iraq burns 88.
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Both President George W. Bush and his National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and even members of the Iraq Study Group have made it clear that the report is not to be treated as holy writ. It is one report out of many - others were prepared by the administration itself - that will form the basis for the coming decisions on Iraq.
Still, there is no doubt that because of the stature of James Baker and others in the group, its recommendations will be a component, perhaps the principle component, in shaping the administration's policy.
Two things stand out: The report is a bit like trying to have it both ways - to pull out of Iraq but not too soon and not entirely. The present and indeed future policy decisions were reflected just the other day in Robert Gates's testimony in his confirmation hearings: "The US is not winning, and if the situation in Iraq won't be quickly contained, it could create havoc all over the Middle East and beyond."
Report: US should talk with Syria, Iran
This, interestingly, goes counter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair's recent statement that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the "core problem" affecting everything in the region, including the mess in Iraq.
The two big questions as far as Israel is concerned: Will the report lead to an international conference on the larger Mideast issues, including, of course the Palestinian-Israeli problem? There are signs in the report that this is indeed what its members have in mind.
The other pertinent question is whether the US should talk to Iran and Syria about Iraq. Bush so far has rejected that, but will he be able to resist the pressure not only from the Baker-Hamilton commission, but no less importantly, from the new Democratic majority in Congress?
Getting Iran and Syria involved in the efforts to reach some sort of modus vivendi in Iraq would unavoidably lower the pressure, such as it is, on Iran with regards to its nuclear efforts (and Gates himself has not denied that Iran may be planning a nuclear attack on Israel), as well as giving it a greater say in shaping the political future of Iraq.
As to Syria, a greater involvement on her part could mean helping it to reestablish her suzerainty over Lebanon as well as putting the subject of the Golan Heights on the agenda. All this does not augur well for Israel.
Though common sense would show that the Palestinian problem or the Golan have nothing to do with Iraq - the combination of Arab fears of a Shi'ite Crescent and European attitudes in general (as we saw in the recent Spanish-French-Italian initiative) and American frustration over Iraq could lead to a situation in which, in the absence of real solutions for Iraq, attention will be shifted to matters directly affecting us.
Israeli diplomacy, which has not been too successful in recent times in making its positions clear - including with the Europeans but also with the victorious Democrats in Congress and perhaps even with parts of the administration - must now make a major effort to resist the attempts to "Palestinianize" the situation in Iraq, with Israel being asked to pay for it.
Zalman Shoval served as Israel's ambassador to Washington between 1990 and 1993, and again from 1998 to 1999.
Interviewed by Amir Mizroch.
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