Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality
They Don't Need Us
By David G. Young
Washington DC, June 16, 2009 --
Israel has grown powerful enough to stand without its American ally. An attack on Iran could end the alliance forever.
The simultaneous elevation of a left-leaning government in the United States and a right-leaning one in Israel has created the biggest risk to the nations' alliance since the foundation of the Jewish state. The Israeli government was shocked and enraged by President Obama's speech in Cairo. Obama called for an end to Jewish settlements in the West Bank, used strikingly even-handed language to describe Palestinian and Israeli positions, and virtually accepted a nuclear-armed Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded to Obama's statements in a speech of his own Sunday night. The positions he outlined place him directly at odds with the American president.
While the hawkish Israeli Prime Minister accepted the possibility of a Palestinian state for the first time, he did so with so many caveats (no Palestinian control over its own airspace, no independent foreign policy, and total demilitarization of the territory) that it sounds indistinguishable from the status quo. And the status quo of Israel and the Palestinian territories is disturbingly similar to apartheid South Africa, with a soon-to-be majority Arab population walled off, disenfranchised, impoverished and repressed by a thuggish Jewish-supremacist regime.
This disagreement between America and Israel doesn't matter for peace negotiations -- Obama is too busy tinkering with America's health care system and running General Motors to spend much energy on Israel and Palestine -- it matters because it sows the seeds of division. And with Obama and Netanyahu providing the seeds, the fertilizer and rains are coming from Iran. There, a violent crackdown on the opposition foretells the entrenchment of the hard-line regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which has called for Israel's destruction, and through its nuclear program, is rapidly achieving the means to make this happen.
The hard-line crackdown in Iran has given Israel the best prelude yet for a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. And hawkish Netanyahu is the most likely prime minister to order the attack. Will he do so? The answer lies entirely with Israeli intelligence and military assessments of the prospects for success.
Yes, the American government opposes an attack on Iran. But unless it is willing to shoot down Israel's warplanes during a flyover of Iraq, it is unlikely that it will have much influence to stop Israel. Obama's near acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran in his Cairo speech will only serve to incite Israel to act. America's wishes have very little influence because Israel doesn't really need America anymore.
Unlike 30 years ago, the annual $3 billion in American aid for Israel no longer matters. Though the aid level has stayed about the same over this time, the value of the dollar has eroded and Israel's economy has grown immensely. Today, this aid is scarcely over one percent of Israel's $205 billion GDP.1 And unlike in its early years, Israel is widely believed to possess a sizeable nuclear stockpile, making America's strategic arsenal superfluous.
In the last decade, America's main advantage to Israel has been its unflinching diplomatic support in the face of increasing European condemnation. But Obama's flagging diplomatic support has eroded the last utility of the alliance. From the perspective of American interests, the alliance is looking even less solid. Israel became a liability after the end of the Cold War, and overwhelmingly so after September 11.
An Israeli strike on Iran in defiance of American opposition would kill the alliance once and for all. Netanyahu knows this, but he also knows the alliance is far less important than in years past. And he certainly knows that Iran does much more threaten Israel's security than America does to enhance it.
The end of the alliance, if it comes, will be substantive, not symbolic. Israel will always enjoy an active ethnic constituency in America that will lobby to protect it from the punishing diplomatic isolation that South Africa received for engaging in similarly brutish behavior in the 1980s. America will probably always publicly proclaim friendship with Israel and probably keep its foreign policy on the friendly side of neutral.
But if an attack on Iran comes, the days of unwavering American support for Israel will be long gone. There would be no more threatening military retaliation for an attack on Israel, and United Nations Security Council vetoes of anti-Israeli resolutions would be a thing of the past.
Many in the world would welcome the expulsion of Israel from America's curtails. And ironically, the move might prove beneficial to Israeli Jews. To the extent that an end to the alliance would force Israel to seek constructive solutions to its festering Palestinian problem, such a change would be a welcome development to everyone involved.
Related Web Columns:
Liberty in Unlikely Places, September 4, 2007
Hard-Line Disengagement, August 30, 2005
Listening to Osama, November 9, 2004
Turn This Car Around
Abandoning a Sinking Ship, April 16, 2002
The Defense of Racism, September 4, 2001
1. Embassy of Israel in Washington, DC, Economic Facts and Figures, June 2009 (GDP 2008)