Saturday, March 27, 2010

Prelude to Suez?

Emmanuel Navon

Abba Eban used to quip that the Six Day War was the first war in History after which the victors asked for peace while the vanquished demanded unconditional surrender. This pattern still characterizes Middle East peace negotiations, but it seems that it is now being applied to other regions. Hillary Clinton recently advised the UK and Argentina to begin talks about the Falklands Islands. What is there to talk about, for goodness’ sake? Those islands are British since 1833, and Britain won the Falklands War in 1982. Whenever Argentina makes claims over the Falklands, the island’s inhabitants reply that they have a right to self-determination and that they have no wish to be part of Argentina. Britain’s sovereignty over this far-away island off Argentina’s coast is indeed a historical oddity, but so is France’s regime in Guyana or America’s in Puerto Rico. The list is longer. Yet one wonders what America’s reaction would be if it were "advised" to "begin talks" with Spain about Puerto Rico. Incidentally, Mrs. Clinton has not "advised" Russia to "begin talks" with Japan about the South Kuril Islands.

It is not hard to understand why. If Japan were to press its case on the Kuril Islands, it would likely be ignored by America. The Obama Administration is unsuccessfully trying to convince Russia to vote for tougher UN sanctions against Iran, and aggravating the Russians with the almost-forgotten territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands would not be helpful.

Why has Argentina decided to pick a fight about the Falklands? Recent seismic surveys suggest the presence of oil reserves in the Falklands basin. The Kirchners figure that such a boon, if it is confirmed, would come at the right time: the first couple is unpopular because of recent revelations that they’ve grown rich while in office, and Argentina’s economy is performing poorly. Invading the island would undoubtedly end in another military humiliation. But claiming that all Argentina cares about is the "human rights" of the Falklands’ residents has better chances of working. That the current US Administration is legitimizing this canard is troubling.

No less troubling is the fact that the United States is treating Britain (one of its closest international allies) with such disdain while accommodating the Krichners. Argentina’s President and her husband are die-hard peronists who have distanced their country from the United States and improved ties with Hugo Chavez. The message being sent to Britain is that pro-American democracies that win wars when they are compelled to fight should not expect a better treatment from Washington than nationalist bullies who feel entitled to impose their will after being defeated on the battlefield.

Well, Perfidious Albion: Welcome to the club. We in Israel know the feeling. But we also know the morality of the story. After the 1956 Suez war, the Eisenhower Administration abandoned England because it thought that such was the price for convincing the Arabs that America was not their enemy. It didn’t exactly work: Nasser became a hero, he united his country with Syria, and the Bagdad Pact started falling apart. When Nasser announced his military alliance with the Soviet Union in 1955, the US did not respond with a military alliance with Israel. Foster Dulles considered Israel a liability and responded to the Egyptian-Soviet deal with renewed arms sales to conservative Arab regimes. This is what eventually convinced Ben-Gurion to initiate a preemptive strike against Egypt.

Looking at America’s current foreign policy, it is hard not to have in mind the reasons that convinced Israel to act against Egypt in 1956 and that might convince it to eventually act against Iran.

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