by Stephen Bryen
It would not surprise me if Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not soon wind up in Moscow working out a strategic deal with Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. The reason would not be hard to find. Israel is facing an existential threat from Iran, has lost all trust in the Obama administration, and has been vilified by unnamed Obama administration people.
There is an old political story that starts out when the late Senator John Sherman Cooper was asked to campaign for a friend. Arriving at a country store and standing on a soapbox, the good Senator delivered his campaign talk. Just halfway through a voice in the back hollered, “Your full of beans!” (The actual word is not beans, but as a matter of propriety I will tell the story my way.) The Senator, taken aback, regained his composure and continued, only to be once again greeted by the same exclamation from the old man in the back of the room. At this point, he rapidly concluded his remarks and got down from the soapbox. A number of local folks gathered around and apologetically told him, “please don’t believe what that old man hollered to you. He is addle-minded. He just says what he hears.”
In fact, the anonymous words directed contemptuously toward Netanyahu had to come from the top. Which is why the White House, trying to mitigate the harm done, could not apologize. The boss would not tolerate an apology and anyway no one would have the guts to ask him. So, as they say. the White House just put out that openly saying such things was counterproductive.
Any second-rate analyst in Israel would already understand that the statement came from the top. From this what would they conclude?
Aside from confirming what they already understood regarding personal relationships between Obama and Netanyahu, there was no surprise. But a deeper look reveals much more. The United States was not any longer a reliable partner.
The question about American reliability has been growing for some time. It has two dimensions: the strategic posture of the United States in the Middle East; the US-Israel “alliance” as the second.
The US has moved far ahead in jettisoning its friends in the Middle East, denouncing Egypt, faking it with Saudi Arabia, tolerating Turkey’s suppression of their military leaders who for decades supported the United States, and playing fast and loose with Israel’s security.
The US relationship with Iran has shifted significantly and the US has unleashed strategic trade deals with Iran, using its more than willing European allies as a front. All of this to grease the wheels of a nuclear deal that will be announced after the mid-term elections. There is a good probability that the Iran nuclear deal will have side arrangements that won’t be made public. One suspects the Israelis may already be tracking them.
In the recent Gaza war the United States froze the delivery of Hellfire missiles. Hellfire missiles, as the Pentagon will tell you, are precision tools to be used to remove targets with as little collateral damage as possible. Freezing their delivery effectively pushed Israel into using other weapons to counter Hamas’ rockets. So why did the administration do it? To show its ire at Israel, possibly, but also in a truly Machiavellian twist, to force the Israelis to cause more Palestinian casualties. This hardly qualifies how an ally should treat its partner. It is paradoxical that in the White House briefing over the “chickens..t” comments, the Press Secretary was anxious to put across how the US helps Israel and that it was Obama who led the charge to get Israel’s Iron Dome program funded.
From the inception of the Jewish state there was always a Russian hope, based on the fact that many of the Palestinian Jews were either socialists or communists, that Russia could strategically align with Israel. The USSR was the first state to recognize Israel diplomatically. A few years later the Russians decided that the Jewish state was going to be anti-communist, so the Russians embraced Arab socialism and dropped Israel. Today Russia is not communist and Putin and Netanyahu have a positive relationship. Israel has an interest in persuading the Russians to help stop the Iranian march to nuclear weapons. Putin has an interest in putting as much pressure as possible on the United States. This creates options for both countries.
The Obama administration’s side switching and unreliability is very costly and dangerous. American power and influence in the Middle East is at an all time low.