February 26, 2010, 1:45 PM
There is something pathetic about what passes as European foreign policy these days. Quite simply, more often than not, the concerted positions of the EU member nations have nothing to do with any of their national interests.
Take the EU's initial response to the killing of Hamas terror-master Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai on January 19. A senior terrorist engaging in the illegal purchase of illicit arms from Iran for Hamas-controlled Gaza is killed in his hotel room. The same Dubai authorities who had no problem with hosting a wanted international terrorist worked themselves into a frenzy condemning his killing. And of course, despite the fact that any number of governments, (Egypt and Jordan come to mind), and rival terrorist organizations, (Fatah, anyone?) had ample reason to wish to see Mabhouh dead, Dubai's police chief Lt.-Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim blamed Israel.
Not only did he blame Israel, to substantiate his claims, Tamim released what he said was video footage of alleged Mossad operatives who entered Dubai with European and Australian passports.
Relying only on Tamim's allegations, EU leaders went into high dudgeon. Ignoring the nature of the operation, the basic lack of credibility of the source of information, and the interests of Europe in defeating jihadist terrorism in the Middle East and worldwide, the chanceries of Europe squawked indignantly and threatened to cut off intelligence cooperation with Israel.
In Britain for instance, Foreign Office sources told the Daily Telegraph, "If the Israelis were responsible for the assassination in Dubai, they are seriously jeopardizing the important intelligence-sharing arrangement that currently exists between Britain and Israel."
It reportedly took the intervention of the highest echelons of Europe's intelligence agencies to get their hysterical politicians and diplomats to stop blaming and threatening Israel. After being dressed down, on Monday, the chastened EU foreign ministers abstained from mentioning Israel by name in their joint condemnation of the alleged use of European passports by the alleged operatives who allegedly killed the terrorist Mabhouh.
And lucky they held their tongues. Because on Tuesday, Tamim claimed that after the hit, at least two of the alleged members of the alleged assassination team departed Dubai for Iran. It's hard to imagine Mossad officers feeling safer in Iran than in Dubai at any time and certainly it is hard to see why they would flee to Iran after killing an Iranian-sponsored terrorist.
What the initial European reaction to Tamim's allegations shows is that blaming Israel has become Europe's default foreign policy. It apparently never occurred to the Europeans that Israel might not be responsible for the hit. And it certainly never occurred to them that cutting off intelligence ties with Israel will harm them more than Israel.
They didn't think of the latter, of course, because Europe has no idea of what its interests are. All it knows is how to sound off authoritatively.
THIS HAS not always been the case. It was after all Europe that brought the world the art of rational statecraft. Once upon a time, Europe's leaders understood that a nation's foreign policy was supposed to be based on its national interests. To advance their nation's interests, governments would adopt certain policies. And to facilitate the success of those policies they developed rhetorical arguments to explain and defend them.
Contemporary European statecraft stands this traditional foreign policy model on its head. Today, rhetoric rules the roost. If actions are taken at all, they are adopted in the service of rhetoric. As for national interests, well, the Lisbon Treaty that effectively bars EU member states from adopting independent foreign policies took care of those.
With national interests subordinated to the whims of bureaucrats in Brussels, Europe does little of value in the international arena. As for its rhetoric, as the EU's rush to threaten Israel for allegedly killing a terrorist shows, it is cowardly, ineffectual and self-defeating.
If the Mossad did in fact kill Mabhouh, then the operation was an instance in which Israel distinguished itself from its European detractors by acting, rather than preening.
Unfortunately, such instances are increasingly the exception rather than the rule. Over the past 16 years or so, Israel largely descended into the European statecraft abyss. Rather than use rhetoric to explain policies adopted to advance its national interests, successive Israeli governments have adopted policies geared toward strengthening their rhetoric that itself stands in opposition to Israel's national interests.
Take Israel's positions on Iran and the Palestinians, for instance. Regarding the Iranians, Israel's national interest is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Today, the only way to secure this interest is to use force to destroy Iran's nuclear installations.
Given Iran's leaders' absolute commitment to developing nuclear weapons, no sanctions - regardless of how "crippling" they are supposed to be - will convince them to curtail their efforts to build and deploy their nuclear arsenal.
Beyond that, and far less important, the Russians and the Chinese will refuse to implement "crippling sanctions," against Iran.
IN LIGHT of these facts, it is distressing that Israel's leaders have made building an international coalition in support of "crippling" sanctions against Iran their chief aim. And this is not merely a rhetorical flourish. Over the past several weeks and months, Israel's top leaders have devoted themselves to lobbying foreign governments to support sanctions against Iran.
Last week Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu went to Moscow to gin up support for sanctions from the Russian government. This week, Defense Minister Ehud Barak traveled to the UN and the State Department and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon flew off to Beijing just to lobby senior officials to support sanctions.
It isn't simply that this behavior doesn't contribute anything to Israel's ability to destroy Iran's nuclear installations. It harms Israel's ability to do so, if only by diverting our leaders' focus from where it should be: preparing the IDF to strike and preparing the country to withstand whatever the aftereffects of such a strike would be. Moreover, by calling for sanctions, Israel contributes to the delusion that sanctions are sufficient to block Iran's race to the nuclear finish line.
As for the Palestinian issue, it is fairly clear that at a minimum, Israel's interest is to secure its control over the areas of Judea and Samaria that it requires to protect its Jewish heritage and its national security. But it is hard to think of anything the government has done in its year in office to advance that basic interest.
It is argued that Israel's interest in maintaining good relations with the US administration trumps its interest in strengthening its control over areas in Judea and Samaria that it deems vital. The problem with this argument is that it takes for granted that Israel can determine the status of its relations with the US administration. In the case of the Obama administration, it is abundantly clear that this is not the case.
President Barack Obama and his senior advisers have demonstrated repeatedly that they are interested in weakening - not strengthening - the US alliance with Israel. This week the administration condemned Israel for defining the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem as national heritage sites. The fact that they are national heritage sites is so obvious that even President Shimon Peres defended the move.
Moreover, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, reiterated for the millionth time this week that he opposes military strikes against Iran's nuclear installations. That is, for the millionth time, the top US military officer effectively said that he prefers a nuclear armed Iran to an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear installations.
In the interest of strengthening Israel's ties with a hostile administration, the Netanyahu government has adopted rhetoric on the Palestinian issue that is harmful to Israel's national interests. It declared its support for a Palestinian state, despite the fact that such a state will define itself through its devotion to Israel's destruction.
It has outlawed Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria, despite the fact that the move simply legitimizes the Palestinians' bigoted demand that Jews be barred from living in Judea and Samaria.
And it has advocated on behalf of Palestinian leaders like Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad who refuse to accept Israel's right to exist.
Indeed, if Israel were to reject the current European model and craft a foreign policy that advanced its national interests, one of its first acts would be to point out that the unelected Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad is not a man of peace.
Just this week, Fayyad threatened to respond with a religious war to Israel's classification of the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb as national heritage sites. Last Friday he joined rioters at Bil'in to attack Israel's security fence. Fayyad has taken a lead role in the campaign to implement an international boycott of Israeli products. Over the past couple of years he has sought to take control over the PA's security forces not to fight terror, but to prevent Israel from fighting terror. Finally, since the Hamas victory in the PA legislative elections in 2006, he has overseen the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars to Hamas.
In short, Fayyad, a former World Bank employee, is not a "moderate," as his supporters in the US and Europe claim. He is a fiscally sound terror financier and sponsor, actively waging war against Israel.
RECENT REPORTS indicate that IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi - who strangely received a nice medal from Mullen two years ago - is the main opponent of an Israeli military strike against Iran's nuclear installations. If this is true, then Ashkenazi must either be forced to change his position or lose his job. The Iranian threat is too great to place in the hands of a commander the US reportedly views as its "friend" in Israel's decision-making circles.
As for the Palestinians, the situation will not be remedied simply by firing a few incompetent office holders. For 16 years, in the interest of enhancing the country's ties with Europe, and to a lesser degree with the US, successive Israeli governments have ignored Israel's vital national interest in maintaining its control over Judea and Samaria. Indeed, they have preferred Euro-friendly, and Israel-unfriendly rhetoric to the sober-minded pursuit of Israel's national interest.
Yet as Europe's immediate response to the Dubai operation makes clear, Europe itself has abandoned the sober-minded pursuit of its own interests, in favor of cowardly, feckless, self-defeating rhetoric. Obviously Europe should favor Israel over a Hamas terrorist. But in its current state of strategic imbecility, no European leader can acknowledge this basic fact. Consequently, Europe may well be doomed.
To avoid Europe's encroaching fate, Israel must abandon its current course. The purpose of rhetoric is to support policies adopted in the pursuit of a nation's interests. And Israel has interests in need of urgent advancement.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.