Two recent articles emerge from IDF''s operating in Gaza, and concern the tensions between Israel and other western democracies, most notably the United States.
An item in the Wall Street Journal comes with the provocative headline, "Gaza Crisis: Israel Outflanks the White House on Strategy."
Could it possibly mean that the editors were expressing admiration for Israeli maneuverability?
Perhaps. However, the essence of the text describes high tension between the Israeli government and the Obama White House.
Reading the long article, and considerable commentary about it (some of it based upon interviews with highly placed Israeli and American sources), confuses any conclusion about the problem(s).
Among the issues that have contributed to the tensions
- Personal friction between Benyamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama. This has a history, including several meetings and telephone conversations over the years described as frosty, frank, difficult, and even insulting, with each national leader said to depart from conventional norms of courtesy in order to lecture the other.
- An escalation of the personal tensions in recent months, reflecting public criticism of leading Americans (i.e., John Kerry and Barack Obama) by Israeli government ministers who have used the terms obsessive, messianic, Nobel Prize aspiring, and naive.
- Israeli actions said to side step (not exactly violate) the appropriate procedures, whereby Israel sought and obtained the delivery of weapons directly from the Defense Department without first seeking approval from the White House and/or State Department.
- Israel''s working with Egypt in order to arrange cease fire and perhaps an end to the conflict with Hamas, relegating John Kerry and the State Department to subordinate and--in American eyes--insulting positions as observers rather than key mediators.
- All the above brought to a head due to fundamental differences in appropriate ways of self defense, with the American President expressing time and again criticism against the Israeli Prime Minister and the IDF for excessive force, and a lack of concern for civilian casualties. (It is these expressions that in recent days have produced comments from ranking Israelis that the US President is out of touch and naive about the realities of Hamas and the Middle East.)
Relations between Israel and the US involve not only Benyamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama, but other politicians of different parties in both countries. Israel''s friends include Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives, Democrats critical of the White House, and some well placed Governors and Mayors of both parties, professionals in American and Israeli diplomatic corps, Defense Departments and armed services, and numerous individuals, Jews and others, with strong feelings and personal contacts.
Barack Obama may be at the top of that heap, but he needs the cooperation of Israel''s friends to accomplish various things important to him.
Israelis recognize that they are being bashed by western media, public opinion and many western politicians. Yet while westerners, including Barack Obama, criticize Israel for using excessive force, the Israeli public is more united behind the IDF than in any previous war or military operation since 1967. Against western criticism, many Israelis have been demanding even more forceful and complete action from the IDF, and criticize Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ya''alon for misplaced timidity.
Netanyahu is caught between Israeli voters and some of his party colleagues demanding more forceful action, and the American White House and State Department, as well as criticism from key figures in European governments demanding greater restraint.
It is not a simple task to predict his response.
Somewhat down the list of important influences are international media and public opinion, no matter how forcefully media personalities claim their influence.
Comments coming after the WSJ article suggest that the crisis can be contained. American spokespersons have asserted their country''s commitment to Israel''s defense. The US has not denied Israel''s request for munitions, but has only reiterated American concerns to follow desirable procedures. Israeli officials and others are expressing their profound regard and dependence on the US, but some are reminding the US that Israel''s dependence is not complete. The IDF can act without specific US inputs, but the weaponry used might produce more civilian casualties than the more accurate items dependent on the White House approval.
Commentary by Ari Shavit in Ha''aretz makes a significant addition to this discussion. Its headline calls upon liberals of the world to "look at the new Middle East."
"Liberals can no longer ignore the awful plague of Middle Eastern brutality and the fact that millions of Arabs live with no rights and no future.The new Middle East is a brutal one. Many Sunnis hate Shi’ites and many Shi’ites hate Sunnis. Many Sunnis and Shi’ites hate Christians, Jews, women and homosexuals. In numerous countries in the region, a considerable part of the majority hates the minorities – Kurds, Druze, Copts, Turkmen, Yazidis. Monarchs and secular people hate members of the Muslim Brotherhood and members of the Muslim Brotherhood hate secular people and monarchs.These hatreds turn into violence. The violence becomes ferocious. Too many demons awaken and begin devouring people. Heretics are murdered, sinners are stoned, women are sold to slavery. A new Middle East is exposing its face these days, and it’s a face of horror."
Shavit''s message is that Western liberals, including Barack Obama and John Kerry, may begin with decent feelings, but do not fully recognize the evil that exists across the Middle East. They and others "hasten . . . to denounce Israel, while displaying leniency toward Hamas’ fascism."
Shavit has written an important article, but stops short of using the "I" word. He makes no mention of Islam, even though virtually every paragraph deals with the barbarism of Muslims.
We should understand, and maybe even forgive Barack Obama and those in his political chorus for their obsessive concern to praise Islam and to claim that the problem is only with those who distort the faith. Yet that goes too far in the direction of overlooking and forgiving a significant problem.
Muslim religious leaders are involved in the most brutal fanaticism, with mass passivity (also a component of Islam) allowing the fanatics to prevail.
It is tempting to evade the issue. Islam has a billion followers, many of whom can be mobilize to madness if they see insults directed at their faith.
Yet all of the major faiths have elements of madness in their doctrines and histories. At least since the Holocaust, Christian leaders have turned against those who incite hatreds with ancient curses. Israel''s political and religious leadership, along with the police, act against Jews who vandalize and attack non-Jews, or find in religious doctrine reasons for demanding that women ride in the back of the bus or walk on separate sidewalks. Israeli officials are ahead of many in the US and other western democracies with respect to the rights of homosexuals.
Western political leaders should demand no less from those who claim the political and religious leadership of Muslim societies, i.e., to speak out and act forcefully against those who employ religious doctrine for the sake of barbaric actions.
And writers with the following of Ari Shavit should face up to the essence of what they see as the primary threat, and use the "I" word, with all the qualifications that may be appropriate.