The Saudis Are Having Ideas Again

World security and the prestige of the U.S. are intertwined. Giving up the war would therefore demand a very significant American achievement and the question is where this can be found.

Aircraft carriers are an exciting subject for photographs. So are the soldiers who are training for a chemical or biological attack. These are the pictures that the Pentagon is encouraging in broadcasts and they appear every evening all around the world. A war with Iraq, it turns out from them, is the next global show and there are hardly any tickets left.

But perhaps it is precisely in this show that the paradox will be created that because of the war, the war will be put off. First of all the timetable: the discovery of 11 empty chemical warheads on Thursday is still not considered a casus belli and therefore the next performance is planned for January 27, when the inspection team will submit its interim report to those who sent it.

The study of its findings will take a few days and after that the United Nations Security Council will have to convene. Although under Security Council Resolution 1441 there is no need for an additional resolution to go to war in the case that Iraq flagrantly violates the resolution, a prolonged debate is ensured.

On the assumption that the inspectors' report will include proof of finding a smoking gun in Iraq, the administration in Washington will have on its table the request/demand by Saudi Arabia to try another diplomatic step before the first shot is fired.

Saudi Arabia appended to its request a far-reaching initiative that includes among other things dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is not out of the question that it will suggest to the United States the formula "Iraq in exchange for Palestine," or in other words, don't go to war with Iraq and we will see to the Israeli-Arab conflict.

This initiative has already been coordinated with Egypt, which on its part is making efforts to achieve an agreed formula among the Palestinian organizations to stop the terror attacks within Israel for a period of one year.

The combination of the two initiatives could be presented to the United States as proof of the Arab ability to deal with the problems of the Middle East without foreign intervention. To achieve pan-Arab agreement to these initiatives, it is possible that the leaders of the Arab countries will ask the administration to put off the war in Iraq until March, when the Arab summit conference will meet in Bahrain. All this, as noted, on the assumption that incriminating material will be found in Iraq. Even more so if the inspectors' report is bland.

On the European axis, voices are already coming out of Germany and France calling for another Security Council resolution before a war. Germany, according to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, is even more determined: It is simply opposed to a war. Turkey is still wavering and its Prime Minister Abdullah Gul is trying to find a common denominator with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Syria that could prevent the war.

In fact, there is no country in the region, apart from Kuwait, that is waiting for the war that is developing into a head-to-head battle: Saddam versus Bush, and not an agreed-upon war against the spearhead of the axis of evil. Or as a headline in one of the Egyptian newspapers put it: Saddam is boycotted and also Bush is boycotted.

For its part, the White House has declared that the inspectors will be given all the time they need for inspection, and they, according to their spokesman and according to the International Atomic Energy Agency Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, they will need at least a year to make certain of what there is in Iraq. If the Security Council authorizes the inspectors to continue, if even for another two or three months, the entire war move could be eroded. Then the question will come up of what happens if there is no war.

World security and the prestige of the U.S. are intertwined. Giving up the war would therefore demand a very significant American achievement and the question is where this can be found. Possibly the answer may be found in a new order in the Middle East that will include Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states. According to this scenario, it is not a war in Iraq that will bring about a domino effect of peace agreements, but rather its prevention.

This is the main idea inherent in the document that Saudi Arabia has sent out to the heads of the Arab states in advance of the Bahrain summit. It would be interesting to see how the United States would react if the heir to the Saudi throne, Prince Abdullah, who is so opposed to a war, were to take his peace initiative of last November one step further and declare, for example, his country's readiness to sign a peace agreement with Israel, if the United States gives up a war on Iraq.