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The war that broke out 70 years ago this week - the worst moment in mankind's history - would not have happened but for the abuse of the institution of the international alliance. Had France honored its alliance with Czechoslovakia, the Munich agreement would not have been signed and Hitler would have had to attack rather than receive the Sudetenland (a topographical challenge even for the German military), besides being guarded by a modernly armed and well trained Czech army, that would have been backed by what then was a French superpower, had it cared for honesty and justice, if not for courage.
Similarly, had Hitler honored his alliance with the USSR - a prospect that can hardly be assumed even just for the sake of argument - there would have been no Operation Barbarossa, in which the systematic murder of the Jews began.
While the ultimate betrayal of allies was universal, Western powers still had what to learn about courting strange bedfellows. Had they been more flexible, alert and daring, they might have beaten Joachim von Ribbentrop to Vyacheslav Molotov and signed with Moscow the deal that might have prevented the war - provided of course they honored it.
SURELY, NOT all alliances are elusive, short-lived or ineffective.
The British-American alliance was so firmly consolidated by last century's wars that it emerged stronger than many countries' own national fabric, for instance Belgium's or Nigeria's, and certainly stronger than the commitments among siblings like the Scandinavians, whose linchpin, Sweden, remained neutral while its younger brothers, Finland and Norway, were being eaten alive, one by Germany, the other by the USSR.
Indeed, the art in striking an alliance is to measure what it will deliver in a moment of real need. Are the prospective allies' biological, cultural, commercial or ideological ties solid enough to warrant real action come their deal's moment of repayment? Will their leaders be genuinely motivated, and their following truly prepared, to sacrifice resources and cash, not to mention their children's lives, for someone else?
And what if all these are actually delivered, only to reveal that the much-celebrated ally is, alas, weaker than it was assessed to be back when the alliance was secured? What if your ally proves as wimpy as South Vietnam was for the US, or as helpless as the Lebanese Christians were for Israel in 1982, or as unwarlike as Italy proved to Nazi Germany?
Such already harsh dilemmas become altogether charged when one considers the Jews' tragic history with alliances.
THERE IS a contradictory legacy concerning the Jewish attitude toward foreign alliances.
On the one hand, kings like Solomon, Ahab, Hezekiah and Zedekiah sought them, anywhere between Egypt, Assyria and Phoenicia. On the other hand, the idea of foreign alliance, already treated with suspicion by Moses who feared a return to Egypt, was later actively fought by Elijah, Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah. To them, the only way for the Israelites to confront their enemies was by worshiping God - a view held by Jeremiah even when King Zedekiah was scrambling to assemble a regional grouping that might have confronted Babylonia as it prepared to trample Jerusalem.
Centuries later Judah the Maccabee changed course, as he approached Rome, but by the time of the Roman assault on Jerusalem appreciation for such diplomatic outreach was unthinkable in a Judea that had become possessed by zealots who scorned human government itself. Had they been more visionary, the Jews of the time might have formed an alliance with Parthia, the power to their east, which Rome failed to subdue.
Fortunately, by the time Zionism emerged, the refusal to accept the ways of the planet we inhabit was abandoned. If anything, the need of a strategic ally became for Zionism a foundational quest shared by all its key leaders, from Herzl to Ben-Gurion through Jabotinsky and, of course, Weizmann, who created with Britain Zionism's first great alliance.
It took several decades, during which the British alliance failed to avert the Holocaust and a subsequent French alliance ended in 1967 as a farce, but eventually the Jewish state found the great alliance its founders had sought. It turned out to be the US, whose friendship has been more solid, deep and durable than anything the Jews ever saw since the days of Cyrus.
Nearly half-a-century after its emergence it is banal to consider this alliance's rationale and merits. Everyone knows Israel and America share ideas, aims and interests. The question now is different: What if America loses international altitude?
EVER SINCE Barack Obama's speech in Cairo, many Israelis and their friends overseas have been concerned, with good reason, over the new administration's Middle Eastern designs. Yet there is reason to suspect that the real threat Obama represents is not to Israel, but to America, and not in his diplomacy, but in his economics.
From what we have so far seen, Obama is assuming that the laws of financial gravity do not apply to the US. Like the Israeli bankers who used to argue that in Israel there will always be inflation, until a resolute Bank of Israel proved that even the shekel could be made rock solid, Obama now thinks America can multiply its public debt and budget deficit, nationalize dinosaurs like General Motors and legislate prohibitive social spending without saying where its financing will come from - and yet the financial markets will stand by idly.
America's public debt is already 55% of GDP, twice its share in the '80s, and the US budget deficit is expected to hit $1.6 trillion this year and a further $9 trillion by 2019. If what we are witnessing is not somehow reversed, the dollar will collapse exactly the way of the Russian ruble, the Thai baht and the Malaysian ringgit did last decade, in response to their governments' fiscal derelictions. The only difference will be that a traumatized dollar will take with it America's geopolitical sway.
What will Israel then do? Will it by then have found viable alternatives to its grand alliance, say in India, China or Russia or, who knows, maybe even in a post-Islamist Iran? Maybe, but Middle Israelis somehow still prefer that before it comes down to that, they will see America come to its senses, and remind Obama that while he was elected for many good reasons, not one of his voters intended for him to debase the American superpower.