Sunday, June 6, 2010

Israel's Risk to US Interests


If you're a reader of George Friedman (or other realist geopolitical academics), you'll tend towards the idea that one of the United States' paramount interests is to prevent a single geopolitical entity (or coalition) from amassing enough economic and military power to challenge it (this has been true since about the turn of the 20t century, when the US became the foremost power in the world). This was why World Wars I and II were important to the US (to stop Germany from conquering the continent), and why the Cold War was so critical (to prevent the Soviets from doing the same). Once a force amasses enough military power, it can potentially challenge US trade dominance, or even cross the ocean and challenge the US near its borders.

The US is further interested in preventing unity in the Middle East. If the Middle East united in a form similar to the Ottoman Empire, it might be powerful enough to potentially challenge the US. Not only would it be highly populous, but it would have vast oil resources and central trading position (between Europe & Asia). It would be a great strategic threat to US hegemony.

Israel, whether or not it has the moral upper-hand in the Middle East conflict, is becoming a risk to US interests due to Middle Eastern perceptions of its behavior as of late. For decades, the states of Egypt & Turkey (in particular), as well as Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, have recognized Israel and, generally, supported its existence (despite their populations' general distaste for the Israel/Palestine situation).

But the past few months have made these governments' support of Israel a politically risky gambit. Public outrage towards the deadly pre-election Gaza offensive, settlement-building in Jerusalem, and the recent raid on a supply flotilla trying to break the Gaza blockade have further soured perceptions of Israel. Its image as an aggressive, revisionist state is growing somewhat stronger.

The US must play carefully. If it comes out to support Israeli action, it may encourage the Arabs to unite to deter Israel from further action in Gaza, the West Bank, southern Lebanon, or (potentially) Iran. If these states united against Israel, they might start feeling strong enough to oppose the US (rather than begrudgingly embracing it). The United States' interest is in keeping the Middle East divided and internally distracted--not united and outward-looking.

If the Israeli government does not change the tenor of its policies, it may begin to become a liability to the US. The US, in response, would try to distance itself publicly, while placing pressure on Israel to move towards peace negotiations.

In the near future, look either for a major shift in Israeli policy towards Gaza and Jerusalem, or a gradual (but noticeable) distancing of relations between the US and Israel, as the US tries to prevent a unity coalition from arising in the Middle East.
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