Israel Can't Ignore the World’s Opinion

The Levy Report Could Isolate Israel at a Critical Moment

Thumbing Its Nose: Why should Israel care what the world thinks about the occupied territories? Because it may just need the world’s help in dealing with other issues, like the threat from Iran.
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Thumbing Its Nose: Why should Israel care what the world thinks about the occupied territories? Because it may just need the world’s help in dealing with other issues, like the threat from Iran.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published July 19, 2012, issue of July 27, 2012.
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Can Israel pull it off? French President Francois Hollande told the Israeli daily Maariv on July 13 that Israel has the capacity to “humiliate” Iran militarily. He worries, however, about the regional and even global instability that would follow.

Here’s where Levy and the West Bank come in. If sanctions and diplomacy don’t work, things could get messy. That’s when Israel will need friends.

The fallout could go in two directions. In the best case, America will hit Iran’s nuclear installations in a quick, surgical attack, terrifying the mullahs into backing down and accepting highly intrusive inspections. Arad, who was Netanyahu’s closest security adviser for two decades until last year, thinks this will work as long as Tehran knows that restarting the centrifuges means another attack.

What’s required, he says, is that America stay committed. “The American role is absolutely essential for the long haul, in the months and years after an American strike,” he said. “American brawn is indispensable, and Israel should take that into account. Israel’s strategic position should be taken in close consultation and in concert with its major allies,” especially America, but also Britain and France, “which see eye to eye” with Washington.

What worries Arad is that Israel isn’t acting like an ally. On the contrary: “We spent a year trying to score points in speeches, instead of focusing on what was urgent.”

“If we Israelis believe our first priority, our highest existential urgency, is blunting Iran, and America is our ally in this effort, and the American president comes and says, ‘Look, it’s in my interest — mine, not the Palestinians’ — that you freeze settlement activity for a year,’ then why not do that in order to forge a closer relationship?”

Talking to Washington officials, says Arad, who handled the prime minister’s Iran portfolio until last year, “there was a sense that scoring points was uncalled for at a time when what was needed was to stand shoulder to shoulder, if it is indeed an existential issue.”

That’s the optimistic scenario. The pessimistic one — the one the heads of Israel’s armed services are quietly discussing among themselves — sees Israel attacking, Iran hitting back, oil prices doubling and bombs exploding on six continents. At that point, Israel will need more than just a friendly White House. It will need friends around the world who won’t blame Israel for oil shortages and terror attacks. It will need Europe, still Israel’s biggest trading partner, to keep the lines open despite inevitably fierce domestic pressures. It will need airlines to keep landing, credit to keep flowing, reliable oil supplies.

In a word, it will need legitimacy. The way to achieve that — the only way, say Sneh and his allies in the General Command and Shin Bet — is to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians. Close the deal that Ehud Olmert nearly completed with Mahmoud Abbas. Talk to the Saudis about their Arab Peace Initiative, which begins with an Israeli-Palestinian deal and ends with Saudi and other embassies in Tel Aviv. It’s essential, the Saudis and Gulf states make clear, if they’re to weather street protests after the bombs fly. Obviously it’s more complicated than it was a year ago, but it’s still possible — and infinitely more urgent. The last thing that’s needed is a Levy-style poke in the eye.

Arad, the inveterate hawk, isn’t convinced a deal is possible. But forward movement is necessary. “The point is to do something — don’t just stand there.”

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


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