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Israel's Blind Watchmen

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

During his visit to Israel in March, US President Barack Obama compelled Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to apologize to his Turkish counterpart for the actions of IDF Naval Commandos aboard the Mavi Marmara terror ship in May 2010.

The Mavi Marmara was sent by the IHH, a Turkish- government supported, al-Qaida-aligned group, to try to break Israel’s lawful maritime blockade of the Gaza coast. When the lightly armed naval commandos boarded the ship they were attacked by terrorists wielding knives and iron pipes. They were stabbed and bludgeoned. In the violence, nine Turkish terrorists were killed.

By forcing Israel to apologize to Turkey, Obama took the side of the aggressor against the victim.

Netanyahu apologized to Turkey’s pro-Hamas Prime Minister Recep Erdogan in a phone call that Obama participated in. Obama promised that Turkey would accept Israel’s apology and restore full diplomatic relations.

But nothing of the sort occurred. Last week, Turkish President Abdullah Gul told Yediot Aharonot that the apology came too late. And this week, Erdogan hosted Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal for the third time in the past year. Commentators have raised the prospect that Hamas may be hoping to transfer its headquarters from Qatar to Turkey.

The Egyptian military is now fighting Hamas in Sinai. The military-backed government blames the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood branch for fomenting the Islamist insurgency there. Egyptian forces have destroyed much of the tunnel network linking Gaza with Sinai that had enabled the cross-traffic of terrorists and munitions between the areas. This week, Egypt announced plans to demarcate Egypt’s territorial waters along Gaza to prevent the transfer by sea of weapons and terror operatives between them.

Under these circumstances, Erdogan’s embrace of Mashaal was a sign not only of support for Hamas and ill will toward Israel. It was a sign of animosity toward Egypt.

It is notable that the same day Erdogan welcomed Mashaal to Turkey, the Obama administration announced it is scaling back US military assistance to Egypt. The administration claims it is freezing the transfer of major military platforms to Egypt to show its dissatisfaction with the government’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood government, and its impatience with the military’s refusal to date to call elections after deposing the elected Muslim Brotherhood government in July.

The administration’s declared concern for democracy is apparently limited to Egypt. One finds no trace of such concern for instance in the administration’s relationship with Turkey. There, as Michael Rubin reported in Commentary, the Justice and Interior ministries just announced that people can now be jailed if they think about protesting against the government. In other words, NATO member Turkey is not merely considering becoming the official sponsor of a terrorist organization. The regime of the man Obama praised as his closest friend in the region has criminalized thought.

Not only has the administration refused to take any action against Turkey for its authoritarian governance and its pro-terror policies. Last month the US and Turkey along with Qatar announced a $200 million program under which Turkey and Qatar will develop materials aimed at promoting the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist agenda. The stated aim of the Global Fund for Community Engagement and Resilience will be to convince Muslims to adopt the totalitarian Muslim Brotherhood version of Islam, but at the same time, to convince them not to join al-Qaida. The official launch of the initiative took place at the US-Turkish Global Counterterrorism Forum last month in New York.

When the forum was founded two years ago, the Obama administration bowed to Turkey’s demand and barred Israel from participating in it.

Obama’s success in forcing Netanyahu to apologize to Erdogan was the culmination of years of US pressure on Israel. Obama began gunning for an Israeli apology to his friend Erdogan almost immediately after the incident.

NOTABLY, IDF commanders led by then-defense minister Ehud Barak were early supporters of the move. They claimed that an apology would enable the US to restore Israel’s strategic alliance with Turkey, and that the alliance with Ankara was too valuable to squander simply to defend the honor of our soldiers.

As Turkey’s embrace of Hamas, its cultivation of the al-Qaida- and Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Syrian rebel forces, and its general hostility toward Israel at every turn show, Israel’s military brass’s hope to restore Israel’s strategic alliance with Turkey was based a critical misreading of Turkish intentions. Barak and the generals failed to understand who Erdogan is. They failed to understand that by persecuting his political opponents through summary arrest and imprisonment without trial of leading members of the military, state bureaucracy, business community and media, Erdogan was transforming Turkey from a strategic ally into an enemy of Israel.

Instead of recognizing what was happening, they clung to the false belief that the blame for the deterioration of relations lay with Israel for insisting – albeit incompetently – on maintaining the blockade, and later on defending its soldiers’ good names. They trusted that Obama would take care of things if Israel simply backed down.

AS EVELYN GORDON noted this week in Commentary, Israel’s defense establishment has been similarly wrong about Iran. Much, if not all of the blame for the fact that Israel has failed to attack Iran’s nuclear installations falls on the defense establishment. In an arguably treasonous act, in May 2011, outgoing Mossad director Meir Dagan publicly attacked Netanyahu for considering attacking Iran’s nuclear installations. He was joined by outgoing Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin and outgoing IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.

The three defense chiefs, along with President Shimon Peres, reportedly prevented Netanyahu and Barak from ordering a strike against Iran in 2010.

In repeated public statements, Dagan has insistently claimed that Israel can trust the US to take care of Iran for us. Yet as Obama’s latest decisions on Syria and Iran make clear, the Obama administration is not committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, or to stemming the flow and use of weapons of mass destruction by Iran and its allies. The administration’s repeated claims that “all options are on the table” have no credibility.

In truth, it was easy to discern Obama’s abject lack of concern about Iran becoming a nuclear power from the outset. Even before taking office he made every effort to show the Iranians that all he wanted was to negotiate with them. They had no reason for concern from an Obama administration.

On the other hand, as former national security adviser Giora Eiland revealed in August, Obama pressured Netanyahu to call off a planned strike against Iran’s nuclear installations in the fall of 2012.

And yet, senior Israeli defense officials have served as Obama’s chief lobbyists.

Then there is Egypt. Speaking at the Jerusalem Post conference in 2012, Ashkenazi said that neither he nor any of his colleagues foresaw the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. They did not recognize how Obama’s open support for the Muslim Brotherhood endangered Mubarak. They did not notice how Mubarak’s economic liberalization policies and his plan to have his son Gamal succeed him weakened the military’s support for his leadership.

Israel’s military and intelligence chiefs did not recognize how Egypt’s economic weakness raised public dissatisfaction with Mubarak to unprecedented levels.

They did not consider the possibility that Obama could transfer US support from the man who upheld the peace treaty with Israel for three decades – and so served as the anchor for the US’s alliance system in the Arab world – to his greatest enemies, the Muslim Brotherhood, which spawned Hamas and al-Qaida, along with jihadist networks throughout the world including in the United States.

And then there is Syria. As Gordon noted, the IDF leadership was similarly blinded by its preconceived notions on Syria. Israel's miliary leaders so misunderstood the nature of Syria’s subservient alliance with Iran that they supported an Israeli surrender of the Golan Heights to Syria believing that such an Israeli move would convince Bashar Assad to ditch his alliance with Tehran. They did not recognize that Syria has never stood on its own. It was run first by the Ottomans, then the French and then by the Soviets. Once the Soviet Union broke up, Iran stepped into the breach.

As for the Palestinians, for the past 20 years, the same military and intelligence leadership has insisted that only a political settlement between Israel and the PLO will defeat and end Palestinian terrorism against Israel. The fact that the IDF has repeatedly defeated Palestinian terrorism, and the PLO has consistently organized and abetted that terrorism, has made little impact on the position of the General Staff.

On Saturday night, nine-year old Noam Glick was shot at close range by a terrorist while playing in her backyard. The terrorist had infiltrated her town. Her father reported hearing three gun shots.

Yet for several days, the IDF refused to acknowledge that it was a terrorist attack.

In a similar fashion, in September 2011, when Palestinian terrorists stoned Asher Palmer’s car murdering him and his infant son Yonatan, the IDF took more than a week to acknowledge that it was a terrorist attack rather than a traffic accident.

In both cases, the clear aim of this insensitive obfuscation was to diminish public criticism of the Palestinians with whom Israel is now engaging and was seeking to engage in 2011.

Israel’s military leadership failure to notice, let alone grasp the strategic implications of, regional and international developments is not new. It has been going on for at least 40 years.

Ever since our defense establishment fell asleep at the watch in the period leading up to the Yom Kippur War, many causes have been identified to explain its ongoing myopia.

Intellectual reliance on the leftist-dominated media; blind trust rather than critical analysis of statements by foreign sources and colleagues; lawyerization of military operations; over-dependence on technology; politicization of the senior ranks; and discrimination against religious officers have all been pointed to as factors that have contributed to Israel’s senior defense officials’ failure to foresee any major development and insistent blindness to their significance.

Certainly all have played a role in bringing about this dismal state of affairs.

But whatever the cause of our military and intelligence leadership’s insistence on getting everything wrong, the fact is that they are Israel’s Achilles’ heel. Until steps are taken to rectify this situation, Israel’s technological prowess and tactical brilliance will remain of limited value for securing the country and our interests.


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