Contrary to popular belief in our region, bilateral relations with the United States are in a severe crisis. Many believe that relations between the two countries are at their peak due to the miraculous symbiosis between Trump and Netanyahu, but this symbiosis has deepened a number of trends that threaten the relationship in the long-term. I propose below a number of steps that can be taken to resolve the crisis with the US - on two key issues: the American interest in reducing US involvement in the Middle East and the ruinous damage to the bipartisan relationship with Israel.
From a strategic standpoint, the trend that jeopardizes the great value that the United States attaches to Israel is the diminishing strategic importance of the Middle East region to the US. This region was previously the most significant energy supplier of the United States, but today the United States itself has become an energy exporter. US interventions in the Middle East have recently ended in failure, from the going all the way invasion of Iraq, to “leading from behind” in Libya and ending in helplessness on the Syrian issue.
For Israel, the ability to rely on American support for the region, which has been an important component of our defense, is eroding. As an example, the future of Syria is currently decided by Turkey, Syria and Russia, while the US controls no levers there. As for Iran, the US has found itself in “splendid” isolation in the Security Council (alongside the Dominican Republic) in an attempt to extend the embargo on arms sales to Iran.
From a political standpoint, an alarming trend stems from a change happening over the years in what was once a special relationship between the two countries based on bipartisan support and the avoidance of turning Israel into an issue that is politically controversial. Trump and Netanyahu have acted contrary to this, and we are witnessing a very worrying trend in which the liberal public in the US (which has grown demographically in the transition from a white and Protestant majority state to a country of minorities) is moving away from Israel, which is increasingly perceived as conservative and as an arm of the Republican party.
This distancing is beginning to show its signs among new lawmakers in Congress, who no longer see the special relationship with Israel as an important value and strategic asset of the United States. Worse is the impact on the American Jewish community, which is the largest and most important Jewish community outside Israel. There are trends of ambivalence and sometimes even hostility towards Israel, which in recent years has moved away from the liberal values of non-Orthodox Judaism.
What can be done to maintain the United States' strategic commitment to Israel and to restore bipartisan support?
The process of the US distancing itself from the Middle East requires Israel to change its traditional policy of opposing the signing of a defense pact enshrined in American law. The Israeli opposition stems from fears that such an agreement would reduce Israel's maneuvering room in the region. However, this argument is eroded in light of the fact that the real threats to Israel today are asymmetric and our military power cannot prevent them. It is actually through “tying our hands” and refraining from of futile military reactions when provoked, and in parallel generating American motivation to effectively deter our enemies through pulling diplomatic and economic levers, that will achieve much more.
Many of my colleagues from the peace camp will ask themselves why I am in favor of a defense pact that is seen as a right-wing interest which seeks to increase reliance on our military force. On the contrary, a defense alliance with the US is actually the way to advance non-military solutions. Not only will it maintain effective deterrence against Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, etc., but it will also create a clear American interest in advancing arrangements to avoid getting entangled in wars in the Middle East. In addition, such an alliance would deprive right-wing populist leaders of the ability to use the military irresponsibly, because our security system (which understands well that there are no military solutions to Israel's major problems) could justify avoiding unnecessary action due to the need for American backing. Furthermore, a defense alliance will oblige the United States to advance a process that defines Israel's borders to determine which territory the pact applies to.