Archive for January 2012
Why did the White House install a secure phone in Dennis Ross’ office in the Washington Institute for Near East Policy?
By Barak Ravid
January 30, 2012
Last week I published an article in Haaretz which stated that Dennis Ross, who had left the White House in November after more than two years as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for the Central Region, is still advising President Barack Obama even in his old-new position as a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Following the report, two independent sources approached me – one an Israeli academic, and the second a U.S. official. Both sources divulged a small, but very significant detail that clarified just how much Ross is still involved in framing U.S. policy regarding Israel and the Middle East.
Apparently, a short while after Ross left his position in the Obama administration, the White House made an unusual request to install a secure phone line in Ross’ office at the Washington Institute. The secure line is known in Israel as a “red phone”, which could be used to discuss confidential information without the risk of wiretapping.
The New York Times describes how Sheldon Adelson developed a “passion for Israel”:
When Mr. Adelson appeared at the Birthright event in December and spoke approvingly of Mr. Gingrich, he had earned his place on the stage by virtue of his donations to the organization — more than $100 million in all.
He is also the single largest donor to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum, with gifts totaling $50 million. Mr. Adelson’s generosity to Jewish causes is especially striking given that for most of his life he was relatively uninvolved in that world.
Mr. Adelson’s business partners in his early days at Comdex were all much more active in Jewish affairs. But friends say Mr. Adelson experienced something of an awakening after his first visit to Israel in 1988, when he was in his mid-50s.
“He fell in love with the country,” said Ted Cutler, an early business partner.
This coincided with his divorce from his first wife, Sandra. Not long after his trip, he encountered a friend, Sara Aronson, at a Boston restaurant. Mr. Adelson talked excitedly of Israel and mentioned that he was interested in meeting Israeli women, Ms. Aronson recalled.
Ms. Aronson introduced him to her best friend, Dr. Miriam Ochshorn, a divorced physician from Israel in her 40s who was completing a fellowship in addiction medicine at Rockefeller University in New York. As it turned out, Mr. Adelson’s two sons from his previous marriage both struggled with drugs. One would die in 2005.
After the couple married in 1991, Mr. Adelson’s visits to Israel became so frequent that he told friends he was contemplating settling there. His increasing wealth gave him the means to make a lasting imprint on causes important to him and his wife, including the establishment of drug treatment centers in the United States and Israel.
He also became one of the biggest donors to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobby, and joined its executive committee.
Friends point out that his staunch Zionist beliefs are consistent with his take-no-prisoners personality. They also said the views of his wife, who had lived through so much tumult in Israel, including the 1967 war, undoubtedly helped shape his.
Over time, Mr. Adelson made his conservative views felt not only within the committee, but also in Israel. He started a free daily newspaper in 2007, Israel Hayom, that is widely viewed as supportive of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close friend who shares his hawkish outlook.
Ehud Olmert, who was prime minister from 2006 to 2009, got a taste of the newspaper’s treatment of politicians who fall short of Mr. Adelson’s expectations. He and Mr. Adelson had been friendly, he said, but grew distant after Mr. Olmert tried to negotiate a two-state solution with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.
“Once, after I was already prime minister, he asked to come see me with his wife, Miri,” Mr. Olmert recalled in a telephone interview. “He already had his newspaper, and every day it attacked me viciously.
“Toward the end of our meeting, I asked him, ‘Aren’t you ashamed of what your paper is doing to the prime minister?’ ” Mr. Olmert said, referring to himself. “He said, ‘I don’t read Hebrew.’ And Miri said, ‘I do, and I must tell you that we are very aggressive against him.’ ”
Mr. Olmert added that he had heard from senior American officials that Mr. Adelson had advocated firing Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state and getting rid of Mr. Olmert because both were “betraying Israel.”
Reading Shadi Hamid’s “Why We Have a Responsibility to Protect Syria” in The Atlantic, one could be forgiven for wondering which country he is referring to when he talks about “our self-interest”:
Hastening Bashar al-Assad’s fall, aside from being the right thing to do, would also be squarely in our self-interest. The Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis would be destroyed. Iran would find itself significantly weakened without its traditional entry point into the Arab world. Hezbollah, dependent on both Iranian and Syrian military and financial support, would also suffer.
Hamid is a director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy. As Haim Saban, the Israeli-American media mogul whose $12 million pledge established Hamid’s employer, once told the New York Times:
I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel.
Arab Springs may come and go, Tahrir Square may become a global symbol for protests, President Mubarak may be in a cage in a Cairo courtroom, but Minister Aboul Naga does not permit such fleeting events to affect her distaste for democracy promotion. This kind of thinking has now led to a real crisis in bilateral relations. Perhaps the SCAF feels too weak these days to discipline her; perhaps her form of nationalism is now popular in Cairo. Those are Egyptian problems to solve, and as long as she remains true to form she will create more and more of them. Donors considering economic aid to Egypt, including the U.S. Congress, should realize that this assistance will pass through her hands.
Having created this crisis, perhaps she will now seek to solve it. We must wish her luck. I would give her until Friday and then advise the Government of Egypt that she will never again be granted a visa to visit the United States.
If Egypt gets away with banning our democracy NGOs and threatening to jail their staff, if officials who lead such actions are later given warm official receptions in Washington, those NGOs may as well close up show: every undemocratic regime will start treating them the same way. We need to stand up for them strongly–and now.
Arutz Sheva, an Israeli media outlet associated with Religious Zionism regarded as the voice of the settler movement, introduced a recent op-ed entitled “A Cold War Hot Victory: The Meaning of Assad’s Fall” with the following editorial note:
The writer affords us convincing and compelling reasons to pray even harder for Assad’s fall at the hands of Saudi supported rebels. Whether Syria democratizes or not is secondary to what is analyzed below.
Paul Scham, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute, who teaches Israel Studies at the University of Maryland, observes in The National Interest:
The spring that has helped Islamists elsewhere in the region has deprived Hamas of its longtime patrons and emboldened and empowered its enemy at home—PIJ. It must somehow adapt—quickly—to the new climate. This helps explain its seeming moderation, though it has given hints of this possibility for years.
But here again we must remember, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Iran is Israel’s foremost enemy and—what no one would have guessed—has apparently fallen out with Hamas, at least for now. This is clearly to Israel’s advantage.