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

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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 New York Times

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East