Testing the Canada-Israel alliance

The inaugural visit of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Israel represents a significant moment for an Israeli government that is in vital need of dependable friends and reliable moral allies. Much has already been said about Prime Minister Harper’s unequivocal and unparalleled support of Israel since being elected in 2006.

Indeed because the governments of Canada and Israel see eye-to-eye on nearly every geopolitical issue facing the Jewish State, an important question must be asked about the long-term nature of this bilateral relationship, as the Canada-Israel alliance could soon be tested in both word and deed.

Though the United States remains Israel’s unquestioned military ally, many observers note the increasing willingness of the Obama Administration to publicly object to all of Israel’s policies – on the Palestinian peace process, on settlement construction, and most notably on the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

The latter is most troubling when coupled with the obvious intent of the United States to codify a questionable “final nuclear deal” with the Iranian government later this year and thus absolve the U.S. of any potential military response toward the issue.

Of course it is unsurprising that after two long wars in the Middle East, the United States is ready to step off the stage. Nonetheless the timing could not be worse, as Iran appears to be using present negotiations to buy time for the development of its Persian Bomb.

For example the delay between the announcement of the P5+1’s “interim deal” with Iran on November 24, 2013 in Geneva, and the final text of what then became the “preliminary deal” actually enacted on January 17, 2014, emphasizes Iran’s disconcerting abuse of process.

Accordingly under the Harper government, Canada has stated that it is “deeply skeptical” about the deal, which will hopefully see Iran scale back its nuclear work in exchange for the West easing multiple layers of sanctions which were painstakingly agreed upon by the largely disunited U.N. Security Council.

With the North Korean nuclear precedent in mind, Canada shares Israel’s legitimate fear about whether or not the Iranian government can be trusted to uphold the terms of the deal – both now and more importantly in the future. But aside from echoing Netanyahu’s pessimism about the trustworthiness of the radical theocratic regime in Tehran, it would appear that Canada can contribute little toward stopping Iran’s covert march toward nuclear weapons.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) seen with his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper during a welcoming ceremony for Harper at Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem January 19, 2014.

To be sure, there is likely cooperation between Canada and Israel on the espionage and sabotage of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, just as there is with many Western powers.

However in the context of Canada and Israel’s growing alliance, consideration must be given to what might transpire between the nations if diplomacy with Iran ultimately fails. In such a scenario – one that has undoubtedly been war-gamed – Canada’s steadfast moral support of Israel, and Harper’s fundamental belief in Israel’s unique position within the Middle East, will be tested in the flesh.

If there is any government on earth that based on its public statements alone appears willing to ensure Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon, it is Canada; not France, not the U.K., not Italy and not Germany. None of these Western nations even come close to Canada in levying consistent condemnation of Iran’s rhetoric and in pronouncing warnings about the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Moreover if there is one government on earth that would publicly and defiantly endorse an Israeli decision to conduct unilateral military strikes against Iran’s nuclear program, again it is Canada. This would be no small measure for a “middle power” like Canada, closely allied with the United States but fiercely carving its own identifiable policy in the Middle East apart from its natural Western allies.

The Netanyahu government’s recent criticism of the European Union‘s “hypocrisy” toward Israel bears out Canada’s policy independence on the myriad issues affecting Israel.

Canada’s nearly solitary voice of moral support for Israel is also reflected in comments made by Rafael Barak, Israel’s ambassador to Canada. Speaking to the Canadian media recently, Barak stated,

“We see Iran as a serious threat. Canadians have the same view. I feel that other countries have the same view, but the difference is that Canada is expressing their ideas in public.”

The biggest question for this alliance in early 2014 is whether the Harper government would back up its public expressions with tangible action, either to facilitate effective military strikes on Iran’s nuclear sites, or perhaps more reasonably to help protect the Jewish homeland against Iranian counter-strikes through cooperative defensive military manoeuvres.

The Canadian Forces gained invaluable counter-terrorism experience in over ten years of fighting in Afghanistan (where it bore a disproportionate number of combat losses compared to its ISAF partners) and is adept at assisting in disaster relief operations: might Israel call upon Canadian help if Iran unleashes Hezbollah against the Jewish State? Such a seemingly hyperbolic scenario cannot simply be ignored.

If Netanyahu is in fact preparing for unilateral military action against Iran, as is perennially reported, it is reasonable to suggest that amid all the other nations, Canada alone might be asked for even the smallest contribution on or after that fateful day. This suggestion is particularly probative if the Obama Administration refuses to give Netanyahu a “green light” for the mission. Harper may in fact be the only friend Netanyahu will be able to call for help.

These are topics rarely explored in light of Canada’s relatively small military capacity, as some would immediately dismiss out of hand the idea of Canada providing military assistance to Israel.

Perhaps the Harper government would rather not publicly breach such a discussion for fear of unnerving its domestic audience, and this much is understandable. Nonetheless Canada’s unwavering moral alliance with Israel since 2006 clearly provokes legitimate inquiry in the event that Israel’s “D-Day” with Iran arrives.

There is no question that Israel, Canada and the world all desire a peaceful resolution to the stand-off with Iran over its illicit nuclear weapons program. Diplomacy, as it is occurring today, must be given a chance within logical parameters. The unfortunate reality is that time is not on the side of those who seek to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

As Canada’s lonely stand with Israel makes clear, neither country operates in the realm of diplomatic wishful thinking. Rather the Canada-Israel alliance recognizes the ruthless reality of the hate-filled anti-Semitic dystopia that Israel’s enemies, like the Iranian regime, never cease to concoct and broadcast right next door. As Harper visits Netanyahu in Israel this week, this reality is surely on their agenda.

About the Author
Robert David Onley is a lawyer and freelance writer from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He is the Co-Founder of the Young Diplomats of Canada, and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community in the Ottawa Hub.