'Israel saves, doesn’t endanger, US lives'

Analysis: The most important part of Netanyahu’s AIPAC speech was underreported.

March 24, 2010 01:51
3 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addresses the Am

netanyahu speech AIPAC 311. (photo credit: AP)

US-Israeli intelligence cooperation is “important for Israel and is helping save American lives,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said late Monday night, at the tail end of his address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Naturally, the media jumped all over his comments about Jerusalem being Israel’s capital, not a settlement – a position that, while newsworthy in the context of the current disagreement with the US over construction in east Jerusalem, is by no means new, or one he has not stated innumerable times in the past.

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But the bit about Israel saving US lives was vastly underreported.

It shouldn’t have been.

With the pernicious argument penetrating the public US dialogue about Israel that Israel’s actions are endangering the lives of US soldiers, the most important part of Netanyahu’s speech – a part that was essential for the scores of congressman and senators in the audience to hear – was a complete and utter rejection of that logic.

“As Vice President [Joe] Biden said, America has no better friend in the community of nations than Israel,” Netanyahu said, quoting Biden’s statement from his visit here two weeks ago. “For decades, Israel served as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism. Today it is helping America stem the tide of militant Islam.

“Israel shares with America everything we know about fighting a new kind of enemy,” the prime minister continued. “We share intelligence. We cooperate in countless other ways that I am not at liberty to divulge. This cooperation is important for Israel and is helping save American lives.”

With the exception of these few paragraphs at the end of Netanyahu’s speech, most everything he said during the AIPAC speech he has said before, from charting the Jews’ journey from being a defenseless people to one able to defend itself, to his reassurance that Israel is committed to peace and is doing everything it can to promote it. Nothing new in all of that.

Even the story about a signet ring inscribed with the name Netanyahu, a ring dating back 2,800 years that was found next to the Western Wall and is now sitting in his office, he has used a number of times in previous speeches.

But what Netanyahu said about Israel saving American lives is new, and was obviously incorporated to fend off the argument that Israel’s actions are endangering American soldiers in the Middle East.

This argument first surfaced immediately after the Ramat Shlomo issue broke, with a furious Biden quoted by Yediot Aharonot as telling Netanyahu, “This is starting to get dangerous for us. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”

Biden’s staff later denied he made that comment, but regardless, that argument had penetrated the US public discussion about Israel.

Then the Foreign Policy magazine Web site ran a story a couple days later saying that the commander of the US Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus, sent a briefing team to the Pentagon at the beginning of the year “with a stark warning: America’s relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America’s soldiers.”

And ABC News senior White House correspondent Jake Tapper asked US President Barack Obama’s top aide David Axelrod twice on a Sunday morning news show after the Biden/Ramat Shlomo flap whether “Israel’s intransigence on the housing issue put the lives of US troops at risk.”

It is clear Netanyahu had those comments in mind when he incorporated Israel’s contribution to America’s security into his speech. It is a line of reasoning likely to be heard more and more from Netanyahu and other top Israeli leaders keen on cutting off at the knees an argument viewed in Jerusalem as particularly perilous.

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