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Ben-Yishai: Iraq and the Israeli angle

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Analysis: In long run, Iraq withdrawal could help Iranians reinforce anti-Israel deployment. Obama hopes to boost his, America’s status through upcoming Iraq pullout.

By Ron Ben-Yishai

US President Barack Obama’s recent announcement about withdrawing troops from Iraq by the end of the month is not as dramatic as it is being portrayed, as this is an expected move declared by the US president immediately after he was elected. The latest statement boosts Obama’s credibility as a president who delivers on his political pledges and therefore is worthy of trust.

From an Israeli point of view, the American move makes almost no difference in the short term. However, in the long run, it may lead to a worrying strategic development.

Should Iran manage to bring its loyalists to power in Baghdad as result of the Iraq withdrawal, it would allow Tehran transport military and air forces closer to the border with Israel, via a geographic contiguity of loyal states – Iraq and Syria. This may also help Iran transfer supplies to Hezbollah.

Yet the link to Israel doesn’t end there. The planning of the US withdrawal operation got underway more than a year ago in fact, in the Pentagon and in the American headquarters in Iraq. In the framework of these preparations, the 29 main US bases in Iraq had been evacuated, while another 23 relatively small bases scattered across the country remained. Most of the forces had been evacuated from these bases and some were transferred to Afghanistan.

In fact, the US military, acting on President Obama’s orders, adopted the same “trick” used by the IDF Northern Command in 2000, when then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak decided to pull IDF troops out of the south Lebanon security zone. As we recall, the outposts were emptied out and only small forces were left behind to blow them up and quickly withdraw a few hours later. The operation was presided over by then-Northern Command Chief, Gabi Ashkenazi.

US adopting ‘Israeli model’

We can assume that the issue of Iraq withdrawal and the lessons drawn by Ashkenazi in the wake of the Lebanon evacuation were an important topic of conversation in recent meetings with his counterpart, Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In any case, the Americans adopted and are still adopting the same method. They emptied out – and are still clearing – the bases which were used exclusively by US troops, while leaving behind small forces to defend them against looting and attacks.

On August 31st, some tens of thousands of additional soldiers will be leaving Iraq, most of them administration and logistics soldiers, thereby officially completing the evacuation. However, another roughly 50,000 US troops will remain in Iraq and be defined as “instructors and mentors” for the Iraqi army, police, and intelligence branches.

In addition, these American troops will serve as a sort of military safety net and help Iraqi security forces with heavy artillery, command and control, and the deployment of unmanned aircraft and other intelligence means.

President Barack Obama’s recent announcement regarding the upcoming Iraq withdrawal was meant to secure several objectives. One of them is to boost his status and the Democratic Party’s status within the American public ahead of the upcoming Congress elections.

Another aim is to prompt a sense of urgency in Baghdad, in light of the political dead-end faced by the Iraqi regime. Ever since the general elections held in Iraq in march of this year, the Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish parties and political blocs had been unable to reach agreement on forming a government, and this may lead to a flare-up and possibly to a civil war too.

Meanwhile, Iran is interfering behind the scenes, in the aims of bringing its Shiite loyalists to power in Baghdad. At the same time, Syria along with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states are attempting to facilitate a mixed government that would grant respectable representation to Sunnis and secular Iraqis as well. The US supports this effort, yet it has been unable to force its will upon Iraq’s political elements.

Nobody wants to see a civil war in Iraq; not even the Iranians. The only ones who would gain from it would be al-Qaeda members in Iraq, who will go back to fishing in the murky waters of Iraq’s ethnic conflicts.

A message to Afghanis

A third reason for Obama’s declaration is his desire to convey a message to Afghanistan residents and to Afghani President Hamid Karzai. Through his announcement, Obama wishes to make it clear that US forces have no intention of staying in Afghanistan as an occupation force, so there is no reason to help the Taliban fight an army that in any case intends to withdraw from the country in about a year or so.

By doing this, Obama apparently hopes to somewhat mitigate the hate and animosity held by Afghani civilians towards US and NATO forces. Meanwhile, President Karzai is getting a clear signal that he should quickly build up his security forces; otherwise, in a year or so he and his loyalists will be left without any effective defense force that would be able to safeguard them and their corrupt government.

Should Iraqi politicians manage to form a stable government, maintain security in their country, and push back Iran’s attempts to turn Iraq into a satellite state, this may boost America’s regional status and boost Obama’s image as well.

Yet should the Iraqis fail, the Iraq withdrawal would weaken America’s status in the Middle East, and indirectly weaken Israel’s regional status as well – in respect to the efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear program, but also in respect to the US effort to elicit substantive results from Israeli-Palestinian talks.

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Written by Theophyle

August 15, 2010 at 1:45 pm

4 Responses

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  1. […] Postari noi si pe Politea Doctrinara, Politea Digest si Paleografia. La multi ani Mariilor si Marinei […]

    Politeía

    August 15, 2010 at 2:12 pm

  2. […] more: Ben-Yishai: Iraq and the Israeli angle « Politeía Digest // Ben-Yishai: Iraq and the Israeli angle « Politeía Digest listing above has been […]

  3. […] Postari noi si pe Politea Doctrinara, Politea Digest si Paleografia. La multi ani Mariilor si Marinei […]

  4. Ben-Yishai: Iraq and the Israeli angle « Politeía Digest…

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    World Wide News Flash

    August 17, 2010 at 10:17 am


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