Since independence in 1948, the State of Israel has had no more significant international ally than the United States. That alliance has ranged from the signing of the first free trade agreement between the US and another country to diplomatic protection in the United Nations and other international fora to close and highly significant defense, security and intelligence collaboration.
On various occasions, the alliance has undergone serious strains, most notably during the Carter administration (1977-1981), and the question of Jewish settlements in the West Bank has always festered, but relations have never been worse than at present. Dialogue between the two allies has degenerated to the point of name-calling, with the Israeli minister of defense questioning the sanity of the US secretary of state (“delusional”) and a high-level but unnamed US official calling the Israeli prime minister a coward (“chicken-shit”).
As one wag put it, relations have sunk to the level of the barnyard, with a lame duck administration in Washington referring to the head of government in Jerusalem as having the fortitude of a chicken because he refuses to reach an agreement with the Palestinian Authority on terms proposed by the Americans. In good schoolchildren fashion Minister Ya’alon’s leaked private characterization of Secretary Kerry as “delusional” led to his being denied appointments with the secretary (and with the vice-president) during a recent visit to DC.
Yet with all that, he did have a productive visit with Secretary of Defense Hagel and behind all the name-calling the defense relationship has continued at a high level. This is all-important. As long as it continues, the rest can be safely endured as Israel awaits the end of the current US administration, undoubtedly the least supportive of the Jewish state in its independent history. A worrisome straw in the wind occurred during the most recent war with Hamas in Gaza, when the Israeli forces drew equipment from an American stockpile on Israeli soil following all the normal and customary procedures, only to have the White House petulantly declare that any future withdrawals would take place only with presidential approval.
Not that Jerusalem is entirely without fault, to be sure. Not only should cabinet members watch their language, but the recent announcements of the authorization of further Jewish building activity in predominantly Palestinian areas, while legally justified, exhibits exquisitely bad timing. It looks like the Israeli version of the schoolyard bad manners displayed by Washington towards Minister Ya’alon.
A strategy of waiting until January of 2017 when someone else will assume the seat now occupied by President Obama is simply not good enough. That date is more than two years away. In a period when a day or a week can fundamentally change the situation on the ground in the Middle East, two years is an eternity. Without compromising any of its fundamental principles of national security, Israel must take a deep breath and endeavor to, if not repair the relationship, at least make sure it gets no worse.
This will not be easy, but it is essential. Further provocations can be expected from administration figures and further negative measures can be expected from a government which has clearly no meaningful strategies in the region. The Israeli government should not delude itself that a Republican-controlled Senate will make a fundamental difference. Without a majority of at least sixty seats, no important legislation can be passed by the Senate, and the Republican majority is far short of that. Israel had no better friend in the Senate than former Democratic chairman Menendez, who confronted the administration time after time in support of Israeli positions.
In addition, the Congress can do little to prevent the deterioration of the American-Israeli defense relationship should the Obama administration decide to take such an attitude. It is much easier to maintain a favorable situation, even under threat, than to restore one which has been broken. Attitudes, gestures and words count. Even if the other side does not reciprocate generously a childish tit-for-tat must be avoided, again without sacrificing any fundamental principles of national security. The language of the barnyard and the rude gestures of the schoolyard must be studiously avoided. Only in this way can the next two years be safely endured.
Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and teaches at the Center for National Security Studies and Geostrategy, University of Haifa.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on November 6, 2014
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