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February 22, 2015 3:10 pm

Obama’s ‘Assurances’ Won’t Protect Israel

avatar by Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn


President Barack Obama is under fire for failing to mention antisemitism when describing the Paris kosher supermarket attack during his interview with Vox magazine. Photo: White House.

Israel should accept a “nuclear guarantee” from the Obama Administration and stop worrying about Iran’s nuclear capabilities, says longtime State Department peace processor Martin Indyk.

What a coincidence! Just last November Indyk’s former right-hand man, David Makovsky, proposed the exact same thing.

Do we detect a trial balloon?

In a speech in Tel Aviv on February 16, Indyk said the U.S. promised to intervene if Iran crossed the “nuclear threshold,” and that promise should suffice to ease Israel’s concerns. In other words, Israel should entrust its future to a piece of paper signed by a president who has been, arguably, the most unfriendly president towards Israel in American history.

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In November, something similar was proposed by David Makovsky, who served Indyk as his senior assistant when Indyk was the top U.S. Mideast envoy this past year. Makovsky and Indyk spent many months pressuring Israel to make one-sided concessions, criticizing Israel’s leaders in choreographed leaks to the media, and ignoring the Palestinian Authority’s incitement to violence. After the PA finally blew up the negotiations, Indyk resigned , while publicly blaming Israel for the breakdown, and Makovsky returned to his old home, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Writing on the Washington Institute web site, Makovsky expressed concern about Israel’s opposition to an Obama deal on Iran. Therefore, he wrote, “It is imperative” that the Obama administration provide “a U.S. letter of assurance to Israel on key issues that cannot be addressed in the text of nuclear deal with Iran itself.”

But in view of the sorry record of previous American “assurances,” Israelis would have to be pretty naive to accept yet more short-lived “assurances” now.

Remember President George W. Bush’s letter to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, on April 14, 2004? Bush wanted Sharon to unilaterally withdraw all Israeli soldiers and civilians from Gaza. So he gave Sharon a letter in which he “reassured” Israel that the U.S. believes Israel should retain “existing major Israeli population centers” in Judea-Samaria (the West Bank).

But when Obama’s new secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, was asked in June 2009 about those U.S. assurances, she declared that “there never was any agreement” between the U.S. and Israel concerning those Israeli population centers in the territories. Israel’s publication of the Bush letter (which can be viewed to this day on the website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs) made no difference. In the view of the Obama Administration, the Bush assurance is not worth the paper on which it was printed.

The history of U.S.-Israel relations is replete with similar episodes.

After Israel captured the Sinai peninsula from Egypt in the 1956 war, the Eisenhower administration demanded that Israel give Sinai back to Nasser. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles provided the Israeli government with a letter, dated February 11, 1957, promising that if Israel retreated, the U.S. would “use its best efforts” to ensure that Israeli ships would be able to continue going through the Straits of Tiran. Based on that assurance, Israel withdrew.

In May 1967, Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran in preparation for a war to annihilate the Jewish state. Israeli ambassador Abba Eban rushed to meet with President Lyndon Johnson. Eban cited the 1957 Dulles letter. Johnson refused to intervene. War followed.

From 1968 to 1970, Egypt regularly fired missiles at Israel, across the Suez Canal, which was the border. Naturally the Israelis shot back. The Nixon administration wanted Israel to agree to a cease-fire that would leave Egypt’s SAM-2 and SAM-3 surface-to-air missiles in place. So the administration gave Israel “assurances” that “the U.S. would use all its influence” to ensure that Egypt’s missiles would stay twenty miles from the Suez Canal. The deal was signed on August 7, 1970.

Within days, the Egyptians started moving up the missiles. Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird said the U.S. would “study” Israel’s complaints. The “study” concluded that Egypt had indeed moved the missiles, but it didn’t count as a violation of the agreement because the process of moving them had already begun before the agreement, so Egypt had just “missed the deadline.” The administration said it would not act so long as the overall “military balance” between Israel and Egypt was not affected.

But it WAS affected. With the Egyptian missiles close to the Suez Canal, they were able to wreak havoc on Israeli forces in the opening days of the 1973 war. By then, however, the “assurances” of 1970 were long forgotten.

Now Indyk and Makovsky are conjuring up a kind of Groundhog Day for Israel, where the same mistakes are repeated again and again. If this had been just Indyk, or just Makovsky, making the proposal, perhaps it could be dismissed as a passing suggestion. But the fact that they have both proposed it, within fewer than three months of each other, strongly suggests that this is what they, and their State Department colleagues, have been discussing. And now they are trying to shop it around. But the only buyers they will find will be those with very short memories.

Moshe Phillips is president and Benyamin Korn is chairman of the Religious Zionists of America, Philadelphia, and both are candidates on the Religious Zionist slate ( in the World Zionist Congress elections.

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