Thursday, August 14, 2014

Barack Obama as Sal Tessio and Just as Unconvincing

Sal Tessio: [to Hagen] Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him.

Tom Hagen: He understands that. 

As regular followers of this blog know I have never been one to single out President Barack Obama for opprobrium.

I've said that Israeli governments have had profound differences with all previous U.S. administrations and that we should not make a big deal about the troubled Netanyahu-Obama relationship.

Who can forget the set-up photo in the White House cabinet room of president Ronald Reagan glaring (if looks could kill) at the diminutive Yitzhak Shamir, foreign minister at the time, on one of his visits to the White House.

Now, though, I am beginning to be swayed to the view that Obama is giving Jimmy Carter a good run for level of presidential antipathy toward the Zionist enterprise.

Today's Wall Street Journal – heavily and sympathetically sourced to unnamed White House officials – carries a long piece – a bill of particulars – explaining why Obama has lost patience with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

The writer wants it known that U.S.-Israel relations are at their lowest point since Obama took office.

Who can quantify low?

Of course, Obama torpedoed the relationship from Day 1 (with an ignoble assist from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) by pushing for a "settlement freeze" and forcing Mahmoud Abbas to do so also.

Obama made it impossible to Abbas to even speak to Netanyahu without a settlement freeze in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Talk about a non starter.

That amateurish stunt essentially sabotaged the status quo and made things worse. Much worse. It raised Palestinian expectations. 

Later, Obama gave a speech in Cairo in which he got just about everything about the Arab world wrong. To top it off, he clumsily justified Israel's existence on the basis of the Holocaust. As if the Jewish connection to Eretz Israel dated back to World War II and no earlier.

He went on to mishandle the Arab Spring.

He fumbled the Egypt crisis. Libya. The Iraq pullout (pullout good - way he did it bad).

It's a long list. 

Fast forward to today.

Obama has now instructed that future Israeli requests for weaponry including ammunition be approved by him at the White House.

The implication is clear.

The president was reportedly taken aback to learn that the Pentagon had routinely authorized Jerusalem to tap into a pre-positioned weapons stockpile in the Jewish state. Like he didn't know we were fighting Iran's proxy, Hamas and needed those supplies.

The re-op undercut White House and State Department efforts to pressure Israel into halting its military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.

In other words, before anyone in Israel, me included, complains that Netanyahu is not crushing Hamas – let's understand that the president of the US is working to save Hamas. Just like Reagan saved Arafat and the PLO in the 1982 Lebanon War.

And bank this:  U.S. guarantees and international  guarantees are only as good as the occupant in the White House. Only as good as that day's goodwill. 

Israeli restraint but good will. Israeli withdrawals - like from Gaza buys goodwill. And this goodwill has the shelf life of a container of fresh milk left out I the Middle East sun.

At least Reagan's heart was in the right place, or so say his supporters, and he was overwhelmed by Caspar Weinberger ("Why won't anyone believe me that I am Episcopalian -- my grandparents converted! I can prove it") and Reagan dumped the pro-Israel Al Haig for two-faced George Shultz.

So Reagan gets a pass from some.

Me thinks, Obama's dislike for things Israeli is of a different order altogether.

The president considers Netanyahu to be reckless and not to be trusted. 

Now, let's face it – our premier is a political chameleon and a backstabber – just like most politicians. So I am not suggesting there is no merit in the claim.

But Obama is angry at him for substantive reasons not because Bibi is, well, Bibi. He's angry about Bibi's principles - principles shared by most Israelis when it comes to Hamas, the Pakestinian Muslim Brothethood.

Israeli officials characterize the president and his team as naïve, the newspaper said.

That's putting it politely.

And it is not far from what most Americans think -- and I mean those who try to think well of Obama.

But is Obama only naïve or is there some kind of visceral refusal to "get" Israel. Even as a candidate he wanted Israel to pull back to the 1949 Armistice Lines.

The Netanyahu government has been counting on military-to-military ties and backing from the U.S. Congress as a workaround to White House animosity. It has basically given up on the White House.

But let's face it – how practical is this approach with some two years more to go in this administration?

One could count on one hand the number of high level officials simpatico to Israel in this administration  -- and still have five fingers left over.

Supposedly, goes the Journal piece, the administration believes that Israel is not been doing enough to limit civilian casualties in Gaza risking a humanitarian catastrophe. A position that parallels the Euro-Left and is about as naïve as naïve gets.

It willfully ignores Israeli efforts to limit collateral damage. Just naïve ?

Could the US do any better under identical conditions? I don't think so.

Obama is angry because his efforts to bring about a ceasefire have been undermined by Israeli opposition to giving Qatar and Turkey roles in the process. Left unsaid is that Egypt and israel are on the same page. 

Qatar (paymaster of Al Jezerra) and Turkey are the primary backers of Hamas. Turkey's president for life ran for election on an anti Zionist platform calling Israelis worse than Nazis.

Turkey has gone over the edge but NATO doesn't have the guts to face up to the fact that the current regime in Ankara has nothing in common with the Turkey that was admitted to the alliance.

Turkey is a stalking horse for the wrong side in The Long War. Separate story.

Supposedly, the Obama administration was particularly incensed when on July 30 a U.S.-supplied Israeli shell struck a United Nations school in Gaza, so the Journal reported. The Israeli army has again and again explained that Hamas is shooting from schools, mosques, and hospitals.

The evidence is available to the president on YouTube.

And there have been not a few cases when such school explosions turned out to be caused by Hamas misfiring at Israel. 
The administration was further riled when on Aug. 2 Netanyahu telephoned U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro to say that he didn't want the Obama administration "to ever second-guess me again" about how to deal with Hamas. The White House accused Israel of leaking the conversation.

Now, here I have to say that Netanyahu may have overplayed his hand.

If so, it reflects the frustration of having Shapiro (who speaks good Hebrew) make like he is a friend of Israel while representing a policy that is hostile to Israel's fundamental interests.

The relationship between Obama and Netanyahu has reached a nadir.

Obama is holding up access to the bullets, bombs, and ordinance Israel needs to overcome Hamas.

I can't read his mind or his heart but it is as if wants us in a war of attrition so that Israel will make concessions to the Palestinians of Hamas or the Palestinians of Fatah ( six of one, half a dozen of the other).

He is even holding off transfer of the additional $225 million in funding for the Iron Dome anti-rocket system that was approved by Congress.

Pretty clear it's both business and personal.

It's  gonna be a bumpy two years until Obama leaves the White House. 

Thursday, August 07, 2014

It's a Wrap – the 2014 Gaza War

Jerusalem -Wednesday, afternoon August 6, 2014

According to political apocrypha, in 1972 President Richard Nixon asked China's number two leader Chou En Lai to assess the French Revolution which ended in 1799.

"It's too soon to tell."

But in the blogging world snap judgments – gut reactions – are expected.

IDF reservists are on the way home to their families. Thank God.

The Alpha and Omega is this: Gaza is part of The Long War which the Arabs launched against the Zionist enterprise, arguably in 1929.

Understand all that follows in that light.

The headlines talk about a return to normalcy. But of course, given the part of the world we live in "normalcy" could unravel in milliseconds.
It looks like the ceasefire will hold.
Hamas, however, is threatening to resume attacks on Friday morning.
So, it is too early to tell.

I hear say that the war was a "failure" because the enemy was able to keep shooting until the very end and that our army did not manage to kill the enemy leaders.

Hamas even partially closed Ben-Gurion airport. Well, actually, that was the Federal Aviation Administration. And that was a taste of what will happen if ever, heaven forbid, the "two state solution" kicks in and the PLO sits astride the mountains of Samaria opposite the airport. But, that's a separate matter.

Back to Gaza. The most cost-effective way to stop a military threat is with deterrence. Israel is surrounded by enemies. All of them have rockets. Some have missiles. One is working on a nuclear weapons capability.

We will know in the fullness of time whether Israel restored its military deterrence vis-à-vis Hamas-controlled Gaza.

I hope so.

But I also regret that we did not manage to liquidate very many enemy leaders, particularly Mohammed Deif.

I would say that he is anyway a walking dead man -- but because of previous assassination attempts that would uncouth. His time will come. Ins'allah.

Experience shows that killing the enemy leadership while delivering justice and retribution – legitimate ends in and of themselves – as a military value has a short shelf-life span. 

It was good that we liquidated Abdel Aziz Rantisi. It was even better that we neutralized Ahmed Yassin (who founded Hamas). It was welcome that we sent Yahya Ayyash to hell.

But liquidating such evil men offers no magic bullet.  

And it vastly complicates the schedule of that haggard 72-year-old virgin promised to all the shahids.

Killing the enemy leaders during a battle disrupts their command and control and would have been particularly valuable.


We didn't manage to get, as far as I know, any key Izz ad-Din al-Kassam leaders (but, here too, too early to tell) or any in the so-called political leadership of Hamas like Mahmoud al-Zahar or Ismail Haniyeh.

A couple of top Islamic Jihad characters did come down with fatal lead poisoning.

Meanwhile, the outside Hamas leaders and much of the "religious guidance council" probably don't sleep too easy.

There are complaints the job is unfinished.

Since when does Israel have the luxury to finish the job?

And by the way, when was the last  time the U.S. won a war? Russia? Britain? I think we're talking 1945.

If Hamas had been suicidal and continued to shoot – there would have been no choice but to re-conquer the Strip. No one really knows how long that would take – everyone agrees it would be a long, drawnout and bloody business.

And then what?  Not clear.

I am not keen on "helping Abu Mazen" by handing him Gaza (like he could digest it).

I hear the Egyptians are thinking in terms of Mohammed Dahlan for Gaza. The old crackdown artist.

Anyway, I know the mantra "helping Palestinian moderates" is supposedly our only recourse. Problem is I think all true "Palestinian moderates" are pushing up daises -- and Fatah is by no means a genuine moderate movement.


For now, the army is entirely out of Gaza. So we sit tight and see how it all plays out.

Plainly, if it begins to drizzle rockets and we don't act, disproportionately, to re-establish deterrence, then we'll have only ourselves to blame for the consequences.

How do you know when you've restored deterrence?  When the enemy does not shoot.

We always say we won't let the situation get out of hand and we always let the situation get out of hand. I guess that's human nature.

People are saying how we handled the tunnel business – not dealing with it sooner – was a failure.  I am not sure any army could have done better.

Gilad Shalit got taken (and Hanan Barak and Pavel Slutzker were killed) by Hamas tunnel guerillas.  

What did PM Benjamin Netanyahu do? He released 1,000 terrorists. That emboldened the enemy in Gaza and in Judea and Samaria -- but don't get me started.

People say we should have acted sooner on the tunnels.

Well, there are undoubtedly tunnels from Hezbollah-occupied Lebanon into northern Israel. And I don't know too many reasonable people who want to do anything offensive about it at this point.


It will take time for the fog of war to lift.

We lost 64 soldiers and four civilians. The air force flew 4,762 sorties. 

The IDF called up 80,000 reservists – men and women.

The true extent of Palestinian casualties we do not know
We guesstimate about 1,000 gunmen killed. But there were also among enemy non-combatants perhaps 429 children killed.

We cannot cherish Palestinian children more than their own leaders – still it is tragic that they forced us to kill them in the process of defending ourselves.

It sullies us. But what choice was there?

Gold Meir was right when she said that it was unforgivable that the Arabs made us kill their children.


It will take a while to discover the rules of the game going forward.
We are fortunate that Egypt is presently at odds with Hamas. President Abdul Sisi, too, sees his interest in "helping Abu Mazen" not the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood.

Cairo will presumably keep the tunnels between Sinai and Gaza sealed and not permit weapons to flow in either direction. Let's hope Sisi hangs on and maintains this policy.

What will Israel demand of Gaza? Will we be able to resist the so-called international community in order to protect our elementary security interests.

Netanyahu will need to be prudent in what we ask for and steadfast in his resolve.

Hamas needs to be defanged and disarmed.

Time will tell.

It's hard to be optimistic given that Barack Obama and John Kerry are looking after our interests with an assist from David Cameron and Francois Hollande.

All agree Israel has the right to passive self-defense. 

Meantime, a depraved United Nations, an Orwellian UN Human Rights Council, and the twisted enablers of Palestinian victimization at UNRWA – prepare for a their kangaroo court that manipulates international law into lawfare holding Jews to a double standard.

During the war Israel moved 2,000 trucks of food and supplies for the enemy non combatants. Until the war, Israel also supplied fuel and electricity. We set up a field hospital just outside the gates of Gaza.

If you are going to have enemies, pray your enemy is a Jew.

According to a Haaretz poll, 53 percent of Israelis also think "helping Abu Mazen" should be our goal.

Obviously, a political solution is preferable. It is just not in the cards given enemy intentions.

What can I say: countries are not the only ones who want the illusion of momentum. People like that too. And when that is the uniform message Israelis get – can you blame them for falling for it?

Some 56 percent say that the IDF achieved at least a partial victory – with that, at least, I agree.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu comes out of the war with a 44 percent approval rating. DF Moshe Ya'alon with 43 percent and the IDF chief of staff Gen. Benny Gantz comes out best with 53 percent.

As much as I don't care for Netanyahu due to his chronic lack of character, I would give him better marks for his handling of the war.
Especially because he also had to contend with a demagogic foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who behaved appallingly and a smart-alecky Jewish Home Party leader Naftali Bennett, who said one thing behind closed doors (reportedly) and another to the TV cameras. In fact, he had no friends around the cabinet table.

He's not a guy who generates a lot of loyalty from the people he works with our who work for him. But, that too, is another story.

Some final snap judgments.

The country really pulled together. Basically. The Zionist opposition was mostly responsible and supportive of the war effort. I think former Labor leader Shelly Yacomovitch and the current leader Isaac Herzog did good work.

The Disloyal Knesset Opposition did its best for Hamas. No surprise there.

Meanwhile, Jerusalem-area Palestinians rioted regularly, unhelpfully, counter-productively. A few used knives, tractors, and guns to kill Jews – answering the Hams call to start a third intifada.

Fatah (which benefits most because the IDF weakened Hamas) will now use every trick in the lawfare book to besmirch Israel and agitate, instigate, and mobilize against Israel.

Naturally, Abbas himself would not last 48 hours without Israel watching his back. But – that's another story.

And while Fatah/the Palestinian Authority/ State of Palestine/PLO –whatever you want to call it is undermining Israel, a long line of Israelis -- Herzog  is just the most obviously gormless -- will be banging the "help Abu Mazin" drum. 

I don't get it.

The Agents of Foreign Influence – groups like B'Tselem and ACCRI did what we would expect of them: and what their paymasters at the EU and in the US and the various foundations (some of them, sigh, Jewish) wanted them to: undermine the war effort and weaken moral.

They were pretty ineffectual.

I saw that Jodi Rudoren of the New York Times had a little kvetch that B'Tselem couldn't buy radio time during the war to damage Israeli morale.

Well, as far as I know, no one has sold anyone radio time in Washington or London to read the names of enemy non-combatants killed by U.S. or British forces.

Nu, Rudoren is disappointed. She came to Jerusalem disappointed with the Zionists and she will leave disappointed with the bad "right-wing" Zionists. She says the whole bloody country is "right-wing" meaning it's nothing like the neighborhood around Zabar's. So many disappointed Jews at the Times. Uncle Tom. Uncle Roger. Bummer.  

The war should humble us.

Israeli intelligence does not know everything. Let's remember that. We don't know where all the tunnels are. We don't know where the Hamas leaders hide…

Let's remember that's true, too, in connection with our greatest enemy Iran.

Speaking of intelligence, I have a hunch where the bad guys were hiding. Last time I looked, Qatar had a consulate in Gaza. Not sure if Turkey has diplomats stationed in the Strip. I'd bet the enemy command and control was in a bunker underneath a diplomatic mission and not under Shifa hospital.

Just saying.
People will rightly complain that some of our soldiers went into Gaza  on armored personnel jalopies – terrible. That needs to be investigated. It needs to be fixed.
Some 705 foreign journalists were sent to Israel to cover the war.
I didn't watch much foreign media during this war. Firstly, there was little time and secondly, I know where they stand on Israel. 

What little I did see and read reinforced this view.

People latched on to a single friendly essay in The Independent (noch) or in the Times (of London).

The Arabs accused the BBC of a pro-Zionist slant. No, I mean it.
The Western press (writ large) does not "get" the war of civilizations or that Israel is engaed in a Long War. It just doesn't and everything else follows from that.

The idea of a zero sum conflict strikes liberals and cosmopolitans and many millennials as archaic.

On the Israeli media, I'd say that I found Channel 2 (intermittently) the least bad. No one beats Ehud Ya'ari for reading the Arab mind or the jingoistic Ronny Daniel for making me feel like I'm a dove. And I also liked to have my convictions tested by Amnon Abramovich.

Yonit Levi did an outstanding job of being Yonit Levi and that’s all I'll say.
Otherwise, Israelis benefitted from some hardworking field reporters and producers and cameramen who deserve our appreciation.

On radio, heroic Carmella Ben Meneshe lost her voice but did a yeoman's job.  

Channel 10 tended to be defeatist – but only intermittently. And I can't help that I enjoy Rafi Reshef.  Channel 1 did its best but with a small budget it was at a decided disadvantage.

Yediot Aharanot and Maariv stayed populist and shallow – like we would expect.

Haaretz wasn't terrible – not all the time – given that it straddles the post-Zionist/anti-Zionist/ quasi Zionist line.

Mekor Rishon was good. Israel Hayom was superb in rallying the nation. Thank you Sheldon Adelson. Seriously.

The haredi papers I saw were also supportive of the war effort.

I suppose I should wrap up with a word about the Obama administration.

My regulars know that I have argued all U.S. administrations have let Israel down when the going got tough. I've elsewhere given the litany to prove this point. All administrations rightly pursue U.S. interests not Israeli interests.

And anyway, why should Barack Obama treat Israel with any less disdain, arrogance, and meanness than he treats the U.S. Congress?

Would Mitt Romney have been better? History says no.

But I'm wavering. I'm wavering. Obama really is different.

The worst president for Israel? Too early to tell.


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