“We cannot exist alone.” Israel’s national security axiom was acknowledged by President Shimon Peres during an address in November. “For our existence we need the friendship of the United States of America,” he stressed, adding: “It doesn't sound easy, but this is the truth.” It’s not easy for a client-state to admit that its own survival depends on a global patron. It’s even more challenging for leaders of a dependent state to recognize that the great power they are relying on is entering into an imperial twilight time. Inertia and wishful thinking explains why elites the empire’s capital and the provinces continue to share in the misconception about the hegemon’s ability to exert global influence
But after a prolonged “recognition lag” it’s becoming clear that the U.S.is facing the prospects of geostrategic decline. The military is overstretched in two unwinnable wars and a decaying economic base is making it difficult to sustain expansive global commitments. The Unipolar Moment is coming to an end and rising global powers are helping generate a multipolar system.
It seems, however, that Israeli leaders continue to operate under the illusion that the U.S. remains the paramount power. Israeli ultra-nationalists delude themselves that the muddled U.S. policy the Middle East and the its tensions with Israel are temporary, and that when the Republicans return to the White House the hegemon will rise again and together with its Israeli deputy will bring order to the Middle East.
Members of the peace camp, regarding the support of a global patron not as a substitute for integrating Israel in the Middle East – but as an element in a strategy to achieve peace, believe that the role of Washington remains central to a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
During the Cold War and in the brief Unipolar Moment Washington was in a position to work with Israeli and Arab moderates in promoting peace. But that window of opportunity for this U.S. role may be closing.
Washington’s current difficulties in bringing peace to the Holy Land and disabling Iran’s nuclear capability reflect structural problems that are eroding American power. And hey are not going to be resolved anytime soon under either Democratic or Republican presidents.
While the U.S. will not collapse with a bang a la the Soviet Union, it will cease being Number One. Traditional allies of the U.S. like Turkey, Japan and Brazil, are recognizing that and are hedging their strategic bets, maintaining close ties with Washington while trying to form alliances with like-minded regional and global powers.
There is no reason why Israel should not pursue such a “hedging” strategy as it recognizes that U.S. military forces are going to disengage from the Middle East in the future and that the U.S.-Israeli alliance is bound to weaken.
Israeli rightists fantasize that Muslim terrorism would ignite a Clash of Civilizations and Israel would serve as America’s strategic outpost in the Middle East, forever depending on U.S. support for its survival. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has “threatened” Washington that unless it supports his radical Zionist agenda, Israel would ally itself with another global player.
But why would the European Union (EU), Russia, China, India or Turkey be interested in hooking up with a state that brings into the marriage a dowry in the form of the animosity of the entire Arab and Muslim worlds? Israel’s promise as a strategic ally lies in playing a constructive role in sustaining a stable and prosperous region.
No one is suggesting that Israel sue for an instant divorce from Washington and jump into bed with China. But in this period of eroding American unipolarism and budding multipolarity, Israel should start reassessing it options – very much the way its leaders had done in the past.
Chaim Weizmann anticipated the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and made a diplomatic bet on Britain -- a policy that resulted in the Balfour Declaration. Thirty years later, Ben-Gurion recognized that the British Empire was crumbling and took advantage of the evolving Cold War to win support from the Soviet Union and the U.S. for the new Jewish State. In fact, Stalin’s Soviet Union was the even more enthusiastic than the U.S. in supporting the establishment of Israel in 1948.
Israel cannot exist alone. But as an adherent of Realpolitik like Peres recalls from his own experience, interests do change. He was, after all, the architect of the Israeli alliance the French who helped develop its nuclear arsenal. Indeed, Israel’s survival depends on recognizing that international friendships come and go. It doesn't sound easy, but this is the truth.
Leon Hadar is a research fellow at the Cato Institute, a Washington-based think tank.