If There Were a Prime Minister Here

It is such a pity that Israel has no prime minister. It is also a shame that there is no military establishment that can look beyond the commissions of inquiry.

It is such a pity that Israel has no prime minister. It is also a shame that there is no military establishment that can look beyond the commissions of inquiry. This is not because of the danger of war, but perhaps because of the threat of peace. Because all this is happening just when it seems that the Middle East is opening a new window of opportunity. Perhaps only for a moment and maybe it is just a mirage, but there is no one in Israel to even stick a pin in this bubble to find out whether it really bursts.

On Thursday, the important Arab newspaper Al-Hayat published an editorial that directly attacked Iran's behavior. It compared Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Saddam Hussein, and Saddam won. "Despite the fact that Saddam was convinced that his violence alone could sow fear in the hearts of the Americans, he repeatedly offered to conduct a dialogue with them, without any preconditions. But the ascetic president [Ahmadinejad - Z.B.], who prefers to bask in nuclear fuel in order to defend 'the honor and rights of the Iranians,' never stops waiting for the U.S. to listen to his advice and change its path in order to begin negotiations," the Lebanese publicist Zuhair Kisaibati wrote.

Such accusations against Iran are no longer exceptional. It started several months ago, when Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf states uttered quiet protests against Iran's policy and the Arabic press explicitly stated that Iran constitutes a threat to Arab states. Iran is regarded not only as a threat, but also as an insult, mainly because of the increasingly clear evidence of the extent of Iranian influence in Iraq - an important Arab state that is detaching itself from the Arab fold in order to cling to Iran. Iran is so infuriating that even the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Mahdi Akef, publicly urged Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas to cut off ties with Iran, which had promised to contribute $250 million to him.

This reminds us that if Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Meshal succeed in reaching understandings on a unity government, the Palestinian Authority is also liable to progress to the status of a partner - if there is a partner for it, of course. Syria and the Persian Gulf states are currently working on this. Saudi Arabia is preparing an Arab summit that is expected to take place in March. It could be an insignificant conference that again expresses Arab support for the Palestinians, or it could be a significant one, forcefully addressing the Iranian nuclear issue, committing to an Arab position on Iraq and replacing the guardianship offered by Iran, and presenting a stance that takes the declarations of the 2002 Beirut summit another step forward.

The summit could also offer to examine how serious Bashar Assad is. But in order to take advantage of all this, there needs to be someone on the Israeli side and an end to the instinctual shrugging of shoulders and ingrained rejection of any Arab initiative. There needs to be an Israeli leader who can remind the U.S. that the failure in Iraq could be counterbalanced by peace between Israel and the Arabs, and that it is impossible to make do with the flutterings of Condoleezza Rice, who is like the good fairy who comes in the evening and disappears in her stardust in the morning.

Perhaps it would also be helpful for her to read the Al-Hayat editorial, which berates Iran and warns it that "there is no connection between the impossible language of victory (over the U.S.) and a policy of the possible." But at the same time, the editorial attacks the Arab states, wondering: "Who will decide the fate of the Arabs? Why do they allow others, that is, Iran, to speak on behalf of their rights?" This is exactly the question that should be asked in Israel: Why allow others, including the U.S., to determine the limits of what is permissible and prohibited in contacts with an enemy when the matter involves the lives of Israeli citizens? Why is it possible to go to war without consulting Washington, while peace requires its approval - because it is liable, heaven forbid, to harm American interests?

But this, of course, is only a fleeting thought, a hallucination. If we only had a prime minister.