Any study of the “red lines” held up over any Middle East crisis in recent years would soon discover how short-lived they are, bandied with loud fanfare – only to be blown down by the tumultuous crises they were designed to preempt.
One such red line was laughed away Wednesday, March 20, by a one of the most prominent red liners.
“Where do you want to start?” President Barack Obama asked an Israeli military official after the grand welcoming ceremony in his honor at Ben Gurion Airport.
TV cameras following the president and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu walking together toward an Iron Dome battery picked up the official’s answer: “We are following the red line, sir,” he said, indicating the line painted on the tarmac leading to the batteries.
“The red line, okay,” said the US president, smiling and pointing to Netanyahu. “He’s always talking to me about red lines.”
While spoken in jest, those words later assumed real substance. Addressing a news conference after their three-hour conversation that day, Obama and Netanyahu appeared to have reached accord on a surprisingly broad range of hitherto intractable issues which had long clouded their relations. But, quite remarkably, both seemed to have jettisoned their ominous red lines once and for all.
A US-Israel relationship transcending current crises
An American official familiar with the content of that conversation was quoted exclusively to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources as remarking: “In the cyber age there are no more red lines.”
It was the cyber age, rather than burning Middle East issues, that occupied pride of place in the first conversation the US and Israeli leaders held in Jerusalem Wednesday, and which turned into the springboard for the broad agreements they reached on a whole range of issues.
Both moved beyond the current crises posed by a nuclear Iran, a chemical Syria and a stalled peace process, to set US-Israeli cooperation on a brand new footing which transcended them all.
In his speech Thursday to Israeli students, the US president spoke at length about Israel’s high tech contributions to the world. He said that Israel is in the first rank of world economies and “a center of global invention.”
That was the clue to the reset of relations with the Netanyahu government the day it was sworn in that US president’s visit to Israel ushered in, our sources disclose.
What Obama was proposing was a revamped technological-cum-intelligence partnership which reverted to a format similar to the give-and-take and sharing trust that governed Cold War relations between the two intelligence agencies in the second half of the 20th century, until the fall of the Soviet empire.
Obama offered a worldview that looked ahead to a future era, when historians would refer to the “global diplomatic philosophy” he had introduced.
Obama: Israel’s innovativeness is a high-value security asset
He explained that it is up to the US and Israel to join forces to preserve their paramount standing – the United States, as the world’s supreme military and technological power, and Israel, as a world-class hi-tech leader. To this end, they must not only combine their technological, military and intelligence capabilities – as they have done since the mid-1950s – but deepen and broaden the cooperation between them.
When Obama told an Israeli student audience that “Israel’s innovativeness is as important to our relations as security,” he was absolutely serious.
One of his primary missions, as he sees it, is to keep up the continuous development of Israel’s electronics industry and its military and intelligence capabilities in the field of cyber technology.
He stressed that the US would continue to invest in Israel’s missile interceptors industry and promote its work on creating a multi-tiered missile defense shield.
This consists of the Arrow 3 at the outer perimeter, followed by Arrow 2, which stops ballistic missiles in the upper atmosphere; David's Sling (also known as Magic Wand), which is still under development and designed to stop intermediate rockets and missiles; and the Iron Dome, which was hailed for blowing up Palestinian short- and medium-range rockets in mid-flight from Gaza before they landed on southern Israel.
Cooperation assured for the next decade
President Obama also made a point of commending the joint Israel-US Missile Defense Agency test a few days ago of Arrow 3, the latest generation in the series of missile defense systems.
This model differs from its predecessors in that it can intercept missiles from Iran or elsewhere as they fly outside the earth’s atmosphere, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources report. It is therefore the upper tier of the exo-atmospheric interception system Israel has designed.
This was the first “flyout” in military history of an interceptor taking off and flying packed with all of its equipment. No other world army, including that of Russia and China, commands this level of technological prowess, said Obama, rejoicing that it is under exclusive American and Israeli control.
The US president then proposed to Netanyahu that US-Israeli relations would by driven henceforth by five guidelines:
1. Negotiations on a set of updated military, technology and intelligence accords covering their cooperative work for the next decade, through 2022.
2. While expanding US-Israeli cooperation in these areas, the subjects of missile development and new cyber-warfare systems must be added. "We and you can and must surpass China in this area," Obama said.
3. Israel will not attack the Iranian nuclear program without obtaining Washington's consent and would offer US forces a lead role if such an attack were to be judged necessary.
Obama to Israel: Just carry on working; we’ll take care of security
4. Obama advised Netanyahu to adapt his regional policies to the overall American posture of avoiding direct involvement – especially in Syria. Otherwise, he said, Israel would be distracted from its most important missions.
To leave Israel free to continue its work, the US was ready to take Israel's defense upon itself and shield the Jewish state against neighborhood aggressors.
As a model of US helpfulness, he held up Washington’s support for Israel last November in the Pillar of Defense operation for stopping missile attacks from the Gaza Strip. The US joined Egypt and Turkey in bringing about a ceasefire.
Obama also cited Washington's unceasing efforts to make Cairo uphold the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
5. Progress would be made along the Israeli-Palestinian peace track (details of which appear in a separate article in this issue). Jordan's King Abdullah would be a lead player in the process.
Indeed, preserving the Hashemite throne against its enemies would be one of the main US-Israeli objectives in the region, Obama said.
Tough tests to come after the hugs and smiles
Since this blueprint was in the bag before the president set foot in Israel, put together in Washington in the last few weeks by the joint efforts of US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and his Israeli opposite number, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, Netanyahu’s instantaneous concurrence should not have been surprising, nor the relaxed smiles and warm hugs that characterized Obama’s visit to Israel.
The gift Netanyahu prepared for Obama symbolized the next chapter of US-Israeli relations. It was a one-of-a kind replica of the Israeli and American Declarations of Independence etched on a tiny, gold-plated silicon nano-chip designed by researchers and scientists of the Technion University’s Nanotechnology Institute.
The declarations are inscribed on the chip side by side on a surface no larger than 0.04mm by 0.00002mm using a focused beam of gallium ions. The chip is affixed to a Jerusalem stone dating back 2,000 years or more to the Second Jewish Temple, which was used as a stopper to seal clay vessels.
The US president’s visit and the affection he manifested deeply touched many Israelis. However, his departure means that the party is over. Now they are waiting to see how the sympathetic affinity evinced by their visitor and prime minister withstands the tests to come.
The tough issues, skirted at their joint news conference, were articulated eloquently over the heads of the politicians in Obama’s speech to an audience of Israeli students in Jerusalem Thursday.