Home/Daniel Larison/The Stunt and the Dysfunctional U.S.-Israel Relationship

The Stunt and the Dysfunctional U.S.-Israel Relationship

Richard Cohen warns about another “existential threat” to Israel that doesn’t exist:

Iran may or may not be the existential threat to Israel that Netanyahu insists it is. But a lessening of U.S. support for Israel certainly would be [bold mine-DL]. With an indifferent America, Israel would become a lonely, frightening place.

That’s almost certainly not true. If it is true that America doesn’t need Israel, as Cohen acknowledges, it is equally true that Israel doesn’t really need America. Whether it became a “lonely, frightening place” or not would depend for the most part on how it chose to govern itself and how it chose to behave in relation to its neighbors. That is up to Israelis to decide, and none of that has been foreordained. If it didn’t have the U.S. as a patron, Israel would likely be just as secure because of its great conventional and nuclear superiority in the region, but it might just be less intransigent and heavy-handed in its dealings with surrounding peoples because it would know that there would be no superpower guaranteed to bail it out in a jam. (If anyone thinks that decades of U.S. enabling of Israeli behavior have helped to restrain it in any way, I have a bridge to sell you.)

At the very least, less reflexive support from Washington would help to remind the client government that it can’t take U.S. backing for granted, and so it would therefore probably be more careful to cultivate a good relationship with the U.S. That would involve paying more attention to American preferences and not going to such lengths to undermine American policies. That would make for something of a more normal relationship between the two governments.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there is much chance that today’s spectacle will make U.S. support for Israel any less reflexive, nor will it cause future Israeli governments to believe that U.S. backing can’t be taken for granted. All indications are that the administration is making a point of papering over this dispute and doing what it can to keep the damage to a bare minimum. Despite the unprecedented and outrageous behavior from Netanyahu today, the relationship seems likely to remain just as remarkably dysfunctional and lopsided as it has been for decades. That is undesirable for both countries, but then a relationship this unhealthy was never going to be improved so quickly thanks to one leader’s political stunt.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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