Middle East & North Africa

It is Time to Put Israel On Notice


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March 04, 2015 15:29 EDT

Netanyahu’s speech to Congress was about securing his political future, not the future of Israel or US security.

The demeanor of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during his speech to a joint session of Congress was that of a peevish child about to throw his teddy for not getting his way on Iran. His usual rhetoric, replete with the customary comparisons to Nazi Germany have become a tedious metaphor, no more clever than his cautionary warnings over “betting the security of the world.” The same security, which Israel is in the process of gambling with by undermining our nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Yet even among the standing ovations and raucous applause, politicians who are so quick to bemoan the loss of American leadership seemed elated that a country like Israel will, once again, commandeer our foreign policy — the best bit of foreign policy to come out of the Middle East in a very long time.

Has there ever been a better moment to evaluate what the relationship with Israel really means for the US? Clearly there is no longer a unity of opinion among politicians; more than 50 lawmakers were conspicuously absent from the prime minister’s speech on March 3. The obsessive fixation with Israel continues to impede our foreign policy interests abroad, and most, I believe, would be hard pressed to articulate how this relationship has remained mutually beneficial. As opposed to a coherent regional strategy that might actually advance the objectives of the United States, our relationship has devolved along the lines of partisan politics and special interests.

Bibi’s Agenda

Before I attempt to address some of the more dubious claims made by Netanyahu, let me first disclose that I have lived and worked in the Middle East for close to seven years — most of them in Jordan and Iraq. During this time, I realized just how warped my preconceived notions about the Middle East had become. This was a natural consequence of coming of age in Washington DC after the events of September 11, 2001, as well as watching the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq unfold in real-time.

The reason I bring this up is because a politician like Netanyahu is uniquely adept at exploiting these preconceived notions. Whether it be about Iran, multiple wars in Gaza or the expansion of settlements against international law, he has played to the American fear of the Muslim world with a sense of calculated precision. This kind of incessant fear mongering is one of the reasons why we have not been able to reconcile our national interests with our strategic objectives in the Middle East. And it is time that we realize the agenda of Israel, under Netanyahu, is no longer compatible with the long-term interests of the United States.

For example, trying to link the Islamic State or al-Qaeda to Iran is beyond ridiculous. Forget about the obvious sectarian incompatibility of one being Sunni, the other Shiite, these kinds of comparisons have the ability to do irreparable damage. Especially as our government seeks authorization for war against the Islamic State — a war that will inevitably see American soldiers in close proximity with Iranian advisors.

Binyamin Netanyahu and John Boehner / Flickr

Binyamin Netanyahu and John Boehner / Flickr

It is equally as dangerous to make synonymous a legitimate state actor, such as Iran, with a nihilistic non-state actor, such as the Islamic State. This portrays the world in unambiguous terms, which reduces the complexity of the modern Middle East to a simplistic narrative that only Israel has authority over. Nothing can be more damaging for our long-term interests than to view the world with this level of naivety.

While it is true that Iran projects its influence throughout the Middle East via proxy groups and partisan networks, it is also true that every country in the region acts in a similar manner — defending their own self-interests. This isn’t “gobbling up countries” or a “voracious appetite for aggression.” This is international relations 101.

By no means is this an attempt to vindicate the actions of any one country; it is only an observation on how influence is projected in a region that is experiencing prolonged instability. Claiming that Iran is the bedrock of global terrorism only diverts attention away from the very real threats posed by groups such as the Islamic State. Groups that were initially supported by countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.

We should also keep in mind that the face of modern terrorism is the kind of “lone wolf” activity recently conducted in Canada, Australia, France and Denmark. These individuals were not radicalized by Iran, but by groups who are adherents of ideologies that originate from the Gulf states. Attempting to conflate these threats is a lousy political tactic, one that seems desperate, when 15 of the 19 hijackers on September 11 were Saudi, not Iranian.

There is also something deeply troubling about blindly accepting the foreign policy objectives from the one nuclear power in the Middle East, which refuses to admit it has nuclear weapons. Nor has Israel ever signed the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, which Iran has. Coupled against recently leaked documents from Mossad, which claimed “Iran at this stage is not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons,” Israel starts to look suspiciously like a state that is “refusing to come clean.”

We should also remain deeply skeptical of a country that continues to flaunt its democratic credentials, while at the same time running the largest open air prison in the world: Gaza. Talks of “cherishing freedom and offering hope” are entirely hypocritical and without merit for a country that not only consistently violates the rights of Palestinians, but is also heading in the direction of state apartheid. Our politicians should not be providing standing ovations when Netanyahu rallies around the concept of “the one and only Jewish state.” No, they should be aghast that this justification is being used to marginalize 20% of Israel’s Arab population.

Furthermore, using the “Islamic Republic” (of Iran) as a pejorative, while at the same time flaunting the righteousness of a “Jewish State,” is every bit as divisive as the kind of sectarianism that has eroded security throughout the Middle East. These two concepts are hardly indistinguishable from one another. Regardless, we should be supporting secular states that are committed to progressive diplomacy, and not cheering on a country that is forcing us to act under the pretenses that Iran is going “to deliver that nuclear arsenal to the far-reach corners of the earth, including every part of the United States.”

Finally, we are not alone in these negotiations. We must recognize that our other allies and partners in the P5+1 group (Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China) have also staked their foreign policy objectives on the success of these negotiations. Without these talks, Iran really has no incentive to not reach nuclear breakout. The only other options are military, and given our previous lack of success in the Middle East, this course of actions remains highly unadvisable.

Withdrawing our support for negotiations, under pressure from Israel, would only risk further alienating the international community at such a critical time when we have the ability to affect real change. Is the political career of Binyamin Netanyahu really worth this? Because, this is ultimately what his speech was really about — election campaigning — not the future of Israel or our security in the United States.

Purposefully misleading Congress, while at the same time advocating for steps that would damage, if not collapse, our foreign policy is incredulous. This should not only outrage the American public, but permanently put our relationship with Israel on notice. The time has come for Israel to be removed from our politics.

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The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Yakub88 / Shutterstock.com / DonkeyHotey / Flickr

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