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Israel: America's Weakest Link?

Does the U.S.-Israeli alliance do more harm than good for both countries?

July 22, 2005

Does the U.S.-Israeli alliance do more harm than good for both countries?

It is often argued that the grand strategic plan of reshaping the Middle East was conceived by the neoconservatives in the Bush Administration as an attempt to lessen the risks for Israel in the region.

The presumption was that this U.S. strategy would create a regional environment in which U.S. hegemony — as well as fractured and weakened Arab states — would place no constraints on Israel’s ability to pursue its most ambitious goals.

In the same way that U.S. unilateralism — according to the Bush doctrine — would make it impossible for any power to oppose U.S. global predominance, U.S. hegemony in the Middle East would protect Israel from challenges from regional players.

In short, the American empire was ultimately designed to make the Middle East safe for greater Israel.

But such a U.S. strategy should worry Israeli policymakers. It would make Israel a modern-day crusader state, an outlet of a global power whose political, economic and military headquarters are on the other side of the world.

America’s commitment to the security of the Israeli “province” would always remain uncertain and fragile, reflecting changes in the balance of power in Washington and the shifting dynamics of U.S. politics and economics.

The current strength of the U.S.-Israeli connection is a product of unique conditions: America’s post-Cold War unipolar moment, U.S. economic gains of the 1990s and the 9/11 terrorist attacks — and the ensuing war on terrorism.

These developments — coupled with the presence of powerful forces in the Bush Administration, the GOP, the conservative movement and Congress — have persuaded the U.S. president to align U.S. policy with a right-wing Israeli government.

But the values and long-term goals of a politically radical Israel run contrary to large segments of opinion makers and the public in the United States.

The radical Zionist agenda is also weakening those forces in Israel that want to see their nation reach some sort of an accommodation with the Palestinians and build a modern Western society.

Indeed, the policies pursued by nationalist Israeli governments, with strong support from Washington, will make it impossible for Israel to achieve those goals.

It will also end up weakening its economy, dividing and corrupting its society — and eventually increasing its dependency on the United States.

For the Arab and Muslim nations — as well as for other powers, especially those challenging the international status quo — Israel would be perceived as the “weakest link” in the American Empire.

Israel would thus become an ideal target for anti-American and anti-globalization forces.

We are already seeing the shape of things to come in the growing anti-Israeli sentiments in Europe and Asia, and the way anti-Israeli sentiments are starting to intertwine, in some cases, with dormant anti-Semitic attitudes.

In some respects, Israel’s ties with the United States are starting to resemble the relationship between the old political and economic elites and the Jewish community in Europe during the 19th century.

As Hannah Arendt pointed out in her classic study of European anti-Semitism, it was the erosion in the power of those elites — and their growing inability to protect the Jews of Europe — that sealed their fate.

The new and angry social classes and political players turned their frustration against the group they associated with the hated status quo — a group that was also very vulnerable.

A similar scenario could take place on an international scale, when a weaker and less confident United States would be under pressure at home and abroad to reduce its global commitments.

This would leave Israel — its weakest link — vulnerable to attacks not only from Arab and Muslim nations, but from other new anti-status quo powers.

Ironically, the original mission of classical Zionism was to release Europe’s Jews from the trap that Hannah Arendt described, to turn them into a normal people, living in a normal state, able to protect themselves — and not dependent on others for their survival.

In the real world of nation states and power politics and in face of opposition from the surrounding Arab states, Israel has to search for support from foreign powers, including the United States (and France in the 1950s and the Soviet Union in the late 1940s).

But that support was seen by Israel’s founders as a temporary measure to sustain its national security.

The long-term goal was to use that outside support and combine it with Israel’s military power as a way of pressing the Arabs to recognize that Israel was a permanent feature in the Middle East — and to make peace with it.

Some of the Israeli policies that followed the 1967 Middle East War, especially from the Likud, violated those principles.

U.S. support was utilized to fulfill a Messianic agenda of settling Judea and Samaria — and pursuing the creeping annexation of those territories.

Ultimately, it was a policy that was never supported by the majority of the Israelis, but one that was promoted by nationalist and religious fanatics.

And it only played into the hands of the extremists on the other side and helped to set off the vicious circle of Palestinian-Israeli violence that we are now witnessing.

Perhaps it is not too late for the Israelis to figure out how to take a path toward normalcy in the Middle East that leads to peaceful co-existence with the Palestinians and their other neighbors in the next generations.

And, most importantly, Israel has to do so as an independent nation state — and not as a crusader state whose fate is determined by the decisions of a foreign and distant power.