14 February 2010

Israeli hubris

In Game, set and match to Mr Netanyahu (24 September 2009) I observed that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu must have been laughing all the way home at the outcome of the meetings on Middle East Peace sponsored by President Obama - all of the Americans’ tough talk from last May about how the President “wants to see a stop to settlements – not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions,” (see West Bank Settlements: full marks to Mrs Clinton) had collapsed to the usual posture in the face of Israeli intransigence – hand-wringing and bleating from the sidelines.

The Israelis would be well advised not to celebrate this particular victory too loudly, but having achieved it, and seen off just about everyone who might have the temerity to suggest that there is something in the Goldstone Report that might warrant investigation (or perhaps even a little self-reflection) on the part of Israel, the  Israeli right is showing distinct signs of hubris, an insouciant belief that it doesn’t matter whom Israel chooses to insult or offend.

Two examples of this are given in the course of a major piece in The Weekend Australian, 13-14 February 2010, on the redrawing of the map of the Middle East, by The Australian’s Middle East correspondent John Lyons (see Inquirer, page 6, Arabs seize the initiative as US blinks.

The first consists of intemperate and unwise personal attacks on President Obama and his Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, who is the son of an Irgun member, has strong personal ties to Israel, and is an influential politician in his own right.  Nothwithstanding that pedigree, two settler leaders have written to Emanuel saying:

You are like the Hellenists who acted against the Israeli nation. You advise President Obama against Israel, and incite and instigate against us. You are a traitor against the entire Jewish people.

Emanuel has come under attack also from prominent hawk and former Israeli diplomat to the US Yoram Ettinger, who attributed the loss of the Massachusetts Senate seat to “the intense involvement of ... Emanuel in Obama’s policy making and in the Massachusetts election”.

As for the President himself, Ettinger has warned him that Israel’s friends on Capitol Hill are being mobilised against him:

President Obama is intent on clipping the wings of the Jewish state morally, strategically and territorially. However, this is not a top priority for him. He would not confront Israel’s friends on Capitol Hill and in the public if they are mobilised against his prescription. Does Obama have the power to overcome such a pro-Israel alliance and impose a solution on Israel?

For the Israeli right to get these sorts of sentiments off its collective chest might be all good clean fun, but they would be wise to recall that it is the United States that underwrites Israel’s security, at very considerable foreign policy cost to itself in the rest of the Middle East and much of the rest of the world, and accordingly Israel has a very strong strategic interest in the continuation of American goodwill. Wise also to reflect that politicians of every stamp have big egos and long memories.

Be careful whom you antagonise would be my advice: if these elements do mobilise their friends against President Obama, and he is re-elected anyway, it will be a strategic setback for Israel.

The other example of Israeli hubris concerns the recent humiliation of the Turkish Ambassador to Israel, Mr Oguz Celikkol. To understand the full significance of this it is necessary to bear in mind that, from its earliest days, the state of Israel followed a “peripheral strategy” of cultivating close relationships with the non-Arab neighbours of its Arab antagonists, notably the Shah’s Iran and Turkey. Israel does not need Turkey any more apparently. As The Australian tells it:

On the order of [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon called in the ambassador to protest about a recent episode of a Turkish television series depicting Mossad agents as child-snatchers.

In an ambush, Ayalon called the ambassador to his office, then called in the photographers. He refused to shake the ambassador’s hand and in Hebrew told the photographers: “Pay attention that he is sitting in a lower chair and we are in the higher ones, that there is only an Israeli flag on the table and that we are not smiling”.

The upshot of this deft piece of diplomacy was that Prime Minister Netanyahu had to intervene and force Ayalon to apologise, and Defence Minister Ehud Barak was left to try to patch up relations with Turkey.

This is the way Israel treats its friends.

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