It’s time to reassess Israel’s strategic assumptions
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu apparently believes the greatest threat the country now faces is an escalated European trade war. He’s wrong. The greatest threat we are now facing is a national leadership that cannot get its arms around changing strategic realities.
Over the weekend, Yediot Aharonot reported that during Secretary of State John Kerry’s seven-hour meeting in Rome last week with Netanyahu, Kerry warned that the price for walking away from the talks with the PLO will be European economic strangulation of Israel. According to the newspaper, “[T]he secretary of state told the prime minister that he heard from his European friends… that if the negotiations fail, Israel can forget about participating in the European research and development program ‘Horizon 2020.’ And that will only be the beginning. More and far weightier actions to boycott Israel will follow. They are already being prepared. This will cause incalculable damage to the Israeli economy.”
On Sunday, outgoing National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror warned the cabinet that Israel’s diplomatic standing and ability to avert a European economic war is dependent on continuing the negotiations with the PLO. In his words, “It is absolutely clear that our ability to handle international pressure is dependent on making advances in the negotiations. If the negotiations fall apart, it will give justification to all the forces that want to boycott us to do so.”
In other words, the viability of our economy is dependent on the PLO’s willingness to sit at a table with us.
Actually, according to Amidror, the PLO’s sufferance of our leaders is only half the story. The other half is President Barack Obama. As he sees it, Israel’s international position is directly related to Obama’s position. “Everyone hoping for Obama to be weakened needs to [understand that]…Israel will also be weakened. There is a connection between these things.”
Apparently based on fear of angering Europe or weakening Obama, Netanyahu has reportedly agreed that early next year the Obama administration will put forward a bridging proposal in the talks. The proposal will have two parts. First, it will contain the details of a new interim arrangement. Second, it will contain the details of a final settlement.
From Obama’s prior statements and consistent policies that castigate the Jewish presence in Judea, Samaria and united Jerusalem as “illegitimate,” it is fairly clear that Obama and Kerry expect Israel to relinquish its legal claims to Judea, Samaria and united Jerusalem in the framework of a final peace.
From a legal and diplomatic perspective, such a move by Israel would be the most disastrous it has ever made. It would empty out our sovereign rights in general. And it would imperil our military viability.
As to the interim deal, from American and European projects on the ground today in Judea and Samaria it is apparent that the plan will require Israel to cede to the PLO its control of planning and zoning in Area C. Such a move will enable the Palestinians, Europeans and Americans to strangle the Israeli communities in the region and render it practically impossible for the IDF to operate in Judea and Samaria without PLO permission.
THE PROBLEM with the government’s behavior is not simply that it is maintaining allegiance to a policy paradigm that works to our extreme strategic disadvantage. That’s old news.
The problem is that we are maintaining allegiance to a policy paradigm that is based on inaccurate strategic assumptions. Amidror spelled them out. Israel is operating under the assumption that there is a cause and effect relationship between our actions and Europe’s. To wit, if we ditch the phony peace talks, they will destroy our economy.
But there is no cause and effect relationship between Israeli actions and European actions. Europe made hostility toward Israel the centerpiece of its unified foreign policy without connection to Israeli actions. So undertaking strategically damaging talks with the Palestinians to appease Brussels is a fool’s errand.
Then there is Amidror’s assertion that Israel has an interest in strengthening Obama, because if he is weakened, we are weakened. Certainly such an argument could have been made with regard to Obama’s predecessors in office. But can it be made today? Last week The New York Times revealed Obama’s foreign policy goals for his second term. They are: “negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, brokering peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and mitigating the strife in Syria.”
Will the achievement of these goals – that is, the success of Obama’s second term foreign policy – be helpful to Israel? Consider Syria. Obama negotiated a deal with Russia regarding Syria’s chemical weapons that leaves Iran’s Syrian proxy Bashar Assad in power, and according to chemical weapons inspectors, likely in possession of parts of his chemical arsenal.
Moreover, the Obama administration’s repeated exposure of Israeli military operations against Hezbollah in Syria has harmed Israel’s national security. The administration’s leaks have increased the prospects of war between Israel and Syria.
So a key part of Obama’s Syria policy involves exacting a huge, unexpected cost for every strike Israel has undertaken to prevent Hezbollah from acquiring weapons systems that will imperil Israel.
Then too, Monday Kuwait’s al Anbaa newspaper reported that the State Department is carrying out talks with Hezbollah in Lebanon. According to Lebanese sources quoted in the article, US Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale has told Lebanese leaders that “a cabinet cannot be formed without Hezbollah participation.”
Israel is a victim, not a partner in the US’s Syria policy. Israel is weakened by Obama’s success.
As for Iran, it is now inarguable that the US’s primary objective is not to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is to prevent Israel from attacking Iran’s nuclear installations. Here too, success for Obama requires Israel to be imperiled.
Finally, our experience has shown us that peace is not a possible outcome of Obama’s pro-Palestinian policy. The only beneficiaries of administration’s use of European economic blackmail to force Israel to make strategically suicidal concessions to the PLO are the PLO and Hamas, and the anti-Semitic forces in Europe.
All of these parties reject Israel’s right to exist. Weakening Israel in the manner Obama has laid out will increase their appetite for aggression.
SO HERE we are, three for three. All of Obama’s second term foreign policy goals are harmful to Israel. Everything that is good for Obama is necessarily bad for Israel.
It is easy to understand why our leaders insist on holding on to strategic assumptions that are no longer valid. The region is in a state of flux. In stormy seas, our natural inclination is to go back to what has always worked. Since 1968, the conviction that a strong Israel is consonant with US global interests has guided US policy in the Middle East. It’s hard to accept that this is no longer the case.
But we have to accept it. By clinging to our now outdated strategic assumptions, not only are we engaging in dangerous behavior. We are blinding ourselves to new strategic opportunities presented by the chaos in neighboring countries.
True, the new opportunities cannot replace our lost alliance with the US or Europe as a trading partner. But they will get us through the storm in one piece.