Sunday, December 8, 2013

Israel at the Crossroads


            I have long believed that an experimentalist should not be unduly inhibited by theoretical untidiness. If he insists in having every last theoretical T crossed before he starts his research the chances are that he will never do a significant experiment. And the more significant and fundamental the experiment the more theoretical uncertainty may be tolerated. By contrast, the more important and difficult the experiment the more that experimental care is warranted. There is no point in attempting a half-hearted experiment with an inadequate apparatus.

Biographical Memoirs, Robert Henry Dicke
May 6, 1916-March 4, 1997


The Iranian revolution of 1979 brought forth a great schism between the United States and that religiously fervid theocracy.   And now the Obama administration is trying to achieve d├ętente with a country that has viewed America as the “Great Satan” for the past 34 years.  A nation that, in 1979, violated the international rules of diplomacy by imprisoning US diplomats and is still driven by religious zealotry and intolerance.

Whether the American gambit on the geo-strategic chessboard will be successful is one of those questions being debated at the highest levels of government and, at the same time, is causing a great deal of angst among American Jewry, especially conservatives, most of whom now believe, along with the Netanyahu government that Israeli abandonment is the soupe de jour.
American interests and Israeli interests, in many respects, are diverging.  The United States, realizing, after Iraq, that it is almost powerless to alter events in the Arab world, is seeking to get off the road and let the actors involved determine the hegemonic outcome.   Israel, dependant on American military force is possibly facing existential threats from places that may no longer be controlled by American military power.

Strange times, these.   Israel is in alliance against Iran with Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and Egypt, now again a military dictatorship over 83 million people.   The religious feuds between Shia and Sunni smolder deeply.   These divisions have endured for 1,400 years and now have arisen to the surface of a world still militarily weaker than the United States, but increasingly less subject to its influence.   The colonialism of the British, French and Germans, who divided amongst themselves, the Arab and African worlds no longer exists.  It has vanished with the Raj that left India and Pakistan to their own antipathies. 

The bipolar power struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union provided a type of stability that has faded away with the twentieth century.  States that were the clients of the two former hegemons are now free to set their own agendas, which no longer include the seeking of a protective umbrella from either the United States or the Russians, but do aspire for military support from the great powers against each other. (Iran and Egypt)  Our policy makers are now forced into the continual dilemma of who to support and picking the winner is not our great attribute.

Those who think that extra US aircraft carriers and bombs are the solution for our problems of loss of influence are deluding themselves in a haze of Theodore Rooseveltian reverie.  Most conservatives long for the past, but it is never to return.
 
Instead, we are engaged in a world struggle for the minds of the newly empowered, tweeting, and disaffected youth of countries that have their own agendas that do not necessarily coincide with ours.  Israel is not one of them--they are with us. This empowerment has upset the world order, and the great powers are struggling to devise a foreign policy that, to some extent, is mired in the past.  

New foreign policy in the United States is attempting to move past the old order.  "The forces of freedom against the forces of totalitarianism."   Existential angst against interests that no longer believe in the same definition of "threat." 

Our hope is that Iran, a nation of 70 million people and more than half of who are under 35 years of age, will move toward democracy.  The same for Egypt, but possibly less likely.  In examining the education level of the Iranian population, one could hope that reform will be swifter than we think.  Young, educated people are increasingly secular, and more susceptible to democratic ideals than the ignorance and superstition peddled by the Ayatollahs.  The present "faith based" Iran is reminiscent of 15th century Europe before the enlightenment, of Marxism before the collapse of the Soviet Union, and even Nazism.  The latter two "isms” being religions of their own.

This enunciates a new reality for Americans, especially Jewish ones, who fear that any departure from the U.S.-Israel alliance constitutes the seeds of destruction for the Jewish State, which should perhaps pay more heed to the internal forces that threaten its existence:  Ultra Orthodox zealotry, continued occupation of the territories, expansion of settlements and the possible incorporation of a very likely, due to higher birth rate, Arab majority into the Israeli body politic should Israel annex the west bank, which seemingly is the intention of the Likud government as evidenced by the expansionism in the settlements.   These settlements are clear evidence of religious zealotry among the ultra Orthodox, who claim, without pretense, that God gave them the land of Judea and Samaria.   Therein lies the existential threat to Israel.

Even, however, if Israel cedes the territories and settlements or does land swaps for peace, there is no guarantee that the arrangement will bear fruit, because the forces that are now sweeping the Arab world are not really concerned with Israel.   They are concerned with promoting Shiite or Sunni prevalence.  They are engaged in a cultural/religious war, advancing their concept of Allah to the denigration of the other tribe whose Allah is not as genuine as the other's Allah.  It is not fanciful to say that generations may pass before the issue is resolved.

And now throw another ingredient into this nasty ragout--the incipient complete energy independence of the United States, making its need for middle east oil diminished to perhaps disruption of the entire OPEC economies; perhaps necessitating their own reformation, in education, the rights of women and in globalization.

All these forces render the problem seemingly more insoluble than the cold war.  It is an increasingly distressing picture that defies even the most creative of minds, except perhaps those who advance the dubious solution of bare American power, a cascade of bombings and war to bring all these forces to heel.  On the other hand, those of us who have lived long enough can remember the days when the Soviet monolith threatened to envelop the world in a wicked blanket of communism.