The last place in the world Israeli military officials expected to be unwelcome was Washington D.C.
Of late, they were advised to avoid a few countries in West Europe for fear of being seized under arrest warrants for alleged war crimes – primarily in Great Britain and Spain.
In Britain, pacifist, human rights, left-wing and pro-Palestinian and Muslim groups have painstakingly blacklisted the many Israeli officers who have fought Palestinians – from October 2000, when Yasser Arafat launched his suicide terror campaign in Israel's cities, up to the present day.
Their activists, tipped off by Israeli partisans and Palestinian Authority sources, waylay Israeli officers on visits to Britain with detention orders issued by local courts.
Among the figures who choose to give the UK a wide berth are defense minister Ehud Barak and transportation minister Shaul Mofaz, the IDF chief of staff from 2000-2004, who commanded Operation Defense Shield (2002),which eradicated Palestinian terror and suicide bases on the West Bank.
Israel's Gaza offensive (Dec 27, 2008 – January 18, 2009), which aroused public ire in Britain, gave these groups an extra spurt. Now the anti-Israel activists, riding on the tide of Muslim support for the extremist Hamas, target not only high-ranking Israeli commanders but field officers from divisional command rank down to platoon commanders.
All of the Israeli government complaints to London, from the prime minister's office and the foreign minister, to abolish the arbitrary British law provision which holds officers of a friendly state defenseless against this sort of prosecution have met with Foreign Office waffle, such as: “The matter is in hand and will be resolved shortly.”
But nothing has been resolved.
Spain will continue to investigate the IDF
On February 27, the Spanish judiciary decided to continue its inquiry against Israeli military and state officials on charges relating to Israel's military operation of 2002 against Palestinian terror emanating from Gaza.
In an attempt to head off the one-sided probe, Jerusalem forwarded to the court a file containing hundreds of legal documents in its defense. The Israel embassy in Madrid labored to translate them into Spanish.
They were discounted; a Spanish judicial source said Judge Fernando Andreu of the National Audience, Spain's highest criminal court, decided to continue his inquiry regardless of the documents received.
The inquiry is directed against a long list of Israeli ministers, chiefs of staff, air force commanders, and local field commanders who served during that year.
Washington bars entry to senior Netanyahu advisers
But in Barack Obama's Washington, Israeli officials – no strangers to unfair boycotts -never expected to be barred.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports that a message recently reached Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister-designate, through intelligence channels, warning him that one of his most trusted security advisers, Dr. Uzi Arad, would not be granted entry to the US because he was deemed “an intelligence risk”.
A former member of and director of intelligence for the Mossad, Israel's external spy service, Dr. Arad was cited in the indictment of Lawrence Franklin, a former Pentagon analyst who pleaded guilty in 2005 to providing classified information about Iran in a conversation with two American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). directors.
Since June 2007, he has been denied a US visa under section 212 3(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act which authorizes consular officers and the Justice Department to bar people who may seek “to violate any law of the United States relating to espionage or sabotage” from entering the country.
This message confronted Netanyahu with an unexpected and delicate dilemma.
He has tapped Arad for Director of the National Security Council, hitherto an anemic body which the future prime minister planned to give real teeth in the shaping of government policy. The beefed up council was to have had similar status to that of the Obama White House NSC under Gen. James Jones, its brief to include Israel-US relations.
Despite the optimism of Netanyahu's inner circle, our Washington sources report there has been no progress in attempts to secure a visa.
Uzi Arad said Wednesday, March 18, that the whole thing was a mistake. He confirmed he had discussed Iran with Franklin in 2004, but insisted the meeting was “superficial” and had nothing to do with the charges against Franklin. “We had coffee and we talked about the agenda of the day – nothing classified, nothing secret, nothing related to espionage.”
No senior US figure found time to see Gen. Ashkenazi
Visits to Washington by Israel's top soldiers are usually thoroughly prepared well in advance and their diaries are packed with high-powered consultations with administration heads. Almost automatically, meetings are arranged with the secretaries of defense and state, the national security adviser and the heads of US armed forces.
But IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazy, who spent five days in Washington from March 13, had plenty of time on his hands. Israel's military attache Maj. Gen. Benny Ganz met with polite but firm rejections when he asked for appointments.
Not a single cabinet member was available.
Ashkenazi was finally received by National Security Adviser Gen. Jones and Dennis Ross, the State Department's special adviser on Iran.
In both encounters, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Washington sources report, the Israeli Chief of Staff tried to discuss the Iranian nuclear program. Jones changed the subject. The conversation eventually came down to Israeli tactics in the last Gaza operation. With Ross, only generalities were discussed; nothing specific.
A sign of things to come
To correct the impression of a non-event, Ashkenazi's spokesmen said his talks with US officials had been dominated by Iran. Sunday night, March 15, he decided to cut short his stay in Washington on the pretext of having to return immediately to attend a special cabinet meeting Monday the 16th on the prisoner swap deal with Hamas to free the abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
As commander in chief it behooved him to take part in discussions on the fate of one of his soldiers.
In the event, the cabinet did not meet before Tuesday and there was no deal for Shalit to be freed any time soon.
It may be too soon to tell if these two events – the refusal of a visa for a top Netanyahu security adviser and the snub administered to Israel's top soldier – are straws in the wind pointing to the Obama administration's take on the traditional special relationship with the Jewish state.
But the targeting of two Israeli security officials for a cold shoulder and the refusal to discuss the Iranian issue, do not augur an easy ride in Washington for Israel's next government and its prime minister.