The inconvenient ally

Posted: Mar 19, 2002 12:00 AM
Last year, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon precipitated a firestorm of criticism from the Bush Administration by suggesting that the United States was doing to Israel what Czechoslovakia's great power allies, Great Britain and France, had done to her before World War II. At the time, President Bush and his national security team were outraged at such an invidious comparison and Sharon retreated, claiming that he had been misquoted. Unfortunately, with each passing day, Washington appears to view its principal Middle Eastern ally's conduct as increasingly inconvenient -- in much the same way London and Paris came to see Czechoslovakian resistance to Hitler's offers of peace in exchange for Czech lands. This parallel was brilliantly addressed by Peter Hutchins in an essay published on March 10th in the British newspaper, The Mail on Sunday: "The phrase 'land for peace' is interesting in itself. It is actually another way of describing the appeasement forced on Czechoslovakia by her supposed friends in 1938. This was also supposed to promise peace, but made the country impossible to defend and opened the gates for invasion a few months later. Those responsible for this cowardly stupidity are still reviled 60 years on. Those who urge it on Israel in the present day are praised." Today, as in 1938, there appear to be more important things to worry about than the security concerns of a small ally which finds itself on the fault-lines of a larger conflict. Then, British and French governments wanted to prevent a war with Germany; today, the U.S. government is, correctly, determined to start one with Iraq. In the service of the former objective, the Great Powers felt within their rights to take risks with Czech security. In the latter case, the World's Only Superpower hopes that the Arabs will be less hostile to its determination to topple Saddam Hussein if only Israel renders itself indefensible. Toward that end, the United States has lately resumed its strident criticism of Israeli efforts to prevent terrorists from inflicting further damage on the Jewish State at a rate that is, calculated on a per capita basis, far in excess of the losses we suffered on September 11th. American diplomats are demanding the withdrawal of all Israel Defense Forces from areas foolishly relinquished to Palestinian control back when some people still thought the surrender of such land would mean that Arafat would prevent it from being used to wage war against the Israelis. Peter Hutchins flays this paternalistic tripe: "In normal life, it is a sign of being unhinged if you do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. But in the business of Middle East diplomacy such behavior could earn you a Nobel Peace Prize. Since 1978, Israel has been urged to give up a little more land in return for the promise of peace which always seems to evaporate. The land however is gone for good." Now there is even talk of putting CIA "monitors" on the ground to observe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict firsthand and, presumably, to render findings as to who is at fault when the shooting occurs. This step would obviously be exceedingly dangerous for the monitors, especially if they are targeted for assassination by Palestinians who could reasonably expect that such casualties would further strain U.S. relations with Israel. This prospect might well prompt American military personnel to be dispatched, as well, for the purpose of protecting the monitors. Suddenly, the United States would have an armed presence in the middle of a conflict where it would be obliged to view with moral equivalence Israel's efforts to defend itself in the war on terrorism and a terrorist proto-state's efforts to destroy our democratic ally. The logic of such a proposed intervention has already given rise to an even more ominous suggestion: Some who should know better (including General George Joulwan who, before his retirement from the Army was Supreme Allied Commander, Europe) are calling for the United States to "impose" a peace agreement on the Israelis and Palestinians. This would, presumably, go beyond Britain and France's sell-out of an ally at Munich in 1938. The "impose-a-peace" school is apparently prepared to have us play the role of Hitler's Wehrmacht as well, seizing and turning over to Yasser Arafat the contemporary Sudetenland: the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and perhaps part of Jerusalem, as well. Or, more likely, the advocates of our dictating terms to the Israelis expect the latter to bend to our will, obviating the need for us to force them to do so. After all, like the Czechs of a few generations ago, the Israelis have succumbed in the past to such sirens' songs as: "We know what is best for you." "Do as we say, not as we would do in your circumstances." "Our interests trump yours." "Trust us, we'll make up to you later any concessions you have to undertake now." In fact, it is precisely experiences like that of Czechoslovakia -- and the war and Holocaust its piecemeal surrender set in train -- that gave rise to the widely perceived need for a Jewish State, one strong and self-reliant enough to defend its people even if no one else would do so. It is for these sorts of reasons that successive Israeli governments have sensibly refused to rely upon American guarantees or forces for their national security. Tragically, efforts aimed at appeasing the Arab states by compelling Israel once again to make herself vulnerable to attack will catalyze the Arabs' appetite for war, all right, but not against Saddam Hussein. Like appeasement at Czech expense over sixty-years ago, it will more likely encourage them to engage in aggression against -- and even perhaps precipitate the destruction of -- a freedom-loving nation that made the mistake of becoming an inconvenient ally.