Israel's Foreign Relations: Incompetence, Stupidity, or Chaos?


A pattern has emerged in recent weeks of an Israeli government that seems to go far out of its way to alienate countries it has no business alienating. First, there was the gross insult directed at the Turkish ambassador to Israel by the deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon. Ayalon, not content to humiliate the ambassador by forcing him to sit on a low couch, then announced to reporters that he was intentionally humiliating the Turkish ambassador by forcing him to sit on a low couch. Turkey, of course, is -- or was -- Israel's closest friend in the Muslim world. Israel needs Turkish support on the Iran issue, and on many other issues.

Then came the assassination of a Hamas official in Dubai. Israel hasn't claimed responsibility for the assassination, but evidence points to the Mossad. It is one thing to kill Hamas officials -- Hamas, after all, has declared a war of destruction on Israel -- but it is another to do so in the United Arab Emirates, the most open-minded country in the Gulf, especially on matters related to Israel, and a country that is obviously important to the formation of a broad, anti-Iran coalition.

Then, of course, came the humiliation dealt to Vice President Biden on his visit to Israel, about which enough ink has been spilled. Suffice it to say that without American support, weapons, aid and protection, Israel would most likely not survive its hostile environment. And without the support of friends like Joe Biden -- who is emotionally, spiritually and politically a devoted Zionist -- there would be a very good chance that America would sooner, rather than later, distance itself from Israel.

Then this week came a snub by Danny Ayalon's boss, Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, who boycotted a speech to the Knesset by the president of Brazil because Lula apparently wouldn't pay a visit to the grave of Theodore Herzl, who is now spinning in said grave, because he was a pragmatist as well as a dreamer and he knew that the Jews, a small, embattled people, need friends to survive.

So what explains this incredible series of screw-ups? Is this merely an attempt by the Israeli government to disprove the theory, shared by anti- and philo-Semites alike, that Jews are smart?

No, it's something very prosaic. Bibi Netanyahu is not in control of his government. He has brought into his coalition parties -- Lieberman's party, the Shas Party -- that are narrow-focused, excessively-rightist, stubborn and prideful, and now he's paying the price. The problem is that Israel is paying the price as well. America can afford stupid politicians. Israel can't. 

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, Goldberg also writes the magazine's advice column. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. Previously, he served as a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward, and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

His book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. Goldberg rthe recipient of the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism. He is also the recipient of 2005's Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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