When I was a kid I was a big admirer of the nation of Israel. I guess I have always a big fan of underdogs and to me Israel was the ultimate underdog, but one with a big bite. I think that admiration started with the Six Day War. I recall following as best I could the developments of conflict as a child. The climate in our country at the time was very pro Israel and it seemed to me that little Israel took on the entire Arab world and emerged victorious just six days later. To me Israel was the little country that could.
When I looked up the conflict recently, I found that the conflict occurred between June 5th and June 10th of 1967 and it started when Israel launched a surprise air raid against Egyptian air bases destroying most of Egypt’s Air Force on the ground. With air superiority assured, Israel launched a lightening fast ground attack across the Sinai Peninsular again catching the Egyptians by surprise and routing their ground forces. When the Egyptians convinced the Syria and Jordan to come to their aid, the Israelis launched similar surprise attacks against the forces of those two counties, vanquishing them as well.
That was a long time ago and I don’t recall knowing at the time that Israel actually started that war with what we now refer to as a preemptive attack. However, even if I was aware of that at the time, it certainly didn’t take the luster off of the Israeli victory. From that point on I was a big fan of Israel.
However of the last ten years I grown increasingly less enthralled with the hero nation of my youth. To me it began to appear more and more that Israel had become less the valiant underdog I remembered and more of a bully and one of the primary obstacles to peace in the Middle East. It dawned on me recently that my period of disenchantment with Israel roughly correlated with the era during which Benjamin Netanyahu’s has been Prime Minister of Israel. It is primarily Netanyahu’s recent behavior which prompted me to write this article.
First, on a recent visit to Washington, Netanyahu had the nerve to lecture President Obama in the White House. Excuse me, but where in the hell does the Prime Minister of Israel get off lecturing the President of the United States in his home. The gall of the man! Then Netanyahu accepted John Boehner invitation to speak before a joint session of Congress without consulting with the President. In this country, whether Congress likes it our not, it is executive branch which is responsible for our relations with other nations. This is a major breach of protocol and a direct insult to the President of the United States. I was pleased when the President refused to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister when he again visits the United States to speak to congress. A foreign politician would do well to remember that one should never mettle in the politics of another country, especially when that nation that is your country’s greatest ally and beneficiary.
Netanyahu needs to remember the great debt of gratitude Israel owes this country. If it hadn’t been for the political support of the United States Israel may not have been able to declare its independence in the first place. If it hadn’t been for the support of the United States of the Israel military, Israel might have been wiped off of the map by its Arab neighbors long ago. For instance, during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 the US supplied Israel with 55,000 tons of war materials (tanks, artillery, ammunition, etc.) plus 40 F-4 and 36 A-4 fighter aircraft and 12 C-130 transport aircraft to replace Israel’s war losses. On the political front, all too often the United States was one of the only major nations to consistently come to the defense of Israel in the United Nations. Then there is the 3 Billion in foreign aid Israel receives from the US every year.
Netanyahu is facing a difficult election in March and perhaps he is hoping that his appearance before the US Congress will elevate him politically. Israel has many political parties, some like Netanyahu’s Likud party are right of center, some are left of center and some exist in the political middle. As usual, no one party will come close to electing enough members to the Knesset (Israel legislative body) to be able to select the next Prime Minister. The right of center parties will again seek to form a coalition to reelect Netanyahu, but they will need some of the centralist parties to join them to claim the necessary majority. No one is sure that Netanyahu can continue to count on the support of these centralist parties. He recently alienated two of the more important centralist parties when he essentially fired their representatives from their cabinet posts for refusing to support his legislative proposal to declare Israel “the nation-state of the Jewish people”.
Of course Netanyahu’s primary reason for agreeing to address Congress, even if it means further alienating President Obama, stems from his fears that the United State and other Western nations will negotiate an agreement with Iran to dispose of their nuclear weapons program which will not be sufficiently strict enough to prevent Iran from someday becoming a nuclear power. Since the Israelis and the Iranians are bitter enemies that is understandable. In addition, if Iran became a nuclear power it would completely destabilize the entire Middle East which is already a powder keg.
However, the Israeli Prime Minister apparently would not support any nuclear agreement made with Iran no matter how strict its enforcement stipulations. If Netanyahu had his way he would leave the West with only one option – war. The strict sanctions imposed have not yet deterred the Iranians, but they have driven them to the negotiation table. If they decided to continue their march toward developing the bomb regardless of how damaging the sanctions, our only remaining option to prevent them from obtaining nuclear weapons would be to bomb their nuclear facilities. An all out war in the Middle East would result in the death of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands and would be disastrous for the world’s economy. War should truly be our last option so we should give negotiations a chance no matter how much in it upsets Netanyahu.
Of course the animosity between Israel and its Arab neighbors, which over the years has caused the most problems in the Middle East, is nothing new. It dates back well before the Jews declared Israel an independent country in 1948. To understand the origins of that animosity, we have to go back in history. For most of the 400 years before the start of World War I, the Turkish Ottoman Empire controlled most of the Middle East including territories that are now Israel and Palestine. However, the Ottoman Empire made the mistake of joining the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary in their fight against the Allied Powers during World War I and everyone knows how that turned out. It was the British army that defeated the Turks and drove their armies out much of the Middle East.
At the end of the war when the British were formally appointed the custodian of most of the Middle East by the League of Nations in 1920, only 15% of the population of the territory then known Palestine was Jewish. The remaining 85% was Arab. Most of the original Jewish population was forced to leave their homes in Israel almost two centuries before. The Romans threw most of the Jews off of their ancestral lands after the last of the several Jewish rebellions against Roman rule in 135 AD. By 1920 the majority of the Jews were scattered across the countries of Europe and Northern Africa whose lands had once ruled by Rome.
Even early on under British rule in the 1920’s there was friction between the original Jewish and Arab inhabitants of Palestine. This friction increased as some European Jews who had been persecuted in their home countries begin to slowly migrate into Palestine. Then in 1939 that migration threatened to increase dramatically as Jews who had fled Germany, Austria and Poland to escape the persecution and slave labor camps of the Nazi’s tried to immigrate to Palestine from their temporary homes in other parts of Europe. However the British feared that the resident Arabs would be overrun by Jewish immigration if unchecked and continued to impose strict limits on Jewish immigration to Palestine.
The immigration abated during the war, but as it wound down, Jews from throughout Europe attempted to migrate to land they regarded as their birthright even though the native Arabs had been living there for the better part of two thousand years. However, the British stuck to their policy of limiting Jewish immigration into Palestine despite pressure from countries like the United States to allow up to 100,000 Jews to migrate. . In the first few years after the war the British enforced their policy with navel blockades which forcibly prevented ships filled with hundreds and sometime thousands of Jewish immigrants from depositing their human cargo in Palestinian ports.
Meanwhile Jewish underground organizations in Palestine which had been formed to protect the native Jewish population took violent exception to the British immigration policies. They began a series of terrorist attacks on British administrators and solders as well as the general Arab population and its government officials. A high level British official, Lord Moyne, was assassinated in Cairo by one of the Jewish underground organizations. Zionist terrorists blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem and an ocean liner at its berth in a harbor; both attacks killed hundreds of people. However, the resident Arabs took the blunt of the most of the numerous Jewish terrorist attacks with many hundreds of people killed, but British solders and administrators perished in some of those attacks as well.
In 1946, the British had 100,000 troops stationed in Palestine in an attempt to stem the violence, but it continued unabated. By the middle of 1947 the situation had deteriorated into an all out civil war between the Jewish and Arab populations. By the end of 1947, the British had determined that their attempts to prevent the violence were futile. Already burdened by the heavy damage inflected back in Briton during World War II, lacking financial resources, and pressured by the US and other countries, the British decide to leave Palestine in the care of the United Nations.
A UN General Assembly resolution sought to divide Palestine into two territories – one Arab and one Jewish. Even though they believed that the partition would never work, the British pulled the last of their people out of Palestine on May 15, 1948 and the same day the State of Israel declared its independence. It is ironic that Israel, which has been the subject of so many terrorist attacks over the years, owes it very existence in no small part to terrorism.
No sooner had Jews in Palestine declared the independence of their new country, they were attacked by elements of the armies of several Arab states: Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan, with volunteers and/or small contingents from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Sudan, Yemen, and Morocco. The resulting conflict is now known as “the War of Independence.” In terms of manpower, the two forces were about evenly matched. The Arabs had the initial advantage in aircraft and mechanized firepower, but the Israelis were able to procure and smuggle in massive amounts of armaments and aircraft from other countries, principally Czechoslovakia.
The Arab forces proved to be generally inept and the Israelis fought fiercely. After a few initial successes the Arab invasions were blunted, often by inferior numbers of Israeli defenders. Then the Israelis were able to drive the invaders back. Israel’s growing air force piloted mostly by mercenaries and volunteers, many of them Americans with World Ware II experience, began to take control of the skies. After many pitched battles, the Israelis were able to go on the offensive.
By the time that the Israeli signed individual armistices with each of the participating Arab countries between February and July of 1939, Israel controlled 78% of the former British ruled territory of Palestine or about one-third more than was allocated to the Jewish State under the UN partition proposal. As a result of the war approximately 700,000 native Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from the territories that became Israel and became refugees living in refugee camps through out the Arab countries. Their cause has not been forgotten in the Arab world and has been a continuing source of tension between the Israelis and their Arab neighbors ever since.
Of course the armed conflicts between Israel and its various Arabs neighbors did not end with the conclusion of the War of Independence. Most historians put the number of major wars which Israel has fought since 1948 at six, but that number does not include far more smaller conflicts – air battles, urban guerrilla uprisings, border conflicts, raids to suppress terrorist activity, etc. It could be reasonably say that the Israelis have been fighting to preserve their country for the entire time of its existence. In all of these conflicts the Israeli armed forces remains undefeated. However, all of that fighting exacted a price – over 20,000 Israeli solders killed and 75,000 wounded since independence was declared. During that time period, the country also lost 4,000 civilian lives to terrorist attacks.
As a nation, the Israeli military probably has more battle experience than any other on earth. The hot flames of battle over the years have tempered the Israeli military into one of the finest in the world, regardless of size. Its fighting forces are well trained and very well equipped. The militaries of some Arab countries such as Egypt are bigger, but as history illustrates, it doesn’t pay to bet against the Israeli Defense Forces.
While still surrounded by mostly hostile countries, Israel is no longer an underdog. Its military would allow it to impose its will on other countries in the Mid East should the need arise. And Israel holds the ultimate trump card; it is one of the few countries in the world, and the only country in the Middle East, to possess a nuclear arsenal. Leaders of hostile countries can argue that Israel has no right to exist, but such talk is useless. Israel is going to be around for a long time.
That brings me back to my concerns about the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu. He has shown himself to be a conservative with a very hawkish attitude who has made the security of Israel the number one major priority of his government. Ostensibly for security purposes, under his leadership Israel has continued occupy the West Bank which was captured in the 1967 war and which comprises the heartland of the proposed Palestinian state.
Worst yet, Netanyahu’s government has supported and funded the continuing establishment of Jewish settlements on the West Bank for which there can no other purpose than to establish a permanent Israeli claim to the territory. This policy been a prime obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. It has also brought the condemnation of the most of the world community down on Israel including that of its closest allies and it has been a major drain on the Israeli treasury and its stagnate economy. Bibi, as Netanyaho is known in Israel, has stated time and time again his opposition to the so called “two state solution”, favored by most of the world, which would allow the Palestinians to form their own country. It is of little wonder that under Netanyahu there has no progress towards establishing peace in the Middle East.
It is my view that Israel is no longer an underdog which has to stand in constant fear of being overrun by its Arab neighbors. The country has a very potent military and possesses nuclear weapons. The best its enemies can do is to launch terrorist attacks and inaccurate rockets, most of which are shot down the “Iron Dome” system supplied by the United States. Israel could be negotiating with its enemies from a position of strength. Instead, under its present government it seems to have never shed its underdog mentality. I can’t say any better than quote from a December article in the Times of Israel: “Under Netanyahu, Israel is a nation in bunker mode: The mindset is one of furrowed brows, distrust of outsiders, and vigilance against anti-Semitism.”
A sizable segment of the Israeli voters obviously agree with Bibi that it is too risky for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and support the two state solution. Otherwise he would not have stayed in office as long as he has. Others in Israel seem to believe that he lacks the courage to sue for peace. One would think that those in the Israeli military and government security organizations would agree with Netanyahu, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Consider the following paragraph from the same Times of Israel article quoted above:
“In a country whose right to exist is contested, whose borders are unclear and whose people have never known a day of real peace, it matters what the security people say after they retire and can speak their mind. So it is politically relevant that in a recent documentary film, all six of the former heads of the Shin Bet security service living at the time criticized the West Bank occupation. The most recently retired Shin Bet chief, Yuval Diskin, has been scathing in his attacks on Netanyahu. Key retired chiefs of the Mossad spy agency seem in much the same vein. One of them, Shabtai Shavit, wrote an impassioned essay in recent days about his fear for the future of Israel. Most top military figures are cut from similar cloth.”
I agree with many in the Obama administration who believe that Benjamin Netanyahu is more focused on holding his fragile coalition together and remaining in power than he is in the long term well being of Israel. To be fair, like most politicians, he probably considers his reelection to be vital Israel’s well being. Unfortunately for Netanyahu and Israel he does not understand that those two goal are not necessarily intertwined or otherwise he would not have gone out of his way to alienate the President of the United States and the President’s entire political party. Alas, Bibi will never be a great Israeli leader in the mold of Rabin, Sharon, or Begin.
Yet despite a strong “anyone but Bibi” sentiment in Israel right now, Netanyahu still has the best chance of emerging from the upcoming Israeli elections with the ability to form a coalition which would allow him to continue as Prime Minister. The other possible candidates who would might oppose him, and perhaps put together a left of center coalition, presentably don’t appear to have the stature to form a stable government.
So, like it or not, Israel is probably stuck with Benjamin Netanyahu for the foreseeable future and the US is stuck with a junior partner in an alliance who thinks he should be calling all of the shots. However, if I were Bibi I would commitment myself to some major fence mending with the Obama administration after the election. Otherwise he may find that cozying up to the Republicans in Congress was not an astute political move.
After the dozen or so candidates for the Republican presidential nomination go through the blood letting known as the Republican nomination process, the ultimate damaged survivor is going to have to face a very formidable Hillary Clinton. Also, given the lay of the land in 2016, I would say there is a very good chance that the Democrats will recapture the Senate. I would venture a guess that the majority of the citizens of Israel will not be happy with their Prime Minister if he is still at odds with the party in power in Washington. Israel cannot afford to be further isolated than it already is. We can only hope that Benjamin Netanyahu get the message sooner rather than later.
On the other hand, we cannot forget that Israel has long ago earned the right to exist without the constant attacks its citizens must endure everyday. It is still our closest ally in the region even if its government doesn’t act always act in its county’s best interest or our own. Israel is currently the only true democracy in the Middle East and it is the country whose citizens hold values most closely resembling to our own. Unfortunately its citizens have simply elected the wrong leadership, but heaven knows we have be guilty of that sin in the past as well. We can only hope that they will rectify that mistake, sooner rather than later.