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March 29, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 29, 2013 Obarna From page 1A There may have been a hint of what was to come in a re- mark delivered to reporters by Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national security adviser, in a March 14 conference call before the trip. "Israel as it makes peace is going to have to recognize the broader role of public opinion in peacemaking," Rhodes said, referring to the need to reach out to populations, not just leaders, in the region. It was a theme Obama seized upon in his March 21 speech at the Jerusalem International Convention Center. "Given the frustration in the international community about this conflict, Israel needs to reverse an under- tow of isolation," Obama said. Later in the speech, he added, "As more governments respond to popular will, the days when Israel could seek peace simply with a handful of autocratic leaders, those days are over. Peace will have to be made among peoples, not just governments." The next afternoon, asked during a news conference with Jordanian King Abdul- lah how he brokered the Turkish-Israeli rapproche- ment, Obama made it clear it was about advancing shared interests in the region. "I have long said that it is in both the interest of Israel and Turkey to restore normal relations between two coun- tries that have historically had good ties," Obama said. "It broke down several years ago as a consequence of the flotilla incident. "For the last two years, I've spoken to both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Erdogan about why this rupture has to be mended, that they don't have to agree on everything in order for them to come together around a whole range of common interests and common concerns." If there was much resis- tance in Israel to such an apology, it seemed to have dissipated in the wake of Obama's charm offensive, which won over not only Israelis but even some Ameri- can Jewish conservatives who have been among the fiercest critics of the president. "In terms of his attitude toward Israel, in the past three days Obama has altered his status in that regard from being the second coming of Jimmy Carter to that of another Bill Clinton," wrote Jonathan Tobin, the senior online editor at Commentary magazine. Emphasizing the Jewish connection to the land with visits to the grave of the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, and a view- ing of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Obama's good will appears to have superseded any Is- raeli resentment for being pressured into the apology to Turkey. A snap poll by Channel 2 in the aftermath of the visit by Obama found that 39 percent of Israel is had changed their opinion of the U.S. leader for the better, the Times of Israel reported. Whether Obama, like Clin- ton, will be able to leverage such good will into pressure on Netanyahu's govern- ment--andwhether he wants to--remains to be seen. Obama has made clear that he wants Netanyahu to give him time on Iran, telling Chan- nel 2 in a pre-trip interview that he sees the dangers of a nuclear Iran arising in about a year's time, not in several months, as Israeli officials reportedly believe. Obama also made clear that he wants to see progress in the Palestinian-Israeli talks, but he did so in a passive way, not by offering solutions but by urging Israelis to pres- sure their government. "I can promise you this, political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks," Obama said in his March 21 speech. "You must Charm PAGE 19A create the change that you want to see." That's not a clear plan, Robert Satioff, the director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote in a post-trip analysis. "Whether the shift on how peace talks should begin translates into a shift on how those talks should then proceed remains unclear," he wrote. Nonetheless, should Obama proceed, Satloff sug- gested, he now has the politi- cal capital to do so. "If the basic idea behind visiting Israel was to open the administration's second term on surer footing in terms of U.S.-Israeli relations than what characterized the open- ing months of the president's first term," Satloffwrote, "he appears to have succeeded." From page 1A to tell you, particularly the young people, so that there's no mistake here, so long as there is a United States of America, 'atem lo l'vad.' You are not alone." Before the trip, Israelis were extremely wary about the U.S. president. He had visited Israel twice before, most recently in 2008, but Israelis were irked that he skipped Israel on a Middle East swing in 2009 that included his famous Cairo speech. They were put off by his public calls for a freeze on settlement building early in his presidency. They compared him unfavorably to his two predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. In a 2009 poll, fewer than 10 percent of Israelis had a favor- able view of Obama. And a poll conducted this month by the Israel Democracy Institute showed that 54 percent of the 600 Jewish Israelis surveyed said they did not trust Obama to consider and safeguard Israel's interests. After his speech March 21, however, some listeners said they had warmed to him. "He was very clear, and he conveyed a feeling of security, especially about Iran," said Hagar Shilo, 23, a political science student at Tel Aviv University. "He made a lot of pro-Israel statements that we hadn't heard yet--very much like Clinton." Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who heads the government's Israeli-Palestinian negotia- tions, wrote on Facebook, "Obama's speech was impor- tant and inspirational. Our job is to apply our Zionist vision, which was reflected eloquently in his words for Israel's youth." To be sure, Obama also challenged Israel on the trip. He visited the West Bank city of Ramallah and gave a state- ment with Palestinian Au- thority President Mahmoud Abbas condemning settle- ment construction. And in his speech to Israeli students on the night of March 21, he made an extended appeal asking Israelis to take risks for peace and the two-state solution, calling peace "neces- sary," "just" and "possible." "I speak to you as a friend who is deeply concerned and committed to your future," Obama said. "You have the opportunity to be the gen- eration that permanently secures the Zionist dream, or you can face a growing challenge to its future. Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine." Mostly, though, Obama sought to use this trip to reassure Israelis, including on Iran. "We agree that a nuclear- armed Iran would be a threat to the region, a threat to the world and potentially an existential threat to Israel," Obama said at a news confer- ence with Netanyahu. "We do not have a policy of con- tainment when it comes to a nuclear Iran. Our policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon." Even many of those who disagreed with Obama's poli- cies on Israel said they were encouraged by his decision to visit Israel. Tel Aviv University student Yanai Cohen, who attended the March 21 speech, said he doesn't agree with the two-state solution and felt that Obama had disparaged Israel's government. But, he said, what mattered most now was Obama's deci- sion to visit Israel. "Coming here is a sign," Cohen said. "It shows com- mitment." Apology From page 1A a few months before the Mavi Marmara incident. "There might be more to this agreement than what is currently being reported," Rhode said. During his time atthe Pen- tagon, Rhode specialized in looking at the wider context and cultural cues of any given situation in the Middle East. "While much of the atten- tion in the region has focused on Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Israel, the situation in Tur- key is actually quite fragile," Rhode said. "Turkey has enormous internal problems," he said. "And many people there be- lieve that Erdogan is ruining the future their country." Erdogan is seeking to move up to become Turkey's presi- dent, but wants to expand the powers of the presidency, making it almost into a monarchy and sultanate. His party doesn't have the votes to change the constitution, so Erdogan decided to make concessions to the Kurdish party in Parliament, offering them more cultural rights within Turkey, in exchange for their votes to change the constitution. Turkey has the largest Kurdish population of any country in the world. As in northern Iraq and Syria, Turkey's Kurdish popula- tion seeks to control its own destiny. On many levels, the Kurdish push for control of its destiny may be among "the most important devel- opments taking hold in the Middle East," Rhode said. According to Rhode, Erdo- gan doesn't want an indepen- dent Kurdistan; he instead wants a Sunni-Muslim state or commonwealth, in which Sunni Turks, Kurds, and Arabs rule. "Erdogan considers him- self a Muslim before a Turk," Rhode said. "What he wants is to become somewhat like a King, Sultan, or Supreme Ruler of Turkey, and not merely a Prime Minister. And his vision is to unite all of the country's Muslims behind his rule--in essence to reestablish his own version of the Ottoman Empire." In Rhode's view, unit- ing Turkey's diverse ethnic factions, in some form of alliance with the Sunnis in Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan will ultimately prove too difficult. "Erdogan is juggling a lot right now, and needs to demonstrate that he is powerful," said Rhode. "He needs ammunition to prove how strong he is. This apol- ogy from Israel helps him to do that." "Israel essentially obliged Erdogan by appearing to be bending at the knees," he said. "But we do not know what Israel got in return." Rhode explained that Turks "generally do not like or respect supplicants." "The apology will be taken by the Turks as well as the Iranians and other regional players as a sign of weakness," he said. "And in the Middle East, whenever somebody sees weakness, they pounce. They punch." According to Rhode, it is extremely important that Israel now take efforts to appear strong in the wake of the apology. "It is essential that Israel will remind its enemies who's boss," said Rhode. Newly appointed Israeli Defense Minster Moshe Ya'alon "has been doing just that in both Syria and Gaza," he said. "It is very important for Israel to look very strong here," Rhode said. Ya'alon has already re- duced the Mediterranean fishing boundaries of the Gaza Strip from six miles to three in the wake of rocket fire on the Israeli town of Sderot. He similarly ordered a crushing retaliatory strike on a Syrian missile-launch- ing site that fired into Israel. Ya'alon said that he sup- ports Israel's apology to Turkey "Netanyahu made a re- sponsible decision," he said. "The deal reached with Turkey does not conflictwith Israel's position on the mat- ter over the past three years," Ya'alon said. "The recent regional developments and the American involvement facilitated a resolution to this crisis. This is in the best interest of both Israel and Turkey." America considers both Is- rael and Turkey to be among its closest allies in the Middle East. Obama is reported to have an especially close relationship with Erdogan, while having an often-tense relationship with Netanyahu. "Unfortunately, President Obama's friendship with Erdogan is consistent with a pattern of cozying up to anti-Western dictators, as we have seen him trying to do in the early months of his Administration. He tried to appease Venezuela's with Hugo Chavez (who died recently), and later with Egypt's Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood," Rhode told "Erdogan is clearly aligned with the Muslim Brother- hood. "Together with the Saudis and Qataris, Erdo- gan has been supporting Sunni fundamentalists in the region, particularly in Syria," said Rhode. (But even here, the Saudis, Qataris and Erdogan disagree about which Sunni fundamentalist factions within the Syrian opposition they support.) "All three are supplying and arming the fundamen- talists that hate America and hate Israel," Rhode said. While Erdogan is re- ported to have accepted Israel's apology on behalf of Turkey's citizens, he may already be backtracking in an attempt to further solidify his position in the Muslim world. Less than 48 hours after the apology, Erdogan stated that a return to nor- malized diplomatic relations is contingent upon Israel fulfilling its commitments in the deal. One of the major ques- tions, according to Rhode, is "whether both sides consider this apology to be real, or whether this is merely win- dow dressing." "Given Erdogan's reaction today, this may be window- dressing, but that remains to be seen," Rhode said. Borders From page 2A defense officials is the Syrian border, beyond which a civil war has been raging for two years--one that is threatening to spill over. Israel has begun building a fence on the perim- eter of the Golan Heights and in January bombed a weapons convoy it feared was being shipped from Syria to Hezbol- lah operatives in Lebanon. The possibility that Syrian arms, including stockpiles of chemical weapons, couldwind up in the hands of terrorist groups is among the primary security concerns facing Israel. But the threats go deeper. As secular strongmen have vanished from the stage--first in Egypt, and potentially in Syria--Islamists are rising in their place. It's a development that could recast the Arab- Israeli conflict in religious rather than geopolitical terms. "We're seeing a decline in national identity and a rise in religious identity" in the Arab world, said Dan Meridor, Israel's outgoing minister of in- telligence. "The old paradigm of war is changing its face." On the whole, religiously inspired terrorist groups can be difficult to deter. Gener- ally they are less susceptible to diplomatic pressure than nation states. And unlike the dictators they appear to be replacing, the groups enjoy more popular support. "We used to have three or four enemies," Meridor said. "Now we have 10,000 or20,000. Our enemies are greater and are not necessarily states. How do you deter a group that's not a state?" Beyond the problem of de- terrence is the question of vic- tory. Israel's recent skirmishes with terrorist groups--notably its 2006 war against Hezbol- iah and its 2009 and 2012 campaigns against Hamas in Gaza--have led to something closer to stalemate than the decisive victories achieved in past conventional wars. Lurking behind a few of the non-state actors, though, is a state with which Israelis have become all too familiar: Iran. The Islamic Republic is Hezbollah's primary funder and one of the few remaining allies of the teetering Assad regime in Syria. Kochavi said that Iran and Hezbollah have organized an army of 50,000 in Syria and are trying to increase their influence there. "Iran and Hezbollah are both doing all in their power to assistAssad's regime," Kochavi said. "Iran and Hezbollah are also preparing for the day after Assad's fall, when they will use this army to protect their assets and interests in Syria." Experts said that in the face of four insecure borders, Israel's best bet is to stay alert and hang tough. But Danny Rothschild, director of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya's Institute of Policy and Strategy, told the con- ference that Israel needs to be proactive in directing the Middle East toward peace and prosperity. "Israel needs to be more in- volved in shaping the future of the region, even inaquietway," he said. "I have a feeling events will make it deal with issues, even if it hasn't intended to."