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December 10, 2010

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PAGE 2A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 10, 2010 Cables show shared Israeli, Arab concerns about Iran By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)--A peek behind the scenes of- fered by the WikiLeaks cables published last week offer hints into U.S. and regional priorities. The two issues cropping up most often in the Middle East are Iran and Israeli-Arab peace. The cables also offer choice insights into how Americans interact with the locals. Iran and peace In private discussions, leaders from Egypt and Dubai both talk about their enmity for Hamas, and they and the Saudi king also warn of the dangers of Iran. In a classified message from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to U.S. Secretary of State Condo- leezza Rice in January 2008, Omar Suleiman, director of Egyptian General Intelligence, tells Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) that Iran"is support- ing Jihad and spoiling peace, and has supported extremists in Egypt previously." Iranian support of the Egyptian Mus- lim Brotherhood makes them "our enemy," Suleiman says. In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Janu- ary 2009, the U.S. ambassador in Cairo wrote that after talk- ing to Egyptian Foreign Min- ister Abdoul Gheit, he is posi- tive that Egyptian President Mubarak sees Iran as Egypt's "greatest long-term threat, both as it develops a nuclear capability and as it seeks to export its 'Shia Revolution.'" By James D. Besser New York Jewish Week A U.S.-Israel strategic re- lationship that has been a buiark of Israel's security for decades may be on the skids-- not because of any material change in cooperation be- tween the two military powers but because of the perception that President Barack Obama no longer regards Israel as a critical strategic partner. That perception may have more to dowith the president's cool, detached approach to most issues than with a de- termination that Israel is no longer critical to U.S. security goals. But observers say any- thingthatadds to Israeli angst about the critical relationship could have far-reaching--and unintended--consequences. Barry Rubin, director of Global Research in Interna- tional Affairs (GLORIA) Center and a persistent and strong Obama critic, conceded that "on the material level" the relationship hasn't changed. But Rubin said that it has "on the level of trust ... since President Obama is obviously so personally cool, since the administration is so clueless about the Middle East. I don't think Israel has much faith in this government and will not take risks based on its say-so." Admihistration critics say negotiations over a U.S. in- centives package meant to wina 90-day, non-renewable extension of Israel's West Bank settlement-building morato- rium have added to the prob- lem, putting elements of the special U.S.-Israei relationship previously regarded as givens on thenegotiating table. "What is most worrisome is As far as the Israeli-Pal- estinian conflict, Mubarak is "proud of (Egypt's) role as intermediary, well aware that they are perhaps the only player that can talk with the Israelis, all Palestinian fac- tions, and (the U.S.). Mubarak hates Hamas, and considers them the same as Egypt's own Muslim Brotherhood, which he sees as his own most dangerous political threat." The Arab leaders in the Persian Gulf share similar sentiments on Iran. A letter sent to Rice from the Dubai consul general in January 2007 states that in a meeting with Nicholas Burns, a State Department undersecretary, the emirate's leader, Moham- med bin Rashid al Maktoum, "agreed that Iran should not have nuclear weapons, but warned of the dire regional consequences of military action." In addition, Dubai agreed to cooperate in finan- cial restrictions against Iran, but only if it is done quietly. The Dubai leader also said he hoped for a peace deal because it "would make Hamas every- one's enemy." The Saudi king took his hatred toward Iran a step further, telling John Brennan, Obama's counterterrorism adviser in Washington in March 2009 that he had just finished a telephone conver- sation with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and scolded him that that Iran should "stop interfering in Arab affairs." "A solution to the Arab/ Israeli conflict would be a great achievement, the King said, but Iran would find other ways to cause trouble," the cable reported. " 'Iran's goal is to cause problems,' he continued, 'There is no doubt something unstable about them.'" The moving Iran deadline In a March 2005 cable, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer describes Israel's fear of Iran's nuclear weapons pro- gram as reaching the "point of no return" when Iran is able to enrich uranium without assistance--a development believed to have been achieved by 2007. The cables show that Israeli officials saw the diplomatic ef- forts vis-a-vis Iran as relevant and crucial. However, they ex- pressed their disappointment with the European Union, which according to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was "too soft," Kurtzer reported. As to the military option, un- like the strike against Iraq in 1981, hitting Iran would be a much more difficult task, and furthermore would "elicit a strong response from Arab states and the Palestinians, effectively freezing the peace process." In a May 2009 meeting between an American con- gressional delegation and Ehud Barak, Israel's defense minister, Barak stressed.that "no option should be rem0ved from the table when con front- ing Iran and North Korea." Barak also described the Iranians as "chess, not back- gammon players," who will "attempt to avoid any hook to hang accusations on, and look to Pakistan and N. Korea as models to emulate in terms of acquiring nuclear weapons while defyingthe international community." Barak also esti- mated a window between six and 18 months from when the meetingwas held in which "stopping Iran from acquiring nuclearweapons mightstillbe viable."After that, he said, "any military solution would result in unacceptable collateral damage. He also expressed concern that should Iran develop nuclear capabilities, -"other rogue states and/or terror- ist groups would not be far behind." Israeli officials now say the "no return" deadline is sometime in 2012. Regional concerns In a meeting between Mossad chief Meir Dagan and then-Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) on March 13, 2005 in Tel Aviv, Dagan expressed concerns about the fallout from the end of the Iraq War. "Foreign fighters originat- ing from Tajikistan, Uzbeki- stan, Syria and Yemen have arrived back in their home countries" after fighting together in Iraq, the Israeli top spy said. Dagan said that Israel has "no assets in Iraq other than a friendly relationship with the Kurds." However, he said that Israel has interest in the pos- sible impact the jihadis might have in their home countries, especially in ones where the local governments might not be able to fully respond to the challenge brought by the militants. In a meeting two years later, in July 2007, with Frances Townsend, President Bush's top terrorism adviser, Dagan raised alarms about Pakistan's stability. "Dagan characterized a Pakistan ruled by radical Is- lamists with a nuclear arsenal at their disposal as his biggest nightmare," the cable said. "AI- Qaeda and other 'Global Jihad' groups could not be relied upon to behave rationally once in possession ofnuclearweapons, said Dagan, as they do not care about the well being of states or their image in the media. 'We have to keep (President Pervez) Musharaf in power,' said Dagan." Musharraf, fac- ing allegations of corruption, resigned in 2008. A wild wedding A classified document from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow titled "A Caucasus Wedding" describes the life and culture of Dagestan, a republic in the north Caucasus. The detailed description, replete with refer- ences to drunken revelry and the corpulence of the locals, also refers to the members of the Jewish community, their numbers and habits. A special reference was made to the chief rabbi of Stavropol-Kray, described as "a man who looked like Shamil Basayev," a Chechen Islamist terrorist, "on his day off--flip-flops, T-shirt, base- ball cap, beard--but turned out to be the chief rabbi of Stavropol-Kray. He told us he has 12,000 co-religionists in the province, 8,000 of them in its capital, Pyatigorsk. 70 percent are, like him, Persian-speaking Mountain Jews; the rest are a mixture of Europeans, Georgians and Bukharans." Elsewhere, it describes the regional compunction for ethnic identification, and how it seemed to be catching among the diplomats. "After a couple of hours Dalgat's convoy returnedwith Aida, horns honking," the report says, referring to the groom, Dalgat Makhachev, the son of a lawmaker and oil magnate, Gadzhi Makhachev. "Dalgat and Aida got out of the Rolls and were serenaded into the hall, and into the Makh- achev family, by a boys' chorus lining both sides of the red carpet, dressed in costumes aping medieval Dagestani armor with little shields and swords. The couple's entrywas the signal for the emcee to roll into high gear, and after a few toasts the Piter'gypsies' began their performance. (The next day one of Gadzhi's house- guests sneered, 'Some gypsies! The bandleader was certainly Jewish, and the rest of them were blond.' There was some truth to this, but at least the two dancing girls appeared to be Roma.)" Strategic ties and Obama's kishkes that things like arms supplies and voting against unfair anti- Israel resolutions at the UN are being portrayed as favors for which Israel mustgive things," Rubin said. Other observers agree that the atmospherics of the re- lationship have changed but argue America's commitment to Israel is as strong as ever-- maybe stronger. "President [George W.] Bush may have a connec- tion to Israel in his kishkes, but he ratcheted down the strategic relationship during his term," said a longtime pro-Israel lobbyist who asked not to be named. "You have to differentiate between the emotional connection and what's actually happening on the ground." If anybody put longstanding strategic "givens" in jeop- ardy it was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reportedly kept demanding more concessions as part of the incentives package, this veteran activist said. Hints of a subtle shift come as another "given" in the U.S.- Israel relationship--Israel's privileged position in the U.S. foreign aid program--could be about to face its biggest challenge in years, not from anti-Israel lawmakers but from a Tea Party movement that will flex its muscles in the next Congress. Recently Sen.-elect Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose big vic- tory in November could make him the most influential Tea Party member in the next Congress, told AIPAC lead- ers he disagreed with the pro-Israel lobby group on the importance of foreign aid-- signaling, possibly, a more serious push for across-the- board aid cuts. While foreign aid in general remains unpopular among congressional Republicans, top GOP leaders have signaled no interest in cutting Israel's aid. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the incoming majority leader floated a proposal in October to separate Israel's money from the overall aid package, a move that generated quiet opposition from pro-Israel groups. But Cantor indicated a determination by the GOP leadership not to let Israel's aid get caught up in what prom- ises to be a budget-cutting frenzy. Still, the influence of the Tea Party insurgents could combine with broader pres- sure for major budget cuts to erode support for some of the $3 billion in military assistance Israel says it still needs to retain its qualitative military edge. Some claims that Obama is jeopardizing the U.S. com- mitment to Israel are clearly inspired by partisan factors. Administration supporters point to evidence that on the ground, at least, the U.S. commitment to Israel's secu- rity and cooperation between the two countries is stronger than ever. "Over the last year alone, we've seen the extra $250 million in U.S. aid for Israel's 'Iron Dome' system, another huge amount of U.S. supplies pre-positioned in Israel that it can use in an emergency, a semi-annual security review that apparently went well," said Robert O. Freedman, a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University and a longtime Middle East analyst. "Everything I've seen suggests relation- ship remains very strong." A fat incentives package dangled before Israel as a way to win renewal of the West Bank settlement-building moratorium may, in fact, of- fer proof that Israeli security remains an administration priority, he said. "With the additional F-35s that are in the package, if Netanyahu doesn't accept it, if he chooses settlements over security, it will be a huge mistake," he said. But Judith Kipper, a strong peace process supporter and director of Middle East pro- grams at the Institute of World Affairs, said negotiations over the incentives package have made some longstanding as- sumptions in the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship subject to political and diplomatic wrangling. "It's codifying things that in the past have been true, unshakable and permanent in the relationship," she said. "When you start codifying the rules, it means you don't trust each other any more." She called the American offer and the subsequent dick- ering over terms "humiliating to the U.S." and said it is the product of "an administration with absolutely no strategic vision." ShoshanaBryen, director of security policy at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, said that the incentives package "is a problem. If some- thing is a good idea, it should be seen as good on its face; we shouldn't be saying 'if you do something risky, I'll give you this unrelated benefit.'" She cited reports of a U.S. pledge that it will oppose a unilateral Palestinian state- hood declaration at the United Nations if Israel agrees to extend the freeze. "Either you don't want the Palestinians to do it and you act on that, or not. Why does Israel now have to do something in return? This is a horrible precedent." Washington continues to vote against biased, anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N., she said, but it is no longer "argu- ing forwhatwewant, we'rejust casting votes. There's a huge difference." Bickering over the incen- tives package, she said, is "worsening a problem" that was already under way as the Obama administration tries to improve relations with Arab and Muslim states by "having less to do with Israel," Bryen said. "What we see is a con- scious effort to diminish that strategic closeness. [Former President George W.] Bush saw Israel as a genuine partner; the Obama administration doesn't. When he talks about 'partners,' he doesn't talk about Israel." That attitude has not fil- tered down to working levels at the Pentagon, she conceded. "But ultimately, you have to remember that soldiers take their marching orders from the president." Aaron David Miller, a long- time State Departmentofficial who served as a Middle East adviser to six secretaries of state, disagreed that a funda- mental shift is under way-- but agreed that the Obama administration has fueled that perception, largely through the president's personal style. "Will this administration abandon its support for Israel's qualitative military edge? Clearly no," he said. "This administration adheres to the elements of that relationship perhaps even more than some of its predecessors." Where this administration has been different, he said, is in the murky realmofemotional attachments. "The last two presidents-- Bush and Clinton--had a genuine emotional connec- tion to Israel and what it represents, even while some Israel behavior made them uncomfortable," he said. "This president doesn't hate Israel, but he lacks the sentimental and ideological connection that other presidents have had." Early in his presidency, Obama"went out of his way to reflect his sensitivity to Arab needs, and simply assumed the U.S.-Israel relationship didn't need cultivating," Miller said. "We know this relation- ship requires constant atten- tion-but I don'tthink Obama is put together that way. The Israelis need to be loved; un- less an American president can fulfill the emotional as well as security needs, he will find himself down and out in relating to Israel." What the administration fails to understand is this, Miller said: "How do you ask both Israel and the Palestin- ians to make decisions that are incredibly complicated and risky without making these emotional connections? That's what's lacking here." James D. Besser is the Washington correspondent for the New York Jewish Week from which this article was reprinted by permission.