Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Gideon Rachman: Israel's World View

Israel's world view

Before leaving Israel yesterday, I and some colleagues had the chance to talk to various members of the Israeli military and foreign policy establishment. Obviously, they were well aware they were talking to journalists, so one must discount for spin. But here, briefly, is how they see the world:

Iran: The Israelis are obsessed with the development of an Iranian bomb. They say it will be the first time an "enemy state" has the capacity to exterminate Israel. They think the Iranians are 12-18 months away from crossing the technical threshold and three years away from having the bomb itself. They acknowledge that the Americans seem to think that Iran is further away than that - perhaps five years. There is time for diplomacy to work, and they think President Ahmadinejad is not in a secure position. But they clearly think that it is most likely that Israel and the United States will soon be faced by the decision over whether to take military action. They hope the US will do it. But the strong implication is that Israel will take action alone if necessary. But they are far from sanguine about the potential regional consequences, in terms of a wider war, terrorism and so on.

Lebanon: They see Hizbollah as a branch of the Iranian state. They say that Hizbollah has substantially rebuilt its military capacity, although it is inhibited to some extent by the presence of the UN. Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister, has been a pleasant surprise to the Israelis. They regard him as a tough, courageous patriot - but they also think he is very vulnerable. Long-term the Israelis are gloomy about the prospects for Lebanon, because they believe a talented and mobile Christian community will emigrate in large numbers.

Syria: They see Syria as an active member of an Iranian-led radical camp. But they confirm newspaper reports in Israel of informal, "back-channel" talks on a peace deal with Syria - and they reckon President Assad may be interested in a deal. They seem pretty contemptuous of Assad. One gets the impression that while the Iranians scare them, the Syrians do not.

Iraq: They are worried by an implosion of Iraq after the Americans leave. Possible consequences include Iraq becoming a new centre for "global jihad", and the destabilisation and implosion of Jordan, under a wave of Iraqi refugees.

The Saudis: The Israelis seems to love the Saudis at the moment - and they think the Saudis are increasingly warm to them, since both sides have a mutual interest in containing Iran. But the Israelis are also worried by a nuclear arms race in the region. The Saudis could go nuclear quite quickly, possibly because they have an arrangement with Pakistan. Other countries that are thinking of going nuclear, in response to the Iranian programme, are Egypt and Turkey.

No comments: