(MintPress) – “We are living in a time of unprecedented change,” said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a recent 13-day trip through Asia and the Middle East. Clinton met with leaders in Egypt and Israel during the last leg of her tour, during a time of political upheaval and tenuous relations among regional […]
(MintPress) – “We are living in a time of unprecedented change,” said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a recent 13-day trip through Asia and the Middle East. Clinton met with leaders in Egypt and Israel during the last leg of her tour, during a time of political upheaval and tenuous relations among regional powers. Serving as a broker and intermediary, Clinton’s trip was meant largely to assuage fears held by Israeli leaders questioning the intentions of Egypt’s new leadership, including President Mohamed Morsi.
Visit to Israel
Hillary Clinton said in a recent press conference, “We are living in a time of unprecedented change. With a lot of challenges for us both and we will continue to consult closely as we have on an almost daily basis between our two governments.”
There was little mention of the failed peace process with the Palestinians as both American and Israeli leaders appeared preoccupied with Egypt, Iran and similar issues affecting broad regional security.
The Netanyahu-led government held an unprecedented 94 seat supermajority in the 120 seat Israeli Knesset until the recent decision by the Kadima party to leave the ruling coalition. Leaders of the Kadima party, including former party leader Tzipi Livni, have appeared more willing to negotiate a two-state solution with Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.
The internal dissensions are unlikely to change hardline policies as the Netanyahu government appears unlikely to broach the subject of peace before elections, currently scheduled for October 2013. The more pressing matters for Netanyahu appear to be continued peace with Egypt, a country Hillary Clinton visited just before her meetings in Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared eager to hear what Hillary Clinton thought of the new Egyptian president, saying, “I look forward first to hearing of your impressions from your trip to Egypt. That has been an anchor of peace and maintaining the peace treaty between us I think is of uppermost importance in both our minds.”
Visit to Egypt
On July 14, Clinton met with Egypt’s newly elected President Mohamed Morsi, representing the Muslim Brotherhood — an Islamist party that maintains a majority in the Egyptian Parliament.
Morsi has previously indicated that he plans to honor the peace treaty, but he has said that he will not meet with any Israeli leaders during his time as president. Many are concerned that more conservative Salafist elements will force the president to reconsider the peace treaty with Israel because of the failed peace process with the Palestinians.
In June, shortly after election results were announced, Israeli President Shimon Peres wrote congratulating Morsi on his victory. Peres encouraged continued peace between the two countries in his letter, writing, “Peace has saved the lives of thousands of young people in Egypt and in Israel. Unlike war, peace is the victory of both sides.”
The Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty was signed in 1979 by Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Israel returned the Sinai after invading and occupying the peninsula during the 1967 war. Egypt became the first Arab country to recognize Israel, exchanging ambassadors and fully normalizing political and economic relations.
Israel has relied upon the treaty as a way to engage the most populous and arguably one of the most important countries in the Arab world. While the treaty has mostly been honored by both sides, cross border attacks by militants from Gaza in August 2011 have many Israelis concerned that Egypt is not properly policing the border.
Should Egypt threaten to suspend the peace treaty with Israel, the United States could bring pressure to bear on Cairo by threatening to suspend military aid. After Israel, Egypt receives the second most U.S. military aid at $1.3 billion annually. Every U.S. administration, whether Democratic or Republican, provides robust support to Israel and could use aid dollars as leverage to influence policy.
While Egypt and Israel remain at odds over a number of policy issues, both are among the growing number of countries opposed to a nuclear Iran, another top issue during Clinton’s visit. According to a May 2012 Pew Research Center Poll, 66 percent of Egyptians oppose a nuclear Iran, reflecting similar public opposition found in both the United States and Israel.
Iran: A continued concern
Although rhetoric has cooled some in the ongoing spat between Israel and Iran, Netanyahu has made clear that his country will attack if Iran develops nuclear weapons capabilities.
Hillary Clinton expressed continued U.S. opposition to a nuclear Iran, saying, “We will use all elements of American power to prevent Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.” Previously during nuclear talks in Istanbul last month, the P5+1 insisted that Iran stop uranium enrichment above 20 percent, close an underground nuclear facility near the city of Qom and export uranium enriched above 20 percent. The P5+1 is comprised of the permanent U.N. security council, including China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S., plus Germany.
In Moscow during the most recent round of nuclear talks, Iran agreed to halt uranium enrichment above 20 percent and agreed to “operationalize” the Supreme Leader’s fatwa forbidding nuclear weapons. Iran has insisted, however, that the U.S. and EU lift sanctions. Additionally, Iran has insisted that the West accept their right to enrich uranium below 20 percent for peaceful projects.
Iran’s economy is suffering from the prolonged sanctions against the regime. In response to the punitive measures, Iranian officials have threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz. “The control of the Persian Gulf region is in Iran’s hands,” said Adm. Habibollah Sayyari during a recent statement.
Additionally, General Hassan Firouzabad announced that if Iran closes the strait, the decision would be made by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The closure would undoubtedly have a devastating effect on the global oil markets.
Although the sanctions appear to be affecting the regime, analysts caution that the wide array of sanctions could also have a negative effect on the Iranian civilian population. The sanctions, some claim, are a form of collective punishment. Juan Cole, a historian and professor of Middle East Affairs at the University of Michigan, elaborates on this point in an essay published May 5:
“One basic problem with a dire sanctions regime like that imposed on Iraq, and now on Iran, is that it can kill a lot of innocent civilians, including children. Because the U.S. interdicted chlorine exports to Iraq and had knocked out its electricity and water purification plants in the Gulf War, it is estimated that the U.S./ U.N. sanctions killed about 500,000 Iraqi children in the 1990s. Infants are especially vulnerable to dying of diarrhea and dehydration from gastrointestinal diseases.”
However, the U.S. announced the latest round of sanctions on July 12 against more than a dozen companies that continue to supply components for Iran’s supposed nuclear program. The U.S. Treasury Department also blacklisted several front companies used by Iran to evade tough oil sanctions imposed by the U.S. and EU.
“Today’s actions are the next step on that path, taking direct aim at disrupting Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, as well as its deceptive efforts to use front companies to sell and move its oil,” said David S. Cohen, the undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, in a recent statement.