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American Interests, Israeli Existence

13 march 2012

By Yisrael Ne'eman

When getting beyond all the speeches and bluster at this week's AIPAC convention we are left with the basic US – Israel disagreement over "where is the Red Line" when it comes to taking out Iran's nuclear facilities. It seems all are focused on the "when" while having forgotten that the entire discussion is totally asymmetrical. US Pres. Obama speaks about "American interests" and overall Western interests such as the price of a barrel of oil. Commentators explain the damage to be done to Western economies should the price continue to rise with doomsday predictions of $200 per barrel. This is considered a very weighty argument when speaking of the results of an Israeli assault on Iran's nuclear facilities. Obama made it clear that America will not let Iran get the "bomb" however the problem is that he like all others, no matter how supposedly accurate their intelligence information, can miscalculate. Such a miscalculation will cost everyone a fair amount of money as Iran will further project its power in the Persian Gulf.

On the other hand Israeli PM Netanyahu, Israel and Jews world wide in general do not calculate the financial loses but rather the existential threat to the continued existence of the State of Israel. Miscalculation leading to Iranian nuclear armament and Tehran's making good on its threat to "wipe Israel off the map" can lead to the extermination of the Jewish State, meaning the elimination of a sizeable part of its Jewish population which makes up some 45% of world Jewry (5.8 million Jews in Israel out of a universal Jewish population of approx. 13 million). One can safely assume that such a catastrophe will lead to quick paced assimilation in the Diaspora as retaining one's Jewish identity in the 21st century would become an increasing burden with little positive attributes for your average non-Orthodox, and/or non-observant Jew. Let's face it, Zionism as Jewish national liberation and the state entity of Israel are all surrogate religious loyalties in today's secular Western world.

In essence the whole US – Israeli disagreement is much more along skew lines, neither parallel nor intersecting at any point if we speak of the bottom line interests of oil prices vs. physical existence. And yes, Netanyahu did invoke the Holocaust and for very good reason.

However there is a confluence of interests but it has little to do with Israel's existence and much more to do with oil and the Arab World. Israel is neither a threat to Iran nor to the Arab World. The clash between Israel and the Palestinians is an over reported, over emphasized sideline issue when compared to what is at stake when considering security in the Persian Gulf. A nuclear Iran acting against the Arab Persian Gulf oil producing states and in particular Saudi Arabia would be a devastating blow to the world economy. A massive non-conventional war could very well paralyze oil exports from the region and bring about the financial collapse of large parts of the world economy. Hence as we know from Wikileaks the Saudis very much favor a military strike against Tehran. We also know that at least for the moment even Muslim Brotherhood officials in Egypt have mentioned the positive role Israel plays by dealing Iran a major blow.

Taking a look into the not too distant past the Arab World proved quite pro-Israel in the summer of 2006 during the Second War in Lebanon (Hezbollah War). The Sunni Arab World realized the threat projected by the Shiite Iranian Hezbollah proxies was a direct danger to their own regimes. Letting the Jewish State pummel Hezbollah (meaning Iran) was a good thing. The fact that Israel did less than a satisfactory job worked to the disadvantage of the Arab states as well. Although it must be pointed out, that Hezbollah suffered enough damage to its interests to prod Nasrallah into keeping the border with Lebanon fairly quiet since then. More recently Iran is steadily encroaching on eastern Iraq and constructing a satellite entity through PM Nuri al-Maliki and is reported to having committed troops alongside of Hezbollah in the expanding Syrian civil conflict turned civil war.

Barak Obama is not Bill Clinton nor is he George Bush when it comes to Israel. The previous two presidents' world view not only included the Atlantic Alliance as a pillar of stability but also saw an emotional theological commitment to Israel's existence. Obama deals much more in "realism" while preferring to court the Muslim World into the American sphere. Israel is one more player on the world scene with no special status or relationship. Israel is viewed as an ally, but one that has its place under the American umbrella where Washington analyzes and calls the shots. Israel has "the right to defend itself" but in essence is to do so only with American approval. For Israelis this is very uncomfortable since one comes to the conclusion that the Jewish State is expendable in the name of American/Western interests. Being small and vulnerable Israel always sought that extra cutting edge in its relationship with Washington. Recently, whatever advantages had been, no longer exist, no matter how many standing ovations Netanyahu will receive either in Congress or at AIPAC conventions. The US administration seeks a deepening relationship in the rapidly changing Arab/Muslim World and Israel is expected to step aside.

That being said it is in the joint Sunni Arab - American interest to knock out the Iranian nuclear program. Hypothetically, assuming Israel did not exist, the continuing conflict between Shiite Iran and the Arab World would not abate for a second. Israel must point out the joint interests it shares with the Arabs on this particular subject at this specific moment and work together with the Arab world to bring about the demise of the Ayatollah ruled Iran. It is imperative that America and the West act to ensure their own economic and security interests by crushing Tehran. As a positive side effect Israel's security will be strengthened.

Or President Obama can go for the postponement whereby Israel may take matters into its own hands and "ruin" whatever plans Washington may have. But one thing is for sure, the Sunni Arab World will support Israeli action against Iran in a fleeting moment of joint geopolitical and economic interests. One would believe the Obama Administration understands all of these factors and is carefully planning its moves against Iran in an effort to build a stronger relationship with the Sunni Arab World. Even if only as a secondary objective in Obama's strategic thinking, Israel will enjoy the extension of the American security umbrella.