I am not happy to be writing this post. I hope that what I write will turn out to be wrong. But as time passes it seems that the puzzle pieces are falling into place, and I don’t like the picture that is emerging.
One of the hardest things to understand about US policy has been the unrelenting pressure on Israel to cede territory to the Palestinian Authority, which is identical to the terrorist PLO. Following the Arab oil boycott of 1973, it was understandable that the US would want to appease the Arab oil-producers; and in the early years of the Oslo period, policymakers might have believed that they could make the Arabs happy while at the same time get points for bringing peace to a troubled region. They might have actually believed the ‘linkage theory’, that the Palestinian issue was the root of the Israeli-Arab conflict, which was in turn the source of most of the instability in the Middle East.
But the deceptions of Yasser Arafat and his heirs, 9/11, the rise of Hamas, the emergence of Iran as a nuclear power, and most importantly the laughably named ‘Arab Spring’, have laid bare the bankruptcy of this conceptual scheme. It must be clear by now to even the most obtuse of US officials that 1) it is impossible that Israeli territorial concessions will end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and 2) that the Palestinian issue is one of the least important faults in the quake-prone Mideast. This is just as well because the present negotiations between Israel and the PA have absolutely no possibility of success as a result of the Arabs’ maximal demands.
A corollary to 1) is that concessions by Israel will not improve its security, but will damage it, possibly leading to another regional war. It is also true that it is less and less important for the US economy to appease the oil producers by sacrificing Israel — Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are much more concerned about rising Iranian power, and in its response to this the US is disappointing them. And in the mid-to-long run, new oil reserves outside of the region will reduce their leverage.
Another confusing issue is US policy toward Iran. As this analysis shows, Iran is making steady progress toward nuclear weapons. It is very, very close. Yet the US has chosen to go along with Iran’s delaying tactics instead of increasing pressure. It even seems to be about to weaken sanctions without Iran taking real steps away from its goal. This policy directly contradicts the administration’s stated objective that Iran will not be allowed to go nuclear.
What’s going on?
Friday I wrote that the White House and State Department see Israel more as an enemy than as an ally, despite the attitudes of the great majority of Americans. But while the ‘friendship’ of the US with Israel has always been overstated, this administration represents something new. I think that it has moved significantly beyond its predecessors, and that anti-Israel elements, for the first time, are determining the direction of US policy. I believe that part of the overall strategy — which also includes alignment with Islamist regimes in opposition to traditional conservative Arab dictatorships and monarchies — is to oppose the continued existence of a Jewish state.
In my opinion, the President as well as his closest advisers and cabinet members not only see a divergence between US and Israeli interests, but are ideologically disposed to be anti-Israel. This is not really surprising, given the cultural, academic and political (New Left) backgrounds of the major players.
Considering that the American people and the Congress would not countenance outright hostility, they are acting against Israel indirectly, while at the same time giving the impression of support. This is a very serious claim to make and I don’t make it lightly. But it is the only way I can explain the behavior of the administration.
Our approach to the Palestinians can be explained in part by ideology: the administration really believes that, in the President’s words, “the Palestinians deserve a state,” and accepts the narrative of the Palestinian Arabs as an oppressed indigenous minority who ought to be protected. Condoleezza Rice, not a member of this administration but one who shares this point of view, once explicitly compared the Palestinian cause to the US civil rights movement.
Part and parcel of this ideology is to minimize Israel’s security concerns: since the Palestinians are presented as a weak minority, they can’t really threaten Israel. And since Israelis are seen as the ‘bad guys’, their security problems are viewed as their own fault, punishment for being colonialist oppressors. And in the final analysis, the administration’s empathy is with the Arabs, not the Jews. So it becomes possible to rationalize pressuring Israel to make dangerous concessions.
Another cause of the tilt toward the Arabs is simply the desire of the administration to ingratiate itself with the Muslim world — especially including Islamist circles — a program which the President initiated in Cairo shortly after his inauguration, and in which he has persisted. As every Muslim leader well knows, there is no better way to stir up emotions in the street than to attack Israel. What’s new is that now the West, including the US, has caught on and is trying to use this tactic.
Finally the Palestinian issue can be used as a lever in connection with the other major Mideast concern of the administration: Iran.
The administration seems to see a nuclear-armed Iran as a fait accompli, and has decided to make the best of it by aligning itself with the Iranian regime rather than opposing it. The US is not prepared for and cannot afford another war in the Middle East, particularly against a country that specializes in exporting terrorism around the world. So the decision has been made to appease.
From the Israeli point of view, the Iranian bomb is not acceptable. The policy of the Netanyahu government is that it will do whatever is necessary to stop it, including military action if there no alternative. The US, which no longer sees Israel as an ally and is afraid of angering Iran, therefore has adopted a policy of favoring Iran on this issue, acting to restrain Israel and to permit Iran to obtain nuclear weapons or at least a rapid breakout capability.
And this is where the Palestinian issue kills two birds with one stone: hurting the Jewish state overall, and providing a way to weaken PM Netanyahu politically so he can be replaced by a leader who is more compliant, particularly on Iran. This is why the administration chose to pressure Netanyahu to take the very unpopular step of releasing prisoners who convicted murderers.
Caroline Glick has suggested that the leverage the US has over Netanyahu stems from the Iranian situation. According to Glick, the US threatens that if the PM does not do what he is told, the US will “tip Iran off to an impending Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities.” This may seem far-fetched, but it explains the series of leaks from the White House that have followed actions taken by Israel.
Last week, Israel bombed a Syrian military base in Latakia in order (it is assumed) to destroy a shipment of Russian-supplied surface-to-air missiles bound for Hizballah. As happened at least three or four times in the recent past, Israel kept quiet about the operation so as not to force Bashar al-Assad retaliate to save face. And as happened each time before, American officials leaked the information that Israel was responsible to the media.
Israeli media reported that officials were angry, but were puzzled by US motives for the leaks. They are not puzzling, however, if they are seen as warnings to Israel that the US is aware of everything it is doing and is prepared to make its secrets public.
I think that the greatest danger to Israel in the coming years is not an outright nuclear attack from Iran — Iran is deterred by the threat of massive retaliation — but rather the more conventional violence of Hamas, the PLO and Hizballah, protected by an Iranian nuclear umbrella. While these forces are probably not capable of overrunning Israel, they are capable of severely damaging its economy and demoralizing the population, causing emigration of its elites and ultimately its end as a Jewish state.
The policies of the US, which aim to force Israel back to pre-1967 boundaries and deprive it of strategic depth, destroy Zionist ideology, facilitate the establishment of a terror state on the doorstep of Israel’s population center, and permit Iran to develop a nuclear umbrella are exactly appropriate to weaken Israel and make the above scenario possible.
It’s with great sadness that I am beginning to think that this is the deliberate intention of the Obama Administration.