‘Obama’s embarrassing gift to Israel’
Foreign Policy; November 15, 2010
A legendary story from our early history has it that Thomas Jefferson so hated John Jay that he ordered Pierre L’Enfant — the civil engineer who designed our capital city — to excise any reference to Jay (including “J Street”) from his plans. The story is apocryphal, but the history behind it isn’t. For Jefferson, Jay was an arch-appeaser: his 1795 treaty with Britain provided concessions to a nation we had defeated in our revolution.
Jefferson wasn’t the only one who hated the treaty. While Jay’s agreement was ratified by the Congress, he was burned in effigy by New York and Philadelphia mobs and the treaty so stained his reputation that he was never considered for the presidency. Jefferson didn’t make the same mistake. When the Pasha of Barbary demanded ransom for US ships he had seized, Jefferson sent a US naval squadron to punish him. The resulting victory is now celebrated with a half-verse in the Marine Corps hymn (which celebrates the triumph on “the shores of Tripoli”) and a knock-out political slogan that energized a nation: “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.”
If only Jefferson could see us now. This weekend, the Obama administration promised to turn over $3 billion in stealth fighters to Israel (supplementing the 20 F-35s it will buy with the $2.75 billion in “grants” it gets from Washington) and veto any UN resolution that questions Israel’s legitimacy — all in exchange for Israel’s pledge to extend a ten-month partial settlement moratorium for another 90 days.
This is a bad idea. And it’s dangerous. There are differences, of course, between the events of the last 24 hours and the crisis that Jefferson faced in 1804. Then, we protested that we were “paying tribute,” now we are “providing incentives.” Then too, Israel is not making any “demands,” they are simply (in Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s words) “insisting.” Oh — and let’s not forget — the pirates of Barbary were America’s “enemy.” That’s a lot different than now; Israel is our “friend.”
This administration’s decision would be shocking were it not so predictable. Back on October 20, State Department spokesman Andrew Shapiro reassured the press that a $60 billion US arms transfer to Saudi Arabia would go forward because “Israel does not object…” Shapiro’s statement passed with nary an eye blink in L’Enfant’s city, where Israel‘s approval is apparently required for America to do anything in the Middle East.
But Shapiro’s tone-deafness is hardly limited to dime-a-dozen spokespersons. In the wake of General Petreaus’ controversial March testimony that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “foments anti-American sentiment” (stop the presses), Hillary Clinton went out of her way to reassure Israelis that “we are committed to Israel’s security,” a soothing word-for-word mantra repeated by Barack Obama (July 6), Joe Biden (November 7) and any old American official behind a microphone (P.J. Crowley, August 4). The administration doesn’t get it: the question is not whether we are committed to Israel’s security, but whether they’re committed to ours.
The tone-deafness evidenced by Andrew Shapiro is now an all-consuming part of public policy, extending to every part of the American government — and beyond. When Elena Kagan testified during her confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court, she cited Israel jurist Aharon Barak as her model, because he was the “John Marshall of the State of Israel.” Kagan might well be a brilliant justice, but I would have thought she would cite Marshall as her model.
Reminded that Barak was a judicial activist (and therefore not necessarily acceptable for some committee members), Kagan gave a ready explanation: “Israel means a lot to me,” she explained. Enough said.
When David Petreaus was criticized by Israel advocates for his March testimony, he backtracked, asking neo-conservative Max Boot (in an email he carelessly sent to a blogger) whether it would help “if folks know that I hosted Elie Wiesel and his wife at our quarters last Sun night?”
Petreaus is our nation’s most influential military officer since Eisenhower. Guess what? He’s afraid of Israel’s lobby. And when Angela Merkel addressed the US Congress in November of 2009, she didn’t talk about American security, but Israeli security. “Security for the state of Israel is, for me, non-negotiable,” she said. “Whoever threatens Israel also threatens us.”
Even senior aides to the otherwise pro-Israel Congress were puzzled. “Maybe she thought she was talking to the Knesset,” one of them said. Finally, Republican Eric Cantor recently told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the new Republican majority would serve as “a check on the administration” in any dispute with Israel — a statement so astonishing that one pro-Israel journalist viewed it as not only unprecedented, but “extraordinary.”
None of this has been lost on the administration, which is apparently intent on proving to Cantor (and the new Republican majority) that it’s as committed to Israel as they are. Or more. On October 25, Dennis Ross, the White House point person on the Middle East, told a meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that not only is America committed “to Israel’s security”, but that the US commitment “has also been demonstrated in our work to defeat efforts in international organizations to single out or delegitimize Israel.”
This is new, but undoubtedly welcome to Israel’s supporters: the US will not only defend Israel, it will silence its critics. The Ross pledge was ostensibly made to bar a UN move for Palestinian statehood which, under the agreement, would be vetoed by the US.
But the administration’s new promise has far reaching consequences. It pledges US opposition to Israeli compliance with international agreements on nuclear weapons (explicitly mentioned by Ross), the criticisms issued by Judge Goldstone in his report of Operation Cast Lead against Gaza, and any UN action condemning Israel for its May boarding of a ship on which 19-year-old Furkan Dogan, an American citizen, was killed. That investigation, which the US insisted be “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent,” is now (at America’s urging) in the hands of an investigation run by the Israelis.
The Ross message to AIPAC was repeated by Vice President Biden during a meeting of the Jewish Federations of North America in New Orleans, just two weeks later. The Biden speech included the administration’s mantra — “we are absolutely, unequivocally committed to Israel’s security” — and then focused on the administration’s new effort to fight any questioning of Israel’s actions, extending to the international community the view now required of every American: that Israel not only be defended, but viewed as above criticism.
Biden bragged about his role in defending Israeli actions during the flotilla episode in his New Orleans speech. “That’s why, at the direction of President Obama…I spent hour after hour in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, trying to put it in its proper focus and ensure that Israel had its right to conduct its own independent investigation.”
Breathtaking: people weren’t opposed to Israel’s right to “conduct its own independent investigation” (who cares?), they simply believed that any Israeli inquiry would be a Moscow show trial in reverse: instead of being automatically condemned, the accused would be automatically acquitted. The message to American citizens is clear: if a Muslim kills you it’s because he’s a terrorist, if an Israeli kills you, it’s because you’re a terrorist.
The Obama Administration’s newest promise to Israel is abject, embarrassing and gutless. Our country — our president — is rewarding a foreign leader who openly boasts that America “is something that can easily be moved,” who urges a waiting game with the US because he knows that Israel’s friends in the Congress will defy a president who opposes him, who tells his cabinet that he will outfox Barack Obama.
We are paying Israel to do something that is in their own interests — and very much not in ours. That’s extortion. The Obama Administration has this dangerously wrong. F-35s? This is not a defensive weapon. The jet is the most advanced air system in the world, with a round-trip capability that puts Tehran in range of Tel Aviv. The message, intended or not, will be heard by Iran: we’re not interested in allowing Israel to defend itself, we’re interested in having it attack others.
The administration has not made Israel stronger, they’ve made America more vulnerable. We are purposely escalating the regional sprint to acquire weapons that will eventually, and inevitably, kill American soldiers. We have lost our way. It is not Israel’s legitimacy that needs defending, but ours.
This is not the first time this has happened. During his second administration, George Washington faced a similar test and finally, if reluctantly, agreed to pay ransom to the Barbary extortionists. He had little choice: the US had no navy and little international leverage. Then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson opposed paying of the tribute, but acceded to Washington decision.
It was a terrible mistake: in 1795, the US paid $1 million in cash and turned over valuable naval stores to keep the peace in North Africa. It didn’t work. The Pashas of Barbary demanded more. George Washington, the father of our country, was a very great man. But in this one case he was wrong; and Thomas Jefferson was right: “Paying tribute,” he said, “will merely invite more demands.”
The above article can be found here: http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/11/15/not_one_cent_for_tribute_obamas_embarrassing_gift_to_israel
‘Obama has made Netanyahu an offer he can’t refuse’
Haaretz (Israel); November 15, 2010 The list of defense-related and other gifts the US administration is willing to offer to Israel in exchange for three months of construction freeze in the settlements raises suspicions that someone has gone mad.
An additional extension of the freeze, which he has previously rejected out of hand, may spell a political and ideological headache for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — but the offer by US President Barack Obama is very enticing. The addition of 20 F-35s to the package discussed two months ago tips the balance very clearly. From Israel’s point of view, it is an offer that cannot be refused.
Since Obama entered the White House two years ago, he has not given the impression — at least in terms of foreign relations — of being a particularly tough negotiator. Nonetheless, this time the administration appears to have gone overboard, even though in Washington they know full well that the freeze is a highly symbolic gesture, which the settlers have already managed to avoid in the past.
This, of course, raises suspicions that there are much broader and substantive issues at hand, and not merely a few housing units in Samaria or Gush Etzion. Not only may there be a genuine Israeli willingness to move forward in a substantive way in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, but perhaps some sort of deal on the Iranian question is afoot.
Could it be — and this is only conjecture — that Obama is trying to persuade Israel to commit to desisting from any independent action against the nuclear installations of Iran, in exchange for a substantial future reinforcement of the Israel Air Force?
The F-35 deal signed last month was controversial in both defense establishment and political circles. The debate did not stem from the quality of the stealth aircraft, but from the price tag accompanying it: Generals and minister believed that when the price per unit is more than $130 million, there are better ways to make use of the US military aid package.
But, according to the prime minister, the US is now generously offering to double the number of aircraft without the funding for them being taken from the future military aid package.
This is an enormous gift, which nearly makes the debate on the need for the F-35 redundant. According to reports, there will also be significant benefits elsewhere in the gift list for Israel.
In spite a great deal of bad mouthing about him, the US president has proven no less committed to Israel’s security than his predecessor. To date the security package has included emergency stores that are available to the Israel Defense Forces, a $205-million grant to purchase Iron Dome systems, and a significant stepping-up of joint missile defense training programs. The list of items to come, at least on paper, is impressive.
“The Americans have put forth an excellent proposal. It will be a big mistake not to take it,” a senior defense source told Haaretz last night, adding that “the prime minister has made impressive gains. If we do not implement this deal, we will suffer in terms of defense.”
Obama is essentially spotlighting a debate that has been going on since the settlements began — namely, whether they contribute to or undermine Israel’s security. The US president is now asking: What benefits Israeli security more — a few more trailers on some hilltops or doubling the number of advanced fighters in its inventory?
The above article can be found here: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/mess-report-obama-has-made-netanyahu-an-offer-he-can-t-refuse-1.324687
‘Israel mulls F-35s for peace-talks offer’
Aviation Week (US); November 22, 2010
Besides an additional 20 Lockheed Martin F-35s, at a cost of around $3 billion, if Israel makes more movement for peace with Palestinians, the US also has pledged to provide Israel with more technologies and capabilities to counter threats from Iran and to veto any anti-Israeli resolution in the UN or the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Further, the US has proposed signing a new defense treaty with Israel if a peace accord with the Palestinians can be achieved.
Western defense sources tell Aviation Week that the offer was initially presented to Israel in September, at the time when the previous 10-month moratorium on settlements was about to expire, but was rejected by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The offer was renewed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a seven-hour meeting with Netanyahu in New York on Nov. 11.
It is assumed that Clinton demanded, in addition to the moratorium, that Israel will accept the US guidelines for the negotiations with the Palestinians and will remove some of the objections that have stalled the peace process so far.
As part of its efforts to revitalize stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the US government is widely reported to be suggesting it may provide Tel Aviv 20 additional F-35s if it halts new building construction in the West Bank.
Palestinians cite the construction efforts as the main barrier to resuming negotiations.
While the US State Department has refused to comment on the matter this week, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak confirmed that such an offer was made by the US. “In the past, we wanted to procure 40 F-35s, but due to budget constraints we could only afford 20,” he said. “Now the US is offering to give us the additional 20 in exchange for a 90-day freeze on settlements.”
But apparently Netanyahu has asked to receive the US offer in a presidential letter that he would put before the Israeli cabinet, a move that stirred opposition from his own party and other coalition partners. “Twenty fighters are much more important in the long term than the current political friction between Netanyahu and his party members,” says Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, frequently a political rival to Netanyahu.
Without commenting directly on the US offer, Israel air force commander, Maj. Gen. Ido Nachoshtan, notes that “the F-35s will provide us a significant strategic capability. They have a key role in the building of Israel’s air force in the face of a developing arena.”
In October, Israel signed a $2.75 billion contract to buy a first squadron of 20 F-35As, to be financed through US foreign military aid funds. The aircraft are due to be delivered in 2015-17.
“The US offer to provide additional fighters for free is an offer we cannot refuse,” a senior defense source told Aviation Week. However, if Israel will accept the offer, the new fighters will be delivered only by the end of the decade, and will be irrelevant to any imminent conflict with Iran.
As of mid-November, the US presidential letter of commitment had yet to be received in Israel.
The above article can be found here: http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story.jsp?id=news/awx/2010/11/19/awx_11_19_2010_p0-270734.xml&channel=defense
‘Washington rolls over’
Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt); November 25, 2010
The [Zionist-run] Palestinian Authority (PA) reacted indignantly but helplessly to the reported package of incentives the Obama administration has offered Israel in exchange for agreeing to “freeze” settlement construction in the West Bank for 90 days.
PA officials said the incentives would embolden Israel even further and make any real progress in the peace process less likely.
“With these huge amounts of weapons, with these comprehensive diplomatic guarantees, why would Israel even think of giving concessions or make peace?” asked Ghassan Al-Khatib, head of the Government Information Office in Ramallah.
Another Palestinian official said the incentives amounted to “a total surrender of American political will to Israel”.
According to written assurances, Israel would receive far-reaching offers and guarantees that no other US administration agreed to cede to Israel. This includes offering Israel 20 F-35 fighters, Israel’s control of the entire Jordan Valley for an unspecific period of time after a final border is established, and a guarantee that the US will veto any anti-Israeli resolution at the UN Security Council.
The incentives deal, which has not been finalized, is still vague with regards to freezing settlement building in East Jerusalem. Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, insisted that Jerusalem was not included in the deal. “Jerusalem is not a settlement, and Israel won’t stop building in the capital,” Netanyahu has said.
However, diplomatic sources in Ramallah have pointed out that Israel might agree to take some “symbolic measures” in East Jerusalem to persuade the Palestinians to rejoin the talks.
Meanwhile, Israel is trying to take advantage of the incentives by insisting on the inclusion of a clause that would make the US refrain from asking Israel, once again, to initiate another settlement freeze, regardless of the situation on the ground.
The effective bribe being offered to Israel has raised eyebrows, even among Israel’s most rightwing political currents, who deemed the move “a golden deal that Israel can’t reject,” and that “such a deal must never be missed.”
Some Israeli leaders affiliated with Netanyahu’s Likud Party were quoted as saying that Israel should accept the deal and at the same time stick to its settlement policy in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The inference was that Israel could always circumvent any promises given to the Americans vis-à-vis a settlement freeze, and that in any case the Obama administration is in no position to pressure Israel given its “insecure domestic standing” especially in light of the outcome of the recent midterm congressional elections.
The main reason for Israel’s embrace of the incentives deal is the inclusion of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (FSJ). Considered the best in US military technology, the FSJ is part of a joint multinational acquisition program for the US Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps as well as eight international partners.
By allowing Israel to acquire these state-of-the-art fighters, Israel effectively joins the US and the other eight countries as members of a Western alliance working together on the largest military aircraft procurement ever made.
According to one American strategic analyst, Israel is not just receiving a gift of 20 F-35s, it is also becoming part of a procurement program designed to run through 2026 and possibly longer. According to the Global Security report, the F-35 fleet “may well stay in service until 2060 or longer”.
It is not clear what prompted the Obama administration to offer Israel the package of incentives in return for so little and with such uncertainty.
Some say the package is partially intended to benefit the US military industrial complex; others suggest that the Obama administration has been effectively demoralized, having seen Israeli leaders circumvent, outmaneuver and beat the administration on its own turf. Still others interpret the unprecedented offering by citing growing desperation in Washington for any diplomatic achievement that would warrant and justify the Nobel Peace Prize Obama won last year, especially in light of his most modest achievements and many failures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There is little doubt that Israel will be able to score a double hit in its current standoff with Washington: get the package of incentives and also have its way in the West Bank. Israel would receive the best and utmost America military technology in return for strategically insignificant promises that Israel won’t likely keep.
Underscoring its ill-will towards a just and dignified peace with neighboring Arab states, the Israeli Knesset this week passed a bill that obliges the government not to agree to withdraw from the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem without the approval of an absolute majority in the Knesset followed by a referendum in which a majority of the people would have to support any withdrawal.
Israel annexed both East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights in violation of international law in 1967. Israel has also built extensive Jewish colonies in both areas, which makes it difficult to return to the status quo ante before the occupation in 1967.
Another Israeli provocation has been the approval by the Israeli government for changing the timeless features of Al-Aqsa Mosque’s Buraq Wall, known to Jews as the Western Wall or Wailing Wall. The scheme appears aimed at erasing Islamic history at the site, ruled as wholly Islamic by the League of Nations during the British Mandate era.
The Israeli government allocated a budget of $25 million to expand and develop the site as well as fund archaeological excavations. The Israeli plan would be the most extensive alteration of the features of Haram Al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) since 1967.
Meanwhile, the PA, weak and helpless, is considering appealing to the United Nations General Assembly for recognition of a Palestinian state in light of Israel’s unilateral steps in the occupied territories and also US unwillingness — or inability — to force Israel to end its occupation of Arab land.
PA leader Mahmoud Abbas met this week in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The two are believed to have agreed that the Palestinians would go the UN as a last resort, if current US efforts fail.
However, even receiving a positive resolution from the UN General Assembly would not radically alter the situation on the ground, as without the intercession of the UN Security Council there would be no means available of enforcing the consensus of the General Assembly which for decades has supported, in majority, the rights of the Palestinians.
The circle is squared when the US includes in its incentive package to continue wielding its Security Council veto in Israel’s favor.
The above article can be found here: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2010/1024/re4.htm
US Dept. of State daily press briefing
November 15, 2010
QUESTION: Just regarding US assurances of Israel’s security, the proposal that you guys have made to Israel reportedly includes 20 F-35s. And I know you’re going to say, “We’re not going to comment on the details,” but I’m —
STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN PHILIP CROWLEY: I’m not going to comment on the details. (Laughter)
QUESTION: I want to finish so you’ll understand why I think you should. The agreement is for 20 planes. Israel has already committed to buying 20 of these planes from Lockheed at a cost of $7 billion. So my question is: If — is this the same 20 planes and, if so, what kind of incentive is that? I mean, they’ve already committed to buying. If it’s not, are you actually spending $7 billion to get them to extend the talks, extend freeze — the freeze for 90 days?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m —
QUESTION: Because that’s the way it looks.
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m not going to comment on details. Our policy with regard to Israel’s security is well known. We are —
QUESTION: But $7 billion?
MR. CROWLEY: We are — look, we are committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative edge in the region and– but beyond that, I’m not going to comment.
QUESTION: That was actually my question as well. (Inaudible)
QUESTION: Well, wait a second.
MR. CROWLEY: All right, hold —
QUESTION: Let’s stay — staying on the planes. Is this something that they would have to buy or are you going to give them these?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m not going to comment on any specific discussions. I would just always caution that any time you have reports about specific things, some details may be right, some details may be wrong.
QUESTION: All right. Well, let’s — then let’s just ask this: Can you — can this Administration afford to give Israel another $3 billion worth of military equipment?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, we are committed to support Israel —
QUESTION: Well, regardless of whether you’re committed to preserving their qualitative military edge, can you —
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I — you’re —
QUESTION: Can this Administration, which is broke, afford —
MR. CROWLEY: — leaping —
QUESTION: — afford another $3 billion?
MR. CROWLEY: You’re leaping to a conclusion — to conclusions that I’m not prepared to address here.
QUESTION: But Israeli officials have told reporters over there this. Are they misleading the reporters?
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m just not going to get into any details of ideas that may or may not be under discussion between the United States and Israel.
The above excerpt can be found here: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2010/11/150914.htm
Also see ‘Zionist state to build another 1300 Jewish-only housing units in occupied W. Bank’ here: http://800pg.co.cc/geeklog//article.php?story=20101113221900526
Also see ‘Zionist-run PA (along with Arab League and OIC) keeps UN Goldstone Report, flotilla probe in bureaucratic limbo’ here: http://800pg.co.cc/geeklog//article.php?story=20101102133320707
Also see ‘Jewish general to pilot evangelical-friendly air force (2008)’ here: http://800pg.co.cc/geeklog//article.php?story=20101006022753162
Also see ‘While Washington plays peacemaker, US Treasury supports illegal Israeli settlement drive’ here: http://800pg.co.cc/geeklog//article.php?story=20100809143242274