- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 7, 2009

COMMENTARY:

President-elect Barack Obama’s national security team should recognize that the current Gaza “crisis” was a planned distraction by Iran, acarefully orchestrated provocation.

The Hamas terrorist group is supported, equipped and trained by Iran. Essentially, nothing major that this terrorist group initiates is done without Iran’s involvement and concurrence. With continued U.N. sanctions imposed on Iran because of their refusal to cease their drive to achieve a nuclear weapon capability, plus the bottom falling out of the oil market and their economy in a shambles, Iran needed to create a distraction.

Israel, the recipient of multiple rocket attacks but with few casualties, took the opportunity to act. The Israelis responded with overwhelming military force, partly to restore any creditability their military lost in their less-than-successful engagement in Lebanon in 2006 against the Hezbollah, but principally to destroy the Hamas leadership and military infrastructure, thereby weakening its political creditability. Upcoming Israeli elections are another factor. Successful negotiations between Palestinians and Israel are not possible as long as Hamas remains a disruptive political entity. Hamas’ principle objective to destroy Israel is incompatible with any talks on peace or co-existence.


The U.S. response to this crisis should be asymmetrical. Let Israel deal with the local threat in Gaza while the United States confronts the larger strategic threat from Iran. While the crisis has certainly taken Iran’s nuclear weapon program off the table, the evolving outcome of this conflict should leave Iran’s leadership in a weaker position if one of their major proxies suffers a clear defeat. Further, with an economy in shambles and plans to eliminate government subsidies on basic essentials, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in serious trouble.

The new Obama administration will address as a first priority our own economy. However, there alsoseems to be somemomentum building for the new administration to enter direct negotiations with Iran. Clearly, now is not the time to rush into such negotiations as it would only serve to legitimize this rogue regime whose political underpinnings are based on “hate America” and “destroy Israel.” Even if the current Hamas leadership and infrastructure are destroyed, nothing will change as long as the Ali Khamenei regime remains in power with continued support of terrorist groups to act as their proxies to further their political agenda.

While we have proof positive of Iran’s direct involvement in terrorist activities over the last almost 30 years, which has resulted in thousands of U.S. military and civilian casualties, they have never been made to suffer the consequences of their cowardly acts or held accountable. The ultimate solution is to change the power structure in Iran preferably by a form of a “yellow revolution” in which Iranians who desire a better life are able to free themselves from their current medieval theocratic regime. The odds of a popular uprising are slim unless supported by a variety of actions led by the United States.

The worldwide economic crisis provides opportunities to further weaken the Iranian economy, reducing government subsidies used in part to control the Iranian populace. In this sense, additional severe economic sanctions should be pursued. Further, the European Union (EU) should deny Iranian commercial airlines access to Europe because they are unsafe and do not meet International Civil Aviation Organization standards. Other international carriers, particularly those from the EU, should curtail service to Iran as part of this sanction. Even though we are involved in two ongoing wars, there are specific military options that should be pursued, including elimination of Iran’s only gasoline refinery and, if necessary, the capture of Kharg Island, their main oil-exporting depot.

Will the removal of the Iranian theocracy bring about a Middle East peace between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization? Not immediately, but it will give those Palestinians and Israelis who prefer a negotiated solution a much better chance. Can Palestinians and Israelis live constructive lives together? I believe the answer is a qualified yes. I base this assessment on personal dialogue I have had over the years and reaffirmed recently by an innovative project conducted last summer by the Northeast Maritime Institute under the auspices of the State Department.

It is similar to a “seeds of peace” program of 15 years ago that brought Israeli and Palestinian youths together. This program involves three Israeli and three Palestinian students who spent three weeks living and working side-by-side aboard a tall ship in Buzzards Bay, Mass., in a program called “The Fairhaven Project.” The participants interacted with each other over three weeks.

Common among the group, initially, was the sense of hopelessness that their governments would be able to bring peace to the region. All had been touched by the violence around them but they were willing to engage in a dialogue. By the end of the three-week process, even the most conservative of the students believed peace was possible. This process can be aided greatly if the “hatemongers” are removed from the equation.

James Lyons, retired U.S. Navy admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations, and deputy chief of naval operations, where he was principal adviser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.