Moshe Arens got it right.
What he got right, and the conclusions he didn’t draw, we’ll get into today and Friday. First, a reminiscence that may be of some relevance to the current Middle Eastern, and therefore global, situation.
For five years in the latter 1980s and early 90s, I worked as a staff writer for Insight, the Washington Times’ weekly news and features magazine, under the never-a-dull-moment leadership of the late Arnaud de Borchgrave, a journalistic legend who’d earned his reputation. My primary beat was national defense, but I also covered advertising and psychiatry: a not unreasonable combination. Israel provided an additional interest and although I didn’t write much about it, I tried to stay current.
And so it came to pass that I learned about a certain, well, call it game that Beltway journalists liked to play. Some senior Israeli’s coming to the States. Can we provoke him into losing his temper?
It happened more than once. I vividly recall a Yitzhak Rabin snap-back to a question he was asked concerning an Anthony Lewis New York Times column:
“Mr. Anthony Lewis does not determine the foreign policy of the State of Israel.”
Nobody said he did. There was no follow-up. The micro-tempest passed and no one was piqued, mostly because Rabin was Rabin. Mr. Anthony Lewis not being my favorite columnist, I was kinda delighted. But a situation involving Moshe Arens left me anxious for the future of Israeli-American relations.
That anxiety proved prophetic.
Few Americans remember, if they ever knew, about the Lavi. Israelis remember. To oversimplify vastly, the Lavi was to have been a made-in-Israel multi-role combat aircraft, suitable for export. The Israel Air Force had opted, logically, for its variant of the “high-low mix” – a smaller number of high-tech fighters and a larger number of cheaper, multi-mission planes, quite like the current F-15/F-16 mix.
The Lavi started out as the low-tech variant but, as nearly always happens in development, kept getting more capable, more complex and therefore more expensive. The United States was subsidizing the project and had justifiable concerns over both cost and the possibility that the Lavi could take foreign orders from the F-16. Folks grew anxious. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger assigned oversight to a deputy undersecretary of defense, an Orthodox Jew named Dov Zakheim. Dr. Zakheim, after years of brutal political and personal pressure that didn’t end when the affair ended, determined to pull the United States out of the project. Secretary Weinberger backed him; Israel cancelled the Lavi in August 1987.
(Dr. Zakheim’s side of the tale is told in his 1996 book, Flight of the Lavi. He is still active in defense affairs on the Republican side.)
The Lavi was Moshe Arens’ baby. Mr. Arens, a former defense minister and aeronautical engineer (He often receives the honorific “Dr.” but his website, www.moshearens.com, mentions only an M.Sc.) took the cancellation personal. According to legend, when he came out of the Pentagon after his final 1987 meeting with Dr. Zakheim, he was, to put it mildly, not in the best of humors. Tales of his explosions circulated briskly and may have been exaggerated. But the story I heard of one that began with “This kipa-wearing Jew . . .”
The Beltway boys and girls got their moment of amusement. But I sensed that something fundamental was changing in the relationship. Gone were the years of uncritical adulation of Israeli prowess and courage; gone were the relatively free-and-easy days of “Golda’s Shopping List.” Israel was six years deep in Lebanon. The Pollard affair was ongoing. American Jews had no right to question, let alone oppose anything Israel wanted or did. And, it was claimed, AIPAC had done its best to persuade the Hill that the United States should fund the Lavi entirely, then swallow the losses in F-16 export sales that might ensue.
What the (expletive deleted) is going on here? Are American Jews supposed to content themselves with being useful idiots? Who’s the patron and who’s the recipient? I got that last question answered more definitively when I first heard the tale that President Bill Clinton, coming out of the Oval Office after a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, had laughed:
“He thinks I work for him.”
Not funny anymore. And now it’s coming up on twenty years later and, for the aforementioned and other reasons, the relationship’s strained and tattered, and it ain’t gonna get any better. Not so long as Israel retains its sense of endless entitlement, financial and political, and America continues its relentless pursuit of irrelevance.
So what did Mr. Arens get right?
In essence, he had the courage to state the obvious. His 16 September 2015 Ha’Aretz column, available at his web site, was headlined, “They are running away from the Middle East.”
Everybody in the hood wants to leave, except Israelis (Jewish and Muslim), Jordanians (so far) and West Bank Palestinians. Gazans, he reasonably suggests, would if they could.
The map is being redrawn, with no final outcome in sight. Old countries, products of European imperial design, no longer matter. Arabs simply want out and away from the religious fanaticism tormenting and decimating the region. Under these circumstances, the Palestinian statehood issue becomes ancillary, at best.
Mr. Arens gets it right, but perhaps he should have pressed on with his analysis. Granted, you can’t say everything in one column. Still, certain conclusions beg to be let out.
Old borders no longer count for much. Including Green Lines. Israel might wish some positive input to the redistricting process.
The Arab (and African) refugee flows constitute more than a humanitarian problem. They amount to a new Völkerwanderung, a “wandering of peoples” that promises to change fundamentally the character of the nations that let them in. The professional helpers of humanity, the righteous and the self-righteous babble on about how “we owe” the refugees whatever. But there is a difference, a fundamental difference, between doing what you can and inviting millions of people into your home. Permanently.
And what better way to spread violent Islamism through the Western world than to embed it amongst millions of refugees who, as Mr. Arens puts it, only want to get away from it all.
But they can’t. And neither can civilization.
And yet, maybe the West has an opportunity here. Israel, too. Provided we’ve the wisdom and the courage to take it. But first, we have to see it.
Next: Credo Quia Classificandum, Part Two. Let Bibi Be Bibi.