Push Has Come to Shove

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In 1994, while sitting on the patio of a friend’s home, I interviewed a rather distinguished and well-known Israeli news anchor. I asked him why I, an American citizen with nothing more than the Internet, seemed to be more aware than the average Israeli of the constant and steady stream of incitement emanating directly from the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat on down, and their continuous violations of the Oslo Accords. I asked further why the Israeli media wasn’t paying more attention to this issue.

His face took on an ashen hue and his eyes became solemn.

“I was just at a briefing at Israeli intelligence,” he said, “and I know that there is a much graver threat coming from the east. We can handle the occasional terrorist attack by the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. What we might not be able to handle is the threat of a nuclear bomb emerging from Iran. We will need Uncle Sam’s help, when it comes to that.”

This premise has guided Israeli foreign policy for years. It prompted Israel’s decision not to blow the whistle on years and years of constant and steady incitement to hatred on which the Palestinian populace had been nurtured, or on the extolling of the virtues of martyrdom, of homicide bombings, and of the blatant naming of town squares, streets, athletic contests and even schools after “shuhada” (martyrs), and all of the years of bloodshed targeting innocent Israel civilians.

This premise prompted Israel to prematurely abort successive wars. These wars were all defensive, launched when Hamas missiles or Hezbollah missiles were directed at Israeli population centers. Each time, under U.S. counsel, Israel aborted the wars when it was just shy of achieving victory. This was also among the reasons that the Israeli military waged these wars with one hand tied behind its back.

Through the years, successive Israeli governments must have been aware that by refraining from publicly acknowledging the Palestinian incitement and violations of the Oslo Accords they were in fact empowering the Palestinian cause in the court of international public opinion, and they were doing so to their own detriment.

But they elected to restrain themselves because they knew that the American State Department would never budge from the formulation of “land for peace,” despite mounting evidence that it was not working. They did this because they assumed that when that critical moment came to defend Israel against the existential threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb, Uncle Sam would be there for them.

Meanwhile, during all those years, U.S. support for Israel had begun to wane steadily, for a variety of reasons. Critical among them was the fact that Israel refused to go on the offensive in the court of public opinion, despite mounting evidence that he Palestinians were anything but partners in peace. In fact, by not going on the offensive, Israel succumbed to being portrayed as thieves in what became an international obsession (after all who gives “back” something that does not belong to them?). Since Israel obediently played along with the role of the antihero, over the past two decades, Israel’s image among the international community shifted from being that of a tiny independent brave and courageous “David” into a reviled “Goliath.”

As a result, we have witnessed an unparalleled obsession and scrutiny of every single moral decision that Israel has taken in order to survive in the tough neighborhood of the Middle East. No one seems to care that over 260,000 Syrians have been slaughtered at the hands of their fellow Muslims, or that tens of thousands of Christians have been slaughtered by Muslims in Africa and in the Middle East.

This peculiar obsession is just one of the many factors that set the stage for the rapidly metastasizing international BDS movement. These long years of absorbing the attacks on Israel’s image, of refusing to take off the silk gloves and put on the boxing gloves, both in war and in the international arena, were based on the premise that the United States would be there when the critical moment came.

It is this premise that has led successive Israel governments to make internally gut-wrenching withdrawals from settlements, despite the assurances made by then-President George W. Bush in a letter addressed to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on April 14, 2004. In the letter, Bush pledged that “in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of these final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”

It is this premise that kept the prime minister of Israel from attacking the Iranian nuclear installations when it became apparent that the United States and the Iranians had become involved in secret negotiations. In fact, stories began to leak to the press that in 2014, when U.S. President Barack Obama was informed through U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that Israel might attack some of Iran’s nuclear installations, the United States threatened to shoot down Israeli planes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu therefore did not attack the Iranian installations and was rewarded by being called a “chickenshit” by a high-ranking official in the Obama administration (as reported in The Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg in October 2014). Israel would never engage in such a low level of discourse, or respond in kind.

Israel has always been acutely aware of its tiny geography and of its minuscule place in a hostile neighborhood. As Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah famously said, “Israel is a one-bomb country,” and “the Jews did us a favor by gathering in Israel. It will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”

So for over 22 years of Oslo, successive Israeli governments held their tongues, knowing they would need the United States at that critical moment.

That critical moment has arrived. Israel is now forced to confront the greatest single existential threat to its existence since 1948 — a nuclear bomb coming from the ruthless, theocratic, totalitarian dictatorship of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

We recently learned that the Obama administration has been holding secret talks with the Iranian government since 2011. Over the course of these years, we have seen how Obama’s rhetoric has evolved from “Iran must never get a nuclear bomb” (which he said on at least 30 separate occasions) and “All options are on the table,” to “Iran must not get a nuclear bomb on my watch” and “It is either this deal or war.”

The tone of this president’s rhetoric reached a new low when, speaking at American University on Aug. 5, he accused the opponents of the deal of being hawkish lobbyists doling out millions of dollars, the same hawks who had dragged the U.S. into war with Iraq.

Of course, let it be stated for the record that neither Israel nor any mainstream Jewish organization ever took a position on the war in Iraq. I specifically remember a meeting at the Israeli Embassy in 2003, in the lead-up to the war in Iraq, where Israeli government officials made it abundantly clear that they were taking no position on that war.

Obama also said that anyone who does not support the deal is either playing partisan politics or taking orders from a foreign power. These statements are nothing more than classic anti-Semitic canards. The president has hit a new low. The Oval Office is now providing tacit consent to revert to anti-Semitism.

Obama refuses to acknowledge that this deal is an assault on the national security of the U.S., and many former high-ranking American defense and intelligence officials, from Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn to General Tom McInerney to former CIA Director James Woolsey to Ambassador John Bolton, have all publicly said as much.

The more the American public finds out about the Iranian nuclear deal, the more it opposes it. A recent Quinnipiac Poll has found that only 28% of Americans support the deal, while twice as many, 57%, oppose it.

The more desperate the president is to sell this deal, the more reckless and ruthless his rhetoric becomes. A few days ago, Obama accused the opponents of the deal of making common cause with Iranian hardliners in the Khamenei regime. Push has now come to shove. The Israelis spent 22 years holding their tongues about the behavior of their Palestinian interlocutors, watching their own image in the international community steadily erode, precisely for this very moment.

It is at this very moment, when Obama is throwing America under a bus, that Israel is being shoved under a tank.

Originally published at Israel Hayom: https://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=13473

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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