By RON BEN-YISHAI, YNET—
The American policy toward the Middle East has been moving in the past few months from failure to failure, and mainly from helplessness to embarrassing mistakes. The inability of the Obama administration to produce worthy responses to the developments is angering not only the supporters of the US in the region, but also the political establishment and media in American itself.
Even media outlets that are considered to be traditional supporters of the president, such as the New York Times, have leveled harsh criticism over the lack of policy and mainly the failed conduct vis-à-vis Syria. But this isn’t all. The efforts invested by Secretary of State John Kerry in an attempt to bring Netanyahu and Abbas to the negotiation table have been dubbed “obsessive” and “pathetic.” Meanwhile in Egypt, Defense Minister al-Sisi is furious with the Americans over what he claims is their continued support of deposed president Morsi.
The Obama administration, at least in the beginning, capitulated to various human rights groups until it realized that supporting Morsi goes against American interests in the region, goes against the interests of the Sunni Arab states, particularly in the Gulf, and is also unjustifiable because the Egyptian army does not want to rule the country, even if this power is served to it on a silver platter. Al-Sisi wants to remain behind the scenes rather than become a new pharaoh.
Those who helped the Obama administration realize this were senior Israeli officials, including National Security Advisor Ya’akov Amidror and Defense Minister Ya’alon, who discussed the matter with his American counterpart Hagel.
Another indication of the confusion in Washington is the leaks by anonymous sources in the Pentagon regarding the operations in Syria allegedly carried out by the IDF. In May they leaked to CNN’s military correspondent that the Israeli Air Force attacked Iranian missiles near Damascus, and this past weekend the same correspondent reported – and later other news outlets – reported that Israel struck from the air Russian-made land-to-sea Yakhont missiles that were stored northeast of the Syrian port city of Latakia.
In May senior American officials apologized and promised that the leaks would stop. Israel made it clear to the Americans at the time that the reports may force Assad to launch devastating missile attacks on northern Israel so as not to be perceived as a collaborator and lose what’s left of his credibility as an Arab ruler. Then came the most recent leak, which shocked the Israeli leadership.
Once again the question was asked: Why did the leak come from the same Pentagon officials? The answer is not encouraging. The reason Pentagon officials were behind the current and past leaks is most likely political – part of an internal dispute within the Pentagon: Should the US act militarily to end the massacre in Syria? Can it? Or should it avoid a military operation and also ignore the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces, despite Obama’s threats?
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey claimed the US Military would need 700 sorties to neutralize Syria’s anti-aircraft force and secure a no-fly zone. This was how the US and its allies came out on top in past conflicts in Iraq, Kosovo and Libya. But America does not want another war after it has already withdrawn from Iraq and is trying to leave Afghanistan by the skin of its teeth. This is why senior government officials are using various excuses provided by the generals in the Pentagon in order to avoid military intervention in Syria.
The leaks, which point to Israeli successes in Syria, expose the emptiness of the Obama administration’s excuses. Therefore, some people estimate the leaks are actually meant to embarrass the administration and come from those who are in favor of Western military intervention in Syria and from Republicans looking to attack the Obama administration any chance they get.
The Israeli political established is fuming, because the internal disputes within the US are putting Israel’s citizens in a truly dangerous situation. The leaks are reducing Assad’s so-called “room for denial.” The Syrian president is really not interested in getting involved in a conflict with Israel at this juncture.
Without addressing the question of whether Israel was behind the destruction of the Yakhont missiles, it is clear that the leak from Washington may push Assad into a corner and force him to respond in a way that will hurt and endanger Israel.
American officials, in the heat of the domestic argument, are pitting Israel and Syria against each other. This is not a legitimate move by our closet ally and patron. After all, it is Israel that will suffer from the missile attacks, not the US.
This is not the only damage caused to Israel and other countries by the US’ befuddlement and careless conduct. But everyone has to keep quiet because we have no other superpower that supports us.