A New Union Rising
A New Union Rising:
Israel Seeks Military Alliances as Winds of War Grow Stronger
By Sarah Ann Haves
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Jerusalem, Israel
A recent gathering at the Grand Palais in Paris, France on July 13 included 43 heads of state from Europe, Arab countries and Israel. Proclaimed by French President Nicholas Sarkozy as a “new union” for European-Mediterranean unity, it signaled an effort to advance Middle East peace. As current rotating President of the EU, Sarkozy’s historic gathering was a measure of his increased influence in the region. It comes at a time when the U.S. Bush Administration’s Middle East role seems to be diminishing. The lame duck presidency of George W. Bush and the upcoming U.S. presidential elections, along with an economic recession that is causing Americans to tighten their pocketbooks, has focused priorities — at least for the short-term — on greater domestic concerns.
Sarkozy’s political power was evident in his ability to overcome criticism about forming another union besides the EU. While he succeeded in absorbing “new union” projects into those already established by EU members, his diplomatic agenda was not as clear. The only final statement among the new member states was an agreement to pursue a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction. Working together on water, energy and agricultural projects were highlighted, but follow-through could prove to be difficult, especially because of in-fighting among Arab states.
Meanwhile, some of Sarkozy’s so-called diplomatic accomplishments at the gathering could hinder Israel in its quest for future peace and security with regional Arab states.
Sarkozy encouraged new Lebanese President Michael Suleiman and Syrian President Bashar Assad to meet and discuss upgrading relations. This is one effort by Sarkozy at bringing Syria out of isolation — a country considered by Bush to be part of an “axis of evil” of rogue states in the region. Renewing a partnership between Lebanon and Syria is not considered in the best interest of the U.S. or Israel.
For its part, Lebanon is pressuring Israel to withdraw from the controversial Shaba Farms, a disputed strip of land claimed by both Lebanon and Syria, and currently controlled by Israel for security reasons. Sarkozy wants Israel to release control of the disputed area to the UN. Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert is opposed to that idea, and would rather engage in direct talks with Lebanon, hoping this will further the Israeli government’s vision of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. But, Suleiman won’t meet with Olmert. Furthermore, the Lebanese army, with the help of Hezbollah, is reportedly poised to take control of the Shaba Farms by force, if necessary. This could jump start another Israeli-Lebanese war.
Icy relations between Syria and Lebanon thawed at the Paris gathering, but many Lebanese are not satisfied with this new relationship as they have accused Syria of meddling in state affairs. Assad’s regime is allegedly responsible for carrying out several assassinations in Lebanon, including that of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria has been blamed for contributing to instability in the functioning of Lebanon’s government.
Syria continues to prop up Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy and terrorist group that fought against Israel in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Hezbollah now has veto power over every decision made in the Lebanese cabinet.
Violating UN Resolution 1701, established at the end of the Second Lebanon War, Syria continues to allow weapons shipments from Iran to reach Hezbollah through its territory. Syria harbors terrorist leaders who control radical groups in Gaza and the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) that attack Israel. And, while Assad has denied it, Syria has reportedly been hiding nuclear facilities from the global community
Despite Syria maintaining a close strategic partnership with Iran, Sarkozy provided a diplomatic platform for Assad to begin an ascent towards improved relationships with the West. Both the Europeans and Israel think that it’s possible to lure Syria away from Iran with political and economic incentives.
MEP Paul Casaca is a member of the European Parliament who has specialized in assessing events in the Middle East. In his opinion, as the U.S. refuses to deal with Syria, Europe’s intent is to open up a dialogue. “It’s true Europe tried and is still trying to play a role regarding Syria, where there is no channel with the US. Europe is trying to establish this communications channel. Up until now, I do not think it has been successful. The perspective of Mr. Sarkozy, seeing Syria separated from Iran, seems to be an illusion; it’s not going to work. Syria is not, in the least, separating from Iran; and, perhaps, it’s the reverse — confirming its partnership with Iran. I don’t see any signs of a separation between Syria and Iran.”
Even before the Paris gathering, Israeli President Ehud Olmert brought Syria global favor by determining to negotiate a peace deal on the Golan Heights with Assad. Indirect negotiations between the two men have now opened the door to European leaders, several of whom hope to bring Assad into the Western fold. This comes despite a continued reluctance on the part of the Bush Administration to “do business” with Syria.
European and U.S. leaders are increasingly concerned about Israel’s preparations for a military strike against Iran’s aggressive nuclear program. If that occurs, they want to make sure that Syria is neutral, and will not help Iran, militarily. A close alignment between Iran and Syria, with the indirect help of Lebanon, would not only hurt Israel but U.S. and European interests in the region should such a conflict emerge.
Casaca thinks that conditions are ripe for Israel, the U.S. and Europe to cooperate more closely as the Iranian threat increases. “It is more than the matter of the nuclear issue. And, Israel may have no alternative than to make an operation to strategically delay the program of Iran.”
Israel’s mass military exercises in the Mediterranean in June, followed by reported sorties over Iraqi airspace recently, has increased speculation that Israel is preparing for a confrontation with Iran, with the full knowledge of U.S. defense officials. Unprecedented high level meetings have occurred in Israel during the past two months attended by the Chairman of the U.S Joint Chiefs of Staff along with U.S. navy admirals, and four-star generals. In addition, extensive American military exercises in the Gulf region have led some analysts to believe that the U.S. and Israel may be preparing, together, for a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Iranian leaders have declared that if Iran is attacked it will attempt to destroy Israel, as well as U.S. bases in the region.
Despite an increase in saber-rattling between the U.S. and Iran, there’s a consensus that neither are ready for such a war to take place in the near future. In fact, the U.S. is planning to send Under Secretary for Political Affairs, William Burns to talks between Iran and the EU, which will encourage more diplomatic negotiations with the Islamic state. Many see this as a U.S. shift towards appeasement and dialogue with Iran, but it could be an effort to try and halt the Iranian nuclear program, even temporarily, while military plans continue to develop behind the scenes.
While Israel is preparing militarily, the Israeli home front is not yet ready, either. Gas masks are not expected to be distributed until January 2009. Israel has still not completed its Iron Dome project (due to be completed in 2010 or earlier), which would provide an anti-missile defense system capable of deterring short-range rockets coming from Iran’s proxies — Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza. Israel is also trying to purchase state-of-the-art advanced fighter jets from the U.S. Pentagon, which would give the Jewish state a qualitative edge over Iran’s military capability.
The U.S., for its part, is trying to install an anti-missile defense system into Europe, and to disengage some of its troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, so it can prepare for a possible war on a “third front,” something that American leaders have not wanted to consider until now. Iran recently tested its long-range ballistic missiles in two military exercises at night near the Straits of Hormuz. These exercises revealed to Western analysts that Iran has not improved its missile reach, and therefore, cannot hit targets that it boasts about. Still, Iran has the capability of striking at ships in the Persian Gulf or blocking oil shipments. U.S. naval officers have declared they will not allow the Islamic state to siege the Straits. Hostilities there could jump start a war.
Casaca says the Europeans don’t want to get involved. “I think that all the military demonstrations with Iran, coupled with its persistent daily threats against Israel, make a strong case for answering to Iran. I think that the European position is more or less, ‘don’t put us in the picture, but we could understand that some pre-emptive strike against nuclear facilities in Iran will take place’. This is what more or less is being said from European leaders.”
Recently, Israel upgraded relations with the EU, and earlier in the year, developed stronger strategic cooperation agreements with France, Germany, Italy, and the U.K. While these closer partnerships seem to be mostly in the areas of trade, economics, and education, there is also an interest in common geo-political concerns, especially how to curb Iran’s ambition for world domination.
Currently, Europe’s main military force, NATO, is in major need of an upgrade, but Israel has been a close observer to NATO exercises in the Mediterranean. There could be some coordinated military effort in the future. Sarkozy has been the first European leader to consider integrating NATO into the EU. According to Casaca, there are problems in synchronizing NATO’s military equipment with that of individual EU countries such as Germany, France, Spain and Italy. “We are not working together to make our equipment better for military engagement — all that is necessary for a force to act in a coordinated way. We are very far from achieving it. There’s an economic aspect. Defense industries are not at all integrated. Sarkozy understands this is essential, and we have to work, all of us, more closely together.”
Meanwhile, Israeli leaders will continue to voice their concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions in any forum or international gathering they attend in the future. Wherever there is the possibility of forming a military coalition, either behind the scenes, or within public view, Israel will be there prodding the U.S., Europe, and even moderate Arab states to join in an all-out effort to stop Iran from “going nuclear.” Israeli leaders are united in this effort, all feeling that the security and preservation of the Jewish state depends on it.
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore, hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me.” (Ezekiel 3:17).
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting from Israel on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues affecting the nation.
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