Commentary Magazine


Topic: Gabi Ashkenazi

Tensions with U.S. Don’t Preclude Israeli Strike on Iran

In his post yesterday, Max posited that U.S-Israeli tensions make an Israeli strike on Iran unlikely. But in fact, such tensions may well make an Israeli strike more likely.

There are Israelis who believe that what currently looks like the only alternative — containing a nuclear Iran — is possible in principle. But for Israeli policymakers to conclude that containment is possible in practice, they must be convinced that if a nuclear Iran uses its enhanced power to attack Israel, whether directly or via its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza, the U.S. will either take appropriate countermeasures itself or support Israel in any countermeasures it deems necessary, including military ones.

If Israel’s relationship with Washington were close enough to make this conviction plausible, one could imagine Jerusalem reluctantly acquiescing should Washington ultimately decide that containment was the way to go. But given President Barack Obama’s track record, both of failing to take strong measures against thugs and of giving short shrift to Israeli concerns, virtually no one in Israel’s government thinks he can be trusted either to contain Iran himself or to allow Israel to do so.

Thus, for Israel to refrain from bombing Iran under these circumstances, it would have to conclude that an uncontained Iran is worse than the risk of widening the rift with Washington. And there is no historical precedent for Israel putting its relationship with any foreign government above a security threat of that magnitude, however much it agonizes over the decision beforehand.

I’m sure the Wall Street Journal article Max cited was accurate in saying that some Israeli defense officials do oppose bombing Iran without Washington’s consent (though based on experience, even their views could change as the threat of a nuclear Iran looms closer). But as the Journal itself acknowledged, even today, this opinion is far from unanimous. And if you want to gauge its relative strength within Israel’s policymaking establishment, it’s worth noting that the leading opponent of military action against Iran, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, has just been handed his walking papers.

Ashkenazi is widely admired in Israel for both his success in rehabilitating the Israel Defense Forces after the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and his conduct of last year’s war in Gaza. So there would be no good reason not to extend his term for a fifth year, which he reportedly wanted — except in order to keep the option of military action against Iran open. As Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel noted in analyzing the implications of this decision, “An attack on Iran is impossible with a chief of staff who opposes it.” And Ashkenazi did oppose it — so strongly that the Pentagon reportedly viewed him as its most reliably ally in preventing an Israeli strike.

There is no guarantee that Israel will bomb Iran. Much could happen before Ashkenazi’s term ends in another 10 months, and his successor has not yet even been chosen. But to assert that U.S.-Israel tension takes the Israeli military option off the table is to misread both Israeli history and current events.

In his post yesterday, Max posited that U.S-Israeli tensions make an Israeli strike on Iran unlikely. But in fact, such tensions may well make an Israeli strike more likely.

There are Israelis who believe that what currently looks like the only alternative — containing a nuclear Iran — is possible in principle. But for Israeli policymakers to conclude that containment is possible in practice, they must be convinced that if a nuclear Iran uses its enhanced power to attack Israel, whether directly or via its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza, the U.S. will either take appropriate countermeasures itself or support Israel in any countermeasures it deems necessary, including military ones.

If Israel’s relationship with Washington were close enough to make this conviction plausible, one could imagine Jerusalem reluctantly acquiescing should Washington ultimately decide that containment was the way to go. But given President Barack Obama’s track record, both of failing to take strong measures against thugs and of giving short shrift to Israeli concerns, virtually no one in Israel’s government thinks he can be trusted either to contain Iran himself or to allow Israel to do so.

Thus, for Israel to refrain from bombing Iran under these circumstances, it would have to conclude that an uncontained Iran is worse than the risk of widening the rift with Washington. And there is no historical precedent for Israel putting its relationship with any foreign government above a security threat of that magnitude, however much it agonizes over the decision beforehand.

I’m sure the Wall Street Journal article Max cited was accurate in saying that some Israeli defense officials do oppose bombing Iran without Washington’s consent (though based on experience, even their views could change as the threat of a nuclear Iran looms closer). But as the Journal itself acknowledged, even today, this opinion is far from unanimous. And if you want to gauge its relative strength within Israel’s policymaking establishment, it’s worth noting that the leading opponent of military action against Iran, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, has just been handed his walking papers.

Ashkenazi is widely admired in Israel for both his success in rehabilitating the Israel Defense Forces after the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and his conduct of last year’s war in Gaza. So there would be no good reason not to extend his term for a fifth year, which he reportedly wanted — except in order to keep the option of military action against Iran open. As Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel noted in analyzing the implications of this decision, “An attack on Iran is impossible with a chief of staff who opposes it.” And Ashkenazi did oppose it — so strongly that the Pentagon reportedly viewed him as its most reliably ally in preventing an Israeli strike.

There is no guarantee that Israel will bomb Iran. Much could happen before Ashkenazi’s term ends in another 10 months, and his successor has not yet even been chosen. But to assert that U.S.-Israel tension takes the Israeli military option off the table is to misread both Israeli history and current events.

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From the Horse’s Mouth: Petraeus on Israel

Back on March 13, terrorist groupie Mark Perry — a former Arafat aide who now pals around with Hamas and Hezbollah — posted an article on Foreign Policy’s website, claiming that General David Petraeus was behind the administration’s policy of getting tough with Israel. He attributed to Petraeus the view that “Israel’s intransigence” — meaning its unwillingness to give up every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem tomorrow — “could cost American lives.” His item received wide circulation though it may be doubted whether, as he now says, “It changed the way people think about the conflict.”

I tried to set the record straight with two Commentary items (see here and here) in which I suggested, based on talking to an officer familiar with Petraeus’s thinking, that Perry’s item was a gross distortion —in fact a fraud. I noted that in Petraeus’s view, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was only one factor among many affecting U.S. interests in the region and that Israeli settlements were far from the only, or even the main, obstacle to peace. I even suggested — again, based on inside information — that the 56-page posture statement that Central Command had submitted to Congress, which stated that the Arab-Israeli conflict “foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” was not the best indicator of his thinking. Better to look at what he actually told Congress — in a hearing he barely mentioned Israel (until prompted to do so) and never talked about settlements at all.

This brought hoots of derision from commentators on both the Left and the Right, who claimed that I was putting words into Petraeus’s mouth — that I was, in Joe Klein’s phrase, taking a “flying leap.” Predictably piling on were Andrew Sullivan, who said I was “glossing over” what Petraeus said, and Robert Wright, who claimed that, “by Boot’s lights, Petraeus is anti-Israel.” Diana West added a truly inventive spin, by suggesting that Petraeus was a protégé of Stephen Walt, who was his faculty adviser many years ago at Princeton before the good professor won renown as a leading basher of the “Israel Lobby” and the state of Israel itself. It was from Walt, Ms. West claims, that Petraeus imbibed his “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes.”

So who was off-base here: those of us who tried to explain the nuances of General Petraeus’s thinking or those bloggers and commentators who tried to suggest that he is a strident critic of Israel?

The answer has now been publicly provided by Petraeus himself in a speech in New Hampshire. Watch it for yourself. A good summary is provided by the American Spectator’s Philip Klein, who was present at the event and asked Petraeus to clarify his thinking.

The general said that it was “unhelpful” that “bloggers” had “picked … up” what he had said and “spun it.” He noted that, aside from Israel’s actions, there are many other important factors standing in the way of peace, including “a whole bunch of extremist organizations, some of which by the way deny Israel’s right to exist. There’s a country that has a nuclear program who denies that the Holocaust took place. So again we have all these factors in there. This [Israel] is just one.”

What about Perry’s claim that American support for Israel puts our soldiers at risk? Petraeus said, “There is no mention of lives anywhere in there. I actually reread the statement. It doesn’t say that at all.”

He concluded by noting that he had sent to General Gabi Ashkenazi, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, the “blog by Max Boot” which, he said, had “picked apart this whole thing, as he typically does, pretty astutely.”

I hope Petraeus’s comments will put an end to this whole weird episode. Those who are either happy or unhappy about the administration’s approach to Israel should lodge their compliments or complaints where they belong — at the White House, not at Central Command.

Back on March 13, terrorist groupie Mark Perry — a former Arafat aide who now pals around with Hamas and Hezbollah — posted an article on Foreign Policy’s website, claiming that General David Petraeus was behind the administration’s policy of getting tough with Israel. He attributed to Petraeus the view that “Israel’s intransigence” — meaning its unwillingness to give up every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem tomorrow — “could cost American lives.” His item received wide circulation though it may be doubted whether, as he now says, “It changed the way people think about the conflict.”

I tried to set the record straight with two Commentary items (see here and here) in which I suggested, based on talking to an officer familiar with Petraeus’s thinking, that Perry’s item was a gross distortion —in fact a fraud. I noted that in Petraeus’s view, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was only one factor among many affecting U.S. interests in the region and that Israeli settlements were far from the only, or even the main, obstacle to peace. I even suggested — again, based on inside information — that the 56-page posture statement that Central Command had submitted to Congress, which stated that the Arab-Israeli conflict “foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” was not the best indicator of his thinking. Better to look at what he actually told Congress — in a hearing he barely mentioned Israel (until prompted to do so) and never talked about settlements at all.

This brought hoots of derision from commentators on both the Left and the Right, who claimed that I was putting words into Petraeus’s mouth — that I was, in Joe Klein’s phrase, taking a “flying leap.” Predictably piling on were Andrew Sullivan, who said I was “glossing over” what Petraeus said, and Robert Wright, who claimed that, “by Boot’s lights, Petraeus is anti-Israel.” Diana West added a truly inventive spin, by suggesting that Petraeus was a protégé of Stephen Walt, who was his faculty adviser many years ago at Princeton before the good professor won renown as a leading basher of the “Israel Lobby” and the state of Israel itself. It was from Walt, Ms. West claims, that Petraeus imbibed his “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes.”

So who was off-base here: those of us who tried to explain the nuances of General Petraeus’s thinking or those bloggers and commentators who tried to suggest that he is a strident critic of Israel?

The answer has now been publicly provided by Petraeus himself in a speech in New Hampshire. Watch it for yourself. A good summary is provided by the American Spectator’s Philip Klein, who was present at the event and asked Petraeus to clarify his thinking.

The general said that it was “unhelpful” that “bloggers” had “picked … up” what he had said and “spun it.” He noted that, aside from Israel’s actions, there are many other important factors standing in the way of peace, including “a whole bunch of extremist organizations, some of which by the way deny Israel’s right to exist. There’s a country that has a nuclear program who denies that the Holocaust took place. So again we have all these factors in there. This [Israel] is just one.”

What about Perry’s claim that American support for Israel puts our soldiers at risk? Petraeus said, “There is no mention of lives anywhere in there. I actually reread the statement. It doesn’t say that at all.”

He concluded by noting that he had sent to General Gabi Ashkenazi, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, the “blog by Max Boot” which, he said, had “picked apart this whole thing, as he typically does, pretty astutely.”

I hope Petraeus’s comments will put an end to this whole weird episode. Those who are either happy or unhappy about the administration’s approach to Israel should lodge their compliments or complaints where they belong — at the White House, not at Central Command.

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Will J Street Protest Anti-Zionists at the Nation and on the Streets of New York?

Were there any lingering doubts about the toxic nature of the American Left’s allergy to Israel, the Nation removes them today. Its website branded the head of the Israeli Defense Forces a “war criminal” that righteous New Yorkers should picket.

The event that got the Nation’s knickers in a twist is a fundraising dinner to be held at the Waldorf Astoria for the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, a nonprofit group that provides aid to soldiers. The keynote speaker is Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff of the IDF and the man who led Israel’s forces last year in its counterattack against terrorist fire on southern Israel. In Europe, Israelis like Ashkenazi have been subjected to harassment and bogus legal action, an outrageous situation that hard-core leftists here would like to emulate.

Indeed, what they want is to end the international isolation of the Hamas regime in Gaza and, instead, impose a blockade on Israel. But the irony of the Nation and its übersecular followers fronting for the Islamist murderers of Hamas is lost on the magazine.

The main point here is that the flagship American publication of the Left has no compunction about attempting to delegitimize the right of Jews to self-defense against terror, or about promoting an event that is part of the vicious International Israeli Apartheid Week libel fest.

Some pro-Israel activists will be counterdemonstrating against the Nation-supported anti-Zionists in what will, no doubt, turn into the usual pointless shouting matches. But if there is one group of Jews that ought to argue with the Nation’s acolytes, it’s not the usual right-wing suspects who turn up at these things but that famous “pro-Israel” group that calls itself J Street. On its Website, J Street says it is against the apartheid libels thrown at Israel.

But in December 2008, when Israelis from Left to Right united behind Operation Cast Lead, J Street opposed the counterattack on Gaza. So it is understandable that “peace” activists who back the group may feel conflicted about taking on fellow left-wingers who took seriously the organization’s rhetoric opposing Israeli self-defense.

But instead of firing on the mainstream pro-Israel community or pushing the Obama administration to pressure the Jewish state, J Street — which has repeatedly asserted during the past year that it is as “pro-Israel” as it is “pro-peace” — has a responsibility to confront some of its erstwhile friends on the Left who seek to demonize the State of Israel and its defenders.

If the Jewish rump of Moveon.org that formed J Street wants to make its bones as part of the pro-Israel coalition in this country, it can do no better than to protest the Nation’s decision to label Israeli soldiers as war criminals.

Were there any lingering doubts about the toxic nature of the American Left’s allergy to Israel, the Nation removes them today. Its website branded the head of the Israeli Defense Forces a “war criminal” that righteous New Yorkers should picket.

The event that got the Nation’s knickers in a twist is a fundraising dinner to be held at the Waldorf Astoria for the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, a nonprofit group that provides aid to soldiers. The keynote speaker is Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff of the IDF and the man who led Israel’s forces last year in its counterattack against terrorist fire on southern Israel. In Europe, Israelis like Ashkenazi have been subjected to harassment and bogus legal action, an outrageous situation that hard-core leftists here would like to emulate.

Indeed, what they want is to end the international isolation of the Hamas regime in Gaza and, instead, impose a blockade on Israel. But the irony of the Nation and its übersecular followers fronting for the Islamist murderers of Hamas is lost on the magazine.

The main point here is that the flagship American publication of the Left has no compunction about attempting to delegitimize the right of Jews to self-defense against terror, or about promoting an event that is part of the vicious International Israeli Apartheid Week libel fest.

Some pro-Israel activists will be counterdemonstrating against the Nation-supported anti-Zionists in what will, no doubt, turn into the usual pointless shouting matches. But if there is one group of Jews that ought to argue with the Nation’s acolytes, it’s not the usual right-wing suspects who turn up at these things but that famous “pro-Israel” group that calls itself J Street. On its Website, J Street says it is against the apartheid libels thrown at Israel.

But in December 2008, when Israelis from Left to Right united behind Operation Cast Lead, J Street opposed the counterattack on Gaza. So it is understandable that “peace” activists who back the group may feel conflicted about taking on fellow left-wingers who took seriously the organization’s rhetoric opposing Israeli self-defense.

But instead of firing on the mainstream pro-Israel community or pushing the Obama administration to pressure the Jewish state, J Street — which has repeatedly asserted during the past year that it is as “pro-Israel” as it is “pro-peace” — has a responsibility to confront some of its erstwhile friends on the Left who seek to demonize the State of Israel and its defenders.

If the Jewish rump of Moveon.org that formed J Street wants to make its bones as part of the pro-Israel coalition in this country, it can do no better than to protest the Nation’s decision to label Israeli soldiers as war criminals.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: A Third Lebanon War Could Be Much Worse than the Second

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah recently announced that he could hit any and every place in Israel with long-range missiles. That would mean that, unlike in 2006, Hezbollah could strike not only the northern cities of Kiryat Shmona and Haifa but also Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ben-Gurion International Airport, and the Dimona nuclear-power plant.

I dismissed his claim as a wild boast last week, but Israeli army commander Major General Gabi Ashkenazi confirmed it this week. So while we’ve all been worried about Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been quietly arming his chief terrorist proxy with more advanced conventional weapons.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah recently announced that he could hit any and every place in Israel with long-range missiles. That would mean that, unlike in 2006, Hezbollah could strike not only the northern cities of Kiryat Shmona and Haifa but also Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ben-Gurion International Airport, and the Dimona nuclear-power plant.

I dismissed his claim as a wild boast last week, but Israeli army commander Major General Gabi Ashkenazi confirmed it this week. So while we’ve all been worried about Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been quietly arming his chief terrorist proxy with more advanced conventional weapons.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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