These days we are witnessing the culmination of a pervasive effort to move the burden for the resolution of international conflicts from the American taxpayer to other players, notably international organizations like the UN but also other countries and share it with them. Israel, having been aligned with the US politically, culturally and economically for decades now, has seen the writing on the wall but has identified the development, mistakenly, as a policy move initiated by the Obama administration.
It is not. It is a response of the Obama administration to long fermenting domestic and global economic and political trends and developments based first and foremost on the realization that even a superpower with all its might cannot resolve local conflicts in a reasonable, responsible and cost-efficient way over time. Afghanistan and Iraq are clear examples, so are Lybia and Syria. Local ethnic groups cannot be reigned in by outside forces over an extended period of time. President Obama’s personal disinclination to prop up American exceptionalism has only made formulating the response easier.
The only situations then where the US will be willing to invest more than diplomatic activism are those which directly concern US interests: Anything which has to do with nuclear arms and free access to energy sources. US allies can count on support and protection but will have to work harder on their own to strengthen their regional and international disposition.
In the context of our neighborhood what does that mean? It means that with regard to the Palestinian issue, the US will try to broker a deal, possibly even table a reasonable compromise (by US standards) but will not force the players to accept. Netanyahu can rest assured that if he choses to continue his hard-line attitude vis-a-vis the Palestinians, he will be able to do so, regardless how dire the consequences will be for Israel and the region.
Regarding the nuclear armament of Iran, the US will use both, diplomatic activism and the threat of force to get Iran to comply with the demand to completely stop weapons development. This aim will likely be achieved although it will not be on terms agreeable to Israel.
What should not be ruled out, is that pressure will be brought to bear on Israel to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at some stage because it is in line with US policy objectives to get all nuclear states to sign. While Israel has never declared itself a nuclear state it is generally accepted to be one (a.e. one possessing nuclear weapons).
The present Israeli policy of maintaining nuclear ambiguity in conjunction with a declared position not to negotiate a regional WMD control regime until peace has been achieved with all its Arab neighbors, prevents real progress towards such a valuable aim. Getting Israel to join the NPT may therefore be a likely US policy objective. It has added importance since the NPT, through repeated and well documented non-compliance by signatories, including Iran, was on the verge of becoming irrelevant. It would certainly help to get Iran, which has signed the NPT but, as mentioned, is presently non-compliant, back on board . If Iran, in the wake of Iranian President Rouhani’s recent love-fest at the UN General Assembly in New York can get back on track with the NPT and Israel can be persuaded to give up on its exceptionalism and join as well, the Middle East will be a lot safer.
The Israeli political scene, needless to say, is not on the same page and probably not even in the same book. Strong elements in the ruling party (Likud-Beiteinu) are actively trying to undermine peace negotiations with the Palestinians who in turn are desperately hanging on to somehow get to a final status peace agreement before the roof caves in on the Palestinian Authority, either because of financial meltdown or another Intifada or both.
On Iran, Israel’s justified but unchecked paranoia causes Netanyahu to hold positions which are not only untenable in view of Israel’s increasing international isolation but will make cooperation with the US on this crucial issue ever more difficult.
All this is happening on the background of a fragile economic situation in Israel whose shrinking middle class is reeling under the impact of a real-estate bubble and increasing income differentials.
Worried ? We should be. A credible political alternative to Netanyahu’s “do nothing and complain a lot” government is not yet on the horizon. No effort is being made to educate the Israeli public that long held convictions are going to get seriously challenged by reality, both with regard to the Palestinians and the nuclear issue and it will happen soon enough.
For their part, the Iranian people have chosen a president who, at least on the face of it, is willing to take on the conservatives in his own country and proceed on a more conciliatory course vis-a-vis the West. It remains to be seen if and when Israel can come up with a leadership that can be more agreeable to the West on the Palestinian issue and adapt itself to the new reality to match the Iranian challenge. That should preferably be before the international community will consider if the type of sanctions which brought about the potential for change in Iran might just do the same in Israel.