By Marwaan Bishara
There are a number of reasons why Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, decided not to attend the nuclear summit hosted by Barack Obama, the US president.
They include deteriorating relations with the US over expanding illegal Jewish settlements on occupied lands, a frozen ‘peace process’, and just bad chemistry between the rightist Israeli leader and the liberal US president.
But more importantly there is no good reason for the Israeli leader to attend. As one of the few countries that developed nuclear weapons and refuse to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Israel has nothing to gain and much to lose.
Considering its serious breaches, Israel has little to contribute to US efforts on the nuclear front, except to make the concessions it is least willing to. Rather, Israel has been aggressively making threats against Iran which it accuses of developing nuclear weapons. One end, two means Netanyahu's indifference towards the summit and Obama personally, conceals deeper differences between Israel and the US.While both would like to see Iran's nuclear programme scrapped, and all nuclear materials kept away from their enemies, they differ on how best to accomplish nuclear security. Unlike his predecessor, Obama does not see eye to eye with Israel on the primacy of force in international relations. Since his election, Obama has been consistent in his attempts to build international consensus or at least wide coalitions instead of resorting to unilateral military threats and force. He relies mostly, but not exclusively, on negotiations and dialogue – bilateral and multilateral – to advance US global security and its geopolitical agenda.Israel, however, has been consistent in resorting to the use of force to deal with security challenges, especially what it perceives to be nuclear threats. It attacked Iraqi nuclear reactors in 1981, bombed Syrian installations two years ago and is suspected of assassinating nuclear scientists. And it would rather see the US destroy Iran's nuclear programme than slap it with another round of sanctions. From asset to burden During the Cold War, Israel's nuclear capability was highly valued in terms of its strategic utility as a deterrent to the Soviet Union and its allies in the Middle East. No US government had ever seriously questioned Israel's refusal to sign the NPT or its secret nuclear weapons programme which was developed with help from France between the mid-1950s and the 1960s. However, as Obama spoke of a world free of nuclear weapons and went on to sign a new Start document with Russia, Israel's destabilising nuclear weapons and its aggressive stance on dealing with nuclear challenges have become a burden on the US administration. No less because many US partners in the greater Middle East would want it to apply pressure on Israel to join the NPT and abide by its international obligations. I presume the US understands all too well that it cannot mount any serious effort at curbing both Iran's nuclear programme and establishing a strong global nuclear security regime without, sooner rather than later, tackling the Israeli conundrum. Good riddance While Netanyahu's last minute decision not to attend the summit might be seen as problematic or rude, it is also comforting for the Obama administration. His attendance would have been a terrible distraction, considering there is much at stake for the Obama administration in terms of nuclear and other strategic issues of concern to US foreign policy.As Obama pushes forward more pragmatic and realistic foreign and security policies, Israel will continue to feel left out. No less because the US, the world's superpower, and Israel, its strategic dependent, do not by nature of their size and capacity see security challenges the same way.Moreover, they are in denial over the nature of their strategic relationship. Israel denies its four decades of utter dependency on the US. Alas, for mostly domestic political reasons, Washington enforces Israel's false claim that it cannot (vs. will not!) coerce Israel to pay heed to its (and its partners) regional security needs. As Israel boasts security independence and claims that Israel and Israel alone decides its security policy, the US is feeling the heat in the rest of the region. Between the cynic and gullible Does that mean the disagreement, nuclear and strategic, between the US and Israel is ruining their special relationship? Of course not.On the other hand, is the US-Israel disagreement, as the cynics argue, mere theatrics used to boost US credibility in the greater Middle East region and indeed the world? Certainly not. As usual, the truth, or at least the facts, lies between the two extremes.While US-Israeli relations remain solid, they are going through a major strategic transformation that requires the lowering of Israel's expectations. As the US assembled the most impressive international gathering this week to deal with its (and Israel's) nuclear challenges, notably from Iran and non-state (Middle Eastern) actors, Israel had the most to benefit from it all while watching from the sidelines. One can only watch with bewilderment Israel's indifference towards Obama when the US president brought the Russians, and reportedly the Chinese, on board to support another round of sanctions against Iran, kept Israel's nemeses (Iran and Syria) away from the summit, and kept Israel's nuclear weapons off its agenda. Eventually however, the Obama administration will see its impressive drive lose momentum, at least in the Middle East, unless it deals heads on with Israel and its nuclear weapons.
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