Panetta’s Failure of Imagination: The Defense Secretary Gives Israel a ‘Turn of the Screw’

by Bruce S. Thronton

FrontPage Magazine

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s “chiding” of Israel, as the Washington Postput it, was a strange performance, so muddled in its ignorance of fact and logic that one wonders if the Secretary was attempting some rhetorical misdirection to lull our enemies into complacency. Unfortunately, the more likely reason for his misguided remarks is the dead hand of foreign policy received wisdom and unexamined ideas.

The orthodox narrative purporting to explain the Israel-Arab conflict goes like this. The Palestinian people were deprived of their homeland as a result of the creation of Israel, which continues to occupy the territories belonging to Palestinians. Among the Arabs, a radical minority of terrorists, mirrored by a radical minority of Israelis, have fomented violence to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. The goal of “two states living side by side in peace and in security,” as Panetta repeated the mantra, has thus for 60 years been blocked by these minorities, who have been abetted by weak, venal, or fanatic politicians on both sides. Instead we have the “cycle of violence” that creates fear among Israelis, and hence oppressive security measures that retard the economic development of the Palestinians and frustrate their daily lives, further radicalizing them and legitimizing more terrorist violence. The solution, according to Panetta, is “for Israel to take bold action and to move towards a negotiated two-state solution.” Or as Panetta shouted, “Just get to the damn table.” Only then will stability and order flourish in the Middle East, and Israel’s security be assured.

The only problem with this story is that there is little evidence to support it. Sixty years of history shows that the primary aim of Arabs in the Middle East is the destruction of Israel, not the creation of a Palestinian state coexisting with Israel. Hence the impossible conditions for peace that always appear in the Palestinian list of demands, the worst being the “right to return” for a metastasizing population of Palestinian “refugees,” which would be a demographic WMD for the destruction of Israel. Nor is Panetta’s suggestion that the Israelis have refused to negotiate true to the facts. Most recently, Israel suspended building apartments in East Jerusalem for a year to lure Palestinian President Abbas back to the table, and Abbas did nothing until a month before the moratorium expired, insuring that talks would fail. This has been the pattern of “negotiations” for decades: start with impossible demands, trumpet a willingness to negotiate for the benefit of gullible Westerners, then sabotage the whole process, confident that the international community will blame Israel. This behavior makes sense if one realizes that negotiations, like terrorist attacks, are a tactic for pursuing the long-term strategy for the destruction of Israel. The Palestinians have followed the method of Konrad Henlein, Hitler’s Nazi stooge in Czechoslovakia, who in 1938 said, “We must always demand so much that we cannot be satisfied.” Having gone through this process repeatedly, why should the Israelis heed Panetta and once more play a game that furthers the aims of those who want to destroy them?

Indeed, every Israeli concession to and agreement with the Palestinians has been followed by more terrorist violence. After the Oslo Agreement of 1993 handed the West Bank over to the Palestinian Authority, 300 Israelis were killed by terrorist attacks. After Arafat was offered virtually everything he had demanded for creating a Palestinian state in 2000, in the following five years 1,100 Israelis were murdered during the Al Aqsa Intifada. After Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, another 118 Israelis have been killed, and thousands of rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel. The 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon was followed by the creation of a Hezbollah terrorist state armed with 50,000 rockets. Only someone with a penchant for magical thinking could believe that more negotiations and concessions could lead to peace. To paraphrase Goldfinger’s comment to James Bond, the Palestinians don’t expect the Israelis to talk, they expect them to die.

Panetta’s other comments are equally naïve and blind to reality. For example, Panetta advises Israel to “reach out and mend fences with those who share an interest in regional stability – countries like Turkey and Egypt, as well as Jordan. This is an important time to be able to develop and restore those key relationships in this crucial area.” This would be the same Turkey that is virtually an Islamist state, one that supported the so-called “freedom flotilla” patently intended to isolate Israel internationally, one that has threatened to attack Israeli vessels developing natural gas fields in its territorial waters, one whose prime minister joined the genocidal Iranian president Ahmadinejad at the UN in September to slander Israel, expelled Israeli diplomats from his country, and in a speech in Cairo threatened that “Israel must pay a price for its aggression and crimes.” How do those actions reflect an “interest in regional stability”?

As for Egypt, the overthrow of Mubarak has been followed by attacks on Israel from the Sinai, the border with Hamas opened to weapons traffic, the assault on Israel’s embassy in Cairo, and an election in which Islamists sworn to the destruction of Israel won 61% of the vote. How then can Panetta instruct Israel that “the best way to address these concerns is through increasing communication and cooperation — increasing communication and cooperation with Egyptian authorities.” What “authorities”? The Muslim Brothers, whose subsidiary in Gaza, Hamas, has written the destruction of Israel into its charter? But Panetta thinks there is international public relations value in making the attempt anyway: “If gestures are rebuked, the world will see those rebukes for what they are. That is exactly why Israel should pursue them.” Well, for decades Israeli “gestures” and more tangible concessions have been met with violent “rebukes,” and Israel’s international enemies — and now it seems its most important ally — still haven’t seen those “rebukes for what they are” — the evidence of a desire to see Israel disappear.

Panetta’s inability to see the real motives of Israel’s enemies is also evident in perhaps his most laughably naïve statement: “Egypt’s current leaders, along with Jordan, have made very clear to me privately and publicly that they are committed to their peace treaties with Israel.” Why should Israel worry about the threats to her security if a nation of 85 million on its southern border is dominated by a religious ideology that wants to destroy her? Mr. Panetta has been assured that the peace treaty will be respected. I am reminded of Churchill’s comment about delusional British and Americans who took seriously Hitler’s claims that “Germany neither intends nor wishes to interfere in the internal affairs of Austria,” or that Sudeten Czechoslovakia was his “last territorial claim I have to make in Europe”: “One can hardly find a more perfect specimen of humbug and hypocrisy for British and American benefit . . . What is astounding is that it should have been regarded with anything but scorn by men and women of intelligence in any free country.” One wonders what Churchill would have made of 40 years of Westerners swallowing the “humbug and hypocrisy” of Palestinian leaders assuring them that all they wanted was to live in “peace and security” with Israel in their own state. Panetta should remember the Biblical wisdom: “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

Panetta’s failure of imagination, his inability (whether real or feigned) to imagine that there might be peoples who have aims different from and hostile to our own, is most obviously manifested in his delusional expectations for the “Arab Awakening”: “I recognize that there is a view that this is not the time to pursue peace and that the Arab awakening further imperils the dream of a safe and secure, Jewish and democratic Israel. But I disagree with that view. I believe Israel will ultimately be safer when other Middle Eastern states adopt governments that respond to their people, promote equal rights, promote free and fair elections, uphold their international commitments, and join the community of free and democratic nations.” Panetta has no evidence whatsoever that the sort of genuine liberal democracy he describes is likely to appear in Tunisia, Libya, or Egypt; and he is silent on the considerable evidence that Islamist regimes shaped by Sharia law, with all the intolerance and hostility to “infidels” that it implies, are quickly arising in those countries. Such wishful thinking is the worst basis for foreign policy one can imagine.

Israel’s predicament continually reminds me of Czechoslovakia’s in 1938. Particularly similar is the despicable pressure that Israel’s ally has been applying to a country whose very existence is at stake. As Hitler’s aggression against Czechoslovakia relentlessly intensified with each new demand, that beleaguered country’s allies grew more and more impatient with the desperate attempts of the Czechs to save their country. The French warned them that if they were “unreasonable,” France “considered herself released from her bond” to guarantee Czechoslovakia’s security. And the British thought the solution to the crisis was “for Prague to get a real twist of the screw.” Meanwhile Hitler wrote in his attack plan, “It is my unalterable decision to destroy Czechoslovakia by military action in the foreseeable future.”
Under Obama Israel has been subjected to the same pressure from her ally, and she would be well advised not to rely overmuch on this administration’s protestations of commitment to her security.

©2011 Bruce S. Thornton

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