If you are a foreign policy analyst, newspaper editor, pundit or just political junkie like myself, the last few days have been a real treat. From 19 May to 24 May, two world leaders – one the leader of the world’s only superpower and the other the leader of the world’s most historic people – made speeches, held press conferences and addressed some of the most influential and powerful political bodies in the world. There is a school of thought that says history is best understood by examining its records: treaties, laws and speeches. Whether one accepts this belief or not, the speeches made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been a model of historical consistency.
It began on 19 May. President Obama made a major foreign policy address at the US State Department (see https://themiddleeasthotspot.wordpress.com/2011/05/20/cairo-ad-nauseum/). He stated, in short, that the 1967 borders of Israel should be the future borders of a Palestinian state. This has long been a demand of the Palestinian Authority and its predecessor, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). To be fair, ever since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 it has been tacitly acknowledged that a Palestinian state would exist somewhere inside those borders. However, President Obama’s remarks crossed a line that no previous American president had: he publicly endorsed a key demand of the Palestinian Authority – and just days before the Israeli Prime Minister was due to arrive in the US.
Netanyahu’s office released a reply the same day, and battle lines were drawn. The Prime Minister’s response foreshadowed the themes that would be repeated and expanded upon in three more speeches over the coming days. First, any future Palestinian state would not come about at the expense of Israel’s security: Israel would not withdraw to the 1967 borders. Second, major Israeli population centers beyond the 1967 lines would be incorporated into Israel’s final borders. Third, that the solution to the Palestinian refugee problem would be within Palestinian borders, not Israel’s. There would be no “right of return.”
The Prime Minister also showed some of his card-playing skills in the press release of 19 May. It mentioned commitments made by a previous US president in 2004 and alluded to the overwhelming support of both US Houses of Congress. If President Obama reneges on the commitments of former President George W. Bush, what credibility does President Obama or any future American president have? Moreover, while he may be the leader of the world’s only superpower, President Obama still must contend with a US House of Representatives and US Senate that are in the hands of his Republican opposition.
Two days later, these same men sat together for several hours and discussed the status of American-Israeli relations, the stalled peace talks, and wider developments in the region. At their joint press conference afterwards, the Prime Minister returned to and expanded on the themes his office annunciated just two days earlier. “Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace,” but would not accept the indefensible 1967 borders. He stated quite clearly that Israel’s pre-1967 geography precluded any possibility of this. In addition, he stated very forcefully, “we’re going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan.” He didn’t say “we would like to have” or “it would be a good idea,” but decisively, we are going to have it.
Perhaps to allay concerns that a major rift was growing between the two allies, Prime Minister Netanyahu acknowledged the President’s statement regarding Hamas. Scorning it as “the Palestinian version of al-Qaeda” (see https://themiddleeasthotspot.wordpress.com/2011/05/22/pity-poor-president-obama/) he indicated that Israel could not be asked to negotiate with a terrorist organization. Only weeks before, Hamas terrorists had killed a teenage boy with a deliberate rocket attack on a school bus and then condemned America for the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Finally, echoing his statement of 19 May, the Prime Minister said, “the Palestinian refugee problem will have to be resolved in the context of a Palestinian state” not within Israel’s borders. He also raised, perhaps for the first time by an Israeli prime minister, the issue of Jewish refugees. It is little known outside of Israel, but in the period from 1948-1952 Israel absorbed over 900,000 Jewish refugees from Arab states. People who had been stripped of almost all of their possessions and subjected to dictates reminiscent of the recently defeated Nazi Germany.
On 24 May, the Prime Minister forcefully repeated Israel’s position in front of a partisan audience at the America Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference. He evoked the shared commitment to democracy and liberty, reminding those assembled that the ideas of all mean being “created in God’s image, that no ruler is above the law, that everyone is entitled to justice” originated in biblical Israel. These ideas are finally coming to the Arab world, he said, noting the unrest that has rocked the region and toppled two Arab autocrats. Pointing out that the region’s problems are not rooted in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but in the lack of freedom in the Arab world, he proclaimed, “Israel is what is right about the Middle East.”
Finally on the same day, Benjamin Netanyahu had the rare privilege, although it was the second time he has enjoyed such an honor, of addressing a joint-session of the US Congress. Immediately, he played his “Congress card” saying, “And I do see a lot of old friends here. And I do see a lot of new friends here. Democrats and Republicans alike.” The message was clear: my support in your Congress, unlike yours, President Obama, is deep and bipartisan. Applause interrupted the Israeli Prime Minister’s speech more than they had interrupted the President’s State of the Union address four months earlier. Later on in his speech, he would thank President Obama for leading the international effort to impose sanctions on Iran, and pointedly thanked Congress for passing “even tougher sanctions.”
Once again, he noted the region’s turbulence, the “epic battle” unfolding “between tyranny and freedom” and reminded America’s congressional representatives that the outcome of this battle is never certain. Indeed, twice it was lost in the region: in Iran in 1979 and Lebanon in 2010. He made a point that, “Of the 300 million Arabs” in the region, only the one million in Israel “enjoy real democratic rights.” He could have easily added that if there was freedom of press in the Arab world, his words would ring true in every home from Sudan to Syria, from Algeria to Oman.
Again, he clearly stated Israel’s policies: ‘yes’ to a Palestinian state, ‘no’ to the 1967 borders. Israel will incorporate major settlement blocs into its final borders, including Jerusalem. The Palestinian refugee problem will be solved within the context of a Palestinian state, not within the borders of Israel. Finally, that the Palestinian state that emerges will be demilitarized, and that Israel will maintain a long-term military presence in the strategic Jordan River valley.
A day ago, a friend sent me an article from a Spanish writer named Sebastian Vilar Rodriguez that was published in a Spanish newspaper on Jan. 15, 2008. The argument that he puts forth isn’t exactly new; it’s been circulating for several years. It attempts to explain the anti-Semitic – thinly veiled as anti-Israel – policies that the European Left has been pushing.
Rodriguez central tenet is that in order to atone for the sin of the Holocaust, Europeans have thrown aside their own beliefs. That: “. . . under the pretense of tolerance, and because we wanted to prove to ourselves that we were cured of the disease of racism, we opened our gates to 20 million Muslims, who brought us stupidity and ignorance, religious extremism and lack of tolerance, crime and poverty, due to an unwillingness to work and support their families with pride.” Having sown these seeds, the only ‘logical’ course is to harvest the crop.
Thus, leftist European politicians routinely ignore acts of terrorism, murder and the wholesale distortion of history in order to appease their collective guilt. ‘If only we could give the Palestinians a state, then all would be forgiven.’ Of course, this state comes at a price: Israel. And so very slowly, they grind their bitter harvest.
It is beyond the scope of a mere blog posting to explain “traditional” pre-war European anti-Semitism. Several hundred books have been written on that subject. There are though, in my opinion, several factors beyond collective European guilt that explain “modern” European anti-Semitism. Briefly, these are as follows.
Israel attempts to define itself as a democratic Jewish state. Israel is saying in essence, our teleological path is complete without your history. In contrast, many European politicians (and most American ones) call out to their ‘Judeo-Christian’ heritage. Detractors claim that this is done solely to win ‘Jewish votes.” However, there really isn’t much of a ‘Jewish vote’ in most European countries these days, and the Muslims will outnumber Jews in America before the end of the decade. Does anyone see an American politician citing ‘Islamic-Christian’ values?
Not only has Israel defined itself as a Jewish democracy, it has been a tremendously successful one. At times, almost too tolerant. Only a few days ago, did Israeli legislators make it illegal to protest the founding of the State of Israel in Israel. What did they do? Legislation is now on the books that fines(!) municipalities and civic associations that budget funds for such activities. And those convicted of treason are no longer entitled to a state-funded pension.
Israel has absorbed millions of refugees and created a vibrant, diverse culture that recognizes and accepts several core political and social concepts. Wave upon wave of immigration has eroded the core values of European culture. The immigrants come from every corner of the world, are of every race. And while the immigrants Europe takes in also are from every corner of the world and are of every race, they shut themselves into self-imposed ghettos.
Israel’s economy and inventiveness have become synonymous with high tech, biotechnology, medicine and telecommunications. One can hardly say this of Greece, Ireland or Spain – where coincidentally some of the strongest proponents of the new anti-Semitism are to be found. Israel leads the world in patents per capita, percentage of GDP spent on civilian R&D, the number of books published per capita, and routinely has nominees for the Nobel Prize.
There is Israel’s military strength to be considered. Yes, Israel does purchase the best weapons it can. Then again, so do the Arab countries – purchasing tanks, helicopters, jets and missiles from the USSR (now Russia), China, Britain, France and even the US. Arab countries outspend Israel on military purchases. However, they would be wiser to just burn their petrodollars in a bonfire. Every time they attack, Israel wins.
How galling it must be for the European Left. To realize that a people that once were so dependent on whatever crumbs of sympathy they cared to let fall to the floor are now capable of taking care of themselves. And quite capably, too.
Now, Israel has proven energy reserves. Enough natural gas for the next twenty years at least. There is abundant oil shale, as well, made accessible for the first time with new recovery technologies. What has the Prime Minister of Israel proposed doing with the royalties from this? Why, spend it on education, of course!
In summary, Israel’s democracy, economy, successful absorption of immigrants, technology and military prowess all stand in sharp relief to the malaise that hangs over Europe. To quote Rodriguez, “we have exchanged culture for fanatical hatred, creative skill for destructive skill, intelligence for backwardness and superstition.” The more the European Left is forced to look and the consequences of their policies, how these policies are ravaging Europe’s once-great cities, is it any wonder that they are embittered? Unfortunately, the European Left has deluded itself.
There are a few brave leaders remaining in Europe who are trying to address this. They have analyzed the situation, sorting fact from emotion, truth from distortion. It is a difficult undertaking, and they are beset on all sides by those with vested interests in seeing Europe destroy itself with misguided policies. Yet, they have come to the conclusion that the only right thing to do, the only thing that as Europeans they should do, is to support Israel.
For several years now, since the first sanctions were imposed on Iran for defying the International Atomic Energy Association’s rules, there has been an on-going discussion of military action. A variety of scenarios have been circulated regarding American and/or Israeli air strikes. Some analysts contend that Iran’s nuclear program is too advanced and too far-flung to destroy. Others contend that it hinges on just a few critical sites. Regardless of the level of success, pundits agree that if Israel attacks Iran, Iran will strike at Israel in response.
If the US is seen as involved, the Iranian response will include the various Gulf kingdoms aligned with the US using missiles, possibly armed with chemical or biological weapons. Others predict that Iran will unleash its puppets, Hamas and Hizbullah, and their arsenals of short-range missile. A regional war involving several countries has been forecast, as well as a global wave of terror. Any combination of these is also possible. The Iranian response will undoubtedly be violent, but it will be brief as it is ineffective.
Any solid military analysis of the situation leads to the conclusion that Israel, acting alone, is capable of inflicting enormous damage on Iran. Using just conventionally armed aircraft and missiles, Israel would be able to destroy at least six critical Iranian nuclear facilities in one blow. It could also inflict heavy damage of Iranian petroleum facilities, further delaying an Iranian rebuilding effort.
Having clearly demonstrated that it is militarily superior to every country in the region, and having destroyed the single existential threat that (currently) exists, Israeli leaders would be hard-pressed to claim any additional security concerns. The price tag of success will be a Palestinian state. And there will be intense international pressure for this to occur immediately.
Without American support, Israel would be diplomatically isolated. Traditionally anti-Israel bodies, such as the UNHRC, would be mobilized to condemn Israel. Claims would be brought to the International Court of Justice. UN Security Council resolution would pile up fast. Various treaties and pacts currently under discussion between Isreal and a host of nations would be shelved, if not scrapped outright. If Israel acts alone, it will need to have the diplomatic muscle of the United States behind it in order to deal with the aftermath.
The US and EU would not be overly concerned with the long-term consequences of either a Palestinian state or how such diplomatic pressure might effect Israel’s geo-strategic psychology. The conflict will have sent oil prices to the $150/barrel range – or higher. Energy shortages will cripple the already sluggish global economy. World financial markets will be in turmoil. The US and EU will act hastily to prevent further economic damage. It will not be a time to worry about demographics, Riparian water rights or political stability (Palestinian).
NATO, perhaps with a token Russian presence, would deploy troops over most of the West Bank as an interim measure, probably within a month of the UNSC imposing a ceasefire on all the belligerents. Israel would withdraw the bulk of its forces, probably over a period of 3 – 6 months. The smaller settlements would be dismantled and their occupants transferred to Israel proper or the so-called large settlement blocs. There may be a token exchange of territories and populations between Israel and the nascent Palestinian state.
What would happen to Jerusalem? That depends on how quickly and quietly Israeli leaders agree to the deployment of NATO troops, removal of settlements and the re-drawing of boundaries. Quick accession to these demands might assure continued Israeli sovereignty over most of Jerusalem, with a minimal international presence with very limited authority. Israeli delay could result in Jerusalem being partitioned.
Israeli leaders face an excruciating dilemma. It is universally agreed that sanctions will not dissuade the Iranians from developing a nuclear capability. Unless publicly forced to face the clearest evidence of Iranian intentions, the Obama administration will not act militarily. Thus, Israel must act on her own.
However, military success will also result in the creation of a Palestinian state that is economically and politically unstable, as well as violent. This is likely to remain the situation for at least a decade, meaning that there will be no “peace dividend” for Israel. The question now becomes, not will Israel act, but when? And have Israeli leaders considered how they – and the citizens of Israel – will contend with the aftermath?
As all good bloggers are accustomed to doing, I have multiple methods of keeping track of the number of “hits” my postings receive. First, there is the stat-tracking on the blog’s host site. Second, there are the automatic notifications from the discussion boards on which I post links. Third, there is my friend Frank. Frank often tells me how bad (the term he often uses is “POS!”) such a particular piece was.
Recently, it seemed that a lot of older postings were receiving increased hits, and I wondered why. Perhaps the holiday season had caused them to reflect on the state of humanity? Could it be that people had suddenly taken an interest in world affairs? Or was it more likely that a string of terrorist attacks – I refuse to use the Obama administration’s epithet “extremists” – had jarred people of their “historical moment” infatuation with Barack Hussein Obama?
Had they suddenly realized what a terrible mistake they just might have made that fateful first Tuesday in November 2008? Yes, I think they are beginning to realize that.
BHO came to office with no real plan to govern. He had no idea how to fix the economy, no I idea how to fix America’s healthcare crisis, no idea how to stop global warming, and certainly not even a gram’s worth of sense as far as foreign policy is concerned.
Let’s be fair. No one really has an idea how to fix the economy; it has never been broken like this before. America’s healthcare system is a mess, but one that could easily be solved by eating at McDonald’s ten fewer times each week and exercising. The demise of the world’s economies has at least delayed the melting of the polar icecaps. However, the Middle East is more than the Arab-Israeli conflict.
President Obama’s simplistic reduction of the matter to one of Palestinian statehood obscures numerous problems. Oil wealth is not evenly distributed and the have’s are not sharing with the have-not’s. There is a burgeoning demographic crises, with the number of 18-24 year olds increasing. This demographic is the cannon-fodder for extremist movements. There is the conflict between Shi’ite and Sunni Islam, 14 centuries in the making. Arab, Persians and Turks have been fighting for dominance over the region for almost the same period of time.
I have tried numerous times to parse President Obama’s foreign policy vis-à-vis this region. Is he truly simplistic and naïve? Does he hold the view that the US cannot continue to act as the world’s policeman? Is he just trying to keep the lid on the pot? All of these explanations may be true; none of them may be. One certainty is, that after a year in office he has accomplished little, excepting reducing America’s standing with allies and bolstering the prestige of its enemies.
When will the other shoe drop?
In May of this year, one potential piece of Barack Obama’s “comprehensive” peace plan emerged. It was given very little coverage outside of the Middle East. On May 5, 2009, the US Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller urged Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea to sign the non-proliferation treaty. One hundred eighty six nations have. This includes Iran, which is flagrant violation; and Libya, which was “scared straight” by former President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.
At that time Uzi Even, a former Knesset member and scientist at the nuclear reactor in Dimona, said the statement by the assistant secretary of state is indicative of a change in the US’ policy towards Israel regarding its nuclear capabilities. “In the past there was an informal agreement between the US and Israel; the Americans knew Israel possessed nuclear arms but looked the other way,” he said, “now the US is breaching this agreement.” This would not be the last time the Obama regime has unilaterally attempted to re-write its relationship with Israel.
Even suggests that Israel must change its deliberately vague nuclear policy and sign the NPT, which would place Dimona under international supervision. This would also allow Israel to develop nuclear weapons, at least theoretically. However, Israel declaring its nuclear program is unlikely to have a positive effect on the stability of the region. Arab states would then argue that Israel must disarm before any other issues can be discussed – including the dismantling of the Iranian program.
The other shoe drops
This past week, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit appealed to the UN Security Council to put Israel’s nuclear program under international supervision and set a timeframe for a nuclear-free Middle East. In a letter to the 15-member council last week, Aboul Gheit highlighted that Israel has not signed onto the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) adding: “Israel’s nuclear capabilities cannot evade world attention.”
The resolution, passed at the end of the annual general assembly of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna on September 24, also demands that Israel open its nuclear reactor in Dimona to international inspectors. Thus, the Egyptians have successfully put Israel’s nuclear program on the agenda.
In the first resolution, a majority of 49 countries passed. The majority included all the members of the Arab League and the bloc of developing nations. Opposing the resolution were 45 Western countries, including the European Union and the United States. There were 16 abstentions.
Although the US and Europe attempted to back Israel, the result was a foregone conclusion. The institutions the West created in the aftermath of the Second World War were hijacked years ago. Gotemoeller’s little speech was picked up by Egypt and they ran with it.
If Israel were to sign the NPT treaty, it would theoretically open the door to IAEA inspections. This means Dimona, the site of most of Israel’s nuclear research activities, as well as several smaller facilities, such as Nahal Sorek. The reasoning goes like this: if Israel were to sign and admit inspectors, it would put pressure on Iran to give IAEA inspectors access to Iranian facilities, and also put pressure on them to start abiding by previously agreed upon limitations. However, reason and Iran seldom go together.
If it were reasonable, wouldn’t it have responded to the first round of sanctions? What about the second round and third rounds of sanctions, which it ignored? Reason would also dictate that with 120,000+ US troops based in countries on its eastern and western borders, Iran would act cautiously. That hasn’t fazed the Iranians, either. In fact, America, weary of both wars, their costs and their casualties, would like nothing better than to leave both Iraq and Afghanistan. It knows it cannot do either, as Iran is poised to fill the vacuum should America leave precipitously.
However, let’s get back to the dance. Increasingly, the Americans and the moderate Arab camp are viewing the Israeli nuclear program as a bargaining chip. Why not? It’s a good one that the so-called moderate Arab states can collect on twice. If Israel is compelled to “come clean” on its nuclear program and weapons, immense pressure could be brought to bear on Iran. While Israel would still retain a strategic advantage, the extent of its capabilities would become known, giving the moderate camp more leverage on a host of issues: weapon purchases, their own nuclear plans and a Palestinian state.
If there were a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, it would benefit Israel and all other nations as well. If such a prohibition were coupled with a ban on the development of biological and chemical agents, along with missile technology, it would actually be to Israel’s advantage. Unfortunately, the US and its European allies seem to have lost the testicular fortitude necessary to take action when even their most basic ideas and values are under attack. Obama only wags his finger at tyrants in Damascus and Teheran and mutters “tsk, tsk, tsk” under the chorus of change.