Bush … Bad for Israel

Here’s an article whose time has come. Not only are rational people in the United States questioning the efficacy of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, the same questioning is now underway in – of all places – Israel. Here are a few excerpts from a good read. Click the headline for the full story.

A growing debate within Israel over whether US President George W Bush’s Middle East policies really serve the interests of the Jewish state has spread to Washington, where influential voices within the US Jewish community are questioning the administration’s hardline positions in the region.

Coming in the wake of the month-long war between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, during which Washington provided virtually unconditional support and encouragement to Israel, the debate has focused initially on the wisdom of Bush’s efforts to isolate, rather than engage, Syria, the indispensable link in the military supply chain between Iran and the Shi’ite militia.

But the debate over Syria policy may mark the launch of a broader challenge among Israel’s supporters in the US to the Bush administration’s reliance on unilateralism, military power and ”regime change” in the Middle East, whose most fervent champions have been neo-conservatives and the right-wing leadership of the so-called “Israel lobby”.

The most direct challenge surfaced on Tuesday when the Zionist group Americans for Peace Now sent a letter to President Bush calling on him to clarify whether his administration opposes renewed peace negotiations between Israel and Syria.

“Unfortunately, many in Israel and the US believe that your administration is standing in the way of renewed Israel-Syria contacts,” the letter, which also called on Bush to “reject the thinking of those who view the Syrian regime as irredeemable”, stated. “We urge you to clarify, publicly and expeditiously, that this is not the case.”

While the administration is likely to dodge the question, its commitment to isolating Syria, particularly since the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, has never been in doubt.

Indeed, in the opening days of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel, the White House not only reportedly rebuffed an appeal by Olmert himself for Washington to quietly approach Damascus about pressing Hezbollah to release two Israeli soldiers whose capture touched off the crisis, but also urged the Israeli prime minister, according to one account in the Jerusalem Post, to attack Syria directly.

“In a meeting with a very senior Israeli official, [Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot] Abrams indicated that Washington would have no objection if Israel chose to extend the war beyond to its other northern neighbor, leaving the interlocutor in no doubt that the intended target was Syria,” a well-informed source, who received an account of the meeting from one of its participants, told Inter Press Service.

While Abrams was discreetly urging Israel to expand the war to Syria, his neo-conservative allies, some of whom, such as former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle and former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, are regarded as close to Vice President Dick Cheney, were more explicit, to the extent even of expressing disappointment over Israel’s lack of aggressiveness or success in “getting the job done”.

Cheney’s own Middle East advisers, John Hannah and David Wurmser, have long favored “regime change” in Damascus and, according to the New York Times, argued forcefully – and successfully, with help from Abrams and pressure from the Israel lobby’s leadership – against efforts by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to persuade Bush to open a channel to Syria in an effort to stop the recent fighting.

But Bush’s adamant refusal to engage Damascus is precisely what has raised doubts in Israel about whether his policies are in the long-term or even in the immediate interests of the Jewish state.

Meanwhile, other prominent Israelis are asking even more basic questions about the regional strategy pursued by Bush and its consequences for Israel.

In a column published by the newspaper Ha’aretz, former foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami argued that, in the aftermath of the Lebanon war, which, in his view, had proved “the limits of [Israeli] power”, a peace accord with Syria and the Palestinians had become “essential” for Israel, particularly in light of “the worrisome decline of the status of Israel’s ally in this part of the world and beyond”.

“US deterrence, and respect for the superpower, have been eroded unrecognizably,” he wrote. “An exclusive pax Americana in the Middle East is no longer possible because not only is the US not an inspiration today, it does not instill fear.”

Indeed, the widespread perception that Washington’s influence in the region has fallen sharply as a result of both the war in Iraq and the Bush administration’s stubborn refusal to engage its foes diplomatically has raised new questions about whether Bush and his neo-conservative advisers have actually made Israel less rather than more secure.

There’s much more to this article that should be read. Click the headline to read it all.

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