During the media frenzy of the last days a crucial headline has received close to no attention: Mossad chief Meir Dagan told the Knesset’s Foreign Relations Committee that Israel is gradually turning from a strategic asset into a liability for the United States of America.
As it’s a bit difficult to brush aside Dagan as a softheaded idealist, our policy makers will find another way not to listen. They will say, “this would never have happened under George W. Bush; this is only because the Obama administration is not friendly towards Israel. We simply need to wait for Obama to end this term; he won’t get reelected.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. I have heard warnings that Israel is becoming a strategic liability for the U.S. from Americans, including high ranking members of the George W. Bush administration, for years. The only difference is that during the Bush years, nobody in the administration would say this on record or for attribution.
As if to echo and underline Dagan’s message, Anthony Cordesman, one of the most respected non-partisan national security experts in Washington writes:
[T]he depth of America’s moral commitment [to Israel] does not justify or excuse actions by an Israeli government that unnecessarily make Israel a strategic liability when it should remain an asset. It does not mean that the United States should extend support to an Israeli government when that government fails to credibly pursue peace with its neighbors. It does not mean that the United States has the slightest interest in supporting Israeli settlements in the West Bank, or that the United States should take a hard-line position on Jerusalem that would effectively make it a Jewish rather than a mixed city. It does not mean that the United States should be passive when Israel makes a series of major strategic blunders–such as persisting in the strategic bombing of Lebanon during the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, escalating its attack on Gaza long after it had achieved its key objectives, embarrassing the U.S. president by announcing the expansion of Israeli building programs in east Jerusalem at a critical moment in U.S. efforts to put Israeli-Palestinian peace talks back on track, or sending commandos to seize a Turkish ship in a horribly mismanaged effort to halt the “peace flotilla” going to Gaza.
It is time Israel realized that it has obligations to the United States, as well as the United States to Israel, and that it become far more careful about the extent to which it test the limits of U.S. patience and exploits the support of American Jews. This does not mean taking a single action that undercuts Israeli security, but it does mean realizing that Israel should show enough discretion to reflect the fact that it is a tertiary U.S. strategic interest in a complex and demanding world.
And then comes word from the Canadian writer, Margaret Atwood, whose impartial observations as a first-time visitor to the Jewish state cut to the core when she says:
[T]he concept of Israel as a humane and democratic state is in serious trouble. Once a country starts refusing entry to the likes of Noam Chomsky, shutting down the rights of its citizens to use words like “Nakba,” and labelling as “anti-Israel” anyone who tries to tell them what they need to know, a police-state clampdown looms. Will it be a betrayal of age-old humane Jewish traditions and the rule of just law, or a turn towards reconciliation and a truly open society?
Time is running out. Opinion in Israel may be hardening, but in the United States things are moving in the opposite direction. Campus activity is increasing; many young Jewish Americans don’t want Israel speaking for them. America, snarled in two chaotic wars and facing increasing international anger over Palestine, may well be starting to see Israel not as an asset but as a liability.
Israelis never tire of declaring with great solemnity that they survive in a dangerous neighborhood — invariably the observation is used as a justification for some form of brutality. Yet behind the faux boldness of this embattled nation is the comforting awareness that little Israel enjoys the protection of its big American friend. But any friendship can eventually be strained beyond repair.
As Israel becomes more and more isolated, that isolation may reinforce the delusions of those convinced that the rest of the world is dangerous yet for others it will make the rest of the world increasingly appealing. Thus will arise the demographic threat that no racist scheme can resolve: the threat that life in a Jewish state is simply no longer appealing to enough Jews.