The top and bottom line is clear: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu should fire Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon. He should have been summarily fired three days ago, but of course he won’t be, despite the extraordinary influence this column has.
A caveat is in order: I like Ya’alon. He is a decent politician, a mensch, a brave and seasoned soldier, a pedigreed patriot. I am not questioning his motives, nor his intellectual integrity, his core beliefs or his sense of etiquette, diplomatic skills and good manners.
I am questioning his judgment, common sense and fundamental understanding of US-Israeli relations. He has none.
Notwithstanding his positive attributes, and I am not writing this lightly or casually, he has no business being in a nation’s leadership. None whatsoever.
When the defense minister of Israel, a prime, “unshakable” US ally, admonishes, mocks, criticizes and insults the US, the US president, the US secretary of state and American policy, twice within a few weeks, he must be fired. No ifs, buts or howevers. Before any explanatory analysis he is guilty of crudely displaying either arrogant ingratitude or sheer foolishness. The rest is excuses.
There are no angles or mitigating circumstances in this story. The usual “taken out of context,” “he actually meant it in a good way,” “he was deliberately misconstrued,” “he was honest, so give him a break” or “listen to what he says” do not and should not apply. There are seven billion people on this planet, and the US is perfectly entitled to expect that the defense minister of Israel would be the last person to lash out at it.
The alliance with the US is Israel’s unparalleled, greatest strategic asset. Despite the asymmetry and some diverging interests, the alliance is solid, stable and real. This is not about accounting. The $3 billion annual aid is not a number that can be manipulated and presented with idiotic hubris as “well, we could do without it.” It enables, allows and provides Israel with access to US state-of-the-art technology, weapons platforms and systems, intelligence and intelligence sharing. Furthermore, the US provides Israel with a comprehensive, irreplaceable diplomatic umbrella: 51 times since 1948 the US cast a veto at the UN Security Council on anti-Israeli resolutions.
More important, the alliance with the US is a force-multiplier of Israeli deterrence and the perception of the alliance is a basic tenet of Israel’s national security.
What Ya’alon fails to understand is that when the US is “weak,” by extension, so is Israel. And when the defense minister depicts the US as being “weak” he inadvertently compounds Israel’s weakness.
And when the US is perceived as having no influence over Israel and accepts the insults, Israel is weakened, not strengthened.
First Ya’alon calls John Kerry “messianic” and “obsessive” and describes him as someone who wants nothing else but a Nobel Prize, which he should get so he can “leave us alone.”
Real class. It took three days before Ya’alon grudgingly published a half-hearted apology.
The US looked the other way, and everyone attributed it to a lapse of judgment uttered in a closed meeting that he was certain was confidential and discreet. It wasn’t.
Then, a few short weeks later, this week, in a speech at Tel Aviv University, the geo-political pundit and analyst Ya’alon described the US as projecting weakness and precipitating anxiety and fears among its allies. Ya’alon was specific, too.
“Colleagues” in Singapore told him that they watch with apprehension the US retreat in the face of China’s ascent.
Then he mentioned Ukraine and the Crimean crisis as a timely illustration of US “weakness,” and finally he concluded that in light of this troubling and unsettling trend, Israel might have to develop and execute an independent Iran policy, since the US, he implied, can no longer be counted on. This, from the defense minister of Israel.
You have not heard this from the defense minister of any other US allies. The defense ministers of Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Mexico, Poland or any other US ally would never dare, contemplate or think it wise to moan, groan, complain or disparage US policy. Whatever reservations, comments, criticism or issues they may have with the US they air quietly, intimately, discreetly and fairly in a closed room. Where it matters, not where it is heard.
Netanyahu set the tone in his miscalculated, frequent bickering with President Barack Obama, and his silence over Ya’alon’s comments does not assuage US concerns that this is what official Israel actually thinks. But as someone who must understand the depth, breadth and significance of Israel’s relations with the US, Netanyahu should dismiss Ya’alon. Or at least reprimand him publicly. He will do neither.