The situation in the Middle East has reached a dangerous point, to be sure, but there are also signs that a sea change may be taking place which could herald a whole new relationship between the US, Israel and the rest of the Arab and Islamic world.
The problem is that so much is in flux at the moment, with a civil war building in Syria, a confrontation looming between Israel and Iran, and with hot-heads in many Islamic countries attacking US embassies in the region, that the deeper change is not easy to see. There are also many opportunities for things to blow up in the next few weeks or month.
One thing is clear though: Israel’s blow-hard right-wing prime minister, the US-raised zionist Benjamin Netanyahu, has propelled Israel directly into US politics, and has tried to push the US into a war against Iran, in a manner so clumsy and overt that he may have fundamentally undermined the long-standing “special relationship” between the US and Israel.
As the long-respected American newspaper of American Jewish opinion, the Jewish Daily Forward
, editorialized a few days ago, “It’s difficult to recall a time when an Israeli prime minister has inserted himself into a presidential election campaign in the way that Benjamin Netanyahu has. It’s even harder to recall a time when a trusted ally openly urged the American president to undertake a questionable, unpopular and highly risky war. We sure hope Netanyahu knows what he’s doing, because the stakes for him - and for the two nations he professes to care about the most - could not be higher.”
The editorial goes on to note, “He may be overplaying his hand. Americans are deeply wary of another military involvement in the Muslim world. Most Americans oppose a military strike against Iran. Most even oppose coming to Israel’s aid should it be attacked by Iran. A recent poll by the nonpartisan Chicago Council on Global Affairs posed this hypothetical situation: Israel attacks Iran, Iran retaliates and and the two nations go to war. Only “38 percent say the United States should bring its military forces into the war on the side of Israel. A majority (59%) says it should not,” the poll showed.”
President Obama, who clearly has no fondness for Netanyahu (last week he publicly snubbed the prime minister, who had asked for a personal meeting with the US president and was turned down), recently sent his military Chief of Staff Martin Dempsey to Israel to let Netanyahu and the Israeli leadership know that if Israel attacks Iran, it will be on its own. This personally delivered message, given that the US spends more on Israel’s military than Israel does itself, had to be a dash of cold water on Tel Aviv’s war-advocates.
US political analysts who saw evidence of the continuing outsized power of Israel and the pro-Israel lobby in the US in the pathetic anti-democratic effort by Democratic Party leaders to force a plank into the party’s platform declaring a “united” Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital really missed the mark. The significant thing is not that the plank was belatedly crammed into the platform, but that it had been deliberately kept out of the platform by the party’s leaders and activists until its absence was pointed out by the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign. That was no oversight.
Clearly, the Democratic Party, led by President Obama, is backing farther away from a historic US slavishness in support of Israeli policies than at any time since the Jewish state’s founding. The change has been dramatic. It was not that long ago, recall, that this president was afraid to even criticize Israel for the brutal murder of nine peaceful peace activists, including a young Turkish American, aboard a Turkish-flagged ship bound for Gaza with non-military supplies, and that he had even tried to cover up a report from the Turkish forensic society showing that the American victim had been executed by Israeli troops with point-blank shots to the head and back.
Equally clear is that Obama and the Democrats, increasingly dependent upon the votes of Latinos and African Americans, younger people, women and left-leaning people of all races, are recognizing that slavish support of Israel, and particularly for an Israeli desire to launch a disastrous aerial attack on Iran, are not positions that are likely to win national elections. Polls show that the American people are tired of endless wars in the Middle East, as the Jewish Forward editorial correctly notes. They are also troubled when they hear American politicians say that Israel’s policies are America’s policies.
If Obama, as looks increasingly likely, manages to win re-election while continuing to resist Prime Minister Netanyahu’s blistering criticism and blustering calls for war, the longtime unseemly grip of AIPAC (America Israel Public Affairs Committee) on US Middle East policy will likely be broken. Once a presidential candidate successfully stands up to AIPAC and to Israeli political threats and succeeds in nonetheless winning election, the lobby’s power to threaten and intimidate dissolves.
There are plenty of things that could go wrong to prevent this to-be-hoped for result. One would be if the attacks on US embassies escalate, with more deaths of American personnel -- something that would bring out the worst side of Americans: a desire for revenge (as we saw in the case of Afghanistan, where a legitimate desire for vengeance against Al Qaeda after 9/11 quickly morphed into a war against that country’s Taliban, most of whom probably didn’t even know where America was on a map).
Another would be a turn in electoral fortunes, with Romney pulling an upset and turning Obama out of office. Romney has embraced the same neocon political advisors who over a decade ago talked President George W. Bush into the doomed decade-long wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. A Romney win in November would reverse the slide in AIPAC’s fortunes and allow it to continue to wield an outsize influence over US foreign policy for years to come. An escalation of the Syrian civil war to a point that brings US forces into direct involvement could also be a wild card before Election Day.
It’s a nail-biting time, but for now, I’m grateful to Netanyahu for being such a clownish bully. By overplaying his hand and stepping openly into the US political fray, he may have finally, if inadvertently, brought a measure of sanity to the US-Israel relationship.