Uzi Arad: It behooves allies to listen to each other
Ahead of Obama’s visit, Netanyahu’s former national security adviser says it is important to get the US president on Israel’s turf.
Uzi Arad Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post)
One of the main storylines in US President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel next
week is his relationship with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
who are charitable describe that relationship as “rocky” or say the two leaders
never developed “good chemistry.”
The less charitable – meaning much of
the mainstream media in both Israel and the US – say the two men don’t much like
each other and that Netanyahu is largely to blame, especially since conventional
wisdom has it that he backed Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the last US
Or, as American political satirist Stephen Colbert said in an
interview last week with Israel’s Ambassador to the US Michael Oren, “Netanyahu
wanted the other guy, that’s clear. It’s absolutely clear to anybody who has
eyes in their skull. He wanted the other guy. It must be incredibly awkward for
him, because Obama is going to go over there and say, ‘You rolled the dice the
wrong way, Bibi.’” Uzi Arad, who sat in on Obama-Netanyahu meetings as
Netanyahu’s national security adviser for the first two years of the prime
minister’s second term, disagrees with Colbert’s assumption of “incredible
awkwardness.” What makes a leader a leader, he said during an interview on the
sidelines of the Herzliya Conference this week, is the ability to put personal
baggage to the side.
Arad is not a kiss-and-tell kind of guy. In addition
to serving as Netanyahu’s national security adviser from 2009 to 2011, he also
was Netanyahu’s chief foreign policy adviser during his first term in office in
One might assume that having worked for five years for
Netanyahu at the very top of the pyramid, in addition to 25 years in the Mossad
culminating as head of its Intelligence Division, Arad would have a truck full
of succulent anecdotes. But he doesn’t readily share them. Though he has just
finished a book manuscript, it is a professional book about Israeli government
decision-making and his role in setting up and strengthening the National
Security Council – not a revealing memoir. He is not one to dish on the personal
details of previous Obama-Netanyahu interactions.
Yet, Arad said, chances
are that people will be “pleasantly surprised” by how the two men will be able
to work together next week in Jerusalem.
“They know how to work with
people and other world leaders,” he said. “Look at Bibi’s ability to form a
coalition with people who rubbed him the wrong way. Politics takes over, and the
need to work together wins out.”
And not only for Netanyahu. Arad
recalled that Obama and Hillary Clinton waged a bitter presidential primary
campaign against each other in 2008. Yet, afterward, their perception of
national interest called upon them to work together, so they worked together.
Arad’s message: That same dynamic will be displayed between Obama and
No political leader can get to where Obama and Netanyahu have
gotten by being overly sensitive or easily offended, he noted. "Democratic
societies put their leaders through hardball politics. They can take anything if
they decide to take it." At the end of the day, according to Arad, "each has
qualities that he can admire, if not respect, in the other." Not the least is
political success: both just won another term, something that was not
necessarily a given. "Political success is a currency that elected politicians
respect in one another" Arad pointed out.
TODAY ARAD IS A lecturer and
researcher in the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the IDC
Herzliya. In addition, he was recently selected to replace Shlomo Gazit as
chairman of a small, boutique think tank called the Institute for Defense
Studies, an association for the historical study of Israel's national
He was also recently selected to replace Uzi Dayan as head of a
"discussion group" called Israel's Security Council, which brings together
scholars, politicians and business people to discuss security
And finally, Arad -- who has shown an adeptness throughout his
career at setting up institutions such as the National Security Council and the
Herzliya Conference, which he founded-- has undertaken a new project at IDC
called Israel's National Security and Grand Strategy which is aimed at involving
what Arad said are "some of the most prominent and worthwhile thinkers in the
country" to produce fresh thinking on new issues.
This effort, he said,
is to get the country's "best and brightest" on an ad hoc basis to "look
creatively at the new agenda – to look at principles of the past, and project
relevance onto the future."
This endeavor reflects Arad's belief in the
importance of grand strategies, something in short supply in a country focused
often on dousing short term crisis. Indeed, Arad said one of the important
aspects of next week's Obama-Netanyahu talks is that they will provide an
opportunity for each to understand the other's regional
"America is far away but has many diverse interests in a
Middle East in turmoil; it is probing what to do. Israel is stuck in the Middle
East, with the same concerns, but exposed," he explained.
Arad said that
across a range of issues – Iran, Syria, the Palestinians, Egypt, Lebanon, the
Gulf, Turkey, Jordan – a common policy needed to be forged and action decided
"They need to consult and decide about what will be done in concert
and in coordination," he said. At the end of the day, they need to understand
each other's regional strategy.
"We have a very complicated template of
points of concern to discuss," he said, adding that this included not simply an
exchange of views, but also a division of labor in certain theaters: who should
do what, where should there be more active action, where should one side act,
where should one side not act.
Arad said that as much as the two men have
met in the past – eight times in the US over the last four years – and as many
phone conversations as they have held, next week's meeting is different because
it is on Netanyahu's turf.
"Netanyahu going to Washington is the routine
thing, and it takes place as Obama goes along with his daily routine," Arad
said. "One day he is meeting Bibi, the next the Bulgarian prime minister. Here
he is not in his office, he is our guest, he doesn't have to rush to other
meetings – for a day or two this is all that is on his mind."
ARAD IS NOT AMONG
THOSE WHO BELIEVE THAT foremost on the president's mind will be pressing Israel
on the Palestinian issue.
"There is nothing much to push hard on," he
said. "It is clear that the realities allow for only so much maneuvering space."
According to Arad, the US Administration has largely abandoned the sentiment
that a final status agreement is lurching just around the corner, with Hamas'
consolidation of power in Gaza and the resulting "hardening" of the Palestinian
camp major reasons for the jettisoning of this assumption.
the new Palestinian reality – Fatah in the West Bank, Hamas in Gaza -- has
altered the viability of such features along the diplomatic process as the 2001
When Clinton presented his parameters for a Mideast
solution in 2001 calling for an Israeli withdrawal from some 95% of the West
bank and Gaza, and the division of Jerusalem, no one -- Arad said -- imagined
Hamas would rule Gaza and "be armed to the teeth. That would have been
considered a nightmare at the time," That this nightmare is now reality makes
things look significantly different.
"Now we are stuck," he said.
Nevertheless, Arad advised Obama and Netanyahu to "craft a strategy of what can
be done, because the status quo and passivity is dangerous.
"We have to
navigate within the spaces of feasibility," he added, recommending limited,
partial steps forward, and adding that "one cannot put pressure on Israel, but
not the Palestinians." Arad said that reciprocal steps are needed for any
process to work.
"No one can expect Israel to take steps, but that the
Palestinians do not," he said. "Unilateral steps will not fly, people are wiser
and older. This should be two way street."
REGARDING IRAN, ARAD SOUNDED
confident that Obama would not let the country obtain nuclear
"We have a common strategic vision," he said. Obama has been
"very explicit in declaring that the US is determined to prevent Iran from
acquiring nuclear capabilities He also clarified that he is not excluding any
means to accomplishing this goal."
Arad stressed that Obama has clarified that
the Washington strategic mindset was not acceptance of the possibility of a
nuclear Iran, and then falling back on a strategy of containment and deterrence,
but rather one of "preventing that eventuality."
"If you take the president and
his spokesmen seriously when they say he is not bluffing on Iran, and that he
means what he says, and if you assume that the great American nation is
determined to keep Iran from going nuclear, then Iran will not become nuclear,"
Asked whether he trusts the American intention and resolve on
this matter, Arad said, "I trust them as much as they trust themselves." Obama,
he said, has not indicated there has been any change in his policy, and has
pleaded for people to take him seriously on this.
"If he means what he
says, we have no reason to doubt, because it [preventing a nuclear bomb] is
clearly within his capabilities." And, he added, when Obama "feels strongly
about something, he has shown that he sticks to his guns.
If that is the
case, then why all the tension between Washington and Jerusalem over the issue?
"Even in America you don't have uniformity and conformity on this matter," he
said. "There are other voices, and there may be some debate. But this has not
altered the president's course."
Arad acknowledged tactical differences on the
matter between Israel and the US, but downplayed their importance, saying such
differences were natural between allies. He nevertheless advised Israel to
listen carefully to what Washington has to say on the mater.
any partner in an alliance to listen to the other side," he said, "just as we
are free to express our concerns and have them taken into account. If the US has
a different take on something we should be very attentive of it, while still
making our reservations heard. " Asked how he expected the Iranian issue to play
out, Arad said he has "not given up hope that one way or another Iran will be
prevented from nuclear weapons." He said he did not believe it was a foregone
conclusion that a negated solution to slow or retard the program would
If that track succeeds, "all the better," he said. But if it fails,
and all efforts to convince the Iranians to give up their program are for naught
"there is a significant likelihood military means will be applied and Iran will
not have a nuclear weapon … I have not given up hope that one way or another
Iran will be prevented from nuclear weapons."