Friday, January 15, 2016

A Familiar Cast - A Familiar Script

For those of us who followed the development of the Lavi fighter program decades ago, there was a familiar name in the news this past week - one providing current emphasis to how little has truly changed in Washington.

Thomas Pickering was ambassador to Israel from 1985 to 1988, at the height of the behind-the-scenes campaign - led by then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and aided by many in the rank and file of the State Department - to convince Israel to cancel the Lavi program. As ambassador, Pickering helped to shuttle Weinberger's protege, Dov Zakheim between meetings with Israeli officials: both arranging the meetings and reinforcing Zakheim's message after he returned to Washington. These included meetings between Zakheim and the leadership of Israel's religious parties, aimed at taking advantage of Israel's secular-religious divide in the campaign to cancel the program. Moreover, Pickering performed these roles, despite the fact that his lobbying campaign was never approved by Secretary of State George Shultz, who had been personally responsible for securing President Reagan's endorsement for the Lavi program and for U.S. funding to support it.[1]

Thomas Pickering appeared again in the news this past week, in a series of emails amidst the trove of official documents recovered from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's personal email server. In the emails, dated from December 2011, Pickering suggests that the United States should covertly engage "third parties and a number of NGOs" (non-governmental organizations) to engage in "protests and demonstrations to put peace back in the center of people's aspirations."[2]

Pickering's proposals were not the first, nor the last time that State Department officials and advisors had proposed that the United States should intervene in Israel's internal politics. They do however, underscore how enduring the pervasive, corporate culture of the State Department has become. Pickering was not some political appointee to an obscure ambassadorship. Rather, he was a high ranking career diplomat, who has held ambassador roles to Israel, Jordan, India, Russia, and the United Nations.

What is most disturbing about Pickering's proposals to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is not that a State Department adviser was again suggesting that the U.S. should covertly intervene on the internal Israeli political scene, but rather the sheer naivete of his proposal. To believe that the U.S. could engage the Palestinian masses to launch "protests and demonstrations", and that such protests would remain peaceful and not degenerate into another round of violence, speaks volumes for how disconnected the State Department elite has become from reality. Israel is today combating a wave of stabbing attacks and shootings, perpetrated by Palestinians whose leaders continue to hale such violence as the acts of "martyrs". Only three weeks ago, for example, two Israelis died in Jerusalem as the result of one such stabbing attack - the latest in a string of such violence.[3] Only this past week, the Palestinian Authority - Israel's diplomatic partner under the Oslo Accords - declared the perpetrator of another such attack (a shooting that killed two Israelis) to be a "martyr" for the Palestinian cause.[4] The disconnect between the rose-colored narrative to which the State Department's leading diplomats subscribe, and the deadly consequences of the real world could hardly be more stark.

There was a familiar name in the news this past week. A familiar reminder of how little has truly changed on the Washington scene.

[1] John Golan, Lavi: The United States, Israel, and a Controversial Fighter Jet (Sterling, VA: Potomac, 2016).
[2] Gil Ronen, "Clinton Mulled Secret Plan to Spark Palestinian Unrest," Erutz Sheva (January 11, 2016),
[3] Daniel K. Eisenbud, "Two Israelis Wounded in Jerusalem Terror Attack Die of Injuries," The Jerusalem Post (December 23, 2015),
[4] Khaled Abu Toameh, "Palestinian Authority Joins Hamas in Declaring Tel Aviv Gunman 'a Martyr,'" The Jerusalem Post (January 9, 2016),

No comments:

Post a Comment