Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel this week turned out to be a major diplomatic flop for the White House. The Obama administration was hoping to renew peace negotiations between the Jewish state and Mahmoud Abbas’ West Bank Palestinians, but ended up in a rather embarrassing position.
In the middle of Biden’s stay, the Israeli Interior Ministry gave the stamp of approval for new settlements in East Jerusalem, an act that torpedoed the White House reconciliation initiative. Over the course of two decades, the talks have never gone anywhere anyway, but that is not the point.
Biden’s trip was touted as a US-Israel love fest. He went out of his way to remind the press that alignment with Tel Aviv "has been and will continue to be the centerpiece of American policy." Appearing upon arrival with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Biden also remarked on how it was "good to be home." And we thought the man was from Scranton! Yet the Vice President didn’t get anything in return for all this obsequious behavior. Rather, the Israeli government undermined his agenda in a very public fashion by giving the green light to further settlements.
After being made to look ridiculous, Biden then had this to say:
"I, at the request of President Obama, condemned it immediately and unequivocally...Sometimes only a friend can deliver the hardest truth."
It's so good to be home, my friends!
It’s doubtful that Netanyahu and his cabinet value their good friend Joe’s advice. Apparently Tel Aviv enjoys such an unassailable influence on US policy that it feels safe openly mocking its patron. The Israelis will do exactly as they please, both inside the Beltway and on the Levant.
Meanwhile, Israel also seems to be moving inexorably toward a military strike against the Iranian nuclear program. Danny Ayalon, Tel Aviv’s deputy foreign minister, just declared there’s only two months left for diplomatic negotiations with Tehran. He didn’t state what measures the Israelis would employ after this time, but it’s rather obvious what was implied. There have also been several meetings between the IDF General Staff and the US Joint Chiefs regarding action against Iran over the past month. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has justifiably advised caution in considering the use of force:
"I worry a great deal about the unintended consequences of a strike that are pretty hard to be specific about in a pretty volatile region that’s pretty hard to predict”.
Any plan for “limited” action aimed specifically at Tehran’s nuclear sites would likely make for a quick slide into wider regional war. First, the US military would act to neutralize Iranian naval defenses before Tehran could respond in the Persian Gulf. Then there’s the matter of the actual sites- this is no Osirak Reactor circa 1981. To substantively degrade Iran’s nuclear capability, Israel would basically need the US to do the heavy lifting over the course of several days, if not longer. Logistics and targeting requirements for a complex network of facilities (and air defenses) widely dispersed throughout the country would make this logical, at least from the Israeli point of view. What defies logic is that America is on the verge of being drawn into an attack on Iran for Tel-Aviv’s sake.
The “unintended consequences” Mullen mentioned are not difficult to foresee. The Iranians could respond by mining the Persian Gulf (to send oil prices sky high), carrying out terrorist operations through Hezbollah’s worldwide network, and making life even more unpleasant for US troops who occupy neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan. But two pointless and costly interventions in the Middle East are just not enough- it looks like a third war will be added to the mix, and no one knows how disastrous the outcome might be.
The fact that Biden was played for a fool over the settlements and Ayalon’s helpful release of a new timeline for Iran should make it clear who calls the shots in the US-Israeli relationship. Plenty of interested parties in Washington, from the neocons to the liberal hawks, as well as powerful lobby groups like AIPAC and JINSA, wouldn’t have it any other way.