The foreign policy team of US President Barack Obama is undertaking a
reassessment of its policy all over the Middle East, including Israel. No one
has made or will make a public declaration about such a change, but a
reassessment is nonetheless under way, and we can already detect the first
products of this rethinking of policy.
The policy of keeping a distance
from Israel, of picking fights with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, led
nowhere. There was a nominal freeze of construction in the settlements. The
settlement freeze was not important in the first place and Obama has decided, as
you could tell during his latest meeting with Netanyahu, not to make it the
central issue anymore.
Instead, we are going to see a policy that
emphasizes cooperation, understanding, working together, hand in hand, to bring
the Palestinians to direct negotiations, instead of what is now in place –
proximity talks. Nobody talks about anything serious in proximity talks; you
don’t show your cards to George Mitchell, the US mediator, as much as you may
They have reached the conclusion that keeping a distance and
picking unnecessary fights, was not going to advance the peace process. They are
not getting anything in return from the Arab world. This is why Chief of Staff
Rahm Emanuel, on a private visit to Israel recently for his son’s bar mitzva,
said in so many words, “We screwed up.”
THERE HAS also been a change of
heart in Washington concerning Iran. I have solid information indicating that
the top echelons of the administration – National Security Council, Pentagon,
State Department – have reached the conclusion that the US cannot adopt the
option of containing a nuclear Iran.
The option of accepting a nuclear
Iran, unwillingly of course, and then trying to contain it, was advocated by
many important players on the American foreign policy scene. This option is now
apparently off the table.
There is a change of policy not only in terms
of sanctions, both at the UN Security Council and those unilateral sanctions now
imposed by both the US, EU and others, but also an understanding by the
administration that in no way can Iran be allowed to acquire a nuclear
How do we know this? Among other things, because this is what the
Americans have been telling Arab leaders over recent weeks.
And why have
they changed their minds? Because of what the leaders of the Gulf states,
including the king of Saudi Arabia, have been saying to Obama for some time now:
“We cannot live with a nuclear Iran.”
This is something dramatic which
also provides a basis for a new understanding with Israel. I make a caveat here
– the fact that the Americans have reached a conclusion that they will not allow
Iran to go nuclear does not mean Obama has to take a decision in half a year,
one year or even two.
They have time. There is a very big difference
between having enough enriched uranium for two bombs, or in a few months for
three bombs, and the capability to package highly enriched uranium into a
nuclear warhead that can be carried by a long-range, Shahab-3 missile, into the
stratosphere, out of the stratosphere and hit a target. The Iranians are not
So, of course, the effort to stop the Iranians should be taking
place now, but we have to have a realistic view of the time frame that
AND FINALLY, Iraq. In Iraq we had elections that constitute,
in my humble opinion, a major victory for George W. Bush. The good guys
The two main secular lists, Iyad Allawi’s Iraqia, which is a
Sunni-Shi’ite alliance backed by Saudi Arabia, and Prime Minister Nouri
al-Maliki’s State of Law list, both won in the elections.
And when people
at the National Security Council in Washington are looking at Iraq, they
saying there is a huge opportunity there.
US troops have to start moving
out, this year. But, suddenly, on Iraq, new music is played on the White
piano. They are saying, “The Americans may be out, but we need UN
That will consist of basically American soldiers. They do not
want a government in Iraq that is going to be influenced, sponsored,
you want, by the neighboring Iranians, and will find a way to ensure
I believe Obama and some of the people around him are
reaching the conclusion that a policy that is based on engagement, on
“unclenching the fist,” “let’s talk” and especially “let’s talk to
probably a good campaign slogan.
But in the “Muddle East” region, where I
come from, it doesn’t really work. They got a no for an answer from the
they repeatedly get a no from the Iranians and they get slapped back all
the place. They are saying to themselves, “That’s about as much as we
prepared to take.”The writer is a Lafer International
Fellow at the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Middle East Commentator
Channel 2 news. This article first appeared in The Australian.