Tuesday, March 23, 2010

US-Israeli Interests and the Obama Intifada

Stratfor came out with two sluggers this morning. The first is free, and examines the nature of stress in the US-Israeli relationship, along with the fundamental convergence of interests between the allies.

Incidentally, Stratfor deals with the accusation that US support for Israel contributes to anti-Americanism in the Arab world.
The fundamental problem with the theory is that Arab anti-Americanism predates significant U.S. support for Israel. Until 1967, the United States gave very little aid to Israel. [...] In 1956, Israel invaded the Sinai while Britain and France seized the Suez Canal, which the Egyptian government of Gamal Abdul Nasser had nationalized. The Eisenhower administration intervened — against Israel and on the side of Egypt. [...] In spite of this, Nasser entered into a series of major agreements with the Soviet Union. Egypt’s anti-American attitude had nothing to do with the Israelis, save perhaps that the United States was not prepared to join Egypt in trying to destroy Israel.

The point here is that the United States was not actively involved in supporting Israel prior to 1967, yet anti-Americanism in the Arab world was rampant. [...] In fact, it is not clear that Arab anti-Americanism was greater after the initiation of major aid to Israel than before. Indeed, Egypt, the most important Arab country, shifted its position to a pro-American stance after the 1973 war in the face of U.S. aid.
The analysis continues to the rift in US-Israeli relations:
In the area called generally the Middle East, but which we prefer to think of as the area between the Mediterranean and the Hindu Kush, there are three intrinsic regional balances. One is the Arab-Israeli balance of power. The second is the Iran-Iraq balance. The third is the Indo-Pakistani balance of power.
These regional balances are self containing, and self limiting. The US has an interest in maintaining them to prevent the emergence of a regional hegemon that can threaten American interests. The problem is that, currently, "Two of the three regional balances of power [Iraq-Iran, India-Pakistan] are collapsed or in jeopardy." The US is stretched to the limit in containing and managing the fallout.

Israel, then, like the Iranians, Russians, Germans, Chinese and other regional powers, is using American distraction to rearrange its geopolitical environment. In the case of Israel, this challenge to the existing regional equilibrium is apparently new building in Jerusalem.
There is very little Israel can do to help the United States in the center and eastern balances. On the other hand, if the western balance of power were to collapse — due to anything from a collapse of the Egyptian regime to a new Israeli war with Hezbollah — the United States might find itself drawn into that conflict, while a new intifada in the Palestinian territories would not help matters either. It is unknown what effect this would have in the other balances of power, but the United States is operating at the limits of its power to try to manage these situations. Israel cannot help there, but it could hurt, for example by initiating an attack on Iran outside the framework of American planning. Therefore, the United States wants one thing from Israel now: for Israel to do nothing that could possibly destabilize the western balance of power or make America’s task more difficult in the other regions.

Israel sees the American preoccupation in these other regions, along with the current favorable alignment of forces in its region, as an opportunity both to consolidate and expand its power and to create new realities on the ground. One of these is building in East Jerusalem, or more precisely, using the moment to reshape the demographics and geography of its immediate region. The Israeli position is that it has rights in East Jerusalem that the United States cannot intrude on. The U.S. position is that it has interests in the broader region that are potentially weakened by this construction at this time.
This is perhaps the most tenuous point in Stratfor's analysis, or of the American strategic view, since Israel has been building in Jerusalem for 40 years. Describing such building as having "strategic" implications is quite a stretch. It also creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, and this is crucial. By focusing on building in Jerusalem as a strategic issue, the US is giving others - including the Palestinians, Arabs and Iran - the ability to leverage it as a strategic issue. It is the US which first framed Israeli building in Jerusalem in the context of Palestinian recalcitrance. The Palestinians happily accepted the equation, never having been dealt such a strategic card before.

The question becomes, why is the US now treating Israeli building in Jerusalem as a strategic issue, when it never has in the past? It appears likely that, in the face of a flailing sanctions and containment campaign against Iran, the Obama Administration stirred a tempest to push Israel's policy establishment on the defensive and prevent any unilateral action against Iranian nuclear sites. Preventing Israeli airstrikes appears to have become the dominant American concern in the central and western Middle East.

The second analysis is paid content, and discusses Iranian attempts to exploit the rift in US-Israeli interests through a new Palestinian Intifada.
In the past, STRATFOR has received reports of Iranian officials reprimanding Hamas officials in Damascus for attempting negotiations with Fatah, preferring to keep the two factions split. Now, however, Iran appears convinced that Palestinian reconciliation will not lead to the resumption of peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis in the current tense atmosphere.

The overall goal is thus to exploit the breach in the U.S.-Israeli relationship to reunify the Palestinian leadership and encourage Israeli military action in the territories that would further undermine Israel’s diplomatic efforts in building a coalition against Iran. While this is by no means an intifada, or popular uprising in the traditional sense of the word, it does point to another potential crisis in Israeli-Palestinian relations that would consequently complicate U.S. designs for the region.
Wonderful. Can we call it the Obama Intifada? That the Palestinians, with Iranian guidance, are now planning a new Intifada to exploit the US-Israeli rift is proof that American pressure on Israel has destabilized the region, and not brought peace negotiations, much less peace, any closer.

Portions of these reports were republished with permission of STRATFOR

UPDATE: Yes, I did forward the free Stratfor piece to Andrew Sullivan, and yes, he did put it up. Of course, in his choice quotes, he ignored Stratfor's dismissal of his charges that this nation's pro-Israel stance generates anti-Americanism in the Arab world, which was, until so very recently, his main gripe. At least the thousands of people who read the actual article won't have problems connecting the dots.


  1. I wonder why Stratfor doesn't mention Russia and China (or do they?) I would guess that both are very busy at meddling with the goal to have the actors mentioned in your quotes perform as desired by them.
    Here is a lecture on Halford Mackinder, the guy whom I assume Stratfor's philosophy takes seriously http://itunes.apple.com/de/podcast/geopolitics-imperialism-british/id279428154?i=81162615

  2. Silke,

    Stratfor writes quite a bit on both Russia and China. I'm sorry if my Israel-specific interests have given you a false impression. A few months back, nearly half their content was on Russia. They've been focusing more on Turkey and Germany as well, as these nations begin to reassert their traditional regional roles.

    I do read or browse through most of their content - after a while it gets repetitive, as many of the articles are situational updates on long term trends. They actually ignored Israel completely since just after the Gaza war.

    If you'd like to read anything in particular let me know; I'll be happy to email you the full text.

  3. thanks Victor I've just read this one and come back to my earlier assessment of them - they sound very interesting (they had quite a podcast for some time which seems to have been discontinued) when you first get into it but after now about four years of them off and on I have become weary - it is not that they do not pieces on other areas of the world, but if they claim to give the big picture of where the US is involved I would expect them to have a say how China is hindering them in the Pakistani-India balance - half a sentence would be enough as would be half a sentence about Russia's position on Iran.
    But what I find most vexing in this piece is that they leave Syria completely out of it - I keep asking myself whether this getting friendly with Syria again isn't the wish they may take over in Lebanon again because they might be up to dealing with Hisbollah better than the present government is - what a pact with the devil that would be - but most of all after having been taken through a lot of sophisticated sounding stuff on strategy at the end the say quite clearly: Israel has to obey and that in my mind would be folly for the US. i.e. they just don't get it, that an Israel and/or a US or a EU that blinks is what gets the others going. I got the picture from one taxi driver who told me that when he wants to go first through a crossing he keeps going at full speed and if he sees the car from the right nip ever so slightly in front he knows the other has his foot on the breaks and he can keep going. If the US blinks on Israel building in some spots the others know it has its foot on the brake and they can push for more.

    but back to Stratfor all in all I have probably been spoiled by Churchill who has the habit of starting any part of his writings with a broad overview and then supply the tidbits. If you ever want to read the story of a truly adventurous young man get "my early years" and enjoy. Also there is this http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/9404 which is eminently worth reading if you pay attention on how reliable the British found the "other" side to be.

    Actually what made me turn away from Stratfor is that George Friedman presented himself as the unfailing predictor for everything and now after he hasn't predicted the financial crisis he doesn't even mention the word prediction in his lecture anymore - seems like he has "adapted" his job description.

    Even though I have a great weakness for cheeky fellows like Churchill the Friedman-style is not my cup of tea any longer - which doesn't mean that I won't read what you think I need to read but I'll probably keep getting angered by them.

    BTW I am just into this book - which has from chapter 7 on a description of pre-revolution America that one wants to read at bed-time to all who insist on America has always been superior ethic-wise - and Robert Graves is one of the people I trust (contrary to Gore Vidal) - do you know this poem it is kind of my personal anthem

    keep going you're making me think ...


  4. one more on Stratfor - more and more it all boils down for me that they are saying: Israel you better behave or the US will replace you by Turkey - good luck to them - with Erdogan becoming more and more of a nut case


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