Just say, No
By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger
“Israel Hayom” – Israel’s most read daily paper
April 6, 2012
Israeli leaders are able to repel President Obama’s relentless pressure to refrain from pre-empting Iran, Hizballah and Hamas; to freeze Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria; to retreat to the 1949 cease fire lines, including the repartitioning of Jerusalem; and to placate Mahmoud Abbas, while ignoring the PA hate-education, non-compliance and terrorism.
In contrast to the ironclad US public and Congressional support of Israel, negative presidential pressure has always been part of US-Israel relations.
Therefore, contemporary Israeli leaders should emulate Israeli Prime Ministers who served from 1948 (Ben Gurion) to 1992 (Shamir). While they rejected – in most cases – presidential prescriptions for Israel’s national security, bilateral strategic cooperation surged unprecedentedly in spite off, and probably due to, their steadfastness.
The 1948-1992 Israeli leaders realized that presidential pressure came with the job; that saying, “No” was critical to Israel’s posture of deterrence; that rebuffing pressure would upgrade bilateral relations. In most cases, they did defy pressure. They were not concerned with popularity and convenience, but with respect and conviction-driven vision. They did not alter strategy to elude pressure.
For example, in 1948, the US imposed a regional military embargo, while the British supplied arms to the Arabs, to force PM Ben Gurion to accept a UN Trusteeship instead of declaring independence. The US demanded to end “occupation” in the Negev, to internationalize Jerusalem and to absorb and compensate Palestinian refugees.
According to the first US Ambassador to Israel, James MacDonald (My Mission in Israel, Simon and Schuster, 1951, p. 49), “[Ben Gurion] warned President Truman and the Department of State that they would be gravely mistaken if they assumed that the threat would force Israel to yield on issues considered vital to its independence and security….” Ben Gurion’s defiance forced the US to reassess its policy toward the Jewish State and recognize its strategic viability.
On May 26, 1967, President Johnson warned Prime Minister Eshkol against preempting Egypt and Syria: “Israel will not be alone unless it decides to go it alone.” Eshkol defied Johnson and Israel’s military devastated Egypt, which aimed to topple the pro-US regimes in the Persian Gulf. The US concluded that – irrespective of differences over the Arab-Israeli conflict – Israel was capable of pulling chestnuts out of the Middle East fire, for the US, without a single American boot on the ground.
On December 20, 1981, Prime Minister Begin summoned the US Ambassador to Israel and reproached him: “On June 7, we destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor near Baghdad…. You announced that you were punishing us [by imposing a military embargo and canceling military procurement in Israel]…. Not long afterwards – after a slaughter was committed against our people….we bombed the PLO headquarters in Beirut…. You suspended delivery of F-15 planes. A week ago, the Knesset passed the Golan Heights Law. Once again, you declared that you are punishing Israel…. Are we a vassal state of yours? Are we a banana republic?
You have announced that you are suspending consultations on the implementation of the memorandum of understanding on strategic cooperation….The people of Israel has lived 3,700 years without a memorandum of understanding with America, and it will continue to live for another 3,700 years….” (Lord Willing)
In 1982, Begin rejected the Reagan Plan for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, an expanded memorandum of strategic cooperation was concluded in 1983. In 1991, then Secretary of Defense, Cheney, thanked Israel for bombing Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981, which spared the US a nuclear confrontation with Iraq in 1991.
Prime Minister Shamir had his share of clashes with Presidents Reagan and (especially) G.H. Bush. However, a 1988 agreement significantly upgraded strategic cooperation, and a series of 1991-2 Congressional initiatives further enhanced bilateral relations, in spite of the White House.
On a rainy day, the US prefers a defiant ally over a “punching bag!”
US-Israel relations have not evolved around the Arab-Israeli conflict, but around shared-values and mutual regional and global threats and interests. While rebuking Israel over the Arab-Israeli conflict, the US has recognized Israel’s unique contribution to countering-terrorism, missile defense, intelligence gathering, battle tactics, the upgrading of US defense and commercial industries (expanding employment and exports), deterring anti-US rogue Arab regimes and supporting weak pro-US Arab regimes.
Submission to Presidential pressure while ignoring the unique support of the Jewish State by the American people (71% according to a February, 2012 Gallup poll) and by the co-equal, co-determining Congress (about 75% and 80% in the House and Senate respectively), would amount to a slap in the face of US democracy, undermining Israel’s most vital interests.
In face of the clear and present Iranian threat, will Prime Minister Netanyahu learn from history by following in the footsteps of the 1948-1992 defiant statesmen, or will he subordinate Israel’s survival to White House pressure?
Shabbat Shalom, Happy Passover and Easter,
“Second Thought: US-Israel Initiative”