Political memoirs are rarely written for only one reason, but Broken Covenant, by Moshe Arens, sometime Israeli ambassador (to the United States), minister of foreign affairs and defense, is the rare exception. Arens just wants to pay off old scores against those he believes maneuvered or conspired against him. The list is very long. Because he is outspoken to the point of bluntness, Covenant offers insights into a mindset that is central to certain aspects of Israeli-American relations. This from the opening paragraph gives us an inkling of what is to come:
During those four years [1988-92], relations between Jerusalem and Washington would plummet to an unprecedented low, with the Bush administration interfering in the Israeli domestic political arena in an undisguised attempt to bring down the democratically elected government of Israel. Never before in its history had a government of the United States dealt in this manner with a sister democracy, bringing on a number of crises in Israel, and eventually contributing to the downfall of the government led by Yitzhak Shamir in 1992.
He starts out with the Israeli election, in which he was the chairman of the Likud election committee. The reason he had this job, incidentally, was that he was no longer the minister of defense, having resigned in protest over the decision to end the development of the Lavi fighter, a project for which he felt he had been personally responsible. He had trained the engineers who had worked on it when he was teaching at the Faculty of Aeronautical Engineering at the Israel Institute of Technology; as ambassador to the United States, he had convinced the administration and Congress to give $250 million dollars annually directly to Israel for the development of the fighter instead of spending it on equipment made in the United States; as minister of defense he had obtained Washington's approval for the participation of U.S. industry and technology in the process-though perhaps "contribution" is more accurate than "participation."
According to him the project was scuttled because of a cabal (headed by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger) of American aerospace companies and dubious Israeli generals. Was it possible the United States had finally realized it was providing the technology, plus at least a quarter of a billion dollars a year, for a project that was either a white elephant (which it was giving every indication of being) or, if successful, a competitor in the international market against American industry and workers, who were paying for it? No, this too was malevolence, and we have not yet reached the bottom of the fourth page of the first chapter.
The book deals with Israeli-American relations during the four years George Bush was president and James Baker secretary of state. Baker, Arens repeatedly complains, frequently got in touch with members of the opposition in Israel, thus undercutting the position of the government and sometimes making it untenable-not something that should happen between democratic allies. This complaint sounds particularly hollow at a time when the newspapers inform us that the Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, an Arens protégé, is constantly faxing urgent requests to his supporters in the American Congress to do what they can to torpedo the American sponsored peace process (The Washington Post, July 10, 1995). Arens himself makes absolutely no secret of the fact that every time he was displeased with an American position, or suspected that the administration was about to take steps he disagreed with, he went to see powerful members of both Houses of Congress in order to block it. Pages 234-5 are a good example of the way in which he went to the warlords on Capitol Hill to make sure of their support against their own government: "...It was unlikely, I thought, that the administration would get into a fight with Israel which the Hill might not support." In this of course he was probably right. The Senate, which should be a bulldog guarding American interests overseas, has been the Israel lobby's poodle for too many years.
Moreover, he speaks quite casually of the sources he has in the U.S. administration, as if it were natural to have informers at the highest level of an "ally's" government:
When the Israeli Army entered southern Lebanon on June 6th, 1982, while Reagan, accompanied by Haig, was in Europe, the NSC [National Security Council] was called into session and chaired by Bush. The reports I received indicated that Bush had been extremely critical of Israel at this meeting...(p.28).
The reports I received? From whom? NSC meetings are not congressional circuses with television crews and contributors to be made happy. They are closed sessions held in the White House under conditions of the most rigorous security and discretion. The participants are members of the government at the highest level, and ipso facto with the highest security clearance. Which one felt free to run with a report of the confidential proceedings to the ambassador of a foreign country with no fear of sanctions, let alone a twinge of conscience? And why does that ambassador feel free to mention it without eliciting so much as a raised eyebrow in American political circles?
When the Israeli Air Force was pounding the city of Beirut to rubble, and the army was rapidly advancing into Lebanon, Ambassador Arens appeared regularly on television to explain that the Israeli Defense Forces were only going 45 kilometers deep, to "clean out the terrorist nests and bring peace to Galilee," though there had been no attack across that border for over eleven months. It was often said at the time, in Sir Henry Wotton's famous phrase, that "an ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country."
This extraordinary book proves that statement unjust. It is not deliberately mendacious - he believes what he is saying, although at times the disingenuousness, or self-pity, is staggering: "If Saddam Hussein had attacked Israel rather than Kuwait, would the United States and its allies have rushed to its defense? I...was invariably told that Israel would have received the same assistance as Kuwait, but I remain unconvinced." It is quite obvious he believes he is almost the only one who is concerned with the safety and future of Israel, all foreigners (with the exception of a few American senators and politicians) being bent on weakening it and harming him:
I had anticipated this change in U.S. policy from the Bush administration, but I had not expected that discussions and consultations anchored on the common values and mutual trust that had characterized the relationship between the United States and Israel over the years, even at times of disagreement, would now take a back seat to a web of leaks, distorted background briefings, and public pronouncements of a provocative and confrontational nature by the new secretary of state. I could see that these tactics were designed to put the new Israeli government on notice as to the way in which the wind from Washington was going to blow for the next four years, and to discredit me personally (emphasis added) (p.58).
Any discussion that can be anchored in mutual trust and simultaneously take a back seat (to a web of leaks and distorted background briefings, at that) is obviously a matter of deep concern not only to the author but to his editors. And yet the passage, ridiculous as it sounds, does serve a valuable purpose, in that it shows how he takes any initiative on the part of any other government as not only hostile but probably against him personally.
When he meets European leaders, "Everyone seemed to want an immediate solution at Israel's expense, and they were looking for Israel to provide it" (p.37). John Major "seemed to have forgotten that Britain had ceased to be the Mandatory in Palestine over forty-one years ago....Such arrogance and unpleasantness I had never encountered in any of my diplomatic dealings" (p.82). "I knew I wouldn't find a sympathetic ear in Paris, London or Rome...only pious sermons on human rights...etc"(p.113).
Not only foreigners-the better-known Israeli political personalities are not safe from his suspicions and aspersions. If there is a word of praise for a colleague in the whole book, it is well hidden. In fact, with the exception of a few subordinates and some American senators and such who are famous for their subservience to the Israeli government, or rather to AIPAC, no one comes out well, for example,
Peres was a doer, supremely confident of his own judgment, having little respect for the opinion of others. His blustering overconfidence had led him at times to recklessness in word and on occasion even in deed....a visit I undertook at Shamir's behest threw Peres into a rage against me that has colored our relationship ever since (p.22).
Quick to anger, Rabin is wont to castigate his real or imagined enemies in outrageous terms. He has referred to Begin as an "archeological relic," to Peres as an "inveterate schemer," and to Peres's young aide Yossi Beilin as "Peres's poodle." His long years of service to Israel as chief of staff, ambassador, minister and prime minister have led Rabin to the conclusion that he knows all he needs to know on whatever subject is under consideration, and that any outside advice is worse than useless.
Nor do members of his own party come out any better. While he says nothing comparably venomous about Shamir, he makes it clear he thinks the old man should retire before he does any more damage. He considers Ariel Sharon an irresponsible demagogue. He thinks Finance Minister Yitzhak Modai should have been fired. As for his rival, Foreign Minister David Levy, a characteristic remark is, "It was not clear to me whether Levy had simply lost his nerve, or was trying to score points with the public even at the risk of increasing their anxiety, or possibly both, but I found his behavior unpardonable" (p.155).
But all these animadversions are tangent to the real grievance, which is against the Bush administration. His complaints boil down to three:
(1) The administration tied the loan guarantee to Israel's stopping the construction of settlements on the West Bank.
(2) It communicated with the various Arab groups-including the PLO-directly, rather than through the Israelis.
(3) It refused to let Israel join the war against Iraq.
Now an Israeli politician may not approve of what Bush and Baker were up to in terms of Israel's policies, but it is hard to see how he could criticize them in terms of America's interests.
For the maintenance of its position as the world's paramount power, for strategic reasons, for the security of oil-the lifeblood of industrial nations-what America needs most in the Middle East is stability and peace, and despite all the meretricious clichés about "common values and mutual trust," Israel's imperatives are not always the same as America's. Sometimes Israelis, whether Labor or Likud, have seen fit to stir the pot, so that Israel is once again perceived to be in great danger, needing the support of the United States, political, financial and military, in order to survive as an island of democracy in an ocean of backward tyrannies. The examples are too numerous to list.
And as long as Israel is building settlements on the West Bank there will be no peace and no stability. It is quite as simple as that. Baker and others repeated that money is fungible, and while the loans would not themselves fund the illegal settlements, they would replace money that would. All the administration wanted was an understanding that Shamir's government would stop building settlements on the West Bank, and the money would go towards financing the absorption of the Russian refugees. This Shamir and Arens adamantly refused to give, Arens at one point calling the request absurd. In fact we know from other sources that Baker complained that every time he went to the West Bank he was defiantly greeted with a new settlement.
In the end, of course, President Bush agreed to the guarantees without conditions, something Arens characteristically believes was done to reward the Labor government of Rabin and spite Shamir, though observers of the American political scene are inclined to believe it was more like a bone thrown in panic to AIPAC on the eve of the elections-uselessly, as it turned out.
That the Bush administration communicated with various Arab groups is true in the sense that it slightly improved on the abysmal record of previous administrations. In this context, it is worth noting an exchange between Foreign Ministers Arens and Eduard Shevardnadze (p.51) in which Arens "asked in amazement" whether the Soviet Union, one of the world's two superpowers, allowed others to set conditions for Soviet policy. When Shevardnadze said it did not, Arens replied, "You know, Israel is a much smaller country than the Soviet Union, but nobody can dictate to us either." It seems to be all right, however, for Israel to dictate American policy in the Middle East.
The third charge is the one that most rankles with Arens. Again there is a reason for that. To mount Desert Storm, Bush put together a mighty army and awesome air force that eventually totaled over 700,000, in order to pulverize a Third World country with an exhausted army and the gross national product of Kentucky. To get at Iraq, however, the coalition armies had to depend on the goodwill of the Arabs, not only that of the rulers, which was more or less assured, but of the public, which was extremely dubious. The one thing that would have broken the coalition wide open was the entrance of the Israelis on its side, a fact everyone was aware of, most specifically including Saddam Hussein and Moshe Arens. That is why Saddam sent over the Scud missiles-he counted on the Israelis retaliating and forcing the Arab members to withdraw. He was not worried about the Israelis attacking, since no damage they could inflict could approach what the coalition air force was doing. The Scuds did very little harm, hardly as much as the Patriot missiles hurriedly shipped over to repel them. Arens says, however, that "the kind of destruction caused by the Scuds in Israel's urban centers had not been seen anywhere in the Western world since World War II." This may be true, if we exclude what we have seen on our television screens of the almost daily destruction of Lebanese villages suspected of "harboring terrorists," let alone what happened to Beirut and Baghdad.
It had been evident for some time that Iraq was going to be devastated in the inevitable war, and there was neither a legitimate military reason, nor a justifiable political one, for Israel to enter it. The degree of Arens's anger at a remark by Baker, "our boys are doing the job for you," shows how close it was to the bone. On the other hand, for Israel, entering the war had palpable advantages and opportunities. If the Arab members of the alliance withdrew or were damaged by internal disturbances, that would show the United States that Israel was its one solid friend in the Middle East. If Israel attacked an Arab country with the acquiescence and approval of the United States, it would show the Arabs once again who America's friend in the Middle East was. An attack through Jordan would aggravate its chronic instability, and any attempt at self-defense would give Israel an opportunity to modify its borders.
Arens is displeased that Bush and Baker prevented all that. This is essentially what the book is about. Why Bush lost the election of 1992 is a matter of some speculation and conjecture; nobody can say with certainty. But there is one thing we do know: If this book lives up to the hopes of its author, it will kill James Baker's chance of ever being president of the United States.