Tuesday, October 23, 2012

U.S. Interests in the Middle East are Not Identical to Israel's.

Israel owes its existence to the support of the United States. The United States recognized the state of Israel within minutes of its founding. We have provided the military aid that made Israel strong enough to win wars against the combined forces of its neighbor states. We have provided financial aid and opened markets to Israel that allowed the development of its economy. Our government has used its influence to bring peace between Israel and its neighbor states. And Israel remains a strong ally safe under an American military umbrella.

But the United States is the world's indispensable nation. Our most important partner in foreign policy is Europe. We have historic alliances with the United Kingdom and France, huge populations who trace their ancestry back to England, Germany, Italy, Ireland and other European nations. NATO is our most important military alliance. The European Union is hugely important in the economic stability of the world, and our partner in seeking to preserve that stability. They fought with us in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it should be clear that our European allies have huge stakes in North Africa and the Middle East that we must help them protect. For those who did not notice, France, Italy and the United Kingdom played leadership roles in Libya because they had important interests in Libyan stability that they felt the need to protect.

U.S. Interests in Israel's Neighbor States

It is critical for Israel that Egypt honor their peace treaty and protect the southern border of Israel and Gaza from terrorist or militant incursions. Egypt, with the largest population of any Arab state and a traditional intellectual leadership among Arabs, it a critical partner for the United States in maintaining the stability of the region. Its control of the Suez Canal is critical to the economy and energy supplies of our European allies.

Similarly, Israel is concerned that Jordan remain an ally protecting its borders with the Palestinian West Bank from incursions antithetical to Israel's security. Jordan is important to the United States as a demonstration of progress and stability in the Arab world, as well as due to its long borders with Iraq and its role as a safe harbor for refugees from other countries in the region.

Syria too is not only of interest to the United States because of its border with Israel, but also because of its border with Iraq and indeed its border with Turkey. Our role in Syria is complicated by its diplomatic ties to both Iran and Russia, key targets for our foreign policy; the United States must consider the effect of our actions in Syria on our larger interests with Russia, and indeed with our efforts to contain the potential for conflict between Persian, Shiite Iran and its Arab, Sunni neighbors.

Lebanon has long and important ties with France and the United Kingdom, and those U.S. allies share our concern with the stability of Lebanon. We remain concerned with the stability of the Israeli-Lebanese border for the sake of Israel and Lebanon, but also with the stability of the Syrian-Lebanese border for Lebanon's sake.

It is some 20 years ago that Netanyahu first said that Iran would obtain nuclear weapons within five years. His time estimates of the danger from Iran are not reliable. The sanctions are causing grave harm to the Iranian economy, but so too are the economic policies of the Iranian government. One can hope that changes will enable our government to negotiate an agreement that would guarantee that Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons and means of delivering them in the region; at the least, it would seem possible to allow some time for such negotiations to take place.

As President Obama has pointed out, Asia is increasingly important to U.S. foreign policy. Japan has been an important partner for decades; China and India are increasingly important players in the global economy. Pakistan and India are both nuclear powers with a common border and a historical enmity. Pakistan is the indispensable ally in dealing with Afghanistan. Asia depends on European markets and Middle Eastern oil, and thus on the stability of the region. Our interests in that stability coincide importantly with Asia's.

Israel as a small country under terrorist threats concentrates on its own security. The United States as the world's largest military power, with international economic interests deep into the global economy, and with a global network of allies and diplomatic responsibilities has more complex interests at play.

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