It took George W. Bush six years and an election loss in the House and the Senate to understand that his dad's buddies, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, may bring the Democrats back to more than just Capitol Hill. The disposal of Rumsfeld and the distancing of Cheney are the first steps of a plan to keep the White House in Republican hands in 2008.

Over the next two years, the race will focus primarily on the Middle East. Meanwhile, the American leadership will again include dad's good friends. The new-old circle is from the class of 1991, the year of the Madrid Conference and the hard-line policy against settlements.

Coach James Baker, who was secretary of state and knight of the peace process during the elder Bush's term, will soon present the son with a new strategic proposal. Baker's associates have hinted that the plan for an Iraq withdrawal, which Baker prepared with former congressman Lee Hamilton, will likely affect the political sphere in Israel. The two are expected to say an Israeli withdrawal from the territories would help Bush pull out of Iraq.

Robert Gates, the CIA chief in the early 1990s, is now a candidate to replace Rumsfeld. He belongs to the school that believes that if something cannot be obtained by force, more force will not help. Gates is willing to offer carrots to even the Iranian monster. Like Baker, he believes that ending the Israeli occupation and the Arab-Israeli conflict are vital to the United States' Middle East agenda.

This is not just mere speculation regarding Gates. All this appears in a report by an independent task force on Iran, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Gates and Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Carter administration's national security adviser, chaired the task force, which also included the Jewish-American activist and media baron Mort Zuckerman. One of the first recommendations of the report, which was published in June 2004 under the title "Iran: Time for a New Approach," was that the U.S. resume active involvement in the Middle East peace process and press Arab countries to support it.

"Iranian incitement of virulent anti-Israeli sentiment and activities thrives when there is no progress toward peace," Gates wrote. "Iranian involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a pernicious factor in an already debilitating conflict. Ultimately, the most effective strategy for extracting Iran from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be resuming a robust peace process buttressed by a sustained U.S. commitment to lead the effort and a broad regional consensus in support of the negotiating parties and the ultimate agreements."

Gates and Brzezinski believe that if "moderate Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt actively support and facilitate a peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, Iran would be likely to acquiesce to this process. Iranian hostility toward the peace process is not immutable - a lonely struggle against an emerging regional consensus on behalf of radical Palestinian forces is not likely to be the path chosen by Tehran."

The task force's recommendation is unequivocal: "A serious effort on the part of Washington aimed at achieving Arab-Israeli peace is central to eventually stemming the tide of extremism in the region."

For Ephraim Sneh's information

It's a pity Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh did not review this document before telling the Jerusalem Post that we should not rule out a preemptive strike against Iran.

Gates is a veteran of the elder Bush's administration, which convinced Israel to endure Saddam Hussein's Scud missile attacks and let the American coalition do the work. "Since Washington would be blamed for any unilateral Israeli military strike, the United States should make it quite clear to Israel that U.S. interests would be adversely affected by such a move," he writes.

In general, the American experts are not eager for a war with Iran. They stress, however, that given the threat of Iran achieving nuclear capability, no option - including the military option - should be overlooked. Yet they state immediately afterward, "The use of military force would be extremely problematic." This is due to the operational difficulty in locating Iranian nuclear program sites, which are dispersed throughout the country, and their proximity to urban centers, they explain.

Here are a few more excerpts from the report: "Any military effort to eliminate Iranian weapons capabilities would run the significant risk of reinforcing Tehran's desire to acquire a nuclear deterrent and of provoking nationalist passions in defense of that very course. It would most likely also generate hostile Iranian initiatives in Iraq and Afghanistan."

It is evident these two problematic areas were on the minds of the task force members when they formulated their recommendations. They note that Iran can play a vital role in promoting a stable and pluralistic regime in Baghdad. They believe it is possible to convince Tehran to become a productive force in Afghanistan as well.

Dr. Gates, an expert on the Soviet Union, suggests that the U.S. model its approach to Iran on its relations with the Soviet Union and China - that it nurture constructive relations while distancing itself from other aspects of Iranian domestic and foreign policy. In their final recommendations, the authors propose that the U.S. expand the political, cultural and economic ties between the Iranian people and the world, and let American nongovernmental organizations operate in Iran.

The experts suggest approving Iran's request to join the World Trade Organization.

"Iran's isolation only impedes its people's ongoing struggle for a more democratic government and strengthens the hand of hardliners who preach confrontation with the rest of the world," they write. "Integrating Iran into the international community through formal institutional obligations as well as expanded people-to-people contacts will intensify demands for good governance at home and add new constraints on adventurism abroad."

This was written in June 2004. In February 2005, the U.S. decided to alter its strategy toward Iran and adopted the European position, which offered Tehran a series of economic incentives in return for its consent to halt its uranium enrichment program. As part of the change, the U.S. announced that it would approve of Iran joining the World Trade Organization. In June 2005, Iran replaced its relatively moderate president, Mohammed Khatami, with the radical Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The question remains: Which of his own recommendations will Gates take with him to the Pentagon?

Trouble for Lieberman

Up until now, when the U.S. president threatened to lace his battle cries against Islamic terrorism with a threat to resume the Middle East peace process, the Israeli right knew where it could turn. The evangelist preachers did not wait for a call from Jerusalem. They dispatched masses of faithful to clog the White House with e-mails of protest. The offices of Republican congressmen were flooded with mounds of faxes condemning the plot against Jesus' second coming. Wealthy individuals had direct lines to ultraconservatives in the administration. But Rumsfeld's departure will be a tough blow to the Christian right and bitter news for the Jewish right.

Christian Zionists believe that the ingathering of the Jews in the greater land of Israel and the destruction of those who refuse to convert are preconditions to the second coming. However, this never stopped MK Binyamin Elon of the National Union from courting them. MK Yuri Stern of Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman's right-hand man, heads the parliamentary lobby for relations with Christians. Last November, he hosted evangelist preacher John Hagee at the Knesset. Benjamin Netanyahu also stopped by to say hello.

Hagee told lobby members that the road map, which bears the younger Bush's signature, is contrary to the Torah, and warned, "God will settle accounts with any nation that compels Israel to divide the land." Hagee also declared, "It is no coincidence that precisely the same week when Jews were expelled from Gaza and placed in tent cities in Israel, the hand of God, via Hurricane Katrina, sent Americans to live in tent cities in America." Stunning declarations of this sort caused millions of Christians to avoid politicians who identified too much with Hagee and his ilk.

Even before the election defeat, more and more senior evangelical officials started speaking out against the Christian Zionists. American and European bishops backed the Lutheran Evangelical bishop of Jordan and the Holy Land, Munib Younan, who signed a declaration calling the Christian Zionists s "a threat to just peace in Israel and Palestine."

"We vehemently oppose Christian Zionism," Younan, the episcopal bishop in the Middle East, the Latin patriarch and the Syrian Orthodox archbishop wrote. "Their false tenet is a desecration of the scriptural message of love, justice and conciliation."