Recent months have seen a profound change taking place in Israel's foreign and defense policy. The Ben-Gurion ideology of "It is not important what the Gentiles say, what is important is what the Jews do," and the belief that what can't be achieved by force can be achieved by more force are making way for the sober acknowledgment of the limitation of force.
Israel, which always wanted to deal with security threats on its own and opted to resolve things by force rather than diplomacy, has suddenly fallen in love with entities such as the UN Security Council and international public opinion.
Politicians and high-ranking military officers, from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon downward, want the international community to disarm Hezbollah and strip Iran of its nuclear program, and thus neutralize the threats facing Israel from the north and the east. Suddenly there appears to be a limit to what Israel can achieve on its own steam, while international pressure has managed to disarm Libya of weapons of mass destruction and get the Syrian soldiers out of Lebanon without a single shot being fired.
Israel is currently focusing its military and political efforts on the Palestinian front, and demanding free reign in the territories. When it comes to the more distant fronts, it prefers to rely on America, and even France, Britain and Germany, which are conducting the negotiations with Iran.
There are many reasons for this change - and first and foremost, the increased American involvement in the region and Iraq's transformation into a U.S. protectorate. Israel understands that it must not stand in the way of President George W. Bush, who is striving to shape a new Middle East. U.S. success in this regard is in Israel's interests.
Nevertheless, it is difficult not to be impressed by the change in the thinking when one hears Israel Defense Forces generals admiringly quoting UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's statements on the dismantling of Hezbollah's military capabilities. The UN is no longer the target of disdain.
Ariel Sharon is acting responsibly, saying that Israel has no intentions of attacking Iran, and he expects international pressure to prevent the ayatollahs from getting their hands on nuclear arms. But at the very time that Israel is toning down its belligerent policies, the U.S. administration is casting it in the role of the rottweiler. Washington is using Sharon's renowned image as an unscrupulous bully in an effort to intimidate the Iranians and put pressure on the Europeans. It is hard to explain otherwise the statements of Vice President Dick Cheney and others who are publicly warning of an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. Their message is simple: If diplomacy fails, Sharon will run amok.
The administration's announcement last week that it was supplying 100 "bunker-buster" bombs to the Israel Air Force was the most blatant sign that America is likely to sanction an Israeli attack on the underground uranium-enrichment facilities in Iran. For now, it's only a deterrent: It will be months before the bombs arrive in Israel and the pilots are trained to drop them. But everyone is fully aware of the intended use of such armaments, which until today have not been supplied to any country outside the the United States.
A high-ranking political source says there is no contradiction between the political moderation and the military build-up. He says Israel has to be prepared for any development, including the scenario of a conflict with Iran, but it must not jump in headfirst. The times have changed, and when it comes to a global problem such as nuclear weapons in Iran, the solution must be an international one as well. And if this doesn't work, it's good to have a few smart bombs in storage - even if they are never actually used.
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