Israel Looks Beyond America
By Bret Stephens
Wall Street Journal
February 15, 2016
Talk to Israelis about the United
States these days and you will provoke a physical reaction. Barack
Obama is an eye roll. John
Kerry is a grimace. The administration’s conduct of regional policy is a
slow, sad shake of the head. The current state of the presidential race makes
for a full-blown shudder. The Israeli rundown of the candidates goes roughly as
follows: “Hillary—she doesn’t like us.” “Cruz—I don’t like him.”
“Rubio—is he done for?” “Sanders—oy vey.” “Trump—omigod.”
As for Israel’s own troubles—a
continuing Palestinian campaign of stabbings; evidence that Hamas is rebuilding
its network of terror tunnels under the Gaza border and wants to restart the
2014 war; more than 100,000 rockets and guided missiles in the hands of
Hezbollah—that’s just the Middle East being itself. It’s the U.S. not
being itself that is the real novelty, and is forcing Israel to adjust.
I’ve spent the better part of a
week talking to senior officials, journalists, intellectuals and politicians
from across Israel’s political spectrum. None of it was on the record, but the
consistent theme is that, while the Jewish state still needs the U.S.,
especially in the form of military aid, it also needs to diversify its strategic
partnerships. This may yet turn out to be the historic achievement of Benjamin
Netanyahu’s long reign as prime minister.
On Sunday, Israeli Defense
Minister Moshe Ya’alon publicly shook hands with former Saudi
intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal at the Munich Security
Conference. In January, Israeli cabinet memberYuval Steinitz made a trip to
Abu Dhabi, where Israel is opening an office at a renewable-energy association.
Turkey is patching up ties with Israel. In June, Jerusalem and Riyadh went
public with the strategic talks between them. In March, Egyptian President Abdel
Fatah al-Sisi told the Washington Post that he speaks to Mr. Netanyahu “a
This de facto Sunni-Jewish
alliance amounts to what might be called the coalition of the disenchanted;
states that have lost faith in America’s promises. Israel is also reinventing
its ties to the aspiring Startup Nations, countries that want to develop their
own innovation cultures.
In October, Israel hosted Indian
President Pranab Mukherjee for a three-day state visit; New Delhi,
once a paragon of the nonaligned movement that didn’t have diplomatic ties to
Israel for four decades, is about to spend $3 billion on Israeli arms. Japanese
Prime MinisterShinzo Abe, who is personally close to Mr. Netanyahu, sees
Israel as a model for economic reinvention. Chinese investment in Israel hit
$2.7 billion last year, up from $70 million in 2010. In 2014, Israel’s exports
to the Far East for the first time exceeded those to the U.S.
Then there is Europe—at least
the part of it that is starting to grasp that it can’t purchase its security
in the coin of Israeli insecurity. Greece’s left-wing Prime Minister Alexis
Tsipras used to lead anti-Israel protests. But Greece needs Israeli gas, so
he urges cooperation on terrorism and calls Jerusalem Israel’s “historic
capital.” In the U.K., Prime Minister David
Cameron’s government is moving to prevent local councils from passing
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) measures against Israel.
All this amounts to another Obama
administration prediction proved wrong. “You see for Israel there’s an
increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up,” Mr. Kerry
warned grimly in 2014. “There are talks of boycotts and other kinds of things.
Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100%, cannot be
Except when the likely
alternatives to the lousy status quo are worse. Over the weekend, U.N.
Ambassador Samantha Power came to Jerusalem to preach the virtues of a
two-state solution. Her case would be unarguable if the Palestinian state to be
created alongside Israel were modeled on Costa Rica—democratic, demilitarized,
developing, friendly to outsiders.
But the likelier model is Gaza, or
Syria. Why should Israelis be expected to live next to that? How would that help
actual living Palestinians, as opposed to the perpetual martyrs of left-wing
imagination? And why doesn’t the U.S. insist that Palestinian leaders prove
they are capable of decently governing a state before being granted one?
Those are questions Mr. Obama has
been incapable of asking himself, lest a recognition of facts intrude on the
narrative of a redemptive presidency. But a great power that cannot recognize
the dilemmas of its allies soon becomes useless as an ally, and it becomes
intolerable if it then turns its strategic ignorance into a moral sermon.
More than one Israeli official I
spoke with recalled that the country managed to survive the years before 1967
without America’s strategic backing, and if necessary it could do so again.
Nations that must survive typically do. The more important question is how much
credibility the U.S. can afford to squander before the loss becomes