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4 Jun, 2009 12:00

ROAR: Russian Opinion and Analytics Review, June 4

ROAR: Russian Opinion and Analytics Review, June 4

This Thursday, ROAR presents opinions on the Middle Eastern tour of U.S. President Barack Obama, Israeli-American and Russian-Israeli relations.

ROSSIYSKAYA GAZETA’s Darya Yurieva interviews the Deputy Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, Vladimir Isaev about the Middle Eastern tour of U.S. President Barack Obama.

The academic says that Obama definitely has a chance to improve the image of the U.S. in the Arab world and among Muslims. The image of America, he continues, fell lower than ever in the East under President George W. Bush, but now the first black U.S. President, who also has Muslim ancestry, has the potential to improve the situation greatly.

He says, it is necessary for America to uplift its image in the region, because Arab countries are much more linked with America economically than they are linked with Russia. For the U.S. they are important partners and investors who can help the U.S. to overcome the economic crisis, because they understand that as soon as America emerges out of it, all other nations will follow.

It is hard to predict, says the academic, what initiatives Barack Obama will bring and what he is going to promise every Arab nation he is visiting, because such concrete steps are usually kept secret until the day they are announced. However, we can hazard a guess.

It could be an important breakthrough in the Middle East peace process, or better conditions for economic cooperation. Most probably, Obama will attempt to apply pressure to the traditional lack of mutual acceptance between the Arab world and Iran, in order to increase the pressure of the world community on Tehran about its nuclear program.

In the case of Iran, continues the academic, even if the worst comes to the worst and there was a ‘preemptive strike’ on the Iranian nuclear facilities, the U.S. would be highly unlikely to be the one to do it. It would most probably use a proxy, and that would most likely be Israel. It is logical, because the Iranian leadership has never threatened to erase the U.S. from the face of the Earth, while such threats are routinely addressed to Israel.

On the other hand, says Isaev, U.S.-Israeli relations are not at their closest at the moment. It’s a difficult period: the U.S., of course, remains the main guarantor of Israel’s security in the Middle East. But public sentiment has turned in favor of the right-wing politicians after two considerably unsuccessful wars, and Israel has elected a right-wing government. While in America the Democrats have come to power, and they are much further to the left on the political scale. So it’s hard to say how long the mutual adjustment may take…

VREMYA NOVOSTEI publishes an opinion article by RIA Novosti’s Dmitry Babich who says Barack Obama underestimates the complexity of Middle Eastern issues.

The writer says the current visit of the U.S. President to the Middle East is the first such visit in years when an American president has not included Israel in his schedule. Barack Obama has said before this tour that he intends to be, first of all, honest about the fact that the direction taken by the events in the Middle East is of a deeply negative character for Israeli, as well as American interests.

Babich writes that one glance at the U.S. print media is enough to see how much less pro-Israeli that American public opinion has become in recent years. Today, he says, the possibility that the new, radically right-wing, Israeli government may cause America lots of unnecessary trouble is no more a theorem, but rather an axiom. Many in the U.S, tired of two wars going on and on for years without major success, fear that Israel may drag America into yet another war: this time with Iran. Many say, continues Babich, that with such allies as Israel, there’s going to be much more headache than with the enemies.

Liberal U.S. newspapers, says the analyst, have portrayed the main result of the latest U.S.–Israeli talks – the agreement by Barack Obama to set up a deadline for the Iranian nuclear program (end of 2009) – as an unprecedented concession to Israel and a step back from the President’s principles.

The plan of the previous administration to create an alliance between moderate Islamic Arab states and Israel against Iran – which also presumed popular uprisings in non-democratic countries, a possible regime change in Iran and the establishment of liberal democracy throughout the ‘Greater Middle East’ – is now being criticized by analysts as ‘a dangerous illusion’, which may indefinitely delay normalization of relations in the Middle East (and first of all of Israel’s relations with its closest neighbors), writes Babich. He adds that the necessity to negotiate with both Hamas and Hezbollah is also prominent in U.S. newspaper and magazine analyses, despite the fact that, like Israel, the U.S. officially brands these two groups as ‘terrorist organizations.’

The writer quotes unnamed sources in the administration as telling the U.S. media that the young President – who grew up in an atmosphere of religious and racial tolerance, and for whom a dialogue between Christians, Moslems and Jews is a natural course of action in case of conflict – was unprepared for the complexity and severity of the issues existing in the Middle East. The writer says that he hopes Barack Obama relies on his pragmatic views and tolerance in making his choices, instead of following murky mystic hunches like his predecessor.

NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA describes the visit to Moscow of Avigdor Lieberman, the new Israeli Foreign Minister, and says that, during the visit, the Minister ‘promised not to bomb Iran’, for the reason that the Iranian nuclear program is a world-scale problem and he doesn’t want to solve a world-level issue with Israeli hands. The Minister also rejected any possibility of Israel negotiating with Hamas and Hezbollah anywhere (he committed Israel to participation in the Moscow Conference on the Middle East under the condition that Hamas and Hezbollah aren’t present).

The paper also notes that the Israeli Foreign Minister defines the Middle East conflict not as a confrontation between Israel and the Arab countries of the region, but as a deep conflict inside the Islamic world itself. Lieberman also criticizes the U.S. for ‘double standards in its policies towards Israel’ and calls for closer cooperation between Israel and Russia.

Evgeny Belenkiy, RT.