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December 25, 2009

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PAGE 2A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 25, 2009 U. S.-Israeli arms cooperation quietly growing By Nathan Guttman Forward WASHINGTON (Forward) -- Leaders in Washington and Jerusalem have publicly locked horns over the issue of West Bank settlements. And Israeli public opinion has largely viewed America's new administration as unfriendly. Behind the scenes, how- ever, strategic security re- lations between the two countries are flourishing. Israeli officials have been singing the praises of Presi- dent Obama for his willing- ness to address their defense concerns and for actions taken by his administration to bolster Israel's qualita- tive military edge--an edge eroded, according to Israel, during the final year of the George W. Bush presidency. Among the new initiatives taken by the administration, the Forward has learned, are adjustments in a massive arms deal that the Bush administration made with Arab Gulf states in response to Israeli concerns. There have also been upgrades in U.S.-Israeli military coopera- tion on missile defense. And a deal is expected next year that will see one of the United States' most advanced fighter jets go to Israel with some of America's most sensitive new technology. Amid the cacophony of U.S.-Israel clashes on the diplomatic front, public at- tention given to this inten- sified strategic cooperation has been scant. But in a rare public comment in October, Israeli U.S. Ambassador Michael Oren praised the Obama administration's re- sponse to complaints about lost ground during the close of the Bush years as "warm and immediate." "We came to the Obama administration and said, 'Listen, we have a problem here,'" Oren, told a gather- ing of the National Jewish Democratic Council. "The administration's reaction was immediate: We are going to address this issue, we are going to make sure that we maintain your QME [qualita- tive military edge]." The warmth seems to stand in contrast to public opinion in Israel, which ac- cording to a recent survey is highly critical of Obama, seeing him as weak and naive. Bush is perceived as having been a much stronger ally. But when the new admin- istration settled in, it faced entreaties from Jerusalem to redress what Israeli of- ficials saw as an erosion on the strategic side during the last stage of the Bush tenure, The Israelis cited Arab progress in replacing old Soviet weapons with new Western arms and advances in the operational technol- ogy of weapons that has made Israel's investment in human skills less significant. But Jerusalem's concerns, well-informed Israeli sources say, also were stoked by a massive $20 billion arms deal that the United States signed with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states during the Bush administration's last year. In its attempt to coun- ter Iran's military buildup and nuclear ambitions, the former administration ap- proved an arms contract that included upgrades of the Gulf countries' air and naval capa- bilities, as well as advanced missile defense systems and modern satellite-guided bombs. Israel, which sees Iran as its prime enemy in the region, initially accepted the Bush strategists' rationale for the huge arms transfer. Jerusalem voiced only mild concern regarding some of the specifics, mainly the supply of precision bombs. But in recent months, Israeli defense officials visit- ing Washington stepped up complaints about the Saudi deal. To the newly installed Obama administration offi- cials, the Israelis argued that the usage and deployment of these arms breached earlier understandings and could tilt the military balance against Israel. These complaints were met with what one Israeli diplomat called a"receptive- ness" that was demonstrated in the new administration's willingness to adjust the arms deployments to miti- gate Israel's concerns. A former senior security official in the Bush adminis- tration said Bush's guidance to all levels was to maintain Israel's qualitative military edge. The ex-official, who would speak only on back- ground, added that the arms sales to Gulf countries were done in light of the Arab world's anxiety over Iran's ambitions. "We saw it as a positive for all sides," he said, add- ing Israel had no complaints against it "on the strategic level." According to Steve Rosen, a former lobbyist for the American Israel Public Af- fairs Committee who is now a private consultant, the Obama administration, and especially the Pentagon, is now more open to supply- ing Israel with cutting-edge technology in an attempt to ensure Israel's confidence and possibly steer Jerusalem away from the idea of attack- ing Iran. "In an effort to give Israel a larger margin of safety, the U.S. is releasing technology that under other circum- stances would have been seen as more sensitive," he said. The United States and Arms on page 22A Carter offers Jewish community 'AI Het' By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)-- Jimmy Carter asked the Jewish community for for- giveness for any stigma he may have caused Israel. In a letter released exclu- sively to JTA, the former U.S. president sent a seasonal message wishing for peace between Israel and its neigh- bors, in which he wrote: "The time of Chanukah and the Christian holidays presents an occasion for reflection on the past and for looking to the future. In that vein, I wish to share some thoughts with you about the State of Israel and the Middle East. I have the hope and a prayer that the State of Israel will flourish as a Jewish state within secure and recognized borders in peaceful co-existence with its neighbors and with all the Moslem states, and that this peaceful co-existence will bring security, prosperity and happiness to the people of Israel and to the people of the Middle East of all faiths. I have the hope and a prayer that the bloodshed and hatred will change to mutual respect and cooperation, fulfilling the prophetic aspiration that the lion shall lie down with the lamb in harmony and peace. I likewise hope that violent attacks ag;ainst all civilians will end, which will help set a better frame- work for commencing nego- tiations. I further hope that peace negotiations can soon commence, with all issues on the negotiating table. I have the hope and a prayer that just as Chanukah is the Festival of Lights, the State of Israel will fulfill its destiny as a light unto the nations. We must recognize Israel's achievements under difficult circumstances, even as we strive in a positive way to help Israel continue to improve its relations with its Arab populations, but we must not permit criticisms for improvement to stigma- tize Israel. As I would have noted at Rosh Hashanah'and Yore Kippur, but which is ap- propriate at any time of the year, I offer an Al Het for any words or deeds of mine that may have done so. May we work and pray for that better day. Hag Semach and Happy Chanukah." Carter has angered some U.S. Jews in recent years with writings and statements that place the burden of peace- making on Israel, that have likened Israel's settlement policies to apartheid, and that have blamed the pro-Israel lobby for inhibiting an even- handed U.S. foreign policy. Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League's national director, welcomed the statement, calling it the "beginning of reconciliation." "We welcome any state- ment from a significant individual such as a former president who asks for AI Het," Foxman said. "To what extent it is an epiphany, time will tell. There certainly is hurt which needs to be repaired." "Al Het" refers to the Yom Kippur prayer asking God forgiveness for sins commit- ted against Him. In modern Hebrew it refers to any plea for forgiveness. Presidencia de la Repfiblica del Ecuador Jimmy Carter, seen on a South American visit in April, asked the Jewish community's forgiveness in a seasonal message wishing for peace between Israel and its neighbors. Deciphering the Obama polls By Eric Fingerhut WASHINGTON (JTA)-- Opinion polls are expected to provide a simple answer to an important question: What are the people thinking? But the details often reveal a much more complicated picture. Take two recent surveys-- one of American Jews and one of Israelis--dealing with atti- tudes about President Obama. The former found that support for Obama has plummeted, but a closer look reveals that the findings are virtually use- less as a measure of American Jewish opinion. The survey of Israelis is scientifically solid, but the numbers provide a more complex, divided view than previously thought. The national Quinnipiac poll released Dec. 9 found that Obama's approval rating in the Jewish community stands at 52 percent. While the general findings were based on interviews with more than 2,000 Americans, the Jewish number was derived from a Sample of just 71 respondents, for a margin of error of plus or minus 11.6 percent--a sample size that pollsters generally say makes such surveys un- reliable. The problem with such a small sample size is under- scored by the up-and-down results of three earlier Quin- nipiac polls earlier this year based on responses from a similar number of U.S. Jews. A July 27-Aug. 3 Quinnipiac survey found Obama with a 66 percent approval rating in the Jewish community versus a disapproval rating of 30 percent--a result that most observers in the Jew- ish community would find unsurprising. But two months later, in a poll taken Sept. 29 to Oct. 5 that few in the Jewish community even noticed at the time, Obama's approval among Jews had dropped to 46 percent, with 47 percent disapproving of the president's performance. Six weeks later, however, in a third Quinnipiac poll, conducted Nov. 9-16, Obama's approval rating jumped to 75 percent, while his disap- proval figures plummeted to 22 percent. Finally, the latest poll, taken Dec. 1-6, showed the 52-35 split of approval against disapproval. Giveathat no series of developments would seem to account for such wild swings in Jewish public opinion, the polls reinforce questions about the reliability of any survey based on such a small sample size. The Republican Jewish Coalition, though, heralded the poll as a sign of "buyers' remorse" over Obama among Jews. Its executive director, Matt Brooks, said the hard numbers of the specific Quin- nipiac poll were less important than what he said was an overall trend of falling sup- port for Obama in the Jewish community. A Gallup poll of Jews in September showed that Obama's approval rating was 64 percent, down from 82 percent in January--a rate of decline similar to his overall drop among all Americans. The National Jewish Demo- cratic Council emphasized the small sample size and called the RJC's claims "desperate and overreaching." Meanwhile, the New Amer- ica Foundation released a poll of 1,000 Israelis two weeks ago showing that Obama is more popular among residents of the Jewish state than had been be- lieved previously--but he's still not all that well-liked. Forty- one percent of Israelis have fa- vorable feelings toward Obama, with 37 percent expressing an unfavorable opinion of the U.S. president, according to the poll, which had a margin of error of 3.1 percent. But the poll also found that just 42 percent of Israelis be- lieve Obama"supports Israel," with 55 percent feeling that statement does not describe him. In addition, 43 percent said Obama is "naive," and 39 percent said he is a Muslim. The finding that 41 percent of Israelis have a favorable opinion of the president con- trasts with a Jerusalem Post poll over the summer, often cited in the media, which found that just 4 percent of Israelis believed Obama's poli- cies are "pro-Israel." Jim Gerstein of Gerstein/ Agne Strategic Communica- tions, which conducted the New America Foundation survey, said the earlier poll has been mischaracterized as Obama's approval rating in Israel, and noted that if one adds the 35 percent in the Post poll who answered "neutral" to the 4 percent who replied that Obama was "pro-Israel," one gets a result consistent with the 41 percent in the New America poll. Gerstein/Agne also has con- ducted polls for the advocacy group J Street, which supports U.S. pressure on Israel and the Palestinians. Gerstein is a member of the group's advisory council. Obama's favorable rating was higher than those gar- nered by Israeli Defense Min- ister Ehud Barak (30 percent) and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (38 percent), but lower than Israeli Prime Min- ister Benjamin Netanyahu's 51 percent and two previous U.S. presidents, Bill Clinton (59 percent) and George W. Bush (48 percent). But 16 percent of the poll sample was Israeli Arabs. When only Jews are counted, Netanyahu and Bush's favor- able ratings jump respectively to 58 and 55 percent, with Clinton's increasing by three points. Obama's goes down a point. Gil Tamary, a reporter for Israel's Channel 10, pointed out at a New America discus- sion introducing the poll that Obama's approval rating of 41 percent was significantly lower than the 56 percent fa- vorable rating that the United States received in the poll from Israelis. That U.S. number "should be the same as the presi- dent's," Tamary said. He added that Clinton's much higher popularityieven though he pushed "the same policies as President Obama"idemon- strated that Obama's problem is "the way he handles the Israeli public." "We're willing to make ma- jor concessions if you hug us and kiss us," Tamary said. "If we get the cold shoulder, we're giving the cold shoulder back." The poll also showed that Israelis would support a Ne- tanyahu-backed peace treaty, but felt no urgency to reach that goal. Sixty-nine percent approved of the prime minis- ter's handling of security, and 59 percent said they would support "any agreement he reaches with our enemies." That included 75 percent of Likud Party voters, 67 percent of Kadima voters and 51 per- cent ofYisrael Beiteinu voters. But just 50 percent agreed that Israel "cannot afford to continue the current situ- ation." Nearly as many (46 percent) said that Israel can "continue the current situa- tion as long as necessary and should not rush into a peace agreement."