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Lessons for Jerusalem

First, don’t count on Washington.

Sep 23, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 03 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
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Second, pursue your own relationships with Russia, Europe, and the Arab states. Israel always does that, but with American leadership now discounted, those direct relationships are more important. Perhaps Israel and France can toughen the Western negotiating position on Iran, or Israel and Egypt can work together to weaken Hamas in Gaza, or Israel and the Gulf Arab states can talk together about how to handle conflicts with Iran. Right now it is likely that Israeli-Egyptian, Israeli-Jordanian, and perhaps Israeli-Gulf state conversations are especially candid in reviewing shared challenges​—​not the least of which is dependence on a power that appears to be choosing to diminish its influence in the region.


There is another, harsher lesson from the developments in Syria. One-hundred-thousand Arabs, mostly Sunni, have been killed there and millions driven from their homes, in a world where the Arab League has 22 member states, the Islamic Conference has 57, and there are in the world perhaps two billion Muslims. No one saved those Sunni, Arab, Muslim Syrians, and no one is doing much now to prevent additional killing; the reactions of their co-religionists and fellow Arabs have ranged from ineffective to uninterested. Christian communities have for years been threatened and attacked in Iraq, Lebanon, and most recently Syria and Egypt with little reaction from the world’s two billion Christians. Who would intervene to protect the Jews should they ever be in a similar situation?

Israelis know this; their view of their neighborhood was (controversially, to be sure) summed up by Ehud Barak in 2006 when he called Israel “a villa in the jungle.” Israelis don’t believe they survive because they are a democracy or a “startup nation” but because they are strong​—​and willing to use their strength, as they proved yet again in multiple attacks in Syria in the last two years. Their national experience as Israelis parallels their history as Jews: The strong survive, and the weak may well perish. And when the weak are attacked, there are some excellent speeches made but precious little help is forthcoming.

So the fate of Syria’s dead and its millions of refugees is but confirmation that Israel must in the end be able and willing to defend itself, by itself. On September 11, Prime Minister Netanyahu quoted the sage Hillel at an Israeli Navy graduation ceremony: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” He then added that this saying “is more relevant than ever these days in guiding me, in my key actions as prime minister” and said the meaning “is that Israel will always be able to protect itself, and will protect itself, with its own forces, against all threats.”

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

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