By Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn
Israel and its friends were justifiably shocked and angry when the Federal Aviation Agency briefly suspended all American flights to Israel in the middle of the Gaza War. But the truth is that the FAA did Israel a big favor.
At first glance, the FAA announcement was, of course, outrageously unfair. It was made in response to a single Hamas rocket that landed more than a mile away from Israel’s Ben-Gurion airport. The FAA decision seemed to be a panicky surrender to terrorists’ threats.
One U.S. senator went further, asking whether the Obama Administration might have engineered the FAA action as a way of putting pressure on Israel. Indeed, the FAA move came just hours before Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Israel –at Ben-Gurion Airport– on a mission to force Israel to cease firing at Hamas. It is a coincidence that just weeks earlier, Kerry was threatening that Israel would find itself isolated in the world if it did not quickly agree to Palestinian demands?
Supporters of Israel understood the severe damage that the suspension could cause to Israel’s economy –indeed, to its entire way of life– and they responded swiftly. Some, like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, flew to Israel to demonstrate their support for the Jewish State. Others bombarded the White House with protest letters.
Two days later, the FAA lifted its suspension. Had the Hamas threat abated? Was the administration giving in to Israeli and Jewish protests? Or was it simply satisfied that it had successfully fired a warning shot across Israel’s bow?
Whatever the explanation, both Israel’s supporters and detractors recognize that the implications of the episode are serious.
Thomas Friedman of the New York Times wrote in his August 5 column that Hamas was sending a message: “If we can close your airport, your global lifeline, with one rocket from Gaza, imagine what happens if you leave the West Bank, right next door.” A deeply worried Friedman added: “That F.A.A. ban will now be used here as a key argument for why Israel must never cede the West Bank.”
Mind you, Friedman is not particularly worried about the danger to Israeli air traffic, or to Israel’s existence, from a Palestinian state. No, his main concern is that the danger of Hamas rockets hitting Ben-Gurion airport will harm the Palestinian statehood cause that he has been advocating since the 1970s.
Friedman has good reason to worry. Support for Palestinian statehood is unquestionably starting to slip away in the wake of the FAA suspension. Consider the position of Prof. Alan Dershowitz. Although a vigorous defender of Israel, Dershowitz has also long supported the creation of a Palestinian state under certain conditions. But the FAA incident has clearly left him shaken. He wrote on July 22: “Hamas’ actions in essentially closing down international air traffic into Israel considerably reduces the prospect of any two-state solution.”
Dershowitz is right. And he is not alone. Many Israelis who previously were willing to take a chance on Palestinian statehood are now reconsidering. They know that Ben-Gurion airport is less than five miles from where the elevated highlands of the Judea-Samaria (West Bank) region begin. That’s where a Palestinian state, and a Palestinian army, would be located. Even a lone Palestinian terrorist with a shoulder-fired missile would be able to target planes arriving at, or leaving, Ben-Gurion Airport. Air traffic would grind to a halt. Secretary Kerry’s dire prophecies about Israel being isolated in the world would come true.
So in a sense, the F.A.A. did Israel a big favor. Its brief suspension of flights to Israel vividly illustrated to the Israeli public how much damage a future Palestinian state could wreak. This was a sobering episode that Israelis will not easily forget.
Thomas Friedman will suffer no consequences if his advice to Israel goes awry. Hamas rockets will never strike the mansion and 7.6 acres of land in posh Bethesda, Maryland, where he resides. For Israel’s citizens, by contrast, this is a matter of life and death. They are understandably less than eager to gamble with their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
Lesson twenty-one of the Gaza war: One Hamas rocket is worth a thousand of Thomas Friedman’s words.
[Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn are members of the board of the Religious Zionists of America. This article is part of a series. ]