Thursday, May 12, 2016

 Vic Rosenthal's Weekly Column

On this 68th anniversary of the independence of the modern Jewish nation-state, my thoughts naturally turn to the question of how long we will be able to keep that independence, purchased at such great cost.

It’s not an issue that occupies citizens of most other states to the same degree. Although the US has major problems in several areas, I don’t hear Americans talking about losing their independence. They settled that back in the 18th century.

For us, it is never settled, despite international law and despite our successful defense of our homeland. Most of the world does not think that the Jewish people should have an independent state, in many cases because they don’t agree that there is a Jewish people (on the other hand, a ‘Palestinian’ people makes sense to them, or at least they pretend it does).

There is more than one way a sovereign nation can lose its independence. It can be conquered in war, as happened to Carthage in the 2nd century BCE, its people killed, enslaved or dispersed, its wealth carried off and its land sown with salt. It can be invaded and then made into a colony or satellite, its people allowed to live but without self-determination, as happened to the Eastern European satellites of the Soviet Union after WWII. And it can allow its decisions to be influenced by a more powerful state or states, little by little giving up its independent volition to economic and political pressure, until it finds itself so dependent on its ‘patron’ that it has lost the ability to control its destiny. 

Israel is threatened militarily today primarily by Iran and its proxies. It would be wrong to minimize the direct threat to our existence that they represent, and our government and the IDF do take it seriously and prepare for conflict. 

But we are also at risk of a ‘soft conquest’ by another enemy, this one an alliance of supposedly friendly nations, led by one massively powerful country that is considered our greatest friend and supporter. And our leaders seem blind to this danger.

How does a soft conquest work? Here are some of the tactics:

1.       Create economic dependence by damaging the target’s relationships with rival partners.

2.       Create military dependence either directly by ‘protecting’ the target or indirectly by locking it in to you as a sole supplier of arms, ammunition or spare parts.

3.       Strengthen its enemies and weaken the target’s own self-defense abilities so that it will have to depend upon you when threatened.

4.       Take advantage of conflicts the target is involved in to demand further concessions that will weaken it. Prevent it from decisively defeating its enemies.

5.       Support politicians in the target who are friendly to you financially, and hint that if they come to power the relationship between the countries will improve. Attack less compliant politicians in the media, blame them for problems, and suggest that unless they are replaced you will lose patience and downgrade the relationship. Influence local elections.

6.       Support organizations working to destabilize the target and create internal and external conflict. The more problems it has, the more easily you can replace its government with a puppet regime; until then, the more leverage you will have with the existing government.

7.       Influence other nations to withdraw support from the target to increase their dependence on you.

8.       Work to weaken popular support for the target in your own country, so that when you apply pressure or withdraw support from the target, objections will be minimized.

9.       Support enemies of the target in your own country. They will do much of the work for you.

Does this sound familiar? It should, since every one of these tactics is or has been employed against Israel by the Obama Administration and its European allies. 

Israel’s addiction to US aid is dangerous to our independence. One of the interesting things about our army is that it has perhaps the least hawkish General Staff in the world. Army brass have recently called for turning over security control in parts of Judea/Samaria to the PA and for increased aid to Gaza. In 2012, PM Netanyahu and then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak wanted to launch an attack on the Iranian nuclear program, something the US was dead set against. The top generals were opposed. They may or may not have had good arguments, but I’m sure they were aware that going against the US might get the IDF’s budget brutally slashed. It is not surprising that they often tend to agree with the American point of view.

The US attempts to control Israeli military strategy with its aid. Money is available (at least it has been until now) for defensive weapons like Iron Dome, but not for the bunker busters or tanker aircraft that would enable an attack on Iran. The F-35 fighter aircraft presents a whole collection of problems, with performance and range issues, software/hardware bugs and dependence on US-based computer system. There are concerns that its non-transparent software might hide a backdoor that would allow the US to keep track of what Israel does with the planes or even force the abortion of a mission that the US didn’t like. Israel would prefer to buy more F-15s, but the Pentagon is saying that it is the F-35 or nothing.

I rarely hear mainstream Israeli politicians, either in the government or the opposition, taking the position that our dependence on the US is a bad thing or that the US is not wholeheartedly supportive of Israel. The opposition, in fact, generally claims that insofar as the relationship is less than perfect, it is the government’s fault for being insufficiently compliant on issues like settlements. And the government says that things have never been better, even while the US president’s spokesperson calls our PM “a chickenshit.”

Perhaps in private they understand the situation better, perhaps not. But the correct assessment must be that while Iran and Hezbollah pose a direct military threat, the US administration and Europe are also dangerous, even though their hostility is not expressed in the form of missiles aimed at us. 

If this sounds like exaggeration to you, consider the effects on Israel of the release of billions of dollars to Iran, the inability to enforce the limitations on Iran’s nuclear program, and the acquiescence by the administration to almost any Iranian behavior in order to keep them from abrogating the entire (unsigned) deal. Are the Western powers’ actions more or less dangerous to Israel than Hamas?

The American people, by and large, are our friends. But this administration is decidedly not on our side, and we don’t know what the American political future will bring.

We can’t entirely prevent diplomatic pressure and attempts at subversion from our ‘friends’, and we can’t stop them from empowering our overt enemies. But we can reduce their leverage on us by maximizing our independence.

If defense against Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah is our top priority, then independence must also be near the top. We are investing 160 million shekels in a system to detect Hamas tunnels, but how much are we investing to become independent from US military assistance? 

It’s always a temptation to put off dealing with long-term, complicated problems when you are facing immediate dangers. Try telling a combat soldier that if he doesn’t stop smoking, he’ll ultimately die from it. But Israel’s addiction to US aid can also be fatal in the long run.

Time for us to kick the habit.

We have lots of ideas, but we need more resources to be even more effective. Please donate today to help get the message out and to help defend Israel.

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