Israelis Are Not Cannon Fodder

In 1991, President George Bush allowed the State Department Arabists to convince him that the only way he could make war on Iraq was to abandon the one democracy in the region and make alliances with the dictatorships, theocracies and sponsors of terror in the Arab world. Even as Scud missiles rained down on the heads of its citizens, Israel was told to sit and take it for the greater good. Now, in the interest of making war on Afghanistan, Israel is being asked to again allow its citizens to die for U.S. interests. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon finally stood up and said this is unacceptable and he is being portrayed as though he declared war on the United States.

Contrary to Palestinian fears that the U.S. would be too preoccupied with its problems to pay any attention to Israel going to war against them, George W. Bush has done the opposite. He has told Israel to sit in the corner, shut up, and make nice to the Palestinians otherwise the Saudis and other Arab states won’t cooperate in the war on Osama bin Laden. Caving in to the pressure, Sharon abandoned all the conditions for negotiations, principal among them, an end to violence, and agreed to a cease-fire.

As has been the case almost from day one of the Oslo process eight years ago, the agreement was one-sided. Israel conceded and the Palestinians took advantage by continuing their attacks. After yet more Israelis were murdered driving in their cars, waiting at bus stops and celebrating the festival of Sukkoth, he finally has said, “Enough is enough,” and told the Americans in the bluntest terms that Israel will not be sacrificed by the West to appease the Arabs in the way that Czechoslovakia was abandoned to the Nazis.

It is a bold and perilous stand to take. It harkens back to 1982 when Sharon was defense minister and then Prime Minister Menachem Begin reacted to America’s suspension of its strategic cooperation agreement with Israel and other punitive measures taken after he applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights. Begin famously asked, “Are we a vassal state of yours? Are we a banana republic? Are we fourteen-year-olds who, if we misbehave, we get our wrists slapped?”

Begin’s remarks caused a furor, and further strained what were already tense relations with Ronald Reagan, but the long-term U.S.-Israel ties were unaffected. Now the stakes are higher. You’ve got a President who is publicly supporting the creation of a Palestinian state and a State Department that is privately trying to use aid and arms and all other leverage America has to force Israel to make peace on the Palestinians’ terms. What is being interpreted as public defiance of the President will undoubtedly wreck any hope for a close personal relationship between Sharon and Bush and tarnish Israel’s image at the very moment it is riding high in American public opinion polls and being viewed as having a common enemy.

From Israel’s perspective, however, the carnage is just too overwhelming. U.S. pressure has kept Sharon from unleashing the full force of Israeli might against the Palestinians, to the dismay of the voters who elected him to put an end to the violence. And the murder continues, day after day, week after week, month after month. Yes, Americans are suddenly being inconvenienced by new security measures, we feel scared and vulnerable, but, unlike the Israelis, we are not under constant attack.

The United States is waging a war in response to the war declared on us, but Israel is not allowed to do the same. It’s unfair, it’s unjust, and it’s unacceptable. Israelis should not have to die to keep Saudi princes, Syrian dictators and Iranian mullahs happy. Sharon spoke for all Israelis who are mad as hell and not willing to take it any more. Now, more than ever, the United States should understand their feelings and support them in the war they are waging against our common enemies — terrorists, religious extremists, and the opponent of freedom and democracy.