. the complete destruction of theocratic establishment).

Doesn’t this sound a bit like the Cold War relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union?

Of course, the Iranian Government has yet to enrich uranium to a grade that can be used for nuclear weapons development.  In fact, intelligence estimates predict that it would take Iran at least another couple of years to build a single nuclear bomb.  Who knows what the extent of Israel’s defenses will be during the same time-frame.

However, given that Tehran is enriching pounds of uranium per day while continuing to defy the international community, it is understandable that Israel would begin to formulate an adequate defense response.

Interestingly enough, it appears that this response is moving in a direction that is willing to accept an Iranian nuclear power.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Robert Haddick of the Small Wars Journal contributed to this blog.  His full article can be reached at: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/10/02/this_week_at_war_send_in_the_spies?page=0,1

Response to Marc Lynch: Israel and Iran’s Nuclear Weapons

Posted in Israel by Dan on June 22, 2009

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Regardless of who emerges victorious after Iran’s demonstrations dwindle, there is no doubt that Israel may eventually be forced into taking active steps with respect to the nuclear issue. Unless the Iranian people themselves embark on a new revolution to oust Ayatollah Ali Khamenei from his position as the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Tehran’s nuclear program will continue to develop and improve in the months ahead.

This position of power (the Supreme Leader) is the key to Israel and the Arab world when confronting Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. As long as Khamenei or a pro-Khamenei successor continues to rule Iran’s people with an iron fist, any chances of reconciliation or negotiation on its nuclear sites will prove meaningless.

On a similar note, If Khamenei successfully crushes the democratic camps lingering within Iranian politics (as he is currently doing in the face of peaceful demonstrations), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may find military force to be his only option in curtailing Iran’s enrichment capabilities.

Historically, such a move by Israel may not be a complete failure as some analysts have predicted. After all, Israeli Defense Forces performed this very same military operation against Saddam Hussein’s nuclear installations in 1981. Not only did the strike against Iraq buy Israel some time against a rising Arab power; it also created a more stable Middle East by eliminating a potential arms race by Iraq’s neighbors. Who is to say that a similar approach may not work?

If Israel does choose to implement a preemptive air strike on Tehran’s nuclear facilities, it would be extremely wise for the United States to stay out of the conflict. In fact, U.S. interference would not only threaten American troops with Iranian-sponsored attacks in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan. Such U.S. meddling could go a step further by severely damaging the already strained American image in the Middle East. At a time when President Obama is gradually mending the differences between Washington and members of the Islamic world, poor P.R. is the last thing the White House needs.

In my eyes, a Mousavi victory over Ahmadinejad would be the same thing as a re-election of Ahmadinejad himself. The two have made it publicly known that Iran’s nuclear development will continue in the face of further U.N, U.S, and Israeli pressure.

-Daniel R. DePetris

Israeli Cooperation is Needed

Posted in Israel by Dan on June 15, 2009

June 8, 2009 by Daniel R. DePetris

As President Barack Obama caps his first trip to the Middle Eastern region in Cairo since his election, the state of Israel is continuing to implement policies that all but contradict the president’s reformed plan for the region.  Certainly more controversial, Israel is responding to the Obama administration’s plans for the Middle East with outright defiance.  In fact, not only are members of the Israeli Government beginning to criticize U.S. actions in an open forum, but are dangerously endorsing radical anti-Palestinian initiatives that all but threaten to disembark any prospects for a cordial relationship with a large Arab and Muslim community in the Holy Land.  The Jerusalem pledge of expanding Israel’s conquest of Palestinian land and its stark opposition to the formulation of an independent Palestinian state are dramatic examples of this newly-held political sentiment.   As President Obama was correct in declaring, it is crucial for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to gradually begin the halting of Jewish settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.  This would have a direct effect on the Palestinian leadership by showing Prime Minister Netanyahu genuine interest in negotiations.  More importantly, the move would be a symbolic and necessary gesture to Isreal’s Arab neighbors.  By slowing the growth rate of Jewish settlement activity, the Middle East may eventually perceive the Netanyahu coalition as a government that is finally respecting the universal human rights of all Palestinians.  Although these results may seem overly optimistic, Mr. Obama has recognized the settlement policy’s essential doctrine.  Indeed, the president reiterated these same conclusions this past week to the Israeli Prime Minister.  Of course, the presidents remarks have generated a number of hostile responses from pro-Israeli lobbyists.  In fact, many in Congress still hold the belief that the White House has a special responsibility to continue its unconditional support for an ally that is consistently threatened by Islamic terrorism.

Certainly, Mr. Netanyahu is unconvinced of such a U.S. demand, one that he has characterized as an unreasonable precondition for a possible peace plan with the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas movement. Israel’s continued construction along the West Bank of new settlements only adds testament to its unwillingness in compromising on the settlement issue: a problem of significant concern given the decades of stalled peace agreements between the Israelis and its Arab neighbors.

Scholars and students of international politics should certainly be surprised that Washington is slowly but surely acting contrary to what Netanyahu’s center-right government desires for a greater Israel in the Middle East. After all, previous administrations have been all too hesitant in establishing a set of pre-conditions necessary for a stable coexistence with Arabs and Palestinians alike. Rather, Obama’s predecessor has made it known throughout the international community that the United States is, and will always be, on the side of Israel: made all the more evident in Mr. Bush’s anti-Palestinian rhetoric.

It appears as if the eight years of unquestioned support towards the Jewish state has finally come home to roost. Israelis now expect the United States to unquestionably support their national-interests from hostile terrorist organizations, an assumption that is currently being rethought under President Obama’s direction for the Middle East.

There is no question that Israel is our most important friend in a region that has been historically dominated by ethnic and religious violence. There is a universal consensus around the world that the U.S.-Israeli alliance may strengthen as a result of Iran’s nuclear-program.   Yet, with this being said, it may be time for the Israeli’s to recognize their own actions in the context of a wider peace with the Palestinians.  Continuing the construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank will only hinder the prospects of reconciliation between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Just as Arabs are expected to modify their political behavior, so too should Israeli’s be expected to hold up their end of the bargain. Whether or not repeated American pressure on the settlement issue will change Israel’s stance remains to be seen. What is certain today, however, is that Obama’s desire to improve diplomacy between the west and the Muslim world may be at the expense of Washington’s most trusted friend.

-Information from Cynthia Osterman of the Reuters News Organization and Marc Lynch of Foreign Policy Magazine contributed to this blog