Student Union opens ‘hasbara’ room in effort to fill public diplomacy vacuum.
The WikiLeaks revelations, if it is not sacrilegious to suggest, were a godsend to the Jewish state. They demolished the mantra of Israel’s critics, President Obama conspicuous among them, who have incessantly proclaimed that the cornerstone of peace in the Middle East is a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Documents released by Wikileaker Julian Assange reveal, beyond the shadow of doubt, how marginal the Palestinian-Israeli conflict really is to Arab leaders. Israeli “occupation” and Jewish settlements on “Palestinian” land do not seem to agitate them. Indeed, they clearly understand that the key to peace in the Middle East, to say nothing of the security of their royal thrones, lies elsewhere.
As Wiki documents indicate, Arab potentates firmly believe that neighborhood peace hinges on the eradication of Iran’s nuclear threat. No one said it more bluntly than King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who pleaded with American government officials two years ago to “cut off the head of the snake.” The “snake,” of course, was Iran, not Israel.
As left-wing journalist Ari Shavit recently conceded in Haaretz, Assange “placed a giant mirror in front of all of us and proved the extent to which we had been duped.”
Who is “we”? For a start: President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and the State Department, Senator John Kerry, The New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian, Time, The New York Review of Books – and, to be sure, Haaretz and its approving leftist readers. This chorus of critics has incessantly reiterated Israeli culpability, while relentlessly blaming Jewish settlers, for Middle Eastern instability. What their ideological blinders prevented them from seeing was that by far the most ominous threat to peace comes from Tehran, not Hebron; from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, not Benjamin Netanyahu or Avigdor Lieberman.
Surely the most dangerous perpetrator of the myth of Israel as the key to peace has been President Obama. His determination to curry Arab favor was evident from the outset of his administration, when he gratuitously bowed to the king of Saudi Arabia. In his Cairo speech two months later, he blamed Middle Eastern turmoil on colonialism and the West. Pledging that the United States “is not – and never will be – at war with Islam,” he ignored the war that jihadi Islamists had launched against the United States on 9/11. Repeated terrorist attacks by Muslims against American targets did not change Obama’s mind.
In his dealings with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Obama made clear his misguided notion that “peace with the Palestinians – between the Palestinians and the Israelis strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with a potential Iranian threat.” In fact, as Arab leaders indicated, it made little difference. But it was easier for Obama to pressure Israel than to confront Iran.
Obama got it exactly backward: he ignored diplomatic cables assuring him that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict posed no obstacle to strong Arab support for American action against Iran. Arab leaders repeatedly and explicitly urged the president to destroy the real source of danger: Iranian nuclear facilities. Concerned for their own national security, they were indifferent to any concessions over settlements that might be wrung from Israel.
Obama might have learned – because Arab leaders repeatedly told him – that the road to Tehran does not run through Jerusalem. But as Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz recently wrote, either the president was “sticking to his view of the region in defiance of the facts” or he knew an Israeli-Palestinian peace process was irrelevant to the overriding Iranian nuclear threat but still chose to pressure Israel. Neither explanation, Horovitz noted, “sits well, to put it mildly.”
WikiLeaks also exposed American complicity in the deceptions and duplicity of the Saudi government. Ostensibly an American ally in the fight against Islamic terrorism, it turns out no other country has more generously funded Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Hamas. Nearly a year ago Secretary of State Clinton reported that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
With American acquiescence, the Saudi government has enjoyed the best of both worlds. It depends on the Central Intelligence Agency to direct its counter-terrorism efforts. Without American intelligence, the Saudi regime would be endangered, but with it, the government is free to support terrorist activities as lavishly as it wishes. Yet the Obama administration continued to blame Israel for instability in the Middle East.
The more information that emerged, the worse it got. Back in February, according to a cable from Secretary of State Clinton, the American government already knew Syria was supplying Hizbullah in Lebanon with long-range ballistic missiles, some of which are capable of reaching Tel Aviv and much of Israel. This, she acknowledged, was of “deep concern” to the United States. Yet nine months later, according to a Pentagon report, Hizbullah’s arsenal had grown to include 50,000 rockets and missiles. The Obama administration did nothing in the interim – except to renew pressure on Israel to extend its settlement freeze.
Critical of Bush administration attempts to isolate Syria, Obama took office promising to engage with the ruthless Assad dictatorship. Along the way, during meetings early in 2009, Senator Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, offered his own gesture of appeasement to the Syrian government. Egyptian President Mubarak had already warned that the Syrians were “sycophants to Tehran.” But Kerry, as an enticement to President Assad, indicated that the Obama administration intended to firmly oppose the establishment of new Jewish settlements. There is no indication whether anything was mentioned about Syrian arms shipments (including Scud-D missiles based on North Korean technology) to Hizbullah.
Then there were the American diplomatic cables revealing that Sudanese cargo planes were flying weapons from Tehran to Sudan, which shipped them to Gaza for Hamas. The Joint Chiefs of Staff learned from Egyptian intelligence sources that Iran was providing $25 million monthly to support Hamas (while the world blamed Israel for impoverishing Gaza). Worse yet, North Korea is furnishing missile technology to both Iran and Syria. There is no evidence of an American response.
But the Wiki revelations may have finally awakened American policy makers. When a Palestinian minister recently proclaimed that the Western Wall was part of an Islamic waqf (religious endowment), and that only “Islamic tolerance” permitted Jews to pray there, the State Department responded with uncharacteristic alacrity and bluntness. It condemned “all forms of delegitimization of Israel including denying historic Jewish connections to the land.” Then the White House announced that the administration would no longer demand a settlement freeze. Defense Minister Barak suggested that WikiLeaks had effectively shut down American efforts to coerce Israel.
Precisely as the Israeli Right has long insisted, any notion that Israeli “intransigence” regarding settlements is the primary obstacle to Middle Eastern peace is absurd. Iran’s nuclear potential and its aid and comfort to terrorist groups, not Jewish settlements, obstruct peace efforts and frighten Arab leaders. It is time for American policy makers to drop their flawed linkage and reconnect to Middle Eastern reality.
It might also help Israel to enjoy the benefits of Julian Assange’s unexpected gift if the Zionist Left could finally moderate its zeal to return Israel to its pre-1967 borders in the name of peace. Given Iran’s nuclear program, its generosity toward Hamas and Hizbullah, Syria’s arming of Hizbullah, and Obama’s persistent refusal to confront Ahmadinejad, such suggestions border on the suicidal.
Jerold S. Auerbach is professor emeritus of history at Wellesley College. His newest book, “Brothers at War: Israel’s Altalena Tragedy,” will be published in the spring.
About the Author: Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of “Jewish State/Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy,” to be published next month by Quid Pro Books.
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