Netanyahu and Obama’s Tiff
Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu was right when he said earlier today, “Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”
He wants Washington and Israel’s friends in Europe to say clearly when they will agree to an attack on Iran. He may also be influencing American voters in favor of Mitt Romney by making Barack Obama look hesitant about helping Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear technology facilities.
Netanyahu is right about Israel’s vulnerability but the problems of guaranteeing security through bombing raids are immense. Even if Israel incapacitates Iran, its longer-term difficulties will increase by worsening Washington’s already declining ability to influence neighborhood governments in favor or Israeli interests.
This decline in influence is clearly visible all the way from the South China Sea to Syria. Washington is unable to reduce aggressive Chinese behavior against the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea and on the borders with India, its new buddy. Pakistan is not a friend after taking $13 billion in just 10 years, Afghanistan is unreliable, Iran is an enemy, Iraq is unruly and may be helping Iran to ferry weapons to Damascus, and Syria is sliding into a civil war. The reset with Russia has stalled and China, which has an unsettled military beef with Washington over Taiwan, is using its huge earnings from the US and its allies to buy influence around the world.
An Israeli attack on Iran may also increase the likelihood of an all-out war at some point since Washington is no longer able to install satellite regimes in Teheran and elsewhere in Israel’s neighborhood. Saudi Arabia is the only large regional power that says it is Washington’s friend. But it also leads the world’s most radical Salafi and Wahhabi Muslim sects, who viscerally hate Jews.
Undoubtedly, the US and some others would rush to Israel’s aid in any all-out war. But it is an indefensible sliver of land. Its nuclear weapons are powerless because a single enemy nuclear explosion would end the Jewish dream by wiping out almost the entire population, fulfilling Netanyahu’s nightmare. Even expertly used conventional missiles could visit sufficient misery upon the people to unravel Israel’s raison d’être. Yet, it is impossible to deny sophisticated conventional weapons to Israel’s enemies for decades on end, especially when Russia and China are helping some of them.
Long term risks for Israel are very high because of the likely prospect of Islam-inspired regimes in its neighborhood. Washington will be less able to buy off or intimidate them, not least because of America’s own economic problems. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars have already cost $1.3 trillion and some estimates put the final bill at $3.7 trillion. Paul Ryan says US debt in 2020 could be three times the size of America’s $15 trillion economy and cost 20 percent of tax revenue in debt service.
In the Muslim belt of Islamic countries, from Pakistan to Syria loathing of American security postures is spreading beyond hate-filled zealots to significant swathes of ordinary people. The US military, CIA and diplomats have been unable to prevent that or install client regimes.
By 2050, the world will contain about 9 billion people and one third will be Muslim compared with 23 per cent now. So Israel is genuinely between a rock and a hard place. It is a modern state in a decaying neighborhood still dominated by medieval dogmas affecting yet more people. It is strong enough to destroy all enemies but that may not secure its own longevity, which depends significantly on enemies fearing its American protector.
Weakening the protector by attacking Iran alone would be a mistake as would playing Washington to make life so miserable for ordinary Iranians that they unite behind the Mullahs out of patriotism. The danger to Israel from Iran is real but preventing more erosion of American power, even if ruled by Obama, remains in Netanyahu’s interest.