Money, Politics and Israel's Defense
Early Wednesday, the IDF intercepted a shipment of Syrian-made M-302 rockets with a range of up to 200 kilometers (125 miles). The missiles, which apparently went through Iraqi airspace to Iran and then by ship to the Red Sea, were likely headed to Sudan. From there, they would have gone by truck through the (mostly unguarded) Sinai to Gaza, from which they would have been capable of reaching nearly all of Israel.
That makes this a very bad day for the annual "Obama slashes Israeli missile defense programs and Congress puts the money back" dance. For years, the Obama Administration has sent a budget to Capitol Hill that included steep reductions in prior year spending for cooperative U.S.-Israel missile defense programs. Congress complains loudly then puts in the money it believes the programs merit. With the release of the budget figures two years ago, Defense News noted:
Although the bipartisan effort in Congress keeps the money at a relatively even level, this is a terrible way for the Obama Administration to do business:
And perhaps most important:
The President told reporter Jeffrey Goldberg in a widely disseminated interview:
It might seem ungracious to point out that the highest echelon of Israel's defense and political establishment reject the fundamental American premise: that a multinational force, rather than the IDF, in the Jordan Valley will protect Israel. Furthermore, the plan is time-defined. With the disintegration of state boundaries around Israel and the rise of ungoverned or under-governed spaces that spawn jihadist groups of varying allegiance, size, and lethality, what happens when the end point is reached but the threats remain either within the West Bank or beyond?
The President was not unmindful of the larger problems:
Does the president really believe that Hamas, the Palestinian franchise of the Muslim Brotherhood – supported, oddly, by Iran – would throw in the revolutionary towel if Israel makes a deal with Mahmoud Abbas for the West Bank? "Oh, okay," Ismail Haniyah, Hamas's boss in Gaza might say, "Abbas got a rump state for which he had to pay with a fixed Israeli border, no right of return and recognition of Israel as a Jewish State (Kerry parameters). I guess there's nothing for us to do but give up our Charter, our arms, and plans for the elimination of the Zionist entity, not to mention Fatah, and do the same. Never mind the Brotherhood, and never mind Iran."
What worries Hamas in Gaza is the elimination of its sources of weapons supply; the possibility that Egypt will enforce the closure of the smuggling tunnels from Sinai; Israel's ability to intercept weapons shipments (not all, not all the time, but a lot of them); and the fact that Israel's entire defense calculus shifted the moment Iron Dome proved its worth. Israel no longer has to respond to every hostile act by Hamas. It takes the hair-trigger off the situation when the Israeli government can tell the public, "We can defend you from rockets; we ARE defending you; and we will determine how best to do that."
What is true for Gaza is true for Syria, Lebanon, and even for Iran. It should be a high priority for the Administration to ensure that Israel does not feel the need to engage in hostilities with the neighbors based on the agitation of an anxious populace. Missile defense buys time through reassurance for sound strategic reasoning, and the Administration should appreciate – and fund – that.
Even The Washington Post has come to understand that the President's management of foreign policy is,
As long as that is true in Iran, Syria, Russia, Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon, Israel will have to rely on its military and intelligence capabilities to defend its people.
President Obama has a well-known bias against missile defenses – our own and everyone else's. So perhaps the President is just having and eating his cake: while he knows Congress will change it, HIS budget doesn't support missile defense. While it is a poor choice on the part of the Administration to game that money, the so-far stalwart support of a Congress that understands that both Israel's security and our own require missiles defense is welcome.
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