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Whither the United States in the Middle East – and Israel? 

In the period following WWII the US became the undisputed leader of the Western democracies. It was challenged in its position as world leader only by the USSR, whose rule extended to poor, Third World countries and those European countries seized at the end of WWII. By 1991, the USSR was bankrupt in every sense of the word and broke apart. For a period of a few decades the US was the sole world leader. 

That changed with the growing economic and military power of the Chinese Communists. Utilizing its hybrid economic system combining state control and capitalism, China has managed to draw into its orbit many countries by financing development projects – which the recipients couldn’t repay – as well as by conquering them, like Tibet. The result of China’s rise is US protectionism and a reluctance to get involved in distant disputes.

So, during the last several presidents’ terms, the US has slowly retreated from being the “policeman of the world,” and is reducing its footprint in less critical places such as the Middle East. The disorganized withdrawal from Afghanistan is the latest example. The reason for this pullback is twofold. First is to concentrate more on America’s needs rather than the needs of other countries. Second is to allow more prominence to Asia in general and to be more proactive in facing China’s dramatic advances. The worry is that the US may soon lose its position as the world’s preeminent economic and military power to despotic Communist-party run regimes.

The receding presence of the US in the Middle East has led to a strong alliance between Israel, Cyprus and Greece. Both countries, neither particularly friendly with Israel in the past, lately have warmed ties with it based on Israel’s gas finds in the Eastern Mediterranean and its economic, technological, and military prowess. Who’s missing? Turkey. In 1974, NATO member Turkey invaded fellow NATO member Cyprus, splitting the island in two and poisoning relations between them. NATO member Greece has a centuries-old enmity with Turkey, a product of brutal Ottoman rule over Greece’s territory. 

Turkey, which once had warm ties with Israel, became increasingly unfriendly under the leadership of Islamist strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan since the turn of the 21st century. Facing Russia on its norther border, led by an increasingly belligerent Vladimir Putin, Turkey has lately turned to Israel to ingratiate itself into its cozy coalition with Cyprus and Greece. Also in the mix are Israel’s peace partner Egypt and its increasingly close partners in the Abraham Accords, UAE and Morocco. Because Russia, which is Europe’s largest supplier of natural gas, has burned its bridges with its Western customers, Turkey wants to join with the aforementioned group to usurp Russia’s position as the primary gas supplier to Europe. However, Turkey’s economy today is in shambles and its leader is notoriously unreliable, as Israel has experienced over the last few decades. 

This potential to become a major conduit of gas to Europe has encouraged Turkey to tone down its Islamist strategy in favor of a conciliatory one, which would make the above mentioned countries more amenable to including Turkey in a new, strong commercial and defensive coalition against both Russia and Iran. However, this isn’t the first time that Erdoğan has played this tune, so Turkey’s inclusion in a natural gas pipeline project is not assured.

On March 27-28, meetings were held in Israel’s Negev Desert town of Sde Boker. Attending were the foreign ministers of Israel, the United States, Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco. Analyst Lazar Berman commented, “Much as US President Joe Biden wanted to escape the Middle East, it is clear to America’s allies here that the US can’t leave. The May 2021 Gaza conflict, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Iran deal, and the effects of the Ukraine crisis all sucked the US back into the region. With US Secretary of State Blinken’s presence in Sde Boker, and his central role in organizing the event, it is apparent to Washington’s jittery partners that the Middle East remains a central concern on the US foreign policy agenda, whether Biden likes it or not.” (https://www.timesofisrael.com/at-negev-summit-allies-calmed-somewhat-by-us-recommitment-to-the-region/)

Israel has thoroughly learned the harsh lesson that it cannot depend on any other country to protect it. Armaments are one thing, non-Israeli soldiers on the ground in Israel is totally different. With Iran easily bending its Western interlocutors to its will in the current nuclear weapons negotiations, the lesson is reinforced all the more. Don’t be surprised if the Eastern Med group allies itself with Israel against Iran for their own protection. 

At Sde Boker, Secretary of State Blinken said the following: “‘When it comes to the most important element [re Iran], we [US & Israel] see eye to eye. We are both committed, both determined, that Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon.’ [Israel’s Center Left] Foreign Minister Lapid clarified Israel’s position: ‘Israel will do anything we believe is needed to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Anything. From our point of view, the Iranian threat is not theoretical. The Iranians want to destroy Israel. They will not succeed. We will not let them.’”

(https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-israel-see-eye-to-eye-on-iran-despite-disagreements-on-nuke-deal-says-blinken/)

Frankly, I don’t believe Secretary Blinken. America’s nuclear weapons negotiations with Iran demonstrate the US will accept ANYTHING that Iran demands, reportedly even giving legitimacy to the vile Iranian Republican Guards. But even Center Left and Left Israeli leaders constantly declare: Israel won’t allow Iran to hold a nuclear threat over our heads. As a last resort, I’m sure that offensive strikes will be made against our implacable enemy when necessary. 

The holiday of Purim especially reminds us that Amalek (signifying the perennial enemies of the Jewish people) rises up against Jews in each and every generation. (The arch villain Haman was a direct descendant of Amalek.) Israel hasn’t forgotten it, to the point that Israel constantly reiterates that, “Never Again” will we be subject to an existential threat.

About the Author
Steve Kramer grew up in Atlantic City, graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1967, adopted the hippie lifestyle until 1973, then joined the family business for 15 years. Steve moved to Israel from Margate, NJ in 1991 with his family. He has written more than 1100 articles about Israel and Jews since making Aliyah. Steve and his wife Michal live in Kfar Saba.
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