President Obama’s visit to Israel demonstrates the new strategy that the US has
adopted in recent years, which includes a certain realignment. The process will
continue over many years, and ultimately the US will minimize its dependence on
energy sources from other parts of the world and reduce its policing role in
resolving strategic issues abroad, sometimes by the use of military
America has been striving for energy independence since the 1970s,
but a more recent breakthrough came with the discovery of extensive new oil and
gas deposits on US territory. This has implications in terms of the
environmental cost of exploiting such energy sources, and it also reflects a
technological breakthrough in shale production capacity. The US is now investing
huge amounts of money in developing alternatives to oil and other common sources
of energy. Within a few years it should attain energy independence, which will
bring about a significant shift in strategy not only for Washington but
throughout the world. A decreased need for Middle East oil, which will be
dramatic in the medium term, also lessens American interest in oil supplies from
the Far East. And the reduction in dependence on the Middle East likewise
diminishes interest in Israel and the Palestinians. There is still a need
for “outposts” – like Israel – during the realignment process to secure
retreating US forces, but nothing more than that.
Accordingly, the US is
focusing on internal matters such as reducing the budget deficit and
subsequently significantly cutting the defense budget. This in turn means a
diminished capability to intervene overseas.
Obama’s visit to Israel
primarily served his domestic interests. He is trying to harness all political
powers for this changing scenario and needs Israel in his corner.
US-Israel relations are in his interest on the domestic front, especially in the
interim, until the required realignment is accomplished.
We will examine
some of the statements Obama made during his visit to Israel, in an attempt to
see whether they support the realignment theory.
He said that the United
States and Israel have “different vulnerabilities” with regard to the Iranian
nuclear threat, and Israel “has a right to independently defend itself.” I
interpret this as meaning: “You are on your own. Defending yourselves against
the Iranian nuclear threat is your business. We will back you, but not to the
extent of direct American military intervention.”
Obama also said that
the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a “game changer” and “we will know how
to act if it transpires that Syria has made use of chemical weapons,” adding
that “[this] is a problem for the international community... a world
He said nothing about US military intervention, which, as I see
it, means that the US will no longer act as sole sheriff for the entire world,
but rather will become part of a team making joint decisions on any steps to be
undertaken, particularly military steps. America is no longer deciding, but now
veers toward “recommending.”
This is in line with the approach we saw in
Libya two years ago.
The realignment hypothesis also underlies the huge
gap between Israel and the US on what constitutes the “red line” on the Islamic
Republic, beyond which military intervention should occur. Israel feels that an
attack should take place before Iran possesses a stronger infrastructure for the
production of nuclear weapons, a status that would allow it to produce or not
produce at will.
Obama said that any attack should be carefully weighed
with his partners and after verifying beyond doubt that Tehran has decided to
produce nuclear weapons.
Israel is talking about preventing the creation
of a manufacturing capability, while he is talking about preventing actual
production, something which, from our point of view, would be
These are indeed enormous differences in attitude and they
derive from a lesser threat to the US from Iranian possession of nuclear weapons
and from America’s desire, under the Obama regime, to realign and step back from
its great commitment and dependence on the rest of the world for both economics
His statements regarding the Palestinians were also
somewhat lackluster, merely attempts to satisfy Israel. The United States is not
really interested in the so-called “peace process.” Perhaps the symbolic efforts
to bring about apparent peace with the Palestinians are aimed at satisfying
different publics and not much more.
Obama’s visit to the Middle East,
his speeches and even his body language indicated no tension with Israel, but
rather shared short-term interests between the two nations. Israel is no longer
an obstacle to US policy, but to a great extent a temporary asset in the short
term and harmless in the long term. This is because America is on the road to
self-reliance and, inter alia, about to reduce its dependence on Middle East
The writer is a brigadier-general in the reserves and a member of
Israel’s National Security Council.