Saturday, January 7

On Israel, Iran and the Succession ...

Ariel Sharon is a dead man still breathing, his era has
passed, and a new day is coming for Israel. That sounds
callous, I suspect, but let's be clear - I hope Sharon
can recover but the prognosis is terrible. I'm a realist,
and it would appear that new (old) leadership will
come to the fore.

His deputy, Ehud Olmert, is a likable man according to
reports, and experienced, but without Sharon's national
stature and probably unlikely to take Sharon's new
party Kadima to victory in the upcoming elections, which
as I recall are to occur in either February or March. Even
though Olmert is the apparent heir apparent for Sharon,
this writer believes he'll get swept away during the next
election cycle in Israel.

It would seem at this distance that the leading candidates
to replace Sharon in the long term are two previous Prime
Ministers, Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu. Looking
them up today, Peres had announced a month ago that he
was leaving his forty year allegiance with the Labor party
to join Sharon's Kadima effort. With Sharon's impending
demise, will that committment stay in place? Netanyahu
has stated in recent weeks that he believes Israel ought to
attack Iran before Iran gains nuclear weapons capability,
an idea which is also (rumored to be) being noised about
by Washington, if one can believe the press in Germany
(at the least, the American press has seemingly not picked
up on this).

One would suggest that _some_ kind of peace process
would appear to be more likely if Peres is elected (albeit
nebulous, it's not at all clear what Peres would do if
elected and assuming he's even running), and that the
possibility of an ugly war is more likely in the Netanyahu
case. However, in neither case is it at all clear what
Israel's long term policy would be, or how the general
electorate of Israel will react to the death of Sharon, or
what Sharon's passing from the scene will mean in
terms of Israel's relationship with Mahmoud Abbas'
embattled Palestinian organization, or the potential for
Hamas to win the (scheduled for 25 January) Palestinian
elections which may or may not occur at month's end.

Abbas may be willing to negotiate with Israel, but one
suspects the alleged terrorist organization Hamas will
not be so willing and that doesn't even begin to address
all the other outfits plying their terrorist ways in the
Palestinian territories, such as Hezbollah. If Fatah had
a bad name for terroristic behavior Hamas has a worse
one. Either candidate will have to deal with whoever
wins the Palestinian elections, assuming that they are
even held (which looks less likely, especially if Sharon
dies any time soon, which, unfortunately, does look
likely).

Something has to give as far as the Palestinian situation
is concerned, and preemptive war with Iran will _not_
solve that problem, in fact it may create a bigger one. A
member of POLITICS suggested the other day that Iran
had to be taken out before it became a nuclear power, and
suggested a "cost-benefit analysis"made it clear that more
benefit than cost would occur from such attacks. I surmise
that war with Iran will reverberate badly for both Israel
and the United States (Israel will not make such attacks
unless they have the backing of the Bush administration,
and I believe that backing already exists).

Sharon's probable demise opens up a seeming black hole
of bad choices to be made by all parties concerned no
matter who ends up succeeding the dying Prime Minister.
I'm sure the millenarists and neo-cons are hopingIsrael
does go to war, but one suspects that it will be _at least_
a two-front conflict. Does anyone really expect the
Palestinians to be quiescent while Israel goes at Iran?
Does_anyone_ see the long-term potential repurcussions
to such a conflict? One's immediate guess is no. I also
suspect that the cost-benefit analysis is skewed, and
that the cost will be much higher than anyone guesses.

One reason is that the chances are better than even that
if such a conflict unfolds (and I would say the odds of it
happening are about 5-1 right now), the world may see
the first use of some kind of nuclear weapon since 1945,
and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Does anyone
realistically looking at this scenario really believe the
mullahs in Iran will be toppled if Tehran is attacked?
Iran has 63 million people, Israel has about six million,
and Iran will not take an attack lying down. Their
populace will rally to the government if Israel goes to
war. They are fairly heavily armed, and though
not as good as Israel militarily, they will fight back, as
will organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, and the
death toll will be bad.

Peace seems farther away than ever, and all because
an overweight man in his seventies is dying in a
Jerusalem hospital. Sharon's family and his country
have all my sympathy, the road ahead looks pretty
damned rocky when he finally passes from the scene. VMS

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