December 22, 2014

The Unvarnished Reality of Contemporary U.S.-Israel Relations


Do not speak of it in public. Do not expect any Israeli official to admit it. But Israel is facing an issue unlike anything it has had to deal with during the past 50 years: It cannot depend on the United States.

True, the relationship in terms of weapons’ supply remains good. Old programs continue to provide advanced arms to Israel. Nor is the problem the one most people think of first: on Israel-Palestinian, “peace process” issues.

President Barack Obama’s Administration has seen that no real progress is possible on that front.  It tends to blame Israel in public and Obama intensely dislikes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but those problems have little material effect. If that were the only issue Israel could muddle through as it has with other presidents.

The difficulty with Obama is that his entire strategy in the Middle East is contrary to Israeli interests, except for putting some sanction’ pressure on Iran regarding its nuclear weapons’ program.  The greatest threat to Israel today is the rise of radical Islamist regimes. Here is how Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh puts it:

“The Palestinian cause is winning. With the Muslim Brotherhood part of the government [in Egypt], they [the Egyptians] will not besiege Gaza. They will not arrest Palestinians. They will not give cover to Israel to launch a war….Israel is disturbed by this. It knows the strategic environment is changing. Iran is an enemy. Relations are deteriorating with Turkey. With Egypt, they are really cold. Israel is in a security situation they have never been in before.”

Even though Israel has faced worst strategic situations and the Islamists are badly divided, Haniyeh has put his finger on the central strategic factor today. Radical Islamists who want to open a new round of battle against Israel now rule or are likely to do so very soon in Egypt, Gaza, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia, and Turkey.

Here is where the problem with the United States comes in. Obama does not really view this trend as a threat. He spent the first half of his term engaging with Iran and its ally Syria. Obama and his administration regards the Islamists as people who are either already moderate or are likely to become so by governing.

This is, of course, the opposite of the Israeli assessment.  In Syria, the U.S. government even helped organize and supports an external opposition leadership in which Islamists form the majority even though it is doubtful that this reflects their level of support within the country.

To put it bluntly, the U.S. government does not even recognize the existence of the number-one threat to Israel.

And to make matters worse, the government that Obama looks to for advice, guidance, and interpretation of the region is not Israel but the Islamist regime in Turkey. That government’s sharp turn to a highly emotional anti-Israel policy has not cost it anything at all in terms of its relations with the White House, something that would have been unthinkable under any previous president.

That is why Israel, as well as the Middle East generally, is going to be an important issue in this year’s presidential election.  To preserve relations with the United States, Israeli leaders will neither do nor say anything about that contest. Yet nothing could be more obvious than that Obama’s reelection would be extremely damaging for Israel’ security.

This article was published in Maariv newspaper in Hebrew.

About Barry Rubin

Prof. Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist for PajamasMedia at http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan)