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The U.S.S. George Washington, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier capable of projecting more combat power than most of the world’s air forces, is due to arrive in South Korea today (Thursday, July 22). Once there, along with its three escorts, it will take part in military exercises with the South Korean fleet, in a show of military strength to deter any further acts of madness by the alarmingly unstable North Koreans. This show of military strength, along with visits by the secretaries of Defense and State, are a powerful demonstration of American commitment to South Korean security and of solidarity with its threatened ally. So much so, in fact, that it makes the Obama Administration’s standoffishness with, and bullying of, Israel all the more disturbing.
It would be folly to deny the fact that the South Koreans are under a clear, direct threat from the North. Ever since the North launched an unprovoked attack against the South Korean warship Cheonan, the Korean peninsula, divided between the liberal-democratic South and the brutal dictatorship of Kim Jong-il’s North, has teetered on the brink of war. The evidence implicating the North in the murder of 46 South Korean sailors is ironclad, and the North has responded to their international shaming predictably — with frantic denials and threats of war.
During these precarious developments, the Americans stood resolutely by their allies. The Americans were quick to dispatch naval experts to help inspect the wreckage of the Cheonan, provided full diplomatic support and made clear that military aggression by the North would be met with a united allied response. Whether or not anything can deter the North is difficult to say; given the long-standing rumors that Kim Jong-il is in ill health, attempting to intuit the motives of what could well be a destabilizing regime is virtually impossible. Nonetheless, the Administration’s loyalty is to be commended.
The Israelis, meanwhile, also face serious threats to their security, and arguably, a greater existential threat. While the North Korean nuclear program is worrisome, one can only hope that the North would view such weapons “properly” — as diplomatic bargaining chips and a deterrent against an attack by a militarily superior foe. To be blunt, it is unlikely that the North would use nuclear weapons against the South, due to both the certainty of radioactive contamination and the absurdity of destroying the territory you wish to reunite with. Israel, however, must assume that should the same people who have repeatedly called for their physical annihilation gain the means to accomplish their oft-stated goal, they will not hesitate to destroy the Jewish state.
Israel is certainly preparing for the worst. It is moving full speed ahead with its Iron Dome missile defense system, continues to push for international diplomatic action against Iran, strives as always to hold its military to the highest possible standards of behavior and is continually reaching out to Washington. That last step, admittedly necessary after an Israeli gaffe embarrassed Vice President Biden during a visit to Israel, has been frustrated by the Administration’s clear hostility to America’s long-time ally.
While Washington still pays lip service to the importance of the Israeli alliance to America’s strategic interests and to Israel’s right to defend itself, and in spite of the continuing close relationships directly between the two militaries, it is obvious that the Administration’s desire to been seen as more neutral by the Muslim world, as part of President Obama’s plan to reach out and reset American relations with Middle East, is preventing America from making the strong shows of support for Israeli security that it is happy to make for the South Koreans.
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