Analysis: 'Moscow also has interests'

Moscow seems willing to give succor to Israel's worst enemies: Iran and Hamas.

By
March 1, 2006 04:15
Analysis: 'Moscow also has interests'

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Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convened a special meeting Tuesday to talk about relations with Russia at a time when Moscow seems willing to give succor to Israel's worst enemies: Iran and Hamas. Russia is doing all it can to come up with a compromise proposal that would keep the Iranian nuclear issue from going to the UN Security Council for sanctions. And Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal is due to visit Moscow at the end of the week. Olmert called together Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, National Security Council head Giora Eiland and top intelligence officers to discuss the situation. He didn't invite the Russians. If he had, this is likely what he would have heard: "Ehud, no offense intended, but you Israelis are a myopic, self-centered people. You think that your interests are all that matters in the world. But we also have interests, and those interests are served both by enriching Iran's uranium and by talking to Hamas. Let me explain. "First regarding the Iranians, believe you me, we have no interest in seeing the ayatollahs have the power to blow up the world. We're right in their neighborhood, for goodness sake, and we know who they are and what they are capable of. We have made it clear that if they don't agree to our compromise to enrich their uranium, we will support sanctions at the UN to stop them from getting nukes, because, like I said, we know who they are and what they are capable of. "But, Ehud, there are other issues involved. First of all, there is money. The nuclear reactor we are building for Iran at Bushehr is worth almost $1 billion to us. I repeat, $1 billion. We are not America. That is a lot of money, and it's a lot of money that would go to other contractors in other countries if the UN imposes sanctions on Iran. "Sanctions mean that we can't service Bushehr, or build other reactors the Iranians want built. Sanctions mean we also can't sell the Iranians arms, which also brings us billions of dollars more. "So, obviously, we don't want sanctions. But we also don't want a nuclear Iran. If we enrich the uranium, as we have done for states that used to be in the Soviet sphere, then we can keep the Iranians from getting nukes, and fend off sanctions which will hurt us.That's good, no? "Secondly, have you ever heard of Nagorno Karabakh and the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, or how about the Caspian Sea. Probably not, because your head is too deep into your own problems. "But we have a little situation of our own down south between the Armenians and Azerbaijanis. I don't want to bore you with details of a conflict that makes the Palestinian-Israeli problem look simple, but there is a convergence of Iranian and Russian interests on the side of Armenia, against those of Turkey which sides with the Azerbaijanis. "Also the Caspian Sea. You Israelis carefully watch the Kinneret to see how much it rises or falls every day, and we think that is very quaint. We too are watching a sea, the Caspian, and it is a wee bit more important. "Five countries border this sea, which is rich in oil and natural gas, and the countries are trying to divvy up who gets what, and through what pipeline it will all go to market. Russia and Iran are two of those countries; Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan are the others. Again, I'll spare you all the details, but on many of these issues Iranian and Russian interests are similar. "So, in short, we don't want to completely alienate the Iranians, because we cooperate with them in other spheres that are very important to us. And we'll do what we have to so as not to alienate them. "Also, remember that we have a bit of a problem of our own with Muslim radicals in Chechnya. All we need is for the Iranians to stick their fingers into that pot, and an already very nasty situation becomes even worse. And don't tell me this won't happen because the Iranians are Shi'ite and the Chechens are Sunni. Hamas is also Sunni, and the Iranians are more than willing to help it. "You Israelis often say that Russia was brought into the Quartet to neutralize Moscow's ability to cause mischief in the Middle East. In relation to the Russians, I've heard you cite Lyndon Baines Johnson's crude comment about J. Edgar Hoover - that it is better to have him inside the tent urinating out than the other way around. "Well, we say the same thing about the Iranians. We want to keep them and their radical Islamic fundamentalism out of the Transcaucasus, where they can cause us quite a bit of trouble. "Which brings me to Hamas. Ehud, buddy, stop preaching to us about Hamas. The Egyptians and Jordanians talk to Hamas, as do the Turks. So why can't we? Plus, get a grip. Remember history. Remember how you wouldn't talk to the PLO for so long, and then both you and they came around. "We want to meet Hamas not because we think they are a wonderful group of guys - we know they blow up buses and pizza parlors - but because we want to tell them what they need to do. We also want them to recognize Israel, accept previous agreements and end their terrorism. But let's be real, this isn't going to happen overnight, it will take time. "They have to get used to you guys (and believe me it's not that easy), and we want to prod them in that direction. The Middle East process is at a dead end. Hamas won, and you're not talking to them. If this situation continues, you will take further unilateral steps and create boundaries that won't be accepted by the world. "Let me give you some friendly advice: If you, Europe and the US close the money spigot to the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians will simply blame you for their misery and things will get worse. "Remember what happened when the UN imposed sanctions on Iraq. Rather than dumping Saddam Hussein, the Iraqis rallied around him. That's typical of the West - in the Middle East their wrongheaded policies usually bring about the exact opposite of what is intended. Look at the US policy in Iraq, look at Bush's democratization of the Middle East. "Take a good look at Iran and Hamas, and realize that in both situations there is currently a dead end. Russia can step in and find a new exit. True, coming in to save the day does enhance our stature in the world, does make us a superpower player like we once were, but what's the matter with that? Somebody needs to do something new, because Lord knows the Americans aren't getting it right. Rather than criticizing us, you should just be happy Mother Russia is here - ready and willing to help."

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