The days when Israel feels free to throw its weight around with seeming impunity are fast running out. First and foremost is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fraught relationship with the Obama administration, which is working behind the scenes to dissuade Tel Aviv from launching attacks on Iran’s nuclear sites.
A clear sign of growing tensions is the US decision to cut back the extent of upcoming joint US-Israeli missile defence exercises with 60 per cent fewer military personnel. Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey expressed his view that Israeli strikes would only be capable of delaying the Iranian nuclear programme, adding, “I do not want to be complicit if they choose to do it.”
A number of top figures within Israel’s military and intelligence establishments agree with Dempsey, but the Israeli government is irritated that a top-ranking US military official would pull the rug from under their country’s military deterrence so publicly. Netanyahu has been criticising US President Barack Obama for not taking a tougher line with Iran while threatening that Israel may not wait for a green light.
According to a report published in the Israeli paper Yediot Aharonot, Netanyahu angrily told the US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro that Obama has failed to pressure Iran “in an effective way” and is “pressuring us not to attack the nuclear facilities”.
It’s no secret that Obama is no fan of his blustering Israeli counterpart. His early attempts to get the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track were thwarted by Netanyahu’s refusal to halt the expansion of Jewish colonies on the West Bank. But rather than salvage that relationship, Netanyahu has been trying to influence the results of US presidential elections with exuberant praise and lavish dinners for Republican contender Mitt Romney, a committed supporter of Israeli policies, who has controversially vowed to relocate the US embassy to occupied Jerusalem if and when he moves into the White House.
During the Republican National Convention last Thursday, Romney accused of Obama of “throwing allies like Israel under a bus” and of being soft on Iran. Netanyahu has foolishly chucked his eggs into one basket and should the US election fail to go his way, there will be little to prevent a second-term president from twisting his arm, no matter how loud the pro-Israel lobby yells.
Furthermore, whoever succeeds in becoming America’s next commander-in-chief may not be gung-ho to rush to Israel’s aid in case of a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran going badly wrong in light of a resurgent Russia. Putin is in no mood to permit Washington and its allies to trample on his nation’s geostrategic and economic interests in the way that Bush and Blair did, as evidenced by his immovable stance on Syria.
Secondly, since Netanyahu took office in March 2009, the neighbourhood has undergone sweeping changes. Israel’s most compliant ally Hosni Mubarak has been replaced by a stalwart of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohammad Mursi, keen to reassert his country’s independence from US and Israeli diktats.
At the NAM Summit held in Tehran, Mursi pulled no punches. He shocked his pro-Al Assad hosts by affirming support for Syrian rebels, sent a message to Israel by highlighting that the Brotherhood’s number one priority is the establishment of a Palestinian state — and called for a just new world order beginning with an overhaul of the UN Security Council.
In the likely eventuality that Al Assad’s regime crumbles, it is more than probable that any new Syrian government will be dominated by Islamists who will make common cause with Cairo, to Israel’s detriment. However, before that happens, Hezbollah could decide to up the ante by launching missiles in the direction of Israel’s WMD facilities, as its leader Hassan Nasrallah recently warned.
In addition, deteriorating ties between former close allies Tel Aviv and Ankara, on a downhill slope since Israel refused to apologise for its commando attack on a Turkish vessel attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, increase Israel’s isolation.
There will come a time when Washington will be forced to choose between its own interests and those of its tiny satellite in the Middle East. Author and Professor of International Law at Northwestern College of Law in Oregon, currently researching in Lebanon, argues in an op-ed that America may be already planning for a post-Israel Middle East.
He cites a “soon to be published” 82-page analysis commissioned by the US intelligence community “that concludes that the American national interest is fundamentally at odds” with Israel’s primarily because Israel’s nature and actions “prevent normal US relations with Arab and Muslim countries and, to a growing degree, the wider international community.
Indeed, ‘the international community’s’ former indulgent attitude towards Israel is on the wane. The US, Britain, Australia, Canada and Japan have variously painted Israel in travel advisories, to use the words of Haaretz, as “a primitive, crime-ridden country, full of bad drivers, religious extremists and even undrinkable water.”
The UK has warned its citizens to avoid handing their passports to Israeli officials in case they are cloned.
The mood may be changing but Netanyahu and his ilk are either too blind or too arrogant to take note.
Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at email@example.com