US Positions Slipping for Lack of Clear Decisions

US president Barack Obama will create an upbeat moment at the next UN General Assembly session on Sept. 22 by dragging the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to join him for a tripartite, highly telegenic summit.

But that moment may be fleeting. DEBKANet-Weekly's Washington sources strongly doubt that real Middle East peacemaking will take off from that photo-opportunity, because the top-secret Middle East Policy Review President Obama ordered his select advisers to produce on the double has not materialized.

This leaves the crafting of America's next policy moves up in the air.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly's issue 409, reported on August 14 from Washington:

Accepting that his current Middle East policy is not working, President Barack Obama has very discreetly commissioned a fast, top-secret review from National Security Council officials who took no part in forming the failed program. Deputy National Security Advisor and Chief of Staff Mark Lippert and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Dennis McDonough were last week assigned with collating all the relevant material, analyzing it and delivering their conclusions by the coming weekend.

The Review has not even reached the stage of conclusions, let alone final draft. In fact, although Obama has had no second thoughts about its urgency, the work has slowed down in response to broad hints to the authors from vice president Joe Biden's staff and the State Department that the rush is no longer necessary because the Afghanistan predicament now tops the president's agenda and the Middle East can wait its turn.

Seen from the Middle East, the US administration consequently appears to be undecided about where to go next in the region, a situation which certain powers have seized on to push their agendas in seven key areas:

Iranian leaders revert to intransigence

1.      Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made no bones about publicly turning down Obama's offer of dialogue on its disputed nuclear program. Monday, Sept. 7, he said outright that he is ready to discuss “global challenges” but on no account Iran's “inalienable nuclear rights.”

2.      Both Ahmadinejad and Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sensing the uncertainty in Washington, recovered the balance they lost in the unrest after the June 12 presidential election and marched forward together to secure a sweeping Majlis majority for the president's new cabinet lineup after it hung fire for weeks. US intelligence agencies (as DEBKA-Net-Weekly predicted on Aug. 21), were thus proved wrong in their forecast that Khamenei was on the point of getting rid of Ahmadinejad.

3.      Iran, al Qaeda – and now Iraq tooare building up their pressure on the Yemen army to an intolerable level with a constant flow of weapons and fighters to the Houthi rebels. The Yemeni army was forced to halt its offensive and switch to siege tactics to cut off Houthi supply routes, to save face, but this tactic is wearing thin. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources report that Iranian-made roadside bombs bedevil Yemeni troops every step of the way on the main roads in quantities unprecedented even in Iraq. The Yemeni military lacks the training and equipment to dismantle the deadly devices. Its mobility is therefore seriously restricted while the Houthi rebels are spreading their wings for a full-blown guerilla war on the lines of the 2004-2006 years of the Iraq conflict.

Netanyahu wins points on settlement freeze, turns to Iranian threat

4.      Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu got his way in the settlement freeze dispute with the Obama administration. As debkafile revealed in the last ten days, Washington and Jerusalem agreed to settle 80 percent of their differences and leave the remaining issues pending, while avoid a showdown although neither side is clear about the precise content of the remaining 20 percent, aside from Jerusalem.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Washington sources, Obama's emissaries are presenting this arrangement in closed meetings in DC and the Middle East as US bait to extract generous concessions from prime minister Netanyahu to the Palestinians and Arab countries on other points.
(A separate article in this issue elaborates on the points Obama has in mind.)

5.      This easing of pressure (which US officials say is temporary) has given Netanyahu a breather for attending to the Iranian threat. He set aside Tuesday, Sept. 7, as his Iranian Day: His inner cabinet of six ministers was called into session, following which he spent several hours past midnight at Mossad headquarters for exhaustive updates on the progress made by Iran toward building nuclear bombs and missile warheads, producing and stockpiling enriched uranium and ballistic missile development. The briefings included a rundown of Israel's readiness to absorb missile attacks from four directions: Iran, Syria, the Lebanese Hizballah and the Palestinian Hamas in Gaza.
All this to-do conveyed the impression that Israel is preparing to embark on deterrent action against Iran very shortly.


Israel-Egyptian-Saudi tactical cooperation against Iran is still on


6.      Before he goes to New York, the Israeli prime minister will be meeting Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak for another round of talks on the loose deal between Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to coordinate their tactics against Iran. This track has gained extra impetus from the impression that the Obama administration is no longer willing for or capable of all-out action to spike Iran's nuclear drive.
This impression was strengthened by a comment from US secretary of defense Robert Gates to al Jazeera TV Monday, Sept. 7: ” … the more that our Arab friends and allies can straighten their security capabilities, the more they can strengthen their co-operation, both with each other and with us, I think sends the signal to the Iranians that this (nuclear) path they're on is not going to advance Iranian security but in fact could weaken it,” he said.

7.      The suspension of US diplomatic momentum for mending ties with Syria is seen as part of the apparent shrugging-off of core regional issues by the Obama administration. In our last issue, we reported that the Obama administration had put its contacts with Syrian president Bashar Assad on ice following the multiple terror attacks in Baghdad on Aug. 19 which left 95 people dead and 1,000 injured.
In the view of DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Washington sources, the suspension had more to do with the unfinished state of the Middle East Policy Review than the administration subscribing to Iraq prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's charges of Syrian culpability. At all events, Assad hit back for the freezing wind blowing in from Washington by stalling the formation of a new Lebanese government in its tracks.
Tuesday, Sept. 8, the Lebanese opposition spearheaded by the Iran-Syrian backed Hizballah formally vetoed the national unity cabinet line-up of 30 ministers presented to the president by prime minister-designate Saad Hariri.

8.      Perhaps most damaging of all for US interests is the lack of clear guidelines to special Middle East envoy George Mitchell from the White House or the State Department Washington on how to proceed.
US diplomacy remains geared to past decisions in force since before the US president commissioned the Review for the express purpose of superseding them. But in the meantime, events in the region have not stood still waiting for the new Obama administration path, but roared ahead on courses that will be hard to reverse or align with any new US policy directions – if and when they are charted.

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