Israel’s incredible rescue of hostages from the middle of the African continent highlights just how incredible America’s non-rescue of its CIA and Foreign Service officers in Benghazi was, letting them die on their own without making any attempt to save them.
This column was originally published in The Times of Israel
Every so often, the stars align just right to place certain current events in proper historical context. This past week provided a good example, though one had to pay simultaneous attention to Israel and America to see it: the Benghazi Committee released its stinging report, just days before Israel observed the 40th anniversary of its July 4, 1976 Entebbe raid.
Israel’s incredible rescue of hostages from the middle of the African continent highlights just how incredible America’s non-rescue of its CIA and Foreign Service officers in Benghazi was, letting them die on their own without making any attempt to save them. It also highlights the differences in character between those who shouldered political responsibility for the rescue/non-rescue decisions, particularly Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
We know the basic Entebbe story: in the last days of June 1976, Palestinian terrorists aided by German revolutionaries hijacked a Paris-bound Air France flight from Athens, which had originated in Tel Aviv. Their first stop, interestingly, was Benghazi. From there, they flew to Uganda’s Entebbe airport, where dictator Idi Amin welcomed and supported the hijackers. The terrorists isolated the 94 Jewish and Israeli passengers, freed the non-Jews, and threatened to kill the hostages if Israel would not release dozens of Palestinian prisoners. (To their great honor, the 12-person Air France crew declined the offer of freedom, and insisted on staying with the hostages.)
But we don’t often fully appreciate the bleak context of the hostage crisis. Keep in mind, Israel had been founded only 28 war-torn years earlier; and less than four years had passed since the 1972 Munich massacre of Israel’s Olympic team.
The hostages were being held 2,500 miles away in a landlocked country that was providing support to the hijackers with its Soviet-supplied military. Israel had no drones, satellites, smart bombs, stealth aircraft, cruise missiles or any other precision weaponry in 1976, and no long-range military capability. Israel had only spotty intelligence and no real-time information from the airport. The odds against a successful rescue were long, and the costs of an unsuccessful attempt could be staggering.
But the cost of capitulation to the terrorists would also be high: the costs of giving in to blackmail always are, as surrender serves as an invitation for ever-more blackmail.
So, when Israel’s military scrambled to assemble an audacious rescue plan, the Rabin cabinet, with the support of the opposition (headed by Menachem Begin), opted to execute it.
Success was hardly foregone conclusion: Israel was sending 100 of its best commandos into a situation far away, where they could be badly outnumbered; where there was no backup or rescue plan if the mission went awry; where maintaining the element of surprise required convincing Ugandan soldiers that they were Idi Amin’s entourage; where planes had to fly distances only 100 feet off the ground to avoid radar detection (creating such turbulence as to make those commandos vomit incessantly).
(For some amusing personal accounts from the commandos about other obstacles to the success of this mission, see http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1659009/posts.)
Oh, and let’s not forget: Israel’s planes did not have the range to fly to Uganda and back; nevertheless, they embarked on their mission, unsure of how or where they would refuel, as nearby African countries would fear reprisals from Palestinian terrorists and Amin’s military if they’d help Israel. (In another fascinating chapter to this episode, Kenya bravely came through, and refueled the planes in Nairobi; Kenya would pay a heavy price for its role.)
In short, Rabin was authorizing a mission sending 100 of Israel’s finest on a mission from which they might not return. Even if successful, the military expected casualties, potentially heavy.
But Israel reasoned that a military option, even at a heavy cost, is preferable to giving in to terrorism. Rabin, nevertheless, prepared a letter of resignation in case the mission failed: although his decision to proceed with an unsuccessful mission would still have been justifiable (and was endorsed even by his political opposition), he understood what it meant to take responsibility.
The rest, as they say, is history. With a successful (though costly) rescue, Israel had taken a stand. The world was on notice: Israel would confront evil and blackmail, and would defend the lives of its citizens anywhere. Israeli lives would not be cheap. Israel, and its political and military leadership, showed national solidarity, courage, determination, grit, and innovation.
Which brings us to last week’s disturbing Benghazi Report on the 13-hour jihadist military attack on two U.S. compounds in Libya on September 11, 2012, in which four Americans were killed. Hillary Clinton, whose role was central to so much of the entire Benghazi situation, was dismissive of the report: “I understand that after more than two years and $7 million dollars spent by the Benghazi committee, out of taxpayer funds, it had to today report it had found nothing” new.
Clinton water-carriers echoed the talking points: the New York Times headline proclaimed the report contained “no new evidence of wrongdoing” by Clinton, and declared her “unscathed” by the report. ABC, CNN, AP, and dozens of other outlets all—just by coincidence!—identically claimed that the report contained “no smoking gun.”
“I think it’s pretty clear it’s time to move on,” Clinton said.
Move on? Not so fast. No smoking gun? Reading the report, it’s more like an entire smoking arsenal.
Libya was Clinton’s pet project, and was to be her main exhibit demonstrating how America could project “smart power” without the use of any American troops on the ground. From toppling the Qaddafi regime (which, in fact, had been cooperative with America’s anti-terror activities), to subcontracting security to unreliable militias rather than U.S. troops, to refusing urgent pleas from Libya-based State Department employees to bolster security even as every other international group had retreated from Benghazi in haste as the anniversary of 9/11 approached, Clinton’s poor decision-making clearly fostered American vulnerability to attack.
All of that amounts to a gross national security failure, and brings into question Clinton’s judgment. But the scandal of Clinton’s Benghazi activities arises from her role once the attacks began. Those actions call into question not only her judgment, but her character: she prioritized her own political viability above the lives of four dedicated public servants and above honesty with the American people.
Within 90 minutes of the start of the attack, President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta authorized the use of military resources. After Pentagon discussions about the resources available, Panetta ordered that assets be deployed to Libya. Yet, there was no deployment, and there were no military assets on the way even when the last of the battling Americans was killed some eight hours later.
The non-deployment can be traced to a teleconference shortly after the Panetta order between Defense and State Department officials, including Secretary Clinton. Evidently, the State Department put the brakes on deployment until they resolved debates over issues such as whether they needed permission from the government of Libya (to the extent one existed) to deploy troops to rescue endangered Americans, or whether any Marines deployed should wear uniforms or civilian clothes.
Since when does America not rescue its own until permitted to do so by the governing militia-of-the-month in Libya?
Could military help have come in time? The U.S. had useful assets as close as 320 miles away—less than the distance from Phoenix to Los Angeles, and significant forces at bases such as Rota (Spain), Aviano (Italy) and Ramstein (Germany), all within 1500 miles—about the distance from Chicago to Las Vegas. A special anti-terror team sat on a runway at Rota for three hours waiting for the green light that never came.
The U.S. has the greatest military in the history of the world, with satellites, drones, all manner of aircraft and smart weapons, and incredibly well-trained forces for an endless assortment of missions. Yet, with Americans under attack and fighting for their lives, the military assets sat there, useless, never even getting off the ground. Clinton and the rest of the people on that teleconference left those brave Americans to die alone.
Prime Minister Netanyahu said that Entebbe “handed terror a stinging defeat.” Benghazi, by contrast, handed terror an easy victory—a forfeit of sorts, as the U.S. military wasn’t even allowed to show up.
But it gets worse. In that fateful teleconference, Clinton showed acute concern for effective political spin—seemingly greater than her concern for the Americans on the ground battling and dying on their own. There were 10 “action Items” discussed on that call; five of them focused on how to blame the attack on an obscure YouTube video mocking Islam–even though there was zero evidence that the video was a factor in the attack.
The Benghazi Report timeline beginning that night is devastating for Clinton. She privately understood quite clearly, as reflected in contemporaneous emails and phone calls, that the attack was perpetrated by “an al-Qaeda type group.” But she did not level with the American people. Instead—starting even as those abandoned Americans were still fighting a losing battle for their lives—she widely promoted the knowingly fictional narrative that this premeditated 9/11 jihadist terror attack was actually an unforeseeable protest against the YouTube video.
Clinton’s took her blame-the-video fiction to shameless extremes. At the ceremony for the return of remains of Tyrone Woods (a decorated former Navy SEAL who, together with fellow former SEAL Glen Doherty, held off the terrorists for several hours, killing 60 attackers before being killed themselves), Clinton hugged Woods’s father, shook his hand, and said that the government would arrest the filmmaker responsible for the death of his son. The mother of Sean Smith, a Foreign Service Officer killed in the attack, similarly recounted that she and Clinton “were nose to nose at the coffin ceremony. She told me it was the fault of the video. I said ‘are you sure?’ She said yes, that’s what it was…it was the video.”
(True to Clinton’s word, the hapless filmmaker was arrested days later on unrelated probation violations and denied bail. He pleaded guilty, and was imprisoned for a year. He is currently on supervised release and lives in a homeless shelter. Meanwhile, in Libya, America has pursued and captured exactly one of the attackers.)
During Congressional testimony, Clinton’s voice trembled with emotion as she recalled the return of “those flag-draped caskets” from the Americans killed in Benghazi and put her arms “around the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters” of those killed. Before lying to their faces.
Clinton has said “I take responsibility” for Benghazi. Which means what, exactly? Are there any repercussions? She has also said that she has lost sleep over the attacks; poor dear, she must really be suffering.
If anything, her actions scream of shirking responsibility. She preferred to see four Americans abandoned to their deaths than to risk action for which she might be held accountable. And she peddled a known lie for political viability purposes—her own, and that of the Obama reelection campaign—which she told to the families of the dead and the American public, rather than give an honest accounting.
Yitzhak Rabin would neither be impressed by the handling of the Benghazi attack nor by the cover-up, lies and absence of accountability that followed. Nor would he be impressed with the character demonstrated by those responsible—starting with Hillary Clinton.
Abe, A very interesting comparison. I had never thought to put the two events side by side for comparison. Be well, Pearl