Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s acceptance of an invitation to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress in March is an unacceptable interference in our domestic political arena and must be challenged. It is simply not enough for the White House to indicate that there will be no meeting between President Barack Obama and the Israeli Prime Minister. At the very least, the United States must take the next opportunity at the UN’s Security Council to forswear a veto on a resolution critical of Israel as well as signal a significant change in U.S. military assistance to the Israelis. The Israelis must be made to understand that the United States, the only ally that Israel has in the global community, will not tolerate its anti-American behavior.
Anti-Americanism in Israel is not exactly a new development, although Netanyahu has been more stubborn than his predecessors in conducting the policy. In the 1950s, Israeli agents bombed a United States Information Agency library in Egypt and tried to make it appear to be an Egyptian act of violence in order to compromise U.S.-Egyptian relations. This was an act of terrorism designed to coerce the West not to improve relations with Cairo.
In the 1960s, the Israelis told the United States at the highest levels that it would not conduct a pre-emptive attack against the Arab states, which is exactly what it did in starting the Six-Day War. In the war’s opening days, Israeli fighter planes bombed the USS Liberty, leading to the deaths of 34 American sailors. The Israelis claimed it was an accident. If so, it was the best planned “accident” that I have ever observed.
In the October War in 1973, the Israelis did their best to compromise a cease-fire that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had carefully orchestrated with the Soviet Union. Israeli violations of the cease-fire led to Kissinger’s threats to intervene in the conflict if Israeli forces did not cease their military operations. Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and its war crimes against the Palestinians led to the intervention of U.S. Marines, with terrible losses for the United States in the following year. Israeli war crimes in Gaza this past summer have added to U.S. problems in pursuing a peace process in the Middle East.
President Obama has put himself at a disadvantage in dealing with the Israelis at this juncture. He has the empathy to deal with both sides in the dispute, but lacks the tenacity of Kissinger or Presidents Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton to put pressure on Israel or to give Palestinian statehood the priority it deserves. Even President George H.W. Bush was successful 25 years ago, when he halted loan guarantees for the building of Israeli settlements.
What should President Obama do? Since the United States has insufficient non-military tools of influence, it is time to use our military assistance as a source of leverage. The United States gives far too much military aid to Israel, which has not face a serious military challenge from the Arab world since Egyptian President Anwar Sadat courageously concluded a peace agreement more than three decades ago. The Israelis, moreover, get generous terms for that aid that is not available to any other country in the world.
Over the past several years, Netanyahu has gone out of his way to embarrass virtually every U.S. official, including President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. There are Israeli officials who believe that Netanyahu has gone too far this time. The only way to lend some credibility to our concerns and the concerns of those Israelis is to adopt a tougher stand on issues of concern. President Obama may find that there is more support than he expects, both at home and abroad for standing up to the intransigence of the Israeli Prime Minister.
Melvin A. Goodman is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, DC, and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of “Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA” and “National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism” as well as the forthcoming “Path to Dissent: The Story of a Whistleblower at the CIA” (City Lights Publishers, 2015). He is the national security and intelligence columnist for Counterpunch.org.