Posted: 29 Feb 2012 11:44 AM PST
There have been endless recent visits to Israel from high-ranking U.S. officials regarding the Iran issue, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and most recently National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.
The AP reports that during the last set of meetings the Israelis defiantly told the U.S. that if they attacked Iran, they would leave the U.S. in the dark. Here's how Mike Rogers, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee put it:
Now, Israel's two top leaders head to Washington for separate sets of talks in the coming days. Bibi comes for his annual triumphal curtain call before the Aipac national conference. There he will certainly repeat his baleful predictions of what a world with Iranian nukes would be like. It could be his last speech in this country before an Israeli attack.
It's uncertain what he will discuss with Pres. Obama, with whom he will meet. The president seems more the supplicant than the officiant in this relationship. He doesn't want Israel to attack. But both he and Bibi know that he doesn't have the will to stop him. It feels to me like possibly the final stop on the way to war.
Obama is so desperate, if this account is to be believed, that he's offered Israel use of our Middle East bases from which to launch its attack at a later date:
The idea that Israel would use U.S. bases or that we would consider allowing the Israelis to do so seems wild and far-fetched. But if true, it indicates just how far and how harebrained we've grown in latching on to something, anything to stop the Israelis.
From the tone of this Wall Street Journal article, it appears that Bibi is coming to Washington seeking a virtual guarantee that the U.S. will attack Iran if Israel does not do so. Israel's chief Congressional water carriers (in this case Sen. Lindsay Graham) also appear to think that such a promise is the least Obama can offer our ever faithful ally:
I'm beginning to feel like a character in a movie watching a train barreling down the track. He knows there will be a crash, and a disaster to follow. There's nothing he can do to stop it. He can only watch and wait for the crunch of steel and the screeching of brakes that cannot stop it in time.
In a related matter, an Israeli publication, Inyan Merkazi, writes (based on a Russian media report) that Avigdor Lieberman, who is known to have an exceedingly close relationship with the Kremlin, was told by Vladimir Putin to oppose an Israeli attack on Iran. There are those within Israel who believe the current foreign minister is a Russian intelligence asset, not just a close Russian political ally, though these are so far rumors rather than proven fact.
One way to test the theory is to watch which way Lieberman votes in the ministerial meeting at which an Israeli attack much be approved. If Lieberman votes No, you'll have a pretty decent indication of where his bread is buttered. If he votes Yes, then at least according to this report, he'll be biting the Russian hand that feeds him, indicating he is much more of an independent figure than many believe.
Posted: 29 Feb 2012 11:29 AM PST
If Vladimir V. Putin, as he claims, seeks a closer relationship with the rest of Europe, he is going about achieving it in a funny way.
The Russian prime minister, apparently headed for a return to the presidency according to polls ahead of the first round of elections scheduled for Sunday, has done little to endear himself to his country's western neighbors during the campaign.
Aside from highlighting deep divisions over Syria and Iran, Mr. Putin has been taking pot shots at European energy policy and attacking European governments for failing to lift visa requirements on Russians. Nearer to home, his government appears to be gearing up for a new "gas war" with Ukraine.
Odd timing, then, to come up with a vision for a Union of Europe — not to be confused with the 27-member European Union — that would stretch from "Lisbon to Vladivostok."
The idea figured in a lengthy peroration on foreign policy that Mr. Putin published on Monday. It portrayed the rest of Europe — once "an oasis of stability and order" — as an economic basket case whose problems could not but affect Russia's interests.
With the tone of a distant if kindly uncle, Mr Putin wrote: "We are by no means indifferent to developments in united Europe." Russia was already involved in international efforts to support Europe's ailing economies, and was "not opposed in principle to direct financial assistance in some cases."
The concept of a Union of Europe, a phrase Mr. Putin ascribed to Russian experts, was not a new one. Nor was its objective: a strengthened alliance with the rest of Europe that would reinforce Russia's position between the United States and the emerging powers of Asia.
Sergei Karaganov, a political analyst and former deputy director of European studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, wrote in 2010 under the title: "A Union of Europe: The Last Chance?":
"If Europe does not unite, it will be the U.S. and China that will call the tune in the future world, and the brilliant half-millennium of Europe will be over."
Igor Yurgens, an adviser to Dmitri A. Medvedev, the outgoing president, made a similar argument back in 2008 when he wrote: "If isolated from one another, and of course in a climate of rivalry between Russia and Europe, neither…will be able to claim a role of a first-class center of strength in the future world order comparable with the U.S. or China, instead becoming objects of politics of external forces."
There's little indication that Europe's present leaders want to jump aboard Mr. Putin's Union of Europe bandwagon. Like their historic predecessors, they are reluctant to be embraced by the Russian bear. As Mr. Putin's warnings about Europe's energy policies indicate, Russia can prove a coercive suitor.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union's High Representative for foreign affairs, is among those not so easily wooed. In a speech this month, she decried another job swap between the Russian president and prime minister that "made many Russian citizens feel that things were being decided between only two men, over the heads of voters."
If anyone needed help, it was not Europe but Russia itself, she suggested. "We will continue our support to modernize both Russia's economic basis and the foundations for a dynamic society oriented towards the future," she said.
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