While the rest of the world has been watching Elian Gonzalez, Israeli has, regretfully, been up to its old tactics, tactics most hoped had gone away with Benjamin Netanyahu. But, like the Republicans with Gingrich or Elian with great-uncle Lazaro, all the blame cannot be laid at Caesar's feet. Political tactics rise from political philosophies. Not only is Israel still using every obstruction in the book to delay giving up the West Bank, it has now entered into military arrangements that are a slap in the face of its long-time, some might say only, friend, the United States.
The U.S. has, or more correctly, had, Israel backed into a corner. It became painfully obvious Israel had to stop reneging on promises made years ago to deliver all of the West Bank to the Palestinians and to conclude the thorny problem of the Israeli and Palestinian capitals. It also refused to budge on turning over the Golan Heights to the Syrians and actually vacating Southern Lebanon. With nowhere to go, peace talks fell apart.
Since then, Prime Minister Ehud Barak has steadily defied the United State's desire for peace in the region. One move was to lift the ban on settlement building in the Golan Heights. Another is Israeli's insistence on selling weaponry to India and China while asking for more armaments from U.S. taxpayers.
On April 13, Barak, appearing at a press conference with visiting Chinese President Jiang Zemin, made two disturbing announcements. First, due to the impasse on negotiations with Syria, it was allowing the go-ahead on already approved settlement building projects in the Golan Heights, a move in absolute defiance of negotiations.
"I believe it's only natural that, since we see the door is left open a very small crack for the possibility of renewed talks with Syria, that part of the projects that has been delayed for several months on the Golan Heights will get permission to move forward," Barak stated as he slammed the door shut.
Peace Now, the powerful coalition of left-wing activists little known outside Israel, said before the announcement that those who purchased the units to be constructed were only doing so in the hope of receiving compensation. The plans include expansion of a hot springs spa at Hamat Gader, new facilities at Kinneret's beach, construction of roads, sewer systems and other residential, industrial and agricultural projects.
Sami Bar-Lev, a settlement spokesperson, stated "If and when talks with Syria begin again, it should be clear that the Golan Heights is an integral part of Israel, and at the beginning of negotiations Syria will have to deal with a different reality."
This, of course, is the heart of the matter. From the beginning, Syria has insisted that the entire Golan Heights be returned. A Syrian commentator warned Israel faces a future of "escalation, rising tensions, instability, insecurity, and the danger that all tracks of the peace process will be sabotaged unless it pursues peace with Syria." What's interesting here is the assumption by Israel that because it refuses to negotiate in good faith, it can then go ahead and do anything it wants with no regard to the rights of others.
In that same vein, and the reason for the press conference with Jiang Zemin, Barak also announced Israel remains undecided about a controversial sale of the Phalcon AWACS radar system to China because of U.S. concerns. Behind the scenes, however, most sources feel it's a done deal. In either case, Israel pledged not to transfer American technology to China. The deal is reported to be worth $2 billion to Israel. To add insult to injury, less than 24 hours before, Barak met in the White House with President Clinton who warned the deal could undermine Israel's standing with the United States.
The Israelis also want to expand sales of military equipment to India, despite growing tensions with Pakistan and a U.S. embargo on military sales to both India and Pakistan. India is seeking the Israeli-made Barak short-range, anti-missile system which can shoot down missiles from ships.
In slippery verbiage, Israel Aircraft Industries CEO Moshe Keret, whose company enjoyed a 70% growth in net profits last year and wants to grow another 10% gross this year, stated: "We are 100% obeying the rules. We are fulfilling all the restrictions. We have all the licenses that we need...to make a deal with any customer. There is no violation whatsoever...of the rules of the state of Israel or the United States. And there is no transfer of American technology." The company is also lobbying heavily for a contract with Turkey for 145 assault helicopters worth $4 billion.
In the meantime, the U.S. has proposed a military assistance package to Israel of $17 billion including U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles. This is even though sources say Washington is far from convinced Israel needs the equipment. The deal would be conditioned on Israel and Syria reaching a peace agreement. U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen strongly criticized Israel in a visit early in April. Speaking on Israel selling advanced radar systems to China, Cohen had this to say. "With tensions running as high as they are between China and Taiwan we see this as being counterproductive.... I have indicated before that the US does not support the sale of this type of technology to China because of the potential of changing the strategic balance in that region."
With friends like this, who needs enemies?