Friday 7 September 2012

Four More Years?

As the conventions for the nomination of presidential candidates swing into action, Israeli TV is bombarded with images of American politics at its peak.  It is understandable that Israelis are taking a keen interest in the developments across the Atlantic.  Not only are Israelis generally very well tuned-in to world politics and current affairs, the USA elections hold more than just a passing interest for even the most disinterested Israeli.

The outcome of the American election, and the policies that will accompany the victorious administration, rank among the most important items of interest on the Israeli political calendar.  It is only marginally less important to the Israeli electorate than the outcome of an Israeli domestic election.  Despite the fact that the close ties between Israel and the USA are widely known and understood around the world, it is probably difficult for those not living in Israel to comprehend the full extent of this relationship.  The outcome of the US election could substantially change the nature of the relationship.

The most obvious and public element of this relationship is in the military sphere.  America provides substantial financial help to Israel’s military effort, much of it in the form of loan guarantees.  This is money that is critical to allow Israel to continue to defend her borders.  The money is spent on funding the activities of the army, as well as developing and acquiring arms, weapons and military equipment.   Access to American military hardware is also of vital importance to Israel.  Without this, there are some who believe that Israel’s very existence may be endangered.  Public statements of support and operational support from the USA for Israel’s military activities are also an important part of the relationship.  Although Israel has gone it alone without the USA in the past, and may do so in the future, it is always much easier when the USA is in agreement.  This has never been more clearly in evidence than with the current deliberations over what to do with Iran’s nuclear program.  There is a view that Israel may have acted against the Iranians some time ago if the USA was fully on board.

The US economy is intertwined with that of Israel in many different ways.  Israeli companies are selling substantial volumes of goods and services into the US market.  Many Israeli companies are listed on the America’s NASDAQ stock exchange.  A great deal of American money is invested in Israeli start-up companies, and helps to keep Israeli charities and other institutions alive.  There is no doubt that if America sneezes, Israel catches a cold.

The above are only a few examples out of many that demonstrate how closely the two countries are connected.  And while these examples send a message that the USA is in the supporting role to help Israel, this is not always true.  Having an ally like an Israel, which is the only true democracy in the Middle East, is of essential importance to America and its security needs.  Israel’s technology and military developments as well as its security intelligence act as a source supplying valuable goods and information to the US security establishment.  There can be no doubt that this is a two-way relationship, and that each country is dependent upon the other in different ways.

There were those who predicted from the outset of his presidency, that Barack Obama would not be a good friend to Israel.  How can Israel trust an American president with “Hussein” in his name?  Even his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, found it sufficiently important to pay visits to Israel during his time in office, something that Obama has yet to do.  He has preferred to manage things remotely and intermittently in an inconsistent and disinterested manner.  He has been happy to allow rockets to keep falling from Gaza while encouraging Israel to take “confidence-building” unilateral steps to appease the Palestinians.  He is happy to tolerate calls by Iranian leadership for the destruction of the State of Israel at every public opportunity, and to witness the construction of a deadly nuclear program before his very eyes.  Most problematic of all are his public announcements that he would not support Israeli military action to counter this menacing situation.  These are worrying signs and worrying times.  It is not concerning because Israel is unable to act without America in support. It is worrying because inaction on the part of the free world further emboldens the tyrants, and sends a strong message to them about what can and will be tolerated.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that many Israelis are rooting for Romney.  If the circumstances were different, they would like to support Obama.  He embodies the story of many Jewish families, and of the State of Israel itself.  He is proof that immigrant parents and an underprivileged upbringing need not impede the drive to reach the very top.  Perhaps this is what drove so many US Jews and Israelis to support him at the last election.  While this is a nice story, the issue of Israel’s survival remains uppermost and much more important.  It is for this reason that Israel will be saying that four years has been more than enough.

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