The march of folly

Israel can’t rely on the United States to protect it from Iran.

US soldiers in Iraq 311 (R) (photo credit: Saad Shalash / Reuters)
US soldiers in Iraq 311 (R)
(photo credit: Saad Shalash / Reuters)

What a trip!

Subdued ceremonies marked the US’ departure from Iraq after more than eight years of war. The White House published enthusiastic statements about the new, democratic Iraq that the US was leaving in its wake. They spoke of Iraq becoming “a model” of democracy and freedom for the Middle East.

Mission accomplished.

That same night of the US’ withdrawal, Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki arrested scores of opposition leaders, and accused Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi of treason. Days later, the car bombs were back, detonating in Baghdad’s streets and mosques; the fragile coexistence between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds was on the verge of collapse.

Mission accomplished?

The US administration was back on their heels until senior officials placed frantic phone calls to Baghdad, imploring Iraq’s leaders to respect the rules of democracy. What the US didn’t seem to realize was that, the moment they pulled out of Iraq, they had lost all of their leverage. Any fourth grader could have told them that.

In defense of their blamelessness, US Vice President Joe Biden stated that actually the US had only given the Iraqis the opportunity to establish a democratic regime, but the success of their fledgling democracy could only be decided by the Iraqi people.

And finally, on Christmas Eve, the US administration announced that would be taking “a low key” position in Iraq’s future events. In other words, gone was the “model democracy,” gone was the beacon of freedom for the Middle East; America simply washed its hands and let its achievements in Iraq – if there were any – disappear in a puff of smoke.

I hate prophecies, but I believe that it is inevitable that Iraq’s fate will be Afghanistan’s in a couple of years.

The US, indeed, has become a paper tiger, not only because it does not want to use its power, but because it misunderstands the Middle East, the Arab world and Islam. It is apparently the only Western nation still celebrating the “Arab Spring,” totally disregarding the fact that this supposed spring is turning the Middle East into a dark, fundamentalist bloc of nations.

Naively, America has decided that democracy resides in elections, not in institutions, laws or human rights – and welcomes any dangerous political group as long as it has been properly elected. During the entire month of November the White House strongly pressured Egyptian Field Marshal Muhammad Tantawi to hold democratic elections in Egypt at all costs. The result was that 65 percent of the vote went to fundamentalists.

How long can this charade go on? Will the White House repeat the same scenario with Saudi Arabia?

The US cynically turned their back to their best ally in the region, deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and demanded his resignation, naively believing that their words would bring them the support of the Tahrir Square masses. Which ally will the US turn on next?

A month ago, at the Saban forum, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gave us, Israelis, a lesson in foreign policy. Panetta sagely told Israel to repair its relations with Egypt and Turkey.

Egypt? Israel maintains close relations with the Egyptian army, which Panetta certainly must have known. Who, specifically, did he want us to repair our relations with? The Salafis? The Muslim Brotherhood?

Turkey? Didn’t Panetta realize that Turkey is more concerned with becoming an Islamic Empire than fostering peace and reconciliation with Israel was out of the question for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan?

While we’re at it, why not peace with the Palestinians? Panetta had another piece of advice for us: “Get to the damn table!”

Is that what he really thinks? How can Israel get to the damn negotiation table if they don’t have a partner to negotiate with?

Let us not forget Iran. Panetta told Israel not to make any move against Iran. He spoke about the terrible political and economic repercussions of an attack on Iran’s nuclear centers. He explained how disastrous and inefficient any attack on Iran would be, and how it would hurt world peace and stability.

In other words, the US Defense Secretary assured Iran not to worry. Israel won’t attack, and neither shall we, so you can be sure that nothing but slap-on-the-wrist sanctions can hurt you if you keep developing nuclear weapons.

A few weeks later Panetta changed his tune. Perhaps he realized that the only way to stop the Iranians was to scare them with a credible threat of US force. It worked in 2003 when the International Atomic Energy Agency accused them of failing to report their activities, stopping Iran’s activity for more than two years

So Panetta and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, made another speech, threatening Iran with military action. They both told Iran: Forget what we said just a few weeks ago, now we are telling you to stop building the bomb … or else.

Is this a turnabout in US policy? Definitely not.

We can for the next speech, but, in the meantime, the Iranian bomb is approaching.

The US still fails to realize that, for Israel, a nuclear Iran is not just a new reality it has to live with; thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions is not simply a matter of repercussions in the Arab world. It’s a question of survival.

America’s back-and-forth handling of Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan teaches us one lesson:

We can rely only on our own power. Promises and warnings from our best friends will not shield us from a nuclear weapon. If they are finally willing to join us – great, but, if not, we’ll have to take care of our survival. Alone.

The writer is a former Labor Party MK and the official biographer of David Ben-Gurion and Shimon Peres.