US-Israeli relations are not all what they are hyped up to be, despite prime minister Ariel Sharon's insistence that Israel never had a better friend in the White House
(See also HOT POINTS below: Washington Sees Gaza Withdrawal as Stage One of Rapid Israeli Rollback)
Just before Sharon set off this week for New York and Washington, where he addressed the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), he was handed a disturbing secret memo by his defense advisers.
Pentagon relations with Israel's military and intelligence services were said to have sharply deteriorated. US defense department's actions were termed “hostile”.
The Pentagon insists its rift with Israel's defense establishment pertains solely to Israeli-Chinese transactions in Israeli weaponry and military technology. Washington and Jerusalem are currently locked in negotiations on the conditions under which Israel is permitted to sell military hardware to Beijing.
But DEBKA-Net-Weekly's political and military sources report the dispute runs far deeper and is reminiscent of the bad old days back in the early 1990s when former secretary of state James Baker and the George Herbert Walker Bush administration denied Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir $10 billion in US loan guarantees in a falling-out over the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
According to our sources, the new US sanctions, while not acknowledged, entail the blackballing of Israeli officers and government officials who used to be frequent invited guests at Pentagon events, receptions and symposiums on military issues and weapons development.
Joint laser and fighter programs set aside, no replacement parts
The Pentagon is no longer renewing contracts, including permits for the Israeli military to continue buying replacement parts for US-supplied weapons systems.
The US military has stopped funding joint development ventures, such as a mobile tactical high energy laser project.
Israeli representatives are no longer invited to discuss the joint US-Israeli strike fighter program. Moreover, the Pentagon recently warned US defense contractors they could lose their US military contracts if they turned out be doing business with Israeli companies or in touch with Israeli defense authorities dealing with China.
Israeli generals and other senior officers requesting what used to be routine meetings with US counterparts at the Pentagon have been turned down flat or told that someone would be getting back to them. In short – don't call us, we'll call you.
In the secret memo to Sharon, Israeli officials complained that they are extremely pained at this cavalier treatment after Israel’s long service in supplying “extremely high quality” intelligence to the Americans on the movements of terrorists in the Middle East and extensive assistance for the prevention of terrorist attacks.
The document stressed that the US “sanctions” have begun to bite and are affecting the day-to-day performance of the Israeli military and its security services.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Washington, the Pentagon is not acting off its own bat; its orders have come direct from senior Bush administration officials who believe these sanctions will keep Sharon in line.
The White House seeks to restrain the Israeli prime minister from running off track in three possible ways:
1. Sharon may draw back at the last minute from pulling Israeli civilians and soldiers out of the Gaza Strip and the northern tip of the West Bank. The evacuation has already been delayed three weeks until mid-August.
US intelligence briefs note that the Israeli army and police are still not completely ready for the operation.
Sharon must withstand evacuation test – or else
2. The Bush administration suspects that if the evacuation is consummated, Sharon will turn sharp right to mend broken fences with his alienated Likud party. He may well adopt the posture of the Great Defender of Israel's rights in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and rule out further ceding of land to the Palestinians. This line would be totally unacceptable to Washington. (See HOT POINTS)
3. Sharon may seek to shore up his failing popularity by calling an early general election. Washington fears that the typical mayhem of Israel’s coalition-building will provide Sharon with a strong excuse to duck peace negotiations with the Palestinians. The resulting stalemate will further weaken Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and may even cause the eclipse of a man the Bush administration regards as a moderate.
Washington hopes its sanctions will achieve the following:
A. A strong, unequivocal warning to Sharon to go willy-nilly through with the evacuation of all 21 Gaza locations and four more in the northern West Bank.
B. Make Sharon understand that if he falters on the verge of disengagement, the sanctions screw will be further tightened.
C. Impose on the Israeli prime minister the acceptance of a tacit understanding with Washington that progress along the Middle East peace “road map” track cannot be avoided after Israel quits Gaza and Northern Samaria.
In short – Israel’s territorial handover of the two enclaves is just the beginning.