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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Is Israel having second thoughts about allowing the U.S. to deal with Iran?
Posted by Jill | 7:13 AM
The conventional wisdom, probably exacerbated by the spectacle of American politicians tossing out red meat at AIPAC fundraisers, is that it is Israel that wants the U.S. to attack Iran as its proxy. But is that really the case? Outside of nutjobs like Bibi Netanyahu, it seems that there are factions in Israeli society and its government that are not exactly happy with the bellicose course of action that its right-wingers, in accord with American lunatic neocons, have embraced:

A series of recent interviews with current and former Israeli government officials revealed a level of pessimism across the Israeli government that is unprecedented in recent decades. Several senior officials acknowledged unequivocally that Israel lost the war against Hezbollah, and confirmed that this is a widely held view inside the Israeli government -- despite many public pronouncements to the contrary by Israeli leaders.

In light of Israel's close strategic ties with the United States, and particularly with the Bush administration, it has been all but taboo in the past for Israeli officials to openly criticize U.S. policy. But some officials I spoke with also voiced rising fears -- and disapproval -- over the Bush administration's handling of Iraq and Iran. Those officials include octogenarian Rafi Eitan, currently an Israeli cabinet minister, who told me that in the wake of Israel's failed efforts to crush Hezbollah, and with the deepening crisis in Iraq, Israel is in one of the most precarious situations he has ever seen in his seven decades of military and government service. Regarding President Bush's handing of Iraq, Eitan said, "Unless the policy changes, it is hopeless."

The level of gloom inside the Israeli government is accompanied by a creeping sense of paralysis -- one that could be dangerous not just for Israel, but for U.S. interests in the region, and for the Middle East as a whole. A recent conversation with a senior member of Israel's diplomatic corps -- someone with extensive experience in Israel's foreign policy establishment -- left me stunned by the degree of negativity. I have known him personally for several years and have never seen him so down on the country's prospects. "We lost the war," he told me, regarding last summer's conflict. "We all know that," he continued, adding that the failure against Hezbollah is the "core reason" for the deepening pessimism inside the government. This contrasts sharply, of course, with the official government line. As recently as Feb. 1, speaking to an Israeli commission investigating the war effort, Prime Minister Olmert, according to his aides, insisted once again that "Israel won the war."

The senior Israeli diplomat in part blamed Olmert's politics. "Do you know why we lost? Because soldiers don't want to die for these leaders. Who wants to die for Amir Peretz?" he said, referring to the Israeli defense minister, whose qualifications for the job have been called into question. Peretz, the leader of the Labor Party, but who had no real security or defense credentials, was appointed by Olmert last year to ensure the Labor Party's involvement in Olmert's coalition government.

The senior Israeli diplomat's grievances went beyond the Defense Ministry. He lamented the wave of cronyism, corruption and sexual harassment scandals that have plagued the government in recent times. "We live in a corrupt society, where those with merit don't get anywhere," he said. "It's a very sad time for the Jewish state."

I raised this striking level of gloom with another high-ranking diplomat, who told me he was not surprised to hear of it. "There is a lot of frustration right now," he nodded, "and it's not just felt in the Foreign Ministry." He agreed that it was caused by "all the corruption in the political layers, and the perception in Israel that the war was a failure."

Yet, the roots of the seemingly ubiquitous sense of despair may stem more from the goings-on in the corridors of power in Washington than those in Jerusalem.


While the U.S. and Israel clearly are united in the goal of stopping Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, some Israeli leaders have lost confidence in Bush's leadership when it comes to that crucial concern. In the aftermath of the release of the assessment, Uzi Arad, the former director of intelligence at the Mossad, added, "With American attention so much focused on Iraq, it comes at the expense of its ability to blunt the slow Iranian progression toward nuclear capability." Last week, I raised these assessments with Eitan, himself a former spymaster who led the Israeli capture of Adolf Eichmann in 1960, and who was the handler of the infamous spy Jonathan Pollard in the 1980s. "Sooner or later, a year or two, America will go out from Iraq," Eitan said. "Iran will unite with the Shiites of Iraq -- with or without force -- and then with the Shiites of Syria. Is this good for Israel? No, it is bad for Israel."

It's worth sitting through the ad to read the whole article, because as even some of the Democratic candidates for the presidency seek to garner Jewish votes via knee-jerk support of saber-rattling against Iran, there are those who actually have to LIVE in Israel who are saying, "Not so fast."
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