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September 6, 2011 12:03 pm

Greetings To Robert Gates From an Ungrateful Ally

avatar by Arik Elman

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President Obama with Erdogan.

Israel is an ungrateful ally of the United States. So says Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense until recently, according to Jeffrey Goldberg. There’s no reason not to believe Goldberg’s account – after all, this accusation is but a distilled sentiment of the Obama administration toward the Jewish state and its current government, since the beginning of this “special” (in a very bad way) bilateral relationship.

Driven by its ideological biases and bad advice, Barack Obama and his team had embarked on the ambitious and misguided campaign to achieve full or partial “regime change” in Jerusalem. Believing that displays of presidential displeasure will be sufficient for Israeli public to blame its’ elected leaders for endangering the vital bond with America, Obama and his team had subjected the Israeli Prime Minister to a series of diplomatic humiliations and malicious leaks, aimed at the Israeli voters and designed to orchestrate either a change of policy contrary to what those voters had approved, or even change in the ruling coalition in Jerusalem – because, face it, from the public behavior of this administration it is clear that it sees in the current Israeli government the only real obstacle to peace in the Middle East, maybe on Earth.

Instead of building on the detailed and dedicated work of his predecessor, who has got Israel and the Palestinians to the brink of agreement through both direct negotiations and American involvement and assistance, Obama had used the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a means to an end – to ingratiate himself with Arab and Muslim masses by publicly cold-shouldering Israel. Instead of using his advantageous starting position as a lever to corral Israel and the PA into a scheduled framework of endgame talks, where behind closed doors America can bring its weight to bear in search of compromises that will be equally painful to both sides, Obama had publicly embraced both the ideology and demands of the Palestinian side, taking them to extremes that Palestinians themselves haven’t thought of.

It was Obama who, for a considerable time, had refused to speak of the historical right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, presenting Israel instead – to the Arab audience – as a problem child of the Holocaust. It was Obama who went beyond the Oslo framework and demanded from Israel to cease all construction behind the “Green Line”, instantly creating for the Palestinians a red line behind which they cannot retreat. It was Obama who had pulled out of his high hat a deadline to end all deadlines – September 2011, when the Palestinian state was supposed to be proclaimed on the ground. And it was Obama who, having flushed down the toilet a presidential commitment of George W. Bush to Ariel Sharon, had declared the indefensible “1967 borders” as a desirable border between Palestine and Israel (what’s left of it). These easily avoidable blunders had derailed the negotiations and brought about the September showdown which Obama is belatedly trying to avoid – at Israel’s expense.

And yet Israel is an ungrateful ally.

Faced with that hostility, the Israeli government did all it could to accommodate Washington, without clearly betraying the mandate given to it by the people. It refused to even mention Bush’s letter to Sharon. It proclaimed yet again its commitment to the two-state solution and partial removal of settlements. It restrained itself from acting against the terrorist threat from Gaza and the smuggling of rockets to Hezbollah in Syria. It implemented a host of measures that revived the Palestinian economy. It declared, for the first time, a building freeze in Judea and Samaria which contributed significantly to the rise of the real estate prices throughout the country, fueling resentment against it on account both of ideology and public welfare. And it apologized profusely for the bureaucratic mistake that lead to housing announcement during Vice President Biden’s visit to Jerusalem, and went on to stall practically all new construction in the capital’s new neighborhoods for as long as lawfully possible.

And yet Israel is an ungrateful ally.

For all this breathless talk about the wonder weapons and defense systems that Obama administration supposedly made available to Israel, the President and his national security team hadn’t managed to stop the Iranian march to nuclear capacity and today it is safe to conclude that they never gave the military option against Tehran a serious thought. Acting on a pattern that will became evident in Syria, the leader of the free world has refused to came out in support of the Iranian “Green Movement” and continued to treat the election-stealing Holocaust-denier as a legitimate leader of his country. “They need to own their revolution” – went an explanation in Washington, yet how peaceful and unarmed protesters can “own” anything against a fanatical regime certain of its divine right and hell-bent on staying in power, was never satisfactorily explained. Even when the Wikileaks “Cablegate” proved what Israel has been claiming all along – that for the Gulf States, the Palestinian problem is an irritant, but Iran is a mortal threat – the party line in Washington had not changed. It is hard not to conclude that the real reason for the much-vaunted “increased military cooperation” between American and Israeli armies is not to prepare for the future struggles against mutual enemies, but to gain intelligence and to develop back channels into the Israeli security decision-making process so as to prevent a surprise Israeli attack on Iran. Those who pride themselves on the amount of military hardware that Obama, in his classical “throw money at the problem” approach, has provided to Israel at the American taxpayer’s expense, need to explain what good it can do if the President is determined to prevent Israel from ever using it.

And yet Israel is an ungrateful ally.

Obama’s Justice Department has directed the FBI to spy on Israeli diplomats. Obama’s Department of the Interior had buried the process (started by Bush) to include Israel in a visa waiver program. Instead, the Jewish State has found itself on the Department of Homeland Security’s list of countries that “have shown a tendency to promote, produce, or protect terrorist organizations or their members.” Obama’s State Department has legitimized a sterile and fruitless demand for Israel to join the NPT.  And to cap it all off, the administration has excluded Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv and Netanya and Ashdod and Sderot and Beer-Sheba and Haifa from the list of cities attacked by terrorists in its 9/11 anniversary guidelines. The “resilience of individuals, families, and communities” of Israeli victims of Muslim terrorism is definitely NOT being celebrated. It is, in fact, palpably annoying.

And yet Israel is an ungrateful ally.

Since the beginning of the current turmoil in the Arab world, the Obama administration has acted as if the American-Israeli alliance is a shameful burden that must not be mentioned. By refusing to articulate its expectations from the new and future rulers of Egypt to unequivocally commit themselves to peace with Israel, by establishing a dialog with Egyptian Islamists without any preconditions, Obama has sent Egyptian radicals a clear message that Israel is on its own. Of course, when the predictable disaster struck at the Sinai border, the administration was forced to recall that the United States of America guaranteed Israel’s security under the terms of the peace treaty in 1979 and it cannot permit Amr Moussa or any other future leader to trample the Camp David accords. But why should the frenzied Egyptian public listen to Obama and not to those who claim that peace was the result of Mubarak’s corruption and betrayal, and that Israel can be destroyed by the new Egyptian army – trained and equipped by Americans and motivated by Islam?

And yet Israel is an ungrateful ally.

When the Obama administration came to office, it had in front of it a clear assessment of the Turkish Prime Minister’s views on Israel. According to Ambassador James Jeffrey’s report from Ankara, dated October 27th, 2009, “Erdogan simply hates Israel” (we know this thanks to Wikileaks, again. Call me crazy, but could the administration’s treatment of Bradley Manning reflect its rage at the help those leaks gave to Israel’s cause?) And yet, clearly preferring Erdogan to Netanyahu, Obama went on to prop up the Turkish Islamist with dubious friends and nefarious connections as a cornerstone of a new American diplomacy in the region. All possible irritants to this new friendship – the Armenians, the Kurds – were removed, promises to them broken and forgotten. At the joint press-conference in the White House on November 7th, 2009, Obama didn’t even mention Israel (Erdogan did.)

When the Turkish Islamists close to Erdogan’s own AK Party spearheaded an attack on a lawful Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip in May 2010, Washington did not intervene – at least, not with Turkey. The read-out of the phone conversation between Obama and Erdogan on May 19th 2010 doesn’t include any mention of the impending departure of anti-Israeli provocateurs from Turkish ports (Obama was busy digesting the nuclear “deal” that his Turkish friend has just signed with Iran). And yet, the administration had found time to demand “caution and restraint” – from Israel! Those demands and implicit threats had no doubt affected the planning of the Israeli response, and like a night into day led to a confrontation in which one side prepared for restraint, and the other just wanted to kill some Jews. The immediate response of the administration was not “to take Israel’s side,” but to declare the Gaza blockade “untenable.” And after the blockade on land was practically eliminated and the Hamas rule cemented, Washington took upon itself “to deliver” an Israeli apology to Erdogan on Erdogan’s terms. Instead of waiting for the report of the respectable and impartial UN commission of inquiry and strongly recommending to both Israel and Turkey to commit themselves to obey its recommendations, the Obama administration had pressured Israel to apologize so that the “Palmer report” wouldn’t see the light of day. Is it so surprising that Erdogan, whose fulminations on the “illegality” of Israeli blockade were debunked by the report, is throwing a temper tantrum while the administration is blaming Israel? What will happen if the Turkish swinging sultan decides to back his threats with actions and orders his navy to break the blockade while he celebrates with his ideological compatriots from Hamas? What will Obama do?

And yet Israel is an ungrateful ally.

It’s not Israel’s intransigence, it’s Obama’s policies that created the looming fiasco in the UN, encouraged Israel’s enemies in the Muslim world and emasculated the security arrangements that existed in the region for decades. Just like the American economy, Israel’s real problems cannot be solved by more money from Washington. What Israel needs is an American regional leadership and its diplomatic support. Just like friends of Israel tried to explain to Obama from the very beginning, only full confidence in the American President can move the Israeli public to support territorial concessions to people they cannot trust. Israel is a miniscule dot on a map, surrounded by vicious enemies whose idea of the perfect world is a world without the Jewish State. More than money, more than weapons, what Israel needs from America is a feeling that Uncle Sam has got our back, that the American commitment to Israel’s survival is absolute. When Israel is required to pay in crucial territorial assets for protection against the existential threat from Iran, this security is destroyed. Israelis don’t need a command from Obama “to search their hearts” to understand the necessity of separation from the Palestinians. They understand it perfectly well. They also understand that while the American people are their true and tested ally, the American President is something else.

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