Middle East Road Map – A Small Inset on US Postwar Atlas

What has led Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to fit unreservedly into America’s geo-strategic box for the postwar Middle East? What has President George W. Bush promised him for saying yes to the Middle East road map, a document that no one except its authors believes in? What role is assigned the Palestinians? And how much will it cost Israel?
Sharon was offered three main incentives:
First– America’s systematic disarmament of Israel’s most dangerous enemies has been built into the Bush master-plan – Iraq first; shortly, an attempt to dissolve Iran’s nuclear weapons option (see separate article on this page), followed by steps to eliminate Syria’s missile systems and weapons of mass destruction and the Hizballah’s military capabilities. In the long term, Washington will almost certainly aim at cutting short the development of Egyptian and Libyan N-bombs.
The United States is sweeping all these threats from its borders without Israel needing to deploy a single soldier or fire a single shot. For this saving of Israeli military life and limb, no words can do ample justice. Without any expenditure of its own military and economic resources, Israel may find itself in three or four years liberated from all its next-door enemies for the first time in its history.
Second– The prospect of Yasser Arafat’s eclipse on the international and Palestinian stage. The United States has acquired a new partner for the job of tightening the noose of isolation around the terror master’s neck – Saudi Arabia. (More about this below)
When US secretary of state Colin Powell announced Friday, May 23, that a team of American “coordinators”, would be arriving in Jerusalem within a few days, he was speaking euphemistically. This team will be the nucleus of an interim administration to manage Palestinian areas where the Palestinian Authority’s administraton has been shattered by its terror orientation. This body will resemble the US-British team provisionally administering Iraq, for which Washington expects to eventually gain a similar UN mandate. One outcome of this mandate will be to eliminate the European mark on the Israel-Palestinian peace process and the Palestinians’ future. This will be in keeping with Israel’s consistent rejection of the Palestinian demand for an international commission to monitor the Palestinian-Israeli peace. The only mediating or monitoring party Israel has ever accepted is the United States. The Europeans and UN are accused of pro-Palestinian, pro-Arab bias.
This plan of action was made possible by the revolutionary changes overtaking Riyadh in the last few days on the heels of the al Qaeda assaults on the Saudi capital. These changes were first revealed in detail in the latest issue of DEBKA-Net-Weekly. Crown Prince Abdullah was sufficiently jolted by the terrorist strikes on his doorstep to stand up and order epic, almost unthinkable, reforms in government, overseas financing, security and relations between throne and mosque.
It is too soon to say if the Crown Prince, known for his conservatism, caution and piety, can bring this program off. But one of his directives has already drastically curtailed Palestinian terrorist resources: the shutdown of all Saudi-supported overseas charities operating in Europe. This measure, debkafile‘s counter-terror sources reveal, was demanded by Washington after the 9/11 suicide attacks on New York and Washington. It fell on deaf ears in Riyadh – until the Saudi royal capital itself was struck by the same hand. What it means is that the Palestinian Hamas – like al Qaeda and its international arms – has overnight lost the primary source of finance, running into tens of millions of dollar per annum, for its anti-Israel suicide campaign, whether orchestrated from Damascus or the Gaza Strip.
Furthermore, the Americans hope their presence on-site will also have the effect of drying up the money supply nourishing the Fatah and al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades of Yasser Arafat’s terror machine.
Third– Sharon has been assured by the Bush White House – though not publicly – that Washington will back him in resisting any attempt to include the return of the 1948 Palestinian refugees in a final-status accord. Washington also promises to go along with leaving the main Jewish settlement blocks in place on the West Bank.
These incentives for Israeli acceptance of the road map carry a steep price tag.
For the first time since the Six Day War – and however strenuously this may be denied – a foreign power from outside the Middle East will be responsible for governing Palestinian Authority areas. Israel and its armed forces will have lost their freedom of action to combat terror emanating from these regions. The IDF will have to give prior notice of incursions, and eventually require permission from those outside “coordinators”.
No one mentions Jerusalem, a particularly intractable issue. At some point, the US administrators-coordinators will almost certainly want to extend their jurisdiction to the Palestinian residential districts of the Israeli capital, including the Old City, which also happen to occupy the sites of supreme Jewish historical and religious importance. The Arab element is roughly one-fifth of the total population of Jerusalem. Eventually, the Americans will most probably set up local Palestinian government for these areas, a form of re-partition.
While enough Israeli cabinet ministers may be found to endorse the revised road map, Sharon will have a much harder time gaining their ayes for changing the status of Jerusalem.
Israel like the Palestinians will most likely be subjected to an American steamroller. If the Mahmoud Abbas government falls, they will work with Salim Fayad, Washington’s nominee as Palestinian finance minister. The provisional administrators will also find ways of getting round Israeli government objections on such matters as settlements, roads, water, land or electricity.
Israel’s nuclear option has not come up either, but once enemies and their unconventional weapons are removed from Israel’s immediate environs, its government may be faced with demands to open its nuclear resources to international inspection.
Sharon’s passivity and his total conformity with the Bush administration’s policy lines have seriously devalued Israel’s geopolitical and regional standing. In the shadow of a strong American military presence in the region, along with US allies like Britain, Australia, Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Israeli is being reduced from a regional power to a segment of the very local Israel-Palestinian conflict. The regional centrality formerly occupied by the Israeli-Turkish military pact has been sidelined since Turkey lost its strategic value to Washington, leaving Israel with the single regional asset of its military cooperation pact with India.
Furthermore, Israel’s hopes of an economic shot in the arm from Iraq’s reconstruction projects have been disappointed. The Bush administration is intent on keeping Israel out of Iraq and has advised its economic leaders to pull the country out of its deep recession by its own efforts and not rely on Washington for help.
All the pluses and minuses listed here will hold true if the grandiose strategy charted by the Bush administration works. But what if it fails, or succeeds only in part? Sharon has placed all Israel’s strategic assets in one basket, a one-dimensional posture that leaves little room for independent maneuver.
Should Bush decide to go to war against Iran, Israel could suddenly find itself menaced once again, this time by Iranian missiles, with no say in the matter. Last week, the Iranian defense minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani warned: “The Iranian army is not like the Iraqi army.” His reminder was timely. Iran under military assault is fully capable of detonating its many tools of terror – the Lebanese Hizballah and al Qaeda and Palestinian allies. It is therefore within Tehran’s power to reduce the progress towards a Palestinian-Israeli settlement proudly held up by Bush and Sharon to an empty facade behind which war and terror lurk more menacingly than ever.
Israel’s docile adherence to the Bush track without turning right or left carries further dangers. It leaves Washington at liberty to raise fresh demands as and when required for the “larger” interest or unforeseen contingencies. Having foregone much of its own freedom of action and independent policy-making, the Sharon government will find itself left with meager defenses against undue assaults on the country’s national interests.
This situation has partially disabled the Sharon coalition cabinet as an effective instrument of governance, leaving most of the ministers dependent on three rival decision-making centers: The prime minister’s office and Sharon’s personal advisers, who exercise most of the government’s real powers; a second faction which supports finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu whose hope of regaining office as prime minister motivates most of what he does; the third power center, which is headed by defense minister Shaul Mofaz, who stays clear of insider politics in order to focus on his tasks and prevent interference. The other ministers, including foreign minister Silvan Shalom, are pretty well excluded from policy-making and the flow of information and tend to follow Sharon’s lead without too much argument.
Certainly, most of Sharon’s ministers will not have been let into the secret that their vote for the Middle East road map Sunday May 25 had more to do with the US road to Tehran than Sharon’s road to Ramallah. Should Washington decide to go for Iran’s jugular, Israel had better be prepared.

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