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 force.

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.

Good 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 problem.”

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 ineffective.

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 and security.

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 oil.

The writer is a brigadier-general in the reserves and a member of Israel’s National Security Council.


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