August is supposed to be a quiet month, yet it seldom is, as underscored by the title of Barbara Tuchman’s classic book on the outbreak of World War I: “The Guns of August.” On a diplomatic level, the past several months have been full of activity and new developments. The Gaza “flotilla”, Iran sanctions, Israeli-Palestinian “proximity talks”, and last month’s nearly simultaneous attacks on Israel from Gaza, Sinai, and Lebanon. On a substantive level, ironically, the situation in the region is trending forward.
Prime Minister Netanyahu was in Washington a couple of weeks ago to launch direct talks with President Obama, Mahmoud Abbas, and Arab leaders, and he has just been meeting with Abbas and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Egypt. Our prayers are with him and the citizens of Israel. But prayers alone cannot bring peace and security.
Recent developments give reason for concern:
Last month, Israel was the target of unprovoked attacks on three fronts – Gaza, Eilat, and the Lebanon border. In the northern attack, Hezbollah loyalists within the Lebanese Army used snipers to spontaneously target commanding officers of the Israeli forces.
The near collapse of Turkish-Israeli relations earlier this year culminated in the flotilla of ships carrying mostly Turkish activists intent on running Israel’s blockade of Gaza or at least causing a violent confrontation; that they did, and Turkish leaders and other groups around the world escalated their rhetoric and boycotts against Israel.
Iran’s confrontational approach to Israel and the West, combined with the continued repression of democratic and opposition forces at home, renders its nuclear program that much more dangerous to the region. And the dangers are frighteningly real, make no mistake: Iran is poised to dominate the Gulf region through nuclear extortion as well as terror, and its potential for exporting weapons of mass destruction reaches Latin America, where its agents murdered over 100 Israelis and Argentines in the two Buenos Aires bombings of 1992 and 1994. In its own backyard, Israel still faces Iranian-backed terrorist armies in Lebanon and Gaza, as well as terror cells in the West Bank.
With Iraq and Afghanistan still hanging in the balance, it would be wishful to say the Middle East is turning a corner.
We can ill afford the luxury of sitting back and pretending the world is safe for Israel and Jews. But nor can we afford the luxury of sitting back and complaining, without trying to impact positively wherever possible. Positive, incremental developments are important, especially those not measured in battlefield victories or propaganda impact.
The American Council has not been waiting for the world to become a safer, friendlier place.
The melée during the Turkish-backed “Peace Flotilla” – premeditated by terrorist organizers – could have delayed or even doomed the UN Security Council’s vote on Iran sanctions, yet several days later the Security Council adopted the new sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program, with 12 out of 15 member states – including three African nations – voting in favor.
The American Council spoke out when the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – a special friend of the United States – called Gaza a prison camp and blamed Israel entirely for the flotilla violence.
The Security Council vote did not succeed by accident – among other factors, direct engagement by the American Council helped turn African leadership from opposition to support. While many in the Jewish community and even the U.S. Government still take Africa for granted, we have helped leaders in the region build new ties to Israel and the United States.
Six months ago, there was palpable concern that Arab League consent to U.S.-mediated proximity talks was just a stall tactic to build support for a unilateral declaration of statehood. For now, Israel and the Palestinians have resumed direct, face-to-face negotiations under U.S. sponsorship – a priority of Prime Minister Netanyahu.
The American Council used its access and credibility in Washington and Jerusalem to help facilitate closer cooperation and better “atmospherics” between U.S. and Israeli leaders.
Our initiative on Palestinian economic development has continued, meeting in Washington and New York with leading Members of Congress, along with experts and opinion-shapers, to develop concrete proposals that stabilize the Palestinian economy – a priority for both the Israeli and U.S. governments.
The ambassador of United Arab Emirates to the United States used a semi-public forum to openly acknowledge what so many Gulf officials commonly say in private – that an Israeli strike on Iranian facilities is preferable to facing a nuclear Iran.
The American Council has ongoing dialogue with the leadership of UAE and other Arab states, constantly encouraging steps to recognize and engage Israel as a regional presence.
Israel and Libya worked out a deal to release a young Israeli arrested while photographing old Jewish buildings for ethnographic research – in exchange for Israel allowing delivery of a Libyan aid shipment to Gaza.
The American Council maintains a unique channel to the Libyan leadership, based on complete candor. Our visits to North Korea – lobbying the regime to stop supplying Iran and Syria with nuclear technology, materials, and missile systems – are based upon a similar premise: Can we afford to ignore enemies if the military option carries its own painfully high costs for American and Israeli interests and lives?
As the American Council engages with the U.S. and other governments on combating anti-Semitism, we are continuing our outreach to Jewish communities around the world. We coordinate with community leaders from London to Venezuela. We recently signed a cooperation agreement with America’s leading umbrella of Russian Jewish organizations, and we will soon visit the former Soviet Union to formalize partnerships with national Jewish organizations.
Next week, nearly 140 heads of state and prime ministers – and nearly every foreign minister on the planet – will converge on New York for the annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly. Earlier this week, we convened a dinner conversation with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who personifies one-quarter of the Mideast Quartet that will have to guarantee any Israeli-Palestinian deal. Joining us was a select group of community leaders, opinion-shapers and Congressional leaders – reflecting our interest not just to represent Jewish concerns but also to facilitate progress on a range of interests.
The American Council has excellent access at the UN, and in Washington and other capitals. But access and credibility are not accumulated by those who only look out for themselves. If we can facilitate better understanding between Secretary-General Ban and our friends on Capitol Hill, and help each of them convey their messages in the clearest way, the Council is doing its job. And at every step, we are able to leverage these relationships for the particular interests of Jews and Americans as well.
The days before Yom Kippur are not a good time to brag… But hopefully this brief update begins to demonstrate just some of the recent accomplishments achieved through our disciplined, results-oriented focus on diplomatic outreach, and the exciting potential going forward.
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We wish you and all your family a joyous and healthy New Year – Shanah Tova!
Jack Rosen Shai Franklin
Chairman Policy Director