The more things change, the more they stay the same
Op-ed: Don't let the warmer attitude of US Pres. Trump fool you: the US is no more sensitive to Israel's security needs under him than it was under Obama. And just like before, the only way to deal with countries on the brink of nuclear armament is to strike them before they get there.
What former US president Barack Obama started, current President Donald Trump is finishing up. There's actually no difference between the two. Their approach to Israeli interests is virtually identical.
And it actually goes back further than that: on 19 June 2007, then-president Geroge H.W. Bush met with then-prime minister Ehud Olmert. It was the pair's last meeting regarding the Syrian nuclear reactor. Bush mentioned the meeting in his memoir, and depicting himself as "America's first Jewish president," a nickname bestowed on him by his mother due to his longstanding support of Israel.
Jewish or not, Bush was against attacking. The Americans were up to their necks in the failed "nation-building" exercise in Iraq. A war between Syria and Israel would get in their way. Bush much preferred sending the matter over to the United Nations. To dissolve the threat and let Israel go it alone. The splendid relationship was of no help. Israel's interests interested no one else.
A practical joke at our expense
The relationships between the two countries' leaders were less splendid during the Obama years, as were the interests. The final blow was struck with the nuclear deal with Iran.
Obama doesn't live in the White House anymore. We're in the Trump era now; no one is expecting him to be the messiah anymore, as the rhythm remains the same. The Americans aren't going to lift a finger to stop Iran from marching up to the Israeli border in the Golan Heights. The agreement with Syria is born of a clean-cut American interest to not get involved. Israeli interests were never even considered.
Arthur Finkelstein, the American backroom advisor who passed away two weeks ago at the age of 72, was the one who first introduced Israeli politics to the distinction between Jews and Israelis, in 1996.
These two identities lead to tribal voting patterns whenever election season comes around. Finkelstein's and other supporters of the Right identify mainly as Jewish, while the Left mainly identifies as Israeli. In underscoring this distinction, Finkelstein picked at the most painful wound Israel has known since its founding.
Zionism tried manufacturing a new breed of Jew. An Israeli and a Zionist. To leave the old identity of a Jew in the Diaspora by the wayside. This approach had its fair share of problems, but without removing Jews from the exile-centric identity, the country would not have been formed.
Religion was on the fringe within the Zionist movement. Finkelstein—a Diaspora Jew—and his statistical analyses proved the tide has already turned and the trend has changed. He sanctified the Jewish identity over the Israeli one and Netanyahu embraced it.
I only bring up Finkelstein since Trump's rhetoric is pro-Israeli, not pro-Jewish. It is reflected in the actions of US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, who has been fighting international attempts to boycott companies operating beyond the Green Line.
Trump speaks for Israel, promises to move the American embassy to Jerusalem and appoints Zionist Orthodox Jews to key positions in Middle-Eastern affairs. Meanwhile, in reality, he does nothing. Anyone who sees him as the messiah will find he him to be a false prophet. And this is without knowing what his plans are for "the ultimate deal" in the Middle East.
Trump has had a hard time with Jews in America, most of whom are liberals. He's also struggling to fight anti-Semitism. Obama had a hard time with Israelis. In practice, they both do the same thing.
Militarily speaking, the US can wipe out the Iranian nuclear project without risking a counterattack. It's the Sunni countries and Israel that will feel that one. Trump is also capable of wiping out the North Korean regime, albeit at a steeper cost.
In both cases, the decision to not use military force, made in the days of Bush Sr. and Clinton, has become a strategic liability for the US.
Nobody wants to say out loud the only reasonable conclusion: a threat not wiped out militarily cannot be wiped out with agreements. War is a continuation of policy by other means. And when you're dealing with countries on the precipice of nuclear arms, it's the only policy.
It is precisely for this reason that Obama's agreement with Iran is a disaster and the agreement with Syria a strategic oversight. Looking forward, Trump will have no one to blame but himself.
The problem is Israel doesn't seem to have anyone else to blame, either. Netanyahu had an easy time with the Obama-Kerry administration; with them, he could have a love-hate relationship with them. Trump's embrace is far tighter.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It was a meeting aimed at making peace with the status quo. Just like the old candid camera shows, only without the surprise reveal at the end. The Russians have been working with the Iranians and therefore, by proxy, also with Hezbollah. Iran, an enemy nation, will not be posted on our northern border.
Putin knows how to provide maximal coordination, giving his people the word to create supervision mechanisms and airspaces. What he doesn't know, nor wish to know, is how to change the Russian trend of sponsoring Iran and Syria. He has weapons deals and political agreements of a different kind. And, quite frankly, you can't expect anything more of Putin, either.