Obama's message to Israel: Freeze settlements or get rid of Dimona
In an address to AIPAC last week, Dennis Ross outlined the link between peace negotiations and Israel's nuclear program in delicate but clear diplomatic language.
Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz will retire from his post as deputy chief of staff at the end of the month and begin his demobilization leave. It is hard to believe he will be offered another senior defense post.
In the view of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, his strategic approach is too moderate, just like that of his boss, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.
The chief of staff and his deputy failed to volunteer grave security assessments and enthusiastic recommendations for operations to their political superiors.
In Washington last week, Gantz said goodbye to his counterparts in the Pentagon, first and foremost Gen. James "Hoss" Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Hoss nickname given to the Marine Corps pilot is a reference to the middle brother of the Cartwright family from the 1960s TV show "Bonanza."
According to The New York Times, U.S. President Barack Obama tasked "Hoss" Cartwright with drafting the list of security goodies the administration urged Netanyahu to accept in exchange for a two-month extension of the freeze on construction in the settlements. Netanyahu turned them down.
Both the Pentagon and the U.S. National Security Council regret the departure of the Ashkenazi-Gantz duo. Just a few months ago, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, succeeded in pressuring Pakistan's government to grant another three-year term to its pro-American military chief, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Mullen and Cartwright would not have been happy to replicate this feat in Jerusalem.
This infuriates Barak, who wishes to be seen in Israel as the man with the closest possible ties to Washington, and in the U.S. as someone working to moderate Netanyahu on the Palestinian issue, though not the Iranian one. But Barak's efforts have failed. His political power is almost nonexistent.
Meanwhile, he is pulling away from his two top advisors, former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and former Military Intelligence chief Uri Saguy. This may be because they are close to Ashkenazi, or perhaps because he is not eager to listen to their reservations about strategic adventuring - two possibilities that actually have a great deal in common.
Against this background, and with America holding its midterm elections today, last week's address by Dennis Ross to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in Hollywood, Florida, takes on special significance. Ross is in charge of Iran and Israeli-Arab affairs at the National Security Council.
The White House made sure to disseminate his remarks, of which the most instructive is the link he made between Israel's nuclear program - yes, Israel's, not Iran's - and the diplomatic process.
Ross, who has served both Republican and Democratic presidents for the last three decades, predictably lauded Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon for leading the campaign to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
But he also took care to mention that Congress, with "strong encouragement from AIPAC," had enacted tough sanctions against Iran with bipartisan support.
"The entire American political spectrum views the challenge of Iran as a foremost national security priority of the United States," he declared. An American security priority, not an Israeli one; the conflict with Iran is "ours."
Obama hopes to resolve this conflict peacefully, but he is under no illusions, and is prepared to use force to realize his declared goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
According to Ross, for all the importance of the recent increase in American military aid, Israel's long-term security depends on real peace with its neighbors - and therefore, on the victory of the region's moderates over its extremists. In the Palestinian context, this means seizing the fleeting opportunity provided by the leadership duo of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. This, he added, is an American interest, not just an Israeli one. Thus it is not subject to Netanyahu's sole discretion.
Ross - that is to say, Donilon, which is to say, Obama - outlined the link between peace negotiations and Israel's nuclear program in delicate but clear diplomatic language. In September, at the International Atomic Energy Agency's General Conference, the U.S. managed to foil a condemnation of Israel's nuclear program (which had been pushed by Egypt ). The Obama administration will of course "continue to stand up for Israel in these organizations, but there should be no mistake that our efforts are strengthened when Israel is actively participating in peace negotiations."
Between "Hoss" and Ross, the meaning is clear, and it does not depend on the outcome of today's elections: You want to keep Dimona? Then you'll pay the price to keep talking with Abbas - namely, a settlement freeze. And as for Iran, don't be an idiot. Leave it to Obama.