"Kvetching" on the Road to Jerusalem

"Present Israel to the world as a Poor Samson," was the advice that Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol gave to a group of Israeli diplomats in the aftermath of the military victory in the 1967 Mideast War. The Six-Day War had demonstrated that Israel was the most powerful military entity in the Middle East. But mighty Israel should continue to market itself to the world as the only Middle Eastern nation threatened by destruction.

It seems that Eshkol's marketing formula is being utilized 33 years later. Indeed, his image was evident in much of the American media's commentary marking this week's 62nd anniversary of the establishment of Israel: Pity Poor Samson.

With a population of 7.5 million people, up from 650,000 in 1948, Israel is not only a regional military superpower that maintains strong strategic ties with the United States and that signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, and is the only state in the region that possesses a nuclear arsenal. Israel is also an impressive economic success story. With the 50th-highest gross domestic product and the 31st highest gross domestic product per capita, Israel is the second-largest number of startup companies in the world and the largest number of NASDAQ-listed companies outside North America. So it was not surprising that Israel was invited to join the join the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the exclusive club comprising of the richest economies in the world.

And let's be clear about the threat of a nuclear Iran. Even if Iran goes nuclear, Israel will be able to deter Iran with its own nuclear bombs. As I pointed out recently, "In Israel there is a lot of talk about the `day after. They are preparing for it, and probably acquiring retaliatory capability. It's possible to imagine a situation in the Middle East like the one in South Asia, where Pakistan and India use their nuclear weapons as deterrents in a mutual assured destruction scheme."

Yet reading some of the hysterical commentary about Israel's global standing, including by American-Jewish pundits and politicians, one had to conclude that the Jewish State was now on the eve of destruction, betrayed by the supposedly anti-Israeli President occupying the White House and under threat of annihilation by a nuclearized Iran. Much of this kvetching -- that Obama didn't hug and give a high five to Bibi proves that, you know, he probably doesn't like Israel and Jews and shows that he is going to sell out Israel to appease the Arabs and Iran, yada, yada, yada, and before you say Barack Hussein Titus Obama, it's the end of the Third Jewish Commonwealth --- is meant to counter any criticism of the policies of the current Israeli government and to rally political support in Congress and elsewhere for it. Any challenge by the U.S. President to these Israeli policies amounts to nothing less than collaboration with those who seek to destroy the Jewish State.

Ironically, this endless harping about what is being described as Israel's status as an eternal victim that is threatened by a new Holocaust and needs to be rescued by an outside power, runs contrary to the original mission of classical Zionism. The idea was to release Europe's Jews from the trap of victimhood and turn them into a normal people, living in a normal state, able to protect themselves -- and not dependent on others for their survival. In the real world of nation states and power politics and in face of opposition from the surrounding Arab states, Israel had to search for support from foreign powers, including the United States, and France in the 1950s and the Soviet Union in the late 1940s (when Israel received most of its weapons from the Commies). But that support was seen by Israel's founders as a temporary measure to sustain its national security. The long-term goal was to use that outside support and combine it with Israel's military power as a way of pressing the Arabs to recognize that Israel was a permanent feature in the Middle East -- and to make peace with it.

That Israel continues facing security threats from states and non-states actors is undeniable. But the main problem with the current narrative about Israel promoted by the numerous kvetchers is the underlying notion that Israeli policies are driven exclusively by security considerations and that in any case, Israeli policies are not responsible for Arab and Muslim hostility since that anti-Israeli position reflects the anti-Jewish and anti-Western sentiments shared by the elites and the publics in the Middle East. From that perspective, the U.S. support for Israel shouldn't be affected so much by specific Israeli policies. A few Jewish settlements here and there? Hey. No Big Deal -- if one considers the common Islamo-Fascist threat they're both facing. So let's get to the business of dealing with the threat of a nuclear Iran.

But Israeli policies do matter; and they've always mattered by shaping Middle Eastern and American and international attitudes towards Israel (Re: the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon). Democratic and Republican Administration have opposed the establishment of Jewish settlements in the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 War not only because these settlements ran contrary to international law. In fact, building these settlements had nothing to do with protecting Israeli security but was part of the efforts by Israeli governments to advance the radical Zionist agenda of Greater Israel in a way that helped radicalize the Palestinians and intensify anti-Israeli -- and anti-American -- sentiments in the Arab World.

Hence President Barack Obama's decision to have a face-off with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the settlements issue has very little to do with the American President's personal and political bias against or in support of Israel but is a reflection of concrete U.S. national interests in the Middle East. At a time when American military power is overstretched in the Broader Middle East an its global strategic and economic status is being challenged worldwide, it would make sense for any American President whether it's Barack Obama or, say, Republican President David Petraeus - following in the footsteps of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton -- to try to reduce anti-Americanism in the Middle East by trying to help Israel and the Arabs make peace. If successful, such a policy could help advance the long-term interests of both the United and Israel.

In any case, no American President is going to agree utilizing U.S. support to fulfill a Messianic agenda of settling "Judea and Samaria" and pursuing the creeping annexation of those territories. In fact, Israelis need to understand that America's commitment to the security of Israel would always remain uncertain and fragile, reflecting changes in the balance of power in Washington and the shifting dynamics of U.S. politics and economics. Indeed, there is nothing permanent about American support for the Jewish State and about U.S. military engagement in the Middle East. The strength of the U.S.-Israeli connection during the administration of President George W. Bush was product of unique conditions: America's post-Cold War unipolar moment, U.S. economic gains of the 1990s and the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the ensuing war on terrorism. These developments coupled with the presence of powerful forces in the Bush Administration, the GOP, the conservative movement and Congress -- have persuaded the U.S. president to align U.S. policy with a right-wing Israeli government. Now the American-Israeli relationship seems to be returning to "normalcy." This post-Bush II depression may explain why some Israelis and their American supporters feel that Obama has "lost that loving feeling" towards Israel.

But contrary to the neocon-Likud delusion, Israel was never going to become an outlet of a global power whose political, economic and military headquarters are on the other side of the world, America's Middle East province. Moreover, changes in American global strategic interests -- driven by the end of U.S. unipolarism and the emergence of a multi-polar international system -- coupled with demographic developments in the United States, as American-Jews become a declining minority among a declining European-American majority -- are probably going to lead the weakening relationship with Israel in the context of a gradual U.S. disengagement from the Middle East and at some time in the future. Israeli leaders will eventually have to adjust their policies to these new geo-strategic realities. They certainly won't be able to that by kvetching over this or that imaginary "anti-Israeli" President and by trying to perpetuate the current status-quo that would require the continuing dependency on the United States.