Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Steamed Rice

By Le Moineau
29 July 2006
Working Draft
Article 49

US frustration at Israeli intransigence

The quick return to Tel Aviv of an impatient Condoleezza Rice to Israel following two weeks of Israeli attacks on Lebanon suggests the US means business this time.

The Israeli Divergence
Despite seventeen days of war, Israel has not entered Lebanon, nor has it disrupted Hizballah's ability to launch rockets into Israel. Arguably, Israel's war has strengthened Hizballah rather than weaken it. The Israeli purpose now seems to stall the US plan as much as possible, if not negate it entirely. The US has a 2 year window to resolve Golan, and is on a tight schedule.

The reason is simple. The US envisions the New Israel as a peaceful neighbor in good relations with defined boundaries, taking orders from Washington, and laying down its arms. The US seeks regional stability to ensure the free flow of goods and access to markets. The trouble is that Olmert’s former party has for years resisted such a solution, and the rightists in Israel in fact made sure Rabin did not achieve a peaceful resolution with Syria in 1996, the real turning point in the peace process.

In true Sharonist fashion, Olmert, as Kadima’s leader, has enraged Washington by getting a green light for war, but using that light to wage a different war: the destruction of the economic viability of Lebanon and achieving it swiftly within 48 hours.

Olmert’s divergence stems from a simple premise: Following the war, Pax Americana will depend on a stable Lebanon as a major transit state, while the US-friendly multinational forces will disarm a weakened Hizballah. Olmert's war therefore has not served US goals, and does not appear to be doing so, despite all US efforts. In Olmert's calculation, strengthening Hizballah in fact is the best deterrent to American goals.

Washington’s displeasure was first signaled when Condi arrived in Beirut before Tel Aviv, followed by the Rome meeting that excluded Israel, and now, her quick return to Tel Aviv today suggests that she is coming back frustrated and with an ultimatum. After all, Israel is clearly not committing to the original war plan, and Washington is seriously questioning Israel’s intentions.

Condi’s Ultimatum
A very impatient Condi, I believe, will be quick with Olmert, delivering a stern message along those lines: ‘We gave you a green light to get rid of Hizballah, and we gave you political cover to do so within a window of time. You have achieved nothing, but presenting Iran a victory and the destruction of Lebanon, something we were very clear you should not harm. It is clear to us now that you never intended to achieve the goals we had agreed on. I am here to remind you that we are out of time, and that, to maintain our international credibility, we will have to accept a ceasefire, perhaps a short one at that, even though your job is not finished. We are giving you a second and last chance. Figure out how much time you need to draw up a serious ground invasion, and let us know. Failure is not an option.’

In the meantime, the heat is simmering within Israel, where Peretz and Olmert are at odds. Peretz is playing along with Washington but his hands are tied for now: Neither Halutz nor Olmert are on board. If Condi is serious—and I really think she is—expect her to support Peretz to lead a major ground offensive into Lebanon following the ceasefire, and following the war, a new government ready to negotiate with Syria over the Golan.

The trouble is, Olmert, buoyed by his recent get-together with Netanyahu, may remain intransigent, and derail the US agenda again. Pinning the attack on the UN compound on Olmert and the failure in Bint Jbeil to Halutz’s preference to an air campaign, may lead to major political changes at the top within Israel. As Dan Halutz nurses his stomach cramps, the US would like to see the more compliant Amir Peretz take over the military machine and, eventually, the government.

In the meantime, Lebanon’s fate will remain in the balance awaiting a second round of hostilities.

Copyright © 2006 Le Moineau


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