Those of you, who like me, were appalled at the recent comments attributed to our Defense Minister, should not be surprised. Of late, it’s been open season on the United States in general, and its Secretary of State in particular. Things are being said here these days that in the past would not have been tolerated. They would have been unthinkable.
Two very disturbing trends emerge from this situation, neither in the Israeli interest. The first trend points to the increasingly perceived weakness of the United States, especially in the Middle East. Israeli leaders are allowing themselves to say things that they never would have said in the past, let alone publicly. And it isn’t only Israeli politicians who are doing it. It seems to be a global phenomenon as countries around the world smell blood and say things and take actions to fill the vacuum, China and Russia being the blatant examples. A weaker United States is definitely not in the Israeli interest. And while much of this phenomenon has nothing to do with Israel, the comments of Israeli leaders that contribute to it are not making the situation any better.
The second trend, which is directly related to the first, is that the Israeli politicians who say these things, think (and worse) know, that they can get away with it. The Prime Minister’s attempt to lower the flames yesterday in the wake of Yaalon’s absurdly self-destructive comments and the latter’s apology notwithstanding, Israeli politicians have been in an open competition to demonstrate who can go farther in their criticism of Kerry, Obama and US Mideast policy in general. Yaalon’s comments were only the most lethal and coming from him, clearly the most dangerous with potentially the most consequences, making them also the most irresponsible. But he is not alone.
Perhaps this trend flows directly from the Prime Minister’s own very public campaign waged against the American President’s handling of the negotiations with Iran, but other Ministers seem to have taken his lead and are throwing their comments into the fray on an almost daily basis. The Ministers of the Jewish Home party, for example, are particularly active in this regard (recall the announcement of the Minister of Housing for 23,000 new building starts in Judea and Samaria as one of the more most blatant and provocative examples). But Ministers and Deputy Ministers from the Likud don’t miss a chance to say what they think of Kerry and his peace talks either. The introduction of provocative legislation, effectively tying the hands of the Prime Minister, is fast becoming a weekly Sunday ritual in the Knesset. All of these comments and actions are counterproductive on the diplomatic front and continue to sap at Israel’s already very weak international standing. And the biggest problem is that the Prime Minister lets them get away with it. Sometimes he intervenes and cancels the action as he did with the 23,000 housing unit announcement. Sometimes he says that he doesn’t support the action, as he did regarding the laws introduced about the Jordan Valley and negotiating about Jerusalem. And sometimes he reinforces the message of friendship Israel has with the United States as he did in an attempt to lower the flames after Yaalon’s blunder. But he has yet to take decisive action against any of these people, especially his own ministers, ultimately making him responsible.
None of this is to say that our leaders should sign agreements that they believe are against Israel’s interests. And none of this is to say that our leaders should not voice the opinions they were elected to represent. This is about acting responsibly and ensuring that if there is criticism, it is done behind closed doors, befitting close allies. This is about not biting the hand that feeds. A legitimate argument can be made as to whether Israel’s dependency on the United States is a healthy thing or not, but no one can argue that the United States is this country’s strongest ally over a very long period of time and on all fronts and that we are in no position to endanger that strategic relationship.
The late Tom Clancy called one of his novels “The Teeth of the Tiger”. The book sent the message that the United States may be a giant that is slow to move but if you mess around with its tail, you’d better remember that one day, the teeth of the tiger are going to come back to bite. History has shown time and time again that this is true. We are playing with fire if we think we can continuously get away with what is perceived by our American friends as provocative actions and statements without paying a price. When the wind starts to blow cold from Washington, it can be very, very unpleasant.