Keeping Israel safe from... Qatar?

What's really behind Jewish Congressional opposition to the proposed US arms deal?

qatar fm in damascus  (photo credit: )
qatar fm in damascus
(photo credit: )
Just four years ago, Democratic members of the US House of Representatives were worried they would appear unpatriotic if they challenged President George W. Bush when he announced plans to invade Iraq. At the time, Bush argued that Iraq was harnessing weapons of mass destruction and perhaps planning a nuclear strike against the United States. But suddenly, a few have found the strength to stand up to Bush now when he outlined a new plan to strengthen pro-American allies in the Middle East? Bush reportedly wants to increase aid to Israel - over the coming decade - to a staggering $30 billion annually while also selling $20 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia plus five other Gulf nations - also over a period of years - to strengthen them against Iran, Israel's most vocal enemy. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has reportedly given the nod of approval to Bush's plans to provide weapons systems and military support to the key moderate Arab countries. But a coalition of Congressmen, led by Anthony Weiner, Robert Wexler and Jerrold Nadler, have vowed to block the sale, even if the sale would help the United States in its war on terrorism. They seem to have the backing of Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, who has strongly criticized the plan. Is there something wrong with this picture? Or is it that Jewish American members of the Congress have been "standing up for Israel" for so long they don't know when to give it a break? THE GOOD news for Israel, and the anti-Iranian Arab front, is that Lantos, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Nadler, Wexler and Weiner are in the minority. They are only four of the growing Jewish American congressional caucus that includes 13 members of the US Senate and 30 members of the 435-member US House. The overwhelming majority of Jewish Congressmen are Democrats, so it is possible this really isn't about "protecting Israel" from the Arabs. It could just be the usual partisan politics Americans have come to expect from Democrats warring with Republicans. It never hurts the vote-getting to sprinkle in a little pro-Israel rhetoric. And it's not a beyond-the-Beltway battle between rival Jewish and Arab factions. For that to happen, you would need a few more congressmen of Arab heritage. The key word in that discussion is "few" - and add "far between." Most of the handful of Arab American congressmen are of Lebanese heritage. None are Saudis, or from any of the Gulf Nations. While they are privately angry at Israel's bombing of Beirut last year in retaliation for Hizbullah's kidnapping and killing of Israeli soldiers, none are brave enough to step up to the plate to defend Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain or Oman. In fact, one might say they are as brave as most congressmen will get when forced to chose between principle or partisan politics and votes. That's a congressional no-brainer no matter what your religion or ethnic heritage. BUSH WANTS to sell the Gulf Arabs advanced satellite-guided bombs, fighter aircraft upgrades and new naval vessels. It would be pretty hard to strike Israel with those weapons from across the Arabian Gulf. But then, the weapons America eagerly gave Saddam Hussein in the 1980s to fuel the war with Iran became the bedrock of the fear that the Iraqi dictator used them to build a nuclear arsenal. Training given to Osama bin Laden may have contributed to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, originating from the same effort to fight the old Soviet military in Afghanistan. Lantos et al have a point when it comes to American weapons entering through one door in the Arab world, and later leaving through another. But do they really have the hutzpa to block a deal that would give Israel so much more aid over the next decade? Or are they simply applying the old Arab tradition of tough wagering to kick that $30 million figure up even higher? Maybe this is about money, after all. If they really are concerned the Gulf Arab countries are planning to use the weapons in some unexpected assault on Israel, maybe they might have used non-Jewish members of Congress to lead the fight. But I have to chuckle, though, at the idea of the Gulf Arab nations attacking Israel. The only image that comes to mind is that scene in Lawrence of Arabia where the two Turkish prop planes strafe the Beduin encampment of Prince Faisal, played by Alec Guinness. All the Arabs are running around the desert like chickens with their heads cut off, gowns flowing impressively in the desert storm they have kicked up. Come on. Bahrain? Qatar? Kuwait? Attacking Israel? They may throw invectives toward Israel's ambassador at the United Nations, but redirect US-supplied weapons in a strategy to defeat Israel? Now, if Lantos and his cohorts said they were worried the Gulf Arabs might hurt themselves with those sophisticated weapons - that I might believe. The writer is an award winning columnist, author and standup comedian.