Aug 2nd 2009

Israel: A Strategic Necessity

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

The Obama administration's push for a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace may have a much stronger likelihood of succeeding this time around because of the prevailing political and security dynamics. For an agreement to occur however, Israel must concede the inevitable by relinquishing territories captured in the 1967 war, and the United States must provide a new security umbrella to its regional allies. This would lead not only to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, but it could seriously impede Iran's ambitions for regional hegemony with nuclear weapon capabilities.

The administration's ambitious agenda came to a focus this past week as Special Envoy George Mitchell, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, National Security advisor Jim Jones, and Obama's Iran strategist Dennis Ross all converged in the region for a series of high level security meetings with Israeli officials. Subsequent visits by Mitchell to Ramallah, Cairo and Damascus are clear evidence of this administration's emphasis on a regional diplomatic push that goes well beyond the Israeli-Palestinian track.

With the international spotlight on Israel, it now must find a way to work harmoniously with the Obama administration if it wants to be viewed as a genuine partner in the peace process. The United States remains indispensable to Israel's national security and is ultimately the last line of defense against any threat-including Iran's, so for Israel to appear flippant to US pressure at this juncture is a dangerous gamble. The territorial concessions necessary to forge a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace could further cement Israel's relations with the United States by upgrading Israel's US strategic cooperation into a new security arrangement akin to a defense treaty. If Israel has full American backing in security and defense, it will have more flexibility to concede the occupied territories because ultimately ensuring Israel's security takes away its main rational for keeping Palestinian and Syrian territories.

Such a security agreement with Israel does not mean that the Obama administration has resigned itself to the inevitability of a nuclear Iran. Israeli Minster of Intelligence and Atomic Energy Dan Meridor recently alluded to this in an interview with Army Radio, noting that, "Now, we don't need to deal with the assumption that Iran will attain nuclear weapons but to prevent this." A US-Israel security agreement, and possibly a larger security umbrella that covers Arab allies as well would likely make Iran's nuclear ambitions less compelling. This agreement, combined with potentially crippling sanctions might provide enough deterrence for Iran to consider cooperating with the international community on its nuclear program. Moreover, since Iran never admitted to pursuing nuclear weapons, the US strategy might offer Iran a face saving way out. But if diplomacy nevertheless fails and Tehran continues with its refusal to settle the nuclear conflict through negotiations, then Israel will still have gained from the United States' full cooperation and security partnership, as long as the negotiations with Iran are not open-ended.

Israel's other significant advantage would be an opening to the rest of the Arab world. The Arab states led by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Morocco deeply dread the Iranian nuclear threat and many would be willing to work with Israel to mitigate their deep concerns. But they are loath to cooperate with Israel, and rightfully so, as long as Israel continues to occupy Arab land and expand the settlements which, symbolize to them an indefinite occupation. The Iranian nuclear menace has created a new power equation in the Middle East, where Israel and the Arab states share a common threat. Israel, which for decades has been seen as the enemy of the Arab world, could now become a potential ally through various cooperative defense deterrents against Iran. For Israel this represents not only an historic opportunity to forge a comprehensive peace, but to form a de-facto united Arab-Israeli front while working closely with the United States for a sustained regional security.

Finally, there is the international public opinion which is unified on the issue of occupation and sees Israel's intransigence as cause not only for regional instability, but as a threat to global energy resources. In case of a major conflagration between Israel and Iran, the effects of oil and gas volatility could be potentially devastating. As for the Israeli-Palestinian issue, much of the international community with the EU at the forefront has become far more forthcoming in its opposition to Israeli policies. Recently twenty-seven EU foreign ministers decided to put off the planned upgrading of EU-Israel relations to an "association agreement" which would have large trade benefits, until they can see a stronger commitment from Israel to a Palestinian state. No one should expect Israel to compromise its national security only to please the international community. That being said, Israel has made tremendous strides in becoming a respected member of the international community in terms of diplomatic and trade cooperation. But the scores of countries affected by the continuing turmoil in the Middle East are fed up with a conflict they believe can be resolved by ending the occupation. From their perspective, linking territory to national security no longer holds the weight it used to, not only because of Israel's technological superiority but because the Arab world has come full circle to accept Israel's reality. If Israel were to forfeit this opportunity, it will be blamed for many of the regional ills as well as the growing rift with the United States-which most Israelis will not tolerate.

The Obama administration is investing tremendous political capital in its effort to forge a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. Moreover, for the Obama administration to restore its moral leadership, neutralize Iran's nuclear ambitions, and reach a major breakthrough in US-Middle East relations-following eight years of President Bush's disastrous policies--it has no alternative but to tackle the Arab-Israeli peace process head on. If these efforts require a regional security umbrella by the United States, as was suggested by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Israel can come out of this not only with a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace deal but with stronger security ties with the United States.

This prospect offers what most Israelis yearn for--peace with security. Any Israeli government that refuses to see that will have forfeited its mandate to govern and should give way to a new Israeli government capable of delivering peace.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."
Oct 20th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe also stands to lose from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. If, in the ongoing chaos, the thousands of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces escape – as some already have – America’s estranged European allies will suffer. Yet Trump is unconcerned. “Well, they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go,” he remarked casually at a press conference. “They want to go back to their homes." "
Oct 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Assuming the House ultimately votes to impeach Trump, the fact remains that there are far fewer votes in the Senate than will be needed to convict him and remove him from office. But the willingness of Congress – including the Senate – to continue tolerating his dangerous conduct in office, including threats to US national security, is now truly in question."
Oct 7th 2019
EXTRACT: "The problem didn't start with the election of Donald Trump. Nor did it begin with the Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump. This is a developing crisis that has been growing like a cancer within our polity for at least the past 25 years. Its main symptoms are a lack of civility in our political discourse, a "take no prisoners" mindset, and a denial of the very legitimacy of "the other side." Trump didn't create this crisis; he was the result of it.   When Newt Gingrich took the helm of Congress in 1995, unlike previous Republican leaders, he embarked on a campaign not only to obstruct the efforts of then President Clinton, but to destroy him. Congress launched a series of investigations accusing Clinton of everything from corruption to obstruction of justice – with hints of even more nefarious plots to assassinate those who might pose a problem to his presidency.  "
Oct 4th 2019
EXTRACT: "As the story spreads, it grows darker. Meanwhile, Trump is trying to learn the identity of the whistleblower (who is protected by law), which could expose that person to great danger. And he is accusing some people – including Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee – of treason. My sense is that Trump fears the tough, focused Schiff. Trump has ominously noted that traitors used to be shot or hanged. And he hasn’t helped himself with members of either party by declaring, in one of his hundreds of febrile tweets, that forcing him from office could lead to a “civil war.” Trump has taken the United States somewhere it’s never been before. His presidency may not survive it."
Sep 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "But regardless of whether the Ukraine scandal remains front-page news, it will haunt the US intelligence community, which has been Trump’s bête noire since the day he took office. Trump has relentlessly attacked US intelligence agencies, cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and divulged secrets to foreign officials, potentially burning high-value sources. This behavior had already raised serious concerns about whether Trump can be trusted to receive sensitive intelligence at all. Now, intelligence leaders must ask themselves how far they are willing to go in toeing the White House line."
Sep 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "As Lobaczewski pointed out, pathological leaders tend to attract other people with psychological disorders. At the same time, empathetic and fair-minded people gradually fall away. They are either ostracised or step aside voluntarily, appalled by the growing pathology around them.......As a result, over time pathocracies become more entrenched and extreme. You can see this process in the Nazi takeover of the German government in the 1930s, when Germany moved from democracy to pathocracy in less than two years.......In the US, there has clearly been a movement towards pathocracy under Trump. As Lobaczewski’s theory predicts, the old guard of more moderate White House officials – the “adults in the room” – has fallen away. The president is now surrounded by individuals who share his authoritarian tendencies and lack of empathy and morality. Fortunately, to some extent, the democratic institutions of the US have managed to provide some push back."
Sep 16th 2019
EXTRACT: "If the Supreme Court does agree with the Divisional Court that the question is political rather than legal, it will take the UK constitution into quite peculiar territory. Prime ministers will be the new kings and queens. They will be free to suspend parliament at will, and for as long as they wish, without any judicial interference. Parliament will meet not out of constitutional necessity but in the service of the government’s interests – namely, to pass its legislation and to maintain appearances, rather than to hold it to account."
Sep 12th 2019
Extract: "The Republican Party has lashed its fate to an increasingly unhinged leader. Though three other presidential hopefuls for 2020 now stand in Trump’s way, none can defeat him. But they can damage his reelection effort, which is why the Republican Party has been scrapping some primaries and caucuses. How well Trump does in November next year may well depend on how his fragile ego withstands the coming months."
Sep 2nd 2019
EXTRACTS: "Most people think of revolutions as sudden earthquakes or volcanic eruptions that come without warning and sweep away an entire political system. But historians, political scientists, and even the odd politician know that the reality is very different: revolutions happen when systems hollow themselves out, or simply rot from within. Revolutionaries can then brush aside established norms of behavior, or even of truth, as trivialities that should not impede the popular will............ Only time will tell whether we are currently witnessing the hollowing out of British democracy. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may well have crossed some invisible Rubicon by.......... Whatever happens now, British parliamentary democracy may never be the same again. It will certainly never again be the model that so many people around the world once admired."
Aug 29th 2019
EXTRACT: "Events such as prorogations and dissolutions happen when countries face difficult times. Therefore, because of the disastrous effects of Brexit: sterling in freefall; a recession looming on the horizon and Britain’s international standing at its lowest ebb since Suez, it is no surprise that the country is in this position now. The worrying thing is that using the monarchical power of prorogation does not solve problems – it has a history of turning them into frightening and often violent crises. There is a worrying relationship between the use of such powers and a complete breakdown in government."
Aug 28th 2019
EXTRACT: "Reminiscent of Don Quixote, Trump is tilting at windmills. His administration is flailing at antiquated perceptions of the Old China that only compound the problems it claims to be addressing. Financial markets are starting to get a sense that something is awry. So, too, is the Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, the global economy is fraying at the edges. The US has never been an oasis in such treacherous periods. I doubt if this time is any different. 
Aug 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "In fact, with firms in the US, Europe, China, and other parts of Asia having reined in capital expenditures, the global tech, manufacturing, and industrial sector is already in a recession. The only reason why that hasn’t yet translated into a global slump is that private consumption has remained strong. Should the price of imported goods rise further as a result of any of these negative supply shocks, real (inflation-adjusted) disposable household income growth would take a hit, as would consumer confidence, likely tipping the global economy into a recession."