Why is the U.S. doing Special Ops exercise with Egypt and Pakistan?
NATO's snub of Israel -- a "major non-NATO ally" and member of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue -- in its Chicago summit this weekend was simply waved away. "Israel is neither a participant in ISAF nor in KFOR (Afghanistan and Kosovo missions)," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Israel didn't belong there, and that's that. In the same press conference, however, Rasmussen acknowledged that thirteen other "partner" nations would attend because "[i]n today's world security challenges know no borders, and no country or alliance can deal with most of them on their own."
Perhaps he, or someone, believes that Israel has nothing to contribute to meeting "today's security challenges."
Pundits quickly assumed that Turkey -- a full NATO member -- had vetoed Israel's participation, as it vetoed IDF participation in NATO exercises in the Mediterranean. Rasmussen denied it -- and maybe he's right, because that's not the only place where Israel is having trouble with its presumed military partners.
The Obama administration claims a special relationship with Israel. The State Department says the "security relationship with Israel is broader, deeper, and more intense than ever before." Assistant Secretary of Sate Andrew Shapiro told a Washington audience, "One of my primary responsibilities is to preserve Israel's Qualitative Military Edge [QME][.]" QME is generally defined as Israel's ability to defeat any likely constellation of conventionally armed adversaries.
The U.S. and Israel were to have combined thousands of soldiers in April for what had been billed as the largest missile defense exercise in Israel's history. The objective was to "create a high level of interoperability so that, if needed, US missile defense systems would be able to work with Israeli systems during a conflict." The exercise was canceled amid conflicting accounts having to do with funding, not wanting to alarm Iran, and "administrative issues."
But while "Austere Challenge" was being back-burnered, the U.S. was moving forward with plans for a Special Operations exercise in Jordan. Special Operations is the cream of the American military -- a joint force, highly trained to do "special" things. Its own website notes that its job is in part to "Deter, Disrupt & Defeat Terrorist Threats" and to "Obtain Persistent Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance Systems." Operating in small groups in hostile environments, Special Operators is known for its speed and lethality.
Counterterrorism operatives and terrorist operatives alike covet their skills because to have the skills goes a long way toward defeating them in others. So with whom are we sharing capabilities, some of which were developed and enhanced in cooperation with Israel?
Operation "Eager Lion 2012" comprises 12,000 soldiers from 19 countries -- including several at war with Israel, and at least two with which the U.S. has serious security problems.
Major General Ken Tovo, head of the U.S. Special Operations Forces, told reporters in Amman, "The message that I want to send through this exercise is that we have developed the right partners throughout the region and across the world ... insuring that we have the ability to ... meet challenges that are coming to our nations."
The "right partners" include Egypt -- with a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government that said the Israel-Egypt peace treaty should be revoked (on its better-behaved days, it just says "considered dead") and whose money Congress tied to improvements in human rights and civil society before Secretary of State Clinton overrode their restrictions. Pakistan is also a "right partner." This would be the Pakistan that has refused to allow NATO to move supplies into Afghanistan for the past six months and hosted Osama bin Laden, and in whose country the U.S. is conducting a drone war in defiance of the Pakistani parliament. Lebanon, where the Cabinet is dominated by Iranian-backed Hezb'allah and which had its military aid from the U.S. suspended after a Lebanese soldier fired into Israel, killing an IDF officer, is a "right partner." So is Bahrain, which is engaged in low-level and brutal suppression of its Shiite population. So is Iraq.
Jordan itself has a peace treaty with Israel, but the country trains Palestinian police (the nascent Palestinian army). What tactics will Jordan share with Palestinians, whose aim is the destruction of Israel? Palestinians used their earlier U.S. training during the 2000-2004 terrorist war against Israel, and U.S. training of Palestinian troops was suspended (temporarily) after the brutal Palestinian civil war of 2007.
The United States needs allies in an increasingly unstable Middle East. Israel is an ally by the capabilities it brings to the relationship and by its democratic values. Certain other countries can be partners as well. But if the U.S. is going to share counterterrorism capabilities with Israel's enemies in pursuit of other objectives, rhetorical support for Israel is insufficient compensation. The United States should not have allowed Israel to be snubbed by NATO, and should have ensured that U.S.-Israel security cooperation was a high and visible priority for our own benefit as well as for Israel's security.
Shoshana Bryen is senior director of The Jewish Policy Center. She was previously senior director for security policy at JINSA and author of JINSA Reports from 1995-2011.