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August 31, 2015 / 16 Elul, 5775
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Sovereignty and Suzerainty in The Israel-U.S. Relationship

US President Barack Obama meets with Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu

US President Barack Obama meets with Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu
Photo Credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90

The recent Obama-Netanyahu conclave has evoked much media speculation: Will Israel act unilaterally to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities? Does the Obama administration really have Israel’s back as the president indicated? And where is that “red line,” the point at which an attack must occur to prevent an Iran with “secure” nuclear weapons? Despite all the diplomatic bonhomie and announcements of solidarity, questions with uncomfortable implications remain.

U.S. officials made it clear that President Obama will not go beyond the broad policy enunciated in the past: that the United States is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon through diplomacy and sanctions and, as a last resort, force. Here too equivocation prevails. Secretary of Defense Panetta has indicated a reluctance to apply military force in this matter, and questioned the effectiveness of an Israeli strike, a position adopted by others in the administration.

By contrast, Prime Minister Netanyahu stated unequivocally that his primary responsibility as Israel’s political leader is to ensure that this Jewish state survives and remains the master of its own fate. But the U.S. holds many high cards in this poker hand. Several officials already suggested that should an unauthorized attack occur, the U.S. would not replenish the ordnance and advanced military technology Israel needs to maintain its superior military position in the Middle East.

These strains in the relationship may not seem apparent at the moment, but the difference in perspective will emerge on the political front in the next few months, if not sooner.

Even the U.N. – notably hostile to Israel – voiced concern that Tehran “might” be developing nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently reiterated its concern that Tehran has tested intercontinental ballistic missiles that could be weaponized.

The threat and the ominous effects of an air attack against Iran, however, is the pull and tug of sovereignty versus suzerainty. Is Israel an independent nation free of American influence? Does the president of the U.S. have a veto over Israeli military actions? Or is Israel free of outside influences, a state enjoined by what it believes to be its self interest?

At the moment, both sides hedge. Israel wants U.S. support, but if it launches an attack, the Prime Minister will provide only 24 hours of prior notice. The Obama administration seemingly fears an Israeli assault, particularly the blowback from across the Arab world, but it is obvious that the United States cannot prevent this decision from being made. This is not a test of wills, but rather a test of interests and strategic perspective.

On at least one matter, there appears to be consensus: containment, of the kind that seemingly worked during the Cold War, is not applicable in this scenario, albeit that may be the United States’ default position. But it is clear, even to the bureaucrats in Foggy Bottom, that an Iranian nuclear weapon has political as well as military consequences. U.S. interests across the Middle East would be imperiled by the Persian bomb. Moreover, it is also clear that a “Japanese solution,” in which Iran has enough fissionable material to produce several bombs and ICBM’s to deliver them but doesn’t bring the two together, is not acceptable. Presumably, with the right applications, the ICBM’s could be weaponized in relatively short order — and every nation in the Middle East will find out what is in that Iranian tent.

Clearly it is better to see Israel and the U.S. move closer on this strategic issue than they were previously, but there is a nagging feeling that President Obama will say whatever is necessary to forge ties to Jewish wealth and the Jewish Democratic voting bloc. Does he mean what he says? Based on past public commentary, the jury is skeptically out. The next months, however, could shape the future of global affairs for decades.

 

Originally published by Stonegate Institute www.stonegateinstitute.org

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