The David Sutterfield Show, that’s how one can summarize the visit of US deputy assistant secretary of state for Middle Eastern affairs. It is a long time since so many smiles were seen here. Sutterfield, one of the prominent figures in shaping the policy of the US State Department in our area, raised roars of laughter in his meetings with the senior Israeli military and political officials. Sutterfield told, for examples, about a conversation he held with the National Security advisor at the White house, Condoleezza Rice. The subject of the conversation was Arafat’s wish to participate in the UN assembly meeting in September, and the pressure that the administration is applying on UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, to prevent this. “You know what ‘Condi’ proposed”, chuckled Sutterfield. “If Arafat’s plane nears US skies in spite of all, we’ll take it downé”.
The thundering laughter of the senior Israeli officials typifies their satisfaction from the visit, which left them with one main conclusion: Arafat, from the American standpoint, is erased. The only concession the Americans are willing to give the Palestinians with regard to their leadership is that the change of power will be committed gradually. The Americans don’t have a problem with Arafat continuing to sit in the Mukata’a. But he won’t have any rehabilitation.
On this matter Sutterfield had, on the eve of his arrival here, a stormy meeting with the trio of senior negotiators é the Russian Vodovin, Moratinos from the EU, and Larsen from the UN. “The US approach to Arafat doesn’t give him any hope”, they roared. “You are leading the Palestinians to the conclusion that they have no alternative but terrorism”. Sutterfield and his aides were not convinced, not even by the loud volume. The estimate is, as in Israel, that there is scant connection between the American approach to Arafat and the Palestinian motivation to continue along the path of terror.
During Sutterfield’s visit it became known that the Americans are not in a hurry to hold the elections to the Palestinian Authority. Although they do want the elections to be instrumental in a change of leadership, there is no urgency in it.
The only disagreement that Sutterfield had with the Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, concerned the need to hold a session of the Palestinian legislative council in Ramallah to approve the new cabinet. On Sunday, during the government meeting, Sharon still thought this was a bad idea and hinted to the ministers that he would not give his hand to this gathering. Two days later, minister Itzhak Levi was astounded when he found out that Sharon had changed his mind. No one tells me anything, complained Levi.
The background to Sharon’s change of mind was the nearly unlimited American support of the Israeli approach to the Palestinian Authority and Arafat. The support is so clear, that it is just a pity to get into a confrontation with them on an issue which is not really one of principle. The Americans, for their part, acted diplomatically: they did not make the disagreement public, so that Sharon did not feel that he was giving in to pressure. If Arafat is in any case a dead man in the eyes of the Americans, why not let him summon the Legislative Council to appoint some unimportant ministers.
A Reminder from Alistair Crock
Sutterfield reported to the administration, that in his meetings with Sharon and with the Chief of Staff, Moshe Ya’alon, he heard a new term: the Israeli government is committed to a policy of “constructive destruction” of the Palestinian Authority (before Chief of Staff Ya’alon hurries to deny that he made such a statement, we’ll note that the words written here are taken from an American report on the conversations with him. So maybe he was misunderstood againé). “Constructive destruction” means that Israel would eliminate the Authority in order to enable the growth of a new ruling system that is not infected with terror. By the way, Sutterfield and Ya’alon had a conversation on the developments in Palestinian society, the attempts at internal negotiations and the Tanzim’s initiative for a cease-fire é which has received a boost this week. The Americans got the impression that Israel would not disrupt and would even look positively upon these attempts at a cease-fire. Sutterfield is heading an effort of applying pressure on the extremists in the Islamic movements to join them to the initiative. Therefore, he went to Damascus to talk with the Syrians about their support of Hamas from the outside. The Americans also left Islamic extremists in the area with the impression that they would raise them to the top of the terror list é if they sabotage the process of pacification and the cease-fire.
And before the heads of the Army claim once again that they knew of no initiatives for a cease-fire, it should be mentioned that this week Alistair Crock, the British intelligence man working for the EU, again briefed the head of the Research Department at the Israeli Army Intelligence on these initiatives (for those who forgot, the same Alistair Crock briefed senior army commanders on the initiative for cease-fire which had been taking shape, on the eve of Shehada’s assasination).
To the Americans it is important that the area will calm down through arrangements for a cease-fire, but at the same time the administration has its own pace in all that regards regional arrangements. The Americans are have already made it clear to the Palestinians that they have no intention to specify the components of the final settlement beyond what was said in the Bush speech. Now, the Americans are talking about the summer of 2005 as the target date for a final settlement and the foundation of a Palestinian state.
A three-stage plan is involved: after Sutterfield’s return to Washington, the administration will present both sides with a series of steps é sign-posts, without target dates é for each side to take. The Palestinians will need to calm the ground, to commit reforms and to go to elections; Israel will mainly commit to humanitarian steps. At the end of 2003, or the beginning of 2004, an international convention will be held, in which the final status accords will discussed. And then , the plan of action leading to the end of the conflict will be made. The third stage, at the beginning of 2005, is supposed to be the implementation of the permanent settlement. In Middle Eastern terms we are talking about nearly the end of time. Who knows what will be here by then.
What is certain: with such a plan, Sharon passes the next elections in Israel without any giving, withdrawal, or concessions to the Palestinians é and that is what he wants.
Egypt On Target
The status of the Palestinians in the international arena is at the nadir. In two years of Intifada they have lost their underware, to use terms from the world of the Casino. Arafat, personally, is responsible for their situation. When he went to the Intifada, Arafat could not take an important component into account: the great revolution, whose extent is hard to grasp, in the American administration’s approach to the Middle East. This revolution comes from the school of vice-president Cheney and the seniors in the Pentagon, and has caught onto the people of the White House.
“We are talking about a revolutionary group, with a totally different approach to the Arab world and the threats coming from it”, says professor Ehud Sprintzak, a world expert on terror and researcher at the Herzelya Institute of Interdisciplinary Research, who recently returned from a series of meetings with heads of the Pentagon: “One can summarize their approach in one sentence: they think that the Arab world is a world of retards who only understand the language of force”.
From this it is easier to understand the current American approach to the conflict with the Palestinians and to the expected confrontation with Iraq, and the utterances in the Pentagon about “the Saudi danger”. The main players in this revolution are Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. But the ideological explanation fueling all the plans for action of the revolution is provided by three other figures: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, his deputy Douglas Faith, and above them the Ideologist Richard (Dick) Perl. Perl heads the “Advisory Committee to the Pentagon”, a civil, statutory institution.
The tip of the iceberg of the worldview behind this American revolution was recently exposed through a leak from a study prepared by the RAND institute, which was presented in mid-month at the Pentagon and was labeled “classified material”. The RAND institute has been undertaking research and planning work for the administration for decades, mainly for the Pentagon. It turns out that Richard Perl invited a study from RAND entitled “What should be the American strategy in the Middle East”. Where Middle East means the area spanning North Africa to Afghanistan. As part of the presentation of the study at the Pentagon, a slide was projected, in which Sausi Arabia was defined as “an enemy that needs to be dealt with”. The contents of the slide were leaked, and received great media exposure. The Saudis threatened and even executed withdrawl of monies from the US. President Bush got worried, invited Saudi prince Bandar for a reconciliation and RAND started to dissociate itself, to a certain extent, from the study it has prepared. But that doesn’t matter anymore. This study reflects the ideology held by those who ordered it. And, by the way, Israelis who recently visited the Pentagon and discussed issues related to the Middle East quite enjoyed the crumbs of this study that leaked.
The RAND study also puts the war against Iraq in some logical context, which fits in a much wider picture. According to one of the sources, the summarizing slide of the study’s presentation é which is actually a summary of the new American strategy in the middle east é states: the American attack in Iraq is actually the “tactical aim”, Saudi Arabia is the “strategic aim” and Egypt is the “Big Prize”.
This means that this group in fact sees change of regimes in these three states as a strategic aim. The logic behind this strategy is that a body like Al-Qaida é the heart of terror and the enemy of American culture é grows out of the educational systems and the social and ruling systems now in place in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. These societies spawned the wild growths of Al-Qaida, and therefore changes should be brought about é democratization, liberalization and westernization. In other words: they should stop threatening the US with its interests in the Arab countries. We are dealing with backward countries and they should be treated accordingly.
No wonder Prime Minister Sharon, who has visited the US six times and has had long meeting with the senior Pentagon officials, returned home and reported to those surrounding him with a sense of relief: “There’s no need to fear minister Efi Eitam’s [promoter of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians] opinions. Compared to our American friends he’s a lily-white dove”.
Democracy and Ayatolahs
Professor Ehud Sprintzak has recently heard from the Americans why it is convenient for them to start by treating Iraq. By the American estimate, Iraq has a potential of quality manpower, which can be harnesed to social-economic development and democratic aspirations. When this happens, Iraqi oil will give a good solution to the West, in place of the reliance on Saudi oil. Taking control of Iraq will also be a clear message to the Iranians. But Iraq, as was said, is only the beginning. A former senior official in the Israeli security establishment, who is not suspect of leftist leanings, met at the end of August with senior members of the Advisory Committee to the Pentagon, who presented before him their worldview with regard to the optimal strategy in the Middle East. The man was shocked by the dangerous potential that this worldview has with respect to Israeli interests, and expressed his opinion to the Americans: if you want a total explosion with the Arab world and want to put Israel in a mess coping with crazy radical regimes, then I recommend you to repeat President Carter’s “successful” plan é bringing democratization to the Shah’s Iran. The message was clear: exalted ambitions brought the Ayatolahs to Iran, and that is exactly what might happen in Egypt, in Saudi Arabia and in other moderate states in the Arab world.
The loving hug of the Americans now serves the Israeli goals facing the Palestinians, but this love may in the future be a cause of great troubles for us. Instability in the region is just one of them. The revolutionary group in the Pentagon is processing the world perceptions of the RAND institute into operative plans. The goal: change of the political map through military means. And by the way, they also have a detailed plan for us. For example, in the working presentation at the Pentagon it was stated that “Palestine is actually Israel”. Otherwise said, the Palestinians will be able to realize their national aspirations mainly in a state like Jordan.
Jordan takes on a key role. According to this plan, when the story of the Ba’ath regime in Iraq is over with, democratic Iraq will return to be part of the Hashemite Kingdom. It is not a coincidence that the Americans invited prince Hasan of Jordan to two meetings with the Iraqi opposition sitting in London. A clue to the “Palestine is Israel” approach can be found in a public statement made by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, who referred to the Israeli presence in the territories as “so-called occupation”.
Kissinger Doesn’t Phone
Three formerly senior Republicans went out publicly against the race for a confrontation with Iraq: Henry Kissinger, the mythological Secretary of State, Brent Scawcroft, Security Advisor of Bush the father, and Jim Baker, Secretary of State, Head of White Hose Staff, National Security Advisor, and é mainly é Bush the son’s lawyer, who handled the Florida vote-counting affair for Bush and brought him to the presidency. This trio has arguments: the conditions are not ripe, there is no outside support, there is no internal support. But the question is raised why they are going public. Surely each of them knows Bush’s home phone number and can tell it to his ear. The three senior diplomats, it turns out, have gotten scared of the “ideological messianism” of the revolutionary group at the Pentagon and the White House.
And meanwhile, the sand-clock for a war with Iraq is continuing to run out. Bush’s firm commitments are pushing him to the corner: if he doesn’t put them into action, he could find himself out of the picture in the next elections as someone who failed to undertake his commitments. His father, for example, who said “read my lips” about raising taxes and failed his commitment é payed the price.
On the level of principle, the decision to go to war has already been taken. If one tries to learn something through the smoke-screen of psychological warfare, the Pentagon is continuing to roll plans. At the beginning it was a grandiose plan of 500,000 soldiers, to take the sure route. Later the numbers were reduced to 180,000. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld is still not satisfied. He wants a sophisticated project, on the scale of 75,000 soldiers, a lot of special forces, smart ammunition, Afghanistan-style operations. The invitation of Jordanian prince Hasan to London also brings to mind the Afghan finale: toppling of the regime and bringing back the good old king.
Israel is, in the meanwhile, enjoying the post-September 11 American policy. One can continue to enjoy Ms. Rice’s jokes at Arafat’s expense, but it should be remembered that behind these jokes there is a much bigger plan which should not necessarily make us happy.
The Above is a translation of an article that appeared in Yediot Aharonot – the most widely circulated daily newspaper in Israel. It was translated form Hebrew to English by Haggai Katriel.