Analysis: Will Israel pick up tab for assault on Libya?

When Western bombs stop falling, the needle for mending ties with the Muslim world might go through Jerusalem.

Libya rebels celebrate 311 (photo credit: Suhaib Salem/Reuters)
Libya rebels celebrate 311
(photo credit: Suhaib Salem/Reuters)
Israel, wisely, has largely kept quiet about the international military intervention in Libya.
Clearly, Jerusalem will be pleased if the action succeeds in preventing the slaughter of innocents. And Israel will shed no tears if the zany, anti-Semitic Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi is finally deposed and removed from the world’s stage.
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Yet the last thing Israel needs – with strains of “the Jews got the US into the Iraqi mess” still audible in various quarters – is to be seen as prodding the world to attack another Muslim country. And so, in the days preceding Thursday night’s UN Security Council resolution imposing a no-fly zone on Libya, no Israeli official spoke publicly about the hotly debated matter.
Only the same night the resolution was passed, in a pretaped CNN interview, did Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu relate to the issue, and then only when asked by his interviewer for his take on the issue.
The prime minister chose his words carefully. Asked what he thought about what was happening in Libya, Netanyahu said, “Well, Gaddafi is no friend of Israel. He’s no friend of the Jewish people. And I think his people can see now, he’s no friend of the Libyan people. This is a man who helped explode civilian airlines in the skies. He’s fostered terrorism. He’s done a lot of terrible things. So I don’t think anybody would be sorry to see him go. I wouldn’t.”
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Pressed specifically if he would “bring in a no-fly zone,” Netanyahu said he wouldn’t want to “second-guess” US President Barack Obama or others who have to make that decision – but that he “certainly wouldn’t be against” military action if America decided to go that route.
Well, the international community did decide to go that route.
Although no rational person could lay that decision – soon to be much more controversial as the situation in Libya gets “messy” – on Israel’s doorstep, the decision to drop bombs in Libya will certainly impact policy toward Jerusalem, if not from Washington, then certainly from Paris and London.
One does not need to have a particularly fertile imagination to envision French President Nicolas Sarkozy or British Prime Minister David Cameron needing to repair damage with the Muslims and the Arab world after causing “collateral damage” – meaning civilian casualties – and going beyond what the Arab League is already saying it empowered the Western powers to do in the first place.
And, on a superficial level, there seems no better way – no easier formula – to mend ties with the Muslim world than to come down on Israel.
Early last week – even before the bombing of Libya started – France’s new foreign minister hinted at the possibility of the EU unilaterally recognizing a Palestinian state. Alain Juppe, speaking to the French parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said that while France would not recognize a Palestinian state on its own, the possibility of the entire EU doing so “should be kept in mind.”
Were Juppe’s comments to the French parliament tied to Libya? Tough to tell. Even Carl Bildt, the foreign minister of Sweden – and arguably one of the EU foreign ministers least favorably disposed to Israel – said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post early this month that Sweden would oppose such a move.
But one can easily imagine the French and the British proposing hard lobbying inside the EU for a unilateral declaration after pulverizing Libya. This would be a relatively cost-free way of showing the Arab world and the Muslim public – both domestic and global – that those bombs were not a Western crusade against Islam. It’s a move that would earn wide applause among many Muslims worldwide.
And such recognition may very well be just one manifestation of what could turn into a full-court press on Israel to take the steps that these countries think are necessary for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.
With key EU countries flying sorties over Libya, it is not unimaginable that they will try to soften the impact, for example, by lobbying inside the EU for a tougher stand against Israel in the next Quartet statement expected in a couple of week’s time.
Calm will, of course, eventually follow the current Libyan storm. But during that calm, expect some of the countries in the newest “coalition of the willing” to ask Israel – without explicitly saying so – to pick up part of the tab for cleaning up the mess.