The language above is harsh but it is also true.
Once upon a time there were two superpowers, the United States and USSR, in the Cold War. Then there was one superpower, the United States. Now there are none.
AND YET, what this means from Israel’s standpoint may be very different from what you’d expect.
Israel can cope with this situation, especially since it continues to receive U.S. military aid, intelligence-sharing, some diplomatic backing, and nice rhetoric about the ironclad special relationship between the two countries.
Simultaneously, the U.S. government has taken leadership in setting strong sanctions against Iran. Despite periodic slights and verbal distancing, the purely bilateral link remains good on practical matters. There is absolutely no sense in making the relationship with the United States worse than it is now. Finally, the continuous disappointment in the administration’s expectation, the crises and betrayals it will face by the revolutionary Islamist regimes and movements, Iran’s intransigence, and the very disrespect the situation entails may force U.S. policy–at least on certain issues–to improve.
And those assets rest on a foundation of public and congressional support for Israel in the United States. Indeed, it is clear that Israel is the only—the only—factor that Obama doesn’t like that has been able to preserve its interests while other seemingly far more powerful forces—the health industry, the energy industry, the National Rifle Association, for example—have been battered into defeat or are hard-pressed.
Moreover, Israel can defend itself. It is willing to take unilateral action when needed and can succeed in doing so.
That’s why, as I know from first-hand observation, that it is a myth that Israel’s government has done anything to undermine Obama. People who make such charges provide no proof or even references to specific events.
On the contrary, the Israeli government consciously developed the policy of seeking to avoid any friction with Obama and his government. One key reason was that it knew coexistence with Obama was possible. The other was that it knew avoiding making the situation worse was imperative.
The seemingly most obvious exception—building in east Jerusalem—was based on a prior secret agreement with the U.S. government. The other apparent exception—Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress—came after Obama ambushed Netanyahu by changing U.S. policy toward Israel while the prime minister was on a plane to Washington.
And here’s a powerful item of proof on the other side: not a single pro-Israel Democrat in political life has turned against Obama. If Israel is so influential, why did a supposed anti-Obama campaign not change anyone’s position?
In fact, pro-Obama American Jews, who comprise a large majority of the community, and pro-Israel political figures have either reconciled the discordant information (Obama is Israel’s best friend); kept their mouths shut; had other priorities; or tried to keep relations as good as possible.
And in practice—a point on which Obama’s supporters are correct–there have been no real, material, huge problems in direct U.S.-Israel relations. What they leave out is that this was also largely due to Arab, Iranian, and particularly Palestinian intransigence. These forces lost the opportunities Obama offered them to undercut Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship because they didn’t rush to seek deals on much better terms.
If they had done so, Obama would have pressured Israel to make big concessions and would have been far more antagonistic if Israel refused. Israel’s enemies threw away that chance and it will not come again in his second term.
By the same token, it is equally foolish for some to criticize, for example, President Shimon Peres for giving Obama a medal or Israeli leaders for lauding Obama on every possible opportunity. And the same applies to AIPAC not objecting to Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, never criticizing Obama, and inviting him to speak at its annual meetings. Whoever is president or secretary of defense, AIPAC and Israel will have to work with him.
All of these people, then, are doing their jobs properly by avoiding entanglements in such internal American issues.
Israel needs good relations with the United States. Obama is the president of the United States twice elected by the American people and he will be president for the next four years. It is not the task of Israel’s government to interfere with America’s internally made choices. It is the job of Israel’s government to live as best as possible with those rulers, minimize the advantage, and wait out this period by agreeing, smiling, giving in on small things, and doing everything possible to protect the nation’s security.
About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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