Sunday, March 25, 2007

Responses to the PA and Iran

There are three responses manifested to the new National Unity Government in the PA. Israel's response is that this is a Hamas-controlled Government and that the Fatah and independent members of it have compromised themselves in joining in it. Therefore, Israel will have no dealings with any members of this Govt.
The opposite approach is that this Govt. represents a new chance for relations between Israel and the PA, with a Unity Govt. consisting of both Hamas and Fatah, and therefore some countries, notably Norway, have given the Government full recognition (although not as a sovereign country!). Belgium is also leaning this way, with the current visit of the Belgian FM, and others likely to follow suit are Ireland, Sweden and France. Nevertheless in following this route Norway and Belgium have called for the release of Cpl. Shalit, and the Govt.'s recognition of Israel's right to exist.
An intermediate "compromise" position is that the Govt. represents a move in the right direction, but that since Hamas is a terrorist organization, no official dealings with it are possible. This is the route followed by the US and UN. Today both Secty. Gen. Ban-ky Moon and Secty. of State Rice are in the PA meeting with Pres. Abbas, and two Ministers of the Unity Govt. Cabinet who are considered "safe", particularly independent Finance Minister Salem Fayyed, who has some credibility for transparency from his previous stint at Finance. The question is will this compromise position either give the Hamas-Unity Govt. credibility as a whole or will it suffice to emphasise its lack of committment to the Quartet's three conditions for recognition.
There is also the question that using Pres. Abbas, who is separate from the actual Government of the PA, as a conduit for funds etc., may be fooling oneself. As the Israeli Govt. pointed out today, Abbas has made many committments to Israel and the US, including the release of Cpl. Shalit before the formation of a Unity Govt., the stopping of terrorism before the formation of a Unity Govt., etc. but has kept none of these. It's always convenient to give him an excuse, he can't control the situation, but if he is indeed that weak, why deal with him at all?
Currently in the Gulf, Iranian forces have kidnapped 15 British servicemen from two small boats carrying out anti-smuggling duties in the Shatt-al-Arab waterway. Hands up those who believe this happened by coincidence with the meeting of the Security Council that imposed stiffer sanctions on Iran (if you think it was coincidental go to the back of the line). Hamas and Hizbollah, both subsidiaries of Iran, both kidnapped Israeli soldiers and have been getting a lot of leverage out of this, why shouldn't their sponsor do the same thing. If anyone thinks that Iran will release these servicemen any time soon, think again, they are covenient "hostages." Exactly where they were, in Iraqi or Iranian waters at the time they were snatiched, is immaterial.
But, Iran may have given the Coalition forces (UK and US) a useful excuse for future military action. Its always good to have an excuse for inevitable clashes. The war in Vietnam was triggered by the "Gulf of Tonkin" incident, when North Vietnamese boats attacked a US ship in international waters. It turned out that in reality this was a minor incident that Pres. Johnson managed to magnify into a full-fledged act of war to justify his intention of attacking N. Vietnam. It's true that the lives of the 15 servicemen may be in the balance, just as are those of the Israeli hostages (2 in Lebanon, one in the PA), but they might be used as pawns in a larger game that is "afoot."


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