Sovereignty and Suzerainty in The Israel-U.S. Relationship (STONEGATE INSTITUTE) by Herbert I. London 03/15/12)
GateStone Institute Articles-Index-Top
The recent Obama-Netanyahu conclave has evoked much media
speculation: Will Israel act unilaterally to attack Iran´s nuclear
facilities? Does the Obama administration really have Israel´s back
as the president indicated? And where is that "red line," the point
at which an attack must occur to prevent an Iran with "secure"
nuclear weapons? Despite all the diplomatic bonhomie and
announcements of solidarity, questions with uncomfortable
U.S. officials made it clear that President Obama will not go beyond
the broad policy enunciated in the past: that the United States is
committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon through
diplomacy and sanctions and, as a last resort, force. Here too
equivocation prevails. Secretary of Defense Panetta has indicated a
reluctance to apply military force in this matter, and questioned the
effectiveness of an Israeli strike, a position adopted by others in
By contrast, Prime Minister Netanyahu stated unequivocally that his
primary responsibility as Israel´s political leader is to ensure that
this Jewish state survives and remains the master of its own fate.
But the U.S. holds many high cards in this poker hand. Several
officials already suggested that should an unauthorized attack occur,
the U.S. would not replenish the ordnance and advanced military
technology Israel needs to maintain its superior military position in
the Middle East.
These strains in the relationship may not seem apparent at the
moment, but the difference in perspective will emerge on the
political front in the next few months, if not sooner.
Even the U.N. – notably hostile to Israel – voiced concern that
Tehran "might" be developing nuclear weapons. The International
Atomic Energy Agency recently restated its concern that Tehran has
tested intercontinental ballistic missiles that could be weaponized.
The threat and the ominous effects of an air attack against Iran,
however, is the pull and tug of sovereignty versus suzerainty. Is
Israel an independent nation free of American influence? Does the
president of the U.S. have a veto over Israeli military actions? Or
is Israel free of outside influences, a state enjoined by what it
believes to be its self interest?
At the moment, both sides hedge. Israel wants U.S. support, but if it
launches an attack the Prime Minister will provide only 24 hours of
prior notice. The Obama administration seemingly fears an Israeli
assault, particularly the blowback from across the Arab world, but it
is obvious that the United States cannot prevent this decision from
being made. This is not a test of wills, but rather a test of
interests and strategic perspective.
On at least one matter, there appears to be consensus: containment,
of the kind that seemingly worked during the Cold War, is not
applicable in this scenario, albeit that may be the United States´
default position. But it is clear, even to the bureaucrats in Foggy
Bottom, that an Iranian nuclear weapon has political as well as
military consequences. U.S. interests across the Middle East would be
imperiled by the Persian bomb. Moreover, it is also clear that
a "Japanese solution," in which Iran has enough fissionable material
to produce several bombs and ICBM´s to deliver them but doesn´t bring
the two together, is not acceptable. Presumably, with the right
applications, the ICBM´s could be weaponized in relatively short
order -- and every nation in the Middle East will find out what is in
that Iranian tent.
Clearly it is better to see Israel and the U.S. move closer on this
strategic issue than they were previously, but there is a nagging
feeling that President Obama will say whatever is necessary to forge
ties to Jewish wealth and the Jewish Democratic voting bloc. Does he
mean what he says? Based on past public commentary, the jury is
skeptically out. The next months, however, could shape the future of
global affairs for decades.
Herbert London is president emeritus of Hudson Institute and author
of the book Decline and Revival in Higher Education (Transaction
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY