Politics & Policy

The U.S. and Israel

What to do?

With Washington, D.C., talking Israeli politics, National Review Online asked experts: “Going into a presidential-election year, what’s a sane, responsible Israel policy?”

ELLIOTT ABRAMS

A sane, responsible Israel policy would reflect reality in the region today. Israel’s cold peace with Egypt may unravel as Islamists grow in power there, and the long-safe border between Israel and the Egyptian Sinai is already unsafe. Jordan’s stability is not certain, and Syria is awash in blood. The Palestinian leadership flirts with Hamas and invites it to join the PLO. And of course Iran’s nuclear-weapons program moves forward relentlessly.

The only firm ally we have in the region is Israel. Accordingly we should (1) maintain our military aid and our diplomatic support for Israel; (2) seek to improve life in the West Bank, with as much self-government for Palestinians and as few Israeli intrusions as security permits, while acknowledging that any final peace agreement is far away; and (3) state clearly the U.S. policy that Iran will never be permitted to acquire nuclear-weapons capability, and that we would support Israel in the aftermath of a military strike (Israel’s or ours) at that program.

Put in the negative, we should stop Obama-style pressures on Israel for negotiations with the Palestinians that cannot at this juncture possibly succeed, and stop undermining Israel’s military credibility against Iran with what the president called “loose talk.” The key concept is simple: Support your friend against your enemy.

— Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, was an assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration and deputy national-security adviser in the George W. Bush administration.

SHOSHANA BRYEN

American policy toward Israel should be built on bilateral and regional understandings:

U.S. disagreement with Israel on specific issues is normal; trying to substitute American choices for policies of Israel’s democratically elected government — particularly on security — is disrespectful and counterproductive. Israel is our partner in addressing common threats, not an impediment to better relations with the Arabs.

There is a way to deal with undemocratic political philosophies: We recognized the U.S.S.R., negotiated and traded with it, and tried to avoid war with it. We also did our best to defend against it, restrict it, deny it victories, and keep faith with its people. The dissidents knew we were on their side. In that context, ignoring the Iranian opposition is wrong, as is the U.S. embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood and the pretense that its election was democratic.

Iran is the central front in the battle for the political future of the Middle East, Israel’s security, and America’s influence in the region. The mullahs have to go. Support for the opposition, politics, financial sanctions, and military action are all tools in the toolkit.

The U.S. and Israel are in the same boat; we need to be on the same page.

— Shoshana Bryen is senior director of the Jewish Policy Center.

JACK DAVID

A responsible U.S. policy on Israel would have the president and high U.S. officials in his administration unambiguously advance U.S. interests and restore trusting relations with Israel. Here are the essential elements:

1.  The U.S. would declare that Israel needs no approval from Washington or anyone else to defend itself from the perils it sees. Moreover, the U.S. would declare that Israel would have U.S. military and political support if it decided it had to take military action to defend itself against attack.

2.  The U.S. would declare that the continued existence of Israel is a vital U.S. interest.

3.  With regard to Iran, the U.S. would declare that Iran’s declaration of intent to end Israel’s existence combined with Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them near and far constitutes a mortal threat to Israel as well as a threat to other vital U.S. interests. This threat is so great as to justify preemptive military action unless immediately removed.

4.  The U.S. would declare that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state with defensible and secure borders and to have its capital in an undivided Jerusalem.

5.  The U.S. would declare that it would be guided by the foregoing principles insofar as they concern negotiations between representatives of Palestinian Arabs and Israel, ensuring Palestinian Arabs a secure state of their own.

6.  The U.S. would declare that it opposes the practice of government-supplied educational materials and government-run institutions, such as schools, newspapers, and television programs that disseminate hate-inspiring messages about Israel, the United States, Jews, Christians, or any other group. The U.S. would take these heinous practices into account in all aspects of its relationships with governments that engage in them, including foreign aid.

— Jack David is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. He was deputy assistant secretary of defense for combating weapons of mass destruction and negotiations policy from 2004 to 2006.

CAROLINE GLICK

Israel is the U.S.’s most important ally in the Middle East because Israel and the U.S. have a shared perception of their national interests. They also share the same enemies. A sound Israel policy is nothing more than a sound national-security policy. Such a policy should be predicated on the aim of defeating the U.S.’s foes and strengthening the U.S.’s enemies.

What this means in practice is that a sane U.S. policy toward Israel involves adopting policies that are diametrically opposed to nearly every policy President Obama has adopted since entering office.

Specifically, it involves the U.S. standing by its allies and standing against its enemies in the Middle East. The U.S. should end its dangerous support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It should take active measures to support the overthrow of the Assad regime in Syria and the mullocracy in Iran. It should take concerted steps to end Hezbollah’s control over Lebanon. It should end its unconditional support for the Palestinians, end U.S. training of the Palestinian army, encourage Israel to expand its security control in Judea and Samaria, and weaken Hamas’s military strength in Gaza.

Moreover, the U.S. should work with Israel to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations and to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical and biological arsenal and its ballistic missiles.

The U.S. should also end its support for the Islamist regime in Turkey and condition Turkey’s continued membership in NATO on a complete strategic about-face for Ankara. Ankara must end its support for Hamas. It must cease its bullying of Cyprus and Greece and stop threatening the Cypriot and Israeli natural-gas deposits in the Mediterranean. Moreover it must agree to again participate in joint exercises with the Israeli military. Turkey’s continued membership in NATO should also be made contingent on the cessation of the imprisonment of Turkey’s senior officer corps and its journalists.

Whether he leaves office in January 2013 or January 2017, Obama’s legacy in the Middle East will be one of treachery and appeasement. He has wrecked the U.S.’s reputation as a trustworthy ally and a dangerous foe. The most urgent task of the next administration will be to correct the damage he has caused.

— Caroline B. Glick is the senior contributing editor of the Jerusalem Post.

MONA CHAREN

The best policy toward Israel is one based on reality, not hope, and on peace, but not the “peace process.” One American administration after another, starting with Eisenhower’s, has come into office determined to solve the Arab-Israeli or, later, the Palestinian-Israeli problem, only to discover that when only one side wants peace, it’s not possible. Most recently, Condoleezza Rice described her surprise to learn that, even in the face of the most generous terms, the Palestinian Authority could not accept the “two-state solution” they claimed to want.

If there is a Republican in the White House in 2013, it would be refreshing if he arrived unencumbered by the fantasy that his unique diplomacy will bring about an agreement to solve that problem. A solution must await a change of heart — and leadership — on the part of the Palestinians.

American policymakers must also discard the hoary and discredited idea that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the key to peace and progress in the region as a whole. As we’ve seen over the past few years, the troubles that afflict the region have almost nothing to do with Israel or the Palestinians. From Yemen to Egypt to Syria to Tunisia to Lebanon to Bahrain to Iraq to Saudi Arabia and Iran, a combination of Islamic extremism and brutal, authoritarian regimes has led to economic inanition, political turmoil, and social backwardness.

Israel is a good and reliable friend who deserves our unflinching support. The best approach for Israel’s sake, and our own, is to view the region and its many conflicts without illusions or unrealistic expectations.

— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist.

CLIFFORD D. MAY

At the conclusion of World War II — a war we didn’t “wind down,” a war we won, demanding “unconditional surrender” from those we did not hesitate to identify as enemies — the British electorate rejected Winston Churchill (without whose vision and determination Hitler might well have triumphed) and turned inward to focus on building a welfare state.

That meant relinquishing global leadership. The British could do that because they could pass the torch to America. If that torch has now become too heavy for Americans, or if it is seen as unfair for America to continue to lead, who is prepared to take America’s place?

Today the regime that rules Iran is the major threat not just to Israel’s security but also to the security of the United States and the West. It is committed to a world without American leadership in the short run and, as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has phrased it, “a world without America” in the long run.

On Sunday, Obama told AIPAC that “Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States — just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decision about what is required to meet its security needs.”

A sane, responsible Israel policy — election year or no — would take the steps necessary to prevent Iran’s theocrats — the world’s leading sponsors of terrorism, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans over three decades — from obtaining a nuclear-weapons capability.

— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

DANIEL PIPES

Two premises shape my preferred U.S. policy toward Israel.

Negatively, the two countries suffer from the same problems coming out of the Middle East, notably weapons of mass destruction, wars, terrorism, piracy, anarchy, tyranny, refugees, drug trafficking, counterfeiting, oil and gas disruptions, extremist ideologies, conspiracy theories, etc. They also share enemies. Anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism are first cousins, with one usually leading to the other.

Positively, judging by such criteria as United Nations votes, bilateral commerce, intelligence cooperation, military alliance, intellectual influence, religious bonds, and shared values, the U.S.-Israel bond is arguably the closest international tie in the world, making it what I call “the family relationship of international politics.” One revealing symptom: The two states can barely restrain themselves from interfering in each other’s affairs.

Together, these negatives and positives point to a self-evident policy conclusion: Cooperate, seek synergy, work toward shared goals. Contra Obama, avoid daylight between the leaderships. Deal with differences quietly and effectively. Announce to all that the two governments agree on fundamentals and will not be divided.

Try this and see how existing problems, from the Iranian nuclear buildup to the Arab upheavals, start to look less formidable.

— Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum.

MICHAEL RUBIN

This is no time for conciliation. Wars happens neither because America talks tough nor because the White House makes it clear that it will spare no effort to defend its allies against external threats. Rather, the most destabilizing conflicts occur because America’s enemies do not trust its resolve. It was President Truman’s exclusion of South Korea and Taiwan from his articulation of America’s defensive perimeter that led North Korea to conclude that it might wipe its rival off the face of the map. The result was a devastating war that might have been avoided had Truman understood the purpose of the military is to build strength and the purpose of diplomacy is not to downplay that strength. The only sane, responsible policy guaranteed to keep the peace is for the United States to make clear that it is completely and utterly unacceptable for the Islamic Republic of Iran to develop nuclear weapons, which threaten not only the United States and Israel, but also America’s Arab allies. The goal of U.S. policy should be to bring the Iranian regime to its knees. Only when Supreme Leader Khamenei’s regime is gone can the United States address myriad other regional problems.

— Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

BENJAMIN WEINTHAL

Under any meaningful policy toward Israel, Washington would recognize an Iranian nuclear weapon as an existential threat to the Jewish state, and an intolerable danger to the United States, its European allies, and the panic-stricken Sunni countries of the Middle East.

Hans Rühle, who headed the German defense ministry’s planning staff from 1982 to 1988, noted Sunday that “by now, several intelligence agencies assume that North Korea in 2010 indeed performed one nuclear test for Iran.”

The Islamic Republic has waged a low-grade war on the United States for over three decades, killing hundreds of U.S. servicemen in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. While President Obama acknowledges the threat a nuclear Iran would pose to Israel, he does not recognize the gravity of Tehran’s nuclear-missile program for U.S. national security.

Obama’s worry that a more confrontational posture toward Iran will boost oil prices — coupled with his appeal for more diplomacy with Tehran — does not bode well for his chances of tackling the most serious threat since the collapse of the Soviet Union. For three years, President Obama has tried and failed to engage Iran’s leaders. What will it take to convince him that it won’t work?

Obama should make good on his promise to take every action in his power to end Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, and the Republican candidates for president should hold him to it.

Whether on red lines or timetables, when it comes to Iran, there should be no daylight between the United States and Israel.

— Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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