CHIEF OF STAFF LT. GEN. GABY ASHKENAZI
Ap 4/09. Only two weeks ago, Israel's chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby
Ashkenazi, then visiting Washington, was denied interviews with US defense
secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the US chiefs of staff Adm. Mike
Mullen. He cut short his visit after seeing national security adviser Gen.
James Jones and Iran envoy Dennis Ross, lesser lights in terms of their
direct influence on President Barack Obama.
Since then, the US
president has decided the snub was ill-judged.
During 2008 and up
until his exit from the White House, George W. Bush found Ashkenazi useful
for conveying to the former PM, Ehud Olmert and defense minister Ehud Barak
his administration's strong objections to an Israeli military strike on
Iran's nuclear sites. The US effort to hold Israel's hand brought Mullen and
an array of top US generals calling at the chief of staff's Tel Aviv
headquarters almost every ten days in the last months of 2008.
Mullen wanted to
keep this effort afloat, but president Obama thought otherwise, which is why
Ashkenazi was so coolly received in Washington in mid-March.
inception of Binyamin Netanyahu as prime minister with Barak held over at
defense occasioned a spate of declarations which worried the new
administration: Netanyahu declared at his swearing-in last Tuesday that if
American sanctions and diplomacy fail, Israel will be forced to take action
against Iran's nuclear weapon drive and time was running out. His words were
echoed by Barak.
decided to revive the Ashkenazi track, while he was still abroad at the G20
in London and the NATO summit at Strasbourg, and before visiting Istanbul
next week. He feared that Israel might upset his broad strategic applecart
which hinges on the co-option of Iran as its primary hinge.
therefore invited to Strasbourg to carry some more bad news to his
government, i.e. that the Obama administration wants Iran as its key
military and intelligence partner for resolving America's
Afghanistan-Pakistan (known now as "Afgpak") predicament. The shape of this
alliance lacks final form; backdoor US-Iranian meetings at various levels
are in progress at different venues to determine how far Tehran is willing
to go. But the US president has set his course.
The high points of
the proposed collaboration were first revealed exclusively by DEBKA-Weekly
390 of March 27 and 391 of April 3.
Its impact was
sensed at the NATO summit in Strasbourg.
Aside from UK
premier Gordon Brown, NATO leaders by and large refused the US president's
appeal for more troops to fight in Afghanistan. German chancellor Angela
Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy told Obama there was no point in
sending reinforcements to Afghanistan if US troops were on their way out,
especially after Washington had opted for an "Iranian solution" for the
conflict without reference to Berlin or Paris.
administration has a bitter pill for Israel to swallow for the sake of
progress toward a strategic collaboration with Tehran on Afghanistan and
Pakistan. It cuts close to the bone in terms of Israel's security and
1. Washington will
not brook any unilateral Israeli military action that might upset US-Iranian
moves towards cooperation in the Afgpak Arena.
2. Washington will
apply all its resources to obstruct such action.
3. It will not be
enough for Israel to stand idle as Iran develops a nuclear bomb. The Obama
administration also has fish to fry with Taliban and is bent on an urgent
breakthrough in Israel-Arab peacemaking for dividends relevant to this arena
therefore expect to be squeezed hard for sweeping concessions to Syria,
Lebanon and the Palestinians in order to enhance America's hand on both
4. This will bring
Jerusalem's Arab opponents to the negotiating table with loaded dice and no
bar to treating Israel as the weak party.
Ashkenazi brings back to Jerusalem from Strasbourg will not be news because
Israel officials have been aware of the state of play between Obama and
Tehran for some weeks. The only question is how Adm. Mullen packaged his
briefing: Did he offer the Israeli chief of staff the chance of military
coordination with the United States alongside its evolving pact with Iran?
Or simply outline the new situation as a take-it or leave-it proposition?