I was at a briefing by General Itzik Mordechai in Jerusalem once, back when he was Officer Commanding IDF Northern Command. Somebody asked him, from out of a crowd of academics, whether he could countenance returning sovereignty over the Golan Heights to Syria if the US guaranteed that Syria would keep the Heights demilitarized.
Never a man for flowery words, Mordechai said, “ask the South Vietnamese what they think about American security guarantees.”
This pithy statement speaks volumes to those Israelis who dreaded Barack Obama’s re-election.
British people largely think that American presidents are slaves of a Jewish lobby which demands unswerving support of Israel. When I tell them that some American presidents are slaves of an Evangelical Christian lobby which demands unswerving support of Israel they are surprised and often disbelieving. It’s the same when I tell them about Henry Kissinger’s reluctance to support Israel in 1973: they assume that because Henry is a Jew he wasn’t capable of making foreign policy on any basis other than Zionism.
It’s all wrong, of course. American Jews vote a lot, and vote according to lots of ideas including their pocketbooks, their beliefs, their educations, and so on. You may get some votes from Jews by claiming to be Israel’s best friend (especially if Sheldon Adelson is your other best friend), but you might drive other Jews away by talking about keeping immigrants away.
In recent months many American Israelis, who did oppose President Obama en bloc, have told me that President Obama has been and will be a disaster for Israel. I haven’t said or written much to disagree, but as a specialist in national security I have found the contention surprising.
Barack Obama has, amid his foreign policy successes and failures, coerced Iran more successfully than any other head of any other state at any other time since the Iranian Revolution. Without giving Iran much of the public confrontation with the Great Satan on which Ayatollah Khamenei’s regime survives, Obama has built a broad coalition which has economically crushed Iran and has had the regime backing away from nuclear arms capability for months.
But what if Obama really is the worst thing in the world for Israel? What if he really is a secret Islamist penetration agent? What if he seeks to cozy up to Iran in order to further the aim of a global caliphate?
Or, to put it another way, what if the alternative to Obama were worse? What if the US elected somebody without foreign policy experience with a team that took months to come up to speed, and the wily Iranians took advantage of the time to regroup and regain the initiative? What if the alternative weren’t interested in careful multilateral coercion and instead gave the Iranians the confrontation their ayatollahs dream of?
What if Israel was, as South Vietnam was, so dependent on the US for its national security that the political will in Pickaway County, Ohio determined whether life were dangerous or safe in Petach Tikvah?
This was General Mordechai’s point about the Golan, and this is my point about America’s re-election of President Obama: If Israel’s continued existence depends on having a Likudnik in the White House, Israel isn’t a real state. If page one of Israel’s national security strategy is “depend on the US,” then those who claim that Israel is a colony or an aircraft carrier or a puppet or a lapdog are a little bit right. (A very little bit, but a little bit.)
Israel may sell a lot of bonds in America. Israel may split a big pot of American largess with Egypt (and spend it in America). Israel may earn with its loyalty a staunch ally in the US. None of these things diminish Israel’s sovereignty. But if its security is decided by the voters of Chillicothe then Israel isn’t Israel.