The most important message Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff, brought Israel Sunday, Feb. 13, was that the 1979 peace accord with Egypt is not in jeopardy. He tried giving this assurance to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Gen. Benny Gantz – who became Israel's 20th chief of staff Monday.
The US and its military have strong ties with the military rulers who took power in Cairo Feb. 11, Mullen pointed out: American advisers are there, working within its top ranks and in a position to guard Washington and Jerusalem against untoward surprises with regard to future peace relations.
But both Washington and Jerusalem chose to ignore a comment by one of Egypt's most prominent opposition leaders, Ayman Nour, a former lawmaker who was jailed for years by Mubarak. Following the generals' commitment to honor Cairo's regional and international treaties, Nour told interviewers Sunday: "The role of the Camp David accords (negotiated as the basis for the 1979 peace treaty) has ended." He said they were no longer relevant and the new leadership should reassess its terms. "This is a unique case with unique aspects. The people will decide on this matter," Nour said.
Sunday, even before moving into the office of chief of staff and assuming the top rank of Lt. General, Gantz had his first meeting with the top US soldier in Tel Aviv. The urgency was dictated by the rush of events in Egypt and Adm. Mullen's tight 48-hour schedule for the mission impossible of steadying the jittery Middle East after Washington openly helped engineer Hosni Mubarak's downfall at the hands of a military junta.
The Mullen-Gantz conversation was extremely tricky for two reasons:
1. Jerusalem made no secret of its disapproval of Hosni Mubarak's removal and fear of its impact on peace relations. Nevertheless, Israeli leaders have put behind them the fact that the Obama administration rode roughshod over their views; they are now lining up with US steps in Egypt and the Middle East in its aftermath.
2. Mullen, the outgoing Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi and Gantz himself have developed ties of friendship – Ashkenazi during his four-year stint and Gantz as deputy chief of staff and earlier as military attaché in Washington. At the same time, debkafile's military sources stress that the secret mission entrusted to Mullen by Barak Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush was to make sure Israel did not attack Iran and its nuclear installations. Obama was also against an Israeli strike against Hizballah in Lebanon – whatever the provocation.
From 2008 to 2010, the American admiral carried out his mission to the letter and will no doubt continue doing so in 2011.
As chief of staff, Ashkenazi had 20 encounters with Mullen, beating his Pakistani counterpart Gen. Ashfag Pervez Kayani to the draw. This would imply that Adm. Mullen, the two US presidents he served and their shared Defense Secretary Robert Gates attached the same importance to preventing Israeli military action against Iran and the Lebanese Shiite terrorists as they did – and do – to fighting Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
In consequence of Washington's external policies, however, Israel find itself beset today with five hostile or potentially hostile fronts, not knowing which way to face first and no guarantee that at some point they do not link up into a single noose-like chain. No one can be sure whether the military rulers in Cairo remain committed to a pro-American policy or opt for a more radical orientation somewhere down the road. Opposition leader Nour put up the first road sign.
Had Israel taken action over the years to remove – or at least cut down – its avowed enemies to the north and the east, it could now concentrate on shoring up its southern front against any eventualities. Instead, Tehran and Hizballah were allowed to go from strength to strength and take over Beirut
As things stand today, Lt. Gen. Gantz, whose broad command experience includes the northern front, is taxed with building plans for a fundamental overhaul and expansion of Israel's armed forces, including vast training, recruitment and equipment programs adapted to five potential warfronts. He will not find it easy to know where to start. His only clear first objective is to apply for Washington's support in providing funds and weaponry for making the program possible.