It’s not been an easy year for Israel, the USA’s closest ally in the Middle East; constant attacks from the terrorist organization Hamas, as well as the ongoing threat of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, mean that security has been the top priority for the Israeli government. Unfortunately a new worry has to be added to that – the Obama administration.
It’s no secret that Obama has always been hostile and dismissive of Prime Minister Netanyahu, but while his behavior has been rude at times that isn’t a problem in itself. Countries can be close and reliable allies even if their leaders don’t personally get along. President Reagan’s loathing of premier Menachem Begin was no secret, for example, but that didn’t change the fact that the USA stood firmly as the guarantor of Israeli security. What’s worrying is that Obama’s dislike of Netanyahu looks to be just part of a wider antipathy towards Israel itself, and his influence is now spreading through the State Department.
Journalist Micah Zenko recently carried out a text analysis of the State Department’s website, searching for country names paired with the word “unacceptable”, and generated a list of Foggy Bottom’s top ten unacceptable countries based on the number of hits he got. That list had some fairly predictable names on it; Russia, for example, which has attracted a lot of condemnation for its invasion of Crimea earlier this year. But, alarmingly, Israel didn’t just make the list – it reached fourth place, above Pakistan and just behind rogue state North Korea.
Defenders of the administration point to how US military support for Israel remains at the same level as under the last administration, but skip over the fact that this is only because Congress make sure it stays that way. The fact is that Obama knows he can’t get blatantly anti-Israeli legislation past the House and Senate, so he’s now using liberal European governments as proxies. While some European states have worked closely with Israel in the past – Germany donated most of the IDF’s submarine fleet, for example – the EU has always been cooler, and now it’s turning actively hostile with the full backing of the White House. This hasn’t gone unnoticed in Jerusalem, and even the liberal press in Israel is commenting on how Obama is egging Brussels on to tighten the screw. The latest news is that the EU is about to remove Hamas from its list of proscribed terrorist groups, which legitimizes their doctrine of destroying the Jewish state. Obama can’t get a similar step past the American people, which is why he’s now working more closely with Europe’s governments than his own.
Israel isn’t the only US ally in the Middle East, but with the rise of ISIS some of the others, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, aren’t looking all that reliable. The fact is ISIS are just practicing a more violent version of what most Saudis believe – even long-time enemy Iran is closer to the US position than most of the so-called “friendly” Arab states. That makes our alliance with Israel more vital than ever, so it’s worrying that Obama has chosen this moment to throw them under the bus.