The American Myth of the “Three A.M.” Phone Call and Its Israeli Reality

Jan. 26 2017

Since the image was used by Hillary Clinton in her 2008 electoral campaign, the idea of the president being wakened by a late-night emergency has been a prominent one in U.S. politics. In reality, however, such emergencies are rare. Less so in Israel, writes Tevi Troy:

President Obama told the talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel that he had only been wakened three or four times over the course of his presidency, and never in the face of any kind of existential threat. But . . . the late-night wake-up is a recurring reality for Israeli prime ministers. Unsurprisingly, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, was the first to experience a prime-ministerial wakeup call, which came before he was even officially prime minister. Ben-Gurion was wakened at 1 a.m. on May 15, 1948—he became prime minister on the 17th—to be told that President Harry Truman had recognized the fledgling state of Israel. Ben-Gurion was then disturbed at 4 a.m., without having fallen asleep in the interim, to be brought to speak over the radio for an American audience at what is now Tel Aviv’s Independence Park. While he was in the midst of speaking, Tel Aviv was attacked, a point Ben-Gurion made sure to include in his broadcast.

This would not be the last time affairs of state intruded on Ben-Gurion’s sleep, even if it was the most momentous. And his successors would have their own share of after-midnight emergencies. Israel has also disturbed the sleep of American presidents:

[One] Israel-related presidential wakeup happened in January 1991, during the first Gulf War. President George H.W. Bush had been working to keep Prime Minister Yitzḥak Shamir from retaliating for Iraqi Scud-missile attacks aimed at drawing Israel into the fray. As Bush recalled, “[I] put on the hardest sale I have ever used” to persuade Shamir not to respond. . . . Following Bush’s successful lobbying, Iraq attacked Israel again. The national-security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, woke up Bush 1:30 a.m. to let him know. Bush feared the worst, writing in his diary that “they are going to retaliate.” Yet Shamir kept his cool. Bush called the prime minister to express his gratitude and followed up by sending Israel a shipment of Patriot missiles.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Tablet

More about: David Ben-Gurion, George H. W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Israel & Zionism, Israeli history

The Struggle for Iraq, and What It Means for Israel

Oct. 17 2018

Almost immediately after the 2003 invasion, Iraq became a battleground between the U.S. and Iran, as the latter sent troops, money, and arms to foment and support an insurgency. The war on Islamic State, along with the Obama administration’s effort to align itself with the Islamic Republic, led to a temporary truce, but also gave Tehran-backed militias a great deal of power. Iran has also established a major conduit of supplies through Iraq to support its efforts in Syria. Meanwhile, it is hard to say if the recent elections have brought a government to Baghdad that will be pro-American or pro-Iranian. Eldad Shavit and Raz Zimmt comment how these developments might affect Israel:

Although statements by the U.S. administration have addressed Iran’s overall activity in the region, they appear to emphasize the potential for confrontation in Iraq. First and foremost, this [emphasis] stems from the U.S. perception of this arena as posing the greatest danger, in light of the extensive presence of U.S. military and civilian personnel operating throughout the country, and in light of past experience, which saw many American soldiers attacked by Shiite militias under Iranian supervision. The American media have reported that U.S. intelligence possesses information indicating that the Shiite militias and other elements under Iranian auspices intend to carry out attacks against American targets and interests. . . .

In light of Iran’s intensifying confrontation with the United States and its mounting economic crisis, Tehran finds it essential to maintain its influence in Iraq, particularly in the event of a future clash with the United States. The Iranian leadership has striven to send a message of deterrence to the United States regarding the implications of a military clash. . . .

A recently published report also indicates that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq. Although Iran has denied this report, it might indeed attempt to transfer advanced military equipment to the Shiite militias in order to improve their capabilities in the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the United States and/or Israel, or a confrontation between [the militias] and the central government in Baghdad.

From Israel’s perspective, after years when the Iraqi arena received little attention from Israeli decision makers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have mentioned the possibility of Israel’s taking action against Iranian targets in Iraq. In this context, and particularly in light of the possibility that Iraq could become an arena of greater conflict between the United States and Iran, it is critical that there be full coordination between Israel and the United States. This is of particular importance due to [the American estimation of] stability in Iraq as a major element of the the campaign against Islamic State, which, though declared a success, is not yet complete.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel & Zionism, U.S. Foreign policy