By Avi Benayahu
The Israelis, time after time, examine and judge the United States in Hebrew instead of American – totally ignoring the differences in culture, character and conduct.
Translated by Viktoria Lymar
Edited by Steven Stenzler
7 September 2013
President Barack Obama isn’t stuttering. This is just the complex and different conduct of a world power knowing that an operation in Syria would be a first step in a crisis vs. the Islamic Republic. Avi Benayahu on the American tardiness.
1. The Americans have their own ways to explain, to say and to hint. When speaking of Washington, the political correctness comes into focus even more. For the average Israeli, it’s hard to understand the culture, the language and the subtle nuances. So for example, no one in the entourage of former Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi got a clue of the insistence of the Pentagon hosts to include in the tight schedule of the 2010 visit a three-hour tour of the Walter Reed military hospital in a small town outside Washington.
This special visit took nearly three hours. Wards, modern treatment rooms, physiotherapy equipment, therapeutic pools, doctors and nurses, and mainly – young Americans, the Marines and Air Force, with amputated arms and legs, with fractures in the back or burnt faces. Walter Reed is the new and magnificent military medical center treating soldiers injured in overseas operations. Most injuries were due to roadside bombs or remote fire in Iraq and Afghanistan. The amputee soldiers straightened up and saluted to the Israeli Chief of Staff, and told about the circumstances of the injury that had changed their lives.
We Israelis grew silent and realized the heavy price paid by the American nation for its involvement in global conflicts. It was a special and indirect American way to explain to the Israeli chief of staff – and through him, to the Israeli government – that the U.S. has no desire to go into more wars in the Middle East, neither in Iran nor anywhere else.
This week, I was reminded of this visit against the background of what was taken in Israel as “stuttering” or “hesitancy” of the President Barack Obama with respect to the attack on Syria. Well, no hesitancy and no stuttering, but rather – complex American conduct, unwieldy, democratic, feeling the murmurings of the public that has had enough letting of American blood on the altar of the Middle East (by the way, if I wrote the speech, I wouldn’t undertake not to be dragged into a ground operation).
The Israelis, time after time, examine and judge the U.S. in Hebrew instead of American – totally ignoring the differences in culture, character and conduct. Obama knows full well that he pledged to take measures against Syria if it makes use of chemical weapons. At the moment, he must maintain the “red line” and respond. How is he going to do it? When he’s going to do it? To launch from where? Where to? What kind of consent does he want to have in order to carry this out? With which partners? To all of these questions, the President needs to answer to himself and to the American people, even if Israel feels a bit disappointed.
As a superpower, the U.S. can behave and act like a superpower. It is the “neighborhood bully,” and it is the only one to decide when and how to take action. In 1991, when the Americans finished concentrating forces in the Gulf for months, to attack Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, General Michael Dugan, spoke out inappropriately and was dismissed by the President and Defense Secretary. Israel and the IDF didn’t get it – how an Air Force Commander was being dismissed such a short time before a huge strategic attack. Also then, as now, they speak and act American – while we perceive, understand and judge in Hebrew.
Obama seeks Congressional approval to create a broad national consensus – whereas the Israelis find it difficult to accept this internal American matter, and choose to take offense and ridicule. And overall, once it was customary in Israel to use the smart formula: ‘Israel will respond where and when it sees fit.’ What’s wrong with that?
2. When the Americans do act in Syria, it’ll be a proportionate, limited and precise punitive action, in order to make Bashar Assad pay and maintain that “red line.” The Americans will aim for a quality action that would correspond to the context and extent of the chemical weapons use, without being seen as intervening in the internal struggle.
But what? When it’s done, the Americans are about to find in the tribunes the Iranians and Hezbollah on the one side – and Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey on the other. Or then, it would turn out that the broad American consensus, the cohesion of the nation, the coalition with other Western countries, the budgets released by Congress are to be more important than a Tomahawk or two.
The Americans understand that Syria may be “foreplay” for the main event vis-à-vis Iran. The preparations are important. There is no room for rush. Political acumen, statesmanship wisdom, strategic purpose and restraint are a power – and not a weakness.
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The larger Hebrew article:
Photo credit: FoxNews.com,
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center website
The author, Brig. Gen. Avraham “Avi” Benayahu is a former Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson.