Securing Israel Secures America

As the post-election administration turns to Middle East policy, and as Palestinians threaten to bypass negotiations and beseech the United Nations to create their state, it is imperative that the United States change course and recognize that a strong Israel means a secure America. For Israel is on the front line of our fight against terrorism. Many of us have long understood that. But for years, Israel fought terrorism, and the world regarded it as Israel's problem. Unfortunately, it took 9/11 for many to realize that it is our problem, too. So, of course, Israel has a right to defend itself. But it is not enough to say that.

We need to remember that when Israel defends itself, it is defending us. For terrorism is worldwide, and when Israel acts against terrorists, it sends signals to terrorists across the Middle East and around the globe. And when we limit Israel and simultaneously coddle dictators like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar al-Assad, that also sends signals to terrorists -- that we are weak and vulnerable.   

But President Obama does not believe this. The administration's Middle East policy contends that if you settle the Israel-Palestinian dispute, you solve all the problems in the Middle East. Even if this approach fails, proponents of this policy argue, you at least remove the Arabs' excuse for not making peace with Israel. But Israel and we cannot afford to take chances on a failed policy. In pursuing its approach, the administration continually confronts only Israel and calls upon Israel to make concessions that jeopardize its security and sovereignty.

This administration continually sacrifices Israel on the altar of international consensus. In his Cairo speech to the Muslim world, Obama equated Jewish suffering in the Holocaust to Palestinian suffering under Israeli "occupation" and called for stopping settlements. In his 2009 U.N. speech, Obama denounced Israel's settlements as "illegitimate" and called Israel's presence in the West Bank and, notably, in eastern Jerusalem an "occupation." And the administration endorsed a resolution of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference that singled out Israel to relinquish nuclear weapons. These pronouncements and policies endanger Israel and ultimately endanger us.

During the Gaza flotilla affair this past spring, the U.S. response should have been that not only does Israel have every right to defend itself, but it also has the right to take preemptive action to ensure its security and obtain the release of the Hamas-held hostage, Gilad Shalit. Instead, the president and Secretary of State Clinton called upon Israel to ease the blockade and accepted resolutions in the U.N. Security Council and U.N. Human Rights Council condemning Israel for violence. We should have vetoed the Security Council resolution and withdrawn from the so-called Human Rights Council. In the first place, we should not have entered this body, which deems Libya worthy of membership and continually condemns Israel while ignoring real atrocities around the world.

And when Israel sought to build in its own capital in March of this year, Obama and Clinton called upon Israel to stop and humiliated Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House. Emboldened Palestinians took to the streets, and there was almost a third intifada. Time and again -- in Sinai, in Gaza -- Israel has sacrificed for peace. Settlements have never been an obstacle. If the Palestinians truly wanted a state, they would have one by now. As in the past, today, the Palestinians' stand on settlements and Israel building in Jerusalem is just an excuse for not proceeding with negotiations. And the administration's confronting Israel for merely letting a settlement moratorium lapse, while overlooking the violence the Palestinians perpetrated on Israeli civilians at the start of the talks, only encourages Palestinian intransigence.

If negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians go forward, we should support Prime Minister Netanyahu's requirements for a two-state solution. He calls for a secure Israel. He wants recognition for Israel as a Jewish state. This means that any right of return for Palestinian refugees will be to a Palestinian state, not to Israel. There is to be a two-state solution, not one and a half for the Palestinians and half for Israel. And the Palestinian state must be demilitarized. These are not preconditions; they are parameters for peace.

We must eschew linkage. Israel's actions against terrorists and its just demands ensuring its existence as a secure Jewish state do not impede America's efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq or detract from the effort to prevent a nuclear Iran. Precisely the opposite is true. This administration's dancing with dictators and dithering with regard to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran affect our security and that of Israel and the rest of the Middle East.

When the United States does not stand strong with its ally, the democratic state of Israel, it erodes the efforts of the United States and Israel vis-à-vis Iran. It emboldens the Iranian proxy Hezbollah and Hamas, reduces the threat of an Israeli or U.S. strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, and discourages the opposition movement in Iran.

Further, this administration's policy of "engaging" the Iranian dictator has wasted precious time and has jeopardized us and Israel in a way that belated sanctions are unlikely to counter. Now, possible retaliation from a weapons-reinforced Hezbollah on Israel's northern border complicates and undermines an Israeli or U.S. threat to strike Iran. It is time to stop Iran from playing games with the international community. We should issue an ultimatum, setting a firm deadline for stopping uranium enrichment. If Iran does not cease enrichment activities by that date, we should use military action to take out the nuclear sites.

If there is any linkage, it is that if we cut and run from Iraq and Afghanistan, the latter the spawning ground of the 9/11 terrorist attackers, it will embolden the terrorists of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran against Israel and against us at home and abroad. Therefore, we must be committed to staying the course and doing whatever it takes to ensure the area does not again become a terrorist training camp. This means not second-guessing forces in the field and not imposing Rules of Engagement so restrictive that fighters fear facing a murder charge if they pull the trigger.

Most importantly, this means staying for as long as it takes to win. It is not prudent to tell your enemies a date and time when you will be withdrawing, as President Obama has done in Afghanistan. This limits Gen. David Petraeus in prosecuting the war and endangers our fighters. 

We need a policy that promotes the forces of good in the Middle East, that supports democracy -- Israel, the opposition in Iran, forces for democracy in Lebanon, and also Turkey -- as we were doing before this administration took office. We had dictators on the run. Ahmadinejad was not embraced. Syria's Assad was isolated, suspected of involvement in the assassination of Rafik Hariri, former prime minister of Lebanon and father of the current prime minister, and facing possible charges by a U.N. investigating committee.

But all that changed with the Obama administration. Demanding nothing in return, the United States renewed diplomatic relations with Syria in the naïve hope that it could wean Syria away from Iran. At the same time, the United States engaged with Iran, enhancing Iran's stature without at all retarding its nuclear development. As a result, the two dictators have become even closer, exchanging visits to each other's countries. Assad was welcomed to Lebanon, Ahmadinejad recently ended a visit to Lebanon, and Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon reportedly has received weapons, including SCUD missiles, from Syria. We need to reverse this policy and renew efforts to encourage the democratic forces within Lebanon, Syria and Iran. Israel's security, our security, and the security of the entire Middle East depend on it.

To bolster democratic forces in the Middle East, the United States needs to get Turkey back on track. The United States has tremendous influence with Turkey and can make it clear that Turkey is playing with fire when it gets involved with Hamas and Hezbollah. We can support Turkey in its sought-after role as a Middle East power and player but point out that it would be foolish for Turkey to choose the Israel-Palestinian issue on which to do so. Rather, Turkey has a more productive role to play. It would do better to follow the vision of its former president, Turgut Ozal, and use its influence to help the governments of the wider region, including those of the former Soviet Union, to adopt the Turkish model of democracy and moderate Islam.

While there is no linkage, our actions and policies have consequences that are interconnected, from Afghanistan and Iran to Gaza and Israel. We need to fashion a comprehensive policy and be steadfast in ensuring the security of our country and our allies.

Drezon-Tepler is a writer specializing in the Middle East and heads Language Masters, a global writing, editing, and public relations firm. E-mail or visit
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