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Commentary: The unsettling messages in Andrew Shapiro’s speech

By Shoshana Bryen


Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Maybe it was just stylistic; maybe it was more. Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro’s speech touting the United States as Israel’s best friend repeated itself:

  • Israel’s future as a secure, Jewish, and democratic state is under threat from the dynamics of demography, ideology, and technology.
  • The dynamics of ideology, technology, and demography in the region mean that this continuing conflict poses serious challenges to Israel’s long-term security and its future as a Jewish and democratic state.
Therefore, Shapiro said, “We believe that through good faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.”
[Dispense quickly with his interpretation of Palestinian goals. No Palestinian leader has said that the Palestinian goal is the ’67 line with agreed swaps. Only Americans say that. The one agenda item on which Hamas and Fatah agree is that the recognition of Israel was a mistake by the international community – and that the mistake has to be corrected by the state’s disestablishment, though they differ on the necessary method and the government that will follow.]
“Demography, ideology and technology” is a sloppy, non-specific suggestion that the progress of life itself threatens Israel. But specifically what threatens Israel is the continuing unwillingness of (almost all) Arab states plus Iran and several non-state terrorist organizations to accept the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East. Arab and Muslim rejectionists use oil money (as well as American aid in the case of the Palestinians and the LAF, the Lebanese Armed Forces) to buy weapons, training and technology from the United States, Europe, Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan in hopes of carrying out their intention to turn back the clock. They use media that is alternately willing and naïve – and often state-sponsored – and a UN that is corrupt and venal, to advance their agenda.
It is not against “demography” that Israel fights – it is against armed enemies who consider the “law of war” to apply only to others, if they consider it at all. It is not against “technology” that Israel fights – Israel is a master at using technology for defense and protection, including better protection of enemy civilians than those civilians have any reason to expect. As for ideology, unharnessed to the money, land, arms and political protection provided by states to other states or non-state actors, ideology is small stuff. It is only when states provide the tools of war to other states or non-state actors that large-scale terrorism and open warfare become possible.
And, interestingly, Mr. Shapiro knows that, which is why he spent so much of his dissertation on the Qualitative Military Edge, which he correctly defines as, “the ability to counter and defeat credible military threats from any individual state, coalition of states, or non-state actor, while sustaining minimal damages or casualties.” So he reminds the audience, “Each and every security assistance request from (Israel) is evaluated in light of our policy to uphold Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge….As a matter of policy, we will not proceed with any release of military equipment or services that may pose a risk to allies or contribute to regional insecurity in the Middle East.”
Why? Because it is understood countries that maintain a state of war with Israel might use American weapons against it. To some extent we oppose that – although the administration has sold $20 billion worth of military hardware to the Arab world in the past year-and-a-half.
But not just countries threaten Israel. Shapiro notes, “Despite efforts at containment, rockets with better guidance systems, greater range, and more destructive power are spreading across the region. Hezbollah has amassed tens of thousands of short- and medium-range rockets on Israel’s northern border. Hamas has a substantial number in Gaza. And even if some of these are still crude, they all pose a serious danger.”
So what will the United States do? Permit Israel to wipe out its enemies? No, clearly not. The Obama Administration was critical of Operation Cast Lead and has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to Gaza to ameliorate a situation it finds discomfiting – although the result is to ever more firmly ensconce Hamas as the ruler there and undermine Abu Mazen. The administration is providing hundreds of millions in aid to the LAF in hopes that it will do something about Hezbollah, while Hezbollah becomes ever more brazen in placing its rockets inside villages and harassing hapless UNIFIL forces. Will the United States encourage Israel to stop an announced blockade run by anti-Israel activists? No, clearly not.
And as Iran is the source of arms, training and funding for Syria and Hezbollah and an important source for Hamas, as well as threatening Israel directly, will we permit Israel to attack Iran? Or perhaps do it ourselves, as a means of removing what threatens so many countries at so many levels? No, clearly not.
Mr. Shapiro does allow for defense, however, mentioning Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and U.S. aid for it several times, and mentions David’s Sling, the Patriot Air and Missile Defense System upgrade and early warning radars. 
All are good and useful and all after the fact of an attack against Israel.
All of this leaves us very, very flat. The administration, in the person of Mr. Shapiro, seems to understand that the military threat to Israel is real and needs redress. But its emphasis on the requirement that Israel “take tough decisions” to make peace implies that Israel has the key to peace, not its enemies. That Israel has to do something different. That if Israel doesn’t take the decisions the administration thinks it should, the American commitment to provide technology and money for Israel’s defense – because offense to get rid of its enemies isn’t on the table – could stop.
On the other hand, there was one really, really nice paragraph in Mr. Shapiro’s speech:


Israeli-origin equipment deployed on Iraqi and Afghan battlefields are protecting American troops every day. This includes armor plating technology for U.S. military vehicles and unique medical solutions such as the “Israeli bandage” – a specially designed antibiotic-treated dressing that has been used widely by our men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also includes sensors, surveillance equipment, unmanned aerial vehicle technology, and detection devices to seek out IED’s. Many such partnerships and investments between our two governments and U.S. and Israeli defense firms have yielded important groundbreaking innovations that ultimately make us all safer.

Yes, Mr. Shapiro, Israel’s hard-won expertise in warfare makes Americans on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan safer. American and Israeli troops are grateful for the partnership between the American and Israeli military and defense establishments that works to protect them – and as Americans and as JINSA, so are we.


Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

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