National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on Sunday told a Jewish audience that Israel and America’s Arab allies are undergoing a reassessment of their shared interests.
“Today their interests are converging,” he said at the American Jewish Committee Global Forum in Washington. “This is an opportunity.”
These shared interests a long-sought peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and opposing Iran, which McMaster accused of “acting through a proxy network to keep its Arab neighbors engaged in sectarian conflict.”
He said President Donald Trump hopes unity in the region will be a result of his visit there last month.
Trump “emphasized that now is the time to come together, to defeat terrorist organizations and extreme ideology, and to take on Iran’s destructive actions in the region,” McMaster said.
McMaster said that Trump used that kind of rhetoric at Jerusalem’s Jewish and Christian holy sites to promote unity between religious groups.
Trump “said that people of all faiths must prioritize our common humanity and denounce those who foment hatred to rationalize violence,” McMaster said.
McMaster said that he understood criticism of Trump’s visit, due to a history of broken American promises, but stressed that Trump is a man of his word.
“None of us, the president least of all, will be impressed by mere words,” he said. “We expect to see action.”
McMaster spent much of his 17-minute address comparing Israel’s current difficulties to the threats it faced 50 years ago from Egypt, Jordan and Syria — enemies it defeated in the Six-Day War. He said he thinks that conflict should serve as an important history lesson in guiding the United States and its allies toward solving today’s crises in the Middle East.
“In June 1967, Israeli Defense Forces officers saw that Egyptian divisions, so formidable on paper, were built up in defensive belts along the major road through the Sinai,” McMaster said. “The Israeli officers saw the spaces between them as gaps to be exploited. By bold maneuver, they seized and retained the initiative. That creativity and ingenuity should be a model for us today in all battlefields.”
McMaster said that as a young officer in the 1980s, he studied the actions of Israeli commanders and how the war ultimately led to the adaptation of the “air-land battle doctrine.”
“It was a desperate situation for Israel,” he said. “The battles that ensued not only changed the map in the Middle East, they also changed our understanding of modern warfare.”
McMaster said if nothing else, the biggest lesson from the war 50 years ago is that no matter how dire the circumstances, opportunities are present.
“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes,” he said. “By understanding the past, we can ensure that we ask the right questions and take fundamentally sound approaches today’s problems and opportunities.”