Generations of academics and commentators have made a living from dealing with the question of whether Israel represents a strategic asset or a burden to the United States. However, the question of whether the superpower is a strategic asset or burden to Israel seems almost fantastical. The Bush administration's wholesale support for Ariel Sharon's government and the warm welcome given to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert by the Congress prove that Israel can count on the White House and the Capitol. The president's road map will continue to protect us from the threat of negotiating with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, while the law that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) pushed through Congress guarantees that PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh will not be a partner - even when it comes to cooperating to combat avian flu.
Fortunately, on the issue that is considered critical to Israel's existence - Iran's nuclear capabilities - the United States is likely to be an asset to Israel, but that is an exception, one in which the Americans refuse to be drawn into making another strategic mistake. It is an exception that does not prove the rule.
Dr. Haggai Ram of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, author of "Reading Iran in Israel: The Self and the Other, Religion and Modernity," notes that during the presidency of Mohammed Khatami, there were increasing calls in Iran for a "just" and peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to Ram, after 9/11, and particularly after the invasion of Afghanistan, there was a "window of opportunity" for a rapprochement between the United States and Iran. Ram attributes the failure of contacts toward this end to Israeli efforts to present Iran as a dominant factor in the conflict and to internationalize the conflict in order to present it as an integral part of the "war against terror."
Flint Leverett, formerly a senior figure in the U.S. National Security Council and the State Department, disclosed to the Council on Foreign Relations - the director of which is appointed by the president - that in May 2003, in the wake of the invasion of Iraq, the Swiss ambassador in Tehran passed along an Iranian offer to negotiate with the United States on the nuclear issue. In addition, the document expressed Iran's willingness to adopt the Arab League's resolution to recognize Israel and stop supporting Palestinian terror organizations operating outside of the territories.
Leverett claims that the Bush administration ignored the latter offer, too, keeping instead to its policy of destroying the "axis of evil" and bringing about the "democratization of the Middle East." The end is well known: The "democratization," which conceals American economic interests and messianic tendencies, continues to undermine stability in the Middle East. The Muslim Brotherhood challenges moderate Arab regimes, and Iraq has brought the ills of Afghanistan into the heart of the Sunni world. Al-Qaida is making itself felt in Egypt, Jordan and Palestine. Iran has become a regional power that threatens the entire area, from the Persian Gulf to the western Mediterranean. And the United States, Israel's patron, is losing its powers of deterrence.
Even the conservative Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes, whose appointment to the U.S. Institute of Peace was forced by Bush on Congress, wrote in The New York Sun that the administration's policy in Iraq "makes it easier for the regime's enemies to garner support for their insurgency."
Natan Sharansky, whom Bush has called his "soul mate," argues that it was inappropriate for the United States to pressure the Palestinians into holding elections. In a recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Sharansky wrote that Bush's misreading of the democratization process paved the way for the creation of a Hamas-run entity next to Israel.
When Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, "the architect of the Oslo agreement," was asked why he was supporting the policy of Ariel Sharon, he shrugged his shoulders and responded: "How can I object to a policy that the president of the United States supports?" That "policy" of "there's no partner for peace" is what gave rise to the unilateralism that continues to chip away at what is left of the pragmatic Palestinian camp and to continue to reduce the chances of ending the occupation.
Yesterday was the 39th anniversary of that strategic burden. If our older brother was truly a strategic asset, he would have gotten us out of there long ago.
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