Caught between Washington and Moscow

Israel needs a new strategy. It is not enough for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to have good working relationships with both the US president and the Russian leader — Putin and Trump. There must be a deeper Israeli strategic conception to the potential superpower confrontation now facing the Jewish state in neighboring Syria. Such a disastrous conflagration could easily spill over and involve Israel itself, a looming catastrophe at its very doorstep.

Jerusalem needs a platform for peace between Russia and the West. No Israeli leader can allow current events to just play themselves out without a strategic alternative. Israel and the world simply cannot afford the threat of war between the Pentagon and the Kremlin — two nuclear behemoths. Israel has tremendous leverage in the Middle East and Europe. In Europe, Germany has NOT played a constructive role to heal NATO’s expansion eastward. Little Israel (the world’s only Jewish state) — and with the Jewish people’s history of the Holocaust — must persuade Germany to turn away from an alliance poised solely against Russia. Instead, Israel must seek to advocate for a German neutral role, with a vast demilitarized component for the regions of Central and Eastern Europe. Israel must (through Germany) seek a Europe that is secure for all.

In the Middle East, Israel must also champion peace in order to isolate those forces seeking hegemonic design — Iran and Syria. The Jewish state has a great potential for Sunni-state friends. From Saudi Arabia to Egypt, the Sunni world awaits the prospect of a durable peace encompassing economy and moderation. Israel has nuclear weapons that it can trade for deep regional concessions. And Israel has something the Palestinians desperately want, a place in Jerusalem. Hence this dual Israeli platform for peace in Europe and the Middle East must also include: a local plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace that is inclusive of the East Bank of the Jordan River; a regional plan for a permanent Middle East balance of power without nuclear weapons; and a vision of Europe (including Russia) that is secure for all.

Israel can become a key broker of peace between Russia and the West by urging a mutual withdrawal of US forces from the NATO alliance, a major Russian withdrawal east to the Ural Mountains, and the demilitarization of Germany. But such a European dimension can only work within the dramatic context of an Israeli alternative to the Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA.

Come this May 12th, the likelihood that president Trump will abandon this agreement is quite high. This will only add to the tensions already red hot in Syria and the greater Levant. Israel must respond if Iran seeks a breakout toward the bomb. Everyone will be flying blind. If Israel attacks Iran, the great probability is that both Washington and Moscow risk the world, as the escalatory ladder becomes instantly activated. In a dangerously divided Europe, the Middle East has now become a proxy war for NATO and the Russians. This situation cannot be stabilized without a dual peace platform.

In the final analysis, Syria is only important to the Russians as a vehicle to weaken the entire US alliance system, especially NATO. If Europe can be balanced and made whole, Russian support for Assad and Iran would most likely evaporate. This would be especially true if Israel advocated simultaneously for a nuclear-free zone as a replacement for the JCPOA. In such a scenario, Iran’s diplomatic recognition of Israel could become a key element in such an anti-nuclear zone. Iran would be forced to choose between strict global sanctions or regional moderation. I am certain that the Iranian people would choose moderation. The actions of the Iranian Islamic government are another issue.

Russia does not want war with Israel, but it also doesn’t want Israel to interfere with its strategic position in Syria. On the other hand, Israel views the Iranian buildup in Syria in existential terms. Similarly, NATO expansion to Russia’s borders has become an obvious existential dilemma for the Kremlin. The Middle East has now become the testing ground for a Russian pushback against NATO, Germany and the West. Peace within this scenario cannot hold.

Meanwhile, the Middle East is fast moving toward the massive destabilization of a nuclear arms race. This is in nobody’s interest. The world is now living at the cusp of a situation probably more dangerous than during the Cold War. Europe and the Middle East must lead the way toward a new direction of peace. We Jews have always believed that history has been designed by G-d in order for us to choose the ethical pathway forward. This choice belongs not only to Israel, but to all humanity. Peace is the L-rd’s way. All nations must now decide whether to continue with a history of war and empire, or to devote themselves to a new era of peace with global cooperation.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).