Grasping the connections

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The most important outcome of the invasion of Iraq is visible not in the Gulf country but in Israel. Israeli Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon told Israeli reporters last week that the recent developments concerning the “roadmap” will eventually be seen “as the end of the conflict. It is certainly a victory for Israel,” he said.

Palestinians, such as Samir Al-Masharawi, a Fatah leader, had a different take on the matter. “When the Intifada began, the demand was, ‘end the occupation, because the negotiations led nowhere.’ Now, the Palestinians’ demands are a return to the situation right before the Intifada; we are negotiating about this?”

Al-Masharawi said that during one of his prison terms in an Israeli facility, he and other inmates demanded chairs and a table. In response, he said, the Israelis took their mattresses. A month after the prisoners demanded them back, the Israelis returned the mattresses, giving Al- Masharawi and his fellow prisoners the sense they had achieved something.

Compare that account to events following the 1991 Gulf War. First, all major Arab countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, fought alongside the US. The US promised was that once the war was finished, it would settle the Arab-Israeli problem. The result was interminable negotiations in Washington ahead of an agreement in Oslo.

In a chain of events that is somewhat similar, the new Bush administration promised to settle the Palestinian-Israeli problem — even before dispatching forces to invade Iraq. President Bush even promised the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Regardless of whether the decision to invade Iraq had already been taken when Bush said he would work to address Palestinian concerns, that commitment at least confirmed in Arab eyes that there was recognition somewhere in the administration of the interconnectedness between the two problems. What the Israelis now perceive, indeed talk about publicly, is that it was all a sham. The whole business of holding summits, first in Sharm El- Sheikh, and then in Aqaba, was simply another ruse. It is unclear whether the Palestinians will even recover their mattresses this time.

What has changed? Before President Bush embarked on his trip to Europe and the Middle East last month, there was sense of optimism. To Arab leaders, Bush looked and sounded determined. When asked by a reporter whether, with an election year coming up, the president had the political ability to pressure Israel, he shot back “of course I can. If I were afraid of making the decisions necessary for political reasons to move the process forward, I wouldn’t be going [to the region],” Bush said. “I believe that I have responsibilities, now that the conditions are such to move the process forward.”

All this had changed. Today, President Bush and his administration are bogged down in attempts to explain two problems. The first concerns nagging questions about Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Where precisely was the irrefutable evidence the administration said it had in every official statement, including the president’s State of the Union speech? And, although the majority of Iraqis were happy to get rid of Saddam Hussein, it is clear they are not happy with the US military occupation. If the administration was conned about WMDs, it in turn conned the American people with predictions that Iraqis would warmly welcome US soldiers. With the death of US soldiers and Iraqi citizens every day, Donald Rumsfeld’s lame explanations no longer convince anyone — in the US, the Arab world or anywhere else. There may very well be some Ba’athists, or even a few foreigners “resisting” the occupation, but the administration conned the American public and the whole world about the facts. The story of WMDs was the last fig leaf. Now the emperor is completely naked.

The question remains: Who fed the administration this bag of lies? The last person to expose such fictions was retired US Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was sent by the CIA to Niger to investigate the story that Iraq tried to obtain uranium there for nuclear weapons. In a statement to the Washington Post, Wilson said that US and British officials ignored his findings and exaggerated the public case for invading Iraq. He not only said that the administration misrepresented the facts, he even asked, what else it was lying about.

So, where did this information come from? When George Stephanopolous asked Condoleezza Rice on a Sunday talk show how such allegations became part of the State of the Union speech, Rice, looking flabbergasted, responded, “the president was quoting Prime Minister Blair.” What? Then again how did such ideas reach Bush and Blair? Two writers are now piecing the story together, Patrick Seale, and Robert Dreyfuss, in the Nation magazine. Those writers said that current and former US intelligence analysts point their fingers at the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, headed by Abram Shulsky, a hawkish neo- conservative ideologue who got his start in politics working alongside Elliott Abrams in Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson’s office in the 1970s. The Office of Special Plans was set up in the fall of 2001 as a two-man shop, but it grew into an 18- member nerve centre of the Pentagon’s effort to create disinformation alleging that Iraq possessed WMDs and had connections with terrorist groups. Much of the garbage produced by that office found its way into speeches by Rumsfeld, Cheney and George Bush.

It should be noted that the office was created after 9/11 by two of the most fervent and determined neo-cons: Paul Wolfowitz, deputy defence secretary, and Douglas Feith, under- secretary of defence for policy, to probe into Saddam’s WMD programmes and his links to Al-Qa’eda, because, it is alleged, they did not trust other intelligence agencies of the US government to come up with the goods.

Seale put his finger on the interconnectedness we mentioned earlier. He calls it the overlapping trend because it involved many of the same people who are narrowly focussed on Israel: right- wing Jewish neo-cons. He says, “Most prominent neo-cons are right-wing Jews, and tend to be pro- Israeli zealots who believe that American and Israeli interests are inseparable — much to the alarm of the liberal pro-peace Jews, whether in America, Europe, or Israel itself. Friends of Ariel Sharon’s Likud, they tend to loathe Arabs and Muslims. For them, the cause of ‘liberating’ Iraq had little to do with the well-being of Iraqis, just as the cause of ‘liberating’ Iran and ending it’s nuclear programme — recently advocated by Shimon Peres — has little to do with the well-being of Iranians. What they sought was an improvement in Israel’s military and strategic environment.”

So who will put the brakes on this madness, defend US national interests and give the administration wise counsel? Congress?

One would certainly hope so. But Congress refuses to do anything to shed its reputation that it is Israeli “occupied territory”. The House said last week that Israel was justified in it’s “forceful response to Palestinian attacks”, and concluded that Middle East violence would stop only when Palestinian strikes cease. A House resolution, passed 399-5, condemned attacks on Israel since Bush, Sharon and Abbas met in Jordan last month to affirm their support for the US-developed peace plan. Only a handful of lawmakers warned that the measure, coming on the same day that Islamist militants agreed to halt attacks on Israel for three months, was one-sided. They said it says nothing about Israel’s attempts to assassinate Islamist militants and undermines the US role as fair mediator in the peacemaking efforts.

In the meantime, slowly but surely, as some of my Jewish friends are telling me, the United States is becoming a country of the Middle East. It will be in the region for 25 or maybe 50 years. Against all Israeli expectations, it may evolve into a force for stability. Virtually every diplomat, every military expert who has ever been exposed to the Arab-Israeli problem became pro- Arab. The US may never change the Middle East, but the Middle East will certainly change the US. It will at least change American perceptions, American bias towards Israel and against the Arabs. One thing is for sure, nothing will be the same again.

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