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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Iron Dome woes, and Yair Lapid in la-la land – opinion

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Israel should be deeply concerned by the victory that was achieved on Tuesday by the progressive wing of the US House of Representatives. Rather than making excuses for the removal of a $1 billion provision for Israel’s Iron Dome defense system from a major funding bill, Jerusalem would do well to grasp the significance of the goings-on behind the scenes in Washington.

Unfortunately, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s response indicates that the new Israeli government is still clinging to a dangerous fantasy with two related prongs. One is that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to blame for the “rift” created between the Democratic Party and the Jewish state. The other is that the administration of President Joe Biden is just as pro-Israel, if not more, than its predecessor, headed by Donald Trump.

The irony is inescapable.

In the first place, if anything proves that Bibi isn’t to blame for the radicalization of the American Left and its increasingly open hostility to Israel, it’s the move against the Iron Dome. The maneuver was clearly spearheaded by the so-called Squad, made up of core members Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, and joined by Jamaa Bowman and Cori Bush.

Thus far, these paragons of progressive virtue have been mum about their role in the Iron Dome issue, but they have been clear from the outset about their agenda in general and their attitude toward Israel in particular. Nor have they hidden their view of Biden as a puppet put in place initially to oust Trump, and then to sit back and not get in their way. This week, they showed that they meant business.

The US Capitol building, which contains the House of Representatives and the Senate. (credit: PIXABAY)

Secondly, Biden’s supposedly stellar record on Israel is irrelevant. He thinks that a Palestinian state is crucial for Mideast peace, and continues to push for a return to the nuclear deal with Iran.

That the anti-Netanyahu crowd in Israel was buoyed by the US president’s meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the White House last month is equally beside the point. The little get-together was briefly postponed due to the slaughter of 13 US servicemen and dozens of Afghans in Kabul – thanks to Biden’s hasty retreat and the Taliban’s immediate takeover.

With that debacle in the background, his pledge of “unwavering commitment to Israel’s security,” including “full support [for] replenishing Israel’s Iron Dome system,” rang as hollow as his vow to “ensure Iran never develops a nuclear weapon.”

What really reverberated, however, was the caveat that “we’re putting diplomacy first and seeing where that takes us.”

Never mind that we’ve already seen where it’s taken us: to the fast-nuclearizing Islamic Republic whose motto is “death to America, death to Israel.”

Though The Squad doesn’t use those exact terms, it’s bent on destroying America as we know it, and considers Israel illegitimate, so much so that even defending itself against Hamas rockets is a sign of its “unfair” advantage over the terrorist organization that rules the Gaza Strip.

Indeed, during Operation Guardian of the Walls in May, Omar tweeted: “Israeli airstrikes killing civilians in Gaza is an act of terrorism. Palestinians deserve protection. Unlike Israel, missile defense programs, such as Iron Dome, don’t exist to protect Palestinian civilians. It’s unconscionable to not condemn these attacks on the week of Eid.”

She purposely omitted that the 11-day war was the result of Hamas aggression against Israeli civilians; that Hamas uses the populace in Gaza as human shields; that many Palestinians were killed by misfired Hamas and Islamic Jihad projectiles; and that had there been no Iron Dome, mass Israeli casualties would have forced a far greater military response than the current precision bombing of terrorists and their infrastructure, preceded by warnings to innocent people to evacuate targeted areas.

Tlaib, too, voiced her fierce opposition not only to the operation, but to Biden’s “one-sided” approach to it. In an interview with MSNBC on May 18, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants to Detroit said that members of his administration only speak up on human rights “when they talk about Israeli citizens that are of a certain faith.”

Instead of arousing Biden’s outrage, her antisemitic accusation elicited pandering on his part.

“I tell you what, Rashida… I admire your intellect; I admire your compassion; and I admire your concern for so many other people,” he said the following day at the Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Michigan, near Tlaib’s congressional district. “And it’s from my heart; I pray that your grandmom [who lives in the Palestinian Authority village of Beit Ur al-Fauqa] and family are well. I promise you, I’m going to do everything to see that they are, on the West Bank. You’re a fighter, and God thank you for being a fighter.”

The only excuse for these ridiculous remarks is that Biden doesn’t know what his positions are anymore, or doesn’t care that his party is being shaped in the image of The Squad, with little resistance from the “old school” Democrats. Anyone who imagines that this is in any way related to the identity of one Israeli leader or another is living in la-la land.

WHICH BRINGS us back to Lapid, who — along with the rest of the current Israeli cabinet — seems to fit that description to a tee.

Following The Squad’s triumph – which apologists are calling “simply symbolic” – he took to social media to express his satisfaction.

“I spoke tonight with House of Representatives Majority Leader Steny Hoyer about American aid for the Iron Dome system,” he tweeted. “The conversation revealed that this was a technical postponement resulting from the debate in Congress over the ceiling of the US budget deficit. I thanked [him] for his commitment and emphasized the need to approve the request as soon as possible, to ensure Israel’s security needs.”

Accepting Hoyer’s assertion that the disaster was “technical” in nature might be par for the course for Israel’s top diplomat, particularly the one slated to replace Bennett as premier in August 2023. 

But Lapid couldn’t stop there. No. He felt compelled to add: “After years during which the previous [Israeli] government neglected [the US] Congress and the Democratic Party, and caused considerable damage to Israel-US relations, today we are rebuilding a relationship of trust with [them]. I thank the administration and the Congress for their firm commitment to Israel’s security.”

That he actually believes this bodes ill. Fantasy aside, it’s Republicans who are overwhelmingly in Israel’s corner, not the liberal Democrats who are intimidated by the radicals — even if money for the Iron Dome materializes, as was hinted by Hoyer.

Bennett used to know this and probably still does, deep down. But his desire to keep intact the coalition he heads requires a combination of self-delusion and ideological acrobatics.

Sadly, it’s the only skill he appears to have honed since assuming office. How appropriate that he celebrated his first 100 days at the helm on Tuesday, hours before The Squad’s success against Israel’s need to shield itself from enemy missiles. No wonder he let Lapid do all the tweeting about the latter.

Lapid also posted about the former, declaring that the government “has already changed the country. We kept our word. We restored normalcy.”

This statement is merely amusing. His subsequent blather, on the other hand, is disconcerting.

“I want to warn my friends from all the parties of the coalition precisely against arguments in which you are right,” he tweeted. “If you are right, but weaken the government, the coalition [and] the unity among us, what good will [it] have done?”

He went on: “If something isn’t to your liking, we’ll work on it together, quietly. We’ll reach agreements between Left and Right. This is the Center’s expertise… Compromise isn’t a dirty word; it’s the basis of living together… Arguments only gratify those who want to see us fail.”

Such an attitude is disconnected from reality. There are certain issues on which no compromises can or should be made, regardless of whether the debate surrounding them leads to the fall of the government.

We Israelis don’t want our ministers to “work quietly” on matters of life and death. We demand to know exactly what’s transpiring behind closed coalition doors, so as not to be lulled into a false sense of security.

Hopefully, the US will replenish funding for the Iron Dome. But the fact that it’s even a question makes Lapid’s comments since Tuesday all the more worrisome.


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