Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Is Israel's Strategic Situation Worsening?

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Update from AIJAC

September 16, 2011
Number 09/11 #05

Much is being written about the worsening security outlook Israel currently faces - with Turkey, once an ally, now seemingly an irreconcilable opponent, (and Turkish PM Erdogan currently visiting various Arab states and engaging in sabre-rattling against Israel), and, as was highlighted in the last Update, the outlook vis-a-vis the peace treaty with Egypt looking pretty grim. This Update features three pieces focused on both analysing and explaining Israel's apparently worsening strategic situation.

First is veteran journalist and former Middle East correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg, who looks at the way the Arab Spring revolutions have ended up having negative consequences for Israel. He canvasses two explanations being put forward for this shift- Israel is being made a scapegoat for unfulfilled revolutionary promises, or Arabs are simply furious over Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. But Goldberg makes an important point; Israel is actually being punished by both Egypt and Turkey for the consequences of an Israeli decision to relinquish Palestinian territory - the Gaza withdrawal of 2005. For Goldberg's detailed explanation of this reality, CLICK HERE.

Next up is veteran Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, who uses the example of the life of former President Anwar Sadat to explain what is happening now in Egypt and elsewhere across the Arab world. Cohen notes that Sadat once wrote pro-Hitler screeds before eventually transcending his original position to promote peace. He notes that "Egyptian society, indeed the entire Arab world, has been drenched by a steady drizzle of government-approved or -tolerated anti-Semitism" and "Leaders come and leaders go, but what remains are values and cultural forces that transform glacially." For the rest of Cohen's argument, CLICK HERE. Cohen's paper also editorialised that Israel is clearly being scapegoated by both Turkey and Egypt.

Finally, columnist and former Jerusalem Post editor Bret Stephens expands further on the reality of ongoing existential threats that Israel and its leaders must confront. He lists a whole series of events which have occurred over just the last month which indicate that Israel's legitimacy, its rights to exist, is routinely questioned. He says it is not rare to find the view expressed that " Israel's legitimacy is a function of its moral performance", unlike the situation for any other state in the world, and notes that "No democracy in the world today lies under a darker shadow of existential dread than Israel." For all that Stephens has to say, CLICK HERE. More on how the events at Israel's Cairo Embassy were embedded in a 60 year tradition of hatred comes from Sky News' Tim Marshall.

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Israel Surrounded as Arab Spring Turns Darker

By Jeffrey Goldberg

Bloomberg News,  Sep 13, 2011

The Middle East is plunging toward crisis. The early promise of Tahrir Square has been supplanted by dismay that the Egyptian authorities -- such as they are -- allowed mobs to lay siege to the Israeli embassy in Cairo this past weekend.

Not long ago, Turkey and Israel were strategic partners. Now, relations between those two key U.S. allies are in ruins. When a recent United Nations report on the deadly confrontation between the Israeli military and a flotilla of Gaza-bound activists that sparked this crisis largely exonerated Israel, Turkey reacted by threatening to send warships to the eastern Mediterranean.

And the Jewish state faces a miserable month at the UN, where the Palestinians, who have refused to meet Israel at the negotiating table, are planning to seek recognition as an independent state, with potentially catastrophic consequences for both sides.

“As the months of Arab Spring have turned autumnal, Israel has increasingly become a target of public outrage,” the New York Times’ Ethan Bronner wrote this weekend from Jerusalem. “Some here say Israel is again being made a scapegoat, this time for unfulfilled revolutionary promises. But there is another interpretation, and it is the predominant one abroad -- Muslims, Arabs and indeed many around the globe believe Israel is unjustly occupying Palestinian territories, and they are furious at Israel for it.”

Two Interpretations

The first interpretation -- that Israel is a scapegoat for the failures of the Arab Spring (and many other previous ailments afflicting the Middle East) -- is self-evidently true. The attack on the Israeli embassy grew from a rally in Tahrir Square called “Correcting the Path.” Its organizers meant to pressure the country’s military rulers to accelerate political changes. It is easier to burn an Israeli flag than reform the Egyptian government. And Israel, of course, did not cause Egypt’s economic woes, nor is it responsible for violence in Syria, poverty in Algeria or illiteracy in Yemen.

The second interpretation of recent events -- that Arabs and Muslims are furious at Israel for occupying Palestinian territory -- is superficially true, but it neglects to take into account a relevant and complicating fact: Israel’s crises with Egypt and Turkey are both rooted in an Ian

Forgotten History

Here is a bit of recent, though apparently forgotten, history: In 2003, the then-prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, announced that Israel would unilaterally withdraw about 8,500 settlers from its 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip, and pull out its army as well. The territory would be handed over, in its entirety, to the Palestinian Authority.

In the summer of 2005, he executed the plan, ordering the Israeli army to expel the settlers. It would have been better, for many reasons, for Sharon to have negotiated this handover directly with his adversaries. But the fact remains that Israel gave the Palestinians of Gaza what they claimed they wanted: their territory, which they said would become part of their independent state.

How did Gazans respond? First, looters destroyed the vast settlement greenhouses that could have formed the basis of a new Gaza economy. Then, voters elected into power Hamas, a terrorist organization devoted to the annihilation of Israel. Gaza quickly became a launching pad for rocket attacks against Israeli towns.

In response, Israel blockaded Gaza to keep weapons from reaching its enemies. It was this blockade that pro-Hamas activists, many of them from Turkey, were trying to breach when their flotilla was boarded by Israeli forces last year. Nine activists were killed. The flotilla raid, and the subsequent collapse of relations between the two countries, can be traced in large part to Sharon’s decision.

Gaza and Sinai

In Egypt, the story is similar. The attack on the embassy in Cairo -- which forced Israel to send air force planes to Egypt to rescue its diplomatic personnel -- was part of an angry reaction to the accidental killing of at least three Egyptian soldiers last month. (The exact number killed is disputed.) The problem began when a group of terrorists, including some reportedly from Gaza, crossed the Israeli border from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and killed eight Israelis. The Israeli security forces, in pursuit of the terrorists, mistakenly killed the Egyptian soldiers. The Israeli government later formally expressed regret for the incident.

Most of the protesters in Cairo cared not at all about a terrorist invasion of Israel from Egyptian territory, or about the murdered Israelis themselves. Their only concern was what they saw as Israel’s criminal response.

Why, after decades of quiet, has the Egypt-Israel border become so tumultuous? Two reasons: The interim Egyptian government has lost control over the Sinai since the revolution, and Gaza, which borders the Sinai, has been transformed by Hamas into a weapons-importing and terror-exporting mini-state. And how did this come about? Sharon brought this about, by ceding Gaza to the Palestinians.

This is not, by the way, an argument against territorial compromise. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, needs to find a creative solution to the problem posed by his country’s continued occupation of much of the West Bank. But that job is made much more difficult by Israel’s enemies, who choose to ignore Israel’s last attempt at giving up territory. And it is made more difficult still by Israeli voters, who, when confronted by demands for further territorial compromise, look to Gaza and say, “Not so fast.”

Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for the Atlantic, is the author of "Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror." He was formerly a Washington correspondent and a Middle East correspondent for the New Yorker.

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Israel’s hostile neighborhood


By Richard Cohen


Washington Post, Published: September 13

Back in 1953, an Egyptian army officer was asked by the magazine Al-Musawwar what he would write to Hitler if he were still alive. “My Dear Hitler,” he began gushingly, “I admire you from the bottom of my heart.” He proceeded to extol the German dictator for, among other things, creating dissension between “the old man Churchill and his allies, the sons of Satan.” If the mass murder of Jews bothered the officer in the least, he did not mention it. Years later, as the president of Egypt, he was himself murdered for making peace with the Jewish state. His name, of course, was Anwar Sadat.

The peace that Sadat manufactured is now unraveling, a thread here, a thread there. The Israelis and the Egyptians have traded insults of all sorts, and now the Israeli Embassy, always an edifice constructed out of wishful thinking, has been sacked by a Cairo mob. The Israeli ambassador is gone, and when he will return, if ever, is not clear.

The Israeli-Egyptian peace is in jeopardy, and so is the cordial rapport Israel once had with Turkey. Along with Iran and Ethiopia, Turkey helped make up what was called “the strategy of the periphery,” the relationship that Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, established with non-Arab nations. But Iran now is Israel’s mortal enemy, Ethiopia hardly matters and Turkey is bristling with hostility. Ankara wants Israel to apologize — not merely express regret — for its perfectly legal attempt to turn back a so-called humanitarian flotilla heading for Gaza last year. Nine people died. Israeli forces overreacted and now Turkey is doing the same.

Israel’s dilemma is that the Middle East, for all the talk of revolution, is slipping backward. Turkey is possibly evolving into an Islamic republic and even if this is not the case, it is reasserting its historical role as a regional power. Iran toppled its modernizing, Westernizing shah with his pro-Israel proclivities and in 1979 became a theocracy. And Egypt, long the leader of the Arab world, may find it cannot lead its own people. The peace with Israel has little support among the populace. It’s not just that Israel is not loved, it’s that Jews are hated.

Think back to Sadat writing his pretend letter to Hitler. This was eight years after the ovens of Auschwitz were demolished and much of the world was coming to grips with the enormity of the Holocaust. Yet not only could an Egyptian magazine solicit such letters, but an army officer with the intellectual wherewithal to someday run the country was an entrant. This suggests a society in which the Holocaust was thought to be either a Jewish concoction, a Jewish exaggeration or some sort of just deserts.

Since those days, the situation has evolved but not necessarily improved. Egyptian society, indeed the entire Arab world, has been drenched by a steady drizzle of government-approved or -tolerated anti-Semitism. It would take willful historical ignorance to dismiss the possible consequences. There are almost no Jews left in Egypt — the substantial community was expelled, first by Gamal Abdel Nasser and then by incessant oppression and fear — but there are plenty of Jews just over the border in Israel.

The clock must move backward for the United States as well. It took Harry Truman just 11 minutes to recognize the new State of Israel in 1948 — and he did so over the vociferous objection of some key aides, particularly the immensely important Gen. George C. Marshall, the secretary of state. As the historian and Israeli Ambassador Michael B. Oren writes in his book “Power, Faith and Fantasy,” Marshall felt so strongly that he told Truman to his face that if he recognized Israel, “I would vote against the president.” Truman didn’t blink.

Marshall’s arguments are not entirely invalid. The Arab world has the oil, the geography and the numbers. But the United States has the moral obligation to stick by the sometimes obstreperous democracy it felt morally obligated to embrace. The Obama administration has to show no daylight between it and Israel — never mind that Benjamin Netanyahu is no Ben-Gurion.

Leaders come and leaders go, but what remains are values and cultural forces that transform glacially. Sadat proved this. He was a confounding character who showed what is possible and what is not. He was hope and he was despair and, finally, he was tragedy. It’s clear he changed greatly over the years. It’s not so clear his country has.

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Israel's Predicament 

By BRET STEPHENS


Wall Street Journal, SEPTEMBER 13, 2011

What is Israel's predicament? It is this: It is surrounded on nearly all sides by enemies who are aggressively committed to its destruction. And too many people who call themselves its friends are only ambivalently committed to its security.

Consider the month that Israel has just had:

• On Aug. 18, eight Israelis were killed in a sophisticated cross-border ambush near the frontier with Egypt.

• From Aug. 18-24, some 200 large-caliber, factory-made rockets and mortars were fired at Israel from Gaza.

• On Sept. 1, the head of Iran's atomic energy agency announced that it was moving the bulk of its enrichment facilities to a heavily fortified site near the city of Qom.

• On Sept. 2, the United Nations released a report on the May 2010 Turkish flotilla incident, which defended Israel's right to enforce a naval blockade on Gaza and noted that Israeli commandos faced "organized and violent resistance." The Turkish government responded by yanking its ambassador from Tel Aviv and expelling Israel's from Ankara.

• On Sept. 4, the U.S. made a final appeal to the Palestinian Authority to drop its bid to seek statehood recognition at the U.N., a bid that sends to the rubbish bin decades of international agreements that a Palestinian state can be established only on the basis of negotiations. The PA rebuffed the American entreaties.

• On Sept. 8, Turkey's prime minister announced that Turkish warships would escort future Gaza-bound flotillas.

• On Sept. 9, thousands of hooligans stormed and nearly sacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo. Israel evacuated nearly its entire diplomatic mission from Egypt the following morning.

One other item: On Sept. 5, an organization called NGO Monitor reported that an associate director of the New Israel Fund, cited in a February 2011 State Department cable released by Wikileaks, said that "the disappearance of a Jewish state would not be the tragedy that Israelis fear since it would become more democratic." The NIF describes itself as a group "dedicated to a vision of Israel as both the Jewish homeland and a shared society at peace with itself and its neighbors."

Maybe the case of the (now former) NIF official is a relatively rare one. Or maybe it's just rare to have such off-the-record candor find its way into the public domain.

Not rare, however, is the idea that Israel's legitimacy is a function of its moral performance, and that judgment of its performance lies in the hands of its foreign critics and their designated Israeli scolds. Should the legitimacy of Pakistan or Zimbabwe be called into doubt on account of the wretched mess they have made of their existence as self-governing states? Nobody says this. Nor do many people say that the Palestinian Authority—half of which is ruled by a terrorist group and the other half by a president whose elected term in office expired more than two years ago—hasn't quite earned the moral right to statehood.

Only Israel is on perpetual trial. Only Israel, by way of this or that policy, is routinely held to moral account for the terrorist outrages committed against it. Only the Jews, as Eric Hoffer put it in 1968, are expected to be "the only real Christians in the world."

But then the argument is made that Israel is occupying somebody else's country. And risking its own future as a Jewish democracy, on account of well-known demographic trends. And all of this is corrosive, so it is often said, to Israel's soul.

Yet the purported concern for Israel's soul would be more convincing if it were joined by some decent respect for Israel's mind. Israel today labors under the invidious stereotype that it is too clever to blunder militarily or politically—and therefore that any such blunders are, in fact, acts of malice aforethought. But Israel also labors under the stereotype that it is too stupid or shortsighted to recognize its own strategic interest in coming to terms with a Palestinian state.

Will it some day dawn on Israel's so-called friends that 18 years of abortive efforts to come to terms with the Palestinians—the spurned statehood offers in 2000 and 2008, the withdrawal of the settlers from Gaza in 2005, the experience of what a "liberated" Gaza soon became—has soured Israelis on the idea of a Palestinian state? Or that the long-term demographic threat is worth risking in the face of the immediate threats of a near-nuclear Iran, a newly hostile Egypt, and a still-irredentist Palestinian leadership? Or that a professed commitment to Israeli democracy means, among other things, some regard to the conclusions Israelis have drawn about the prospects of peace by way of their electoral choices?

No democracy in the world today lies under a darker shadow of existential dread than Israel. And the events of the past month ought to demonstrate that Israel's dread is not of shadows only. Israel's efforts to allay the enmity of its enemies or mollify the scorn of its critics have failed. But is it too much to ask its friends for support—this time, for once, without cavil or reservation?

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