Netanyahu Will Meet With Obama From a Position of Weakness

Ari Shavit
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U.S. President Barack Obama with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House in 2009.Credit: Bloomberg
Ari Shavit

The three most important letters in the Hebrew language are QME. They are the acronym for Qualitative Military Edge, which represents the American commitment to ensure Israel’s military advantage over its neighbors.

Thanks to QME, our air force is one of the best in the world and we have the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Iron Fist missile systems. Thanks to QME, our emergency equipment includes advanced weapons systems, which enable the Israeli democracy to survive in an environment of fanaticism, violence, despair and extremism.

The American willingness to vouch for Israel’s existence, security and prosperity by the means and methods derived from QME is what enables us to live here.

Most Israelis take the commitment embodied in these three letters for granted. They feel that America has always been there and always will be there – for us. They assume that even if we provoke and humiliate it, America will always be behind us. Its aid is self-evident in their eyes.

But nothing is self-evident. It’s already clear that Iran’s expected military strengthening (following the agreement signed with it in July) could erode Israel’s supremacy in the Middle East in the long run. Already the supply of advanced airplanes, accurate missiles and quality weapons to some Arab states could jeopardize the unique regional status Israel has established for decades. More than ever before, Israel needs massive American aid to protect its people from the Middle East’s upheavals and the rise of radical Islam.

For that reason, the next few weeks will be critical. Both the Barack Obama administration and Benjamin Netanyahu’s government are about to make a supreme effort to sign a new 10-year plan, replacing the old plan that has bolstered Israel’s security since 2007. Both the Americans and Israelis will try to rise above the emotional baggage of the recent past and agree on a generous financial and technological framework, which will give Israel a strategic safety net until 2027.

Presumably, American aid will increase significantly and war toys will be supplied generously, accompanied by much lofty rhetoric. But will all these be enough? Will the United States preserve Israel’s significant advantage in the midst of Iran’s growing strength, ISIS’ rampage and a disintegrating regional power balance?

Benjamin Netanyahu has done everything in his power to ensure that the answer to this question is no. He didn’t understand that the strategic cooperation between the U.S. and Israel must be based on shared values (which the Miri Regev government does not really share.) The prime minister fought fiercely against Obama and identified himself unequivocally with the Republican Party, with the American right-wing. If he had a Washington-strategy, it was to count the days until Obama leaves the White House.

So the prime minister is coming to the fateful talks about the future of Israel’s national security from a position of pronounced weakness. If the administration is generous to Israel, it will be despite Netanyahu, not because of him.

But there’s a danger that the administration won’t be very generous. It will give Israel about a billion dollars more a year, but won’t bend over backwards to maintain real QME in view of the unprecedented challenges of the Iran era.

Netanyahu’s Israel may learn the hard way that without a deep ideological pact with the U.S., it will not have a viable and intimate strategic alliance, either.

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