Israel’s blunt-spoken Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has found little backing at home for his outspoken criticism of Obama Administration’s policies. Up until Saturday night, March 22, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu let him face the music alone when US Secretary of State John Kerry demanded an apology – and even when his spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the clarifications Ya’alon offered of his remarks to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel were not good enough.
“The US still had concerns about Ya’alon’s pattern of behavior. An apology from Ya’alon would be a natural next step,” she said. “His comments, as we’ve stated a couple of times, don’t reflect the true nature of our relationship with Israel.”
Sounding like a schoolteacher reprimanding a delinquent pupil, Ms Psaki implicitly accused Israel’s defense minister of misrepresenting the nature of US-Israel relations. And, most of all, he was required to say sorry for daring to say that US policy was weak and wavering – not just on Ukraine, but on Iran, in a way that directly impinged on Israel’s security. His ultimate sin, for the spokeswoman, was to urge that his country stop waiting for America to pull the Iranian chestnut out of the fire and take matters in its own hands.
In a previous episode, the defense minister agreed he was out of line when he characterized Kerry in a much-quoted private conversation as “obsessive and messianic” over his dogged pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian final accord. For that remark he did apologize.
However, when it comes to finding extreme fault with the Obama administration’s foreign policy, Ya’alon is not the only high-ranking politician in the Middle East – or even the most vehement, although not all the others have been told by Ms Psaki to apologize.
A similar perspective has been openly articulated even more vigorously by, for instance, top Saudi leaders, including King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal.
Nor is Ya’alon the only senior defense official whom the Obama administration would like to see the back of. Egypt’s Defense Minister Gen. Abdul-Fatteh El-Sisi is another. The general’s criticism of Washington’s policies is hardly restrained. He has paid for it with a cold US shoulder, even though he will almost certainly be elected the next president of the most populous Middle East country.
Punishing the Egyptian general for his crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which he removed from power in a coup, Obama refused to let Egypt have urgently needed warplanes, helicopters and surveillance equipment to fend off the al Qaeda-Iraq (ISIS)’s advance into the Sinai Peninsula. Our counterterrorism sources report the jihadis are using Sinai as a jumping-off base and have begun infiltrating cities in the Nile Valley.
El-Sisi has since appealed to Moscow for the necessary hardware.
The administration’s treatment of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Director of Saudi General Intelligence, was still tougher, punishing him for the campaign he led in support of certain Syrian rebel militias contrary to the Washington line. That campaign aimed, with the king’s approval, to remove Bashar Assad from power.
This is not the place to analyze what went wrong. At the same time, it is important for Israel to understand that, so long as Bandar’s agents were proactive in the Syrian civil war, neither Hizballah nor al Qaeda’s affiliates were able to reach the Syrian-Israeli border dividing the Golan. In the two months since the Saudi prince and his agents were purged from the Syrian scene, the two terrorist organizations are more deeply involved than ever in the civil war, and have also started mounting cross-border attacks on Israel from Syrian territory.
Certain US quarters planted stories that Bandar had fallen out of royal favor and was stripped of all his official duties, including the directorship of intelligence. But the prince surfaced in Beijing two weeks ago, ahead of a state visit by Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, to negotiate the purchase of Chinese ballistic missiles. It turned out that Bandar was still Chief of intelligence minus only the Syrian dossier.
Ya’alon is therefore in good company among his peers in the region’s top security and military circles when he disparages the Obama administration’s handling of matters in a way which he regards as detrimental to the region and Israel’s national security.
What is conspicuously missing is a sign of support from Binyamin Netanyahu at a time when the defense minister needs a solid lineup for handling the dangerous and complex hostile fronts evolving on three of Israel’s borders – the Golan, the Gaza Strip and the South, as well as the West Bank, where Hamas forces are gathering anew to spring back into active terrorist mode.