Lapid’s cynical Saudi blunder

Lapid’s cynical Saudi blunder, Israel Hayom, Jonathan S. Tobin, May 30, 2017

The point of the transaction is an attempt to preserve the Saudi monarchy from falling victim to radical foes. More importantly, it’s intended to bolster Riyadh against the main threat to both Sunni Arab regimes and Israel: Iran.

That the man who is seen as a serious candidate for prime minister is oblivious to the imperative for Israel to make common cause with the Saudis against an Iranian foe committed to the destruction of both countries is a shocking indictment of Lapid’s strategic vision. Lapid is trying to divide Israel and the United States at a time when former President Barack Obama’s efforts to increase the “daylight” between the countries is being reversed.

The last thing Israel needs right now is to push away Sunni Arabs who have finally realized that the Jewish state is an asset to the region rather than a threat or to pick a fight with Trump.

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It’s hard to beat a man by agreeing with him. That’s why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most credible foe is struggling to find a way to distinguish his own views from those of the man he wishes to replace. Polls show that Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid is the man Netanyahu needs to watch out for in the next election. But after proclaiming earlier this year that a two-state solution must wait another 20 years for the Palestinians to show that they want peace, it’s hard to see how Lapid can possibly gain an edge over the prime minister on the most important issue facing the Jewish state.

That’s why Lapid is attempting to make an issue of Netanyahu’s apparent acceptance of a massive $110 billion arms deal concluded between Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration, without so much as a whisper of protest. In a recent interview, Lapid noted that the entire Israeli security establishment was deeply concerned about the transaction, which will place a wide array of sophisticated weaponry in Saudi hands. In doing so, Lapid is not just trying to goad Netanyahu into a suicidal spat with Trump but also demonstrating how ignorant he is of American Jewish history.

Lapid’s broadside aims to imply that the prime minister is so afraid of U.S. President Donald Trump and so dependent on his good will that he won’t speak up for Israel’s interests. But his main point of concern is that giving such weapon systems to Saudis means they are “one inch away” from falling in the hands of Sunni terrorists.

Perhaps Lapid will get some traction with the charge but for anyone who’s been following the news in the region in recent years, it’s fairly obvious that he’s woefully behind the times. The point of the transaction is an attempt to preserve the Saudi monarchy from falling victim to radical foes. More importantly, it’s intended to bolster Riyadh against the main threat to both Sunni Arab regimes and Israel: Iran.

That the man who is seen as a serious candidate for prime minister is oblivious to the imperative for Israel to make common cause with the Saudis against an Iranian foe committed to the destruction of both countries is a shocking indictment of Lapid’s strategic vision. Lapid is trying to divide Israel and the United States at a time when former President Barack Obama’s efforts to increase the “daylight” between the countries is being reversed.

Lapid is also forgetting an important precedent: In 1981, the Reagan administration wanted to sell five sophisticated AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) airplanes to the Saudis. Like the far larger sale just concluded, the AWACS deal was an effort to shore up the Saudi regime against an Islamist regime in Iran. But since the Saudis were then a key player in the effort to isolate and demonize Israel as well as part of a potential eastern front against it, friends of the Jewish state, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, denounced the transaction as a blow to Israel’s military qualitative edge. Unfortunately, it was a bitter fight and one the pro-Israel lobby lost ignominiously.

That defeat led AIPAC to reassess its former emphasis on the executive branch and replace it with one that sought to ensure congressional support for Israel regardless of who was in the White House. But while AIPAC licked its wounds and began preparing to win future fights, friends of Israel generally forgot about what happened to the planes they had warned would be so dangerous to place in the hands of the Saudi state.

But, contrary to the predictions of those who worried that the AWACS planes would coordinate attacks on Israel rather than defending Riyadh against Iran or the Soviets, nothing of the kind every happened. The AWACS planes did nothing to harm Israel. Saudi Arabia may be the source of an ocean of anti-Western and anti-Israel propaganda but its leaders were never interested in fighting Israel. Moreover, three decades later, what was once covert security coordination between the Saudis and Israel is now an open secret and the basis upon which Trump’s hopes of an “outside-in” strategy for peace rests.

The Saudis are allies of convenience rather than conviction. It is wise to be skeptical about whether their goodwill extends beyond mutual antipathy for Iran. But the moral of the story is that nations have permanent interests not permanent allies or enemies. The last thing Israel needs right now is to push away Sunni Arabs who have finally realized that the Jewish state is an asset to the region rather than a threat or to pick a fight with Trump. Talking about the Saudis in this manner may have given Lapid a momentary edge but urging a repeat of AIPAC’s historic blunder is no way for him to prove his security chops. On the contrary, it seems to suggest that he is still not ready for power.

Jonathan S. Tobin is the opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributing writer to National Review. Twitter @jonathans_tobin.

Explore posts in the same categories: Israel and Iran, Israeli politics, Saudi Arabia and Iran, Trump and Iran, Trump and Israel, Trump and Saudi Arabia

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