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Outside View: Warning to Israel
by James Zumwalt
Herndon, Va. (UPI) Sep 24, 2013

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

As Iran gets closer to developing nuclear weapons, Israel has to decide whether to await U.S. military assistance to stop Tehran or to go it alone. Israel should heed lessons both from the Vietnam War and U.S. inaction in Iraq today.

From the Vietnam War, Israel should remember:

-- North Vietnam, unlike the South, rejected other countries' offers to send ground troops to assist during the conflict, not wishing to make itself dependent upon forces other than its own.

-- To encourage Saigon's agreement to the Paris Peace Accords, the United States assured South Vietnam, should Hanoi violate them by invading, America would come to the aid of its ally. Hanoi invaded as Washington turned a blind eye, standing idly by while Saigon fell.

For five years now, the Israelis have witnessed an American ship of state erratically sailing foreign policy waters. Oftentimes, it seems rudderless and, when a course is set, often sails in the wrong direction.

After being out-played by the Russians on the issue of Syria's chemical weapons, giving rise to a perception of U.S. weakness, U.S. President Barack Obama immediately sent U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Israel to assure the U.S. ally that the United States is committed to stopping Iran's nuclear program.

With Obama caving in on his threat to punish Syria for crossing a "redline" in using chemical weapons against its own people, Israel is justifiably concerned. It knows even if Syria complies with the final U.S.-Russia deal, it will be nine months before its chemical weapons are destroyed. By then, Iran will have nuclear weapons.

Kerry endeavored to put a positive spin on the deal, claiming it to be "the most far-reaching chemical weapons removal ever."

The claim is premature for numerous reasons:

-- The deal isn't yet fully negotiated.

-- Syrian President Bashar Assad has yet to agree to it.

-- It fails to demand accountability for weapons usage or military action for non-compliance nor requires details on Syria's nuclear program (scuttled after a 2007 Israeli attack).

-- Syria lied about possessing such weapons until admitting it for the first time this month.

-- Some chemical weapons have been transferred to Hezbollah.

-- Assad will stretch compliance out until he falls under the protection of an Iranian nuclear umbrella.

-- Putin made clear he cannot guarantee Syria's compliance.

Thus, the "most far-reaching chemical weapons removal ever" may well go the way Obama's most significant legislative achievement ever -- Obamacare -- now appears to be going.

Kerry seeks to convince Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu lack of force against Syria doesn't mean lack of commitment to apply it, if necessary, against Iran. Kerry called a nuclear-armed Tehran "a far larger issue for us" -- one posing a threat to Israel "much closer to our core interests."

Netanyahu may feel it unfair to apply Vietnam War-era lessons to Obama's credibility today. If so, he need only examine Obama's inaction in failing to save the lives of the People's Mujahedin of Iran-- an Iranian opposition group -- whose safety the United States also guaranteed:

Before the Iranian mullahs took power in 1979, PMOI actively opposed the shah's rule and those supporting him, including the United States. But after 1979, PMOI focused opposition on the mullahs who, in 1988, massacred 30,000 members.

Forced to flee, its leadership ended up settling in Iraq at the invitation of Saddam Hussein.

PMOI established Camp Ashraf on Iraq's border with Iran as a base of operations from which to conduct attacks against Tehran. The mullahs were determined to eradicate PMOI.

In 1997, although PMOI no longer threatened the United States, President Bill Clinton designated it a Foreign Terrorist Organization in hopes of encouraging rapprochement with Iran. The European Union and United Kingdom followed suit.

Strangely, while PMOI's goal for Iran fell in line with that of the West -- de-fanging an extremist Islamist state -- the West isolated PMOI.

When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, it sought to disarm PMOI. The group surrendered, disarming voluntarily without firing a shot. Accepting their surrender as the "occupying force," the United States guaranteed PMOI members' safety as "protected persons" under the Geneva Conventions.

An unarmed PMOI presented a good case for FTO delisting when it began providing the United States with intelligence about Iran's secret nuclear program. Yet it still had to fight a seven-year legal battle to be delisted by the European Union and United Kingdom. Three years later, the Obama State Department was forced by court action to do the same.

With the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in late 2009, U.S. responsibility to protect PMOI members didn't terminate. But it left Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki free to carry out orders of Iran's Shiite mullahs.

Accordingly, several attacks were launched by Iraqi forces into Camp Ashraf to kill unarmed PMOI leaders. The most recent was conducted Sept. 1, with 52 residents slaughtered -- shot in the head, some with hands bound behind their backs -- while Washington again ignored its safety guarantee to them. Seven PMOI members were also kidnapped -- undoubtedly to be turned over to the Iranians for torture and execution.

The commander of Iran's military Qud's force, Gen. Qassem Suleimani, spent seven years during the Iran-Iraq war trying to fight his way into Baghdad. He failed to do so.

Ironically, today he moves around freely because of Maliki's close relationship with Iran's mullahs. Suleimani has been given a mandate by Tehran to eradicate PMOI as a threat to the regime. He will succeed as Obama shows no backbone in meeting a U.S. commitment under international law to save them.

With PMOI's future doomed by U.S. inaction, how can Israel harbor any faith in Obama's commitment to stop Iran's nuclear program?

(A retired U.S. Marine, Lt. Col. James Zumwalt served in the Vietnam War, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf War. He has written "Bare Feet, Iron Will -- Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie: North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran -- The Clock is Ticking.")

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)


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