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.