- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2010


Gossips report when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gifted Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. with a glass-framed photograph taken in Israel of his recently deceased Zionist-sympathetic mother, the Israeli leader accidentally crushed it. Apparently, in an apologetic malapropism, the usually suave Bibi blundered again. Psychobabblers would conjure up a subconscious working overtime.

It wasn’t meant to go that way. On the eve of Passover, the Jews’ ancient feast of liberation, Mr. Biden had been sent with words of support to salvage a deteriorating relationship. But the vice president had nothing the Israelis wanted to hear. In essence, his message was that President Obama’s efforts, first to appease the Tehran mullahs, patently had failed. And then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “crippling sanctions” came a cropper. Penciled in bottom line: The Israelis must not move unilaterally unleashing Armageddon; the world was going to have to live with an Iranian bomb.

For Mrs. Clinton’s efforts were stymied. Never mind the Chinese and Russian U.N. Security Council vetoes — even Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva publicly lectured the secretary on how she should play nice with the mullahs. Mr. Lula da Silva, like Brazil, is on a roll with enormous new deepwater oil discoveries. (BP petroleum is now desperately trying to buy in.)

Almost forgotten were U.S. blocks on Brazilian ethanol imports — designed to protect Midwest corn producers — and all the other frictions nearing trade-war proportions. The Brazilians could smirk at the Obama administration’s “green energy” subsidies after their decades of dumping billions into developing sugar-based fuel. Now Brazil, soon to be a net oil exporter, wants to play with the big boys, including Iran, with the world’s second-largest fossil fuel reserves. Old roustabouts recall how, way back under the Shah, Tehran was a prime mover in calls by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries for higher-priced energy.

If Washington really believes it is going to cobble together sanctions against the bloody Revolutionary Guard — Mrs. Clinton publicly guessed they are now in the Tehran driver’s seat — the mist really has closed in on Foggy Bottom. Many Iranian exiles in the U.S. — traditional Persian-speaking merchants and hawala money launderers on the west bank of the Persian Gulf — are in bed with the Revolutionary Guards. Even the New York Times found out that major U.S. corporations are violating U.S. sanctions through dummy corporations cluttering every new skyscraper directory in bankrupt Dubai and its neighboring sugar-teat, Qatar.

There may be as much dispute within the Israeli government as among American TV talking heads about whether the Jewish state will launch a military strike to slow Iranian bomb and missile development. But President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad’s threats to wipe Israel off the map may matter less than how the very existence of a “mullah bomb” could reconfigure Middle East geopolitics.

The Saudis, whose only foreign policy is to try to buy whomever, and the feckless oil-rich emirates, would likely knuckle under to Persian dominance if and when Tehran succeeds. Mercurial Syrian dictator Basher al-Asaad already publicly threw personal insults at Mrs. Clinton during a kumbayah with Mr. Ahmadenijad only days after she refurbished diplomatic relations and dropped some sanctions. At the other end of the Middle East, Egypt totters on in a succession crisis having long since lost Sunni leadership.

Following in Bush administration footsteps, Mr. Obama is behind the time curve in its refusal to aid Iranian dissidents in Cold War fashion. Washington could well face a strengthening regime. The 20th century taught us just how far terror would go in castrating much more sophisticated societies. Add nationalist fervor if and when Iran becomes the world’s 10th nuclear power, and you have a recipe for dramatic erosion of America’s influence in the region.

Tehran holding a bomb could wield enormous power on world energy markets. The Obama administration’s green plans for independence from energy imports is at best a distant mirage. New technologies to develop abundant domestic gas face the same old environmentalist fury.

The matriarch Golda Meir’s lament that Israel was the only place in the Middle East without fossil fuels is no longer true. An American outfit has struck gas off the Mediterranean coast. It’s enough to limit Israel’s dependence on Egypt and end airy-fairy tales of underwater pipelines from Turkey carrying water and Central Asian crude.

But none of this solves the pressing problem of how to get U.S.-Israel relations back on track. One could hope Mr. Obama would turn away from his Palestinian-Syrian-Pakistani friends who thought his efforts to block settlements, which never had been an a priori consideration in the endless negotiations, would carry the day. Mr. Netanyahu, stronger in part because of his Washington nose-thumbing, can’t and won’t buy it. It’s striking how self-evidently fruitless are negotiations with a divided, unrealistic Palestinian leadership that includes Gaza’s jihadists. But when does realism set in at the State Department?

International Business Editor Sol Sanders, veteran foreign correspondent and analyst, writes weekly on the convergence of international politics and business-economics.

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