Burning Issues 30: Dear Mr. Gates

Question #30
For the first time in eight years, a US defense secretary is visiting Israel. If you were an Israeli leader, what would you say to Robert Gates? Contributers: (read it all or click on name to read post; link to writer's most recent column follows entry)
  • Jonathan Tobin
  • Michael Freund
  • Calev Ben-David
  • Daniel Doron
  • Gershon Baskin Jonathan Tobin: The United States is its sole ally and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government must, as a matter of policy, always make sure that the distance between its positions and that of the Americans is minimal. That means it must often keep quiet when American diplomatic initiatives that are not necessarily consistent with Israel's security needs are put forward. America's troubles in Iraq and need to keep its allegedly moderate allies happy will sometimes cause Washington to say things that will not please Jerusalem. That is unfortunate, but not necessarily fatal so long as the Americans understand that there are things that it should not do. But a degree of prudence and wise statecraft cannot bridge the gap between a proposal such as the so-called "Saudi peace plan" and Israel's need to defend its right to exist and defend itself. Thus, Israeli leaders must make it crystal clear to Gates, and any other American who comes calling, that it will not allow itself to be drawn into protracted and ultimately damaging talks that undermine its position merely in order to let the Americans put on a show for the Saudis or anyone else. In spite of the manufactured optimism put forward by some on behalf of this supposed opening, there is virtually no chance that the current initiative can lead to anything productive. While it would be preferable if the United States would not go down this road, it is just as important that it understand that the Israelis are not so spineless as to allow it to be led where it should not go. The real problem is the current low standing of Olmert both at home and in Washington. The prime minister is clearly in need of something to boost his popularity ratings. But far worse is the fact that since the Hizbullah war last summer, the Bush administration has lost confidence in him. Both of these factors have tended to lessen the government's resistance to foolish peace initiatives and its willingness to say no to Washington when necessary. View from America: Who were the 'real' accomplices? Michael Freund: With Iran moving perilously closer to obtaining nuclear weapons, there is no doubt that Israeli leaders should focus on the growing threat from Teheran in their discussions with visiting US Defense Secretary Robert Gates. In the coming months, the confrontation with the Ayatollahs is likely to come to a head, as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presses forward with his unrelenting and obsessive desire to build an atomic bomb. As diplomacy has failed to deter the Iranians, Israel and the US will have little choice but to launch military strikes in order to stop Teheran and foil its dangerous ambitions. Gates' visit to Israel will present an excellent opportunity for the two sides to work out a plan for confronting, and dismantling, the Iranian nuclear program, and one can only hope that this issue will get top billing in the discussions that take place. There is no greater threat to Israel's existence, nor to the future of Western civilization, than a nuclear-armed Iran. It will require a great deal of political courage, diplomatic savvy and military firepower to stop them, but stop them we must, before it is too late. Right On: The hair on Pharaoh's head Calev Ben-David: It is important to remember that Gates was also a member of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, which linked the fighting in Iraq with solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It this context, Israeli officials would do well to emphasize to Gates that this connection is not a useful one for dealing with either situation. The groups fighting US troops and each other in Iraq, by their own admission, do not link their motivations to the problems here. Thus to put pressure on Israel to make concessions in the hope that "the road to peace in Baghdad goes through Jerusalem" is a pipe-dream that will only lead to disappointment in both places. Gates has also been an advocate of negotiations with Syria and Iran. Israeli officials must press the secretary with the continued need to first hold Damascus to the condition of ceasing his support of terror groups such as Hamas and the PFLP; his continued shipment of arms to Hizbullah in violation of UN Resolution 1701; and his unwillingness to cooperate with the international investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Gates also must be told in no uncertain terms, that talking with Teheran before they agree to suspend their illegal uranium enrichment program, is at this stage likely to weaken the campaign of economic sanctions enacted by the UN, the US, and some local and private sectors, which is now beginning to show some results in impact of Iran's resolve to continue defying the international community in the pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. Snap Judgment: Six days and 40 years Daniel Doron: This is what Gates should have heard: Don't pressure us to repeat the costly mistakes made by the US in Iraq. Don't try to fine tune unenforceable agreements between radicals and so-called moderates and seek a compromise with them. Don't let this putative peace process inhibit an all out war against terrorism. The utopian belief in a putative peace process has repeatedly prevented victory over terrorism. It has resulted in bloody consequences for Israel and the Palestinians. Similar Utopian fantasies, to which our leaders and the State Department seem equally addicted, is also bedevilling America's war in Iraq. By fomenting divisive political issues Oslo destroyed a slow but steady and successful peace process that had emerged from economic cooperation and the growth of a civil society among the Palestinians. Rapid economic progress before Oslo brought about huge improvement in the lives of the Palestinians, encouraging peaceful relations and curbing terrorism. By importing a terrorist organization in the absurd belief that it would fight terrorism, Oslo imposed a dictatorial, brutal and irredentist rule on the Palestinians. It allowed Arafat and his terrorists to destroy the peace building economic progress and to create radicalizing poverty and misery, anger and rage that were successfully redirected against Israel through an anti-Semitic propaganda campaign. Israeli elites convinced themselves that we could not win a war against terrorism without a compromise. But the only way terrorism was ever vanquished (from the Hashashins to the 1936 Palestinian revolt to the Red Brigades) was not through compromises but by winning the war. This is a lesson the US is bound to learn painfully in Iraq and Israel ought to have learned - again at great cost - by now. Fix the system, and morality will follow Gershon Baskin: Gates was one of the authors of the Baker Hamilton report in which he is credited for stating unequivocally that the US needs a quick and clear exit strategy from Iraq. The US's war against Saddam Hussein has left the region in turmoil and with significantly less security, especially for the people of Iraq who are killing each other daily. The lack of security and stability in Iraq is not in the interest of Israel, nor is the possible Shiite link of Iran and the part of the Iraqi administration that the US is supporting. Gates also wrote and knows very well that the region needs to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end. This is not the source of all of the region's problems but it is clearly a most aggravating factor and it can be resolved. What is needed is a lot more determination and money from the US. The US is spending $200 million a day in Iraq in addition to the money being spent in Afghanistan and other places as well. How much money is the US spending on peace? The answer is almost nothing. In 1998 the US administration made a one-time allocation of $10 million to support Israeli-Palestinian civil society projects advancing peace. Nothing has been allocated since then. If the US were truly interested in peace, it would allocate substantially more resources to work on bringing it about. So I would ask Mr. Gates: What is the US willing to do to achieve peace in the region? The lessons of surprise