New Moves in the Mid-East FAISAL HASHMI (January 22, 2008)

 New Moves in the Mid-East

Within a week's time we have heard the same words from the US President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Iran. First Mr. Bush declared grandly that regarding Iran's nuclear ambition, "all options is on the table". And within the next few days Mr. Olmert told a high-level committee of Israeli officials the same thing in the same words.

The International Herald Tribune reported that the committee meeting was not open to the media, but one of the participants told the Tribune reporter on condition of anonymity what Mr. Olmert had communicated to them. By "all options on the table" Mr. Bush and Mr. Olmert mean they would launch a military attack on Iran together or singly if it refuses to follow their orders.

During the last few months the understanding between the United States and Israel has deepened over Iran. These statements are not merely coincidental: they may be meant to bully and coerce Iran into accepting US-Israeli diktat as a preliminary to more deadly steps, including tough sanctions and military assault. We have seen how American-led sanctions caused the death of more than half a million Iraqis (mostly children) before the US-led invasion.

For quite some time now the United States and Israel have been trying to convince the Gulf Arabs that a defeated and destroyed Iran will be good for them. These days Mr. Bush is in the Gulf for, among other things, enlisting the support of the Gulf Arab regimes in the US-Israeli campaign against Iran.

On the other hand, and in tandem, President Nicolas Sarkozy is "vacationing" in the region for the last several days. Mr. Sarkozy, who is a proponent of tough measures against Iran, including aerial attacks on its nuclear installations, is also doing his part to inflame the scene.

According to close observers of the Mid-East scene much of the high-profile diplomacy in the region is focused on energy. The Western powers want to arrest further hike in oil prices by persuading the regional players to increase production. An increase in supply, according to the old theory of economics, would naturally put a brake on soaring prices.

They are also offering flashy weapons for sale, which would absorb some of the "surplus" income of the region. A French offer that is related to energy, but is also in the line of absorbing some of the Gulf money, is regarding the sale and installation of French-built plants for nuclear energy production.

Although accidents at nuclear energy plants have been virtually every-day incidents major disasters like those at Three-Mile Island in the US and Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union, virtually killed off the business of building and selling nuclear energy plants. France, one of the major manufacturers of such machinery, was a loser in the anti-nuclear sentiment that swept the world during the last decade. Now, France, which is also caught up in economic stagnation, hopes to earn a respectable amount of money by selling such equipment to the Gulf states. All such nuclear plants are run under the strictest international safeguards.

On the diplomatic chessboard of the Middle East moves are being taken that are worrisome, to say the least. It is of particular concern that an unprovoked military attack was launched by Israel on Gaza to coincide with Mr Bush's visit. All said and done, the region seems headed for more difficult days in the coming weeks and months. g


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