domenica 5 aprile 2009

U.S. green light for Israeli attack on Iran will have to wait

"February's Knesset elections," said Bantz Craddock last week, "were unable to provide an unequivocal diplomatic mandate for a new government in Israel." Gen. Craddock is NATO's supreme allied commander Europe. He is interested in Israeli policy and the extent of public support for the government because, as he said in testimony to Congress, the ongoing conflict between Israel and the various Palestinian groups perpetuates regional instability.

Craddock is about to wind up his job. He will be succeeded, for the third consecutive time in his various professional roles, by Adm. James Stavridis. Both of them, one after the other, served as military secretaries to Donald Rumsfeld, when he was defense secretary, and also as commanders of NATO Southern Command. Stavridis, an officer/scholar/diplomat with a Ph.D. in security issues, last month warned about the intensified activity of Hezbollah and other fanatic Islamic organizations in South and Central America.

The possibility of an Israeli attack against a nuclear Iran, which will result in Iran and Hezbollah making good on their threats to attack American assets in response, will be a test of the willingness of NATO's member states to implement Article 5 of the treaty's convention and assist in the American defense (in other words, the counterattack). When the article was originally written, it was based on the assumption that the Americans would be called to help the Europeans. On 9/11 this situation was reversed.
Friday and Saturday, Craddock and several other officers will be secondary players in the major North American Treaty Organization production on both sides of the German-French border, marking the alliance's 60th anniversary. To celebrate, the leaders of NATO's 26 member states will meet in Baden-Baden, and later cross the border into Strasbourg. Each country's delegation includes a president or a prime minister, a foreign and defense minister, the chief of staff and other officials, advisers, officers and ambassadors. Some 200 special VIPs are expected to attend the gathering.

Barack Obama, the first U.S. president born after NATO's establishment, is now the Western world's supreme commander. Obama is currently preoccupied with an economy in crisis and with parts of the world that do not belong to NATO. North Korea is threatening to spoil the birthday bash by launching the improved intercontinental Taepodong missile. In this launch, it will have a satellite in its cone, but on another occasion it could well be carrying a nuclear warhead, which could reach, say, Bill Gates' offices in the suburbs of Seattle, or for that matter any other location on the northern West Coast. The Russians and the Chinese, who will try to prevent the Americans and the Japanese from having the UN Security Council issue a significant reprimand to Pyongyang, will behave similarly when it comes to Tehran.

Until the economy stabilizes, Obama must work on strengthening other theaters. The most prominent of these is Afghanistan-Pakistan, which is now NATO's top priority, according to outgoing Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. The second is Russia, which shocked the world last summer by invading Georgia. The third is global terror, piracy and computer warfare.

Politicians go, the chief of staff remains

For reinforcement purposes, Obama's top military brass were enlisted, headed by Gen. David Petraeus and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen. Mullen and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi are on friendly terms. The two were in touch during various IDF operations, among other things. Whenever they have been unable to meet in Washington, they decided to meet midway, in Europe.

The U.S. army learns from IDF experiences and considers the latter's operations an important laboratory, even though not all such tests are blessed with complete and immediate success. For example, the Americans admire the Israel Air Force's proven ability to operate aircraft in difficult weather. Very few armies in the world are closer in spirit to the U.S. Army than the IDF.

Whereas politicians come and go, the chief of staff remains. In the Pentagon and in the National Security Council, headed by retired Gen. James Jones, another one of Ashkenazi's friends, they have found that the chief of staff's stable standing within the establishment and among the public is a tool of continuity and influence. They know Ashkenazi is cautious and moderate when it comes to the use of force, but in the final analysis he is also a major partner in crucial decisions on military operations in nearby and distant battle zones.

The Mullen-Ashkenazi axis, like similar axes between heads of the two countries' intelligence communities, allows the Americans to sense the genuine atmosphere beneath the public propaganda disseminated in Israel and to understand the extent to which Israel is really concerned about the Iranian nuclear threat. It also affords them the opportunity to reassure, to delay and, at the very least, to walk the hidden line between the desire not to officially know in advance, in order to safeguard the ability to shrug off responsibility, and the need not to be surprised.

Make no mistake about the Obama administration, when it comes to Iran: Its policy differs from that of the Bush administration only in style, not in content. Its officials express themselves in positive terms, cloaked in an expression of conciliation, as opposed to the angry face worn by president George W. Bush - but the conclusions are similar, as are the results. Gary Samore, who Jones put in charge of coordinating the issue of weapons of mass destruction, said often, before his appointment, including during a speech at the Herzliya Conference in 2007, organized by Uzi Arad (today Benjamin Netanyahu's national security advisor), that the Iranians will continue their efforts to obtain nuclear weapons and that economic and diplomatic pressure will not help.

Unofficial diplomacy

At a speech he delivered in Japan last summer, Samore said that in the past 50 years, seven Middle Eastern countries tried to obtain nuclear arms, but only one of them, Israel, succeeded. If the new U.S. president, in this case Obama, is unable to enlist international support to restrict or delay Iranian plans for uranium enrichment, Washington faces a "terrible choice - to accept Iran as a nuclear country or to use American or Israeli military force," Samore said.

Ashton Carter, recently nominated by the president to be under secretary of defense for acquistion, technology and logistics, offered a similar analysis for the Bush administration, when he outlined three alternatives to confronting Iran. Plan B3, the military option, also entailed a possible bombing of Iranian oil installations, which are not protected and concealed like components of the nuclear infrastructure. The prevailing balance of power within the Obama administration tends to favor attacking Iran's nuclear installations, or to tolerate an Israeli attack. A prominent opponent of using military force against Iran, Charles Freeman, who had been slated to head the U.S. National Intelligence Council, was dropped under pressure of Israel's American supporters.

Iran's inflexible positions are known to Washington. An American-Iranian discourse is already under way, in unofficial channels: Just as in the absence of official contact between Israel and Hamas, messages are conveyed through both public and undeclared channels. Samore joined one of these sessions. It is not the encounter itself that is pivotal, but what was said - and that is disappointing.

Obama will wait - not only for Iranian elections, scheduled for June (and those in Lebanon, that same month), but also for September's elections in Germany, and for Britons to vote at more or less the same time (elections have yet to be scheduled), in order to know who will stand by his side in the trenches. In that way 2009 will pass without a decision, but not all of 2010, because come that November, Congressional elections will be held, immediately after which the Democrats will begin organizing Obama's reelection campaign. The summer of 2010 will be critical, because by then the evacuation of most of the American forces from Iraq will be completed and fewer exposed targets will remain for Iranian revenge attacks.

The development of the Iron Dome system for intercepting Katyusha rockets, whose first battery will protect the environs north of the Gaza Strip (Ashkelon, Sderot), is expected to be completed by the summer of 2010. That will make it difficult for Hamas to open another front to harass the IDF on Iran's behalf. In the coming months, the tests of the Arrow missile defense system will continue, in a scenario that simulates an attack by a long-distance Iranian missile. The tests will be carried out in cooperation with American systems, including the large radar facility at the Nevatim air base. Preparations for defence against a radioactive attack will also improve, at an event to be staged at either an Israeli or an American port, as will preparations for a plague of smallpox, in a joint exercise involving Israel and one of NATO's important European member states.

In the Pentagon's most recent report about the strengthening of China, Israel receives a pat on the back, of the kind given to a well-behaved child: It has been cured of the habit of providing air-to-ground Harpy missiles to China, which extend the Chinese air force's operational range, and has also enforced stricter export supervision. The Americans are displaying a false naivete: Nothing has changed except for two offices having been moved around administratively. The decision to launch a military operation against Iran, particularly using American-made planes (such as the F-16, whose supply was suspended after Israel's 1981 attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor), will have to be preceded by feelers to discern where Obama stands exactly on the continuum between approval and opposition. Apparently Israel wants Obama to emerge sufficiently strengthened from this week's NATO summit, but still too weak to say no to Israel.

(tr. it. a cura di A. Terenzi)

by Amir Oren



Versione italiana su SudTerrae

Tensione tra le Comore e la Francia

Con il referendum del 29 marzo, gli abitanti dell'isola di Mayotte, a nord del Madagascar, hanno deciso che il loro paese tra due anni diventerà ufficialmente il 101esimo dipartimento della Francia. 
Il Ministero degli Interni francese ha dichiarato che circa il 95% della popolazione si è espressa a favore dell'annessione; in effetti il risultato era ampiamente prevedibile, considerati i vantaggi economici che comporterà questo cambio di status.
Geograficamente il territorio di Mayotte, costituito principalmente da due isole di origine vulcanica, appartiene all'arcipelago delle Comore, che per lungo tempo sono state sotto la sovranità della Francia. Tuttavia negli anni '70, al momento del ritiro francese, gli abitanti di Mayotte decisero di rinunciare all'indipendenza, mantenendo i legami con gli ex colonizzatori come "collettività d'oltremare". 
Il recente referendum ha scatenato le proteste del governo delle Comore, che negli ultimi decenni hanno sempre rivendicato Mayotte, sostenute anche dall'Unione Africana. Il vice-presidente dell'arcipelago ha definito le votazioni "una dichiarazione di guerra".
Mentre le isole Comore detengono probabilmente il record dei colpi di stato, con più di venti tra golpe e tentativi di secessione in poche decadi di esistenza, Mayotte è sempre rimasta stabile politicamente. Inoltre, il nuovo dipartimento francese vanta un'economia più forte, con un prodotto interno lordo dieci volte superiore a quello delle Comore.
Nonostante i rapporti molto stretti con la Francia, sarebbe sbagliato considerare Mayotte e i suoi 200.000 cittadini come una riproduzione in piccola scala del paese europeo. Anche se il francese è la lingua ufficiale, solo il 50% della popolazione lo sa leggere o scrivere. Si tratta di fatto di una regione abitata in prevalenza da musulmani, dove si pratica la poligamia e le ragazze si possono sposare all'età di 15 anni.

di Marco Menchi

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