Zbigniew Brzezinski: Israel's push for Iran strike may hurt U.S. ties
Ex-Carter aide: America unlikely to attack Iran; warns Israeli action may inspire international resentment.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser to Jimmy Carter, said in an interview with Haaretz over the weekend that Israel will do harm to its relations with the United States if it insists on lobbying Washington for an American military strike on Iran.
Brzezinski was at the center of a controversy during much of the United States presidential campaign when Jewish opponents of president-elect Barack Obama sent out mass emails calling the former U.S. president's aide anti-Israel, and saying he was one of the Illinois senator's key advisors on foreign policy.
The Obama campaign denied that Brzezinski and other figures like Bill Clinton's former advisor Robert Malley with dovish positions on the Israel-Palestinian question were among his Middle East advisors.
Brzezinski told Haaretz: "One [piece of] advice that I would give the Israeli government is not to engage in this campaign for an American attack on Iran, because I don't think America is going to attack Iran, and if it did, and the consequences would be disastrous."
"It wouldn't be particularly good for American-Israeli relations, and there will be a lot of resentment against [Israel]," he said. "There already has been some after the war in Iraq."
On Sunday, Obama told NBC's "Meet the Press" that the West must engage in "tough but direct diplomacy" with Iran, but emphasized that Tehran's vocalized threats against Israel stand "contrary to everything" the United States believes in.
Brezinski added that even if Israel did attack Iran, it would be incapable of striking all of its nuclear facilities. The best it could hope to do is to slow down or delay the Islamic Republic's drive to build a nuclear bomb while emboldening extremist sentiment in the country.
"I don't know if Iran believes the military option is real, but I think it's not a real option for the U.S., and it is not a real option for Israel, because Israel doesn't have a capability to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities," Brzezinski said.
"It can damage them, so it can only delay the process, while intensifying Iranian extremism and wielding together Iranian nationalism and Iranian fundamentalism, which I don't think is in anyone's interest. Last, but not least, Israel really cannot execute effective strike without our permission. Because if you look at the map, you can see the reason why it is so."
The former Carter aide was among those who listened intently to President George W. Bush's farewell speech on the Middle East over the weekend.
Brzezinski, one of the architects of the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt who spared no criticism of the outgoing president during his two terms in office, is still not buying Bush's vision for a new Middle East.
"You might remember that when Iraq war started in March, already in May President Bush proclaimed: 'Mission accomplished,'" Brzezinski told Haaretz. "That happens to be more than seven years ago. In the course of this year, he several times declared that there's going to be Israeli-Palestinian peace by the end of this year before he leaves office, because of his policies in the region. That hasn't materialized yet and it is unlikely to happen before he leaves office. Iran is now more influential in region than seven years ago. So I think there is some legitimate skepticism justified regarding his analysis of what has happened."
The octogenarian former diplomat continues to be one of the most active figures in Washington. Aside from his ability to prompt leaders to seek his advice, one of his trademarks continues to be a special talent to draw fire from critics. Many Israelis think he loathes their country, yet a similar sentiment can be heard from the Palestinians and the Russians. His supporters say he is simply focusing on advancing U.S. interests, and that he has no intention of toadying to anyone. Brezinski's endorsement of Barack Obama moved many in the Jewish community to warn: "With advisors like Brzezinski, Obama's policies will not be pro-Israel."
Brezinski thinks the president-elect has a rare opportunity to translate the euphoria which followed his election victory into a concrete policy that will yield results in the international arena. "I think Barack Obama has to actively help to resolve Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, and it requires a comprehensive and explicit American peace initiative, because the parties are stalemated," Brzezinski said. "I think that the first priority for the US president is to articulate that stand, especially when he has very high international prestige, he was elected with unprecedented global enthusiasm."
"He has a lot of prestige," he said. "If he would articulate that position, I think the whole international community would endorse it. And I think that would have some significant impact on a peace process, and after he has made that statement, he should than appoint the usual peace plenipotentiary to deal with the problem, because obviously president can't spend his time involved in negotiating process."
Brzezinki said public opinion in Israel and the Palestinian territories is more accommodating to an agreement, but it is the political leadership's hesitance to make fateful concessions that necessitates active U.S. mediation.
"The public is actually ahead of the political leaders in some aspects, but the political leaders are hesitant to make necessary concessions that are fundamental to the settlement," he said. "Out of the perhaps understandable fear that if one makes the concession first, the other side will pocket it without return. So I think it's necessary that the U.S. takes initiative and breaks the lock jam, and that initiative requires particularly clear American view but also the international community's view that this initiative has to be based on four fundamental principles."
They include a Palestinian renunciation of the right of return; an Israeli commitment to genuinely share Jerusalem; a final border based on the '67 lines with minor alterations to allow for annexation of settlement blocs; and a demilitarized Palestinian state.
Brezinski also says the two sides should consider an international peacekeeping force led by NATO to assuage security concerns.
"The possible involvement of NATO is not a question of war on terror, but ensuring that the Palestinian state is not a military threat, but at the same time stable and secure, and NATO presence could bring this double benefit," he said. "Perhaps a NATO presence [could] ensure a peace agreement, or maybe even an American presence along the Jordan River, to give the Israelis sense of geographical security."
Brzezinski was also in attendance at the annual Saban Forum over the weekend, a Middle East policy meeting sponsored by Washington think tank the Brookings Institution.