Panetta's (Mostly) Unfair Criticism

By Jeffrey Goldberg

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, on his way to Israel, told reporters aboard his plane that Israel was isolating itself from its neighbors:

There's not much question in my mind that they maintain that (military) edge," Panetta told reporters traveling with him. "But the question you have to ask: Is it enough to maintain a military edge if you're isolating yourself in the diplomatic arena? Real security can only be achieved by both a strong diplomatic effort as well as a strong effort to project your military strength." (bold mine)

Let's break this down country-by-country. Israel is more isolated from Egypt, but is this solely Israel's fault? There are big, chaotic things happening in Egypt, and Israel is mainly a bystander to them. Israel supported the ex-dictator, Hosni Mubarak, but then again, so did the Obama Administration. Is America, then, isolating itself from the Egyptians who overthrew Mubarak? Also: Israel has been attacked over its border from Egypt, and its embassy in Cairo was besieged. Did Israel prompt these attacks by refusing, for instance, to freeze settlements? No, of course not. Again, larger forces are at play.

Then there is Turkey. Anyone who has followed the dissolution of the Turkish-Israeli relationship understands that Israel is again, a bystander, or an object, in this drama. The Turkish leadership is turning away from Europe and turning away from America as it seeks to lead the Muslim world. I'm not sure there's much Israel could do to stop these large historical forces. A more forthright apology for the deaths in the flotilla incident might have lowered the flame a bit, but just a bit (keeping in mind, of course, that the UN found Israel's use of force excessive, but that Israel was legally justified in stopping the flotilla). I think Turkey's drift began well before the flotilla incident -- indeed, the flotilla would never have been launched had the Turks not wanted it to happen.

Now, Jordan. Here's where Panetta might have a point: Israel hasn't done enough to allay Jordan's concerns that it is not serious about the peace process. In the case of Jordan, real progress, even on a framework for negotiations, would help better that relationship. Of course, Panetta's comments came after Israel accepted the Quartet's plan for renewed peace talks, so the timing of his comments seems a bit off. I'm not sure what's behind these comments, at this particular moment -- perhaps just an attempt to underscore to Netanyahu that the U.S. remains annoyed at the decision to build new housing units in a suburb of East Jerusalem. The timing of which, of course, was terrible.  

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/10/panettas-mostly-unfair-criticism/246028/