Israel at the Strategic Crossroads

President Obama has admitted that in the course of one bar-mitzvah time span (thirteen years); Iran will possess a nuclear “breakout” capacity diminished to less than a month or two. This admission renders the administration’s nuclear framework with Iran as vulnerable as an immature adolescent born the minute the US decides to sign the agreement. In the life of a man or women such a span is elapsed five, six or even seven times. And in the life of nations such a time frame is miniscule. Any mature adult knows that what happens in the first decade or so of life is just a small part of what is to become a much broader story. But in Obama’s mind-set, this blink of an eye is the making of an “historic” diplomatic achievement.

It appears as if the adolescents have now taken over the leadership of the White House and the Free World. Why would anybody make such a deal with a regime (Iran) hell-bent on the destruction of the only viable democracy in the Middle East? How could this have happened? Has the American leadership, especially the Democratic Party, lost its mind?

The answer lies deep in the psyche of the American people. America is broke and on the cusp of another economic meltdown. Its economy has stagnated and wages have hardly budged over the course of the last seven years. Obama has relegated his entire economic program to the bankrupt monetary policy of the Federal Reserve. This has created another major bubble on Wall St. which, in turn, has made the 1% even richer than they were before the last bubble melt-down. However, the 99% of the rest of the US population (Main St.) knows that the country cannot afford anymore bail-outs of the big banks and certainly not in combination with another Middle East war. Somewhere in the great fears of the American people, the prospect of another major war (this time with Iran), is just not tenable. The last two wars in the Middle East cost the American taxpayer many hundreds of billions of dollars, over a trillion in fact. Add that military figure to the cost of keeping Wall St. afloat and the public knows that, in the case of a repeat, the money just isn’t there.

The Obama presidency proves that the era of American global hegemony in the Middle East and Europe is over. Countries, like Israel, have to readjust their global strategic outlook or face the consequences. But Israel is isolated. It provides no real alternative to reverse its strategic dilemma. It places its entire bet on either America’s capacity to wage war or the prospect that a new and heightened sanctions regime could force Iran to roll-back its nuclear program. And Israel believes this is possible relying solely on the economic and military capacity of the United States. On both counts it is wrong. The odds that the US would go to war with Iran are very long indeed. And sanctions can only work if they are completely accepted by the entire international community. In the face of the nuclear framework agreement, the international prospect of a tight, total and binding regime of sanctions is simply not possible without an entire new nuclear structure for the region of the Middle East. In other words, a much more compelling replacement for the present flimsy agreement.

Israel is at the strategic crossroads. No longer will it be allowed to possess a monopoly on nuclear weapons within its neighborhood. Israel must decide whether to rely on nuclear deterrence (mutually assured destruction) or advance some other far-reaching diplomatic initiative to replace either the framework agreement or the void created by its absence. Because with or without the framework agreement (finished and signed or not), according to the reckoning of the President of the United States, in thirteen short years Iran (and certainly other Middle East states) will be in possession of nuclear weapons. Unless a Republican Congress declares war against Iran, sometime before the next election (a long-shot), this has now become Israel’s new historic strategic situation. Maybe Israel will risk war on its own, and maybe even a Republican Congress will come to its aid. Even so, the consequences diplomatically for either country would be extremely severe. So too would Israel’s diplomatic position be diminished within the heavily partisan politics of the current US political divide. And could a military strike even hold back Iran’s nuclear program for any longer than five years or so?

So, what would a far-reaching Israeli diplomatic initiative look like? Could it work to totally isolate Iran from the international community? First, it would need to extinguish one of the most glaring weaknesses of the current framework agreement — the complete lack of a regional balance of power context. All forms of hegemony need be outlawed within the Middle East. That would include the US military position in the Persian Gulf, Iran or any other country’s attempt at regional proxy hegemony and Israel’s current (soon to expire) nuclear hegemony over the region. Second, the diplomatic initiative would need to engender an extremely positive reaction from the permanent members of the UN Security Council. Without a strong and binding united front from the US, UK, France, Russia and China no nuclear agreement for the Middle East is possible. This has become another glaring and potentially serious weakness of the present framework agreement. Because any agreement will rely on big power teamwork, international cooperation and coordination will be essential. Iran must be isolated for a successful and harsh international sanction regime to work.

Finally, a successful Israeli initiative must be not only be revolutionary (truly historic) but must also be considered fair to all parties involved. Here is what Israel should propose: 1) A Zone of Peace should be established among the states of the Middle East and Persian Gulf, so that trade and navigation may move uninterrupted; 2) All foreign navies should be banned from the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea; 3) All foreign air forces should be denied the right to bases throughout the Zone of Peace; 4) No state in the Zone of Peace may attack another state; 5) If such an attack occurs, the permanent members of the UN Security Council could automatically come to the aid of the aggrieved state, and points 2 and 3 would become temporarily suspended; 6) If such an attack occurs, the states within the Zone of Peace could come to the aid of the aggrieved state; 7) Only sovereign states would be allowed to possess military equipment within the Zone of Peace, and extra-territorial militias would be outlawed; 8) All nuclear enrichment, plutonium production, and the stockpiling of nuclear material would be outlawed, and the strictest possible verification regime would be put in place by the IAEA; 9) All states in the Zone of Peace must recognize and have diplomatic relations with all other states; 10) All states must sign the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), and negotiations for a Middle East Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone must begin no later than 24 months after all states have finalized
mutual recognition; 11) All states in the Zone of Peace should pledge their allegiance to a non-hegemonic regional structure, and states
within the zone will also pledge not to conspire with other states for the purposes of war; 12) Finally, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
should be decided through negotiations among the parties themselves, without outside coercion, and genuine compromise and goodwill must
become the principles upon which these negotiations rest.

Israel must choose. Does it want a nuclear or non-nuclear Middle East? If it chooses the latter, its conventional military position must become enhanced by a Zone of Peace regional structure. But if such a structure should fail and no countries come to Israel’s conventional aid, a defensive line that would allow the necessary strategic depth becomes paramount. If Israel were to agree to a Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone in the Middle East, the Jordan River Valley must remain as her eastern line of defense. In essence, this is a non-negotiable quid pro quo. Either way she chooses (whether for a nuclear or a non-nuclear region), Israel is now at a strategic crossroads.

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).
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