Israel makes do without a steady U.S. ally

By Jennifer Rubin June 10 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Dan Balilty/Associated Press)

The Obama administration’s tack has been to create the illusion of a stable equilibrium, by cutting the United States’ commitments to its allies and mollifying its adversaries. And so, suddenly, none of the United States’ traditional friends is good enough to justify its full confidence. The great power must conceal its own weariness, so it pretends to be frustrated by the inconstancy of “free riders.” The result­ing complaints about Israel (as well as Egypt and Saudi Arabia) serve just such a narrative.

Given this new reality, Kramer explains, Israel is out fending for itself in ways it was never forced to do so before. He explains that America’s retrenchment, “far from paralyzing Israel, propels it to expand its options, diversify its relationships, and build its independent capabilities. … Arab concern about Iran is already doing more to normalize Israel in the region than the ever-elusive and ever-inconclusive peace process. Israel, once the fulcrum of regional conflict, will loom like a pillar of regional stability—not only for its own people but also for its neighbors, threatened by a rising tide of political fragmentation, economic contraction, radical Islam, and sectarian hatred.”

Internationally, we see Israel expanding its relationships with China, Russia and African countries. Israel’s relationship with Russia has undergone a rather dramatic shift from the days when Soviets backed Israel’s Arab enemies, as one report notes:

“Israel has largely resigned itself to the transfer of the S-300 missile system to Iran, and places a higher value on Russia’s ability to dissuade Tehran from transferring arms and other materiel to proxy forces such as Hezbollah,” [analyst Daragh] McDowell says. … Israel’s sophisticated military intelligence on its neighbor Syria and others would be a great asset to Moscow. What is more, both countries have a stake in the situation in Syria and greater cooperation and leniency ensures situations such as Turkey’s decision to shoot down a Russian jet do not repeat themselves.

The situation is far from ideal. The U.S.-Israel relationship, rooted in common values and interests as well as mutual foes, has been beneficial to both sides. Autocratic regimes that have no particular attachment to the idea of a Jewish state are not the most reliable of allies, and the degree of cooperation Israel can expect from them in the intelligence realm, for example, is limited.

Ironically, as Kramer points out, the “status quo is unsustainable” narrative that Western diplomats repeat ad nauseam to justify fruitless attempts to secure an Israeli-Palestinian solution does not take into account just how sustainable the status quo has been and may continue to be with Israel’s multifaceted alliances. (“Israel is well positioned to sustain the status quo all by itself. Its long-term strategy is predicated on it.”)

One should not, however, make the mistake of concluding that the U.S.-Israel relationship has been irrevocably changed. One president does not remake decades of policy, especially given the bipartisan support for Israel in Congress and among American voters. Moreover, whether the U.S.-Israel relationship is permanently transformed will depend on the next president. Kramer writes that Hillary Clinton has added a caveat to the “status quo is unsustainable” line. He quotes her as saying “Now, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be sustained for a year or a decade, or two or three …”

In short, President Obama’s departure may repair much of the damage done by his effort to put “daylight” between the United States and Israel and his desire to retreat from the region, provided that the next president returns to the bipartisan policy in place before Obama. If, as an added bonus, Israel can also maintain and bolster its new relationships despite an unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the latter will seem more sustainable than ever before. At the very least, it will convey that Palestinians’ dream of eliminating or wearing down the Jewish state is a fantasy — one not shared by the United States, China, Russia or even Israel’s Arab neighbors.