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Smoke Signals

U.S. abandonment of the old Middle East order has led to provocations against Israel, which are likely to intensify after the Palestinian statehood vote

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Palestinian students rallying to lure Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to visit Gaza City during his visit to Egypt this week. (Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)

Last week, the Israeli Embassy in Cairo was overrun by an angry mob. Next week, after the Obama Administration vetoes a U.N. resolution declaring a Palestinian state, it may well be the U.S. Embassy that feels the wrath of the Egyptian masses.

Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal’s New York Times editorial earlier this week, warning the White House that such a veto would mean losing Saudi Arabia as an ally, is only one part of the Middle Eastern campaign against the Americans. Even when Israel is the ostensible target of the region’s ire, it is the Obama Administration that led the Palestinians up a tree and kicked away the ladder, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas put it.

Obama’s supporters in the pro-Israel camp are eager to jump on any evidence that the president is a great friend of Jerusalem, even if he doesn’t afford the same love to the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would to one headed by Netanyahu’s left-leaning rival, Tzipi Livni. Thus, those supporters have made much of Obama’s assistance in securing the safe escape of the Israeli Embassy’s staff from Cairo, assistance for which Netanyahu was rightly grateful.

But it’s worth noting that when Turkey sent an angry mob after Israeli security personnel, the White House took a very different approach. After Israeli forces boarded the Turkish-sponsored Mavi Marmara in May 2010 to prevent it from running the maritime blockade of Gaza, the commandos found themselves faced with armed passengers and killed nine on board. The United Nations’ Palmer Report recently cleared Israel of any illegality in the incident. But the White House still wanted Israel to apologize to Turkey for killing the terrorists on the ship.

The administration was apparently looking to give the Turks something in exchange for agreeing to host an early-warning radar system. Moreover, Obama is eager to make Turkey happy because in his strategic view, Ankara is a key player capable of exercising influence across the Middle East. It’s a skewed perspective that the Turks share.

The fact that Israel will be the only regional actor left standing by the administration after this upcoming diplomatic storm is, paradoxically, the result of how badly Obama has mishandled the Jewish State. Creating daylight between the United States and its only loyal regional ally has been an invitation to regional governments in trouble to distance themselves even further from Israel—and, therefore, from the United States. Since every government in the region is in trouble, the Obama Adminstration’s policy of “even-handedness” is not likely to result in peace but rather in turmoil, bloodshed, and a further reduction in American influence.

The Turks are making noise not just because of their genuinely anti-Israel disposition but because they want to position themselves as powerful advocates of the Palestinians. That’s why they expelled the Israeli ambassador to Turkey earlier this month instead of a year and a half ago. The issue, then, is not Israeli action on the high seas but U.S. diplomacy in overcompensation mode. Ankara doesn’t deserve a tit-for-tat from Washington for hosting a radar system: It’s part of the NATO membership fee. But instead of reining in the Turks, the White House turned on Jerusalem last week when it leaked a story claiming that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates thinks that Netanyahu is “ungrateful.” Some in official Israeli circles believe that the Gates story is payback to Netanyahu for not apologizing to Turkey. In any case, it sends a strange message on the eve of the U.N. vote: The Americans are backing Israel, but they’re holding their noses as they do so.

And so the pre-veto campaign against Israel has already begun. Saudi papers criticized the Israelis, as did Jordan’s King Abdullah II. Israel, said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, “is the West’s spoiled child.” In Cairo, Erdogan explained how “a Palestinian child’s pain hurts the heart of mothers in Ankara.” The hurt of those Turkish hearts is hardly going to be salved if Washington’s U.N. Ambassador, Susan Rice, votes against a Palestinian state.

For almost 40 years the U.S. order for the region has been built on the back of its Israeli ally, whose wars, especially in 1967 and 1973, effectively secured American hegemony in the Middle East. With Israel positioned as the region’s reigning military power, the United States could accommodate its other regional clients by compelling Israel to sit with its adversaries and, from time to time, give up land in exchange for an uncertain peace. Meantime, its enemies were rewarded with advanced weapons systems. In other words, for the United States the peace process was important not because it necessarily brought about peace, but because it showed Washington to be a cunning grandmaster, able to control the movements of all the pieces on the chessboard.

From an American perspective, the problem with the Obama Administration is not that it lacks the natural warmth for the Jewish state that Bill Clinton and the second Bush White Houses radiated. Rather, it is that it does not understand the rules of the game it is playing—chess—and so is incapable of assessing the value of the queen, Israel.

Obama came to office with the idea that what mattered was not the game but real movement on the peace process, resulting in the establishment of a Palestinian state. He believed the experts when they said that he had to go hard on the Israelis. In reality, the sticking point for Netanyahu and the right was never really, or not only, that they couldn’t stop settlement construction, but rather that the Israeli electorate had lost patience with phony talk about peace and was no longer willing to indulge the fantasies of American politicians at the price of their own lives. The sentiments of Israeli voters may change in the short term, or it may take much longer. But right now their memories are still bright with the images of rockets being shot from the lands they voluntarily gave up in the vain hope of peace. Any Israeli leader who tried to give up the West Bank after the experiences with Lebanon and Gaza would be committing political suicide.

That doesn’t mean there’s no game. It just means that the chessboard looks entirely different now that it did five or 10 years ago. Once the White House cornered both Abbas and Netanyahu, leaving neither man any room to maneuver, the result was not a swift march toward peace. Rather, the Americans lost control of the board: Netanyahu balked. The Palestinians decided to go to the United Nations to declare their state. Post-Mubarak Egypt brokered a reconciliation deal between Hamas and Fatah. Turkey moved against Israel to advance its own position. And Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Jordan, which had been quietly praying that the storms of the Arab Spring might pass them over, came out to sound off against the Israelis.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, including the testimony of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and other regional leaders who wanted Obama to focus on Iran, the White House believed that the region’s central issue was the Arab-Israeli crisis and the obstacle was Israeli intransigence. With the arrival of the Arab Spring, Washington’s experts were proven decisively wrong. As the Arab Spring turns into a long, hot summer, shaken rulers like Bashar al-Assad of Syria, the mullahs in Iran, and their clients in Lebanon will also look to stir up trouble for Israel in the hopes of distracting their people from the problems at home.

The shakiness of these regimes suggests that a shooting war is in no one’s interest right now. At the same time, the larger political instability of the region may also encourage these countries to act in ways that might ordinarily seem reckless. The vacuum created by U.S. abandonment of the old order has encouraged an intense competition for influence and power that has fueled the most recent upsurge of provocations and violence against the Israelis—a pattern that is likely to grow more intense after the statehood vote and can easily spiral out of control. If that happens, the Israelis will either acquit themselves well or else they won’t. Either way, America’s remaining prestige in the region will go up in smoke.

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I love the insidious title of suggestion of this article, and it strikes me as neglectful that Tablet is not even attempting to observe the 29th anniversary of a tragedy that Israel was largely responsible for.

Shalom Freedman says:

The main point is the U.S. signal of wavering in support of Israel has truly accelerated the undermining of Israel’s position. It also has proved damaging to the U.S. Still President Obama has not reprimanded Turkish leader Erdogan for his open belligerency. He has not made it clear that in any future aggression against Israel, the U.S. will be firmly on Israel’s side.
Israel now needs a kind of support from the U.S. so strong it will deter any violent action against it. I am not sure the Obama Administration is capable of this kind of support.

Jules seems to forget that it was Lebanese who killed Palestinians,who were “largely responsible” – but the truth would interfere with his anti-Israeli agenda.

Yes Jules, we know that you hate Israel.

Great article. I think that it is important to stress that the average Israeli (through bitter experience) no longer believes in the land for peace formula or thinks that the Palestinians want a peaceful country alongside Israel. It’s not Bibi or Lieberman or “the Likudniks”, it is the vast majority of the Israeli public that feels this way.

Such a misreading of events can only be the result of a delusion, which will be rudely cleared up in due time. It is this kind of thinking that is rapidly bringing Israel to an isolated state in the world, a pariah nation.

‘Under the Barrel’s Shadow’
Graphic Commentary on Saddam’s Idea

Another shill for Israel claiming an alleged expertise yet failing to grasp even the simplest nuances of the region.

Smith completely misunderstand’s Turkey’s motives, and fails to realize that Turkey IS the rising power in the Middle East. Unlike Mubarak and Abdullah of Jordan however; Turkey actually has the ability to act for itself and in its own interests – and in the interest of the Palestinians with whom Turkish constituents sympathize.

Only when simplistic commentators like these realize that Arabs and Turks have real grievances across Israel, and that they aren’t all some alleged trumped-up anti-Semitic conspiracy, will they have an appropriate understanding of the region… and the validity to actually contribute something to the debate.

The guy is/was way over his head when it comes to the middle east. He’s made so many blunders…its really unbelievable..first calling for a settlement freeze was a mistake- then focusing on the building of a hotel(!!!) and then having Mubarak removed based on less the 1% of the population involved in some sit in. And of course his silence on the issue with Turkey is problematic but hey – he and Erdogan are BFFs.

And he has yet to make a visit to Israel.

I agree that this UN vote is the last nail. It will confirm and enrage the middle the east beyond anything we have seen before. They will blame America for the the veto and street will break-out in protests.

Itzik Basman says:

This is a clearly written article, which sets out accessibly its arguments.

But this sentence, I don’t understand:

…The fact that Israel will be the only regional actor left standing by the administration after this upcoming diplomatic storm is, paradoxically, the result of how badly Obama has mishandled the Jewish State…

What does Smith means when he says Israel will be the only actor left standing by the U.S.?

This article is right on the money. How foolish the Jews were to overwhelmingly back someone who for 20 years soaked up the bitter antisemitic bile of his pastor without a murmur? There must be a suicidal urge in the Jewish psyche. Perhaps 2012 will change the equation and the our Jewish brothers and sisters will regurgitate the Kool-aid.

babawawa says:

Andrew, I’m confused. What legitimate grievances do the Turks have against Israel? Jews are indigenous to the middle east – particularly Israel. We stole no land. As a consequence of war, the Arabs lost what they had. That’s the deterrent: if you don’t want to lose what you have, don’t gamble it away. The Arabs thought the odds were in their favor, but they forgot about G-d and His promise to the Jewish people. Apparently so have you. Pick up a book on Jewish History and you will see clearly what the fate of all who oppose us, including you, will be.

Matthew says:

babawawa, I’m sure all despotic people think just the same way. No matter what you do, the world will come to conclude Israel is an apartheid state. There will never be land for peace, but give them the land anyway and then go to war as nations. Prove to this new nation that you will deliver a knock-out punch for every provocation, but at least be rid of the Palestinians, who soon will outnumber you in your own land. This is the only future for a Jewish state. Otherwise, shut up and wait a few generations for them to democratically take over. The world is tired of your self-created belly-aching.

Nathaniel says:

The White House’s policy has been bad for the U.S. not because it has cost us “prestige” and nobody calls us anymore when they want to peace process, but because it has been bad for Israel. America and Israel have deep emotional ties. We Americans don’t like seeing Israelis getting killed, getting shat on by Europeans, all for some vague hope that the Arabs will like us–a dream that doesn’t run deeper than the State Department and the Ivory Tower.

Itzik–Smith means that after the U.N. vote when everybody in the Middle East (except Israel) votes in the opposite direction of the U.S., nobody will remember the Cairo speech, or the settlement freeze thrust upon the Israelis. Flag burning rallies could become state-sanctioned, and the Star of David might not be the only one in flames–and all that ‘outreach’ will look even more laughable.

Nathaniel says:

Matthew, you say: “give them the land anyway and then go to war as nations.” I think they followed your advice in Gaza and Lebanon. I guess the problem was that they didn’t follow through with expulsions too.

This article hit it right on the head when it pointed out that as soon as our allies in the area saw that Obama was willing to throw Israel under the bus they knew that they longer could count on him to guarantee their own survival.

And they were right!

Beatrix says:

Great article. America’s economy is stymied. Europe fights our battles for us. Israel can’t trust us and acts astounded if she can even count on America in a crisis. Abbas, once willing to enter peace negotiations under American auspices, now has abandoned us for the UN.

Turkey and Israel, two former allies, whose relationship provided stability especially important today in the volatile Mideast, and Obama doesn’t demand the leaders meet with him at the White House where he locks the doors and threatens and bribes until they agree to resumption of relations. Instead, he plans to button hole the two leaders, if he can, at the UN. Maybe.

I’m not just worried about the Mideast. I’m even more worried about the future of America.

US-Israel relations are a matter of electoral politics. Obama’s constituency is heavily urban, college-educated and secular. They have no religious reason to support Israel like the Evangelicals who dominated in previous governments.

Despite the Arab Spring, Obama is seek better relations with Muslim nations, while trying not to seem anti-Israel – which means bashing Israel a bit, but hoping Israel’s need for a powerful ally will keep them quiet.

I won’t work, however, because the aim of Islam (the most powerful force in Muslim countries) is not friendship, but the honor of Islam as a dominant force in the world. Erdogan does understand this, and is capitalizing on the Arab Spring to attack Israel, who’s existance is Islam’s biggest humiliation.

So, basically, the former status quo was held in place for a reason, and Obama is aggrieving Israel to gain nothing. As a Jew, I’ve placed my faith in G-d. Best regards.

What you have written is basically self-evident to anyone that pragmatically looks at the history of the US involvement in the region. Sadly no one gave Obama the Middle East playbook when he got elected and amazingly it only took Obama 2.5 years to effectively eliminate all American influence in the region. The most obvious example of this is that the Palestinians, who are diplomatic, economic and military midgets, are thumbing their nose at the United States.

You forget to point out that the Saudis have already been making their own moves – as seen by their leadership of the Bahrain intervention force and by the moves to include Jordan and Morocco in the GCC. They have learned from the fall of Mubarak that the United States under Obama is neither a reliable ally nor even a rational actor in the game of world politics. The Saudi letter written by the Saudi Prince is just providing a justification for a process that is already taking place and that has very little to do with Israel or the Palestinians.

A few months after Obama got elected there was a general attitude going around Russia which basically suggested that Russia should exercise its power as much as is able to during the Obama presidency because they will meet no resistance. It seems that the Russians were right and any country that relied on the United States to be a strong ally is now forced to look for new arrangements. That should include Israel. There is no particular reason to believe that Obama’s foreign policy will be less of a failure in his second term.

Ken Besig, Israel says:

This is the Obama Doctrine, betray staunch American allies like Israel and Mubarak’s Egypt, and grovel in the face of America’s enemies, or at least be harmless to them.
This is the 1960’s New Left foreign policy as applied in the 21st century, courtesy of Barack Hussein Obama.

We have had many articles on the Middle East. The only clear factor hindering any agreeable Peaceful co existence solution. Are the Arab Muslim nations of the Middle East and North Africa. They will not recognize Israel but the world should recognize a Palestinian state. Another hindering part of factor is that the Muslim cannot be trusted and have not proven than can accept a dialogue that comes out with an agreeable peacful solution.

Eric Tamez says:

Very well written article. the ”chess-board” has changed and we as american Jews need to recognize just how it has changed with the Obama amdministration! make no mistake not only will the palestinians get their ill-gotten state; but Isreal will have nothing but trouble, and even more unrest in the coming year. keep that on mind in the coming election please!

The final words of this article are most apt, and here is why:

A senior editor at the Weekly Standard has harsh criticism of Obama. How unexpected!

The Obama administration is attacked for “creating daylight between the United States and its only loyal regional ally.” Crating daylight? Apparently being in lockstep with the Netanyahu government is the only acceptable position the US is permitted to have.

Netanyahu is stepping foot into Fascism, it would behoove him to get his foot out of lockstep of such, because Israel is widely perceived now as an oppressor state in most world nations. Continuing with colonizing the West Bank and East Jerusalem is not a realistic formula for peace. It must stop.

This isn’t the 1940s, and Arab propaganda about Israel and “colonization” no longer holds water. Nor is it the 1960s, and equating the struggle between Israel and her neighbors as having to do with the civil rights era as the left does is equally dated.

Israel occupies the West Bank (they unilaterally left Gaza) thanks to beating the marauding Palestinians in war three times, and had an informal agreement with them in 2008 on how to handle the settlements. Obama, also living in the past, made the settlements an issue and a pre-condition when it was already pretty much resolved.

I don’t care if our new President is a Republican or a Democrat, I just want him or her to live in the 21st century with solutions appropriate to our own era.

“Their memories are still bright with the images of rockets being shot from the lands they voluntarily gave up in the vain hope of peace.”

If this is what Israelis (or Lee Smith) think, then the problem is that their memories are both inaccurate and self-serving. Israel did not give up Gaza in order to get peace. Israel gave up Gaza in order to prevent a proper peace process from happening – see .

Israel has long been stalling the pathway to peace, and the world at large is disgusted and tired of this tactless stupidity which has continued on for years without cease.

Just because The Palmer report said that it is not issuing its report for legal follow up does NOT mean that “The United Nations’ Palmer Report recently cleared Israel of any illegality in the incident.” What is the author talking about? The report clearly states: “viii. The loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force by Israeli forces
during the take-over of the Mavi Marmara was unacceptable. Nine
passengers were killed and many others seriously wounded by Israeli forces.
No satisfactory explanation has been provided to the Panel by Israel for any
of the nine deaths. Forensic evidence showing that most of the deceased were
shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range has not been
adequately accounted for in the material presented by Israel.
ix. There was significant mistreatment of passengers by Israeli authorities after
the take-over of the vessels had been completed through until their
deportation. This included physical mistreatment, harassment and
intimidation, unjustified confiscation of belongings and the denial of timely
consular assistance.”

Accurate representation of the facts, please.

charlotte sharpe says:

I and other true christians who serve Jehovah and his son Jesus Christ will stand for Israel. Let me warn you that God Almighty has not abandoned his son Israel. He will fight for his son Israel and he will laugh at those who fight against him and his son. If you claim to be a christian and do not stand up for Israel I would fear to be in your shoes. Be strong Israel for your God will come and deliver you from your enemies. I don’t care who you think you are, you can not fight against God Jehovah.

Sharon says:

Obama first meeting with the PM of Israel–Obama said–do as I say or I will disclose the 40 year peace treaty that you have with America.

Now Obama makes it clear he doesn’t like the current PM–but likes and wants to work with the leftist leader.

Hopefully, Israel is preparing for an upheaval in their land. Hopefully, Israel knows the plan is to get rid of the leaders that this Administration doesn’t like–replace the countries with leaders they like.

It is a shame the US has turned into a beast regarding the CHANGE to disrupt–to destroy any foe.

Obama to Israel be prepared to defend yourself. Well, did President Bush ever make remarks to Israel as this President.

No one brought peace to Egypt–it is still chaotic and riots still occur—that can be said from Egypt–to Lybia–every country is fighting against each other seeking who will be placed as leader of that country.

America needs to focus on their country. For our leaders to first fix what is wrong in their country–keeping all 235 members of Congress—and not let czars have more power than the Americans realize.

Johnny Appleseed says:

THe “terrorists” on the ship?

Defending yourself with a bat against people with machine guns is now “terrorism” ?

The more you use that currency, the more you debase it.

If you set the bar so low for “terrorism” expect to find yourself on the receiving end of such slander.

Colin Beck says:

THROWBACK POLITICS: Americans favor 2 kinds of leaders. [#1] A person like FDR or Barack Obama who can drive a bus by day and capture other peoples’ garbage trucks by night. [#2] A battle scarred war veteran like IKE or John McCain who they can trust to take out their garbage at 3:00 in the morning. __ John McCain won the Viet Nam War because the Vietnamese were only fighting for a cold beer and a clean room at a Hilton Hotel. Yet on the home front he was “a failed garbage handler” who tried to sanitize and re-package America’s garbage with Sarah Palin’s ” Did ye kill a moose today? ” It just didn’t bring in the customers.


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Smoke Signals

U.S. abandonment of the old Middle East order has led to provocations against Israel, which are likely to intensify after the Palestinian statehood vote

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