WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com)–Since the U.S. retaliation after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Pres. George W. Bush has sought to convince world public opinion that this country’s so-called War on Terrorism is not war against Islam itself and that the primary beneficiary of the policy has not been Israel.
First there were the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, both Muslim countries. Now, after first feigning an assault on Syria, Mr. Bush has put the Islamic Republic of Iran in his administration’s sights.
Could U.S. rhetoric be building toward an attempt to bring about a “regime change” in Tehran, and is his trip to the Middle East designed to seal the deal?
Consider this report in a New Republic article last year.
“When pressed to identify the single greatest danger facing Isreal, strategic thinkers tend to say Iran. Iran is governed by a missionary faith that spreads Jew-hatred in Muslim countries around the world. Israeli strategists said that because the world wasn’t pressing for inspection of Iranian nuclear facilities–allowing Russian scientists to work on the Iranian bomb unimpeded–Iran may well surpass Baghdad in the race for the bomb,” contributing writer Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in the March 9, 2002 edition of the conservative journal.
Mr. Halevi continued by saying former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin’s primary motive for endorsing the Oslo Peace Process (1993) was his fear of a nuclear Iran.
Mr. Rabin had said, according to the New Republic story, that “sooner or later, by whatever means necessary,” Israel would have to insure that Iran does not go nuclear.
“That is why Mr. Rabin ordered the long-range F-16 fighter, which could fly to Tehran and Baghdad without refueling,” he wrote.
According to the report, Israel’s worry at the time was the U.S. reluctance to wage a multi-front campaign–applying diplomatic and economic sanctions against nations and companies trading with Iran.
When Pres. Bush recently met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr. Bush raised the threat of sanctioning Russia if it proceeded to help Iran with its nuclear energy plant.
Pres. Putin said the U.S. use of a pretext of a nuclear weapons program in Iran was seen in Russia as an instrument of unfair competition against Russian companies.
At the G-8 meeting in France, the question of Iran came up in practically every important bi-lateral meeting Mr. Bush held with his peers.
“The President did bring up his concerns about Iran, stating very clearly that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons presents a grave threat that China and the U.S. have to work together to address,” Mr. Bush told China’s new President Hu Jinta, a “senior administration official” told reporters traveling with Mr. Bush.
The U.S. leader talked about “the need to make certain that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons” during his meeting with French President Jacques Chirac, the senior administration official said of that meeting.
A June 3 Reuters report said that Mr. Chirac rejected suggestions that a G-8 statement pledging to fight the spread of Weapons of Msas Destruction hinted at a possible attack on Iran.
“This interpretation seems extraordinarily far-fetched to me. There was never any question of using force against anyone in any area,” Mr. Chirac said.
Following the G-8 Summit, Mr. Bush continued his diplomatic campaign with meetings with Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis in an effort to resolve the Middle East conflict.
The visit, first to Egypt then to Jordan, was intended to garner support for the “Road map” plan that calls for an end to violence, a freeze on Israeli settlements on the West Bank and an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Bush plan is supported by the intenational community.
“The ‘Road map,’ I think, originated as a political ploy,” Phyllis Bennis, a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), said of Mr. Bush’s vaunted plan in a Final Call interview. “There was a moment when the international community was getting more and more agitated about the crisis in Palestine, particularly in the period right after the Jenin crisis. The ‘Road map’ was a way to get international credibility for what was essentially a U.S. proposal.”
“The first step is never ‘Israel will dismantle the settlements.’ The first step is, ‘there has to be a period of calm.’ The question is, what is that period of calm that they are talking about?” said Jeff Mendez, director of the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine.
“The Palestinians have accepted the ‘Roadmap’ fully, without condition. The Sharon plan accepts it with 14 different changes. In our opinion, this (plan process) can simply be perceived as another game-play to delay things. The entire time that Palestinians and Israelis talk, negotiate and draft plans, Israel is still occupying Palestine,” he said.
But Mr. Bush will have to come across as an honest broker in order to get trust from Arabs in the streets of Palestine and Jordan as well.
“Bush faces an unprecedented level of anti-Americanism in the Arab street,” Mohammed Kamal, political science professor at Cairo University, told the Inter Press Service. “It’s going to be a very difficult job to win the hearts and minds of the Arab people.”
To succeed, Mr. Kamal said, Bush will have to convince all parties that the U.S. can oversee implementation of the ‘Roadmap’ without bias. “Nobody says the U.S. has to be neutral in its relationship with Israel, but it must be neutral in its implementation of the ‘Roadmap.’”
“There’s no reason to speak about obstacles between President Bush and Arab leaders, because all Arab leaders attending the summit have agreed to the road map,” said Emad Gad, a political analyst at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “Bush will face obstacles convincing the Israeli side.”
Israel has insisted that Palestinian refugees must relinquish their right to return home. It also wants the Palestinian Authority to disarm Hamas and other militia groups as a first step.
Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, said Mr. Sharon had another reason for making some effort to move the peace process forward.
“He is putting on a face because six million dollars of U.S. aid is at stake,” Mr. Ratner said. “It is obvious that Iran feels squeezed with a U.S.-occupied Iraq on one side and a US.-occupied Afghanistan on the other border. I know that this administration has a srategic interest in the Middle East, period. But, I am not so sure that factors into any present strategy with Israel.
“Obviously, however, anyone who threatens Israel’s security would be dealt with by the United States. That’s automatic,” he concluded.
Other Muslim leaders argue that U.S. policy is out of step with world opinion. “I think the (Bush) administration realizes it has some flawed policies toward the Middle East and the Muslim world,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).
“The international protests against the U.S. policies are not limited to Muslims or ‘Arab streets.’ It is a wake up call to many, that we cannot continue with certain policies and expect smiling faces and acceptance to what we do.
“There is a tension. There is an increased resentment, and unfortunately the U.S. is seen by people in the world as one of the most hated countries. That has to be changed. That has to be fixed. I hope that the administration’s move to go to the Middle East to help establish peace is a genuine effort, and not just (ploy) by (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair to save his election.”
Mr. Bush has to “show some resilience and put more pressure on Israel,” Mr. Awad said.
Without pressure from the U.S., Israel will turn the ‘Roadmap’ into “a map with no end. Will make it a tunnel without a light” at the end for the Palestinians.
The only solution, said Mr. Awad, is for the U.S. policy makers to recognize that Israel’s occupation of Palestine “is evil. It has brought all this suffering and destruction and instability in the area.”
(Eric Ture Muhammad and the Inter Press Service contributed to this report.)