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Last Updated: Friday, 6 October 2006, 21:44 GMT 22:44 UK
Iran behind Rice's Mid-East tour
By Jon Leyne
BBC News, Amman

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Analysts quickly linked the tour to the Iranian question

Why did Condoleezza Rice come to Israel and the West Bank earlier this week?

By all accounts, the US secretary of state had no fresh ideas to offer to revive what used to be called the Middle East peace process.

Both the Palestinian and Israeli sides have governments too weak to handle any major initiative.

Aides on all sides played down the prospects of any progress. It seems they were right. So why come at all?

Many Arab and Israeli commentators have found the same answer: Iran.

Consternation

As the columnist Saul Singer wrote in the Jerusalem Post on Friday: "Every time the White House decides to confront a rogue regime, the state department decides it's time to build a coalition."

Another writer, Abdallah Iskandar, put it this way in Al Hayat newspaper on Monday: "Condoleezza Rice arrives in the region today. Her announced aim is to revive the Middle East peace process and stiffen the Arab position against Iran.

Bushehr nuclear reactor
Could Iran be the next military test for the US?

"In other words, the US administration is linking the Middle Eastern conflict to the Iranian file."

Indeed state department counsellor Philip Zelikow seemed to give the game away in an address to a Washington think tank on 15 September.

"For the Arab moderates and for the Europeans, some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is just a sine qua non for their ability to co-operate actively with the United States on a lot of other things that we care about."

No mention of Iran, but the implication is clear.

Give US friends cover, at least by appearing engaged on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

But it is an approach that causes consternation on both sides of the Arab-Israeli dispute.

For the Israelis, they worry that they may be forced to make concessions to the Palestinians, to support this wider anti-Iran coalition.

For Arabs, the concern is that it is all for show.

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
Henry Kissinger has argued for a tough line on Iran

There is a need, as Philip Zelikow put it, for a "sense of progress" in the Arab-Israeli dispute, in order to reassure US Arab allies. A sense of progress, but no actual, real progress.

If Iran was the real reason behind this visit, there is another implication.

If the US wants to pursue the diplomatic route in the dispute with Iran, Arab support is not exactly critical.

The only Arab country on the Security Council is Qatar, hardly a crucial vote to be lobbied for.

No, the logic of this line of reasoning is that military action against Iran is now being very seriously considered in Washington.

Familiar argument

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has now been unmasked, by Bob Woodward in his book State of Denial, as someone to whom President George W Bush turns for advice.

So his words should be taken very seriously.

In an article in the Washington Post two months ago, Dr Kissinger argued for taking a tough line against Iran's nuclear programme.

Otherwise, he warned, "every country... will face growing threats, be they increased domestic pressure from radical Islamic groups, terrorist acts or the nearly inevitable conflagrations sparked by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction".

It sounds almost identical to the argument put forward by Vice-President Dick Cheney on the eve of the invasion of Iraq. Only tough action will make us safe.

The implication of that theory is already being played out in Iraq.

There is growing evidence Iran may be its next test.




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