The Obama speech-some Israeli lessons

There are certain things that we can learn from our Arab neighbors / adversaries. One of them is the logic of the classic Arab saying”Al Ajli Min Hashitan”'[haste from the devil…]. Reactions in Israel and among many of our friends in the US indicate to me yet again hat some of us tend to be impatient and with short fuse. Claims that US is a paper tiger, that Obama is a wimp, that America cannot be trusted by its allies, Israel included, are heard but are exaggerated, surely premature and are disingenuous, at least on the part of Right-Wing Israelis. All this will be analyzed later, but first some words of clarification about he ACTUAL American position.

We are in the midst of a big story, not yet in its end, and the American action in Syria is going to take place, and sometimes, later is better than earlier. here already is a lot of American involvement in Syria, mostly covert operations conducted by the rebels with CIA involvement. An analysis of many rebel operations indicate to me, that they have greatly improved the level of their actions, are much more organized, professional and disciplined, and they use weapons which greatly restrict and curtail the Syrian army and its own operations. Sure enough, the rebels still lack a unified and coherent political leadership, and so long as this is the case, it is a legitimate reason for the Obama administration to refrain from a full-blown support for a quick regime change. his should be the ultimate goal of the rebels and their Arab, Turkish and American supporters, but in the absence of a credible leadership, this is not the right time for the BIG FIX in Syria.

That being the case, we may have , at least, one good reason for the overall caution which characterizes the American handling of the Syrian situation.America could have acted earlier in Syria and be more decisive, but its inability, as well as that of Turkey and Saudi-Arabia , to form an alternative political leadership o Assad’s is NOT a failure. This is chiefly the result of over 40 years of iron-fist dictatorship which systematically destroyed any seeds of independent political activity, has been based on minorities and seemed to be stable.

No intelligence service in the world, including Israel’s could predict the unfolding events, and that is definitely a lesson to us ALL, not just to the US, so let us adopt here the old Hebrew saying”tol kora mibein eineikh-which roughly means, look at yourself…]. With that in mind, there is another important reason explaining Obama attitude, and this is what they call in America, ”war weariness”, and I prefer to call isolationism. This is what the pro-Israel community should focus on.

The US is thoroughly engaged in its own internal issues, and it lacks the appetite for foreign adventures. Both Liberals and traditional Conservatives share this attitude, and the Neo-Cons, the prophets of intervention are held ,even by many traditional Republicans, in disgrace following the ”success” in Iraq, which is today Iran’s junior Shi’ite ally, and Syria’s best Arab supporter. Surely, Saddam was bad, VERY BAD, and had to be removed, but removing him could have been done in many ways other than spending over a TRILLION dollars and having over 4000 fatalities.

So, modern-day isolationism is a problem, and listening to people like Elianna Ross Lethinen and other well-known supporters of Israel in the Republican party aroused my own curiosity, not to say , surprise and some disappointment. What she and others said may very well be relevant to any future discussion about a potential military strike against Iran. The president is working hard these days to allay Israeli fears about the Iranian implications of his Syrian policy, but I am yet to here strong Republican message about Iran,and that will be the challenge of Israel and its supporters, the urgent need to find the right way to explain to American public opinion, that Iran is a huge danger to the US and the entire free world. Clearly, the situation in Syria does NOT seem as dangerous to most Americans. So, pointing the finger at the president, as being done by Bennett and his crew, as well as militant, inexperienced Likud M.Ks is missing the point.

The problem is American public opinion and body politics, which vastly prefer Israel over the Palestinians, but do not and will not give Israel carte blanche about Iran. We will have to do much more about that. I believe that P.M Netanyahu understands all this, surely he should, and until now his reactions have been measured and correct. Bennett and Likud militants are disingenuous though.Yes, Israel should trust itself in the first place, and that goes without saying. But those who reemphasize this point now will never accept American policy regarding the Palestinian issue, even if Obama were to order attacks on both Syria and Iran. These people live in fantasy land if they think that the US will do EXACTLY what Israeli Hawks want it to do, but alas,will take its hands off the Palestinian question.No free lunches in diplomacy, and it is about time that some influential hot-headed Israelis will internalize this AB of international relations. It is also important to note, that Israel Did NOT put pressure on Obama to act in Syria, and there are many signs that Israel, like the US , and for good reason, thinks that it is not yet the time to precipitate the final collapse of Assad. Therefore, it is NOT an Israeli interest to push ourselves to forefront of the debate about Syria, and hopefully AIPAC will act accordingly. Let Walt and Mersheimer, the authors of the diatribe about AIPAC prove wrong this time around…

What is the Israeli interest , and surely what should be a source of concern is the development of American public opinion with regard to foreign policy issues. It may be too premature to draw dramatic conclusions on the account of Obama’s seeming hesitancy about Syria, but it is NOT premature to dispel arrogant Israeli claims that America is on the decline. It is not, though it may seem to be the case. Henceforth, Israeli politicians and our supporters in the US are advised to make sure that we have American support on issues CRUCIALLY significant to us, and Syria is not one of them. Let us stay out of the American debate about Syria, vehamaskil baet hai’i yidom, and the wise people keep silence…

Is it too much to expect from some of our politicians?

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina