Honest Arik and Lyin' Joe

After the Iraq war, Sharon could very quickly find himself in the same position as Golda Meir after the elections at the end of December 1973. She won and stayed in power only because the elections were advanced to before the release of the Agranat Commission report.

MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, is the home base for the two main military commands that since September 11, 2001 have been dealing with the war on terror in Afghanistan, the Arabian peninsula and the Horn of Africa, and preparations for the campaign against Iraq: the central command (CENTCOM) and the Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

The soldiers on the base are naturally fans of the local professional sports teams and yesterday they were particularly satisfied when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl, the climax of American competitive sports, timed close to the State of the Union address delivered by the president. The boundaries between football - real or cinematic - and war were already blurred back in the days of Ronald Reagan. It's expected that tonight, or in one of his coming speeches, George Bush will do the same, hinting that Tampa Bay's victory is a taste of what's to come, in the Persian Gulf.

There's a paradox in the war of nerves between Bush and Saddam Hussein. The activity by Kofi Annan, Hans Blix, Gerhard Schroeder and Jacques Chirac is all meant to postpone the opening of the war, but in fact raises the odds it will take place. Without that activity, Saddam might theoretically become convinced war was inevitable and then give in to the demands and prevent the war. The chances for that are nil, and Washington has already issued the battle cries from the cliche caches. Over and over, Franklin D. Roosevelt is quoted as saying that "when you see a snake ready to strike, you don't wait until it attacks." Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld found a more populist image when he compared Saddam to the town cheater, Lyin' Joe. Everyone suffered from his cheatin' ways and nobody was ready to be deceived any more by his lies.

To those who accuse Bush of being eager for war, Rumsfeld responds that the last war still isn't over - in March 1991, Saddam signed a cease-fire agreement, but has continued with his hostile activities ever since. Finally, the Americans and Israelis have a common Arab enemy. Iraq, after all, is the only one of the Arab states that invaded Israel the day after it was founded and subsequently refused to sign an armistice agreement, let alone a peace treaty.

In the search for active or passive allies against Lyin' Joe, Bush found Honest Arik, the Israeli prime minister, who could very quickly find himself in the same position as Golda Meir after the elections at the end of December 1973. She won and stayed in power only because the elections were advanced to before the release of the Agranat Commission report. The prosecutors' report in the two global cases in which Sharon is suspect - the Greek island affair and the loan that went from Austria to the Sheinkin branch of Discount - threaten to become Sharon's Agranat. He's already had a Kahan Commission.

The cooperation is not conditional on the identities of the leaders, but on national interests. In the 1991 war, when Sharon demanded action and Shamir put on the brakes, the Baghdad-Amman road, known as the H-Road, was set as the boundary between the special forces in their relatively unsuccessful attempt to hunt down the Scud launchers: the Americans were south of the road, in the direction of Saudi Arabia, and the British to the north, in Syria's direction. A similar division of labor, though possibly with different forces, could be deployed this time, as well.

Until the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the American military avoided any direct contact between the IDF and CENTCOM, for fear it would antagonize the Saudis and other Arab countries. A senior officer visiting MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa would only be invited to SOCOM, and not over the fence to CENTCOM. The checkpoints were taken down in recent years because of the peace agreement with Jordan, which, like Egypt, is in CENTCOM, and the closer defense relations with Turkey, which in the American scheme of things, together with Israel, Syria and Lebanon, is under the European Command, EUCOM, which will be responsible for military actions in northern Iraq.

The Israel-Turkey-Jordan axis is an important cornerstone for American deployment in the Middle East. In the joint exercises dubbed "Dove of Peace" - the third one took place last year - liaison officers from all three armies practiced aid and rehabilitation assistance to a nearby, imaginary country called Azure. If the dove is still in the air, it's difficult to see behind the dark wings of the birds of prey.