Reviews and Rebuttals of the Plan
No Surge of Interest
by Aluf Benn
Israel's focus is still on Iran.
TEL AVIV, Israel
Iraq is the most under-reported story in Israel. Though only several hundred miles away, the violent events in Iraq appear to most Israelis as happening on another planet. Israeli officials refrain from talking about the war in Iraq, and therefore, the issue has no domestic political angle. The media reports it as foreign news, treating sectarian violence in Baghdad as some sort of natural disaster, next to stories about floods in China and earthquakes in India.
Saddam Hussein's execution received more attention, but even that unique event appeared to Israelis as curiosity, rather than invoking public discussion. A fierce enemy of the Jewish state, who had fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel during the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam was long forgotten since his ouster. Only Shimon Peres, alone among Israeli officials, congratulated his death penalty. The government kept silent.
Amid this backdrop, it is little wonder that President George W. Bush's major address on Iraq policy, on January 10, attracted only little attention here. Typically self-centered, the Israeli media paid far more attention to breaking news about the coming investigation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on corruption allegations. Olmert was on an official visit to Beijing, and none of the traveling reporters even bothered to ask him about Bush's decision to send 20,000 more American troops to Iraq.
Despite some allegations to the contrary, Israel did not ask America to invade Iraq in 2003. Nevertheless, it was happy with the outcome: it's better to have the American army in Baghdad, however beaten, than Saddam's Republican Guard. Iraq had fought in several Arab-Israeli wars, and its demise reduced the risk of an "eastern front" of large conventional armies facing Israel. Moreover, with American troops fighting Iraqi insurgents, Israel's own military operations in the West Bank and Gaza are better understood and accepted. Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon blessed the invasion during its first successful months, but when it soured, he ordered Israeli officials to stay away from Iraq. He probably feared that Israel and its allies in Washington would be blamed for the fiasco if they keep talking about it.
Olmert, Sharon's successor, adhered to his former mentor's no-talk policy on Iraq. But last November, when news about possible American withdrawal started floating in anticipation of the Baker-Hamilton report, Olmert broke his silence. Calling on Bush at the White House, Olmert warned publicly against a "hasty American withdrawal" that might undermine the stability of moderate Arab states. His tone echoed the louder "don't-leave" messages from Riyadh and Amman, showing a united front of America's Mideast allies. According to Israeli officials, Bush has privately calmed Olmert and promised to stay in Iraq. However, even the prime minister's warning failed to raise public and media attention in Israel.
Israel's policymakers have a lot of interest in American involvement in the Middle East, but their attention is focused on Iran, not Iraq. Olmert et al., want Bush to do away with Iran's nuclear program, which they view as an unbearable threat to Israel's security. Therefore, they were more interested in the last part of Bush's address, where the president pledged to "work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region." Bush's announcement of sending another aircraft carrier to the Gulf signaled his commitment to stop the Iranian race to the bomb. From Israel's perspective, this was the good news in the president's address.
Aluf Benn is the diplomatic editor of the Israeli daily Ha'aretz and a contributing editor of The National Interest.
by Al Webb