With the US jumping to promote an interim agreement with Iran which weakens sanctions — probably forever — and does little or nothing to prevent Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon, many people are asking “what are the intentions of the Obama Administration in the Middle East?” The answer will be particularly important to Israelis, who see the development of an Iranian weapon as an existential threat.
Israelis also wonder about US policy concerning the conflict with the Palestinian Arabs, which seems to be moving to a far more anti-Israel place than before. The idea expressed by UNSC resolution 242 and accepted by previous administrations, that secure borders need to be negotiated between the states in the area, is being replaced by the radical position that the 1949 armistice lines are the legitimate borders of the state of Israel. The administration has also studiously avoided taking a position (the Bush Administration did) against the extraordinary and unacceptable demand for a “right of return” to Israel for the descendants of Arab refugees.
While it might have been possible in the past to attribute a tilt against Israel to pressure from the oil-producing Gulf states, in particular Saudi Arabia, this explanation has less force today as the US approaches energy independence. And of course the Sunni Arab regimes are even more threatened by Iran than Israel.
It is also hard to explain the administration’s cooperation with Russia to ensure the maintenance of the Assad regime in Syria, and its status as an Iranian satellite, or its support for the radical Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt — something that undermined one of the bases of Israel’s regional security, the Camp David treaty. Although the army can’t be called pro-Israel, it is at least pragmatic and not interested in upsetting the status quo.
So what in fact are the motives and objectives here (assuming that there is more behind our policy than ignorance and incompetence) as they affect Israel? I believe that there are two motivations here, one pragmatic and one ideological.
The pragmatic aspect is that the Obama Administration has decided that Islamism and in particular revolutionary Shiite Islamism, is the strong horse in the region, and it is placing its bets on it. The expectation in Washington is that Iraq and Syria will be firmly in the Iranian column, soon followed by Lebanon. The influence of the House of Saud will be greatly diminished, and perhaps the royal family will be overthrown. In overwhelmingly Sunni nations, like Jordan and Egypt, conservative governments will be replaced by Islamist ones (this has so far proven false in Egypt, where the Islamists took power but were unable to hang on).
The US considers itself at war with Al Qaeda, which is just fine with the Iranians (it fails to understand, though, that Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Turkish AKP — which it supports — agree on ideology; their differences are mostly about tactics).
The administration sees Iran’s nuclear weapon as a fait accompli. It thinks that it can establish a relationship with Iran that will replace the one it has with the doomed Saudis and enable it to exercise some influence in the region. Failing that, it hopes that it can appease Iran (which is already a world power in the field of terrorism) to prevent terrorist attacks against its interests and even the US itself. It has almost certainly been told by the Iranians that they will hold the US responsible for Israeli actions against Iran, and therefore considers preventing Israel from striking its nuclear facilities a top priority.
Israel is diametrically opposed to most of these policies. It supports conservative Arab regimes in Jordan and Egypt. It has fought a war with Iran’s subsidiary, Hizballah, and will almost certainly fight another. It opposes the spread of Iranian revolutionary Islamism and considers an Iranian nuclear weapon unacceptable. No wonder Israel is a “key target” for US intelligence, along with China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, and Cuba!
Turning to ideology, Aaron David Miller (no Zionist ideologue!) said that “Obama really is different” from previous presidents. He has a perspective “much closer to the Palestinians than to Israel,” and it shows, in his policies and in his appointments. This is not at all surprising, given Obama’s associations and education. I think it is probably true that he accepts the Palestinian (actually KGB!) narrative of an oppressed indigenous people displaced by a colonial power — it’s certainly what he would have heard at Columbia.
There is no doubt that in addition to pragmatic attitudes, there is also a belief on the part of administration officials that the moral high ground belongs to Third World nations, to ‘black and brown peoples’ who have been historically oppressed and colonized by the West. I would go so far as to say that they see Zionism as racism, and view the creation of a Jewish nation-state as a mistake.
I don’t have the time and space to go into this here, but the ideology is part and parcel with the wildly inconsistent attitudes of many Americans of their generation, who seem to think that at the same time a) nothing is more important than race or ethnicity; b) racism is evil and it is racist to treat people differently in any way because of race or ethnicity; and c) some peoples have been oppressed and therefore are exempt from all of the above.
The combination of what they see as realpolitik and ‘idealism’ make them profoundly unsympathetic to Israel. But I don’t they think they want to see another genocide (which in fact is the goal of many of Israel’s enemies). They do not wish for a nuclear war in the Middle East (although their policies may bring one about).
The main objective of American policy toward Israel is to limit her freedom of action. To that end they want to weaken her by forcing her back to indefensible borders, to strengthen her enemies so that she will be deterred from taking action that might upset US relationships, and to make her more amenable to US pressure. In addition, they will get a warm feeling from obtaining ‘justice’ for the Palestinians.
At the same time, they would like to change Israel’s nature, from a Jewish state, a nation-state of the Jewish people, to something more like the US. In the strange world of political correctness, Jews are ‘whites’ and Arabs are ‘people of color’ (tell this to an Ethiopian Jew). While they see Jewish nationalism (Zionism) as racist, they accept Palestinian nationalism as legitimate for an ‘oppressed’ people.
All of this is intended to be a peaceful process.
If they succeed, they will destroy Zionism as well as Israel’s ability to defend herself. She will have neither the desire to survive nor the means. In the end either the state will fade away gently, with Jewish Israelis fleeing to a new diaspora, or be destroyed in war and genocide.
Israel can short-circuit this process by asserting its right to self-defense and attacking Hizballah and the Iranian nuclear facilities. The dangers inherent in doing this are obvious, but one has to weigh them in comparison to those of inaction.