- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2009


He speaks like an American, looks like an American, and acts like an American — because he is American-born. He is Israel’s new ambassador to the United States, formerly a citizen of both countries. (He was legally required to relinquish his U.S. citizenship prior to becoming ambassador here, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy observed.)

Michael B. Oren (born Michael Bornstein), 54, went to Israel for the first time at age 15 to work on a kibbutz, the collective farms that were once recruitment grounds for Israel’s ace fighter pilots. He returned to the United States to complete a master’s degree in international affairs at Columbia University and a Ph.D. in Near East Studies at Princeton University. He then went back to Israel, became a citizen, and served as a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces in the 1982 Lebanon War. In the 1991 Gulf War, he was the sole Israeli liaison officer to the U.S. 6th Fleet. In the Lebanese border war with Hezbollah in 2006, Mr. Oren was the military voice of Israel.

A prolific writer, Mike Oren’s “Power, Faith and Fantasy,” a history of U.S. involvement in the Mideast, was a New York Times best-seller in 2007. His “Six Days of War” on Israel’s most dramatic victory in 1967 was one of scores of books written about that conflict, and critics said it’s likely to remain the best.

Today, Mr. Oren’s new job is to ensure that little if any daylight passes between U.S. and Israeli positions on the perennial Palestinian-Israeli issue and on what most Israelis regard as the coming existential threat of Iran’s nuclear weapons.

Clearly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition government are determined to stand fast on Jewish settlements in the West Bank pending resolution of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, either through sanctions-driven diplomacy or military action. President Obama faces a dire financial and economic situation for at least another year, and is not about to favor a third war after Iraq and Pakistan and Afghanistan. If bombing it is, Israel will be on its own.

A powerful U.S. ally came aboard Israel’s existential-threat vessel when Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said this past weekend that the Obama administration would not stand in the way if Israel chose to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. National Security Council sources said Mr. Obama was not too pleased with what many quickly interpreted as a White House green light.

If Israel should opt for unilateral action against Iran — by air via Turkey or over Iraq and/or Saudi air space, and by sea with submarine-launched cruise missiles from the Gulf of Oman — no leader in the Middle East, or anywhere else in the world, would believe this was organized and executed without at least a wink and a nod from the president of the United States.

The exchange that led to Mr. Biden’s latest lapsus linguae, to which he is prone, was in answer to ABC’s “This Week” when he was asked whether Mr. Netanyahu was taking the right approach by indicating Israel would take matters into its own hands if Iran did not show a willingness to negotiate by year’s end. “Look,” he said, “Israel can determine for itself — it’s a sovereign nation — what’s in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran or anyone else.” And then after a brief pause, he added, “Whether we agree or not” with Israel’s viewpoint.

A follow-up was equally telling. Would the United States stand in the way if the Israelis, viewing an Iranian nuclear bomb as a direct threat to the existence of the Jewish state, decided to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities? “Look,” Mr. Biden said again, “we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do.” This stretches credulity.

A year that changed the world was 1956. President Eisenhower demanded and obtained the immediate withdrawal of Israeli, French and British forces from the Suez Canal Zone, which the three powers had invaded stealthily to secure the vital waterway recently nationalized by Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser. The operation had undercut the Eisenhower administration’s denunciation of the Soviet invasion of Hungary, where the revolution was brutally suppressed by Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces.

Disgraced by Mr. Eisenhower, British Prime Minister Anthony Eden was forced to resign, a humiliating end to a brilliant career. “Rock Around the Clock” was the hot new film.

Following Iran’s current political upheaval, with the death-to-Israel hawks still firmly in the saddle, there is little hope for sober second thoughts. What Iran has been working on secretly for the past 25 years would most probably continue even under less radical leadership.

Suppressed opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has yet to criticize his country’s nuclear stealth. Five of the world’s eight nuclear powers are in their geopolitical space. Their nuclear-armed neighbor Pakistan didn’t even exist seven decades ago; Persian civilization has been around 3,500 years.

Mr. Obama favors diplomatic engagement with Iran’s mullahs through the end of 2009. In the interim, he hopes Russia and China will understand the urgency of a united front, much as they now agree that North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are a danger to all Northeast Asia.

And if the mullahs are still hanging tough by the end of this year, the United States and its European Union partners in Britain, France and Germany have agreed on still-to-be-determined tougher sanctions. A rumored secret deal has Russia postponing the sale to Iran of its state-of-the-art anti-aircraft missiles in return for Israel’s latest pilotless drone technology.

Most experts see Israel holding off unilateral military action against Iran six to nine more months. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and National Security Adviser Gen. James L. Jones believe Israeli bombing raids against Iran would trigger a much wider conflict encompassing most of the Middle East — and beyond. On “Face the Nation,” Adm. Mullen simply said any strike against Iran could be “very destabilizing.”

Adm. Mullen and the other chiefs are known from private conversations to feel that an Israeli strike, even with precision-guided ordnance, would produce heavy civilian casualties and silence Mr. Obama’s voice of a new America in the Muslim world. Oil at $300 would be the least of it.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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