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Nuclear Iran And Israeli Palestinian Talks

Israeli Source: 'Slim Chance China Will Drop Her Refusal To Impose New Sanctions On Iran After U.S. Arms Sale To Taiwan'

IsraCast Assessment: U.S. Deployment Of Patriot Missiles In Gulf States Part Of Clinton's 'Defensive Umbrella' As U.S. Presses For New Sanctions Against Iran

Israeli-Palestinian Proximity Talks Apparently To Get Underway In Coming Weeks Under Aegis Of U.S. Envoy George Mitchell

Barack Obama

 The U.S. announcement of a $6 billion arms sale to Taiwan could not have come at a worse time for President Barack Obama's attempt to rally UN Security Council backing for new sanctions against Iran. A former senior Israeli official in Washington says chances are now slimmer than ever of getting China's crucial support. Meanwhile, the U.S. is beefing up the missile defenses of four Gulf states as Iran launches a missile which could potentially reach America's eastern seaboard. Analyst David Essing assesses this and other developments over the past seven days.

 Has the Obama administration perpetrated a self-inflicted wound by announcing a $6 billion arms sale to Taiwan at the very time that China's support is crucial for new Security Council sanctions against Iran? A former senior Israeli official to Washington says 'Yes'. The Chinese are now likely to retaliate by torpedoing American diplomatic moves in other parts of the world arena including Iran. Nonetheless, a White House spokesman said the U.S. anticipated the weapons sale, mainly of Patriot surface to air missiles, would continue to work with the U.S. in confronting Iran's nuclear challenge.

The Chinese response was not long in coming - Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi stated: "The talk of sanctions at this moment will complicate the situation and stand in the way of finding a diplomatic solution". At the same time, the Chinese diplomat urged Tehran 'not to totally shut the door'. France is now expected to lead the charge at the UN for 'strong' sanctions against Iran warning that time is running out. Yet it appears that Beijing, if not for its need for Iranian oil at least out of anger over the arms deal, will veto a new sanctions proposal. The U.S. has an uncanny knack for alienating countries whose support is critical in confronting Iran - Obama has now done it with China while his predecessor George Bush did it with the ill-advised plan to deploy missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic and thereby infuriating Russia. And now surprise, surprise! As expected the Iranians are again mumbling about new ideas for sending some of their enriched uranium abroad for processing into nuclear fuel rods that cannot be used for nuclear weapons.

The Iranian saga continues although it appears that Obama's diplomatic dawdling is coming to a head. After wasting a year for the Muslim Shiite fanatics in Iran to see the light of engagement and diplomacy, the U.S. is now beefing up the missile defenses of four Gulf states. The U.S. is stationing Patriot surface to air missiles in at least four Gulf states: Bahrain, Kuwait, Qater and United Arab Emirates. At least two U.S. ships in the Gulf reportedly have a missile interception capability. In reaction, Iran's top military commander has downplayed the deployment saying the Patriots can be rendered useless by simple counter- measures. He accused America of waging psychological warfare and trying to plunder the treasure of the Gulf states by selling them missiles.

The Iranian Missile Range

The U.S. is obviously turning up the pressure on Iran but to what end? If China does veto any Security Council vote for stronger sanctions, the U.S. will have to seek another route. After that it's anyone's guess what will happen. According to Moshe Arens, Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Arens at the time of Desert Storm in 1991 , the Patriots, which the U.S. rushed to Israel, did not intercept even one of the 39 Scuds that Saddam Hussein fired into the Jewish state. Arens recently said the new Patriots reportedly have an enhanced capability to intercept missiles as well as aircraft. However, the new U.S. missile defenses in the Gulf do not necessarily mean the Obama administration is now considering a military strike against Iran's nuclear installations; on the contrary it could be part of the 'defensive umbrella' strategy that was articulated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last July. Clinton said:" It's unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer because they won't be able to intimidate and dominate as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon". This would seem to indicate that the Obama administration was thinking more in terms of a defensive-protective approach in the event that Iran acquires nuclear weapons, rather an offensive and/or military operation to prevent the Iranians from developing nuclear weapons.

Menashe Amir, an Israeli analyst on Iran, has told IsraCast that Iranian opponents to the regime would welcome a military strike against the nuclear sites saying it could help topple the dictatorship. However, U.S.General David Petraeus, the head of the Centcom, disagreed - in his view a military attack on Iran would backfire and rally domestic support behind the regime. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, has also cautioned that he has enough on his plate already with American forces now exiting Iraq for Afghanistan. The jury is still out both in Washington and Jerusalem. The Obama administration is now moving to the next stage of trying to rally crippling sanctions against Iran. The U.S. has also warned Israel that she has no green light to hit Iran and the Netanyahu government has indicated it has no intention of going it alone, or interfering with America's diplomatic shift from less carrots and more sticks. The Israeli leadership, as it has during this past year, can be expected to steer clear of any moves that her critics in the U.S. would love to pounce upon as proving that the Jewish state is undermining American policy or acting as the Israeli tag wagging the American dog. Again, all bets are off, if Israeli intelligence acquires reliable information that Tehran has decided to 'break out' by starting to enrich weapons grade uranium.

'There are two principal axes of Israel's foreign policy- the effort to prevent Iran from going nuclear and promoting a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict' - that's the assessment of Dr Uzi Arad, who heads the National Security Council and serves as a top foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Speaking at the Herzliya Conference, Arad spoke of more noticeable progress than meets the eye. America's policy was also accompanied by pressure to persuade Tehran from shifting from nuclear weapons to paths of peace. In this sphere, there has been headway on what Arad called 'a very high level of progress between Israel and the international community under America's leadership'. Over the next three months, there would be a closing of the ring of both economic pressures on Iran and of her international isolation. Iran will face a dilemma: whether she wants to continue her defiance of the world which may cost her a heavy price or to pursue nuclear weapons.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

In the other sphere, the advancing of agreements and the peace process - there was no question there was great disappointment that there had not been any high level contacts during the past year. Although there is great potential for moving forward, the Palestinians have adopted a posture of rejection. This rejection did not begin with the Netanyahu governmen; a year and a half ago, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had submitted a generous and wide-ranging offer to Palestinian President Muhmoud Abbas designed to advancing the peace process. However, the latter turned it down by refusing to accept it. Six months later, Abbas explained that the gaps were still too wide. There are many and varied explanations for this Palestinian rejection - Abbas is too strong or he is too weak, or he is going to an election, he is disheartened or he is waiting for a convening of the Arab League. Although these explanations changed from time to time, the Abbas policy of rejection persisted and this was disappointing. Despite this disappointment, the U.S. was trying to convene Israeli- Palestinian talks and Israel was interested in negotiations without prior conditions and had made good-will gestures to prove it. In his address to the conference, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke optimistically of the Israeli- Palestinian talks getting underway again in the coming weeks. The idea is that West Bank Palestinians may agree to go to proximity talks between Ramallah and Jerusalem under the aegis of American envoy George Mitchell, who will serve as middleman shuttling between the two sides.

Be that as it may, these talks will take place under the shadow of the Iranian nuclear crisis in more ways than one. U.S. National Security Adviser General James Jones has warned that Iran, under mounting pressure, may try to activate her surrogates - Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. The outcome of the Iranian crisis may also impact on Israel's readiness to take security risks with the Palestinians. Until the Iranian crisis is resolved the entire Middle East may be in a holding mode because the entire region will be a different place than it is today.

David Essing

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