The next three to six months will be decisive for US foreign policy. The priority in the US list of concerns will be Afghanistan and then Iran, while there is a connection between Iran and the stand that is required of Israel. As for Iraq, what US President Barack Obama fears most is chaos. Therefore, he wants the elections to be held in a calm atmosphere. He wants to withdraw, and many observers expect a grinding civil war in Iraq after that is completed.
The United States wants the Taliban in Afghanistan to know that it has no problem with them and that what is important is that they do not give Al-Qaeda a safe haven. Secret contacts are under way with Taliban on this demand. From Washington’s point of view, Afghanistan can in the end coexist with Taliban, as Lebanon coexists with Hezbollah. They are only asked not to provide protection for Osama Bin Laden and the remnants of Al-Qaeda whose numbers are dwindling as many have been killed.
An informed US source tells me that drones carried out more air raids to hit Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the first year of Obama’s term in office than in the whole period of eight years under former President George W. Bush.
The strategy to leave Afghanistan in 2011 will not be easy. The way of leaving is not known, the terrain there is very difficult, and the Taliban men infiltrate the security forces and army, while groups from the government and Taliban trade in narcotics.
Many people in Washington believe that part of the Pakistani intelligence service continues to support Al-Qaeda and Taliban, and Washington pressures Islamabad not to fear India and to show powerful confrontation with Taliban (Pakistan deploys a large number of troops along its border with India).
A Saudi role is very important to persuade Taliban to abandon Al-Qaeda and to restore stability to Afghanistan prior to the West’s withdrawal from it.
With regard to the Iranian issue, however, it will take shape in the next three months. Obama focuses on the option of economic boycott, and the prevailing view in Washington is that, if China feels that it alone takes a varying stand, it will change its stand. This is because, up until now, Russia has been supporting a boycott. The European and Gulf states have taken a similar stand.
The US source says: The defense system for the Gulf is a message to Iran that its threat to the Gulf States will not work. On the first day of this month, the White House sent the missile defense system plans to the Congress.
The source adds: These plans include dates of the establishment and deployment of this system and a review of the Iranian ballistic missiles’ threat to the region. The states in which this system will be deployed are Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and the UAE, and the deployment of these missiles will begin in 2012.
My source continues: The administration intends to help train a force belonging to the Saudi Interior Ministry and expand it from 10,000 to 35,000 men. Its task will be to protect oil wells. As the source says, “Any defense program will not be complete without defending the infrastructure, at the forefront of which is the energy sector.”
While preparing for the protection of the Gulf States (Iranian officials always say we will close the Straits of Hormuz and attack all US interests in the Gulf), the US Administration exerts efforts to persuade and prompt the international community to impose economic boycott on Iran. And part of its efforts are designed to halt the issuing of credits from European and Japanese banks and maintain the embargo on aircraft and oil industry spare parts.
It is recalled that Iran’s oil production has decreased a great deal. Iran imports 500,000 barrels of gasoline and its byproducts on a daily basis, and if an international blockade is imposed, the gasoline price will rise and add to Iran’s economic problems.
In short, the current strategy on Iran is international boycott and a halt to financial facilities. Therefore, the United States wants to go to the UN Security Council to secure a resolution on imposing this boycott, as was the case with Iraq under Saddam Hussein, if the Iranians reject in the coming three months the US and European proposals to enrich the Iranian uranium abroad.
My source says: Washington does not believe that China will use the right of veto. Washington has told Beijing the following: “If you do not support a boycott and war breaks out, oil prices will rise, and this will harm you. Do you want war or boycott?”
China is the second largest oil consumer in the world, and it focuses on its economic growth and on avoiding recession.
Iran will be a crucial test for the Obama administration, and there is a connection between Iran and the peace process. The United States’ priority is again to work to resume negotiations on the Palestinian-Israeli track. Washington informed Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas that it is unable to halt the settlement building in Jerusalem and it asked the Palestinian side to go back to the negotiating table and put all issues on the table.
US Envoy George Mitchell wants to use the method that he utilized in Northern Ireland, in other words, no direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Instead, he wants to convey each party’s proposals to the other. In his efforts, he proceeds from the view that the US Administration succeeded in persuading Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state and agree on some kind of a halt to the settlement activity.
The US source says: There is a consideration to hold an international conference to support negotiations. It may be held in Cairo, Abu Dhabi, Morocco, or a European country. Washington has a vision of a final solution, but there are no specifics. The vision will include Jerusalem and future of the settlements. Washington knows that the area of the future Palestinian state will be the same area that existed until the 1967 war. “However, lands may be exchanged.”
If an agreement is reached, it will be backed by all Arab states, Europe, and the world. My source says: “Syria will not be able to object, because, when Palestinian-Israeli negotiations begin, they will be immediately followed by Syrian-Israeli negotiations, to be followed by peace negotiations between Lebanon and Israel. This way, Hamas will be weakened, and Syria will be prevented from undermining these negotiations.”
An observer interested in the Palestinian issue asked a White House official: Why should Obama take a stand closer to the Palestinians than the Arabs themselves take? The official’s answer was: Because Obama is interested in reaching a resolution to the Palestinian issue.
The name of the game in Israel now is Netanyahu who seeks to remain in power. My American source explains to me that Washington has close coordination with Israel toward Iran. Under this coordination, if Netanyahu says the strategic danger is Iran, Washington will tell him that he has to work with it to isolate Iran. Washington seeks to reassure the Arabs and Gulf states who repeatedly say to it that the Palestinian issue is the basis. So, there is a connection between all issues.
My source asserts: There is US pressure on Netanyahu. Washington wants to halt Iran’s nuclear program at a time when its allies in the region are the Arabs. It is difficult for Washington to contain Iran at a time when Israel takes a hostile stand toward the Arabs. There has been a new development in the US stand: Peace in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians and between Israel and Syria has become part of the US national security’s interest.
Therefore, as the US source says, Washington concurs with Netanyahu that Iran poses a danger, but it asks him what role he will play to isolate Iran. The Obama administration feels that the US policy will be tested in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Washington intends to intervene forcefully, present proposals, and oblige the two sides to exchange concessions.
I ask my source: But what about Netanyahu’s condition to resume negotiations with Syria without preconditions? He replies: All parties know where the previous negotiations have reached. He adds: Syria knows that Israel will not return the Golan before Syria closes all roads where weapons are smuggled to Hezbollah.
He adds: A Syrian-Israeli peace will mean an end to the war between the two states. It will also mean that Syria will stop supporting the anti-Israeli groups. It will be exactly as the peace with Egypt.
And I ask: Will Syria accept these preconditions? He asserts that Syria is anxious to open lines of communication with the United States. He adds: “Damascus knows that its political and economic situation will improve if it restores the Golan. It also knows — and this is most important — that the regime will be stronger domestically. However, if it thinks that it will restore the Golan and continue to supply Hezbollah with weapons, it will be fooling itself.”
I tell him: We heard that Washington, under Obama, seeks to rid itself of the Bush legacy in any way and that it will give the influence in Iraq to Iran and the influence in Lebanon to Syria. I also tell him: The problems between the Palestinians are too difficult for Washington or Cairo to resolve, and it is not guaranteed that Washington will secure Netanyahu’s cooperation because it is compelled to address the Iranian issue.
He replies: The view that Iraq will be given to Iran is not correct, and I hope that restoring the Syrian influence to Lebanon will not succeed. With regard to the Palestinians, they know that they are losing time. As for Netanyahu, it is not in his interest to bet on Obama’s steel personality. In addition, we must not forget that if he now loses his position, his political career will end.