Israel Backs Tough U.N. Line on Iran

These days, it’s unusual to get the United States and Britain to agree with France and Germany on any Middle East-related U.N. resolution.

When Israel also is on board, it’s downright extraordinary.

Israeli officials are elated at the tough language in a resolution passed last week by the board of the U.N. nuclear watchdog rebuking Iran for not cooperating with nuclear inspectors. Last week’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution "deploring" Iranian stonewalling of IAEA inspectors has far-reaching implications for containment of a radical Islamic regime that successive Israeli administrations have called the greatest threat to the Jewish state.

The resolution, drafted by Britain, France and Germany, expresses special concern about Iran’s refusal to end its uranium-enrichment activities, a condition for European assistance to Iran in developing a peaceful nuclear program.

Adding to U.S. and European frustration was confirmation this year that Iran tried to buy black market magnets necessary for the centrifugal process that enriches uranium.

The single area of disagreement between the United States and the European nations was over a deadline for Iranian compliance. The Europeans kept mention of a deadline out of the resolution, but Mohammed ElBaradei, the IAEA’s director-general, suggested that Iran does not have an endless amount of time to come clean.

"I have been asking, as the board also has been asking, Iran to become proactive, to become transparent and to be fully cooperative, and I hope I’ll see that mode of cooperation in the next few months," ElBaradei said Monday after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. "I think the international community is urgently seeking assurance from the agency that Iran’s program is exclusively for a peaceful purpose."

The IAEA board is set to meet again in September, and U.S. officials have suggested that it could decide on further action if Iran doesn’t give way.

The resolution was a success for the Bush administration, which has been urging greater scrutiny of Iran. A number of congressional initiatives also are under way.

Getting on board the same wealthy Western European states that Iran hopes will sustain its faltering economy means that the Islamic republic is spending time fighting diplomatic battles that divert its attention from backing terrorist operations against Israel.

Not that Ariel Sharon’s government wants to make a lot of noise about the IAEA resolution — a high Israeli profile in any rebuke of Iran could galvanize Arab support for a regime that most Arab leaders revile — but much of Israel’s defensive activity is taken with Iran in mind.

Israel is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to expand its Arrow missile defense program to cover the entire country by the end of the decade, primarily because of Iranian missiles that are capable of delivering nonconventional materials to the Jewish state.

Israel long has taken such long-term threats into account in dealing with Iran. In recent years, however, Iran’s influence has seeped into even the day-to-day threats Israel faces.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad have looked to Iran for greater support now that their traditional sources of funding in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere have dried up because of tough scrutiny of terrorist financing and an increased willingness, after Sept. 11, to avoid groups the U.S. government deems as terrorists.

Israeli intelligence believes Hezbollah, a Lebanese terrorist militia that gets strong Iranian support, now is behind up to 80 percent of terrorist activities against Israel, and is particularly active in recruiting Israeli Arab citizens — a development Israeli officials consider especially troubling.

Of course, not all the impetus for the tough language has to do with the threat Iran poses to Israel.

Bush administration officials increasingly are frustrated with the support Iran has given to Shi’ite Muslim insurgents in U.S.-occupied Iraq, and working for a nuclear-free Middle East long has been part of European strategy.

Still, it’s significant that Iran’s nuclear potential is seen as posing a greater threat than Israel’s, and that this realization is penetrating even international forums, which traditionally are bastions of moral equivalence.

Hans Blix, the former top U.N. arms inspector, suggested that Israel’s reported nuclear arsenal could prove to be an important element in the effort to get the Iranians to back down.

"Looking at the rationales and incentives at work, it must be assumed that Tehran is aware not only that Israel has nuclear weapons and that a sovereign Iraq would inherit the know-how to make them, but also that Iranian enrichment, even if it were to remain consistent with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, would further exacerbate the situation," Blix said Monday at a Carnegie Endowment conference he attended with ElBaradei, his old friend.

For the moment, Iran is hardly acting conciliatory.

Learning of the draft resolution last week, Iranian President Mohammed Khatami warned that "if Europe has no commitment toward Iran, then Iran will not have a commitment toward Europe."

Iran appeared to back up the threat Monday when it seized three British naval vessels and eight crewmen who were in the area to help train Iraqi police.

Given the toughness of the IAEA resolution, such grandstanding is unlikely to have much impact. The United States is maintaining its pressure, as President Bush heads to NATO meetings in Europe this weekend, where he is likely to make containment of Iran a priority, backed by a letter signed by 66 senators and 208 House members.

The message from the West is clear, Powell said Monday.

"With respect to Iran," he said, "they have been put on notice once again rather firmly and strongly in this new resolution that the international community is expecting them to answer its questions and to respond fully."

Sharon Plan Raises Myriad Questions

Ariel Sharon’s major policy statement at the Herzliya
security conference last week might have made world headlines, but it’s far
from clear what the Israeli prime minister has in mind. Sharon called on
Palestinian leaders to open negotiations with Israel and threatened unilateral
steps if they don’t, but he did not spell out those steps.

In fact, Sharon’s long-awaited Dec. 18 speech, in which he
broached the possibility of a unilateral Israeli pullback from the West Bank
and Gaza Strip, raised more questions than it provided answers.

For example, does Sharon envision a major Israeli withdrawal
and a large-scale evacuation of Jewish settlements? Or will the pullback be
minimal, with few settlements evacuated and the Palestinians surrounded on all
sides by security fences? Will Sharon be able to get American support for his
new policy? Will he listen to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) or to the Shin
Bet security service, which are urging him to go in opposite directions? Will
he actually be able to dismantle dozens of settlements, assuming he wants to?
And what are the likely political ramifications in Israel?

Local pundits give two very different readings of the prime
minister’s intentions.

According to one reading, Sharon’s plan is to redeploy
Israeli forces behind the security fence being built between Israel and the West
Bank, and to “relocate” dozens of Israeli settlements from the Palestinian to
the Israeli side. According to this scenario, the fence would be no more than a
temporary security line, and the Palestinians would have the option of coming
back to the negotiating table at any time to set final borders.

But there is another, widely divergent reading — that Sharon
intends to complete a second, “eastern fence,” along the Jordan Valley,
enclosing the Palestinians between the two fences on about 50 percent to 60
percent of the West Bank. Under this scenario, Israel would retain the Jordan Valley
as a buffer zone between the Palestinian entity and Jordan.

Whether the Palestinians have territorial contiguity or only
contiguity of movement will depend on which way Sharon goes.

The IDF’s Central Command, responsible for the West Bank,
has drawn up a contingency plan called “Everything Flows,” in which a system of
bridges, tunnels and bypass roads provides the Palestinians with freedom of
movement, without full territorial contiguity.

Whether Sharon gets American support will depend on which
plan he adopts. The United States insists that Israel do nothing to undermine
President Bush’s vision of a viable Palestinian state. That would seem to rule
out American support for the eastern fence plan.

For his part, Sharon has said that whatever he does will be
fully coordinated with the United States. Indeed, there is nothing more
important in his foreign policy doctrine than Israel’s U.S. ties. Therefore,
it’s hard to see Sharon pressing for the eastern fence scenario.

On the other hand, for years Sharon has been carrying around
a map based on “Israeli interests” which, like the eastern fence scenario,
leaves the Palestinians with no more than 60 percent of the West Bank. If the
post-withdrawal lines seem to correspond to Sharon’s “Israeli interests” map,
suspicion will grow that he is trying to impose a permanent arrangement on the
Palestinians based on a minimal Israeli withdrawal.

The IDF, however, is urging Sharon to be generous with the
Israeli withdrawal. The army’s planning branch, under Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland,
has presented Sharon with an ambitious plan leading to the establishment of a
Palestinian state with temporary borders.

The IDF is asking Sharon to show the Palestinians and the
international community how serious he is by handing over West Bank cities to
the Palestinian Authority — a process that until now has been conditional on
Palestinian willingness to fight terrorism — as soon as possible.

The army is also advising Sharon to lift roadblocks and
allow free movement between Palestinian cities, even at the risk of more
terrorist attacks against Israel. The IDF’s argument is that if such moves are
not reciprocated by the Palestinians, the world will be much more understanding
of a subsequent, unilateral Israeli move. If the moves are reciprocated, then a
negotiated settlement could be in the cards.

The weight Sharon attaches to the IDF view can be gleaned
from the fact that Eiland, who is slated to become head of the National
Security Council, has been appointed to lead a team of experts fleshing out
Sharon’s unilateral program.

But there also are other, opposing voices in the Israeli
defense establishment. The Shin Bet is urging Sharon to proceed very carefully
and not hand over cities or lift roadblocks until Palestinian terrorism stops.

The Shin Bet argues that the Palestinians are doing nothing
to combat terrorism. These officials say that a devastating Oct. 4 suicide
bombing in a Haifa restaurant may have been the last major terrorist attack,
but only because Israeli forces have succeeded in foiling 26 suicide bombing
attempts since then.

Perhaps the biggest question for Sharon is whether he will
be able to relocate dozens of Jewish settlements.

So far, the government has not set up a team to negotiate
with settlers over compensation or alternative housing.

Even if it does, the right-wing, ideological settlers — as
distinct from those who moved to the settlements for lifestyle reasons or
because of government financial incentives — are unlikely to cooperate.

The government already is having difficulty dismantling
sparsely populated, illegal settlement outposts; when it comes to large,
authorized settlements, settler opposition is sure to be much fiercer.

Every such relocation would be a major operation for the
army. Given the army’s manpower limitations, the settlements probably would
have to be dealt with one by one, in an emotionally wrenching and
time-consuming process.

Sharon also can expect opposition from within his own Likud
Party and from the far right. As soon as a relocation program goes into effect,
the National Religious Party and the National Union are expected to quit the
governing coalition, and some Likud lawmakers will stop automatically
supporting the government.

Eleven of the Likud’s 40 caucus members already have signed
a petition demanding that any settlement relocation first be authorized by the
caucus. Others are pressing for a full-scale debate on Sharon’s new policy at
next month’s party convention.

The immediate test for Sharon will be whether he can pass
the 2004 budget by the end of the year. Last minute, right-wing opposition to
the budget could have a far-reaching effect on Sharon’s ability to move his
policy forward.

Of course, all the unilateral arguments would become
irrelevant if Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei were to come to
the table and negotiate a deal with Sharon on the basis of the internationally
backed “road map” peace plan.

But few on the Israeli side, including Sharon, believe that
will happen.

That leaves the two key, and so far unanswered, questions:
Which unilateral plan will Sharon adopt, and will he have the political support
to implement it? Â

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

Delegates at UJC Assembly Show Solidarity

Waving Israeli, American and Canadian flags and hoisting signs naming their hometowns, thousands of delegates at the Jewish federation system’s General Assembly (GA) wound their way through the back alleys, markets and main streets of Jerusalem, vowing to stand by Israel.

A mission of about 20 Angelenos attended the GA under the auspices of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The group took part in a massive solidarity march on Monday in which most of the GA’s 4,000 participants walked from convention hall down historic Jaffa Road in a show of support for Israel: Soldiers and delegates linked hands and danced the hora, vendors at the Mahane Yehuda market cheered, Israeli folk music and shofars blared, and blue and white balloons bobbed overhead.

Security was tight. Police and soldiers manned street corners along the march route, which had been blocked to traffic. Pedestrians were searched before being allowed to enter parts of downtown Jerusalem.

Federation President John Fishel moderated a panel "Jewish Identity, Affiliation and the Next Generation." A group of conference participants also toured Tel Aviv schools involved in a twinning relationship through The Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership as part of an excusion examining "Innovative Models of Israel and Diaspora Relations." The day in Tel Aviv also included a demonstration by bomb-sniffing dogs in the Pups for Peace program, founded by Glenn Yago of the Milken Institute, and an evening reception at the Neve Tzedek neighborhood for all assembly participants chaired by Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership Chair Herbert Glaser and featuring remarks by Daniel Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel, and Donald Sinclair, Canada’s ambassador to Israel.

Peace ‘Map’ Fears

Israel backers are raising numerous concerns about the latest version of the U.S. "road map" for Middle East peace.

Analysts and Jewish leaders say the latest version, currently being hammered out in Washington, diverges from President Bush’s June 24 speech, in which he called for new Palestinian leaders and said a Palestinian state could be created only after significant institutional reforms. They also say Israel has not been consulted enough in the preparation of the document.

Also of concern is the fact that the State Department, which is considered to be softer on the Palestinians, is working on the plan, rather than the White House, whose views on the conflict are considered closer to Israel’s.

"The concern is that some of the key players credited with crafting Bush’s speech are now focused on Iraq," said one official with a Jewish organization. "Some of the other folks in the State Department have moved to fill the vacuum."

Israel has complained that it learned about the revised road map only from news reports. Housing and Construction Minister Natan Sharansky raised some of Israel’s concerns during a visit to Washington last week.

Conceived in conjunction with America’s "quartet" partners — the United Nations, European Union and Russia — the road map has been under revision for more than a month, addressing concerns raised by all sides.

It is expected to be released when quartet leaders meet in Washington on Dec. 20. Israeli officials want the release postponed until after Israeli elections on Jan. 28.

The road map calls for a three-stage approach leading to an interim Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip next year, and the creation of a permanent state by the end of 2005.

In the first stage, the plan demands the appointment of a new Palestinian Authority Cabinet and the creation of a prime minister’s post. It also demands that Israel improve humanitarian conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and dismantle any settlement outposts created under the Sharon government.

Later, it would require the Palestinians to write a constitution. It also calls for a monitoring system led by the quartet to ensure that the two sides meet their commitments. In addition, the road map calls on Israel to withdraw troops from all areas occupied since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000 and to freeze all settlement activity.

The second phase, which would run through the end of 2003, begins with Palestinian elections in January and an international conference to form a provisional Palestinian state. The third phase, due in 2004 and 2005, calls for a second conference and negotiations toward a final peace agreement.

The new version does not address some of the fundamental concerns that Israel raised last month. Specifically, Israel is concerned that the road map does not repeat Bush’s demand for a change in Palestinian leadership and does not set standards that the Palestinians must meet before the sides progress from stage to stage.

Israel wants the steps to be performance-based, not dictated by a timeline that runs regardless of how well the Palestinians honor their commitments, as was the case under the Oslo peace accords.

"We’ve had very negative experiences with timelines in the past," an Israeli official said.

Israel is also not happy that quartet members — three of whom it considers biased toward the Palestinians — will serve as monitors, playing a role that until now has been filled by the United States.

The new version speaks of moving through the process with the "consensus" opinion of the quartet — essentially giving the United States veto power — but Israeli officials argue that isn’t enough. They want any monitoring to be left solely to the United States.

Several analysts say that, unlike Bush’s June 24 speech, the road map essentially allows Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to remain in power. Bush also said that no Palestinian state could be created until the Palestinian leaders "engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure."

Israel has complained that the security steps the plan demands of the Palestinians are too vague.

"The road map is not faithful to Bush’s June 24 speech, which makes crystal clear that removal of Yasser Arafat is a prerequisite of any American diplomatic initiative," said David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Also of concern is the lack of consequences for Palestinian noncompliance.

If the road map is released next month, it will come during national elections in Israel, where Haifa’s dovish mayor, Amram Mitzna, will lead the Labor Party. The Likud leadership was to be decided in a Nov. 28 primary, with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a heavy favorite to defeat his challenger, Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli officials have been asking for the release to be postponed until after the Jan. 28 national elections. Sharansky made the request in Washington last week, but so far the United States has resisted.

"We haven’t made any decisions in terms of announcements or anything," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said last week.

Releasing the road map during the election campaign would be seen as a gift for Mitzna, who has said he will meet with any Palestinian leader, including Arafat. Sharon has refused to meet with Arafat because of Arafat’s ties to terror groups.

However, Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, said Monday that postponing the release would be as much an act of interference in Israeli politics as releasing it. He also suggested that Sharon would not be hampered by the road map.

"He needs to show the Israeli electorate not only that he can fight terrorism, but that he has a way out of the process," Indyk said at a forum at the Brookings Institution, where he is a senior fellow. "He needs to support it."

Indyk also said that based on the fate of other peace plans presented over the past two years, Sharon knows there is little chance the road map will be implemented. Therefore, Indyk said, he has little to lose by supporting the plan.

Makovsky speculated that the United States may be insisting on releasing the document quickly to strengthen U.S. attempts to woo Arab support for a potential attack on Iraq.

"Introducing the document at such a sensitive juncture, very little can be accomplished," he said. "It makes me wonder if Arab states are seeking to insist upon the quartet’s passage of the road map as a prerequisite for their acquiescence to the American actions in Iraq."

Fuel for the Fire

Funny how a massive attack on American shores, the devastating loss of 3,000 innocent lives, the U.S. invasion of one country (Afghanistan), the incipient invasion of another (Iraq) and the continued threat of biological, nuclear and random terror in our own neighborhoods can get people thinking.

Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, an ideologically diverse and unallied group of analysts, pundits, activists, business people and the occasional brave politician has been proffering one very simple message for anyone interested in how America can shake free from the grip of Islamic terror: It’s the oil, stupid. “If we can reduce our dependence on oil, and our need to go the extra mile in going along with some of the things that repressive regimes do, we would be a lot better off,” former CIA Director James Woolsey told Reuters. “But to get that kind of independence we have got to be not so dependent on their oil.”

Such sentiments have begun to resonate loudly with Jewish activists and organizations. Buttressed by the research of energy experts such as Amory Lovins, they have concluded that American energy consumption endangers not just American stability, but Israeli security and even what they understand as Jewish values. “The Persian Gulf has 63 percent of the world’s oil reserves, and worldwide consumption is expected to grow 55 percent over the next 20 years,” said Jack Halpern, chairman of the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) Energy Independence Task Force, in a recent address. “The bitter reality is that the Arabs don’t invest in their peoples’ welfare. Instead, they spend their petrodollars acquiring weapons of mass destruction, distorting the votes and conferences of the United Nations, harboring terror organizations, rewarding the families of suicide bombers and funding the Wahabi madrases that breed radical Islam. In short, Arab oil imposes a suffocating burden on Israel, and is a lethal threat to U.S. citizens.”

If there’s a bit of overkill in the rhetoric — Arab states do spend many of their petrodollars legitimately — the concern over our open-ended account at Gulf State Gas & Electric is real. The AJCongress is just one of the Jewish groups now intent on decoupling the American economy — and Israel’s security — from the West’s dependence on Persian Gulf oil.

Although only about 16 percent of our oil comes from the Gulf, every long-range forecast shows America needing the resources that the Gulf State regimes control — unless we significantly cut our consumption. That need forces us into geopolitical games that, given our addiction, we find impossible to walk away from.

“It really is all about the oil,” said Richard Ziman, CEO of Los Angeles-based Arden Realty, the largest landlord of office buildings in Southern California and the state’s leader in energy-efficient commercial construction. “It dumbfounds me that a country with our technical talent can’t develop a way to get rid of this issue.”

There may not be a technical fix — yet — but there is a growing political pressure for it. A coalition of 29 Jewish environmental groups across the country has launched a multifaceted outreach campaign — including the installation of solar panels on local synagogues — to increase awareness of the impact of energy consumption on national security and environmental policy. “People ask, ‘What can I do for Israel?'” said Lee Wallach, Southern California chair of the Council on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL). “Well, one of the things you can do is look at the kind of vehicle you drive.”

On Nov. 20, COEJL and the National Council of Churches launched a national letter-writing campaign to CEOs of automobile companies asking them to raise Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, the minimum average fuel economy that a manufacturer’s fleet of cars must meet. Along with pressing Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, the 100 religious leaders are calling upon their congregants to weigh fuel efficiency more heavily when they buy a car.

Just this week, COEJL descended on Santa Monica Pier and ticketed gas-guzzling SUV’s with faux citations. “For Jews to be driving these big SUVs that provide billions to Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq and make us beholden to these countries is a disaster,” Wallach said. “Now we can make a direct link between war and terror and oil.”

This Chanukah, COEJL began distributing educational packets linking the holiday, with its imagery of burning oil and the miracle of light, to the need for oil conservation. Energy efficiency, said COEJL Director David Rosenstein, is a Jewish moral obligation, the “stewardship of God’s creation.”

Unlike in years past, such sentiments are not solely the province of hemp-wearing men and women with composting toilets. For one, bottom-line capitalists have joined the fray. Acres of advanced photovoltaic panels are in operation on the roofs of the 302,000-square-foot office centerbuilding in Fountain Valley, which is owned by Ziman’s Arden Realty, Inc. This year, Arden earned the federal government’s highest energy efficiency and environmental conservation designation — the “Energy Star” label. Cost was only one factor, Ziman said, in his decision to invest more than $20 million in energy retrofits this year — the biggest variables in commercial real estate development are wages and utilities. The other factor was geopolitical. “I’ve always been concerned about our dependence on foreign oil,” he said.

Ziman is an unabashed liberal. But his concerns are echoed across the political spectrum, all the way to the Republican Jewish Coalition and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who will chair AJCongress’ first ever Cooperation for Energy Independence of Democracies in the 21st Century held in Jerusalem from Jan. 21-23, 2003. The debate might be over solutions — whether drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will decrease our oil dependence substantially or not at all, for instance — but not over the basic problem.

One unlikely prophet to this gathering tribe is Lovins, energy guru extraordinaire. He has been saying what they are saying, but he’s been saying it since 1975. That’s the year he published a landmark article in Foreign Affairs arguing that if the market were allowed to pick the cheapest way to provide a given use of energy — say a warm house or a cold beer — it would always pick renewable resources or conservation.

Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, I spoke with Lovins, who had been my professor for a term in college two decades ago. At the time, Lovins’ research was groundbreaking, but hardly mainstream. Osama bin Laden changed that. Although I had completely lost touch with Lovins, what he taught back then suddenly struck me as painfully relevant.

And, when I reached him by phone, he acknowledged that my instincts were correct. Pursuing energy efficiency, he once again said, would be the fastest way to decrease our addiction to Mideast oil.

Before I could ask the obvious first question, Lovins repeated something he’d found himself telling a lot of journalists lately. During the six years after the 1979 oil embargo, U.S. oil imports from the Persian Gulf fell 87 percent. Lovins referred to those years as, “The last time we were paying attention.” That difference was due, largely, to new fuel-efficiency standards that increased vehicle output by some 7 miles per gallon (mpg). The result: OPEC got the message that the United States could separate our economic health from Persian Gulf oil — gross domestic product grew by 16 percent during the period. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan relaxed vehicle-efficiency standards, and oil imports skyrocketed. “If we had continued at the same pace,” Lovins said, “we’d have needed no Gulf oil by now.”

But that’s not what happened. The advent of the SUV, which has been exempt from new fuel-efficiency standards, has proven catastrophic for efficiency. Today, new cars average 24 mpg, a 20-year low. (Two weeks ago, a Transportation Department study found that the average gas mileage of new vehicles in the 2001 model year had slipped back to the level of 1999, which was the lowest since 1980.)

It is possible, Lovins said, to take OPEC out of the equation again, with the same old tools: efficiency and renewable resources.

Lovins never uses the C word: Conservation was so 1970s. What will set us free from oil dependence, he stressed, is oil efficiency. “There is a stark difference between efficiency and conservation. Conservation is a change in behavior based on the attitude, ‘Do less to use less.’ Efficiency is the application of technologies and best practices to eliminate waste based on the attitude, ‘Do the same or more with less.'” To replace Persian Gulf oil imports, Lovins said, would take a 2.7 mpg increase in the automobile fleet. Making the light vehicle fleet more efficient by 0.4 mpg would save enough gasoline to save as much crude oil as we’ll ever pull out of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “In 1991, the United States deployed 0.56-mile-per-gallon Abrams tanks and 17-feet-per-gallon-equivalent aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf because we hadn’t deployed 32-mpg cars at home,” he said.

Do such voices have a chance of being heard under an administration glutted with oil company executives, focused on war with a major oil-producing nation and eager to expand domestic drilling? Lovins, ever analytical, is cooly apolitical. His Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), a “think-and-do tank” on energy issues he runs out of an energy-efficient home near Aspen, Colo., spearheaded a non-partisan National Energy Policy Initiative which outlined an alternative to the Bush Adminstration energy program that has found support among Democrats and Republicans.

Doubt him if you will, but Lovins credibility puts him in a league no tree-sitter can match. Admitted to Harvard at age 16, he was named a don in physics at Oxford University at 21. The author of 27 books, he received a MacArthur genius grant, and was named “A Hero for the Planet” by Time. Lovins regularly earns upward of $20,000 per day in consulting fees for major corporations, a source of financing for RMI. (The Web site is a model of efficiency and design in and of itself.)

“If people had listened to Amory 20 years ago on making the [energy] infrastructure more decentralized and resilient,” ex-CIA director Woolsey told Fortune magazine, “the country would be in a lot less dangerous shape.”

Lovins, instead of doing the I-told-you-so dance, is offering yet more ways out. One, he told me enthusiastically, could involve Israel.

Lovins started Hypercar, Inc. to build an SUV that could go from one end of America to another on a single fill-up and emit nothing but drinkable water. Made of lightweight carbon fiber — think fighter planes and tennis rackets — it would be powered by a fuel cell that cleanly converts hydrogen into electricity. BP Amoco has invested in the Hypercar start-up, and former executives from Shell, Fiat, Jaguar and GM sit on Hypercar’s board of advisers. And there’s room for others to get involved: Lovins asked, if you were to pick a country to develop and manufacture a car that used alternative hydrogen fuel cell technology, light and strong materials often found in military aircraft manufacture, and relied on an educated and motivated workforce, which country would you choose? “Israel,” he said.

And indeed, part of the AJCongress conference in Jerusalem this January will be devoted to involving Israel in the Department of Energy’s “Freedom-Car” initiative, a $150 million-a-year program aimed at improving gas-electric hybrid cars and developing cars running on hydrogen, which use zero gasoline.

That Lovins’ words echo in the Jewish state should surprise no one these days. Terrorism, oil policy, national security and Israel have become inextricably linked since Sept. 11, 2001, and the people who proclaimed the miracle of the oil, celebrated every year at this time, are now hoping to have to burn, buy and be beholden to much, much less of it.