Israeli Chutzpah

The Americans say everything in life is about timing. Why would the Defense Ministry or any Israeli official mess with the US now? There is no benefit in that. Only pure damage.

August 11, 2016 22:08
4 minute read.
US President Barack Obama delivers his final State of the Union address to a joint session of Congre

US President Barack Obama delivers his final State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington January 12, 2016. . (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Judoka Yarden Gerbi accomplished the unbelievable and won a bronze Olympic medal.

As usual, as matters are handled here, the victory was received disproportionately, but that’s okay. It is nice and pleasant to rejoice.

The truth is, earlier this week we won the gold medal in the “world championship of chutzpah.” I’m referring mainly to the Defense Ministry’s statement last Friday regarding US President Barack Obama’s comments a day earlier. Obama dared to say that high-ranking officials in Israel’s defense establishment were of the opinion that the nuclear deal with Iran has positive aspects.

He said it with a feeling of victory.

Obama, too, has an ego, apparently.

The defense establishment did not wait long.

It “intercepted” Obama’s words with an Arrow missile, which as we know was developed with American funding as part of the Homa missile defense program, and pushed Obama up against the wall. In the statement released by the ministry, it was written “agreements have value only if they are based upon an existing reality, and they don’t have any value if the facts are completely opposite of those the agreement lies upon.”

Then came the ongoing and consistent Israeli comparison between the ticking clock of Europe in the 1930s heading toward World War II and today’s reality. The Defense Ministry (who is “the Defense Ministry,” really?) found a historical correlation between then and now that emphasizes that the 1938 Munich Agreement at that time did not prevent the war and the Holocaust, because they indeed were based off the wrong assumption that Germany could be a partner. It is understandable, if so, that Iran is the Germany of today.

We can’t count on promises made by the leaders of these countries.

From the moment the statement was released, the usual fiasco took place in Israel. The defense minister himself did not say a word. The prime minister wondered who authorized the release of the statement and why, and made sure to apologize to the American ambassador promptly.

Some say the prime minister knew of the statement. The essence of the statement and even the words used, correspond with comments he has made in the last few years during his public and much-communicated journey around the world and mostly in the United States opposing the agreement. This time, the prime minister danced the well-known Yemenite dance, one step forward and two steps back.

Surprisingly, the US did not react to the contradicting messages from Israel, maybe because the Americans, and they are excused for this, are a little fed up. And maybe they waited.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman just returned from the States, where he was greeted as royalty and was met with goodwill and a willingness to forgive the sins of his predecessor Moshe Ya’alon – who excelled in non-diplomatic statements. Chances that the corrected statement he released will help him are low.

Indeed, the apology was in place but it intensified the embarrassment.

Two people have been caught in the eye of the storm so far. Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who was traveling in the US at the same time and was even awarded the Legion of Merit for “exceptionally meritorious service” by his hosts and the National Security Council acting adviser, Yaakov Nagel, who has spent the last days in a race against time between Jerusalem and Washington in an effort to secure the new bilateral agreement between Israel and the US.

The practical meaning of the agreement is $35 billion in military aid from the US to Israel over the next 10 years. This sum will be added to the $70 billion the US has already transferred to Israel over the past decades. No other country in the world has come near these levels of aid. Israel has tried in her special way to draw the number up, but time has not been on our side. The American willingness to expand the amount of aid during the nuclear deal negotiations disappeared once the deal was signed. So, we lost twice.

Obama and the American administration found an elegant way to punish Israel for its behavior. In the agreement, they included a devastating clause for us determining that stating in five years the component of the aid (26 percent today), which can be converted to shekels, will only get smaller. The practical meaning of this is that the defense industries and research will be lacking approximately $800m. a year. Nagel was caught in the cross fire, of course.

He is meant to negotiate with the American partners, but at the same time the “friendly” fire towards the president was shot over his head.

The Americans say everything in life is about timing. Why would the Defense Ministry or any Israeli official mess with the US now? There is no benefit in that. Only pure damage.

Obama has a few months left.

He might, if he wanted to, damage Israel. In this window of opportunity between November, when the next president will be elected and January 2017, the traditional “lame duck” might turn out to be a raging lion who wants to settle accounts with Israel.

For us, it’s a lose-lose situation.

The writer is a member of Knesset from the Zionist Union, a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and has a doctorate in political science and communications.

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