Asia Times 131104
La tensione Usa-Israele si riflette in Siria e a Gaza
– Israele ed Arabia Saudita, + altri paesi del Golfo, stanno cooperando per porre fine al nuovo corso Usa, dirigere la politica mediorientale, dall’Iran alla Siria, all’Egitto, da dietro le quinte e la nuova intesa con l’Iran.
– Israele si sta presentando a diversi paesi arabi nemici, come potenza regionale su cui fare affidamento per la difesa dei propri interessi.
– Quando gli interessi israeliani e sauditi non confliggono, i due paesi sono disposti a cooperare su una serie di questioni, a cominciare dall’Iran.
– Non si sa quanto durerà questa luna di miele, ma per ora si presentano uniti di fronte per quanto riguarda i nemici comuni e la tensione con il loro principale alleato, gli Usa.
– Secondo molti esperti Israele non avrebbe rinunciato ad attaccare il programma nucleare iraniano; ha aumentato il bilancio militare lo scorso mese, mentre ha ridotto quello di diversi altri dicasteri.
– La tensione tra Usa e Israele è risultata evidente con gli attacchi quasi simultanei condotti da Israele in Siria e contro Hamas, bombardando un tunnel nella striscia di Gaza, subito dopo l’annuncio che il presidente siriano Al-Assad ha accettato il termine per la distruzione di tutte le armi chimiche e le strutture di produzione.
– Gli attacchi israeliani sono un messaggio verso l’Iran e la Siria: gli eventi in Siria sono fondamentali per lo status regionale dell’Iran e per i suoi negoziati sul programma nucleare.
– Hamas, rimasto isolato dopo l’abbattimento del regime alleato egiziano di Morsi, sta cercando di riavvicinarsi all’Iran, dopo lo scontro sulla questione siriana dell’anno scorso. Israele e sauditi non vogliono che accada.
– Obama, secondo notizie del quotidiano israeliano Ha’aretz, avrebbe ottenuto dalle lobby israeliane negli Usa che per 60 giorni non conducano una campagna pubblica per sanzioni più dure contro l’Iran.
– Anche la lobby filo-saudita è irritata, dopo la minaccia del capo saudita dell’intelligence di non appoggiare la linea Usa su Siria e Iran.
Asia Times 131104
US-Israeli spat echoes in Syria and Gaza
By Victor Kotsev
– The Israeli operations in Syria and the Gaza strip that took place almost simultaneously last week demonstrated just how fraught with tensions the relationship between the United States and Israel has become and how unpredictable and dangerous the period ahead is.
It is hardly a secret to anybody that Israel and Saudi Arabia – plus other countries in the Gulf – are cooperating to put an end to the new American course of “leading from behind” in the Middle East and pursuing a d’etente with the Iranian regime (as well as perhaps with the Syrian down the road).
– Israeli warplanes struck Latakia, Syria’s principle port city, on October 31 and Damascus was also attacked. The next day Israeli warplanes bombed southern Gaza, killing three members of the Hamas military wing. Washington’s strong displeasure with this was evident by the almost unprecedented act of making public the Israeli attack on Syrian missiles the day after it took place – to the reported fury of the Israeli government.
– It can be argued whether or not the Syrian regime forced Israel’s hand by attempting to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. But even the Israeli press acknowledged that Hezbollah already has the SA-8 anti-aircraft missiles that were allegedly targeted, and these missiles are in any case considerably less advanced than the SA-17 which Israel reportedly hit in a similar strike in January.
The timing of the operation in Syria, moreover, is highly suspicious. Just the previous day, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced that Syria had met its deadline to destroy all declared chemical weapons production and mixing facilities, relieving much of the international pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, at least until the much more precarious deadline for destroying the chemical weapons themselves approaches next summer.
– What happens in Syria, of course, is key to Iran’s regional status and the negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program (Assad is Iran’s most important Arab ally), and the Israeli strike is a message that concerns both. To the Israelis – and even more so the Saudis – Obama’s failure to attack Syria is symbolic of his willingness to compromise with their red lines on Iran, too.
– Consequently, Riyadh and Jerusalem are taking their own measures to safeguard their interests, in Iran and Syria as in Egypt and elsewhere. While it is hard to tell exactly how extensive their cooperation is, most reports have it that the ties are quite strong.
– Israel is marketing itself to many of its Arab enemies as the responsible adult in the Middle East, a regional superpower that can be counted on at least to safeguard its own interests. And the logic goes that if Israeli and Saudi interests align – both sides are open to bargaining on all sorts of issues – a trustworthy enemy is better than an untrustworthy ally.
– Iran is the best example of this cooperation. While the Israelis are facing increasing international isolation over their belligerent stance, the Saudis are backing them unconditionally. Many experts believe that Jerusalem has not given up its plans of attacking the Iranian nuclear program (see, for example, here).
– In yet another Middle Eastern paradox, past experience shows that the less likely the Israelis seem to launch a military operation, the more likely they may actually be to act. The Israeli army just received another budget increase last month, even though the budgets of many other ministries were slashed.
– But even Gaza fits into this paradigm. The Hamas movement which rules the strip is an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood – a bitter enemy of the Saudi royal house. And while last week’s Israeli operation there was fairly routine and straight-forward, by assassinating several important Hamas military figures the Israelis demonstrated their readiness to brave a wider confrontation, peace talks or no peace talks. This was surely noted in Washington, the main sponsor of the secretive ongoing negotiations, especially in the context of the closely-timed Syria strike.
– By most accounts, the Israelis acted reasonably. A massive terror tunnel stretching all the way from Gaza to an Israeli kindergarten was discovered last month, and six Israeli soldiers were wounded by a powerful explosive device while trying to dismantle it. They were reportedly working inside the strip, but close to the fence, within the perimeter where they are allowed to operate by the ceasefire that ended last year’s Operation Pillar of Defense. A Palestinian militant died in the firefight that ensued, while three ranking Hamas operatives were killed underground when the Israeli air force bombed the remainder of the tunnel.
– Still, the context in which the clashes took place is also very important. Isolated Hamas – its Egyptian ally removed from power – has been trying to move closer to its former patron Iran again, after a major row over Syria last year.  Especially Israel, but also Saudi Arabia has a clear interest to pre-empt that development, and the operation sent a clear and humiliating message to Hamas (which so far has failed responded to its losses, reportedly under pressure from Cairo, despite a consistent past policy of firing missiles).
– Of course, the honeymoon between Riyadh and Jerusalem is far from guaranteed to last. According to the prominent Israeli military analyst Ron Ben-Yishai, Israel stands much to gain from a deal between the US and Iran that sets Tehran’s nuclear program by at least two years.  This is hardly the case with Saudi Arabia.
– But for now, the two Middle East powers stand united as much by the common enemies they face as by their common friction with their main ally in Washington. Among the many signs that the relationship between Jerusalem and Washington is at its lowest point in a while is the crisis meeting the White House called last week with prominent American Jewish leaders.
– According to a report in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, US President Barack Obama clinched an agreement from the pro-Israeli lobbies not to campaign publicly for harsher sanctions on Iran for another 60 days, but the tension at the conference was tangible. 
– And it is hardly a coincidence that the much less vocal but no less formidable pro-Saudi lobby is riled, too – especially after Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan threatened a couple of weeks ago that his country would move away from the US over Syria and Iran.
– Last week’s operations, therefore, were as much messages to regional friends and foes as they were responses to operational developments on the ground. Judging by the fact that neither of them elicited a significant military response, they also seem to have been received as such. But in a region so fraught with intrigue and tension, they also came as warnings that violence and chaos may be just around the corner.
– 1. Iran-Hamas Rebuild Ties Following Morsi’s Ouster, al-Monitor, August 12, 2013.
– 2. Benefits of US-Iran reconciliation, Ynet, October 25, 2013.
– 3. US Jewish leaders won’t campaign publicly for tougher Iran sanctions for 60 days, Ha’aretz, November 1, 2013.
Victor Kotsev is a journalist and political analyst.
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