Israel’s periphery: Problems and opportunities

In my blog appearing today in JPost, Abandoning the region, America’s created chaos: Libya, Egypt, Syria, and a nuclear arms race, an Israeli commenter took me to task on several issue ranging from the Palestinians to Egypt and Syria. Below is my response, which expands on my recent and typically popular TOI blog, Egypt/Syria/Libya: An American Legacy.

The Kerry Mission:

Commenter: “The Palestinians would have achieved an independent state long ago, if they were not thrown bones of hope by idiots (mainly US and Europe) that they will be able to get rid of Israel without having to compromise…”

DT: The Palestinians “would have achieved an independent state long” before your timeline had they been willing to share the land and accepted the UN Partition Plan in 1947. In fact they could have achieved sovereignty earlier still had they been willing to accept the British plan decades before. Instead the chose not to even attend talks set by the Mandatory.

I am less forgiving than you in my understanding of US/EU attitudes towards Israel. Now that the Holocaust is distant (for them) history Europe under economic duress is comfortably reverting to the 1920’s regarding “the Jews” as scapegoat. Except today it is Israel that represents their traditional nemesis, “the Jew.” This is old hat antisemitism. Nothing new there. As for the US, even in my article I leave room for American policy naïveté. Indeed, while living in Israel in 1960, earlier still as a soldier in the US Army in 1956, I felt the US was akin to the colloquial “elephant in the china shop” in its approach to Israel and the Middle East. There exists, as you often point out, a large voting population of evangelicals in the US, and playing to this bloc (this is me being politically cynical). Of course US Israel policy could also be based in the evangelicals interest, a naive effort to “save” Israel, and bring “peace” to the region. Really doesn’t matter since 100 years of failure is even less likely to result in peace today when even the Palestinians are divided with Hamas-Gaza opposed to any peace (even were Abbas sincere, which evidence suggests not), and Israel is facing a highly unstable regional situation.

The Iranian Threat:

We both know that Iran is no match for Israel. You seem less concerned regarding the world environment in which Israel attacking (in the anticipated absence of American initiative, for whatever delay or excuse) than I. But Israel has some serious constraints regarding Iran that did not exist for Operation Opera, the destruction of Iraq’s Osirak reactor; or the Syrian reactor. Even putting aside American political pressure on Israel not to act, attacking Iran would likely have significant impact on a world economy still recovering from Bush’s invasion of Iraq and that blunder’s economic fallout which might prove even more problematic for Israel facing retribution (the EU is teetering, even without another oil shock).

As to the Sunnis taking the initiative in a war with Iran, if memory serves a few years ago the Saudis, anxious over Iran’s progress and defiance of America, were only too happy to provide an air corridor for Israel. But willingness to participate in such a raid? So anxiety over America’s failure of leadership over Iran’s emerging nuclear threat resulted only in passive assistance for Israel to do the dirty for them. Sounds much like Iran in 2002, bating the trap for Bush to invade Iraq and eliminate Sadam for them! Which he obligingly did, and then faced Iran directing the insurgency against the invaders.

Your reading of Egypt fully agrees with mine. It’s the economy, stupid.


You remind that Syria was a creation by the Imperialists comprising multiple and often antagonistic ethnic groups. In fact Syria was far larger under the Ottomans and, at the time, was called Greater Syria. So we agree that the Imperialists divided up the region for their occupation/exploitation convenience. And this applies not just to Syria which, again we agree, will likely collapse into multiple ethnic mini-states as you indicate (possibly including Lebanon), but that other American experiment in Democracy, Iraq. And there is still the volatile issue of Palestine/Trans-Jordan!

Commenter: “I do not see the military value of Israel attacking the missile site near Latakia…”

DT: Israel has important Mediterranean shipping lanes and those drilling rigs off Haifa to protect. I agree that Assad will continue to avoid action inviting a war with Israel (very long history of using surrogates for that purpose) but what if those advanced land to sea missiles wind up in the hands of Hezbollah? Those missiles represent a very significant threat to Israeli interests. So I, for one, see the value in destroying the depot. As to the United States going public, in the words of an unnamed Israeli, “placing Israel at risk of war with Syria,” my first impulse was to ask myself,  “what’s in it for Obama, and why now?” Kerry’s mission does not seem that high on Obama’s priority list… A signal to Russia and Iran in advance of upcoming “negotiations”? More likely, but still not convincing.

The other possibility is that which the administration suggested, that it represents a rogue leak by an “unnamed source.” Certainly that is familiar as when the antisemites (or Arabists) “leakers” in the US bureaucracy want to discourage (or provide cover for the president?) whenever it appears Pollard may be released as part of deal the US is brokering between Israel and the Palestinians.

Something to be on the lookout for should current “peace talks” get that far.

About the Author
David made aliya in 1960 and has been active in Jewish issues since. He was a regional director for JNF in New York, created JUDAC, Jews United to Defend the Auschwitz Cemetery during that controversy; at the request of Jonathan Pollard created and led Justice for the Pollards in 1989.