Israel is worried a hasty American withdrawal from Iraq could topple the Hashemite regime in Jordan, one of the reasons why Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and others publicly oppose such a move.
Olmert voiced his opposition in a live video speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Tuesday, speaking out strongly against a rapid American exit from Iraq.
Senior Israeli government officials later said Olmert was expressing his opinion "solely on the professional aspect" of a pullout and insisted, as did Olmert in his speech, that Israel has no interest in getting involved in America's domestic political dispute over Iraq. Nevertheless, the official Israeli position as expressed by Olmert contradicts the views of a majority of Americans, who favor a speedy pullout.
Olmert spoke out publicly in part due to an assessment he has received from the security services, who say a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq before that country has stabilized would have immediate repercussions on the domestic situation in Jordan. These effects could even threaten the stability of the Hashemite monarchy. Israel views Jordan as a strategic asset whose stability is a vital Israeli interest.
However, Israel is not concerned solely about Jordan's fate, it fears that stability throughout the region would be undermined if the United States is viewed as having lost to the extremists. "Those who are concerned for Israel's security, for the security of the Gulf states and for the stability of the entire Middle East should recognize the need for American success in Iraq, and a responsible exit," Olmert told the AIPAC conference.
One day earlier, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told AIPAC that "in a region where impressions are important, countries must be careful not to demonstrate weakness and surrender to extremists ... It is [also] true for Iraq."
Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who met in Washington this week with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and several senior senators, expressed a similar view.
Olmert, explaining his position to a visiting delegation from the American Jewish Committee the day after his AIPAC speech, said the question of why America began the war in Iraq is currently secondary. What matters, he argued, is that given the present state of affairs in Iraq, if America were to leave now, it would lose its authority throughout the Middle East.
Amiram Barkat adds:
Yesterday, Olmert urged a visiting delegation of leaders of the Reform Movement to reconsider a motion urging the U.S. government to set a firm timetable for an American withdrawal from Iraq. The movement's executive, representing some 700 Reform congregations across the U.S., approved the motion by a large majority earlier this week.
Olmert reiterated his argument that a hasty withdrawal could endanger Israel's security as well as efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program. But the Reform leaders refused his request, saying they believe a rapid withdrawal would serve Israeli and Western interests better than a prolonged American stay in Iraq.
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