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A Bush-Sharon doctrine?

Washington's "Likudniks" Ariel Sharon's powerful backers in the Bush administration have been in charge of U.S. policy in the Middle East since President Bush was sworn into office.

Arnaud de Borchgrave

     Israel is asking the U.S. for $4 billion in additional military assistance in addition, that is, to the just under $3 billion a year a year it receives automatically plus $8 billion in commercial-loan guarantees. The $12 billion question about the $15 billion grant-and-loan package is "What is the quid pro quo?" Is it tied to a permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum? The beginning of a dismantlement of 145 Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank? A freeze on new settlements? A timetable, however vague, for the establishment of a Palestinian state within five years?


     None of the above. The strategic objectives of the U.S. and Israel in the Middle East have gradually merged into a now cohesive Bush-Sharon Doctrine. But this gets lost in the deafening cacophony of talking heads playing armchair generals in the coming war to change regimes in Baghdad.


     On Feb. 9, The Washington Post's Bob Kaiser finally broke through the sound barrier to document what has long been reported in encrypted diplomatic e-mails from foreign embassies to dozens of foreign governments: Washington's "Likudniks" Ariel Sharon's powerful backers in the Bush administration have been in charge of U.S. policy in the Middle East since President Bush was sworn into office.


     In alliance with Evangelical Christians, these policy-makers include some of the most powerful players in the Bush administration. The course they plotted for Mr. Bush began with benign neglect of the Mideast peace process as Intifada II escalated. September 11 provided the impulse for a military campaign to consign Saddam Hussein to the dustbin of history.


     Mr. Sharon provided the geopolitical ammo by convincing Mr. Bush that the war on Palestinian terrorism was identical to the global war on terror. Next came a campaign to convince U.S. public opinion that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were allies in their war against America. An alleged secret meeting in Prague in April 2001 between Mohamed Atta the lead suicide bomber on September 11 and an Iraqi intelligence agent got the ball rolling. Since then stories about the Saddam-al Qaeda nexus have become a cottage industry.


     And when bin Laden himself, in his latest tape-recorded message made clear that Saddam is an "infidel" he had no use for, while urging Iraqis to become suicide bombers against American invaders, Secretary of State Powell quickly declared it to be another smoking gun.


     Bin Laden clearly hopes to use a U.S. invasion of a Muslim country to recruit thousands more to his cause. But the Saddam-bin Laden nexus was barely Step One in the Bush-Sharon Doctrine. The strategic objective is the antithesis of Middle Eastern stability. The destabilization of "despotic regimes" comes next. In the Arab bowling alley, one ball aimed at Saddam is designed to achieve a 10-strike that would discombobulate authoritarian and/or despotic regimes in Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Emirates and sheikhdoms.


     The ultimate phase would see Israel surrounded by democratic regimes that would provide 5 million Israelis soon to be surrounded by 300 million Arabs with peace and security for at least a generation. A meritorious plan if it achieves all its objectives.
     Close U.S. allies Jordan and Turkey were to form an axis along with Israel to weaken and "roll back" Syria. Turkey was the first Middle Eastern state to recognize Israel in 1949. In 1996, the two countries also signed a strategic partnership that allows the Israeli air force to train in Turkish air space.


     The roots of the overall strategy can be traced to a paper published in 1996 by the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, an Israeli think tank. The document was titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm" and was designed as a political blueprint for the incoming government of Benjamin Netanyahu, a superhawk in the Israeli political aviary. The complete break with the past was to be a new strategy "based on an entirely new intellectual foundation, one that restores strategic initiative and provides the nation the room to engage every possible energy on rebuilding Zionism."


     Israel, according to the 1996 paper, would "shape its strategic environment," beginning with the removal of Saddam Hussein and the restoration of the Hashemite monarchy in Baghdad. The Iraqi monarchy was overthrown in a military coup in 1958 when young King Faisal, a cousin of Jordan's late King Hussein, was assassinated.


     Last year, Jordan's former Crown Prince Hassan shocked King Abdullah by failing to inform him he was journeying to London to attend a conference of exiled dissident Iraqi officers. Hassan speaks Hebrew and is known to be bitter over his removal as Crown Prince by his brother Hussein a few days before the king lost his battle to cancer.


     The rebuilding of Zionism, as the paper urged, must at the same time abandon any thought of trading land for peace with the Arabs, which it described as "cultural, economic, political, diplomatic and military retreat."


     The strategic roadmap which has been followed faithfully thus far by both Mr. Netanyahu and his successor Mr. Sharon called for the abandonment of the Oslo accords "under which Israel has no obligations if the PLO does not fulfill its obligations." Yasser Arafat blundered by obliging Israel.


     "Our claim to the land [of the West Bank] to which we have clung for 2,000 years is legitimate and noble," the paper continued. "Only the unconditional acceptance by Arabs of our rights, especially in their territorial dimension, is a solid basis for the future."


     For the strategy to succeed, the paper suggested, Israel would have to win broad American support for these new policies. And to ensure support in Washington, Mr. Netanyahu was advised to use "language familiar to the Americans by tapping into themes of past U.S. administrations during the Cold War, which apply as well to Israel."


     Prominent American opinion-makers who are now senior members of the Bush administration participated in the discussions and the drafting that led to this 1996 blueprint. Prime Minister Sharon has flown to Washington seven times in two years to meet with Mr. Bush, more frequently than any other head of state or government.


     Mr. Sharon quickly convinced a receptive and deeply religious Mr. Bush that Palestinian terrorism, al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction were part of a three-pronged offensive against the Judeo-Christian civilization.


     The destabilization part of the strategy appears to be working. The Arab League seems to have reached a dead end. And it has no idea how to turn around. Arab states are the only ones in the world with living standards that have declined steadily for the past two decades. Even the richest one Saudi Arabia has fallen from per capita incomes of some $20,000 plus to $7,000 since 1983.


     Saudi royals know they have to open up their private fiefdom to participatory democracy. Eight other Arab states are committed to political pluralism and market economies. How to keep politico-religious extremists from winning elections is now their common problem.
     
     Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large for The Washington Times and for United Press International.

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