Bush Prepares Switch on Iraq and Downgrading of US Ties with Jordan and Israel

Monday, Nov. 13, former US secretary of state James Baker and ex-Congressman Lee Hamilton will present their recommendations on Iraq to President Bush in the Oval Office. Their audience will include an array of top administration officials: Vice President Dick Cheney, national security adviser Stephen Hadley, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and CIA Director Gen. Mike Hayden, as well as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace. Incoming defense secretary Robert Gates will attend as a member of the bipartisan committee.
Absentees will include outgoing defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who stepped down after the Republican’s lost the Nov. 7 midterm to the Democrats over the Iraq war, and the commanders directly running that conflict, Generals John Abizaid and George Casey.
The timing and composition of the conference indicate that the larger decisions are already in the bag with regard to the new US policy on Iraq and a fresh approach to the radical side of the Middle East led by Iran and Syria, mainly at the expense of Jordan and Israel. Monday’s White House conference will be concerned mostly with tying up the last ends and deciding who performs which part of the revised strategy.
debkafile‘s Washington sources report that Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, who is due Monday will be one of the first foreign White House visitors to hear an update on the new policy. He will find he is required to listen rather than speak. Bush will use the occasion to inform him where America’s Iraq policy leaves Israel and the Palestinian dispute.
Most of all, the US president will be looking ahead to Wednesday, Nov, 15, when he stops over in Moscow for unscheduled talks with Vladimir Putin. Air Force One was originally supposed to refuel in Moscow and continue without delay to Hanoi for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit later this week. And the Russian president would not normally have come to the airport to greet him. But the US president has decided to seize on the chance of persuading Putin to jump aboard the new American format on Iraq, Iran and the Middle East, on none of which the two leaders saw eye to eye before.
The first sign of Bush-Putin collaboration is in the air.
debkafile‘s Moscow sources report that Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator, national security adviser Ali Larijani spent two days of talks in Moscow on Nov. 10 and 11, during which Putin asked him if Tehran was willing to adapt its nuclear program after Washington agrees to direct negotiations.
Once president Bush decided, after his election defeat, to subsume his Middle East policy to the bipartisan model, he lost no time in realigning its elements. He took now time out for briefing America’s regional allies and dependants – whether Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s Kurdish leaders, Abdullah King of Jordan or Ehud Olmert – to name a few.
No senior Israeli official was abreast of the seismic changes in Washington’s attitude before the prime minister embarked for the United States. His first stop is Los Angeles to address the North American Jewish Federations Conference. Since he is accompanied by seven cabinet ministers, he can call a mini-cabinet session to update them on his talks with Bush.
After those talks, Olmert will follow the best diplomatic traditions of US-Israeli relations, declaring that Israel has no better friend who is more committed to its security that the President of the United States and affirming full assent between the two governments on the issues of Iran and the Palestinians.
He will gloss over the reality: the New US Middle East Policy will add another negative layer to Israel’s situation and further aggravate the fallout of its Lebanon War reverses. In fact, Jordan and Israel will be the first two countries in the direct line of fire from the reversal of the Bush administration’s Iraq strategy (which DEBKA disclosed was on the cards anyway ahead of the midterm election)
Unlike Israel, King Abdullah – who gambled and lost on Bush standing foursquare behind his plans for Iraq – has at least two alternatives:
He can make common cause with Syrian president Bashar Asad and join the anti-Israel Eastern Front with Iran, Hizballah and the radical Palestinian organizations operating out of Damascus or –
He can turn south instead of north and accept the protection of the Saudi Arabian-Egyptian alliance.
Israel, in contrast, will find itself high and dry in the Middle East. After being downgraded by the Lebanon War’s outcome, the Olmert government will be obliged to accept the crack of the American whip – at least until it can build a new security option that is not dependent on Washington’s new Middle East strategy.
A clear-eyed evaluation of this prospect was ventured Friday, Nov. 10, by the new deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh, who urged Israel in a Jerusalem Post interview to prepare to thwart Iran’s drive for a nuclear capability “at all costs”. The chances of the international community instituting effective sanctions against Iran were not high, said Sneh. “My working assumption is that they won`t succeed.” If Iran is allowed to acquire the bomb, he said, many people will leave Israel because no one is keen to be “scorched.” Ahmadinejad will be able to “wipe out the Zionist dream without pushing a button.”
The Israeli official’s comment was a rejoinder to the US ambassador to Israel Richard Jones’ dismissal of Israel’s ability to mount a military operation against Iran. Speaking to a select group of Israeli journalists on Nov. 7 – under cover of an anonymous “senior American official,” Jones warned Israel against attempting an attack on Iran’s nuclear installations because, in America’s opinion, it could not succeed.
But no sooner had the deputy defense minister spoken, when the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem denied that Sneh had represented the views of Ehud Olmert. By this denial, the Israeli prime minister cut out the ground ahead his Washington talks from under any independent Israeli posture in its own defense, which might have offset the deep erosion in American support for Israel.

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