New Middle East, Part 2

The most important revolutionary currently active swings his golf club as though imagining that he was lopping off the head of Saddam Hussein.

The most important revolutionary currently active swings his golf club as though imagining that he was lopping off the head of Saddam Hussein. He did it this week at the vacation resort of his father, who bequeathed him his name, indirectly also his office and finally the war against Saddam, so it's pretty self-evident that the son is his father's natural successor. In fact, the personal background blurs the picture instead of clarifying it. The father, George Herbert Walker Bush, had a conservative goal: to restore the status quo ante in the Persian Gulf by expelling the Iraqi invaders from Kuwait. The son, George Walker Bush, wants to remake the world. Since last September 11 his actions have been nourished by an ambitious vision; and in that vision Israel is on the right side.

That, in essence, is the strategic situation appraisal of the Israel Defense Forces, updated to August 2, 2002, exactly a dozen years after Iraqi forces poured across the border into Kuwait. This particular appraisal would hold a certain interest even it served only as a platform for planning operations, but in the peculiar circumstances of policy making and decision making in the government of Israel, its significance is greatly heightened, because in the process of the discussions and the authorizations the General Staff's appraisal has become the draft plan of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In the labyrinthine politics of Israel, when the executive bodies need to decode the intentions of the leaders without the leaders explicitly exposing their flanks to rivals, the result is that there is no Sharon plan, but there is definitely a Bush plan, which was examined under the fine lens of the intelligence and planning branches and given Sharon's seal of approval. Bush's speeches, particularly the one on June 24, but also many statements made by the president and his ideological confidants (Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte) have become holy writ, and the officers of the General Staff in Tel Aviv have concomitantly turned into their official commentators, the high priests of the war of cultures being fought jointly by the two nations, America and Israel.

Thus, without any great fanfare, the death certificate of the Oslo process was signed and a different journey, following a new path, was embarked upon to a Middle East without Saddam Hussein, without Yasser Arafat, without terrorism. What Bush says, goes, and he will put an end to the occupation in a format acceptable to the United States, whose "unshakable friendship for Israel is a cornerstone of American foreign policy," as the president declared last week at the ceremony in which Daniel Ayalon, Israel's new ambassador to the United States, presented his credentials. Bush's remarks on that occasion, which took place on the day of the terrorist bombing at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, enshrine his attitude toward Israel. America's commitment to Israel's well-being, security and military edge, he said, is based not only on the strategic interests of the United States but also on the two countries' shared belief in democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Family heritage

Saddam, Arafat, Osama bin Laden are not nuisances that a superpower shakes off as though they were pesky mosquitoes. They, and others like them, want to undermine the holy of holies, the American way of life, which is also the Israeli way of life, as a general rule and more intensively when Hamas murders Americans and Israelis alike with the passive or active connivance of Arafat, who is tainted with terrorism and corruption.

The Israeli-American alliance is binding on both sides, and it is in this context that the family heritage becomes applicable. The senior Bush, pursuant to his contacts with the Soviets in preparation for war, launched the Madrid process, from which Israel deviated (following Bush's defeat by Bill Clinton) by veering to Oslo. His son's support for the Israeli position today ("no compromise with terrorism is possible") entails Israeli dialogue with a moderate Palestinian leadership on a mutual political future, even in the period of waiting for the operation in Iraq.

The central clause in the Bush-Sharon plan is hidden in the General Staff documents under the innocent initials "P.S." (in English). Usually, P.S. is used to add some small, previously forgotten detail at the end of a letter or other missive. In this case, the reference is to a Palestinian state, though the very strict will say that the "P" does not stand for Palestine but for "provisional" - temporary and conditional - and concomitantly vague and limited trappings of sovereignty. Since Sharon has adopted the Bush outline, the IDF assumes that Israeli policy accepts, and perhaps is even striving for, the birth of a Palestinian preemie whose survival and growth are dependent on its future surroundings. The happy event is due to take place in three years.

In the meantime, in 2003 and 2004 - just as in 1996 - elections will be held for the chairmanship of the Palestinian Authority, for prime minister of Israel (this time using the former method of voting for parties and not directly for the PM) and for the American presidency.

By 2005, Bush's fashion of replacing regimes will have swept out both Saddam and Arafat. Bush did not invent the method but he is set on improving and replicating it. When the owners of the oil well and the refinery go wild, the American driver, who is both a fuel consumer for civilian factories and military industry, moves to kick them out and appoint a more friendly local: that, in a nutshell, is the story of the ouster of the prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossaddeq, in favor of Shah Reza Pahlavi, half a century ago. Mossaddeq represented a minor threat, which also demanded treatment, at a time when the two other major oil exporters in the Gulf, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, were pro-Western. Today, Iran and Iraq, which are hostile toward the West (though also toward each other) and are frightening the Saudis, are generating a far more serious problem.

Saudi Arabia's agonizing - substantively and not just publicly - about the desirable situation in Iraq from its point of view derives from its apprehension that Saddam's removal will restore Iraq to its previous status as the West's pet, which it was until the coup of 1958, and will thereby reduce the weight carried by Riyadh. "The smartest Arabs," according to a regional consensus that was recently quoted by an American expert of Arab origin, "are those of Iraqi origin" - those whose shrewdness stems from their being born in Iraq and from their decision to leave the country. The expectation is that after Saddam, these exiles will return home and assist in bringing the country back to its former level of prosperity.

Rumsfeld, too, in taking a firm position alongside Israel at the Pentagon this week, added to his regular remarks about the security risk faced by a small state in a hostile neighborhood, the hope that Palestinian "exiles" would become involved in establishing peace. He was referring not to the right of return but to Palestinian experts and intellectuals who will return to Palestine from the West.

Guest lecturer: Saddam

Since his election loss to Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu has joined the world club of has-beens: Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher and her successor John Major - all found themselves employment in the form of delivering lucrative lectures after leaving office. So lucrative, in fact, that the most coveted status these days would seem to be that of retired ruler, and it's only a pity that beforehand one has to be a ruler. The only difference between the foreign members of the club and the Israelis - Barak is there, too, though Netanyahu looks down on him, like a player in the Premier League at a player in a lower league - is that the Israelis refuse to be only has-beens. They have a future; in their eyes, they are the future.

There are growing signs, and there is talk also of American mediators to bridge the seething enmity, of a Sharon-Netanyhau deal following an internal Likud contest or instead of one: Netanyahu as the designated successor of the 75-year-old leader, as number two in the Knesset list, perhaps even as foreign minister or defense minister in the current government after the resignation of Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and the Labor Party at the end of October.

Another leader whose future is preoccupying many people is Saddam Hussein. If he believes that he has nothing to lose, he is liable to press the last button, the one that unleashes weapons of mass destruction, against Israel, too. An even more sophisticated version of this scenario -which Saddam disseminated during the Gulf War of 1991- tried to make his rescue, rather than his killing, the war goal of his enemies: he threatened to delegate to his field commanders the power to use mass-destruction weapons, with the order being to go ahead if contact with Baghdad was lost. That is a very wily deterrent move, though its weakness is that Saddam will have a tough time ascertaining after his death whether the order was carried out, when the field commanders will no longer be afraid of him and will fear the revenge of the victors instead.

In other periods it would have been possible to suggest to Saddam that he go into well-protected exile on a remote island, like the defeated Napoleon. In our time, Saddam, younger and more dangerous than Augusto Pinochet, can look forward to a future at least as bitter as that of Slobodan Milosevic. In Netanyahu's opinion, the newly constituted International Criminal Court for war crimes does away with the convenient conversion of the title of "ruler" into "refugee": if Saddam survives a six-and-a-half ton bomb or a well-aimed volley, he will be hauled into court and tried. If the only alternative available to him is death, he may try to take with him millions of people, most of them Israelis. But if the preferred option - assassination - fails, it would be worth tempting him with a nice lecture tour.