View Point: Israel and the emerging Pax Americana I

The Israel-US partnership is rife with tensions and deep mutual mistrust.

Israel and the emerging Pax Americana I (photo credit: EDUARDO MUNOZ / REUTERS)
Israel and the emerging Pax Americana I
(photo credit: EDUARDO MUNOZ / REUTERS)
Next spring promises to be a particularly significant diplomatic time. Come April, the US will be leading two major parallel but interrelated Middle Eastern diplomatic processes entering decisive phases: Nuclear negotiations between the six powers and Iran, and peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
In the immediate term, the late November Geneva interim agreement between the powers and Iran is almost certain to spawn a partial relaxation of sanctions on Iran.
But there are deeper currents at work. Headlines in the media point to a secret diplomatic channel between Washington and Tehran, opened in advance of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s September address to the UN General Assembly. The Iranian “charm offensive” he launched, intended to present a new, more amenable face in the international public arena after the dark confrontational Ahmadinejad era, was only a prelude to a major diplomatic campaign, heralding profound regional transformation.
Indeed, the Geneva Agreement could in itself prove a harbinger of change. Of course, it will be gradual and contingent on the parties honoring their commitments and building mutual trust.
But if it occurs, the process of change could lead to a widespread thawing of ties between Iran and the West. Already there are some telltale signs of things to come. For example, Britain, Washington’s close “Atlantic ally,” has already announced a renewal of diplomatic ties with Tehran.
It is still too early to say what exactly the Americans and Iranians have been talking about in their secret channel. But it is already evident that once the Americans conclude their military involvement in Afghanistan next year, they will seek a new comprehensive Middle East blueprint, a “Pax Americana” if you will, that includes understandings with Tehran, Riyadh and Cairo on Gulf security, the future of Syria and the neutralization of rogue terrorist organizations like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas and others in Gaza. Jerusalem will be linked to the new design separately.
For this to work, Iran needs a thorough domestic shake-up, substantially limiting the power of the radicals in favor of Rouhani’s more liberal constituency. An easing of sanctions, even if limited in time and scope, is essential to pave the way for the profound domestic change necessary to give the new regional blueprint a chance.
The seeds of a major strategic détente in the Middle East have already been sown.
Here is the form it might take: Iran retains the status of a “threshold” nuclear power, maintaining its technological infrastructure but accepting clear restrictions on uranium enrichment; in return, it undertakes the dismantling of the “axis of evil” (Iran-Syria-Hezbollah) and the threat it poses to the US and its regional allies, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf states. The ongoing dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal constitutes a dramatic step in this direction.
For Jerusalem, blunting the “axis of evil” has long been a top national priority. Removal of the Iranian nuclear threat from the regional strategic equation, followed by disintegration of the “axis of evil,” would constitute a major contribution to Israel’s national security. The tactical threats from the Lebanon, Syria and Gaza would be considerably reduced, and the path to a permanent settlement with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas significantly eased.
Unfortunately, Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is unlikely to take advantage of the emerging situation. On the contrary, Netanyahu is engaged in a vocal rearguard action to delay any thawing of diplomatic ties between the US and Iran; he is also working tirelessly to undermine Abbas’s political stability and trying to engineer a collapse of the American peace initiative led by US Secretary of State John Kerry, for which the Palestinians will be blamed. That’s why he scheduled Palestinian prisoner releases for after midnight, and why he announced in midday grandiose building schemes in the territories.
Sooner or later, however, the Netanyahu government will have to face up to reality: The Obama administration is bent on shaping a new model for relations with the Middle East, and that includes Iran. As a result, Israel’s status in the new map of American regional interests is not what it was yesterday or the day before. It is no longer a case of Israel the huge “land-based US aircraft carrier,” but of a partnership which for now, unfortunately, is rife with tensions and deep mutual mistrust.Ilan Baruch, a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, is an adviser to Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On.