The Middle East’s Gathering Storm
By P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | 3/26/2008
U.S. vice-president Richard Cheney and Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert met twice in Jerusalem this week in talks described as “shrouded in mystery.” The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office didn’t even issue a statement; Olmert’s spokesman only said that Cheney and Olmert “discussed a range of issues, including the peace process, terrorism and threats to regional security.”
“Threats to regional security”—sounds a lot like Iran. One hopes the two leaders’ talks had enough seriousness to offset Cheney’s standard inanities in his joint Ramallah press conference with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday.
At that event Cheney said that terrorism and rockets kill not only innocent civilians but also “the legitimate hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian people,” that the U.S. remained “strongly committed” to creating a Palestinian state that was “long overdue,” and that this would require “painful concessions on both sides.”
It was disappointing to hear Cheney imply that terrorism and rockets are malign foreign entities that somehow invade the Palestinian people and frustrate their hopes, and that the upshot of the Palestinians’ record particularly over the past 15 years—the latest installment being 84% of Palestinians approving the recent massacre of mostly teenage boys in a Jerusalem yeshiva—is not only unwavering U.S. commitment to sovereignty for this society but even impatience for this “long overdue” outcome.
It was also unclear what further “painful concessions” might be appropriate for Israel apart from the sacrifice of strategic land already leading to drastically increased terrorism and threats in what remains of its territory.
But if, as a loyal member of the administration of George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, Cheney arguably had no choice but to spout the requisite nonsense in the Palestinian sphere, there is good reason to think his behind-closed-doors parleys with Olmert were more reality-oriented.
It wasn’t only Gen. David Petraeus saying on Monday that Iran was behind the rocket-and-mortar barrage on Baghdad’s Green Zone on Sunday. Also on Monday Israel ’s ynet publicized what it called “A secret report recently distributed among [Israeli] government ministries and local municipalities detail[ing] various wartime scenarios”—including how bad these could be even if Iran took part only by firing conventional missiles.
The report, according to ynet, envisages a war lasting about a month in which Israel would be bombarded from all sides— Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, plus Iran firing “a limited number of missiles rather than non-conventional weapons.” That would leave about 100-230 civilians dead and 1900-3200 wounded, along with “constantly bombed roads, nationwide power outages that last for long hours, and whole regions’ water supply being cut off.”
If, though, Israel was hit with chemical weapons as well, the estimated results would be a lot worse with 16,000 civilians killed and wounded, the state having to evacuate as many as 227,000 from their homes, and about 100,000 people asking to leave the country.
The report indicates that the Israeli authorities are at last waking up to the implications of years of territorial withdrawal and, mainly, passivity—strongly encouraged by U.S. administrations with their bipartisan obsession with the “peace process” and downsizing Israel —in the face of Israel’s growing encirclement by the Iranian-led axis that also includes Syria, Lebanon-based Hezbollah, and Gaza-based Hamas. The report also reflects how dangerous the situation has become even without Iranian nuclearization.
But that process is continuing whether or not it is included in a theoretical report, and yet another ramification is Egypt and Russia ’s imminent signing of a nuclear cooperation agreement.
Russia, which has almost finished building Iran ’s first nuclear plant in Bushehr, is eager to keep extending its influence in the Middle East and the Russian daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta says “Moscow particularly hopes that Cairo will return to buying Russian arms.” Egypt, for its part, joins fellow Arab countries Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, the UAE, Yemen, Morocco, Libya, and Jordan in having expressed interest in nuclearization over the past year as part of a chain reaction set off by Iran’s march toward the bomb.
A renewed Iranian-backed escalation in Iraq, Israeli preparation for grim war scenarios, and the beginnings of all-out Middle Eastern nuclearization are just the latest offshoots of the unchecked advance of Iranian power. The question is whether, as the hour grows late, a lame-duck Bush administration and a feckless Olmert government—as well as other Western actors supposedly in the same camp—can still muster the will to do something about it.