By Barry Rubin
In response to criticisms–presumably including mine–of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s speech on the Middle East, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said:
“The speech was very clear, the Secretary said there’s an unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security and he noted that the US is willing to be a partner in forging a lasting peace in the Middle East. He also said, and this is common sense, folks, it’s common sense for Israel and other countries in the region, as well as the Palestinians to talk. And he did says that the Israeli’s should look to mend fences.”
The Obama Administration seems to believe that merely repeating endlessly that they support Israel and its security is a substitute for actually supporting Israel and its security in real life.
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To say that Israel and the Palestinians should talk might seem like “common sense.” But to repeatedly imply that the lack of talk is Israel’s fault is unfriendly to Israel. The Obama Administration never points out publicly-that the absence of talks–and this can be thoroughly documented–is due entirely to the Palestinian Authority. In addition, the Palestinian Authority is currently in partnership with Hamas, a factor that has some effect on both Israeli perceptions and Palestinian policy.
Panetta’s “order” for the two sides to get to the “damn” table comes across as a demand for Israel to make more unilateral concessions to do so despite its having made so many unrequited and unappreciated such concessions during the last three years. That is precisely the correct interpretation of the administration’s stance.
To say that Israel should “mend fences” with Arab states and Turkey is put in the context that the breaking down of those fences is Israel’s fault. Yet it is Egypt which has had a revolution which, it is now clear, is leading to power being in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood and even more radical Salafists who are openly committed to Israel’s destruction, opposed to a two-state solution, and frequently speak in antisemitic and genocidal language.
As a result, Israel isn’t just mending the border fence with Egypt. It is rapidly building a stronger one, has created a new brigade to reinforce the border, and set up a new intelligence unit to monitor threats from the largest Arab state, where the Obama Administration seems to see no threat and no problem.
It is Turkey whose Islamist government has changed policy and is clearly on an anti-Israel vendetta including a demand that Israel end all–repeat all–sanctions against the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. This same Turkish regime colluded and encouraged an international terrorist group, the IHH, to send a group of jihadists on a ship in order to attack Israeli forces and set off a crisis.
As for Lebanon, a new regime comprised of Hizballah and other Iranian-Syrian clients took power, committed to the destruction of Israel, being even more radical and aggressive than preceding governments. More radical regimes are also taking power in Tunisia and no doubt soon in Libya.
To ignore these events–which the Obama Administration has encouraged and helped make possible–is not to be a strong ally of Israel. To blame Israel for the deterioration of its security due in large part to U.S. policy is neither friendly nor supportive.
The Middle East situation does not exist beyond space and time. Israel is frantically signalling to Washington its deep concern about the direction of events and the damaging effect that U.S. policy is having on its security. The Obama Administration is ignoring these signals, echoed by certain American Jews who are being motivated by ignorance, overall loyalty to Obama, or just plain social-climbing ambitions. In short, this might satisfy some Jewish donors who want to sit down in a meeting with Obama so they can brag about it but has no reassuring or persuasive effect in Israel.
The explanations offered by Little and other administration spokesmen are nonsensical. To paraphrase President Abraham Lincoln, you can fool some of the people who live in New York some of the time, and you can fool some of the people who live in Washington DC all of the time. But you can’t fool the people who actually live in Israel.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction will be published by Yale University Press in January. Latest books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com