by Mudar Zahran
It is no secret that the Obama administration has had a very difficult relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Nevertheless, Israel has become more vital to American interests than ever
For some time, there have been voices within U.S. intellectual and academic circles that question how vital Israel is to the U.S. Some openly wonder whether Israel has done anything good for the U.S., or if Israel is actually important at all to American national interests. Such voices, while few, still manage to utilize a very effective anti-Israeli propaganda machine, for example the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, as well as some academic institutions that have chosen to turn themselves into enemies of the Jewish state. Their main argument is: What do we need Israel for?
Of course, those voices get a lot of support from us, the Arabs. We Arabs have been claiming for seven decades now that Israel is the source of all evil. Some of our rulers have been saying this to the Western media for decades. Basically, we claim that if Israel disappears, our lives will become wonderful and iPhones will grow on the trees in our backyards.
Nonetheless, facts on the ground suggest that these claims could not be further from the truth. Let's see why.
It is no secret that the Obama administration has had a very difficult relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Nevertheless, Israel has become more vital to American interests than ever, for the following reasons:
First, Iran has been expanding its power in the region, as a result of decades of intelligence work and recently because of unprecedented U.S. tolerance for it. While the U.S. is negotiating with Iran, one of the U.S.'s leverage points is the fact that it is keeping Israel from launching a pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, as Israel did to Saddam Hussein's reactor in 1981. Whether we agree with the usefulness of U.S. negotiations with Iran, one thing remains certain: The U.S. would have had a much weaker negotiating position had it not been for Iran's fear of a looming Israeli strike.
Further, with the Islamic State beast expanding in the region, many of the U.S.'s closest Arab allies could fall easily under Islamic State's sway if not for Israel. For example, given that Islamic State sympathizers have a base in southern Jordan, and control Jordan's border with Iraq and almost a third of Jordan's border with Syria, why is Islamic State not attacking Jordan? It knows it will have to face Israel if it harms Jordan's security, because Israel will not tolerate Islamic State in Jordan and threatening the Jordanian-Israeli border.
In addition, Islamic State would not dare make advances to southern Syria toward the Golan Heights, again, knowing that this would draw Israeli opposition. Instead, it has focused its operation far from Israel and into north-central Syria and western Iraq. This has limited Islamic State operations to particular areas and kept some of the U.S.'s most important allies safe.
It is true that the U.S. has the strongest military on the planet, and some of the most dedicated, patriotic and well-trained soldiers. But Israel has the regional experience, the know-how and the stamina to keep Islamic State at bay and fight it if necessary.
While the U.S. has many militarily strong Arab allies, those allies lack the one thing Israel has -- democracy. This means that you never know who will be in power tomorrow in those countries. Nor could the U.S. guarantee their stances toward it or toward terrorists. Today's moderate dictator could always wake up tomorrow and decide to go to war. Let's not forget that Saddam had been America's ally until the very morning he invaded Kuwait.
With unrest, chaos and uncertainty sweeping the Middle East, Israel remains one of the very few stable, strong and predictable American allies in the region.
As for us Arabs, while most of our governments would not admit it, we know that Israel is the only Levant force capable of keeping Iran at bay. Iran has strong control over Iraq and the Syrian regime, and as a result, both countries are a mess today. We Arabs can also see the brutality with which Iran's militias have fought the Sunni Muslim Arabs in Syria and Iraq, and how Iran has been trying to destabilize the peaceful kingdom of Bahrain. It is in our best interest to have Israel around as it would actually walk the walk when it comes to confronting Iran's ghoulish ambitions for controlling our region, which we cannot confront alone. And thus we might someday find ourselves in a direct open alliance with Israel to fight it.
At the same time, Arab Muslims in the region know that if, God forbid, Islamic State becomes stronger than it already is, Israel is the only party capable of stepping in and destroying or at least limiting their advances.
Some Arab governments already realize that Israel is a necessity. We might hate Israel -- we might curse it day and night -- but that does not mean our intellectuals and sane ones want it gone, as each area that Israel leaves falls under chaos, trouble and even Iranian influence, be it in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip or the West Bank.
Let's not get confused here -- we Arabs are most likely going to keep hating Israel and Jews for decades to come. Still, we may have reached the point where we publicly admit that Israel is a better partner than our so-called Muslim brothers in Iran, Syria or elsewhere.
After all, a strong Israel has never threatened us without a provocation, while Iran is burning up Syria, dismembering Lebanon and destabilizing Bahrain. Iran would also be threatening Saudi Arabia from Yemen, were it not for the tough and pragmatic Saudi deputy crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, who decided to lead the fight on Iran's militias there.
An Iranian expansion into Arab states would destroy us Arabs and severely damage American interests and national security. Israel is now the only sane regional power capable of stopping Iran. Iran knows this and thus has limited its harassment of both Arabs and the U.S.
If Israel were to disappear tomorrow, Iran would be in Jordan, Bahrain and even Kuwait the next morning.
We Arabs, along with some Americans, can demonize Israel all we want, but deep down we know we are lucky to have Israel around at such a critical time. We have to admit that, as much as we may not wish to do so.
American voters, taxpayers and legislators should also realize that supporting Israel means supporting the U.S.'s interests to the fullest.
Mudar Zahran is a Jordanian-Palestinian who resides in the U.K.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.