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Adam Bronstone

 
Imagine, Worry and Be Strong -Reflections on Yom Ha'atzmaut

by Adam Bronstone, May 12, 2011

As my tour guide in Jerusalem when I was 17 used to say to all of us – ‘just imagine’. Imagine you are the new Chief of Staff for the IDF – this is a position that is the cherry on top of the sundae for you; the crowning achievement in a long line of military awards that says to you that you are the best of the best in the IDF. You have dedicated your life to your country and the military, and now you are the guy in charge of defending this country you love, now celebrating its 63rd of existence. This should be a happy moment, and it would have been about five months ago!
 
Imagine the map of the Middle and Near East about five months ago – peace treaties with two very stable ‘allies’ in Egypt and Jordan, a very friendly and historically sound relationship with Turkey, some bothersome neighbors to the north and north-east in Lebanon and Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah to the north and east of you, Iran in the near eastern part of the world, telling people that it is dedicated to wiping Israel off the face of the earth. Some months ago, this was not the worst map you could find if you had inherited THAT map. You know that as bothersome as Hamas and Hezbollah are, they do not represent existential threats to the very existence of the State of Israel. They are a concern, and do pose a threat, but neither will ever be able to, conventionally, defeat Israel. Syria, while a conduit of arms from Iran to many other places, is not likely to start something with Israel that it knows that it can never finish, and the Saudis are too interested in making money and distributing oil.  This leaves a map where the largest problem is that of Iran and its intent to develop a nuclear weapon. And while you might disagree with how Iran is being handled by the ‘West’, at least you know that there are politicians in countries other than Israel that treat this as a serious threat to not only Israel, but to Western interests.
 
And, then, suddenly, the Arab world went and is still going through a series of convulsions! First, Turkey decided that its future no longer lay in making friends with Europe, and started looking more and more like an Arab/Islamic state, by vocally supporting the Palestinians and incidents such as the flotilla. And then, the Arab Spring showed up, for good, and bad! Our long-time ally President Mubarak is kicked out of office, followed by rallies across most of the Arab Middle East, along with Yemen (another ally of the United States), and the somewhat stable Middle East became a whole lot more unstable in a very short period of time.
 
And the ‘West’ begins to react in a curious manner – it eventually backs the call for Mubarak to leave, after supporting him, initiates a NATO-led ‘something’ against Qaddafi in Libya (who at the time of writing this piece has still not left office), has pretty much not said anything about the demonstrations and killings in Syria (300 and counting), and did manage to finally find and kill Osama bin Laden, who was hanging out at his small palace inside Pakistan (a true friend and ally of the West). And, at the end of all of this, I am not sure anyone can tell you what is in the mind of President Obama in terms of a ‘vision thing’ for the foreign policy of the United States.
 
Now, it must be stated that the United States is forever caught between an interesting rock and a hard place. It has been, for most of its existence, a world power, if not super-power. For this reasons, the United States has often spoken about idealism, but acted in a ‘realistic’ manner when it came to foreign policy – accentuating stability over values. However, there has always been a values streak in US foreign policy because it is the most success revolutionary power in the history of the world, when it broke free from British rule some 250 years ago. And peoples across the world look to this aspect of US history as a beacon of hope (the student standing in Tiananmen Square in 1989 with the small Statue of Liberty is maybe one of the most famous examples of this) for those governed by oppressive regimes. And at times, the US has played this card, from Woodrow Wilson’s idea to create a League of Nations to Jimmy Carter’s attempt to de-Sovietize foreign policy. But, a funny thing almost always happens along the way to idealism – war, or something like it, tends to break-out, thus putting an end to such experiments.
 
And in the middle of all of this is President Obama. Calling for the resignation of Mubarak and militarily attempting to oust Kaddafi are all part of his attempt to not be George W. Bush and restore some degree of shine to the perception of the United States around the world, and in particular, the Arab Middle East. But then, to be mute about Syria and to praise Assad as a ‘reformer’ seems to fly in the face of both of the other earlier positions. It would appear obvious that the President should support the demonstrators, regardless of what might come next (since we do not know that answer in Egypt), because we know that Syria, through Assad, has been a linchpin of assistance to Iran for a number of years.
 
All we appear to know at this moment in time is that President Obama’s first year in office has been marked by a series of inconsistent policy directions and statements, that only serve to leave both friend and foe alike scratching their heads, muttering to themselves and wondering ‘what is next’ in US foreign policy.
 
And now, if you are the newly-minted IDF Chief of Staff, and your country is celebrating 63 years of existence – population is up; the economy is booming; tourism is sky-high and the beaches are full – but you are faced with a situation like one you have not witnessed in years (decades, actually), and your strongest ally is not consistent in its approach, you must be sitting in your office, staring at a map of the world, and saying to yourself two important and thoughtful words about this entirely new, unstable, unpredictable and worrying situation – ‘just imagine’!
 
No, I have no great insight into the mind of President Obama with respect to his support (or lack thereof) of the Syrian protests as compared to those in Egypt, Yemen and in other Arab Middle East countries. Aside from cautious optimism, we also do not yet know how the US will fully react to the apparent coming together of Hamas and PLO to form a unity government. These days, there appears to be no roadmap, so to speak, for what might come out of the US Department of State or the White House, so I cannot offer my reader any words of comfort or a quantum of solace.
 
I can say this (and maybe only this) if I was the new IDF Chief of Staff – the map is scary and the future is unknown, but my country is strong and resilient, with a population of determined people to not only survive, but to thrive in what has and continues to be a ‘bad neighborhood’. My country invited cell phone and computer chip technology, and every day is developing new cures for old and seemingly incurable diseases such as cancer. My country is the home of three of the great religions, and Jews from around the world still see Israel as their ‘safe haven’, and we as Israeli Jews (with the help of our Diaspora friends) continue to take them in, absorb them, and make them part of this great melting pot of society with over 100 different ethnic Jewish ‘faces’. I know that this country and people have been around for a long time, and certainly on my watch as the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Force of the State of Israel, is not about to go anywhere!
&n

 
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