Could there be anything more discomfiting for Israelis and their supporters around the world than the recent breach in relations between the State of Israel and the United States?
A report on March 17 revealed that in mid- January, a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Gen. David Petraeus had sent them to amplify his growing concerns at the lack of progress in bringing the Arab- Israeli conflict to an end. It reflected a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises and that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region.
A shiver has since then crept up the U.S. governmental spine that a failed peace process between Israel and the Palestinians would couple Israeli intransigence with American weakness – resulting in an ebb in Arab support for American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the increasing vulnerability of American servicemen to attack.
The report, if true, should be of far deeper concern to Israel’s supporters than a temporary spat over housing units in Jerusalem. For if the U.S. military, which has traditionally seen the State of Israel as an important hedge against the rise of Islamic militancy in the Middle East, now sees the nation as a liability, we may be in for a fundamental realignment of American foreign policy.
But questions remain. Who, for instance, has David Petraeus been talking to? Not by chance to Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak – the leader of a country that, despite a 30-year-old peace treaty with the Jewish state, is one of the world’s most vicious Israel bashers at world forums and a lodestar of antisemitism in a part of the world that has no dearth of Jew hatred?
No? Then what about King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, that avid seeker of peace, who, as monarch of his desert sheikdom, has presided over a cottage industry of Israel demonization while doing nothing, despite his country’s bubbling oil wealth, to enhance Palestinian welfare.
Or maybe he has been taking tea with our friends in Dubai, who have expended millions on tracking the hit squad that targeted Hamas king pin Mahmoud al-Mabhouh but who seem oddly disinterested in the cloaca of muddied terrorist money that funnels unfiltered through its financial institutions.
Perhaps it is that Petraeus has been given to reading a great deal lately from the communiqués of the British Foreign Office of the late 1930s and the U.S. State Department in the 1940s. Back then the argument made by both was that neither Britain nor the United States could afford to support the establishment of a nascent Jewish state since it would inevitably turn the Arab world against the West.
History proved them wrong. British coddling of the Arabs proved distastrous as the sheikdoms tilted towards the Axis Powers during the Second World War and imperilled British access to oil as well as the approaches to India. After the war, the oil rich sheikdoms discovered in the West hungry, open markets for their subterranean product. The Arab-Israeli dispute was only a shadowy after-thought and did not get in the way of the growth of their oil business nor their relations with the West. It was, oddly enough, not Western support for Israel that would ultimately turn the sheikdoms against the West, but the pressures of the Cold War and then the well financed rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
You do have to wonder then whether Gen. Petraeus, like so many other Western diplomats, is responding to facts on the ground, divorced from their historical context. Does he appreciate that “the process” he complains about did not begin a few months ago but has been on-going for 17 years? Does he realize that Israeli concessions were not greeted with tears of joy by the Palestinian leaders but with the murder of Israeli citizens? Or that the Palestinians have repeatedly violated their agreements and have, time and again over the past 70 years, refused generous territorial offers put to them by the Brits, the United Nations, the United States and Israel itself?
Does he appreciate that the Israelis have buried their dead as the world continued to rhaphsodize about Palestinian territorial rights?
Perhaps he is unaware of any this because history has, at least until now, been an insignificant element in modern diplomacy in the Middle East, with each round of negotiations mandating a virtual reset of relations, as if the past was a blank slate and not inked with shattered Palestinian promises or dripping with Jewish blood.
But if Gen. Petraeus does not appreciate history, how does he feel about the present?
Does he comprehend Israel’s military capability, the reach of its intelligence network, the strength of its civilian morale and the determination of its leaders to deter another Holocaust? Does he understand the strategic importance of marshalling these resources in the inevitable confrontation between the Iranian mullahs and the West? Can he or our political leadership in Washington shrug off their prejudices and expectations long enough to recognize that the Palestinian pantomime is a mere sideshow to the true menace rising out of the sands of the Middle East?
In the end, military leaders such as Gen. David Petraeus, schooled as they are in the practical realities of the world, should not allow themselves to be distracted by the importunings of a gang of self- interested autocrats who have shed as many tears for the welfare of their Palestinian brethren as Adolf Hitler once wept for the Sudeten Germans. He should be aware that no matter what Arab leaders explain to him about their tribal alleigences, their assurances have regularly proven hollow, their willingness to make genuine sacrifices for American security negligible and their commitment to peace a fraud, offered as a sly purchase for American aid and protection.
Is it any wonder then that when Israelis hear American generals talk excitedly about the slow pace of negotiations and its threats to the lives of American soldiers, they can only hang their heads in exasperation?