Skip to main content

In Israel, 'Slip of the Tongue' On Syria Puts Pressure on US

Though a senior Israeli intelligence officer's declaration that Syria has used chemical weapons wasn't intended to embarass US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the bigger problem is how the US will deal with its own red lines, writes Ben Caspit.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (2nd R) and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon (R) watch an Israeli military K-9 unit train at an army base near Tel Aviv April 23, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Watson/Pool (ISRAEL - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY ANIMALS) - RTXYWPQ

This was not your ordinary American request. Visits to Israel by high-ranking US officials, from the president on down, are generally extremely well-planned. Every second is measured, every minute planned, and the timetable scheduled months in advance; huge preparatory delegations survey the area and prepare a special dossier for the president, secretary of defense or secretary of state on everyone whose hand they'll shake during the visit. And yet, during US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s visit to Israel, the Americans threw a curveball: Hagel, they said, would very much like to meet Israeli soldiers — to talk to them, to look into their eyes, to learn about the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) first hand, to reach out and touch it.

Hagel's schedule was already packed from start to finish. The Americans proposed shoehorning this visit on Tuesday morning, April 23, in between a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hagel's trip to the airport for his flight to his next stop. The office of Defense Minister Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon delegated this task to the IDF, which came up with an improvised, though brilliant, solution. The Oketz Unit, the Israeli canine special-forces unit, considered the best of its kind in the world, is right on the route. There was one problem: the route is Highway 443, the convenient and quick alternative to Highway 1, the main road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. But Hagel did not go to the Oketz Unit via Highway 443, because the eastern part of the road passes through territory that was captured in 1967. The US-Israeli entourage traveled down Highway 1 as usual, and then cut across to Ben Shemen Forest, within the Green Line, where Oketz soldiers and their dogs were waiting.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.