How a Weakened America Affects Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently flew to America to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, and then to deliver a speech at the United Nations General Assembly on October 1.

After Netanyahu's White House meeting with Obama on September 30, Israeli Ambassador Zalmon Shoval conducted a conference call in Israel for journalists, hosted by The Israel Project.  Shoval commented that on the subject of Iran, the Iranian leadership's sincerity will have to be tested.  Obama plans to engage in direct talks with new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.  Israel is worried that this future diplomatic initiative will be another way that Iran wastes time distracting Western powers while continuing to develop its military nuclear program.

Shoval spoke of Israel's concerns: "In the next few months, the Iranians will embark on all sorts of strategies in order to continue what they are doing in one way or another; at the same time, continuing the diplomatic process.  Israel agrees with that, but diplomacy is not an end in itself.  It is a way of achieving a certain target -- to get to a complete and conclusive stop of the Iranian military nuclear effort."

This has been the mantra of Netanyahu and his advisors.  They have conveyed to the international community that actions speak louder than words -- that in talking to Iranian leaders, the U.S. must verify that the mullahs have ceased operating their military nuclear program, and that the ultimate strategy should be to stop the Iranians before they can achieve nuclear capability. 

Yet how effective is America's current leverage in the Middle East?  How much pressure can Obama put on Iran within a specific time period in order to stop Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold?

During most of Obama's time in the White House, he has been reluctant to take the lead that America once displayed in the region.  One of the most obvious blunders in his foreign policy has been his inaction on the Syrian crisis.

The recent Russian-U.S. proposal that Syrian President Bashar Assad has agreed to should allow international inspectors to destroy all chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria.  Israel and America believe that research indicates that the Syrian government has more than 50 chemical weapons sites throughout the state.  But Assad recently declared that he has only 30.  So will international inspectors, in the midst of a bloody war in Syria, be able to find all 1,000 tons of chemical weapons Assad is hiding?  Can anyone expect that Assad will be truthful in declaring all the sites?

While the Russian-U.S. proposal has been perceived as a diplomatic answer to the problem of Assad using chemical weapons against his own people, the international community is uncertain that he will cooperate fully with U.N. inspectors.  How demanding the international community is in getting Assad to comply will determine the effectiveness in getting Iran to comply with demands to stop spinning the centrifuges, stop enriching uranium, and close down nuclear facilities being used for military purposes.

The U.S. continually says it will keep a military option on hand with regard to Syria.  But how strong is America's will to confront Assad militarily?  There has already been reluctance on the part of Obama, the U.S. Congress, and the American people to confront Assad after he crossed Obama's red lines, releasing sarin gas on his own citizens in August 2013 and killing more than 1,400 Syrians.

The disinterest on the part of Americans to get involved in another Middle East war, the time delays, and the negative response from Congress resulted in a weakening of American strategic power in the Middle East.  Today, some Israeli and Arab Gulf State leaders distrust America's intentions regarding diplomacy with Iran because of the way Obama handled the Syrian crisis.

Meanwhile, the two-and-a-half-year bloody war in Syria continues.  What kind of a message is being conveyed to Iran if Assad is being allowed to slaughter his own people, daily, even without the use of chemical weapons?  The neglect at the beginning of the Syrian crisis has sent a message to Middle East nations that Western powers will also ignore Iran's aggressive intent to obtain a nuclear bomb and use it against Israel.

The message is clear that if diplomacy does not work soon, and if Israel wants to see Iran stopped, the Jewish nation will have to take independent military action, without dependence on American or Western forces.

Russia now has a more prominent place in the Middle East because of its diplomatic actions regarding Syria.  Russian President Vladimir Putin has greater leverage because of Obama's wavering on the Syrian issue.  Some analysts believe that Assad has survived the long civil war because of Russia's diplomatic cover for the beleaguered Syrian leader.  There is a strong Shiite axis in the Middle East because Russia is propping up regional rogue states, supplying advanced weapons systems to Syria and Iran that are also getting into the hands of Hezb'allah in Lebanon.

Americans are quick to point out that weakening Assad will allow Sunni extremists connected to al-Qaeda to advance their jihadist goals in Syria.  But this is already happening, and not because of a weak Assad.  The inaction of Western powers when the Syrian crisis first began caused the few moderate Sunni rebels in the opposition to allow radical Islamic militants to fight alongside them.  Now, jihadists like the Al-Nusra Front are flooding Syria, and the conflict is becoming much more aggressive.  Some analysts predict that Syria will become a new terrorist state, and these extremists will be using the nation as their launching pad to export terrorism throughout the world.  This will affect regional and global security.

Without U.S. military and diplomatic strength on display in the region, the jihadists will continue to aggressively fill the vacuum of unrest in Syria, Iraq, and other Middle East nations.  Political Islam will grow.

Part of America's weariness about getting involved in another Middle East war has to do with economics.  In Congress, isolationist Republicans have come out strongly against American tax dollars being devoted to military campaigns overseas that don't engage America directly.  They also have called on the U.S. government to reduce foreign aid, which could result in reduced military aid to Israel in the future.  The sequestration in the U.S. has affected military spending.  There's a weakening of U.S. armed forces as it has become harder to recruit Americans to fight overseas.  Furthermore, U.S. involvement in military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, which U.S. citizens are not convinced were necessary, has caused Americans to shy away from future military involvement in the region.  Yet strong American leadership is needed in the Middle East to encourage moderates and discourage extremists.

Instead of facing this reality, Obama is focused on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and linking that to solving the Iranian crisis.  At the same time, he is ignoring the real events that are contributing to Middle East instability.  His continual linkage of the Palestinian and Iranian issues is putting undue pressure on Netanyahu to offer the Palestinians more concessions in order to get Obama to cooperate with Israel on Iran.  Obama insists that the continued occupation of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) by Israel is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish State.  He believes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict threatens to destroy Israel.  But some leaders in Israel believe the opposite.  They think that the creation of a Palestinian state will hurt the sovereignty of the only Jewish state in the region.

In the meantime, it is hard for Israel and Arab Gulf States to know whose side Obama is on and what his next move will be.  Obama's propping up of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, his lack of leadership in dealing with Libya, his inaction with regard to Syria's civil war, his current focus on direct diplomacy with Israel's greatest enemy (Iran), and his insistence on pursing a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in the midst of regional upheaval have caused regional powers to question his real objectives and his ability to lead.

Israelis have come to realize they cannot count on the U.S. or the international community when it comes to major security concerns with regard to Israel's survival as a nation.  Senior Israeli officials have made it clear that if necessary, Israel will act on its own against Iran to stop it from becoming a major nuclear power.  This is because for Israel there is no choice.  The nation's leadership will do what it has to do in order to keep Israel from facing annihilation by an Islamic superpower that threatens its very existence.  Israeli citizens trust that their government leaders will defend them at any cost...even if the Jewish State is further isolated, and even if it does not receive the consent of the United States for future military action.

C. Hart reports on political, diplomatic, and military issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East, and the international community.