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Behind Annapolis and Beyond...

Part 2 of Two-Part Series Looking at the Issues

By C. Hart

The Middle East peace parley, set to take place in Annapolis, Maryland next week, still does not have a set agenda. As Israel and the Palestinians wrangle over pre-conditions for going to the conference, to-date Arab leaders have not made a decision whether they will attend the meeting. The acceptance of invitations by members of the Arab League, who will be meeting later this week, is said to be a key factor in the ultimate success of Annapolis.

This is Part 2 in a two-part series (See Part 1) looking at issues Behind Annapolis and Beyond...

While preparations for the Annapolis meeting get underway in the United States, some officials in Israel say the focus right now should not be on the diplomatic track between Israel and the Palestinians. According to Israeli Brigadier General (Res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, a former senior intelligence officer, the upcoming Annapolis meeting is “escapism.” He concludes, “The main problem we are facing right now is what is going to happen with Iran.” He indicates that the crucial factor is not the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, but, whether Western nations are going to threaten Iran with military action.

Iran’s leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel’s destruction, and is suspected to be developing the technology needed to build nuclear weapons. Israel is worried about the advancement of Iran’s capabilities in enriching uranium, especially because of Iran’s recently reported ability to process 3,000 centrifuges at its nuclear facilities. Israel is also concerned that Iran could spread nuclear technology to terrorists. Western nations fear that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear arms may signal a thrust towards nuclear proliferation in the Middle East among Arab nations, especially rogue states who support Islamic terrorism. This then becomes a global threat to democracy and freedom, with a growing number of Western leaders talking behind the scenes about possible military action against Iran.

Meanwhile, Kuperwasser, speaking to journalists at a recent forum in Jerusalem, pointed to Russia, a country he feels is interfering in the ability of Western nations to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions. He explained, “A real military threat is necessary. The crucial point of putting pressure on Iran is Russia. If you want to put pressure on Iran you have to have Russia on your side.... The only thing that can change the Russian mind is when they understand if they don’t change sides, there can be a military attack.”

While Western nations have looked to the UN Security Council as a way of sanctioning Iran for refusing to comply with demands to stop its nuclear plans, Russia, along with China have been opposed to further sanctions. This has made it difficult for the UN to move forward in issuing stiffer sanctions against the Islamic state. Kuperwasser believes time is running out to thwart Iran from “going nuclear.” A growing number of Israeli leaders are anxious to see Iran stopped, and for the first time, military action is being talked about in public forums.

Kuperwasser also believes that the Russians, along with the Iranians, want to see a change in the world order, hoping for a weakening of the superpower status of the United States. Reportedly, the Bush Administration’s past failures in Iraq have caused some in the international community, like Russia, to pursue a more aggressive Middle East policy. Russia, Iran and Syria have strengthened their strategic cooperation agreements in recent years, with Russia continuing to supply arms to Iran and Syria. To offset the balance of power in the Middle East, these rogue states and their proxies (Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, for example), have formed closer alliances, trying to defeat Western goals in the region. Analysts say that the U.S. wants to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a way of gaining momentum among Arab moderate nations to combat global terrorism.

Indications are that what happens post-Annapolis may have more significance than the meeting itself. Israeli politicians are now claiming that Annapolis is not the end all, and the stage is already being set for “the day after”, when serious negotiations are expected to take place regarding the major stumbling blocks between Israel and the Palestinians.

What Annapolis does provide is a forum to resuscitate the Road Map, which has been dormant for four years. When it comes to understanding the principles of the Road Map, Kuperwasser believes a dangerous precedent is being set. “We’ve changed the perception of how the Road Map should be formed. The entire deal of the Road Map is security and then political discussions. Phase One is security. Phase Two is political discussions. We are not going to discuss political issues before security is reached.”

But, as Kuperwasser sees it now, Phase Two is becoming the first priority with Israel and the Palestinians heading towards Annapolis. “We’re now going to discuss political issues before security is taken care of, hoping later on we shall discuss the security matters.”

This has been a major advantage for the Palestinians who want to get the difficult issues on the table – i.e., the Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem, and borders. Their goal is to deal with final status negotiations toward the formation of a Palestinian state before U.S. President George Bush leaves office. This is the strategy of the U.S. State Department, as well, according to recent remarks by Condoleezza Rice during her last visit to Israel.

Hoping Arab moderate nations will be in attendance in Annapolis, the U.S. strategy is to form a strong coalition to deal more effectively with global terror and Iran. According to Kuperwasser, though, what is being overlooked in this equation is Islamic extremism operating through Hamas and Palestinian terror groups in Gaza as they continue to launch terror attacks on Israel’s border towns. One of those border towns is Sderot. Thousands of residents have fled their homes because of the daily trauma they face from these attacks.

Kuperwasser admits, “Everybody will tell you we should strengthen the moderates. At the end of the day, rockets will continue to fall on Sderot. We can ignore it if we like, but this is the case. The radical elements will continue to fire the rockets to deliver a clear message: ‘Only through terror.’ Their message will be that the Israelis went to Annapolis because of the terrorism.”
Israel does not want to appear anxious to make peace with the Palestinians because of terror, and will show military strength, if necessary. A large scale incursion into northern Gaza has been planned as the only way to stop the rockets from hitting Sderot and other communities in the western Negev.

“In Sderot something terrible can happen tomorrow. Why do we have to continue to play this Russian Roulette? I think we have to take some steps to assure that these rockets don’t reach Sderot. It’s an unbearable situation,” declares Kuperwasser.

Whether progress is made at the Annapolis meeting or not, the climate in Israel is changing. Senior military officers are waiting for Minister of Defense Ehud Barak to give the signal to enter Gaza and root out the terrorist infrastructure. In addition, Barak is considering a pre-emptive strike on Hizballah targets in Lebanon. The defense establishment is concerned that the Second Lebanon War destroyed Israel’s deterrence capabilities. Hizballah has been acting in defiance of UN Resolution 1701, which was the ceasefire agreement set up between Israel and Lebanon after the war. In that agreement, the Lebanese army, as well, as UNIFIL soldiers stationed in south Lebanon, were supposed to stop Hizballah’s terrorist army from rearming itself and from rebuilding its terror infrastructure. Instead, Hizballah has done both, and Israel sees no way to stop them short of war, especially since the international community has looked on with appeasement and no solution. Any future war between Hizballah and Israel could result in an unwanted confrontation with Syria. Beyond that, Israel is looking at the possibility of future military action against Iran to stop the terrorism-sponsoring nation from “going nuclear.”

The diplomatic track to solving the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be in place now, but looming ahead are far more serious implications pointing toward greater Middle East instability. Most Israelis remain ambivalent to the Annapolis meeting, far more interested in post-Annapolis agendas, when the real issues confronting Israel, the Palestinians, and the global community become of strategic importance for this region and for the rest of the world.

[C. Hart writes for ThreatsWatch from Jerusalem, Israel.]