Believe it or not, every once in a while, there is a major review of America’s strategic relationship with Israel.
Back in the early 50’s, President Truman believed U.S. must support Israel simply because of the war crimes that occurred during the Second World War. The alliance had a humanitarian foundation. And rightly so!
Later in the 50’s and into the 60’s and 70’s – all the way from President Eisenhower to Richard Nixon – America’s strategic alliance was driven by cold war realities. Israel projected U.S. interests in the Middle East along with Iran, while Syria, Egypt and other states in the region had become surrogate Soviet satellites… potentially threatening major oil reserves in the Persian Gulf.
Fast forward to the 80’s – after Camp David, and the fall of the Shah – and slowly Soviet influence in the region diminished. Egypt replaced Iran as a regional ally. There was a complete re-alliance of Egypt from the Soviet sphere to an Alliance with America (and dare I say even Israel).
By the mid-90’s there was the complete splintering of the Soviet Union in the 90’s and mass immigration of Jews from Russia to Israel. Even though the cold war had ended, Israel’s strategic value was justified on the basis that Russia’s shift away from the past had not been complete, and that there still existed old pockets of “soviet” influence in places like Syria and Iraq (until the U.S. invasion).
But, now, Syria is on the verge of a major change. The Middle East today is NOT the Middle East that justified an alliance with Israel – simply to defeat communism or counter Soviet influence.
So what does Israel bring to the table today? What is the strategic value of an alliance with Israel? Is Israel an asset or a liability?
On the liability side of the ledger, we have Israel’s intransigence with the Palestinians had emerged as a major liability for the United States, and is at the heart of anti-Americanism throughout – not just the Middle East – but the world. Anti-Israeli sentiment is being used to foment anti-Americanism by radicals causing destabilization with many valuable allies in the region. Added to this, is the stream of money flowing directly from the U.S. government to Israel (something like $5 Billion per year) and maybe as much as several hundred billion dollars in higher costs for security and oil – all due to premiums linked to Israel’s militarism.
On the asset side, Israel boasts having a very sophisticated intelligence network, and a well-equipped and highly trained ally in the form of Israel – that can fight for an American cause if necessary.
But, when the U.S. is spending more on defense then the whole rest of the world combined, does it need to leverage Israeli assets? Does this alliance have real value today?
On the face of it, the quick answer would be no. The liabilities far outweigh the assets. America, surely can afford to dump Israel, in favor of its more resource rich and less globally disliked neighbors.
Anthony Cordesman from the respected Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies in an article titled, “Israel as a Strategic Liability?” asserted that Israel “is of tertiary US strategic interest.” And given its alleged insignificance, Israel must “become far more careful about the extent to which it test[s] the limits of US patience and exploits the support of American Jews.” He calls for Israel to constrain its military actions and demands that it “not conduct a high-risk attack on Iran in the face of the clear US ‘red light’ from both the Bush and Obama administrations.”
But don’t jump ship too fast. Did you see that? Cordesman referred to Iran!
While, the Soviet Union collapsed, a new menace has emerged that seems to justify a continuing strategic alliance between the U.S. and Israel – IRAN. Yes, Iran, and its surrogates in the form of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestinian’s Hamas have become the new scorn of the United States. And Israel is now positioning itself as the staunchest and the most capable opponent of this newly empowered, American enemy: Iran.
Whether by design or by coincidence, Iran’s mullahs have become “the” new pariah!
“Iran is violating international obligations and norms. It is becoming a pariah state,” Robert Einhorn, the U.S. State Department senior adviser for non-proliferation and arms control, told a news conference in the South Korean capital in 2011.
In essence, privately in U.S. intelligence circles, both Iran and Israel are now treated as ‘rogue states’. And publicly, Iran is discussed in this fashion by officials in Washington and London and by right-wing commentators, while Israel is branded with the r-word only privately behind-the-scenes in the U.S but also in virtually the whole of Europe’s respectable liberal elites.
Inhabiting a highly destabilized Middle East, and finding themselves isolated and mocked by the pontificating inhabitants of that moral high ground that is the ‘international community’, Israel is repositioning itself as the sole ally that can take on Iran and do something about it. In essence, Israel is saying to the U.S. our new value as a strategic ally is that we can take on your enemy – Iran.
In order to succeed in this strategic repositioning, Israel has to first of all reinforce Iran as the ‘greater evil” (i.e. brand Iran negatively). Which is what Natenyahu has been doing for years – and most recently at the U.N. calling Iran’s Nuclear program ‘rogue’ (when in fact Israel has a program that is technically even more ‘rogue’ than Iran, with no International supervision).
Then Israel is positioning itself as the sole ally that will take on Iran. And setting up air bases in Azerbaijan, etc. It’s saying: hey America if you want to defeat Iran, you need us.
Israel has been carefully helping make Iran more isolated and ‘more evil’ than ever before. Israel’s recent license to Russia of its new (massive) Leviathan Oil and Gas fields in the Mediterranean places Israel and Russia in strategic convergence. Russia now has no incentive to promote its relations with Iran. Iranian gas is a direct competitor with Russia as a supplier to Europe; and Russia would very much like to keep its European monopoly. Also, Russia now has an incentive to under-mine Iran’s allies Hezbollah, and Syria, and throw Assad (Russia’s own long-time ally) under the bus, because it needs to deliver Israel’s gas via a pipeline across Lebanon and Syria to Turkey where there are major pipelines to Europe.
It would suit Israel (and Russia now) for Iran to remain ‘evil’ for the next 50 years. Without Iran, Israel’s strategic value to the U.S. – maybe the rest of the world – would be diminished.
Iranians now find themselves completely contained – without any real friends. Arabs want them dead. Israel benefits from their branding as an evil pariah. Russians think of Iran as a major competitor –threatening their monopoly of European gas supply. Americans see their public anti-American rhetoric and are manipulated by their allies branding Iran negatively too for their own benefit. The Europeans – particularly the Brits – see them as a threat because BP has major concessions in the Caspian Sea in Iran’s territorial waters and they see an emboldened Iran as threatening their huge revenues from that region through Azerbaijan. And the U.S. now is firmly entrenched in placing a pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan. Both Russia and the U.S. plan to supply China with gas. No one wants Iran to meddle in their trillion dollar business plans.
No one wants Iran to be transformed. An Iran branded as evil serves everyone very well – especially Israel . The containment and isolation of Iran plays into everyone’s business plans. The Mullahs can count on just enough tacit and indirect support from Iran’s enemies to remain in power.
And the message to the people of Iran is very clear, no one will support you in toppling the Mullahs – because the Mullahs are precisely what everyone needs in order to brand Iran as an evil, pariah nation. The Mullahs are precisely what everyone needs in power in order to contain and isolate Iran. Bottom line Iran’s oil and gas exports have to be taken off the world’s market for at least 20 years while everyone else makes money. And if you don’t like it Iran’s enemies can always break up Iran into pieces and these same players can grab even more resources to add to their portfolios.
Israel, therefore, is now positioning itself as the go-to guy that can threaten Iran if needed. Like a high priced hit man, Israel has figured it can have some strategic value for the next 20 years and guarantee its own survival by acting as a guarantor of everyone else’s trillion dollar business plans. Otherwise, who would pick an alliance with 5 million Jews over 1 billion Arabs? Who would pick a pile of sand with no real resources, the size of the state of Delaware over almost a continent of Arab nations? An alliance with Israel doesn’t make fundamental sense, until you look at other factors – like a cold war with the former Soviet Union or Iran today.