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Obama's Middle East Puzzle?

U.S. President Obama Running Full Court Press On Iran

Summit With Netanyahu & Mahmoud Abbas Part Of Two Track Offensive

Netanyahu To Deliver Dramatic 'Speech' On Iran At UN

Barack Obama

 Over the past seventy-hours, a series of events have been swirling around the Middle East and farther afield. U.S. President Barack Obama has in fact launched what amounts to a new initiative. On one hand, Obama's strategy is to try and halt Iran's nuclear weapons drive on one tract, in tandem with an Israeli-Palestinian summit at the UN. IsraCast tries to fit the pieces of Obama's puzzle into place.

 In the jargon of basketball, a sport he loves to play, President Barack Obama is running a 'full court press' on the Middle East. It has now been expanded to include Russia, a key player in the attempt to block Iran's nuclear weapons drive. But that is only one track of Obama's two-pronged approach: the other is to jump-start the Israeli-Palestinian a vital component for galvanizing Arab support in confronting Tehran.

In the jargon of basketball, a sport he loves to play, President Barack Obama is running a 'full court press' on the Middle East

Russia: Obama's decision to back off the Bush administration's to station a missile interception in the Russian backyard of Poland and the Czech Republic was misguided to say the least. It raised hackles in the Kremlin and possibly an obstructionist approach to stiffer sanctions on Iran. Whether this will affect Moscow's attitude will soon be put to the test. So far, although Russia has signed a deal to sell Iran advanced SA-300 anti-aircraft missiles, the Russian have yet to deliver the weapons that could pose a serious threat to an air strike against Iran's nuclear missile sites. On the other hand, Russian President Dimitry Medvedev has revealed that President Shimon Peres had informed him personally that Israel had no intention of attacking Iran.

Although the Russians, have sold and are selling the Iranians, the nuclear know-how and equipment to develop nuclear weapons, in the same breath Medvedev was categorically opposed to the possibility of an Israeli air strike. It remains to be seen whether, the Kremlin will now cooperate with Obama's pitch for stiffer sanctions.

However, Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has noted that even Obama himself and other international leaders have declared that 'all options remain on the table and this certainly correct'.

I have opposed and I oppose panic. I do not believe we are at the threshold of a new Holocaust

Defense Minister Ehud Barak put it this way in an interview with 'Yediot Ahronot': 'Iran does not pose an existential threat to the state of Israel. Israel is strong. I do not see anyone who can pose such an existential threat'. At the moment, Iran does not have the bomb. Even if it gets it, I do not view this as making it a threat to Israel's existence. Israel can turn Iran into a mass of rubble. This is no change in my views:I have opposed and I oppose panic. I do not believe we are at the threshold of a new Holocaust. Let's say Saudi Arabia at some stage buys two nuclear: that will not mean that Israel has been lost. At the same time, Iran does pose a challenge to Israel and the entire world. Now is the time for diplomatic action and stiffer sanctions and this should be done in parallel. It is desirable to clarify that all options are open. We are not taking any option off the table'.

It is against this backdrop, that Prime Minister Netanyahu will make, what is being billed as, a 'dramatic' speech to the UN General Assembly. Reading between the lines, it is likely the Prime Minister will make clear that time is fast running out. (According to AP, even the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, long in a state of denial, has now drafted an undisclosed report that Iran has indeed acquired enough low grade enriched uranium for a 'breakout' to producing a bomb).

It would seem likely that Netanyahu will tell the General Assembly that the international community must bear full responsibility for any future developments. If it refuses to take effective action, Israel exercise her own right of self-defense when it considers whether or not to go it alone and strike Iran's nuclear facilities. That is merging as the mindset of some Israeli leaders; that the Jewish state has no intention of being sacrificed on the alter of international appeasement as was Czechoslovakia before World War II. For example, the hawkish Netanyahu has previously declared, as did his dovish predecessor Ehud Olmert, that Israel will not permit Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. But in the face of repeated Iranian threats to 'wipe Israel off the map!' , Defense Minister Barak has referred to an undisclosed Israeli capability of coping with a nuclear weapons threat from any quarter in the Middle East.

Israel now has the vaunted Arrow anti-missile system in place and is obviously working continuously on improving its defenses against a nuclear attack. On the other hand, Gen.(res.)Eitan Ben Eliyahu, a former Israel Air Force commander has made clear that in his view Israeli pilots do have the capability of destroying the Iranian nuclear threat. The confidence of the Israeli public in the IAF, is perhaps the main reason that there is no panic among Israelis today although Iran is known to be advancing daily toward getting the bomb.

IAF Major General commander, Ido Nehoshtan

 In a separate interview with Yediot Ahronot to mark the Jewish New Year, Gen. Ido Nechustan, himself a fighter pilot, who actually flies on combat missions, was asked how troubled he was by the Iranian threat: 'I devote to it all the time and thought that I must, and that's not a little. The Israel Air Force understands its operational missions, its goal and operations. It has planned for them and is prepared to carry them out very well. This should be taken into account anyone who threatens to harm the state of Israel'.

When asked about the Goldstone Report, which on the basis of mostly Palestinian allegations, accused Israel of possibly carrying out war crimes, Gen. Nechustan was angered by the fact it barely referred the eight years of the Palestinian rocketing of Israeli civilians from Gaza.

 'When referring to the IDF's Cast Lead operation it must not be forgotten why it had to be carried out. The Palestinians forced us, and I only wish we had other solutions, better solution. And if it was forced upon us, our first obligation is to protect our civilians. The harming of civilians began first with the rocketing of Israelis in Sderot and then expanded to other communities including the city of Ashdod'. ( Just a few days before the launching of Cast Lead, the then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, as a last resort, went on Arab TV, to warn Hamas to halt the rocketing before it was too late, but to no avail).

'If anyone has better solutions for the Israeli children in Ashkelon, Sderot, Netivot and all the communities and kibbutzim in the vicinity and in the future, for Ashdod, please let me know'

 A week after Cast Lead began, the IAF headquarters staff, visited the beleaguered Sderot. The officers toured the trauma center and an elementary school. The motif they heard over and over was the terror of the rockets...'Each child and the story of how a rocket had damaged his home'. These were children of 8,9 and ten years of age. And the IAF commander added: 'By the way, these kids boasted to me about how they could race from any part of their school to the nomb shelter within 15 seconds!' And as if in am indirect message to Judge Goldstone, Gen. Nechustan added: 'If anyone has better solutions for the Israeli children in Ashkelon, Sderot, Netivot and all the communities and kibbutzim in the vicinity and in the future, for Ashdod, please let me know'. The IAF commander was convinced: 'When considering the results from the moral perspective and not only operational, I think we conducted the mission in an honorable way that has no precedent anywhere in the world'. (He could have, but did not refer to Iraq or Afghanistan where NATO air strikes have more in the news lately, not to speak of numerous other cases.)

When pressed about the criticism by the UN and from other quarters about Palestinian civilian casualties, the Air Force commander said:'We regret any harm done to an innocent Palestinian, and if there was such harm, it was not done deliberately. We operate the best manner possible without harming civilians. There is an entire procedure before any target is hit. It determines what the target is, what is proper to attack. Not only the Air Force is involved. And after the target is identified the Palestinian building is telephoned warning people to get out. We made 160,000 such telephone calls during the Cast Lead operation. And if there was any doubt that the civilians understood the message, we dropped a small charge because we didn't want to harm civilians. Before the target was destroyed, there was visual observation to verify that the civilians had evacuated. Only then was the attack launched'.

Nonetheless how did this explain the fact that many Palestinian civilians were killed and wounded? 'If only that war could have been waged in the desert. But not only are there no deserts in Gaza, the area is densely populated, perhaps the most densely populatedin the world. Moreover, Hamas copied Hezbollah's tactics from south Lebanon, by setting up their headquarters and weapons in schools and hospitals and opening fire from amid Palestinian civilians. These tactics are part of their world outlook'.

So much for the update on Iran, the Israel Air Force and Gaza. Coming back to the Obama summit that involves the West Bank Palestinians, the U.S. President will obviously lean hard on Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas to go back to the table. This, not only to advance the Israeli-Palestinian track but also to rally broader international support at the UN for stiffer sanctions against Iran. Abbas had set a prior condition for any meeting with Netanyahu - a total cessation of all building on the West Bank and in eastern Jerusalem. Netanyahu agreed to a partial moratorium, while completing close to 2,000 housing units. But how Obama can corral the two leaders into a new round of negotiations may be well nigh as difficult as getting his medical health scheme approved.

David Essing

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