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“Netanyahu’s ‘Mr. Security’ Mirage”: If Anything, He Has Done Far More To Damage Israel’s Security Than Strengthen It

Ahead of Israel’s March 17 election, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has arrived in Washington on a mission to undermine President Obama’s Iran policy. This, his latest and greatest diplomatic affront, has starkly revealed the degree to which many here have tired of his shtick.

But what may come as a surprise is that Israelis are sick of Bibi too.

Of course, not all feel indigestion at the thought of Netanyahu being reelected next month. But polls show his favorability rating at an all-time low. Meanwhile, the cost of living for the average Israeli has become extraordinarily high — 40 percent of Israelis are unable to make ends meet — and a majority claim socio-economic and social justice issues as their top priority in this election. A majority also say that Netanyahu’s main rival, Labor’s Yitzhak Herzog, is most fit to handle this issue.

Yet, Netanyahu continues to run neck-and-neck with Herzog and his center-left “Zionist Union” alliance. The reason for this is revealed in the same polls that show voters’ distaste for Netanyahu’s handling of the economy: they still trust him most when it comes to security. With his “It’s either me or ISIS” campaign line, Netanyahu has shown that he will stop at nothing to define the election in alarmist terms. Indeed, Israelis have always voted according to this most existential of issues. Assuming they do again, it seems likely that Netanyahu will be Prime Minister for the fourth time.

But the case to be made for Netanyahu as “Mr. Security” is flimsy at best — an assessment consistently put forth by former heads of Israel’s Mossad and Shin Bet intelligence services. If anything, he has done far more to damage Israel’s security than strengthen it.

Netanyahu’s ongoing Congressional speech fiasco is only the most recent example, whereby he has weakened Israeli security on multiple fronts. In choosing to publicly challenge President Obama on his home turf, the Prime Minister has further eroded their personal relationship — a feat that seemed nearly impossible. Polls show that over two-thirds of Americans oppose the speech.

Because of Obama’s unpopularity in Israel, Netanyahu’s perceived “toughness” in standing up to the President may provide short-term political gains at home. But Netanyahu is harming bipartisan support for Israel and alienating young Americans in particular — an ever-more dangerous prospect for Israel’s future.

Even worse for Israel’s security is what Netanyahu seeks to accomplish: undermining any nuclear deal with Iran that could possibly be achieved. The likely result of his success would be a war devastating for Israel, the U.S., and the region — and one that would not prevent Tehran from ultimately getting the bomb. Iran has the technical know-how to build a nuclear weapon, yet it has so far chosen not to. An attack by the U.S. or Israel would likely convince Iranians that possession of nuclear weapons is in their best interest.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s record on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a similar disaster for Israel’s security. The ongoing occupation of the West Bank (alongside continued expansion of settlements) and Gaza is far from the only reason for the Palestinian terrorism Israel faces, but it is nonetheless a fundamental factor. Netanyahu has not offered a single initiative to end the conflict. To those proposed by others, such as the Arab Peace Initiative offering Israel full diplomatic relations with most of the Arab and Muslim world, he has never even offered a response.

Instead, Netanyahu now states that Israeli control of the West Bank must continue forever, and his government has made clear that it has no strategic vision beyond management of the status quo.

But Netanyahu has failed to even manage the status quo effectively. He has no strategy for dealing with Hamas — negotiating with them to release hundreds of prisoners one day and fighting a new war against them the next. Before last summer’s conflict, he failed to deal with the vast system of Hamas tunnels, which led to the avoidable deaths of Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers. Further loss of Israeli life was largely prevented by the Iron Dome missile defense system – funded by the same administration Netanyahu continually thumbs his nose at. And his decision to massively bombard civilian areas in Gaza and its horrific consequences hurt Israel’s image abroad and provoked strong criticism from the White House and State Department.

Ultimately, nothing was gained from the war besides a temporary weakening of Hamas, who Israeli military intelligence says is “ready to go [to war] today”. In the meantime, Gaza has sunk further into misery and extremism.

That’s not all. In the immediate wake of the war in Gaza, Netanyahu’s security failures were again on full display in Jerusalem. He declined to prevent right-wing MKs from making provocative visits to the Temple Mount, leading Jordan — one of only two Arab countries with which Israel has a peace treaty — to withdraw its ambassador. Meanwhile, he allowed Israeli settlers to carry out midnight takeovers of houses in Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem, another action that helped fuel months of Palestinian rioting and “lone-wolf” terrorism. Netanyahu has blamed the latter actions on alleged incitement by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but most Israelis think Netanyahu has done nothing to curb incitement from his own side.

In reality, the only thing Netanyahu has managed to secure is his own political survival. Though his resume is a desert littered with failure, he has managed to create a “Mr. Security” mirage. In a matter of weeks, we will find out if the Israeli public has finally seen through it.

 

By: Aaron Mann, Outreach and Research Consultant at Americans for Peace Now; The Blog, The Huffington Post, March 2, 2015

March 4, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Israel, Palestine | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Where She Always Was”: Everyone Suddenly Remembers That Hillary Clinton Is A Foreign Policy Hawk

There are few things the political press loves more than an intra-party squabble, so it wasn’t surprising that when Hillary Clinton gave an interview to The Atlantic about foreign policy that offered something less than fulsome support for everything Barack Obama has done, it got characterized as a stinging rebuke. The Post’s Chris Cillizza described her “slamming” Obama. The New York Times said the “veneer of unity…shattered.” “Hillary slams Obama for ‘stupid’ foreign policy,” said an absurdly misleading New York Post headline (she never called anything Obama did “stupid”).

If you actually read the interview, you’ll see that Clinton actually didn’t “slam” Obama (even Jeffrey Goldberg, who conducted the interview, overstates the disagreement in his report on it). She was careful not to explicitly criticize the administration, even when she was articulating positions that differed from what Barack Obama might believe. But there were clear indications that Clinton will be staking out a more hawkish foreign policy than the president she served as Secretary of State, on issues like Iran and Syria.

That isn’t because of some cynical calculation, or because she wants to “distance” herself from a president whose popularity is currently mediocre at best. It’s because that’s what she sincerely believes. If people didn’t have such short memories, they wouldn’t be surprised by it. Hillary Clinton has always been a liberal on social and economic issues, but much more of a moderate (or even a conservative) when it comes to foreign policy.

From the moment Clinton began forging her own distinct political identity in her run for Senate in 2000, it was clear she was a hawk on foreign affairs and defense, placing herself in the right-leaning half of the Democratic party. She wasn’t looking to slash military spending or avoid foreign interventions. Look at how the National Journal ranked her on foreign affairs during her time in the Senate (the NJ rankings are idiosyncratic, but they have the benefit of examining foreign affairs distinct from other issues):

  • 2001: 28th most liberal senator
  • 2002: 28th most liberal
  • 2003: 15th most liberal
  • 2004: 42nd most liberal
  • 2005: 30th most liberal
  • 2006: 36th most liberal
  • 2007: 19th most liberal
  • 2008: 40th most liberal

When Clinton ran for president in 2008, the primary issue distinction between her and Barack Obama was that she had supported the Iraq War, while he had opposed it. There was no issue that made more of a difference in the primaries. Even as Secretary of State, while carrying out the President’s policies, in private she counseled more aggressive moves. As Michael Crowley wrote in January, “As Secretary of State, Clinton backed a bold escalation of the Afghanistan war. She pressed Obama to arm the Syrian rebels, and later endorsed air strikes against the Assad regime. She backed intervention in Libya, and her State Department helped enable Obama’s expansion of lethal drone strikes. In fact, Clinton may have been the administration’s most reliable advocate for military action.”

As we move toward the campaign, it’s likely that liberals are going to start finding reasons to be displeased with Clinton on foreign policy. In the Atlantic interview, for instance, they discuss the Gaza situation at some length, and she practically sounds like a spokesperson for the Netanyahu government, putting all the blame for the conflict and all the casualties squarely on Hamas, while refusing repeated opportunities to say Israel has done anything wrong at all.

Over the next two years there will probably be more situations in which Clinton winds up to the right of the median Democratic voter. That would be more of a political problem if she had a strong primary opponent positioned to her left who could provide a vehicle for whatever dissatisfaction the Democratic base might be feeling. But at the moment, there is no such opponent. Her dominance of the field may give her more latitude on foreign affairs — not to move to the right, but to be where she always was. Neither Democrats nor anyone else can say they didn’t see it coming.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, August 12, 2014

August 13, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Enemy Of Reason And Moral Judgment”: The Problem With Both “Pro-Israel” And “Anti-Israel”

In a typically thoughtful piece today, Jonathan Chait explains why he has “grown less pro-Israel over the last decade.” I want to push back on this a bit, not because I disagree with any of the particular points Chait makes, but because of the broad framing. The idea of “pro-Israel,” like its mirror “anti-Israel,” is the enemy of rational thought and debate on this topic. Unless you’re talking about whom you’re rooting for in the Olympics, talking about who’s pro-Israel and who isn’t, and to what degree, almost never helps illuminate anything. This is something I brought up a few months ago, but it has a new urgency now, because this conflict is going to cause a lot of people to reevaluate how they feel about Israel.

One of the interesting things about Chait’s post is that he mentions an emotional connection to the country, but the specifics he brings up are all practical questions, on things like the Netanyahu government’s sincerity when it says it’s committed to a two-state solution. Since we’re talking about a democracy where the government and its policies are open to change, in theory that shouldn’t bear much on one’s basic commitment to the country. But of course it does.

So let’s step back for a moment. What do we mean when we say someone is pro-Israel? At the most basic level, we mean that she believes Israel ought to exist (there was a time when this was a matter of some debate in the West, but it isn’t any longer, at least not in mainstream circles). Beyond that though, you can take varying positions on almost any particular area of disagreement and still be pro-Israel. You can think Israel ought to exist within its pre-1967 borders, or that it should hold every inch of land it took since then (and retake what it gave away), and both positions can be “pro-Israel.” You can think that West Bank settlers are heroes for holding the land God granted the Jewish people, or that they’re a bunch of bigots and thugs who make peace infinitely more difficult, and both positions can be “pro-Israel.” You can think that Netanyahu’s decision to launch this war was the only appropriate reaction to the murder of those three teenagers, or you can think that decision was a disaster, and both positions can be “pro-Israel.”

In other words, the idea means almost nothing, unless you’re using it to indicate that someone is laboring to put aside their own capacity for reason and morality in order to justify whatever their side happens to have done, either lately or decades ago. And frankly, that’s how I’ve come to think about it. When I think of someone who’s “anti-Israel,” I think of someone who apologizes for terrorism committed by Palestinians and thinks that there’s only one country in the world where human rights abuses occur; in other words, a moral idiot. And when I think of someone who’s “pro-Israel,” I’m increasingly likely to think of some Palinesque dolt who believes that the Israeli government is perfect in all things, and that that very terrorism gives Israel a pass to treat every Palestinian man, woman, and child with as much cruelty as it likes; in other words, another moral idiot.

Once you stop worrying about whether you’re pro-Israel or anti-Israel, you can judge the Israeli government’s decisions, developments within Israeli society, and other questions related to the country each on their own terms. You can also make judgments about the conflict that are freed from the necessity so many feel to continually compare the Israeli government’s actions to Hamas’ actions, or the opinions of the Israeli public to the opinions of the Palestinian public, with the only important question being which side comes out ahead. Those comparisons end up dulling your moral senses, because they encourage you to only think in relative terms.

If you’re still stuck being pro-Israel or anti-Israel, you end up asking questions like, “Which is worse: for Hamas to put rockets in a school in the hopes that Israel will bomb it and kill a bunch of kids, therefore granting Hamas a momentary PR victory; or for Israel to bomb the school anyway, knowing they’re going to kill a bunch of kids?” If you’re pro-Israel, you’ll answer that Hamas’ action is worse, while if you’re anti-Israel, you’ll answer that Israel’s action is worse. But if you’re neither, then you’ll give the only moral answer, which is: who the hell cares which is worse? They’re both wrong. Questions like that end up only being used to excuse one side’s indefensible decisions.

Believe me, I realize that it isn’t easy to get rid of the pro-Israel/anti-Israel dichotomy. I grew up in a home where Zionism was our true religion. Israel is different than other countries; no matter how much you love going to Paris, eating French food, and reading French literature, it would be weird to describe yourself as “pro-France.” That’s because it makes sense only in the context where there are other people taking the opposite position; while there are people who don’t like France, there isn’t a significant “anti-France” movement.

But you don’t have to buy into the dichotomy. And once you step outside it and stop worrying about which team you’re on, it can become easier to see things clearly.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 29, 2014

July 30, 2014 Posted by | Israel, Middle East, Palestine | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Will You Stop Beating Your Ally?”: Ted Cruz On Protecting And Promoting Israel’s Tourism Industry

I really thought the peculiar use of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a political weapon against Barack Obama had reached its point of diminishing returns back in the 2012 presidential cycle, when the entire field (with the exception, obviously, of Ron Paul) competed to express how abjectly each as president would defer to Israel’s wishes in using American resources and commitments, in sharp contrast to the faithless Muslim-lover in the White House. I mean, seriously, wouldn’t the tribunes of American Exceptionalism eventually see something wrong with their political representatives demanding that the U.S. outsource its foreign policy to another country?

Leave it to Ted Cruz to take it all to another level, accusing the administration of telling the FAA to ban flights into Tel Aviv as part of a pro-Hamas conspiracy:

“Given that some 2,000 rockets have been fired into Israel over the last six weeks, many of them at Tel Aviv, it seems curious to choose yesterday at noon to announce a flight ban, especially as the Obama Administration had to be aware of the punitive nature of this action.

“Tourism is an $11 billion industry for Israel, which is in the middle of a summer high season already seriously diminished by the conflict initiated by Hamas. Group tours have been cancelling at a 30% rate. This FAA flight ban may well represent a crippling blow to a key economic sector through both security concerns and worries that additional bans will down more flights and strand more passengers. It hardly matters if or when the ban is lifted. At this point, the damage may already be done….

Secretary of State John Kerry issued a veiled threat last February when he encouraged boycotts of Israel [sic] and said that absent serious Israeli concessions at the negotiating table, Israel’s economic prosperity was ‘not sustainable’ and ‘illusory.’ Secretary Kerry unfortunately reprised this theme just this April, when he threatened that Israel risked becoming an ‘apartheid state’ if Israel did not submit to his chosen solution to the Israel-Palestinian crisis.

“Taken in the context of Secretary Kerry’s comments, yesterday’s action by the FAA raises some serious questions.

So apparently the United States has an obligation, at the potential expense of the safety of its own citizens, to promote the security claims of another country in order to protect said country’s tourism industry. Anything less than that is to side with Israel’s enemies, whose bloody hands Obama is already shaking by continuing humanitarian assistance to Gaza.

How much further can Republicans move the goal posts here? Should we become more militantly pro-Israel than the Israelis themselves?

I know this is a sweet spot for conservatives because it pleases a certain type of evangelical Christian activist and projects bloody-minded “strength” without risking a commitment of U.S. troops, since the Israelis really can take care of themselves from a military point of view. And the Palestinians, of course, are the overseas equivalent of those people here, somehow still held to be responsible for 9/11. But if there is a Republican president any time soon, the GOP isn’t doing him or her any favors by mortgaging half its foreign policy to the interests of a single foreign state, however admirable.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 24, 2014

July 25, 2014 Posted by | Israel, Palestine, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Moral Responsibility And The Israel-Palestinian Conflict”: No Moral Equivalency, Being Responsible For Your Own Actions

As Israel begins a ground invasion of Gaza in which hundreds of civilians will almost certainly be killed and the endless misery of the people who live there will only intensify, we haven’t actually seen much debate about the subject here in the U.S. There’s plenty of news about it, but unlike most issues, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is one we don’t actually argue about much. There aren’t dueling op-eds in every paper the way there are when even a country Americans care far less about, like Ukraine, works its way into our attention.

There are many reasons for that, not least of which is the absurdly constrained debate we have over the topic of Israel. But I suspect that the relative quiet is in part because in a debate where even casting the two sides as equivalent is portrayed as a betrayal of Israel (you’ll notice, for instance, that the White House is careful to say, again and again, that Israel has a right to defend itself, but you’ll hear them say that the Palestinians also have a right to defend themselves at the approximate time the Winter X Games are held in Hell), few people can even manage to say with a straight face that both sides are suffering equally. Having to constantly rush to the bomb shelters and being afraid go outside is awful; I have many relatives and friends in Israel who are experiencing that right now. But it’s different from knowing that there is a good possibility that in the next few days a missile will blow apart a house on your street—as one “targeted” strike after another kills a house full of people—and there are no shelters to retreat to.

It’s been said many times that no government would tolerate rockets being fired into its territory without a response, which is true.But those rockets do not grant Israel a pass from moral responsibility for what it does and the deaths it causes, any more than prior acts of terrorism have. In this as in so many conflicts, both sides—and those who defend each—try to justify their own abdication of human morality with a plea that what the other side has done or is doing is worse. We’ve heard that argument made before, and we’ll continue to hear it. But when we do, we should acknowledge it for what it is: no justification at all.

Actions are either defensible on their own terms or they aren’t. The brutality of your enemy makes no difference in that judgment. It wasn’t acceptable for the Bush administration’s defenders to say (as many did) that torturing prisoners was justified because Al Qaeda beheads prisoners, which is worse. And our judgment of Hamas’s lobbing of hundreds of rockets toward civilian areas tells us nothing about whether Israel’s actions in Gaza are right or wrong.

According to this tally from the New York Times, as of Wednesday, Israeli strikes had killed 214 people in Gaza, most of whom were civilians. One Israeli has been killed by a Hamas rocket over the same period. Yes, Hamas would kill many more Israelis if they could. But if the question you’re asking is what kind of moral responsibility Israel bears for the choices it makes, that fact is irrelevant.

Nor does saying “Hamas is a terrorist organization!” tell you how to judge Israel’s actions. While it doesn’t appear that the group ordered the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers that started this conflagration, Hamas is quite happy to provoke Israel with rockets and watch its own people die in response; I suppose its leaders believe that the more terrible Israeli actions toward Gaza are, the better it is for their position there. Had Palestinians chosen to wage a campaign of nonviolent resistance against Israel, they could have had their own country a decade or two ago. But today, Hamas and Israeli hard-liners, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are partners in maintaining this ghastly status quo, both happy to see Gaza drown in blood and despair so long as a two-state solution never comes to pass and they can both maintain power.

But if you consider yourself a friend of Israel, the next time a bomb kills four kids playing soccer on a beach or buries a family under the rubble of their house, you have a few options. You can condemn it, or you can say it was just an accident, or you can say that regrettable things happen in war and there’s nothing anyone can do. But what you can’t say is that it’s OK because Hamas are terrible people. Israel is responsible for its own actions, just as Hamas is, and everyone else is, and nothing the other side does changes that.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 18, 2014

July 21, 2014 Posted by | Israel, Middle East, Palestine | , , , , | Leave a comment

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