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German daily sees Israel-Sunni « pact », Russia key to Middle East peace 14 mars 2007

Posted by Acturca in EU / UE, Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie, USA / Etats-Unis.
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BBC Monitoring Europe – Political, March 13, 2007 Tuesday

Source: Die Welt, Berlin, in German 12 Mar 07

Text of commentary by Michael Stuermer on the European – Israeli Dialogue in Berlin: « Soft Power and Hard Facts », published by German newspaper Die Welt on 12 March 

Deep scepticism and a little confidence

The parties to the Middle East confront each other irreconcilably, and no one has much confidence in the Europeans’ ability to resolve the conflict. Many of those attending the European -Israeli Dialogue in Berlin’s Axel Springer House expressed their scepticism -but not the chancellor.

Europeans place their trust in « soft power » [as published in English]: treaties, subsidies, and gentle persuasion, and are utterly nonplussed when everything goes awry, not infrequently at the hands of the same demons they had sought to buy off, in the hope of replacing anger and hatred for the west and Israel with a better future. The eighth European -Israeli Dialogue at Axel Springer House saw more than 100 diplomats, military leaders, politicians, and academics gathered together to engage in serious analysis.

The event, organized by Axel Springer AG publishing house in conjunction with the Club of Three [Germany, France, United Kingdom], was opened with a speech by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday [ 10 March]. The chief Israeli representative was Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog; External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner was there on behalf of the European Union; while others attending included a present and a former foreign minister: the current Czech incumbent, Karel von Schwarzenberg, and the previous German one, Joschka Fischer, now teaching at Princeton.

« WE must not lose the belief »

Right at the outset, Chancellor Merkel left no doubt as to where the Federal Republic stands, in extremis: « The crucial advocacy of Israel’s right to exist is and will remain a constant of German foreign policy. » Calling on the participants to abandon despondency, and tackle conflict resolution in a spirit of creativeness, Merkel asserted: « We must not lose the belief that this conflict can still be resolved. »

Her faith was not shared by all of those present. A repeated theme in their contributions was their deep scepticism over the situation in the Middle East, and the prospects for a negotiated solution. For not only do the peoples of the greater Middle East live amid the ruins of three wars; but a fourth is no longer inconceivable. All these wars and crises mesh together. None of them can be stemmed and brought to a conclusion in isolation. A case in point was the way that so many speakers dismissed the idea that the Palestinian -Israeli conflict should be seen as the key issue.

« The unwinnable war in Iraq »

A case in point was Moshe Yaalon, a former lieutenant general in the Israeli Armed Forces, who asserted that: « Even if we do succeed in resolving this conflict, it will not bring peace and security to the Middle East. » The unwinnable war being waged by the Americans and British in Iraq has repeatedly changed its face: a rapid war of liberation turned seamlessly into an insurgency, and then into a civil war between militia fighting for oil, weapons, and living space. Meanwhile, Syria and Iran fan the flames by providing money, arms, and training: they aim to show the Americans that it is Teheran that calls the tune in the region, and that any military action against the Iranian regime will cost a high price in terms of lives and money.

The British are steadily reducing their presence in the south, and even the Americans are not going to be able to stay for ever, either. Lately, though, it has been looking as if their aim is to keep the Kurds in the north in check, so as to avert any military intervention by the Turks, while maintaining a low profile in the process of establishing bases. For the Israelis, this amounts to a kind of life-insurance.

A tactical pause has supervened in the war

The war in Afghanistan, particularly in the embattled south of the country, is inciting the Muslim backlash. The Taleban have regrouped, and are penetrating into Pakistan across the nearby mountain range that forms the border. For Israel, the main priority now is for the war in southern Lebanon not to be finished; but that a tactical pause has merely supervened. The fact that the Germans are « ruling the waves » -off the Lebanese coast – through the UNIFIL mission [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] established by the United Nations, while an Italian general guarantees security in southern Israel, with another one in the north tasked with cutting off the flow of arms, is seen by the Israelis as a kind of bad joke. For they suspect that the whole will only hold until Teheran and Syria once again unleash Hezbollah’s dogs of war, utterly heedless of the reconstruction and cohesion of Lebanon.

The fourth war, closely linked with the previous ones, can still only be discerned in terms of broad outlines. Yet it is already in everyone’s minds: not just those of the Israelis, but the entire neighbourhood, from Turkey to Saudi Arabia, from Egypt right through to Morocco. They are all growing more and more wary of the Shi’i crescent, directed by the Iranians. While the Europeans see Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinezhad busily engaged in devious tactical machinations, the Israelis take his threats at face value. Yes, we do feel threatened, and we are not going to wait and see what happens: such is the message, in numerous variations, they are sending not only to Europe and America, in a spirit both of warning and of inquiry -but to the Sunni Arabs, too.

Nods and winks are having to suffice

What this also means, however, is that a kind of tacit pact is emerging between Israel and the Sunni states of the Gulf region, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Morocco, substantially united by the common threat they perceive. No one mentions this openly: nods and winks are having to suffice -which also testifies to the sheer fragility of this new alliance. Having identified the Shi’i arc of crisis as the major threat to themselves, the conservative Arabs can no longer afford to use their hatred for Israel as their bonding agent. They are in the position of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice [allusion to Goethe’s poem]: « I can no longer rid myself of the spirits that I invoked. » Hence, the perpetual conflict over the Holy Land is receding from centre stage to the margins of policy, making a solution ultimately all the more likely.

So how much trust can be placed in Europe -or, to be specific, in the European Union? Traditionally, the EU enjoys scant respect among the Israelis, who scorn its state authority as being rooted in soft power, rather than of a heroic nature. Openly voicing her disappointment over this, External Relations Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner asked her audience: « Why don’t you, our Israeli friends, appreciate the European efforts? » But many of those present reacted by looking beyond the EU’s representative, to NATO. However, the relevance of the NATO alliance today is as hard to discern for its members as it is for outsiders. The Israelis are going to have to get used to the idea that NATO has now become more of a service-provider: in legal terms, a limited-liability company.

What is presently emerging in the greater Middle East is a reordering of global politics, the focal point of which is now shifting, owing to oil, gas, and pipelines, to the region between the Gulf and the Mediterranean. But nothing is likely to come of this, unless viable offers are made to Russia -over joint missile defence, over combating narcotics crime, over environmental protection. Russia has reemerged as a superpower, including in the Middle East. This has been respectfully noted in Israel.


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