Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Rise and Fall of America's Indispensable Ally - Israel

Israel has always been America's indispensable ally in the Middle East.  That may be changing.  Benjamin Netanyahu's speech yesterday to the US Congress might have been less of a bold stroke and more an act of desperation.

The Sydney Morning Herald's international affairs columnist, Paul McGeough, writes that Israel's influence with Washington is in decline even as Netanyahu's object of terror, Iran, sees its fortunes rising.  In other words, there's more than the supposed threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb driving Netanyahu's crusade for an American war on Iran.

Washington's place in the world – and in the region – is very different. The Cold War is gone and the grind of nuclear tension with Moscow is so yesterday. Obama wants to pivot to Asia.

US and world dependence on Arab fossil fuel is not what it was and most of the Arab regimes have become trusted allies of the West – especially in the context of the crisis brought on by the so-called Islamic State. All are allowed to get on with their human rights abuse excesses, they are sold weapons worth billions and that thing called the Middle East peace process goes precisely nowhere – and nobody seems to mind.

...The neo-con argument as the US prepared for the invasion of Iraq was that democracy would finally be planted in the region. And when Netanyahu spoke to Congress at that time, he declared: "If you take out Saddam, Saddam's regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region."

Instead, Iran was planted in Iraq; and the impotence of the Sunni regimes was revealed, creating a vacuum in which Sunni jihadists challenged the entire nation-state model of governance, on which the West so relies in the region.

Now we've come full circle. The extent of Washington's crisis with the Sunnis repositions Iran more as part of the solution and less as part of the problem. And where Washington needs circuit-breakers right now, Iran has heft; Israel doesn't.

The threat to regional stability now is the conflict within Sunni Islam more than it is Sunni v Shiite or Islam v West.

Writing in Foreign Policy last year, analyst Trita Parsi observed: "Iraq is disintegrating. Syria is in flames. Pakistan is on the verge of becoming a failed state. The Taliban is making a comeback in Afghanistan. Libya is falling apart. The House of Saud is nervous about a potentially existential succession crisis. In this region Iran looks like an island of stability."

He makes his point – "meanwhile, the geopolitical enmity that has characterised relations between the US and Iran for more than three decades, now has been overtaken by events in Iraq and elsewhere".

This is the context in which Washington and Tehran need each other – but they will not achieve that until they get to the other side of a nuclear deal.

The language of Barack Obama and a growing army of officials and analysts now acknowledges Iran as a potential partner.

...Amidst all this regional change, the reality of Israel too is changing – in itself and in its relations with the world.

Netanyahu harks back to Washington's role as the first to recognise the new state of Israel in 1948. Recalling a small country with a huge and convincing argument, The Washington Post's Richard Cohen observes: "[Netanyahu] harkens back not only to a different America, but also to a different Israel – [in 1948] it was not yet an occupation power; it did not mistreat the Palestinians."

And in the context of what Washington needs in the region, as opposed to what the US might like or admire, Cohen adds: "The fact is that the US doesn't need Israel."

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