Two scholars at top think tanks on either side of the Atlantic Ocean just came out with a new book: The Sixth Crisis: Iran, Israel, America, and the Rumors of War.
I haven’t read the book yet, but I did see the two think tankers – Steve Simon of the Council on Foreign Relations and Dana Allin of the International Institute for Strategic Studies – speak on Monday at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in D.C.
There was much to be reported in the talk (indeed, you can read a more full report at LobeLog), but there was a particular discussion that will be of interest to Mondoweiss readers: the divergence of U.S. and Israeli interests in the region and, specifically, in Jerusalem.
Allin and Simon put the lie to the staunchly (and often right-leaning) mantra that there should be “no daylight” between the Washington and Tel Aviv. Well, morning has broken.
As if you didn’t know, there is a full-fledged solar flare bursting between Israel and the U.S. on settlements. Allin thinks that West Bank settlements are “profoundly contrary to Israel’s interests” (which makes one assume that Israel’s insistence on building is a matter of ideology, not interest).
But the real rift in interests is the status of East Jerusalem, as evidenced by Netanyahu’s repeated attempts to exclude it from a second construction freeze. Allin put it bluntly, in a way you might wish more establishment commentators would.
“The most Jewish possible Jerusalem is in Israel’s interest,” he said. It’s cynical to take it too far, he added, but Israel wants to get Jerusalem as Jewish as possible without quashing a deal. “This could be seen as an area where American interests and Israel’s intersests diverge.”
Indeed, it could be seen as an instance of not only divergent interests, but a plainly spoken example of Israel’s policy in East Jerusalem — at best, mild ethnic cleansing — coming from an establishment analyst speaking at a Congressionally-funded think tank, no less.
On Iran, Steve Simon said that both the U.S. and Iran have ample reasons to kick the nuclear issue down the road — the U.S. is tangled up in two wars in the region (four, if you count Pakistan and Yemen), and Iran’s program is moving slowly enough anyway that doing something rash and ratcheting up tensions could severely harm the Islamic Republic.
But, said Simon, “the Israelis are highly incentivised to see [the Iranian nuclear program] end, and they have to think about this militarily.”
“There are a number of rifts between the U.S. and Israel at the moment” — East Jerusalem, anyone? — “that could intensify the Israeli desire to go,” Simon later added.
So Israel is itching to go to war with Iran. Allin said the U.S. going to war “would be a mistake, not just bad or tragic, but a mistake in the sense that it would be worse than not going to war.” This applies to Israel, too — a “disaster in the making,” Brooking Institution’s Bruce Riedel called the notion of Israel launching a war.
And Israel is determined to keep making Jerusalem more and more Jewish — that is, settling East Jerusalem at the expense of Palestinian residents — despite the fact that that this runs against U.S. interests because oflinkage. As Allin said on Monday: “It is a delusion to deny that there are things Israel can do and has been doing that makes the U.S.’s challenges in the Middle East more difficult… The building of settlements in the Occupied Territories is near the top of the list.”
And this is our best friend in the region, we are told again and again. A country whose interests are supposed to dovetail perfectly with ours.
“The respective issues of Israel and Palestine and what to do about the Iranian nuclear question raise questions about what are the reciprocal obligations of allies,” Allin astutely observed in the packed briefing room at the Wilson Center.
The question is being raised — even by the establishment. Now all that needs to be done is to find an answer.