Arab-israel Conflict Deflected International Attention from Other Conflicts in Mideast

A Middle East scholar visiting the United States has wondered at the naivete of Americans vis-a-vis the Persian Gulf, and the perception that Israel wants the Gulf War to continue.

Dr. Yossi Olmert, research scholar at the Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University and a lecturer at the school’s Department of Middle Eastern and African Studies, was in the United States recently for the Eugene Warner Middle East Lecture Series sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.

In an interview at the JTA offices, the 38-year-old scholar, who is the youngest brother of Likud M.K. Ehud Olmert, sat and marveled at the long-time insistence of Americans to view the Arab-Israeli conflict as the dominant policy issue facing the Middle East while ignoring other areas of potentially dangerous contention in the region.

Now, he noted, Americans are being unavoidably confronted by other Mideast dynamics through daily news dispatches from the Persian Gulf.

SKEPTICAL ABOUT U.S. POLICY IN THE GULF

Olmert also expressed skepticism that America has a clear-cut, intelligent approach to its elevated involvement in the Persian Gulf.

“I hope that they have a strategy, not just tactics. I hope they have a reasonable measure of cooperation with their allies,” he said. “There is no reason for America to be deeply involved in the Gulf, enabling countries like Iraq to cause trouble. That would deteriorate the situation.”

Olmert wanted to ensure that Americans remembered who, indeed, struck the first blow that began the now seven-year-long Gulf War. “The Iraqis attacked Iranian shipping. If America really wants to protect free navigation in the Gulf, they have to be even-handed in that sense, to make sure the Iraqis don’t go crazy.”

He took aim at America’s short memory in the Gulf, saying “America seems to forget that Iraq killed 37 Americans.” His suggested response? “Tell the Iraqis and the Iranians that they can expect the same treatment from America. Instead, what is happening in reality is that the Iraqis have an American umbrella.”

Commenting on Israel’s position on the war, Olmert said, “The general perception that Israel wants the Gulf War to continue is incorrect. We are not very much interested in a war that is taking place between two of our worst enemies.” However, he admitted that “We have no reason to wish Iraq to win the war.”

REASONS FOR ARMS SALES TO IRAN

Touching on the clandestine scheme to sell arms to Iran, Olmert said Israel had “very good reason” to take part in the largely American caper. “First of all, Israel does not sell very many arms to Iran. But Iranians are very short of aircraft and spare parts, and Iran and Israel use the same American planes and the same American arms.” But even more important, explained Olmert, “is the existence of Iranian Jewry. What is Israel if not a Jewish state?” The presence of a Jewish community anywhere is reason enough for Israel to get involved somehow in that country, he said. Global political reasoning also plays an obvious part, Olmert observed, echoing responses now familiar to American ears. “Look, there are many Israelis who believe that the Khomeini regime is not likely to last forever more. There may be another upheaval in Iran,” he said, and while there could be a Western element, there also could be a Soviet takeover.

“We don’t want to see a pro-Soviet regime in Iran, nor does America,” he pointed out. “Just imagine the Soviets in Iran. There is no question that Iran is lost now, but is it lost forever? There must be some thinking for the future.”

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