By Noel Koch
Best Defense guest columnist
In the run-up to President Obama's trip to the Middle East, apologists for Jonathan Pollard, the U.S. Navy civilian convicted of spying for Israel, urged Pollard's release. This has become a recurring event led, strikingly, by Israeli leaders.
Here are two reasons why it is absurd to consider ever releasing Jonathan Pollard:
First, the Israelis have never told us who his co-conspirators were.
Second, the Israelis have never told us how much of the information they obtained was traded to nations hostile to the United States.
Pollard was arrested on November 21, 1985 while trying to escape into the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. In March 1987 he was convicted in a plea bargain that permitted him to avoid a public trial, as a result of which there would be no public record and thus no public awareness of the full extent of his crimes or why he committed them.
The narrative aggressively promoted by his supporters in Israel and the United States paints Pollard as a committed Zionist prompted by his love for Israel and concern for its security. It ignores other facts, e.g. before he began spying for Israel, he had already reached out to other foreign intelligence organizations, one of which actually was an enemy of Israel, in an effort to capitalize on his position as an analyst with access to classified U.S. information. The plea agreement also helped obscure the fact that Pollard was bought and paid for by the Israelis; his motive was money, not warm feelings for the Jewish state.
Israel's damage control efforts included the contention that the Pollard escapade was a rogue operation not carried out through the nation's normal espionage channels. This much would prove to be true. Pollard was not being run by Mossad. As is often the case with missteps between states, this one was rooted in personal animus. Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger's reluctance to put the lives of American military personnel at the disposal of Israel's interests promptly produced the usual result: a smear campaign in which Weinberger was implied to harbor anti-Semitic sentiments. Especially ill-disposed to Weinberger was his Israeli counterpart, Ariel Sharon. Among other things, Sharon was convinced Weinberger was refusing to share intelligence of interest to Israel. Accordingly, Sharon set about to get the alleged intelligence on his own.
Sharon's agent in this endeavor was legendary Israeli intelligence operative Rafi Eitan. Rafi found his dupe in the buyable Jonathan Pollard. Here begins an aspect of the matter hidden from public view by the manner in which Pollard was prosecuted. It has served the Israeli narrative for Pollard to be seen as some sort of super spy. He was nothing of the sort. He simply exploited his trusted access to Navy computers to withdraw information his handlers instructed him to get. At least some of the documents were secured behind alpha-numeric designators. Pollard had no idea what these designators represented. He was simply told to extract the associated documents.
Thereupon rests one reason Israel has from the outset been anxious to retrieve Pollard, and one of several very good reasons Pollard should remain in prison to the end of his life sentence. U.S. intelligence personnel have long known that Pollard didn't act alone and that there were other, still unidentified (or at least unprosecuted), traitors to America involved in this undertaking. Who identified for Pollard the specific documents he was to pull out of the computers? Israel hasn't told us.
In the netherworld of espionage, competent national agencies trade information. It is known that the information Israel bought from Pollard was exchanged with other national agencies to the detriment of U.S. interests. Some of the damage to the United States is known. Some may not be. In any case, Israel has never given the United States a complete accounting of what was stolen (to be sure, Pollard himself doesn't know) and what was passed to enemies of the United States.
Jonathan Pollard got what he wanted: money, jewelry, and paid trips in exchange for his treachery; he got what he deserved: life in prison. Unlike Judas, who had the grace to hang himself in shame, he lives in the hope that his purchasers will spring him so he can enjoy the apartment set aside for him, the money they have been banking for him, and the hero's welcome they have promised him for betraying the United States.
Noel Koch served in the U.S. Department of Defense from 1981 to 1986. During this time he worked with Rafi Eitan, advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir on terrorism, and later with Amiram Nir, who held the same position with Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images
By Major Chris Heatherly
Best Defense guest columnist
"...and she loved a boy very, very much -- even more than she loved herself." -- Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree
Many Americans read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein while growing up. Summarized, the story is about the relationship between a young boy and a tree whose self-sacrifice to please the boy is a recurrent theme. By book's end, the tree is reduced to little more than a lonely stump with nothing left to give. Although The Giving Tree is nearly 50 years old, the book's warning on the dangers of self-sacrifice are particularly apt when describing the current state of U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian relations. If the United States does not address the manner and tone of this relationship to determine our irreducible interests, it risks sacrificing international influence and our own national priorities.
Fact: The United States provided nearly $3.1 billion to Israel in 2012.
Fact: The United States has provided $115 billion to Israel since its foundation in 1949.
Fact: The United States has provided over $4 billion to the Palestinians since they began limited self-governance in the 1990s.
Question: What, if anything, has this goodwill bought the United States and how have our own interests been furthered?
Israeli forces attacked the USS Liberty in 1967, killing 34 and wounding 171 U.S. sailors. Israel has conducted numerous espionage operations against the United States, gravely damaging U.S. national security. Amongst the known spying incidents, the case of Jonathan Pollard is particularly egregious. A U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, Pollard passed tens of thousands of highly classified documents to Israel before his capture in 1985. Pollard received a life sentence for espionage in 1987. Former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger considered Pollard's actions so damaging that "It is difficult for me, even in the so-called ‘year of the spy,' to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant in the view of the breadth, the critical importance to the U.S., and the high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel." Since his conviction, Israel's government admitted to running Pollard as an agent, granted him Israeli citizenship, and has continually lobbied for his release.
Palestinian behavior towards the United States is no better. The Palestinian Liberation Front hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985, killing U.S. passenger Leon Klinghoffer. On 9/11, CNN and other media sources showed video of Palestinians dancing in the streets in celebration of al Qaeda's terrorist attacks. Hamas, a U.S. and European Union designated terrorist organization, enjoys widespread political support from the Palestinian people and election to parliamentary seats.
American government support for Israel goes far beyond simple financial donations. The United States has employed its veto authority to block United Nations Security Council resolutions against Israel over 40 times. (By comparison, China has used the veto authority just 8 times while Russia/Soviet Union together tallied 13.) In most of these instances, the United States has cast the sole vote of opposition. Additionally, the United States has deployed military assets and personnel to protect Israel against its neighbors. Such one-sided support has not gone unnoticed, especially in the Arab world. It generates widespread suspicion of American motives, interests, and actions in the Middle East and the greater Muslim street -- a trend that has occurred for decades.
Neither Israel nor the Palestinians appear to be truly interested in a lasting, peaceful solution to their decades-long struggle for territorial control. Israeli "settlers" build illegal settlements in Palestinian areas in violation of U.N. resolutions. Hamas fires rockets from schools, mosques, and other protected locations against civilian targets. Israel conducts drone and air strikes in retaliation. A Palestinian suicide bomber kills numerous Israeli citizens...and Israel's military forces destroy the bomber's family home with resultant collateral damage. Both sides clamor to play the victim on the world stage. It's a modern day version of the Hatfield and McCoy feud with religious extremism added to the equation.
In my opinion, there is no compelling or logical reason for the United States to retain the status quo relationship with either Israel or the Palestinians. Some may see this view as either anti-Semitic or Islamaphobic. In reality, it is neither. I am an alumnus of a Jewish national collegiate fraternity and proud to have several Jewish and Muslim friends. I believe, however, that America should withhold all foreign aid to both parties, reframe the situation in the Middle East, and develop a fresh, balanced approach to Israelis and Palestinians alike. First and foremost, this approach should be built to achieve American national interests, be they a peaceful Middle East, greater global influence, continued access to oil resources, a non-nuclear Iran, or the spread of democracy. My recommendation aspires to follow President George Washington's cautious advice on foreign entanglements. It is time to stop being the proverbial giving tree, and instead to begin acting in our own national interests.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of the United States Government, the Department of Defense, or the United States Army. Major Heatherly enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1994 and earned his commission via Officer Candidate School in 1997. He has held a variety of assignments in special operations, Special Forces, armored, and cavalry units. His operational experience includes deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea, Kuwait, Mali, and Nigeria. He holds master's degrees from the University of Oklahoma and the School of Advanced Military Studies.
The IDF has ordered that a song about a border policeman not be played on its radio, Haaretz reports. Some of the offensive lyrics:
To learn to kill is a matter of momentum, you start small and later it comes... First it's only a drill, a rifle barrel bangs the door, children in shock, family in panic... The heart goes crazy, beats wildly, he knows -- from now on it will be easier. They're not a man, not a woman, they're only an object, only a shadow. To learn to kill is a matter of habit... To learn cruelty is a matter of momentum, it starts out small and later it comes. Every boy is a man, eager for victories. Hands behind your head, legs apart.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on April 13, 2009.
I'd be very surprised if Israel bombed Iran's nuclear facilities anytime soon, despite what a guy over at ForeignPolicy.com's cousin (or step-parent?) Slate is saying. He offers all sorts of complicated political analyses about why such an attack would be in Israel's interests.
I just don't see how Israel could physically do it as long as the Americans are in Iraq. Hitting Iran is a tough mission to begin with for Israeli aircraft. It would probably be impossible for Israeli aircraft to hit Iran without passing through Iraqi airspace -- and they could not do that without the Americans knowing and being able to stop them. Thus the U.S. government would be seen by Iraqis and others as an accomplice of the Israeli attack. The fallout of such a bombing would make life in Iraq very difficult for more than 130,000 U.S. troops, even before the Iranians embarked upon a course of retaliation that probably would include stepping up roadside bombings of U.S. forces.
Rather, I think the real danger time for Iran is when, if ever, we get U.S. troops out of Iraq. Then the coast will be clear for those Israeli refueling tankers and F-15s. What's more, we no longer will have 130,000 U.S. hostages in Iraq susceptible to Iranian violence, so the U.S. could join Israel in stepping up the pressure.
Remember my ruminating a couple of weeks ago about whether our strategic culture was shaped in part by the Old Testament?
Turns out someone who actually knows what he is talking about when he discusses the Bible is thinking about the strategic implications of the situation of Israel described in that book. In the new issue of The American Interest, former Pentagon comptroller Dov Zakheim finds parallels between Israel's current strategic situation and that described in the Bible. He predicts that:
"Israel could indeed find itself in a general situation paralleling that of its Biblical predecessors: without a geographically remote ally, and in a region no longer tightly tethered to and constrained by an extrinsic great power rivalry. Like its Biblical predecessors, Israel may be forced to confront its place in shifting local power balances among states that might be at times friendly and at other times hostile. It may also have to weigh alliances with and against powers more geographically proximate: Turkey, Iran, India, perhaps Pakistan (if it survives as a state) and even China."
Zakheim also is interesting in his discussion of the politics of the prophets: "The Prophets were consummate realists: Isaiah preached independent neutrality when it was appropriate; Jeremiah preached submission to the superpower when the external ‘correlation of forces' had changed."
The lesson for Israel he finds in the words of the prophets is this: "Realism in foreign policy, moderation in religious policy, openness in economic policy and equality in social policy may be the best path for the Jewish state as it confronts its uncertain future."
These statements are more significant than they may seem, because they provide support to skeptics of the official Israeli position that Iran must be attacked soon. And so I think this eases election-year pressure on President Obama: All he has to say to hawkish critics is, What do you think you know that the chief of the Israeli defense forces and the former head of Shin Bet don't know?
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz’s comments would appear to undercut the argument that the Israeli prime minister has been making for a preemptive attack on Iran. He also said that 2012 is not necessarily the year when Israel must act. “This is a critical year, but not necessarily 'go, no-go.'"
He also said that, “I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people.”
I think this is good news.
The guy on the right in the photo looks pretty tough. I wonder what he thinks?
But maybe there's something really healthy about hockey: The Canadian military has a 77-year-old sergeant on active duty. You know, I think I saw that guy on the ISAF staff! (Seriously, at one point, the Pentagon was so slow to staff the headquarters in Afghanistan in 2004-05 that commanders there pulled in a bunch of aging reservists, leading to jokes that the American HQ in Kabul was "the world's most forward deployed AARP chapter." From p. 47 of this.)
That’s an offhand comment by Simon Montefiore’s Jerusalem: The Biography, which I found at Costco (my favorite store -- if they don’t have it, you don’t need it!) and have been reading and enjoying lately. “America was itself a mission disguised as a nation,” he writes. I suspect he may be right, and think that one reason we constantly re-define the nation is that our sense of the mission changes. Our politics to a surprising extent are an argument to define the mission.
As for Jerusalem, the subject of his book, I came away from the book thinking that it is the city of God only when Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims and Jews can mix there freely. As Montefiore puts it, “Here, more than anywhere else on earth, we crave, we hope and we search for any drop of the elixir of tolerance, sharing and generosity.” But most of the time, I fear, the real Jerusalem is the one he describes as a mix of “prejudice, exclusivity and possessiveness.”
When the Israeli ambassador visited the U.S. Naval Academy last week, students were instructed not to bring up the USS Liberty incident, reports one midshipmen.
That may sound like simple courtesy -- except that the diplomat's subject apparently was the history of friendship between the American naval service and his country. "His speech was primarily aimed at convincing a group of young midshipmen that Israel was their eternal and greatest ally," the midshipmen says. "Drawing on historical anecdotes, he was able to create a sense of kinship between not just America and Israel, but the U.S. Navy and Israel."
The midshipmen says the pre-visit instructions were along the lines of, "It is not appropriate, in a setting like this, to bring up any major points of contention during conversation, current or historical. It is okay to talk about issues like Iran or the two state solution, where our nations have a largely common view. But it's not okay to bring up grievances like the USS Liberty, if you are familiar with that incident."
How big a concern is Israel's growing insecurity? Will it lead it to go to war? The U.S. government is turning some screws on Iran, and Israel continues to fret in public. I've heard talk of an attack coming but I don't understand what Israel might gain from doing so, especially because it isn't clear that air strikes could really take apart much of the Iranian nuclear program, or even do as much damage as Stuxnet did. On the other hand, with Egypt, Libya and Syria in turmoil and Iraq about to be stripped of any air defense capability...
Meanwhile, in Iran, satellite imagery shows stepped-up activity at an alleged nuke site. And Ahmadinejad's press guy was arrested. I wonder if that is the Middle Eastern political equivalent of fish and birds sensing an imminent earthquake.
Israel Defense Forces/Flickr
Longtime grasshoppers know I've been skeptical about Israel actually carrying through on threats to strike Iran in an attempt to degrade the Iranian nuclear weapons program.
But I've heard two comments lately that have me recalibrating a bit:
I read a statement from Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday that he "expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both Houses of Congress."
So Netanyahu "expects" to hear this from the President of the United States? And if President Obama doesn't walk back the speech, what will Netanyahu do? Will he cut off Israeli military aid to the U.S.? Will he cease to fight for the U.S. in the United Nations, and in the many international forums that treat Israel as a pariah?
I don't like this word, "expect."
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
By Zachary Hosford
Best Defense nuclear warfare correspondent
As diplomacy falters and the potential for an Iranian nuclear weapon edges closer, public discourse has increasingly focused on U.S. and Israeli options for preventing such an outcome by other means. And of late, the option most thoroughly debated in government and on the pages of the policy journals is an Israeli military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.
With his recent National Interest article and last week's accompanying talk to a small group of journalists, academics, and think tank analysts in the journal's Nixon Center office space, Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer, veteran policy advisor, and current Brookings senior fellow, not only predicted that an Israeli attack on Iran would be calamitous but added that preventing it would require us to turn our focus from Iran's nuclear program to Israel's.
But first things first. Should Israel attempt to delay the Iranian program by force, he said, the result would be particularly disastrous for the United States. Iran, at the very least, would view an Israeli attack as being American-enabled-and perhaps explicitly approved -- which would prompt the regime in Tehran to retaliate directly against U.S. interests in the region. The drawdown of combat forces in Iraq as well as ongoing operations in Afghanistan would likely become significantly more challenging as Iran maximized its considerable influence in both countries.
So, Reidel continued, how can Washington forestall an Israeli attack? Sure, President Barack Obama could tell Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to strike Iran, promise to withhold the "IFF" codes identifying attacking Israeli jets as friendlies to the U.S. military aircraft patrolling the Middle East's skies, and threaten to reduce or halt Israel's annual military aid dollars, but these actions -- even if successful -- could only supplement a more substantial and lasting approach.
The crux of Riedel's argument? Convince Israel that it is safe to abandon its decades-long policy of maintaining a monopoly on Middle Eastern nuclear weapons. This argument might be easier for Americans to swallow, but if the goal is to dissuade the Israelis from attacking Iran, it will be a tough sell.
Riedel reaches back to deterrence theory by proposing that the United States offer Israel the benefits of American nuclear umbrella. This, of course, only works if those with their fingers on the hypothetical Iranian nuclear button are rational, and Riedel's mention of the Netanyahu quote claiming Iran is "crazy" casts doubt on the views of the Israeli leadership, to say the least.
Though Riedel could very well be accurate in his analysis, in order to keep his deterrence argument intact he needs to downplay the possibility that Iran would transfer a nuclear weapon to a third party. So, perhaps not surprisingly, he does not offer any evidence for why Tehran would keep it nukes to itself. On the surface, it does seem as though a Hizbollah nuclear attack on Israel would not be in the interest of either Hizbollah or Iran, but gut feelings and hunches are not likely to convince the Israelis to sit back and watch while Iran goes nuclear.
The second part of the two-fold Riedel plan would call for the United States to bolster Israel's second strike capability. That is, once the U.S. eases the Israeli population's fears with promises to employ the formidable American nuclear force in the event the unthinkable occurs, an arsenal of American-supplied hardware would ensure that a stricken Israel would still be able to retaliate with its F-15Is, Jericho IRBMs, and increasingly sophisticated missile defense system. This would enable permit Israel to maintain strategic dominance, even facing a nuclear Iran. Among other items, Riedel advocates selling F-22s to Israel, though they are probably not the most appropriate platform for Israeli defense needs, and are perhaps further obviated by recent Israeli cabinet agreement to allow the United States to give Israel 20 stealthy new F-35s.
Of course, one problem with publicly boosting the Israeli deterrent -- which Riedel readily admits -- is that it is exceedingly difficult to do without first acknowledging that Israel possesses nuclear weapons. While Israel should, in fact, officially announce its arsenal, there is little benefit for it in doing so, at least at the moment. It would gain little, given that everyone knows of the Israeli nukes anyway, and could potentially entangle them in international debates over the NPT and a nuclear-free zone.
So, could the U.S. out them instead? Doubtful. Washington has been extremely hesitant to adopt a tough approach toward Israel in the past, but if an Israeli action might risk significant consequences to U.S. personnel and strategic interests, perhaps we will be surprised …
Browsing Jeffrey Goldberg's Atlantic Monthly article on a possible Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, I thought once again that the more Israeli officials chat with journalists about it, the less likely I think it is to happen.
But then I got a note from retired Army Col. Peter Mansoor, formerly a brigade commander in Iraq, then a close advisor to Gen. Petraeus, and now a history professor at Ohio State, home of one of the best military history programs in the country. And I began to worry.
By Peter Mansoor
Best Defense guest columnist
Whether it is Israel or the United States that attacks Iranian nuclear facilities, the Iranians will respond by trying to close the Straits of Hormuz and unleashing terror attacks in the ME and around the world. In the event of an attack, the United States will have to destroy Iran's capacity to close the straits, which means destroying their anti-ship missile batteries, submarines, aircraft, and the assortment of small boats and mine layers that can wreak havoc on Gulf shipping. Israel will no doubt have to invade southern Lebanon again to suppress the inevitable barrage of missiles from Hezbollah. The West will have to go on high alert against terror attacks.
The oil shock alone will no doubt spiral the West into a double dip recession/depression.
Not a pretty picture to contemplate, but a likely scenario. Despite the crowd of academics in the United States that says we can live with an Iranian bomb, Israel will not allow the Iranians to go nuclear -- at least, not while a Holocaust denier who has made pointed threats against the Jewish state remains in power.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Here is a note from Professor Etzioni, responding to my post yesterday. That's my headline, by the way, characterizing what I think he says here. Yes, violence that doesn't kill people is better than violence that does. But it is still violence. And mistakes do get made-the word doesn't get passed, or someone who is asleep in the building is forgotten.
But let him speak for himself:
I am sorry to see that Mr. Ricks does not find much value in my distinction between attacking people to kill them and blowing up empty buildings after the occupants have been given time to leave.
For me there is no more important distinction. The most elementary right we all command is the right to live (broadly understood as including freedom from maiming, torture, and starvation). In effect, all other rights are contingent on this right being respected. Dead people do not vote, make speeches, or assemble. Hence, I am anxious to do all that can be done to find solutions to conflicts that do not entail killing anyone.
At the same time, when faced with an occupation -- in the British case, one that was sending Jews who survived the Holocaust back to Europe in 1945 and 1946 -- symbolic protest acts seem fully justified. The fact that these can be very effective was just evidenced by the recent raid on the flotilla sailing to Gaza. Those activists did not fire rockets into Israel or bomb anyone, but they had much more of an effect by making headlines."
Amitai Etzioni is University Professor and professor of international relations at The George Washington University.
I've heard good things about the writings of Amitai Etzioni, a prominent sociologist and former advisor in Jimmy Carter's White House, so when I saw an article by him on the moral and legal case for drone strikes against terrorists in Joint Forces Quarterly I made sure to put a copy in my "reading bag." Last night I got around to reading it.
High up, he establishes his credentials to discuss terrorism. He used to kind of be one, he mentions:
Unlike some armchair ethicists, who write about this matter and never come closer to combat that watching a movie in a theater, I have some first-hand experience in the matter. In 1946, I was a member of the Palmach, a Jewish underground commando unit that pressured the British to allow Jews who escaped Nazi-ravaged Europe to settle into what would become Israel. (I say "pressured" because unlike our competitor, the Irgun, we fought largely a public relations war. We did so by alerting the British military to leave before we blew up buildings that housed them-to grab headlines, not bodies.) One day, we attacked a British radar station near Haifa. A young woman and I, in civilian clothes and looking as if we were on a date, casually walked up to the radar station's fence, cut the fence, and placed a bomb. Before it exploded we disappeared into the crowd milling around in an adjacent street."
Tom again: I am not much swayed by this distinction between going after "headlines, not bodies." I think that the purpose of terrorists generally is the former, not the latter, which is a byproduct of their process. Surely there are other, more important distinctions, like whether one's targets are purely military.
Etzioni's bottom line is that he likes drone strikes because, he says, they "contribute to staying the course as long as necessary," and, basically, he concludes, shit happens.
Elvis Costello, whose music dominated my 20s, joins the boycott of Israel. As I've said before, Israel is losing the battle for public opinion in the West. Europe is pretty much gone, and I think the United States public may be next. I worry because I want Israel to exist, and this trend threatens that.
(HT to Juan Cole)
Here is John "NightWatch" McCreary's emphatic conclusion about the significance of an Iraqi security official's charge that Arab states are behind the recent bombings in Basra:
US forces have no relevance to this fight, would make themselves a Christian target in an Islamic civil war and need to leave before it gets worse. Any time the Muslims fight among themselves, it strengthens the security of Israel and limits Iranian meddling in Afghanistan. There is no need for American children-soldiers to die to stop an Islamic civil war. Once democracy was instituted in Iraq, this outcome was inevitable.
Not so fast! The AP reports that some American officials are contemplating whether to slow the pace of troops withdrawals from Iraq. Of the Iraqi elections and political situation, U.S. ambassador Chris Hill tells the AP, "This is really not bad." When ambassadors start talking like that it is time to make sure your exit visa is valid.
A few months ago historian Geoffrey Wawro and I did a panel discussion together for a group of documentarians specializing in military history. He mentioned then that he had a new history of the American experience in the Middle East being published soon, and now it is out. It is called Quicksand.
Yesterday I interviewed him by e-mail.
Best Defense: What are the essential facts that Americans don't understand about the Middle East?
Geoffrey Wawro: Americans look at the Middle East through the lens of terrorism. This is analogous to the Cold War tendency to view the Middle East as a place under perpetual threat from Communism. In fact, most Middle Eastern peoples detest terrorism, and their security services are committed to its destruction. Unfortunately, states like Iran, Syria, Libya and Iraq under Saddam play a double game. Although frightened by terrorist extremism, they succor groups that they can wield tactically against their enemies, chiefly Israel. In the event of a U.S. war with Iran, those groups -- like Hezbollah -- would be unleashed against Americans and U.S. interests as well. What this means for Americans, is that we must proceed delicately. It is foolhardy to imagine we can "rid the world of terrorism," if only because terror attacks are an asymmetric weapon wielded by weaker states against stronger ones. Syria is certainly a "terrorist state" in the sense that it gives cover to anti-Israeli terrorist groups -- which Damascus regards as no more objectionable than Israeli F-16s -- but it is also a country that we can do business with, solidifying gains in Iraq, managing Lebanon and the Kurds, and fighting al-Qaeda. This complexity, with its strong odor of amorality, exasperates Americans, but is an ineradicable piece of the Middle Eastern landscape, of the "quicksand" I describe in my new book.
BD: What do you think of the Obama Administration's handling of the Iran situation?
GW: This is a tough one. Iran may well be on track to have a nuclear weapon before the end of Obama's first term. We've known about this program for seven years, yet both Bush 43 and Obama have failed to strangle it with hard sanctions, owing to the reluctance of Russia and China to get tough. On the one hand, Obama is trying to distance himself from the "axis of evil" rhetoric, and make a good faith effort to understand Iran better. On the other hand, he deplores the bloodthirsty irresponsible chatter coming out of Iran: the holocaust denials and the bluster about actually using nukes. But the recently leaked Robert Gates (January) memo about the absence of military options for Iran gets to the heart of the problem. How does the U.S. fight a war, or even an air campaign, against Iran today? Can we afford it? Can we afford the disruption in oil flows? Can we afford the inevitable explosion of Iranian wrath in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf? Can Israel deal with concurrent explosions from Iranian clients in Gaza and Lebanon? The question that recurs to me is why are the Russians and Chinese -- who have their own problems with Islamist extremism and proliferation -- not taking this threat seriously? Neither one of them wants to credit an American right to interfere in the internal affairs of another nation, but at some point THEY need to take this threat seriously. Obama should have traded the anti-missile sites in East Central Europe for Russian sanctions on Iran.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
We have a winner. Agree with it or not, this entry captures the historical moment, I think. Whatever the Secretary of State says, I think this is what Israel will hear.
We like you, we really do. We're just not into you so much anymore. I mean, you have a warm place in our hearts, but let's face it, so does Canada. Those of us who were around when you were born have mostly died off; the rest of us really don't know what the big attraction is.
Oh, it's not anything you've done lately that's alienated us. You and the Palestinians have been antagonizing each other for as long as anyone can remember. Neither of you can get past your various historical grievances with each other. And no matter how much we try to help you patch things up, something always goes awry and we're right back to where we started. Meanwhile, our other friends (yes, we have other friends) continue to get annoyed, anxious, indignant -- take your pick -- just because we're getting involved in your conflicts in the first place.
Don't get me wrong, it's not all your fault. We've created enough of our own bad blood with some of your neighbors. But, it's weird, your intransigence seems to reflect on us. Yes, the Palestinians are crazy and inept but their insanity and incompetence don't reflect on any of their friends. It's not fair, but there it is.
Listen, I know this may be difficult to hear, but I think we should see other countries for a while. Hey, consider how much freer you will be. Want to build settlements in East Jerusalem? Go for it! Invade Gaza? Be our guest! Evict Palestinians from the West Bank? Knock yourselves out!
We'll stay on the sidelines -- no -- in the bleachers, and sit quietly. Occasionally we'll tsk tsk about the continuing violence and wish that the affected parties can someday get along. Oh, and the three billion we give you every year? Uh, we could really use that right now. We hope you understand.
Also understand, we're still your friend, OK? We're just not going steady anymore.
"JP1954," send me an e-mail (click on the "e mail" box above my little ‘Meet the Press' photo on the right) and tell me whether you want a signed copy of one of my books, or Clay Blair's Forgotten War. And tell me where to send it.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
By William Shields
Best Defense pundits bureau chief
The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosted a panel on Tuesday moderated by Bob Schieffer and featuring heavy hitters Steve Coll, Tom Friedman, and David Ignatius. It was supposed to review the first year of the Obama administration's foreign policy, but given the nature of journalists, even very good ones, they went all ADD over the last 96 hours of news, specifically the spat between the U.S. government and Israel over the announcement of new settlements in East Jerusalem.
Friedman was first to bat, beginning by applauding the administration's rebuke of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and arguing that the U.S. response reflected a cathartic release of decades of institutional resentment of Israel's pursuit of a policy counter to U.S. interests. The question, said Friedman, who led the league in slugging for several years but lately has shown signs of aging, is how can the United States channel that frustration into a constructive strategy? According to Friedman, only two of the five major players in the region -- PNA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's government and the Palestinian resistance -- have a long-term strategy. The United States, Israel, and moderate Arab states on the other hand have approaches that can be characterized as aimless, short-sighted, and feckless, respectively. Claiming that the Obama administration has the worst Middle East policy of any recent presidency, Friedman said, "I don't even know who directs [the administration's] Middle East policy."
Iggie, as his fans call him, batted second. "Well, the President does," he countered as he stepped into the batter's box, citing Obama's June 2009 Cairo speech and his first public interview as president with Arab television station Al-Arabiya as indicative of a strategy of re-engaging the Muslim world. The speedy Ignatius, eyeing second base, added that Netanyahu gave the Obama administration a gift by doing something so "flagrant that it forced the administration to find its voice."
Ignatius then broke for second. En route, he said he thinks that the administration has a problem with optics. He recounted writing a column arguing that the United States should support Salam Fayyad's two-year transitional plan towards statehood. When a U.S. official called to tell Ignatius that this indeed was the United States' policy, Ignatius responded, "Well, it's news to me." (Anyone wanna contribute to hire him a researcher?) Ignatius, one of the most consistent hitters in the majors, argued that the United States needs to more clearly articulate its policy to give Fayyad the political support he'll need to convince a Palestinian public that is skeptical of a phased transition.
But what if Israel decided to strike Iran, asked umpire Schieffer: "What does the U.S. do?" The panelists said they were not convinced that an Israeli raid against Iran would be either easy or effective. The Anglophile Coll, batting third, explained that there exists in Iran a breadth of nuclear intellectual capacity and infrastructure such that strikes against Iran would not be debilitating. Ignatius, standing on second base, lent him support, questioning the ability of Israel to conduct an operation without U.S. support.
And so the game goes on.
OK, all you smart commenters, What should the secretary of State say when she addresses next week's AIPAC conference? Secondly: What will the former senator from New York say? Feel free to tackle either question. Post away. (Don't get cute and try to backdoor this via e-mail, Mr. "GrumpyFSO.")
Best answer gets a signed copy of any of my books, or if you don't want that, one of my extra copies of Clay Blair's The Forgotten War.
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The Israeli military had to cancel a planned operation after a soldier posted the details of the upcoming mission on Facebook. "The soldier also disclosed the name of the combat unit, the place of the operation and the time it will take place," Haaretz reports. The soldier actually wrote, "On Wednesday we clean up Qatanah [a village near Ramallah], and on Thursday, god willing, we come home."Can you imagine being this guy's platoon leader?
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images
Nicolas Sarkozy, president de la France, condemned the assassination of a Hamas commander in Dubai. He said that his country cannot accept such "executions."
Funny, I remember reading in Savage War of Peace how French agents whacked European arms dealers it believed were supplying the Algerian rebels.
NIGEL TREBLIN/AFP/Getty Images
I wonder if something fundamental is going on in the Middle East. That is, Iran is getting more powerful, and that scares the Arab states. So they seem to be turning away from worrying about Israel and focusing more on Iran as it moves toward becoming a nuclear power. The Bush administration actually helped strengthen Iran a lot by knocking down Iraq as the great bulwark against the expansion of Persian power westward. Also, by occupying Iraq, it effectively gave Iran tens of thousands of potential hostages, lessening Western leverage and so the West's ability to curtail Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Bottom line: Will AQ Khan and the Bush administration together inadvertently have brought Arab-Israeli peace to the Middle East?
Sérgio Savaman Savarese/flickr
I was surprised at how much I liked Paradise Now, the latest in our terrorism film festival. It had an interesting vibe, different from most terrorism films, with a surprisingly relaxed mode of storytelling. It kind of sneaks up on you.
The film is controversial, of course -- you couldn't make a film on this subject without being so. The "danger" is that one humanizes suicide bombers. But as my wife the saint points out, they are humans, so the question is: Why do humans do this? I think the film achieves its director's aim of being a work of art rather than a political statement.
Interestingly, the director has said that "I wouldn't do it again." He explained, "It's not worth endangering your life for a movie."
Meanwhile, the Iranian government is pissed at the Palestinian Authority for playing footsie with the Muj-e-Khalq. A foreign ministry guy in Tehran says, "MKO has been recognized as a terrorist group at international scene and the move accounted for new phase of cooperation with the group."
And Turkey's PM is dissing Israel.
Can't we all just get along?
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.