It seems that Gabi Ashkenazi, the new Israeli Defence Force Chief of Staff, has settled in to his new job and is now flexing his muscles up near the Golan Heights where the IDF are having an exercise in preparation for a ‘surprise’ attack by the Syrians.
The whole idea of the Lebanon war against Hizbollah last summer was to provoke Syria into a fight knowing that Iran is committed to helping Syria. As we know, nothing came from that accept a lot of innocent Lebanese, and some Israeli civilians too, ended up dead. Syria didn’t rise to the bait then and nor is it likely to now.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is in serious trouble. Beside the release of the Winograd Report, due next Monday, which to say the least, is likely to not be kind to Olmert, he is also facing the likelihood of prosecution for criminal activity he is alleged to have been involved in when he was Industry, Trade and Labour minister. But Olmert’s personal and political problems could all disappear if there was seen to be a successful attack against the Syrians. On the other hand, however, while one set of problems might go away, other far more serious problems will appear – like the possibility of a retaliatory attack by Iran against Israel as Iran makes good its treaty to help Syria if attacked by Israel. Of course, this is exactly what the Israelis would be hoping will happen; Iran, after all is their real target and an Iranian strike against Israel would be just the kind of scenario that would give Bush the opportunity to deal a blow to Iran on behalf of Israel. In this scenario Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza would rise up in support of their allies Syria and Iran as would Hizbollah in southern Lebanon – unless both Syria and Iran were to capitulate immediately in the face of a devastating opening round of conflict.
Unfortunately – for Olmert that is – this scenario is unlikely to be successful. Firstly, it would necessitate collusion with the US from the very start and Bush, or more particularly, Cheney, would unlikely endorse Olmert as a war leader in the light of the fiasco that was the Second Lebanon War and nor would they endorse Amir Peretz, Israel’s Defence Minister, for the same reason. A far more acceptable leader as far Cheney is concerned is Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud Party leader who is waiting in the wings for Olmert to stumble. Netanyahu and Cheney have been meeting quite frequently of late. Jeffery Steinberg writing in the Executive Intelligence Review reports:
“Well-placed Israeli sources within the Kadima ruling coalition party have also warned EIR that former Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is making serious political moves to return to power, and that he has assured Vice President Cheney that, if he takes over again, he will be prepared to launch military strikes against both Iran and Syria—in full coordination with Washington.”
Olmert, despite the fact that he says he won’t go without a fight, would not be able to gain the kind of ‘full coordination with Washington’ that Netanyahu could expect. Olmert’s huffing and puffing and display of muscle on the Syrian front would only be impressive to the US if he was prepared to actually use it and, far more importantly, had been able to demonstrate that he would actually be able to use – and that is something he is unlikely to do without US support in the first place. In other words, Olmert has got himself into a classic political Catch 22 situation.
Without US support no Israeli leader – Olmert or Netanyahu – could hope to successfully take on Syria or even Hizbollah. Israel has to have massive amounts of jet fuel, aircraft spares, and ordinance all of which is only available from the US. It would also need to have full access to US satellite intelligence particularly in the first hours just prior to and during the opening shots of war, all of which takes considerable of planning.
The third player in Israel’s complex political equation is Labour’s Ehud Barak. This coming week in Israeli domestic politics could prove to be crucial, not just for the future of Israel, but for the future of the region. An Olmert/Barak team (with Barak replacing current Labour leader and Defence Minister, Amir Peretz), if Olmert survives the inevitable challenge from Netanyahu, will still want to see regime change in Iran at least and Iran’s nuclear facilities destroyed at most though their preference would be for a regime change in Iran instigated by the Iranian people in the hope that a more ‘Western-friendly’ government in Iran would either abandon their nuclear program entirely or transfer its construction and operation to western interests rather than Russian and Chinese. The overall game plan, however, doesn’t change. Israel’s real interests in neutralising and subduing Iran lie more in their long term goal of pacifying the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and eliminating Hizbollah in southern Lebanon all of whom are supported by Iran.
The Netanyahu option on the other hand is far more hawkish. Netanyahu has made it quite clear that he regards Iran as an immediate threat to Israel and that, as such, it should be dealt a massive crippling blow immediately and its government changed. Netanyahu’s reasons for destroying the current Iranian regime are the same as Olmert’s although Netanyahu’s vision of a future Israel is far more ambitious than Olmert’s and includes never allowing the Palestinians to have their own state but rather including the West Bank and Gaza into a Greater Israel that would also include southern Lebanon up to the Litani River.
For both Olmert and Netanyahu the real goal of a subdued Iran is in order to increase Israeli hegemony in their region. The Iranian ‘nuclear weapon threat’, the evidence for which remains non-existent, is merely a cover for their ulterior motives of creating a stronger Israel in order to ultimately achieve the right-wing Zionist dream of a Greater Israel.