In nobody’s pocket

image001Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman left little doubt last week that there’s a cogent reason behind Israel’s silence on the Russian-Ukrainian dispute. Israel wasn’t inadvertently remiss. It consciously chose not to take sides in one of the more acerbic East-West confrontations since the Cold War.

This neutral stance, however, didn’t earn Israel instant accolades. The US State Department, for example, is far from pleased. Its spokeswoman Jen Psaki told the press that “we were surprised Israel did not join the vast majority of countries that voted to support Ukraine’s territorial integrity in the United Nations” on March 27. Israel pointedly stayed away from the vote which called on all states and international organizations not to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Liberman made it clear that this was no transitory position but an expression of deliberate policy. All this has brought to the fore a quandary which last plagued Israel in the 1950s, when the Cold War was at its hottest. It was then far from clear that Israel should automatically align itself with every American standpoint.

A curious coalition of Left and Right proposed that Israel retain an independent stance and play its cards as it sees fit, despite its acute needs and vulnerabilities at the time. This was what both Communist Moshe Sneh and his ideological adversary Yitzhak Shamir recommended, along with others of their respective camps who shared their views.

Then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion decreed otherwise and since then Israel has been routinely taken for granted as unquestionably in America’s pocket. To be fair, that was where Israel felt most comfortable in terms of it system of beliefs and this was considerably before America showed any inclination to commit to Israel materially.

Nevertheless, now may be the time to demonstrate a bit more nonpartisanship.

This isn’t because we share fewer values with America or because we had discovered the hitherto unrecognized allure of Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. Quite the contrary.

All the same, maintaining the best possible (under the circumstances) relations with Russia may be the best for Israel at this particular timeframe. Israel’s relations with Moscow are quite good currently and it would make no sense for Israel to robotically join the anti-Putin chorus just to impress the US and EU.

Not every American policy has proven itself as above reproach. America erred egregiously in our region – from its embrace of the misnamed Arab Spring to its attitudes toward Turkey and Iran. It played a detrimental role both in Egypt and Syria and we will not even enter the mire of American strategy vis-à-vis Ramallah and Gaza.

On all the above Israel didn’t toe the American line and there is no denying that Israel’s judgment was repeatedly vindicated.

At least in theory Israel must diversify its orientations.  Ours is no longer the bi-polar world ruled by two superpowers. From Israel’s vantage point there are no outright substitutes for America. The flipside of the coin, though, is that in the current configuration the goodness of the good guys is a bit less obvious and the bad guys are not quite as unapproachable and as sinister as their predecessors.

For one thing, we do these days have sustainable diplomatic relations with Moscow and these have yielded in several key instances beneficial understandings for Israel. Russia isn’t the outright enemy that the Soviet Union once had been.

International relations shouldn’t be determined on the basis of sentiment. Washington surely didn’t exude gratitude for the steadfast loyalty of the Mideast’s sole democracy.

Israel would only be prudent to not allow itself to be taken for granted. In cases where no conflict of absolute good and evil features, some maneuvering may be a good thing even if it nets no immediate gain.

There is no shame in taking advantage for now of Putin’s evident aim to restore his country’s superpower status. It would be a worthwhile gambit even if we win nothing more than a bit more time and some limited leverage.

There would be no pain for Jerusalem to occasionally signal Washington that Israel’s allegiance isn’t always for free.

9 thoughts on “In nobody’s pocket

  1. And has the USA been “surprised” also by Ukraine’s voting record at the UN on the countless occasions when that body has organised diplomatic terrorism against Israel; for example when the UN flouted rules of international diplomacy in order to strike a blow against Israel.

  2. Couldn’t agree more with you. It also means that allies such as America shouldn’t take Israel for granted and treat our People with a little more respect and gravitas.

  3. Hopefully Putin will keep Obama & Kerry busy for the rest of their 2,5 years term…LOL !!!
    Obama did NOTHING in favour of Israel, to put it mildly !
    Liberman is right of course…

  4. Both sides have extremists who lean toward some type of neo-nazism. The new Ukraine government has taken steps to control it’s extremists, how convenient after Svoboda thugs spearheaded the street fights that overthrew the previous government. Too little too late?

    The US managed to blow $5 billion promoting democracy in Ukraine (since the Orange Revolution, which cost a mere $60 million). However simple democracy is purely mechanical and consists of manipulating enough voters to get 50% plus 1. Two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner?

    Instead the IRI should be more ideologically oriented, toward liberty instead of just simple democracy. IRI has helped with liberty camps when the local manager happens to be liberty-leaning and circumstances are right, though IRI policy is generally against that. Recipients of US assistance should be vetted for their political reliability, and authoritarian types should be screened out.

    Further, the US should not incite locals to rebel or attack when they are in the weaker position. The US needs to sell weak allies the weapons they need to counter tanks and warplanes.

    Concerning the role of Russia and the historical/ideological context, this is explained in my magnum opus, “World History and the Role of Russia; from a classical libertarian perspective”.

  5. If I remember correctly, America was against Israel’s involvement in the 1956 Suez crisis. Israeli military action in that episode resulted one or two things that benefited Israel, at no cost to the USA. Israel benefitted then from independent action, and will benefit now from staying out of the resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of the Crimea. Israel is right on target with this stance; and so is Sarah’s article.

    • Back in 1967, a gigantic American army was fighting for South Vietnam and an American ship was spying on Israel during the Six Days war…oh well.

    • At the time, US President Eisenhower made grave threats against Israel and pressured Israel to abandon the fruits of victory.
      The USA, Britain and France, however, gave Israel undertakings about freedom of navigation, which Egypt had been denying to Israel.
      In May 1967, when Egypt resumed its illegal conduct against Israeli shipping, those Western “guarantors” “forgot” their solemn promise.
      Years later, retired President Eisenhower admitted that he had made a mistake in pressuring Israel.

  6. Not only the US, but all nations who blindly support the mob-rule takeover of the the Ukrainian government in Kiev are in error, and in the end, will need to retract this unconditional support if a bloodbath, or a third world war is to be averted. Some new constitutional arrangement needs to be installed, that recognizes the needs of all parties, including Russia. Demonization of Putin, who though no angel, is a Russian patriot through and through, will bear no fruit. The entire eastern part of Ukraine voted to elect Yanukovich’s party. Why would a citizen of Crimea want to remain a citizen of Ukraine when he sees what his vote is worth in Kiev, and Washington? Israel needs to tread a careful path of sensibility and neutrality that may eventually lead to happier results for all concerned.

  7. Thanks Sarah, very interesting. I missed seeing this in JPost for some reason 🙂

    With the current government, of Wackos in Washington, it would be hard to argue that it would be wise to follow their line 🙂

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