From the time both leaders first took office in 2001, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon made the special Israel-US relations a factor of the warm personal rapport he developed with US President George W. Bush. Much of the intense, traditional cooperation between the two countries was channeled directly through the link between prime minister’s office in Jerusalem and the White House. Therefore, the dissonances jarring the dialogue between Sharon and Bush of late, despite the show of jovial amity, cannot be brushed off as arising from passing differences of personal perceptions; it denotes a much deeper breach, one arising out of a conflict of national interests.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s senior sources in Washington and Jerusalem date the burr in the saddle to the Middle East summit at the Jordanian resort of Aqaba, which brought Bush, Sharon and Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas together on June 4 for a solemn affirmation. They vowed to implement the Bush plan for resuscitating Middle East peacemaking.
Since then, the Bush-Sharon the alliance has been going downhill.
Every misstep, delay or departure from the so-called road map encounters a new waspishness in Washington instead of the old sympathy.
“Neither is to blame; it’s no use looking for guilt,” said a senior source in Washington familiar with the Bush-Sharon relationship.
Another source agreed; “It is not the fault of Bush or Sharon. But looking at the path they followed up to this point, you can see it was Sharon who miscalculated. His expectations of the US president were unrealistic, even naive or simplistic. He pinned everything on his policy linchpin of utter loyalty to Bush, certain it was enough to keep the friendship on permanently firm ground. That loyalty paid off more than once. Not any more. There comes a moment when a leader of a sovereign state has to put his own country’s interests and his domestic political needs first – even if they conflict with the interests of his closest ally,” said the source.
“The first impediment in fact was the ending of the military phase of the Iraq War. Bush saw his way forward from that point and forged ahead on the course he had set himself prior to the war. Sharon was left behind, loaded down with an unrealistic expectation of rewards due to Israel for accepting its marginal role in the Iraq War while rendering unpublicized and unsung assistance to the war effort.
“The parting of the ways was inevitable.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s political analysts put it this way: Bush’s eyes are fixed on his long-term vision. His planning extends as far as mid-century. He believes that ultimately Israel will benefit and be strengthened in the framework of this vision. It entails replacing incumbent Arab regimes of the Middle East with democratically elected, enlightened leaderships.
Initially, Sharon was wholeheartedly in favor of the Bush master-plan for the region. However, the early stages of its implementation brought him up short with an unpleasant discovery: Israel’s strength, military, social and economic, has been cruelly eroded by three punishing years of warfare against intrusive Palestinian violence. The Jewish state may not have the stamina to wait for the fulfillment of the American president’s fine plans. Even worse, Israel has discovered tardily that America’s first steps on the way to its goals expose the Israeli populace to dire danger, regarded by some Israelis as existential.
This harsh discovery is forcing the Israeli prime minister to take a hard look at the diplomatic and security policies hinging on unswerving adherence to the Bush line, which after two and a half years are proving no longer tenable.
Since the end of the Iraq War, the Middle East and Persian Gulf regions have begun showing cracks, exactly as the Bush administration forecast. The Arab world woke up to find it had lost its largest and most affluent member-state and that the most powerful Arab regime was gone. They saw America’s hand in firm control of the Iraqi oil pump and a 150,000-strong US army sitting on the borders of Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, harassed but not dismayed by the daily ravages of guerrilla attacks.
(See separate article exposing the real composition of the “Iraqi” guerrilla force)
US administration and military chiefs are confident that the harassment can be kept to a tolerable level with the help of foreign forces, with high expectations from the Turkish military increment soon to join coalition forces in Iraq.