Is Washington Floating Israel-Palestinian Role as Inducement for European Troops in Iraq?

The surprise scheme for stemming Palestinian violence came from an unexpected direction. Two powerful US senators, Richard Lugar (Rep-Indiana), chairman of the Senate foreign affairs committee and Dianne Feinstein (Dem.-California) mooted the same idea at the same moment in Wolf Blitzer’s weekly Late Edition over CNN Sunday, August 24.
Lugar suggested Washington should invoke NATO. “We ought to involve others in the Middle East. The terrorists have to be routed out because they will ruin any possibility for peace in that area.”
Feinstein agreed. “I hope we’re not there, but we may well be. The Palestinians have wanted a United Nations or an American observer force. But you have to have some military entity that is going to be able to control terror. Otherwise, the situation is going to dissolve into nothingness.”
This bipartisan venture over a premier TV program suggests it was not altogether spontaneous or unsolicited. There is no formal word from the Bush administration that any such scheme exists, but debkafile‘s Washington sources would not be surprised to find that the two senators were asked by a senior Bush administration official, such as secretary of state Colin Powell or National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, to float a trial balloon on a platform that enjoys a substantial international audience to see where it lands.
The principle behind the balloon is unworkable. But the way it was aired indicates disappointment in some influential US quarters, including the government, in the Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s performance in handling Palestinian terror and fear that his diplomatic and security policies lead nowhere and may erode Israel’s security and America’s Middle East standing.
The tentative notion of sending outside forces to separate the combatant parties and “rout out Palestinian terror” implies the dismissal of Israel’s armed forces as a effective spearhead for fighting Palestinian terror, forgetting that its offensive capabilities – this week US Iraq administrator Paul Bremer held up offensive action as the only way to fight terrorism – were consistently repressed by the politicians and diplomats.
To return the international force idea – long demanded by Palestinian terrorist chiefs – to the bottle before it is too late, all Israel’s political leaders would have to stand and repudiate with one voice the negation of the IDF as a deterrent force and demand Israeli troops be allowed to do their job. However this will not happen; more than one political grouping – parts of Shinui (Change) and the opposition Labor and Meretz – can be counted on to jump up and call for a serious appraisal of the unformed plan.
Its timing is instructive – at the very moment that the Sharon government and the IDF appear to be girding for the oft-delayed final military showdown with the Hamas and Jihad Islami terrorist structures in the Gaza Strip, and just when American officials are beginning to stress the menace of Iraq-Arab terror in Iraq.
The Bush administration looks like seizing on the August 19 terrorist bombing disaster at UN headquarters in Baghdad as a fulcrum to reach two objectives:
One, to merge the Iraq-Arab guerrilla-terror campaign against US-led coalition forces in Iraq into the global war on terror – so capitalizing on its broad international support. Two, to thereby evoke broad UN Security Council backing for a resolution calling on world nations to send troops to Iraq. Most governments have spurned Washington’s requests for military personnel to help shoulder the increasingly heavy combat burden weighing on the US military. It is hoped in Washington that calling the Iraq front part of the global war on terror might overcome their reluctance.
As matters stand now, American officials and generals in Baghdad are clamoring for rapid reinforcements to overcome the rising guerrilla threat and swelling influx of Arab and Muslim fighters infiltrating the country through Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia to fight alongside Saddam loyalists.
Yet Washington officially denies the need for more US troops under the strong influence of an overextended budget and the long shadow of the Vietnam War.
President George W. Bush, at the outset of his campaign for re-election next year, will not have missed the latest Newsweek opinion poll showing that 69% of Americans canvassed are concerned that US will be bogged down in Iraq, although 61% believe US was right to launch war, and that 44% want him re-elected, slipping down from 52% in April.
The biggest opinion shift is focused on the economy but it is also linked to the fear of American troops being trapped in a quagmire. Bush knows he must move fast to reverse the mood in America – not only for the sake of his campaign but so as not to undo what America has achieved and still hopes to achieve in the Middle East. His most pressing objective now is to build up coalition strength in Iraq from non-American sources.
Washington’s chances of getting the required text through the Security Council are far from bright given the consistency of French, German and Russian opposition to a US military presence in Iraq. But now the Americans are already there, in control of Iraq’s main cities and its national oil resources, Washington is wracking its brains for attractive inducements for European and other governments to contribute troops.
The most attractive one – power-sharing with the UN and Europeans and a stake in Iraqi oil for the latter – is not on offer.
However, Washington may no longer be totally averse to offering a second inducement, long desired by European powers: a European role, possibly through NATO, in imposing a diplomatic and military settlement on the Israelis and Palestinians.
This thinking was behind the comments by the two senators.
The framework is already there – though not implemented – in the form of the Middle East roadmap to peace, drawn up by the US, the UN, Russia and the European Union. There is no bar to the US sending troops to Palestine. But now Washington for the first time may be willing to consider the deployment of European military strength as a buffer between Israel and Palestinians.
If this idea takes form, it would suggest the return of a European presence to the Middle East half a century after the colonial powers were evicted from the region – on one key condition, that they send soldiers to Iraq as well as Palestine. This anachronism if its takes shape Israel may be called upon to fight tooth and nail to prevent it assuming material form in a formal motion before the UN Security Council.

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