When Benjamin Netanyahu meets Barack Obama today, he should be focus on the one existential threat Israel faces. No, I don’t mean Iran. Remember Iran does not have a nuclear bomb, nor the means to deliver it, and despite their rhetoric, no Iranian leader is willing to risk the destruction of their own country (not to mention their regime) just to threaten the Jewish state. Everybody from Tel Aviv to Tehran knows any Iranian nuclear attack on Israel would be met with devastating retaliation.
No the threat I am talking about is the loss of its superpower ally. Israel has long taken US support for granted. Because of its powerful lobbying machine, Congress and the President continue to bend over backwards to give Israel what it wants. But after two futile wars in the Middle East in less than a decade, the American people have little desire for further adventure and almost no one sees a nuclear Iran as a genuine threat to the United States. The US military especially is not interested in making sacrifices to serve Israel’s interests. When I was filming in Iraq in 2007, more than one US soldier told me they blamed Israel for our involvement in a war they viewed as pointless.
The American people’s affection for Israel is, I think, much more tenuous than it seems. A few years ago, after spending several months in the West Bank and Gaza, covering the second intifada, I returned to New York, convinced that my country’s support for Israel was contrary to its own interests. I decided that I would not be timid in expressing these views. Since I enjoy the occasional cocktail, I would often find myself sitting on a barstool, lambasting Israel’s settlements policy to the stranger beside me. I expected to get into fistfights. Instead, my newfound friends almost inevitably agreed with me. Indeed, usually they would tell me my opinions were too moderate. To up the stakes, I started wearing a Yasser Arafat t-shirt I bought at the PLO Flag Shop in Gaza. I expected dirty looks, but instead people would run up to me to say “cool shirt’ and ask me where they could get one.
These experiences have led me to the view that even if the US government supports Israel at all times, even if the US media supports Israel at all times, the American people really don’t. This should not be so surprising. It is hard to root for the tank against a boy with a stone.
If you attend a pro-Palestinian rally in New York, many of the participants will be Jewish. Israel, with its militaristic policies and its long occupation of Palestinian lands, offends the liberal sensibilities of many younger Jews, who are often less pro-Israel as their parents. The average age at the meetings of the influential pro-Israel lobby Aipac is close to 70. Israel needs the love of the Jewish Diaspora. Its intransigence is beginning to dissipate that support.
If Israel attacks Iran, Americans will pay the cost, in blood in Afghanistan and across the Middle East, at the petrol pump at home. They will look for someone to blame. I suspect they will blame Israel. For its own sake, Israel needs to stop taking American support for granted. They will be shocked at how easily it could disappear. A bombing raid on Iran could well be the trigger for an American reassessment of the costs and benefits of its unbridled support for Israel and in the long run that is a much bigger threat to the survival of the Jewish state than any Iranian reactor.