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24.07.2014
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Ruthie Blum

Barak salutes Hagel

The 13th annual Herzliya Conference kicked off on Monday afternoon with the usual PowerPoint presentations illustrating that we Israelis feel more confident about the state of our nation than is commonly perceived. This, according to graphs and charts, is an internal strength which will stand us in good stead when confronting the many external challenges ahead.

Thats the good news. Whether it is the result of faulty surveys, national naivete, or the gorgeous weather gracing the gathering of the academic, social and political elite at the Dan Acadia Hotel, is anybodys guess. Mine is that Israel is experiencing the false calm of the eye of a hurricane.

This sentiment was given credence by IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz during his address, which concluded the first day of the conference. Gantz said that the "chance of war against us in the foreseeable future is low, but there is a high probability of deterioration" in the region.

Israel has to be prepared, he said, to face different threats on the horizon, such as Iran's nuclear program and terrorism emanating from Gaza and the West Bank. It also has to be able to adapt to new situations, like the death spree spilling over from Syria. He warned that the rebel forces combating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, once successful, could subsequently set their sights on the settlements in the Golan Heights, making Israel "next in line."

So what else is new?

Well, one thing that comes to mind is what outgoing Defense Minister Ehud Barak asserted in his parting speech to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Mere hours before Gantz took to the podium in Herzliya, Barak was in Jerusalem waxing poetic about U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

U.S. President Barack Obama's appointment of Hagel sparked a firestorm among pro-Israel groups in America and abroad that nearly cost the latter the appointment. This had to do with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements he had made during his career as a senator, in addition to his appeasing stance toward Iran and other radical Islamic entities.

The most "optimistic" view on the part of Hagel's opponents was that Obama would be pulling the Pentagon strings, no matter who ended up in charge of defense. The Hagel nomination, some of us argued, was simply additional proof of Obama's true colors.

To counteract accusations of "too much daylight" between the American administration and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama announced that he was coming to Israel. His visit, scheduled for March 20, is cause for much trepidation in Jerusalem particularly since Netanyahu has yet to finalize his coalition. So far, it is not even clear who is going to replace Barak as defense minister, or even from which party the next defense minister will come.

Rather than taking the opportunity of his retirement to sum up nearly six years in the post, Barak chose to rush to Hagel's defense (no pun intended). "There was exaggerated criticism against him," Barak asserted, still glowing from his friendly meeting with Hagel in Washington last week.

Barak also felt it necessary to claim that there has never been more "intimacy" between the U.S. and Israel. It is a peculiar word to describe any global alliance, let alone one that has been characterized by such strain over the past four years.

But Barak clarified the definition: "There is an understanding in the U.S. that Israel is solely responsible for its own security, military, and intelligence." And any disagreements on dealing with Iran's nuclearization are solely on "the pace of the ticking clock."

If this revelation of "intimacy" didnt make the members of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee blush, perhaps another embarrassing comment did the trick.

"I think that even if we had reached an agreement with the Palestinians, the Muslim Brotherhood would have taken over Egypt, Syria would have had a civil war, and Iran would have continued to strive for hegemony in the Gulf and to attain nuclear power," he ventured. "We live in a rough neighborhood; that is hard to explain even to our closest friends in the U.S. or Europe. There is no acceptance of Israel's presence in the region."

Barak can be forgiven for preaching to the choir in his platitude-laden words of farewell. But rendering Hagel kosher in this context was worse than going beyond the call of duty. It was a slap in the faces of all those true friends of Israel who campaigned day and night to block his confirmation.

Barak must be pleased. Hagel and Obama are sure to be feeling vindicated.

The rest of us are wondering when we will see some graphs indicating the rise of this particular socio-political phenomenon in Israel siding with the enemy. It would be one PowerPoint presentation actually worth watching.

Ruthie Blum is the author of To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'"

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