7/13/18 Short term Gain long Term Pain?
One of Israel's strongest supporters in the Senate, US Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted the following on Wednesday night:
“To our friends in Israel – be very careful making agreements with Russia re: Syria that affect US interests. I don’t trust Russia to police Iran or anyone else in Syria. US must maintain presence in Syria to ensure ISIS doesn’t come back and to counter Russia/Iran influence.”
The tweet came after the 9th meeting during the past three years between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin, over Syria and related matters.
It is of course not clear whether that tweet was really aimed at Israel, or at President Donald J. Trump, whom Graham (like most Republicans) seems unable to criticize. Regardless of to whom the tweet was aimed, it should serve as a warning to Israel and Netanyahu that being closely identified with Putin could have a cost — just as it is becoming clear (from the other side of the American political aisle) that close identification with the policies of President Trump may cost Israel dearly in the future.
Thanks to the combined policies of Presidents Obama and Trump, there can be no question the Russians are currently the dominant power in the Middle East, thus, Netanyahu has no choice but to exploit his close relationship with Putin for Israel’s benefit. Whether Putin can deliver on Israel’s requests to have Iran completely withdraw from Syria is questionable.
However, Putin’s relationship with Iran (as well as Russia’s unwillingness to chance their much-vaunted weapons prove useless against Israeli forces) has afforded Israel the ability to repeatedly strike Iranian and Hezbollah assets in Syria, without interference.
Though the question being whispered behind closed doors is — at what cost? What will be the long-term cost to Israel of being seen as so closely identified with Trump and Putin? Has Israel chosen a path toward short-term gain, ignoring the possible long-term pain?
Trump remains very popular in Israel. His decision to “move” the US Embassy to Jerusalem and withdraw from the JCOPA with Iran are seen here as acts of true friendship — and most of the Israeli public, as well as the political elites, have welcomed the acts. Trump’s Ambassador in Israel (while not nearly as personally popular as his predecessor, who was constantly being interviewed in the Israeli press), never criticizes any action of the government and is unconcerned about Israel’s activities in the West Bank — unlike either his predecessor or the many “pesky” Ambassadors from Western Europe, who have the temerity to complain about Israeli actions.
To question Trump and Netanyahu’s close relationship is not popular. However, some are beginning to sound alarm bells. The Pew Poll conducted in January showed a 6% drop in support for Israel by Democrats during the first year of the Trump presidency. The recent victory of Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez in the Democratic primary Queens, should be a further alarm bell, considering the fact she called Israel's actions on the Gaza border a “massacre”.
Nevertheless, the current Israeli government seems unwilling to react to these warning signs. Due to political concerns, Netanyahu has been pushing to pass the Basic Law regarding “Nationality” — i.e. a law meant to define the Jewishness of the state. However, President Reuven “Ruvi” Rivlin, in a rare interference in the legislative process, the outgoing head of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky and the Attorney General have cautioned against passage of the law in its current form. The aforementioned all asserted that the proposed clause, which allows for the establishment of Jewish only communities, will play into the hands of Israel’s critics who claim the country practices apartheid — and furthermore, will harm Jewish communities who have suffered generations of discrimination worldwide. The pressure on the Knesset may or may not work, but what is troubling is the complete tone-deafness of these actions.
The Israeli right-wing has been encouraged by the rise of the right in Europe and by the election of Trump — conveniently ignoring the rise of antisemitism that has often accompanied their rise. However, in their enthusiasm, they ignore the laws of Newtonian physics that state for every reaction there is a counter-reaction — as well as the political history of the US, in which (with the exception of the Presidency of FDR and Truman) at no time in American history has one party remained in power for more than 12 years. Those who ignore the lessons of Newton and history endanger Israel’s future. Those who care about Israel’s future need to work to strengthen ties to the Democratic party, while ensuring Israel remains a liberal democracy, before it is too late.