The US and Israel: An Increasingly Uneasy Alliance

Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak (L) sits across from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem 4 December 2011. (Photo: REUTERS – Gali Tibbon)

By: Ali Rizk | Published Monday, December 5, 2011| Al Akhbar

As developments continue to unfold in the Middle East, one thing seems to be increasing besides the campaign against the Syrian regime: American frustration with Israel and its policies (or lack thereof).

This time, US defense secretary Leon Panetta just couldn’t control his temper, calling on Israel to “just get to the damned table” to negotiate a settlement with the Palestinian authority. This is the third time the defense secretary has revealed a divergence with Israel and its policies…or lack thereof.

What this highlights is the quagmire Israel is in – and together with it the US, because of its alliance with Israel. Panetta says that Israel is becoming more and more isolated and calls on it to repair its ties with countries like Egypt, Turkey and Jordan. “Israel can reach out and mend fences with those who share an interest in regional stability – countries like Turkey, Egypt and Jordan,” Panetta said. He goes on to add that such a step “is not impossible.” This is the second time Panetta has underscored this isolation, and his assessment is correct (take for example the Egyptian protests against Israel in front of the Israeli embassy in Cairo after Israel killed Egyptian soldiers on the border with Gaza).

The dilemma here for both the US and Israel is that Israel has the wrong government at the wrong time. While changes are underway in the Middle East, Israel has a government whose members reflect the rise of the right wing in Israeli society (a combination of the ultra orthodox and settler movement). While Panetta points to the urgent necessity for Israel to change in a changing region, its government has the most diplomatically inept cabinet which is, or at least appears to be, totally out of touch with reality. This government, as many argue, appears to be indifferent to Israeli interests, let alone America’s, while some members of its cabinet are far too blasé about American support and simply take it for granted. There is probably no other government that is so incapable of change or pragmatic policies.

In fact Panetta expresses his opposition to Israeli policies (or lack thereof) when he says, “I believe security is dependent on strong military, but it is also dependent on strong diplomacy.” The end result is that Israel is bringing more doom to itself and to the US as long as Washington continues to stand with Israel unconditionally, which it will do at least for the foreseeable future (and especially from now until the US presidential elections.) It is from here that we can understand the frustration in Panetta’s statements, his tone and his body language.

Moreover, Panetta’s focus on Israeli reconciliation with countries like Turkey also reveals frustration on part of the defense secretary. The US is in great need of a player like Turkey (as can be seen from the Syrian file) and Turkey is proving to be a great partner for Washington. But while the US has its share of leverage over Turkey, there will be limits to this leverage as long as the crisis between Turkey and Israel over the flotilla incident continues. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan must be careful in responding to all American demands, as this may lead to an internal backlash against the PM by making him appear like a servant to Israel – precisely because of America’s unconditional support for Israel.

This could cause much damage to Erdogan, especially because Israel killed Turkish citizens in international waters. From here we can understand Panetta’s call on Israel to help build regional support for Israeli and US security objectives.

Then we come to the biggest American fear of them all: a military strike on Iran. Again Panetta comes out hard against this option, at the same time implying that Israel has a different view. He says, quite bluntly, “we have to be careful about the unintended consequences” that a strike on Iran would have, pointing to the danger it would subject US troops and bases in the region to (and the second time he has said as much). Not to mention his comments that a strike would “at best” delay Iran’s nuclear program. He cannot be any more straightforward in his opposition to the military option which Israel advocates.

So if anyone was in doubt about Israel becoming a strategic liability for the US, the US defense minister has shown that in today’s Middle East Israel is becoming just that. This actually began to unfold before the Arab spring, when the current CIA chief David Petreaus said, back when he was head of Centcom, that the continuance of the Israeli Palestinian conflict was adversely affecting the American military presence and its interests in the region due to American favoritism towards Israel. Now it has become more evident as the Middle East has seen US allies fall, the people gaining a much larger say and US military dilemmas in Iraq and Afghanistan continue. (Iraq especially will emerge as another case in a new Middle East which is not in line with American interests due to the special ties that now exist between Baghdad and Tehran).

So America realizes that change is needed if it wants to continue to be a significant regional player in a strategically oil-rich region. It also realizes change is needed to secure a somewhat acceptable outcome in Iraq and Afghanistan (which may explain why most of the statements that point to Israeli US divergence are from defense and military officials).

But change will only come through two scenarios. Either the Israeli government changes its behavior which is an extremely remote possibility; or, the US makes certain changes to the nature of its alliance with Israel. This second option also seems far-fetched, especially as election day in the US draws closer, but in the end it seems the US will have to choose between its own interests and its unconditional support for Israel.

Ali Rizq is Press TV News Director in Beirut.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect al-Akhbar’s editorial policy.

Source and more at  Al Akhbar English.

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