Too Close for Comfort on Israel
By ROBERT D. NOVAK
From the Washington Post
July 20th, 2006
When I expressed commiseration to an Israeli diplomat over the “bad news” in the Middle East, he expressed hope that “good news” – a “new paradigm” – is on the way. He added: “The problem is that we have been too soft.” In other words, Israel had erred in not moving earlier against Hezbollah‘s military capability in southern Lebanon and was determined to do so now.
Using military force to achieve the “new paradigm” wins either enthusiastic or tacit support across America‘s ideological spectrum. Apart from hesitant pleas for Israeli restraint from President Bush and his administration‘s officials, the U.S. political community has been cheering on the punishment of Hezbollah. Sen. Chuck Hagel, second-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is a voice in the wilderness suggesting U.S. policy is dangerously isolated by the Israeli alliance.
Never before have the United States and Israel been so close, and never before has support of Israel been so universal among American politicians. That inhibits the leverage Bush is able to exercise, on behalf of his country, as an honest broker seeking a peaceful solution in the Middle East. He is seen as Israel‘s uncritical supporter. Members of Congress, normally free with their comments about everything, have been silent about the economic carnage that could result from the current escalation in the Middle East (including a prospective epidemic of suicide bombings in Israel).
The U.S.-Israel alliance was transformed after the Six-Day War of 1967, when the United States replaced the Soviet Union and France as Israel‘s patron. In 1988, a joint memorandum designated Israel as a “major” American ally. But it was not until 2001 that the current intimacy between the two governments was reached. Stratfor, the private intelligence service, reported on the day of the 9/11 terrorist attacks: “The big winner today, intentionally or not, is the state of Israel.” I wrote then: “Whatever distance Bush wanted between U.S. and Israeli policy, it was eliminated by terror.” Engaged in both Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush stepped back from the drudgery of promoting Israeli-Palestinian accommodation.
Nearly two decades before 9/11, American politicians had learned how dangerous it was to be at odds with Israel. American supporters of Israel focused on two longtime Illinois Republicans – Rep. Paul Findley in 1982 and Sen. Charles H. Percy in 1984 – and defeated both for re-election. Since then, few office seekers have dared criticize Israel.
That is especially true of anybody harboring Presidential ambitions – including Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden and Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. They are critics by nature but were markedly uncritical of Israel when they appeared together on NBC‘s “Meet the Press” Sunday. “I think it‘s a secondary question whether Israel‘s gone too far,” said Biden. A few moments later, Gingrich asserted: “It is explicitly wrong to bring pressure on the victim” – that is, on Israel.
Sen. Hagel, who is considering a possible 2008 Presidential race, deviates from this pattern. “I‘m a supporter and friend of Israel,” he told me, “but I‘m also for a sane situation in the Middle East. We have to worry about the Muslim states. We are increasingly alone in the world.” While asserting Iran and Syria bear “some responsibility,” he talked about a “combustible environment” that could “engulf the whole world.” To Hagel, “this is the most dangerous situation we‘ve been in” since the formation of the state of Israel 58 years ago.
Hagel was one of the first public figures last week to propose sending a prestigious former Republican secretary of state – either James A. Baker III or Colin Powell – to the Middle East as a Presidential envoy. Implicit in that suggestion was the belief that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was not up to mediating the Israeli-Palestinian struggle and that outside assistance was needed.
There was no hand of any American visible when I reported from Israel three months ago, and Israelis seemed happy about that. Newly installed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was intent on Israel unilaterally drawing boundary lines with a desiccated, noncontiguous, economically nonviable Palestinian state. With no negotiations taking place and Washington pressing for none, thoughtful Israelis outside the government assured me of a return to violence, one way or another, sooner or later. It came sooner.
Too Close for Comfort on Israel