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Friday, September 21, 2012

Reagan, Obama and Israel

A president of the United States had fierce disagreements with a conservative Israeli leader due to potential actions by Israel against a Middle East foe. Does this sound like a description of Obama and Netanyahu over Iran? Try Ronald Reagan relating to Menachem Begin over Lebanon. How serious were their disagreements? At the time Reagan wrote in his personal diary that he had told Begin that Israel “had to stop [bombing Beirut, Lebanon] or our entire future relationship was endangered”.

We are heading into tense times in the relationship between Israel and the United States, but we have been through tough moments before. While many on the Right trumpet a narrative in which President Obama would appear to be the first president to ever have had significant disagreements and frustrations with Israel, it is worth remembering the 1982 tensions between Reagan and Begin over Lebanon if for no other reason than to remind ourselves that disagreeing with an Israeli leader over their military actions is not a sign of betrayal or weakness. Here is an excerpt from a story about Reagan's time in office:

Israel’s involvement in the Lebanese civil war began in June 1982, when it invaded its northern neighbor. Its goal was to root out the Palestine Liberation Organization, which had set up a state within a state, and to transform Lebanon into a Christian-ruled ally. The Israel Defense Forces soon besieged P.L.O.-controlled areas in the western part of Beirut. Intense Israeli bombardments led to heavy civilian casualties and tested even President Ronald Reagan, who initially backed Israel. In mid-August, as America was negotiating the P.L.O.’s withdrawal from Lebanon, Reagan told Prime Minister Menachem Begin that the bombings “had to stop or our entire future relationship was endangered,” Reagan wrote in his diaries.

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