US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet today to unify  their countries’ positions vis-a-vis Iran and its nuclear program.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama

Iran had repeatedly vowed that its nuclear program is being developed only for peaceful purposes but Israel and its main ally in the world–the United States–cannot countenance the loss of Israel’s monopoly of nuclear weapons in the strategic Middle East region.  In fact, Israeli forces had attacked Iraqi and Syrian nuclear facilities even without the explicit permission of the United States.

Sanctions against Iraq have been imposed yet both allies have not ruled out the military option.  However, some disagreements supposedly exist between the two and must be ironed out; hence the necessity of today’s meeting.

According to Eli Lake, senior national security correspondent for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, the United States and Israel reportedly disagree on what the trigger or “red line” should be for striking Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. The Israelis seek to destroy Iran’s ability to manufacture an atomic weapon, whereas President Obama has pledged only to stop Iran from making a nuclear weapon.

Nuclear explosion

I honestly see not much difference between the two positions because at the end of the day, one may just have to use the military option either to destroy a country’s ability to manufacture a nuclear weapon or to stop it from making one.

Obama reportedly decried Israeli’s much too loose talk of war and implied that any precipitate action will not be supported except for a few states.  His tack: diplomacy and pressure will do the trick.

It is my reading that Israel wants the attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities be done as soon as possible before they become hard targets–that is, before they get enclosed in mountains.  Israel simply does want Iran to have the capability to build nuclear weapons and the latter’s nuclear facilities give it such capability even if a nuclear bomb has yet to be built.

And a public disagreement may be meant to force the hand of the United States.

Iranian nuclear facilities

It is conventional understanding that in a partnership between a stronger party and a weaker party, the will of the stronger party will prevail.  The US-Israeli relationship belies this common view and the deviation must be explained.

Of course, we have heard of the Israel Lobby.  John Mearsheimer and Stephan Walt, both international security experts, co-wrote the book entitled The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.  The book refers to the Lobby as a loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.

Stepan Walt (l) and John Mearsheimer (r)

In addition to the Lobby, I believe what contributes to Israel’s political support within the US is the greater integration of Jewish people into the American mainstream.  One reason is the shared Judeo-Christian ethic.  Another is the earlier Jewish diaspora to the US.

Another explanation is supplied by Hilton Root in his 2008 book, Alliance Curse.  In the book, Root was intrigued by the fact that most of the alliances the US had entered into since the Cold War and beyond were with dictatorships rather than with democracies.  He came up with an intriguing answer.  American voters want results in the form of foreign alliances, military basing rights, defense industries (to be based in their districts), etc.  Their elected representatives willingly oblige.  And dictators–who do not face internal opposition–are more than willing to deal with the Americans.  Americans also find it easier to deal with dictators with the absence of meddling legislatures.

Hilton Root

During martial law, the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos leveraged the country’s strategic location astride sea lines of communication (SLOC) in the South China Sea to earn millions of dollars of military assistance annually from the US government.

The US may be stronger militarily than Israel but the latter has a unique trump card.  Israel is the most reliable US ally in the region and had leveraged this reliability into some form of power vis-a-vis the Americans.  For lack of a better term, this power is akin to the tail wagging the dog.  If the Israelis ‘misbehave’ in a major way, will the Americans abrogate their alliance?  Will they consider the Saudis their main ally in the region?

If Israel launches airstrikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, what credible sanctions can the US impose on it?  Will Obama be brave enough to impose such sanctions as he faces re-election?

Or are these questions trivial given the basic alignment of both states’ interests as far as Iranian nuclear weapons are concerned?



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