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On the Brink

27 Jan 2009 04:16No Comments
UN-MIDEAST-ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN-GAZA
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By ROBERT DREYFUSS in Washington, D.C.

Anger is boiling over in the Middle East over Gaza, and the result of the war has been to boost radicalism throughout the region, to strengthen the terrorist-inclined fanatics of Hamas, and to enhance the muscle of terrorist-inclined Israelis, including far-right parties such as Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu and, of course, Likud's bombastic Benjamin Netanyahu.

You probably didn't know that the reason the Bush administration, in its last days, reversed course on Gaza is because they feared that U.S. embassies in the Middle East might be stormed by angry crowds if they did nothing. You'll remember that, after weeks of supporting Israel's invasion of Gaza, the United States suddenly reversed course and allowed the UN Security Council to pass a unanimous resolution demanding a ceasefire. (The United States didn't vote yes, but it abstained -- rather than threatening its oft-used veto.)

Speaking on January 14 at the New America Foundation, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilizad, said explicitly that the United States feared a violent explosion in the region, including the seizure of U.S. embassies by angry mobs, if the United States continued to block action by the UN. A central concern, said Khalilzad, is that mosque leaders all over the Middle East would mobilize the anger and direct it against the United States.

"What happened with this particular resolution is that there was a judgment made by our government that, after so many days of fighting, that given the pressure that the moderate Arabs were facing, and given that the Arabs were willing to accept a reasonable resolution, ... [we needed] a reasonable resolution that emphasized a durable ceasefire ...

"Given the Friday prayers that were coming -- this was Thursday we are talking about -- the fear was that if there was no resolution by the Security Council...by the prayer time, in the broader Middle East,that there would be embassies overrun, there would be a huge amount of violence. There was a lot of Egyptian and French diplomacy going on, and perhaps waiting...might have been a good idea, if the mosque issue was not a factor."

In case you think the anger against Israel and the United States among theArabs is limited to Hamas and Hezbollah, consider the stunning comments of Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi Arabia's intelligence service, who also served as the country's ambassador to both Great Britain and the United States:

"In the past weeks, not only have the Israeli Defense Forces murdered more than 1,000 Palestinians, but they have come close to killing the prospect of peace itself. Unless the new U.S. administration takes forceful steps to prevent any further suffering and slaughter of Palestinians, the peace process, the U.S.-Saudi relationship and the stability of the region are at risk....

"America is not innocent in this calamity. Not only has the Bush administration left a sickening legacy in the region -- from the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to the humiliation and torture at Abu Ghraib -- but it has also, through an arrogant attitude about the butchery in Gaza, contributed to the slaughter of innocents. If the U.S. wants to continue playing a leadership role in the Middle East and keep its strategic alliances intact - especially its 'special relationship' with Saudi Arabia - it will have to drastically revise its policies vis-a-vis Israel and Palestine."

These sentiments, that sort of anger, are virtually unprecedented coming from a top Saudi leader. He went on to suggest a possible Saudi alliance with Iran -- yes, Iran! -- in support of a jihad against Israel:

"Last week, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran wrote a letter to King Abdullah, explicitly recognizing Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Arab and Muslim worlds and calling on him to take a more confrontational role over 'this obvious atrocity and killing of your own children' in Gaza. The communique is significant because the de facto recognition of the kingdom's primacy from one of its most ardent foes reveals the extent that the war has united an entire region, both Shia and Sunni. Further, Mr. Ahmadinejad's call for Saudi Arabia to lead a jihad against Israel would, if pursued, create unprecedented chaos and bloodshed in the region.

"So far, the kingdom has resisted these calls, but every day this restraint becomes more difficult to maintain."

So: a top U.S. official says that American embassies were on the verge of being "overrun" by mobs, and a top Saudi official warns that his government is finding it hard to resist a "jihad" along with Iran.

"Heckuva job, Olmerty."

Copyright 2009, The Nation, used with permission of Agence Global.
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