An insider-outsider’s perspective of a President all “set-up-set” to win the Middle East chess gameGary St-even Gevisser, October 18, 2000[1]



The uncertainty facing President Clinton of not knowing whether he has been already served lamb or duck or simply about to be served up himself is causing him much anxiety. The unraveling of the peace process means more than his Middle East policy going up in smoke; it is the unraveling of his whole sense of being. Neither his shortfalls on his domestic policy agenda nor the degradation of the impeachment proceedings is having as much of a negative effect on his emotional state.


This President, the eternal optimistic, has always had an abundance of self-confidence in his ability to “make his case” – relying on his ability to charm, most importantly, his certainty in his intellectual capacity to reason even if it meant having to negotiate with the Devil himself. As he reflects back on what went wrong he may begin to ask the question of whether he was “set up” by those within Government who are more tenured than any President. He would not be the first intellectual who ends up playing second fiddle to those who really call the shots.


Clinton bought into the belief that the process of Israel giving up land in exchange for an overall peace settlement, once promulgated by many Jewish figures around the world was the only way to guarantee the long-term survival of Israel. This President is no anti-Semite. His historical perspective of the importance of the State of Israel, not only to Jewish people but also as beacon of “not forgetting” past wrongs appears genuine.


Believing he was “write”, he jumped in with all fours, immersing himself in the detail of the negotiations, believing that he was mediating amongst individuals who were not only tired of fighting but who, like he, were interested in their own legacy, that they too were politicians who needed to maintain a leadership mandate for their own political survival. Like any Western intellectual, his thought processes, however, were out of sync with the pace of the Middle East where the past and the present are all intertwined.


He had no concept of what “legacy” means to either Barak or to Arafat. Barak’s political uncertainty, although weighing heavily in every decision, has never overshadowed his understanding of the realities the State of Israel faces today, no different than at any time in its entire history. Arafat, on the other hand, knows only what he has experienced and is fearful like any Arab leader of “shar-ing” the fruits of peace, which require the dexterity of knowing how to “t-I-rade,” skillsets more akin to the Arab Market in Jerusalem than to the pulpits promulgating the dogma of hatred.


It is Clinton’s hard-core, fundamental belief in the American Constitution that is at the heart of what had him barking up the wrong tree. The problems of the Middle East have little to do with the lack of sensitivities on either side; the swaggering of those left and right of center; of an Israeli policeman with a gun cocked looking more omnipotent than a kid with a stone and sling or the prospects of one group, 200 million strong versus 6 million head-strong who border a sea that shows no signs of dividing. The age old problems belong to the basic principles of when in doubt, when under attack, when your whole being has no logical basis in terms of what is right, one turns to one of the oldest tricks in the trade.


Pointing fingers to deflect one’s problems has been tried and tested going back more than 4,000 years. While Israel exists, its dictatorially-led neighbors are at risk. Today, the world is more understanding that the Palestinian shout is a Despot’s weapon of deflection; that it is not about the holy city Jerusalem just like it is not about the city of Medina, to name just one other Muslim holy place.


How ever many Palestinians were displaced in the mid to late 1940s, it is insignificant to the 40 plus million refugees after the 2nd World War who were displaced and who had to find new accommodation elsewhere. The Palestinians, the “industrious Jews” of the Arab world, have been a threat to the Arab rulers going back to the year dot. Solve the Palestinian problem and you expose the harshness of the totalitarian regimes.


President Clinton was “up-set” from the word go and now he knows it.


A possible solution:


Should the hostilities continue, Israel might want to consider placing an embargo, sector-by-sector, region-by-region, extending the embargo if necessary to every dictator-led neighbor, lifting the blockade only as each region takes steadfast strides to “democratize” under the umbrella of “nation building” or any other feel-good term. Enforcement would include a total no-fly zone over each region. Should any country defy the blockade, then Israel should extend its reach. Israel does not call on the rest of the world to assist directly but calls on the peoples of the world to support their cause.


Never before in history are the peoples of the world more in tune with the injustices and risks that Israel faces today. Now is a unique moment in time for Israel whose options to defend itself in years to come will become even more limited, to take the initiative to bring about freedom in other places around the world. This may not secure its survival but at least it will allow the Jewish State to exist on a more level playing field with every other democratic country.


The logistics of pulling off such an action although “expansive” in nature will require only tactical shrewdness to execute. Today, the world understands Israel’s resolve. Tomorrow might be a different story. The Arabs leaders, in particular, understand the mentality of a united Jewish people; they understand the joke of asking ten Jewish people a question and getting eleven different answers is a Semitic joke and Jews simply tell it more often.


The risks:


The question of Israel’s military to sustain such an action is a function of Israel’s will to impose its forces in a deliberate manner to win over those in the Arab communities who see a brighter future for themselves by not warring with Israel; for all the “industrious” to begin to stand tall. All peoples should recognize that Israel is committed to bringing to an end the rhetoric and subversive actions for which it has no defense in the long run. The potency of Israel’s military resources to engage in such an action will come down to the intestinal fortitude of Israelis who have in recent times got a taste of the good life, some of which has begun to show on the expanded waistlines walking around the high-fashion circles of Tel Aviv, a “fashion trend” that began nearly three decades ago.


There is another risk, which may pose a greater risk than that of an “expanded” conflict. The risk is that of the United States military establishment feeling impotent. The U.S. military would have to step down while Israel takes control. The U.S. military may never fully replenish its “testosterone,” for a more peaceful world - even just a peaceful Middle East, could put a significant dent in the multi-trillion dollar military procurement business.


The U.S. military brass have a penchant for stirring the pot in more hot spots other than the Middle East; placing U.S. troops in harm’s way without proper support and “reconnaissance systems” in place. (The USS Cole is but one example; Vietnam has its share of horror stories.) When all warring sides have expended their inventories, especially the one on the brink of total defeat, the call for “nation building” blasts through the halls of Congress. Israelis have a history of hearing promises made, promises not kept. We should not forget that the Marshal Plan was a promise kept following the delivery of “death blows” to both the Japanese and the Germans; thank you Allies, thank you President Roosevelt for eventually doing the right thing and thank you America for finally waking up.


When the Yom Kippur War broke out on October 6th 1973 and Israeli forces were overrun on both the Syrian and Egyptian borders only after Nixon and Kissinger were threatened with the prospects of Israel introducing nuclear weapons on to the battle field was the order given eight days later to re-supply. It took another 8 days before Israel saw those supplies on its shores. By October 24th the War was over. Having come back from the depths of defeat, the Israelis were eventually forced back from delivering a “death blow” to the 100,000 strong Egyptian 3rd Army with its Soviet brass in command, who were facing the same prospects.


Not only was Israel prevented from “mil-king” such a defeat for all it was worth at the settlement talks, more importantly, it may have had a chilling effect on those promulgating the Cold War, perhaps bringing it to an end that much sooner. Despite the protestations of the brass-ring folks, the Kremlin would not have risked intervening with their own troops nor would they have risked introducing nuclear weapons in to the “Israeli no-fly” zone. One other example of promises not kept; in 1991 after the Iraqi SCUD missiles had taken their toll on Tel-Aviv, the “brass” failed to follow through on their commitment to “finish off Sadam.” At the point of delivering another “death blow” they paused, “Better the Devil you know than the one you don’t.”


This argument has had more sway with the general public than the argument that Jonathan Pollard, the Jewish American intelligence officer who shared secrets pertaining to Israel’s security with other Israeli intelligence officers, is less than the Devil incarnate. A better argument, perhaps, equally ridiculous, is that Pollard knows something about U.S. naval intelligence plans to “draw fire.”


Anyone who believes Israel cannot enforce a “no-fly” zone over its front and back yards should not forget how Israel in 1967 caught its Arab neighbors with all their troops massed, completely fat footed. Although it wasn’t that long ago, for those with shorter memories, pictures exist that graphically illustrate that Israel’s enemies were at one time well-heeled, certainly as they positioned themselves at the start.


Trading a temporary “Bloc-K-age” in exchange for the eventual freedom of all the peoples of the region to work requires wisdom and an understanding of how to plant the right seeds in fertile soil, giving credit where it may not necessarily be due, but which makes it political suicide to oppose. This would include developing “business plans” that have the support of the international business community. Americans, in particular, get tops marks for putting on “dog and pony” shows.


These gentlemen and gentlewomen could graphically demonstrate that when the flood-gates open all those who put up the “goo-dies” will see much more than what they ever believed possible. Even if it turns out that only a small portion of them are telling the truth the region will benefit more than at anytime in history.


Clinton will not let his most important concern, his legacy, get in the way of any man-made objects. Concerns such as the continued flow of oil from that region of the world making its way to the West, would simply have to wait for George W to get into office to see if we can trust his lips or we simply sit back, relax and rely on the Israeli Defense Forces to do their thing, with or without President Clinton swallowing a tablet or tTOo – (no bitter-pill pun intended).


Despite all the unspoiled sand throughout the Arab lands, the microchip and the intelligence circuits remain Israel’s advantage. Only those on the far right or those on the far left, often indistinguishable, would dare to disagree. We should be deliberate in our questioning of those who do not seek a permanent solution. First, we should explore who will sign their paychecks tomorrow and on that basis begin to discount their standings.


Tactical suggestions (for non-military brass):


Measures would have to be taken to ensure that the financial markets are given proper briefings and most importantly, those leaders/governing bodies in the business world clearly understand the importance of the mission. Businessmen, perhaps even more so businesswomen, who think three times before cocking their guns, would need to understand that any unfair profiteering will be dealt with quickly and decisively.


Possible result:


A convergence of time and space, bringing the past together with the future, triangulating the interests of men as different as Barak, Arafat and Clinton and bringing them in to a communion that would make each one of their wives proud. A wise man said, “There are only two who truly know you, God and your spouse.”




About the Author, (in his own words):


I am a 43-year-old Jewish American raised in South Africa. My first hand experience of what Israel means to Jewish people and Israelis, in particular, goes back to when I spent four months visiting and studying in Israel along with a group of other 15-year-old high school kids. Our base was Sde Boker, near B-ear-sheva, in Israel’s Negev desert. My first hand brush with past-meets-future took place during a half-hour talk given to our group by Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, on the small patch of law-n in front of his house. It took place two months to the day since we arrived on September 1st, 1972.


He was in the twilight of his life and expressed his appreciation for those who had contributed to the formation and survival of the State of Israel; helping turn this least desired part of the desert, without the rich mineral resources, into an abundance of green pastures. Ben Gurion’s dreams and hopes for the future were now being reflected back-forth as we made eye contact with him. As he began to speak the sound of the military maneuvers taking place within a rifle shot also commenced, but we listened riveted. Until that day the significance of the need for a Jewish State, the horrors of Holy-wine, had come from stories about relatives who couldn’t get out in time, at times thin-king quietly to myself, “if only their parents had taught them how to read a compass.”


Until that moment, not even the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Olympics less than two months earlier had affected our playtime. The lecture given the next day, however, on the horrors of the Holocaust helped me begin to remove the masks I had placed on others’ faces.


My father’s logbooks had also been of fleeting interest. His escapades during the 2nd World War targeting German trains, often decoys, were not worth bragging about to my friends since they seemed less believable than the home movies we use to see of shows like “The man from uncle” – (TV only arrived in South Africa in the mid seventies). Besides none of their fathers had flown about the skies day after day over northern Italy, above cities like Parma, which were now far off the beaten tracks of our regular vacation spots.


Even the comic books offered better graphics to stimulate the imagination than pictures of old planes and guys often with Xs bloc-ing out their faces. Certainly none of my friends would have believed the one time after darting through a blanket of AK AK with the target obscured by dust from previous bomb bursts, my father pulled up a little late before releasing his three, five-hundred-pound bombs, and still managed to score a “D/H”.


Despite my popularity, a consequence of my mother’s penchant for bringing home the “most beautiful women in South Africa”, my standing on the “A List” would have suffered horribly had I then proceeded to tell a story of how my father got back to his base despite his electrical system, undercarriage, wings and tailplane having been severely damaged by his own bombs exploding. Certainly, the “fatal blow” would have been my informing them that his basic training in Vereenig-ING, South Africa, achieving an overall “above average,” had saved his life as he approached the landing strip at home base. Perhaps, what prevented me most from swaggering was that they all knew my Dad; so how could I tell a story about someone who never once tT-Oot-ed his own horn, not even to this day.


On that day Ben Gurion gave new meaning to the sense of achievement of those like my father who were only three years older than us “tw-r-ots” seated cross-legged before him. He also certified that, had my father and his “friend-s” known about the railway lines that were being used to transport 6 million Jews to their death, they would have acted with or without orders from above, for they were no more than a sling-shot away.


Ben Gurion knew they were very well trained in making every ordinance count, where “Direct Hits” had a lot to do with going in low and fast. He seemed to remember that prior to the outbreak of the War of Independence in 1948 many of these pilots still not of legal drinking age performed missions for which they had received no training as fighter-bomber-pilots. Their resourcefulness in retrieving munitions and aircraft hidden from their American Commanding Officers prior to the surrender of the Nazis, blunt-ed the waves of attacks of those who now sought to reclaim this now-so-desired territory, who also had the vision to forecast that the Jewish head-strong would one day create a land that tTOo flowed with milk and honey and silicon to boot.


Thirteen months later to the day, Ben Gurion died. He is buried a stone’s throw away from that very green patch of lawn.

[1] Today is my father’s 77th birthday. His World War II logbooks along with the wings which bear the lip-s-h-tick-imprint of his “shi-k-sa” girlfriend’s “good luck” kiss before he went off on 1 of his 71 missions are today, together with the diary I kept of my own esc-ape-aids as 15-year-old  Ill-panic, my prized possessions. My Ulpanic buddies should not panic as there are currently bigger en-VE-ron-mentally dysfunctional fish to fry.