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Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin: Kindred Spirits?

Nov. 21 2017

In the words of Jimmy Carter, the personalities of Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat “were totally incompatible”; they were two men with nothing in common. The president’s characterization interpretation of the two leaders, widely accepted both now and at the time of the 1978 Camp David negotiations, inflated Carter’s own image as heroic peacemaker. But, argues Martin Kramer, Begin and Sadat actually had very similar backgrounds and career trajectories—and these similarities might have made possible their success at achieving a compromise:

One obvious similarity is [that] both entered politics through the back door, as conspirators who planned political violence and were steeled by long stints in political prison. Sadat, as a young revolutionary, immersed himself in conspiratorial plots, both against the British (who then controlled Egypt) as well as against Egyptian leaders he regarded as collaborators. As a result, he found himself in and out of prison. . . .

Menachem Begin had the more famous “underground” career. He was first sent to prison during World War II by the Soviet secret police, the NKVD. . . . By then, he too had been initiated into a life of clandestine conspiracy—methods of operation he would bring with him to Palestine in the last days of the British Mandate. . . .

Both men [later] spent many years on the political margins, overshadowed by domineering leaders who had a stronger grip on the imaginations of their peoples, . . . [and] who issued the declarations of independence of their countries. (David Ben-Gurion actually declared Israel’s independence in 1948, and Gamal Abdel Nasser effectively declared Egypt’s independence by nationalizing the Suez Canal in 1956.) But neither of these giants had managed to bring peace to their peoples. . . .

[T]he parallels in the lives of Sadat and Begin may have worked, in ways subtle but strong, in favor of an agreement. Here were two men forged by prison and violence into believers in their own destiny, but who had been written off politically for decades. By the time they came to power, they were in a hurry to achieve something that would transcend the legacies of their celebrated predecessors. Here were two men who believed their peoples were fated to struggle alone, but who were prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to cement relations with the U.S., in the interests of their peoples but also in order to shut the Soviet Union out of the Middle East. Here were two men who did not shy away from the bold gamble, and who saw a greater risk in inaction.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Anwar Sadat, Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin

How Lebanon—and Hizballah—Conned and Humiliated Rex Tillerson

Feb. 21 2018

Last Thursday, the American secretary of state arrived in Beirut to express Washington’s continued support for the country’s government, which is now entirely aligned with Hizballah. His visit came shortly after Israel’s showdown with Hizballah’s Iranian protectors in Syria and amid repeated warnings from Jerusalem about the terrorist organization’s growing threat to Israeli security. To Tony Badran, Tillerson’s pronouncements regarding Lebanon have demonstrated the incoherence of the Trump administration’s policy:

[In Beirut], Tillerson was made to sit alone in a room with no American flag in sight and wait—as photographers took pictures and video—before Hizballah’s chief allies in Lebanon’s government, President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law the foreign minister, finally came out to greet him. Images of the U.S. secretary of state fidgeting in front of an empty chair were then broadcast across the Middle East to symbolize American impotence at a fateful moment for the region. . . .

Prior to heading to Beirut, Tillerson gave an interview to the American Arabic-language station al-Hurra, in which he emphasized that Hizballah was a terrorist organization, and that the United States expected cooperation from the “Lebanon government to deal very clearly and firmly with those activities undertaken by Lebanese Hizballah that are unacceptable to the rest of the world.” . . . But then, while in Jordan, Tillerson undermined any potential hints of firmness by reading from an entirely different script—one that encapsulates the confused nonsense that is U.S. Lebanon policy. Hizballah is “influenced by Iran,” Tillerson said. But, he added, “We also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon”—which apparently makes being “influenced by Iran” and being a terrorist group OK. . . .

The reality on the ground in Lebanon, [however], is [that] Hizballah is not only a part of the Lebanese government, it controls it—along with all of the country’s illustrious “institutions,” including the Lebanese Armed Forces. . . .

[Meanwhile], Israel’s tactical Syria-focused approach to the growing threat on its borders has kept the peace so far, but it has come at a cost. For one thing, it does not address the broader strategic factor of Iran’s growing position in Syria, and it leaves Iran’s other regional headquarters in Lebanon untouched. Also, it sets a pace that is more suitable to Iran’s interests. The Iranians can absorb tactical strikes so long as they are able to consolidate their strategic position in Syria and Lebanon. Not only have the Iranians been able to fly a drone into Israel but also their allies and assets have made gains on the ground near the northern Golan and in Mount Hermon. As Iran’s position strengthens, and as Israel’s military and political hand weakens, the Israelis will soon be left with little choice other than to launch a devastating war.

To avoid that outcome, the United States needs to adjust its policy—and fast. Rather than leaving Israel to navigate around the Russians and go after Iran’s assets in Syria and Lebanon on its own, it should endorse Israel’s red lines regarding Iran in Syria, and amplify its campaign against Iranian assets. In addition, it should revise its Lebanon policy and end its investment in the Hizballah-controlled order there.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Politics & Current Affairs, Rex Tillerson, U.S. Foreign policy