I just received the following piece from a friend in Israel. I post it here at his request not because I endorse it, but because I think it’s important to think out of the box, and that’s precisely what he does. Comments and criticism welcome as always.
Unlike our brethren in the diaspora, most Israeli Jews – myself included – had no illusions about then presidential candidate Barack Obama being a friend of Israel. But even I did not foresee that Obama would team up with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to subject Israel to a “good cop- bad cop” routine, and with Iran in the role of the “good cop”, no less.
By now, even many well known figures in US Jewry have come to recognize President Obama’s undisguised hostility toward the Jewish State. Ed Koch, Alan, Dershowitz, and Martin Peretz are just three of the more prominent American Jews who have publicly broken with Obama over his treatment of Israel. Here in Israel, distrust of Obama has reached such staggering heights that this Passover, at Seder tables throughout the country – or so my extrapolation from the experiences of my friends and acquaintances leads me to believe – Barack Obama’s name came up when the Haggadah (ritual reading) came to the text of “Vehi she’amda”, which –in English translation – reads:
“This is what has stood by our fore- fathers and by us! For not just one [oppressor] alone has risen against us to destroy us, but in every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and the Almighty rescues us from their hand!”
Barack Obama seems to me a person full of self-regard but totally lacking in self-awareness, so at the White House “Seder” that he hosted, he probably had no sense that those words – written in reference to such villains of Jewish history as Pharaoh, Amalek, Nebuchadnezzar, Titus and Hadrian and more recently associated by one and all with Adolph Hitler – were now being recited with a picture of Barack Obama in people’s minds. It took real skill for an American president, elected with 78% of the Jewish vote, to be recognized by millions of Jews as a potential destroyer of the Jewish People.
It has been reported that the Obama administration’s intention in creating an artificial crisis in US – Israel relations was politically to weaken Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, and to force him either to form a new coalition with the Kadima party and its leader Tzippi Livny, or to engineer a situation in which Livny will form a new government. The most recent manifestation of Obama’s hostility seems to be a recent report in the Washington Post, that Obama, encouraged by his own National Security Advisor, Jim Jones, and such past – unfriendly to Israel – National Security Advisors as Zbigniew Brezinski and Brent Scowcroft – plans to try to impose a settlement on both Israel and the Palestinians, and will “link” Israel’s cooperation on that violation of our sovereignty to action on the Iranian nuclear issue.
To help forestall this possibility I recommend that Israel-supporters in the United States start being very vocal, and preemptively equate any attempt to impose a settlement on Israel with 1930’s era appeasement. Ed Koch has already applied the “M-word”, writing of Obama’s foreign policy “There is a foul whiff of Munich and appeasement in the air.” We may as well start using the “NC-word” (i.e. – “Neville Chamberlain”) in this context as well.
Obama is already tanking in the polls and is suffering the most rapid decline in his presidential approval rating of any first term president since polling began. He might decide that whatever benefit he had hoped to gain, by imposing a “peace settlement” on Israel, would not be worth the additional damage to his image and political standing.
The most mystifying aspect of this report is that Obama wants to make American action against the Iranian nuclear program contingent on Israel accepting the imposed settlement. The underlying premise would seem to be that Iran is only Israel’s problem, and that America’s friends and allies in Europe and the Middle East – let alone the United States itself – are in no way threatened by a nuclear armed Islamic Republic of Iran.
This is a dangerous fallacy, which could potentially lead to the destruction of the United States itself, possibly by a high altitude nuclear-blast which would generate a continent-wide electro-magnetic pulse. Such an EMP could, in one fell swoop, effectively return the United States to a pre-industrial condition, one in which – to name only the most pressing concern – it would not be possible to produce and distribute the food necessary to keep three hundred million Americans alive.
It is worth noting that however much damage Obama may cause Israel, his actions hold the potential to cause even greater damage to the United States and her other allies, and could lead to the downfall of the western alliance and the entire post-war international security structure.
For one thing, the growing US national debt could create a fiscal situation in which the United States no longer has enough money to pay for the military forces and intelligence agencies which have been keeping the peace in the world and protecting the world’s democracies since 1945. The consequent reductions in defense spending and force structure would tend to reinforce the neo-isolationist outlook which seems to be guiding the current administration and which could come to be the default position of future administrations, facing a rough world with a greatly diminished capacity to project power.
So from an Israeli perspective, what is to be done? How do you solve a problem like Obama? I can think of two – not mutually exclusive- paths of action:
The first, which I call the “Stanley Baldwin option” is unlikely to be adopted because Israeli politicians – like politicians everywhere – are too attached to high office to give up their offices willingly. But that was not the case with British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, of whom Winston Churchill wrote (in “The Gathering Storm”, the first volume of his war memoirs) in reference to Baldwin’s 1923 ascent to the Premiership) wrote:
“Thus began that period of fourteen years which may well be called “The Baldwin-MacDonald Regime.” During all that time Mr. Baldwin was always, in fact if not in form, either at the head of the Government or leader of the Opposition, and as Mr. MacDonald never obtained an independent majority, Mr. Baldwin, whether in office or opposition, was the ruling political figure in Britain. At first in alternation but eventually in political brotherhood, these two statesmen governed the country.”
Of the National coalition government formed after the 1931 election in which MacDonald served nominally as Prime Minister, while Baldwin as Lord President of the Council exercised the real power, Churchill wrote:
“Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, the Prime Minister, had severed himself, with the utmost bitterness on both sides, from the Socialist Party which it had been his life’s work to create. Henceforward he brooded supinely at the head of an administration which, though nominally National, was in fact overwhelmingly Conservative. Mr. Baldwin preferred the substance to the form of power, and reigned placidly in the background.”
The “Stanley Baldwin solution”, in the current Israeli context, requires Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, like Baldwin in his day, to prefer “the substance to the form of power”, and to exercise that power from the Opposition. The means to do this is by resigning the Premiership and quietly helping Tzippi Livny and her Kadima party to form a minority government, one which could be brought down at any time by the Likud and its allied parties on the right.
For Barack Obama this would be a “teachable moment,” of the “Be careful what you wish for” variety. He would have seemingly succeeded in getting “his girl” elevated to the post of Prime Minister, only to find that her hands are tied in all matters concerning negotiations with the Palestinians or Syria. Netanyahu would become the “go to guy” on these questions, since he would have to consent to any concessions made by Livny. Otherwise, he could bring her government down and in the Knesset vote down any motion to ratify a treaty with the Palestinians or with Syria.
Obama could try to coerce Livny and punish Israel, but that would be counter-productive since the Obamis want to strengthen Kadima, not weaken it, and since Tzippi Livny would not be in a position to deliver the goods without the Likud’s consent in any case. And Netanyahu would owe nothing to Obama. He wouldn’t have to meet with him or communicate with him. He would not be on the receiving end of any pressure applied by Obama to Israel. It would be Netanyahu’s turn to humiliate Obama, forcing Obama’s emissaries to make pilgrimages to Netanyahu (as Opposition leader) and try to convince him to go along with their plans.
What is more, it takes five to six months to hold an election in Israel and another two to three months after that to establish a coalition government. In the meantime, the outgoing government becomes a “Caretaker government”, constitutionally exercising all the powers of a regular government, but bound by custom not to make any far-reaching changes until after the election. So any coalition crisis engineered by Obama or initiated by Netanyahu as Opposition leader, would potentially put the entire peace process “on hold” for between seven and nine months. (All the while, the clock would be ticking down on Obama’s current term of office, which increasingly seems like it will not be followed by a second one).
Sometime in the spring of 2012 the upcoming presidential election will tie Obama’s hands in coercing Israel. If he loses the election, his lame duck status will remove the efficacy of any pressure he might wish to apply. So Netanyahu has to wait out Obama for about two years. In that context, an eight month hiatus for new elections and coalition forming in Israel would be a big deal, or as Joe Biden might put it, “a big f***ing deal”.
And, of course, there is no reason to believe that after those new elections, Livny would be able to form a majority government without the Likud or any of the other parties of the right. We would most likely be back where we started, with Livny forced to form a minority government and Netanyahu – in the role of Stanley Baldwin – having the ultimate power to approve or reject any settlement proposal. Once Obama is out of office, politics in Israel can revert to normal, with the government formed on the basis of parliamentary power.
That’s the “Stanley Baldwin solution”, but as I said, it’s very unlikely that it will be pursued by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Then there’s the other path of action, which I call “the Speed solution”, after the dialogue between two swat-team police officers, in the 1994 film “Speed”, who quiz each other on how to react in various scenarios, and in the case of a hostage being dragged toward an airplane with a gun to her head:
“Harry: “Alright, pop quiz: The airport. Gunman with one hostage, he’s using her for cover, he’s almost to the plane. You’re a hundred feet away. (Long pause) Jack?”
Jack: “Shoot the hostage.””
Jack: “Take her out of the equation. Go for the good wound and he can’t get to the plane with her. Clear shot”
In this case, the “hostage” is Israel’s sense of security in the face of the Iranian nuclear weapons project. Obama’s ultimatum is not very subtle. Like his fellow Chicagoan, Al Capone, he doesn’t waste time with nuance: Do what we want and nobody needs to get hurt ( i.e. – the Iranian nuclear issue will be dealt with in a way that protects Israel’s sense of security). The “Speed solution” is –metaphorically – to “shoot the hostage” and take Israel’s fear of the Iranian nuclear arms program out of the equation. And there’s only one way to do that: by bombing the uranium enrichment plants and other sites in Iran connected to their nuclear arms program.
Now, I’m not advocating bombing Iran for the sake of lessening Obama’s leverage over Israel. The decision to undertake such a mission would have to be made on the merits, based on available intelligence and military feasibility and a complete cost benefit analysis considering all probable consequences. It would need to be something that Israel felt it had to do anyway. But in such a case, the decision to bomb Iran having already been taken, it should be noted that Iran will be one card Obama will no longer be able to play against Israel. And if such a decision is made, there are some considerations of a political nature which should be added to operational concerns in choosing the timing of the attack.
If the pace of Iranian progress towards development of their first nuclear weapon permits, and if the decision is made to launch an attack this year, I would suggest considering either the first week of September or the first week of October. First, any attack on Iran will likely be met by a massive rocket attack on Israel by Hamas from Gaza, by Hizzbollah from Lebanon, and possibly by missiles launched from Iran and Syria. This will cause a temporary halt to tourism to Israel, and an attendant loss of revenues, so we may as well try to save the summer tourist season if we can.
Early September is probably better than early October, as it would seem less calculated to coincide with the American mid-term election campaign. Unfortunately, the High Holidays this year begin on September 8th and go through the end of Sukkoth on September 30th. Having a war during the holidays would not merely add to Israel’s misery index, it would endanger lives. The heavy attendance at Synagogues on Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur would enhance the likelihood of mass casualties if an enemy missile were to land near such a location during prayer services.
And then there is Sukkoth, falling this year on the week of September 22nd through September 30th. Normally, during Sukkoth, hundreds of thousands of Israelis travel abroad. That number includes IDF reservists, doctors, nurses, social workers, civil servants, police officers, fire-fighters, paramedics and many others whose presence will be required if there’s going to be a war. So, to the extent that we get to choose the timing of the war, we should probably start it after most of the Israelis are back in the country and can’t be cut off by – say – missile attacks on Ben Gurion International Airport which could require the cessation of commercial flights.
The third reason has to do with the mid-term elections in the US. An attack by Israel on Iran’s nuclear facilities without prior US acquiescence is likely to enrage Obama and cause him to look for ways to punish Israel. In the run-up to the mid-term elections his freedom of action is likely to be somewhat more constrained by electoral concerns. Once the elections are over, the “moment” may have passed and what is more, both the president and leading Democratic members of Congress may have felt compelled by electoral considerations to go on the record as backing the attack. This would further restrict Obama in any political retaliation against Israel.
Finally, if there is to be a showdown between Israel and the Obama Administration, Iranian nukes seems to me to be the best battlefield on which to fight; it’s one on which a large majority of Americans – including members of Congress from both parties – are likely to side with Israel and leave Obama politically isolated and vulnerable. (And – worse case scenario – Netanyahu can always revert to the “Stanley Baldwin solution”.)
Nonetheless, Israel should anticipate American retaliatory actions in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran. The four types of retaliatory action that Israel needs to worry about are these:
One: Rhetorical condemnation.
No biggie! We’ve gotten used to it.
Two: cutting off of foreign aid.
That will sting, but at about 1.5% of Israel’s GDP, American foreign aid is not as critical to our economy as it once was, and in any case most of that money is in the form of “Foreign Military Sales” funds, which have to be spent in the United States. Cutting off such aid, would badly impact many American defense manufacturers, who could be expected vocally to oppose any such action. It is also likely that removing Israel from the list of aid recipients in Administration’s annual foreign aid bill, would lessen the possibility of the bill being passed by Congress, especially if the Democratic majority in both houses is lost or greatly reduced in the mid-term elections.
Third: The US could embargo arms supplies to Israel.
They have done that in the past (in the late 1940’s and during the 1950’s and briefly in 1981 after Israel bombed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor. France and Britain have also at times imposed an arms embargo on Israel. This would hurt, but there have been reports that the Obamis have already refused Israeli requests to purchase weapons and different types of ammunition. If we are only talking about two years until early 2013, Israel can probably ride it out, at least if there’s no full scale war during that time.
It should be remembered that unlike 1967 when Israel was totally dependent on France for most of its arms, or 1981 when Israel was almost totally dependant on the US, today Israel manufactures a wide range of weapons systems, particularly of the high tech variety. At least in the case of some defense items that we don’t currently manufacture ourselves, the reason is not a lack of ability, but the fact that those items can be purchased easily in the US with FMS funds.
If the US embargoes arms to Israel, Israel will have no choice but to develop its own weapons systems to replace or compensate for any embargoed American systems which Israel needs and is capable of manufacturing on its own. And that is a good reason for the Obama Administration to refrain from imposing an arms embargo. Based on past experience, any new systems produced in Israel will be more advanced than the American systems that they are replacing, but Israel’s arms manufacturers will have to pay for the high R and D costs by selling these new weapons systems to as many militaries – besides Israel’s – as possible.
India has become a major arms purchaser from Israel in recent years. There are other countries, as well, who purchase much of their military requirements in Israel. These countries can be expected to buy the new Israeli systems, thus helping to defray R and D costs, and costing the US arms manufacturers important markets. What is more, those countries would then have weapons systems – at least in certain fields – more advanced than anything in the US military’s arsenal. Hardly a boost to US interests.
Finally: Obama could refuse to veto anti-Israel resolutions in the UN Security Council.
This is a real potential problem. Israel’s greatest vulnerability would be to a binding sanctions resolution imposed by the UN Security Council in the absence of a US veto. Such a sanctions regime, once imposed, could remain in force until removed by a further resolution which would be subject to a veto by Russia, China, the UK, France or the US. Thus, it could be extremely damaging. The fact that the US can’t muster a consensus to impose serious sanctions against Iran doesn’t mean that there won’t be a consensus to impose sanctions on Israel, such is the anti-Israel sentiment in the international community today.
If Israel can’t trust the US to provide a veto, Israel should initiate secret contacts with France, and possibly the UK, to get a guarantee of a veto of any operative (not merely declaratory) resolution against Israel in the Security Council in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program. It is well known that French President Nicolas Sarkozy takes Iran’s nuclear program very seriously, and does not trust President Obama to deal with it forcefully.
The same may be true of whoever wins the British general election this May. The specter of Iranian nukes combined with the increasing range of Iranian ballistic missiles and the fecklessness of the Obama Administration could concentrate British and French minds enough to allow them to cooperate with Israel in an attack on Iranian nuclear sites, at least at the relatively risk-free level of promising to provide veto coverage in the Security Council. I hesitate to bring up the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956, which did not end particularly well for Britain, France and Israel, but it shows that in the absence of American willingness to act in the Middle East, smaller powers will make their own arrangements.
Nothing factored in here for the response of the Muslim world. UN Security Council is only the beginning of the reactions Israel would have to deal with, and both France and England are fully aware of the problems that would be created by vetoing a UNSC vote. As a friend of mine told me back in 2003: the French act as if the Muslims have a knife to their throat and the Muslims act as if they have a knife to their throat. Suicide bombing is the knife; it is the bane of the 21st century.