By Hannes Artens
The most important election for the future of the Middle East, whose outcome very well could trigger a third Intifada or war with Iran, is just ahead. No, I’m not talking of Austria’s parliamentary election in ten days, nor of the US presidential race, but of tomorrow’s primary for the leadership of Kadima. Hands down, neither of the prime contenders, Foreign Minister Zipi Livni nor Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, are the kind of candidates to elicit an Obamamania among the delegates nor is either of them innocent of having irresponsibly pandered to unregenerate hawks and moronic apologists of a Greater Israel with ultra-bellicose rhetoric. Kadima’s delegates are not to be envied. Without reason for enthusiasm or acting from strong conviction they have to choose the lesser of two evils.
Israel’s next Prime Minister? (Source: The Economist)
Once elected and if able to form a stable coalition the next head of Kadima will succeed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and lead the party into the parliamentary elections scheduled for early 2010. There he or she will face the Labor Party’s Ehud Barak and Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu. With Barak discrediting himself on a daily basis the race will amount to a showdown between Kadima and Likud. No need to expound in detail on what an ultimate catastrophe a Prime Minister Netanyahu would be for the world. In tandem with a possible McCain presidency he could easily set the whole Middle East afire.
That these scary prospects of far right hawks salivating for day X, when Prime Minister Netanyahu calls President McCain to get an IAF preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities green-lighted, are more than a gloomster’s exaggeration is highlighted by last week’s developments. Until Friday analysts worldwide considered the refusal of the Bush administration to equip the IAF with bunker busters as a secure indicator that the White House – solely concerned with its legacy of a stabilized Iraq – does not want Israel to surge ahead and draw the US in a potentially devastating conflict. This together with other trends discussed here at TheAgonist rendered a military strike on Iran less likely. Last week, however, the Pentagon announced in a sudden 180Â° turn (the I lost track of how many) that it plans to approve the sell of 1,000 GBU-39 bunker busters (that’s the successor model of the GBU-28 used in The Writing on the Wall) to Israel. As Haaretz reported,
The Pentagon’s announcement, which came on Friday, said the U.S. will provide Israel with 1,000 units of Guided Bomb Unit-39 (GBU-39) – a special weapon developed for penetrating fortified facilities located deep underground. The $77 million shipment, which includes launchers and appurtenances, will allow the IAF to hit many more bunkers than currently possible (…) During demonstrations, the GBU-39 – labeled by the manufacturer, Boeing, as a Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) – has successfully penetrated more than 1.8 meters of thick reinforced concrete with a 23-kilogram warhead. The GPS-guided weapon is said to have a 50-percent probability of hitting its intended target within 5-8 meters.”
Imagine these harbingers of death at Netanyahu’s disposal, add his pro-settlers, scorched earth policy against the Palestinians together with McCain in the White House to it, and you got a recipe for disaster. No, we should not have any misgivings about the potential mayhem ahead. The next Israeli parliamentary election will come down to a choice between the new leader of Kadima and the abyss. Consequently, tomorrow’s primary is not about who we consider the premier of our dreams, who conjures a final status for Palestine out of a hat like a rabbit, but ought to be about what candidate is better suited to keep Benjamin Netanyahu at bay. Seeing things from a realistic perspective, it is evident that Shaul Mofaz is not the man for the job. Not only that he eradiates the charisma of a slice of toast bread, he was Ariel Sharon’s Army Chief of Staff, who infamously is rumored to have given the order to kill at least 70 Palestinians per day during the second Intifada, his conversion from ultra-hawk to pragmatist also appears not sincere as he only joined Kadima after losing out on his bid for the leadership of Likud. If Israeli voters want a hawk, they’ll go for the real thing, Netanyahu’s Likud, and not a scrupulous turncoat with a notoriety for political backstabbing.
Zipi Livni, on the other hand, seems to have had an honest Damascus experience turning the former Mossad agent and daughter of prominent Irgun fighters into a pragmatist who genuinely recognizes that Israel’s long term survival depends on a two-state solution and peace with all its neighbors. With an untarnished reputation of not being linked to any corruption scandals – a matchlessness of its own in Israeli politics – her strident criticism of Olmert’s ill-fated adventure in Lebanon, a healthy reservation about too martial a saber rattling against Iran, and her spearheading every negotiation effort with the Palestinians for years, she seems to have both the stature and the moxie to inherit Ehud Olmert and tread in Golda Meir’s footsteps as Israel’s second woman Prime Minister. Most importantly, though, according to polls, she would beat Benjamin Netanyahu decisively while Shaul Mofaz would be quashed by Likud. Despite all reservations we may have against her, and Zipi Livni admittedly being the lesser of two evils, she is Israel’s last chance for peace. That’s why The Economist has endorsed her, and why she deserves our support.
But even given Livni’s current popularity and assumed she is able to craft a new, stable coalition – preferably replacing the hawkish Shas Party with the more pragmatic Meretz – she may well need a game changer to pull the stunt off to free us from the sword of Damocles of a Netanyahu premiership dangling over our all heads. With no Sarah Palin as a running mate in sight and with moose-hunting being less decisive in elections in Israel than in the US, she desperately needs a grand breakthrough to show for Kadima’s willingness to make painful concessions – if not, all the party will be associated with is a lost war in Lebanon and Olmert’s scandals.
Livni certainly is right to rather set her hopes on Ahmed Qurei than the perpetual lame duck Mahmoud Abbas as an interlocutor, but the drawn-out talks with the Palestinians are unlikely to yield any results on time for Kadima to benefit from. Matters are completely different with a peace accord with Syria. Here, Livni errs in cold-shouldering the initiative pursued by Ehud Olmert and facilitated by Turkey. In fact, a deal with Damascus – return of the Golan Heights in exchange for a recognition of Israel – could be reached tomorrow. Bashar al-Assad is longing for it for years and it requires Israel to make less painful concessions than with the Palestinians. All it takes to provide Zipi Livni with a much needed election boost is her willingness to discard her childish obstructionism against Ehud Olmert’s pet project and for Washington to join the game and back the realignment with Syria.
Here, the most incalculable variable comes into play: the outcome of the US election. If Barack Obama wins, he will embrace any positive development in Israel with both arms. If John McCain wins, Zipi Livni has a very brief window of opportunity of less than a few months to confront him with a fait accompli. The neocons around the lip-service maverick are unlikely to thwart a signed and sealed Israeli-Syrian deal during their first months in office, but helluva likely to torpedo any such talks while still in the negotiation process to ultimately render a Netanyahu premiership inevitable – to their turned-upside-down worldview’s avail and our all detriment.
Hannes Artens is the author of The Writing on the Wall, the first anti-Iran-war novel.