Israel's foreign policy now is focused primarily on the growing threat of Iran's nuclear ambitions, with the need to convince Western powers that a military option must be in place in case diplomacy fails. Israel's desire for a viable peace partner, and its hope that direct talks will start again with the Palestinians, is the second-most important focus of its foreign policy.
At his recent annual Jerusalem press conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with those two themes heavily on his mind. As he discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, his determination to reach a peace accord was emphasized in almost every sentence. He said, "I've made it clear and I'll make it clear again today that no coalition considerations will prevent me from pursuing a peace that I believe in."
The current stalemate could cause a shake-up of Netanyahu's current coalition; for his political survival, he may bring the center-left Kadima party into his government at the expense of his right-wing, more conservative partners.
While defending his desire for direct talks in the face of Palestinian obstinacy, what was pitifully clear was that the process of peace has taken hostage to the diplomatic process not only the Western community, but Israel as well. The only other issue that continues to be in the forefront of public statements is the need to deal with Iran's nuclear threat.
Netanyahu should be looking at several foreign policy options which would put Israel in a stronger position diplomatically within the international community. Israel could be a light to Western nations in providing strategic diplomatic and military solutions to counteract radical Islamic influence and aggression in the region.
It's not only Iran's nuclear ambitions that are affecting the Middle East, and the global community, but also Iran's goal of achieving regional hegemony. Iran's objectives in 2011 are clear: to distract the West by engaging in futile diplomatic talks to stave off more U.N. sanctions, to continue causing instability in the countries Iran wants to dominate (for example, Iraq and Lebanon), and to pour more financial aid and weapons into areas where it wants to increase its influence (such as Gaza). Iran's tentacles reach into Afghanistan, Yemen, Kuwait, Bahrain, the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, and Africa.
There's change occurring among Sunni-Arab states. Militant Salafi Islamists led by al-Qaeda are attempting to create havoc in Saudi Arabia. Al-Qaeda operatives are reportedly gaining influence in Gaza. Al-Qaeda is to blame for over one hundred terror plots against Jordanians during the past decade. Along with the Taliban, al-Qaeda wants to topple the Pakistani government, and if al-Qaeda is able to access Pakistan's nuclear weapons, the group could become a substantial threat to global security.
There has been little Western response to these changes, which, if left unattended by Western leaders, could result in a tip in the balance of regional power toward radical Islam. This would result in the West having much less sway in the region in regard to its primary diplomatic, military, and financial interests. This would also decrease America's ability to help its only democratic ally in the Middle East...Israel.
The Israeli government has an opportunity to explain these regional changes to Western powers and come up with strategic solutions to strengthen U.S. and European interests in the Middle East. With its supreme intelligence capabilities and intelligence-sharing with Western agencies, Israel should encourage free democratic nations to intervene in the aggressive pursuits of rogue states and terror groups -- those who are partnering together to achieve jihadist goals.
Iraq, Jordan, Egypt
As U.S. troops pull out of Iraq this year, the question remains: what will Iraq look like in 2012? What will Western powers do to keep Iraq stable in a time of great internal debate and change? Iran is looking to dominate Iraq with its form of Shia ideology. If Iran is able to accomplish this goal through destabilizing Iraq, how will this affect neighboring Jordan?
Already, Jordan's King Abdullah has looked to reestablish ties with Iran, perhaps because he has not received assurances from the West that Jordan's borders will be protected from Iranian aggression.
With the failing health of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the inevitable impending regime change, the Muslim Brotherhood could attempt to take over the Egyptian government, with an eye also toward Jordan.
If Jordan experiences instability, this could affect Israel's eastern border. In any future peace treaty with the Palestinians, Israel has insisted on an IDF presence in the Jordan Valley in order to prevent terrorist infiltration along that border.
Already, Israel is concerned that global jihad terrorists are establishing a presence on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea and could launch attacks against hotels on the Israeli side.
After the regime change in Egypt, depending on the success of the Muslim Brotherhood, the cold peace treaty with Israel may deteriorate. In the future, the Brotherhood might decide to adopt a new terrorist campaign against Israel, using Bedouins in the Sinai to attack tourists vacationing there, including thousands of Israelis each year. Terrorist groups in Egypt will continue to work with Hamas (an offshoot of the Brotherhood) to increase the smuggling of rockets and advanced weapons into Gaza through underground tunnels in the Philadelphia Corridor. A new Egyptian government, run by radical elements, may decide to stop the completion of an underground wall which is being built to prevent the smuggling.
Current change in Lebanon, with the resignation of Hezb'allah government ministers, increases the likelihood of civil war, along with the possibility of war with Israel. How is the West trying to prevent such an occurrence? And in what ways will the West try to stop Hezb'allah from gaining control of Lebanon?
Already, with the help of Iranian Revolutionary Guards and financial aid, Hezb'allah is the main military power in the country, overshadowing the Lebanese Armed Forces. Hezb'allah, if it wanted to, could become the main governing power, especially if it is able to neutralize the political leadership of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Only time will tell if Hariri backs down and does not allow the international tribunal to issue indictments against Hezb'allah operatives who allegedly murdered his father, Rafik Hariri. If he does acquiesce to Hezb'allah, this will weaken his capability to lead and provide an opportunity for Hezb'allah to take over Lebanon politically and militarily.
In what way is the West showing its strength in the Middle East to prevent Iranian dominance through Hezb'allah? Recently, the Obama administration said it would support Hariri if there is an internal fight with Hezb'allah. How the U.S. government plans to demonstrate this capability, to influence Lebanese internal affairs, remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to flirt with Syria, trying to persuade President Bashar Assad to stop his alliance with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Syria is forging ahead in pursuing a stronger, closer relationship with the Persian State. The American government has not been successful in pulling Syria out of the Iranian camp, nor in stopping terrorist groups from flourishing in Damascus. Syria has its own intentions of dominating Lebanon as part of its strategic partnership with Hezb'allah and Iran. Western powers stand by, helpless, not knowing how to stop Assad's plans for a Greater Syria.
The United States wants a peace deal between Israel and Syria, knowing full well that Syria's intentions are to capture the Golan Heights from Israel either diplomatically or militarily. Instead of trying to secure a comprehensive peace in the region, which has already proven to be a failed American initiative, the U.S. should take Syria to task at the U.N. Security Council. Syria persists in providing Hezb'allah with advanced weapons systems in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701. And what about Syria's alleged nuclear pursuits? Shouldn't the U.S. be encouraging U.N. sanctions against Syria for its refusal to allow IAEA inspectors to visit restricted sites where there is suspicion of clandestine nuclear operations? Western powers should be working behind the scenes with Israel to expose Syrian intentions instead of trying to force Israel into a peace process that could endanger Israel's security.
Turkey, once a strong NATO ally, has chosen to align with Islamic states while distancing itself from Israeli and Western powers. The Turkish government has ambitions of Turkey becoming the dominant Sunni power in the Middle East.
The Western response has been to coax Turkey into mending its diplomatic relationship with Israel. Turkey refuses, blaming Israel for the deterioration in ties. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is demanding that Israel apologize for the 2010 flotilla crisis. Israel has said no, claiming that Turkey instigated the crisis to undermine Israel both diplomatically and militarily. Moreover, WikiLeaks cables indicate that Israel claims that the Turks allowed weapons-related material for Iran's nuclear program to travel through Turkey with Erdogan's full knowledge.
Why hasn't America threatened Turkey with the possibility of losing its position within NATO if it continues along its current political path? What is being done to expose the intentions of Erdogan's government while highlighting the dissatisfaction among those Turks who do not agree with his change in foreign policy?
If Israeli and Western powers work together on a foreign policy that deals strongly with the ambitions of radical Islamic aggressions in the Middle East instead of focusing on the current impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel might be able to unleash itself from its bondage to the peace process. It is not only the Obama administration that has chosen the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over dealing with the more urgent problems in the region. It is also the Israeli government's blind-sightedness that allows Israel to be held captive to Palestinian intransigence.
Now is the time to stop radical Islam from gaining ground in the region, from building its alliances with rogue states and non-state terrorist actors, and from working aggressively to dominate the Middle East.
Western powers must see the worthiness of undergirding Israel, the only trusted democratic ally in the region. The Netanyahu government should focus its energies on providing the West with greater intelligence assessments and strategic solutions to stop radical Islamic pursuits rather than focusing on the constipated peace process.
If the American-European-Israeli alliance can forge ahead with a stronger and more reliable partnership, then Israel can become an effective contributor to securing Western interests in the region. Nations can also help protect the sovereignty and stability of the Jewish State, which is increasingly being threatened by hostile elements. Israel's enemies are intent on weakening its qualitative military edge while focusing on delegitimizing Israel's claim to its own land.
U.S. President Barack Obama should stop pursuing closer ties with the Muslim world and start firming up his already established ties with his natural allies.
C Hart is a news analyst reporting on political, diplomatic, and military issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East and the international community.