Moriel Editorial of the Week: President Herzog & President Biden

An Exercise In Two Presidential Realities

The Israeli President Chaim Herzog recently indicated that Israel should take an independent strategic position concerning Iran. It is somewhat unusual for a sitting President to make such policy remarks. But the gravity of the situation engenders that unprecedented actions must take place given the existential nature of the Iranian threat. Herzog further implied that Israel should expect to act independent of her chief ally - the United States. Herzog has gone to great lengths to galvanize and shore up support for taking a tough line on Iranian nuclear negotiations. When Herzog met with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, he urged the Premier that Israel was on the cusp of a state of emergency in light of the close proximity of Iran to proliferate nuclear weapons. Ahead of his visit, Herzog published a column in The Sunday Telegraph calling for more robust action against the threat of Iran's nuclear weapons program. He wrote: "Iran does not want dialogue...It is exploiting the world's willingness to negotiate to buy time. Israel cannot allow the fundamentalists of Tehran to acquire a nuclear bomb. The moderate nations of the Middle East need their allies, including Britain, to engage them in an urgent dialogue on how to stop Iran instead of wasting time on its games". According to the Jewish Chronicle Herzog asked Boris Johnson to leave 'all options on the table' when dealing with the Iranian government over their nuclear programme.

However Israel has received pushback from the Biden administration. The New York Times reported that Biden Administration officials have warned Israel that its continued strikes on Iran’s nuclear program are “counterproductive”. While blowing up centrifuges and taking facilities temporarily offline might be “tactically satisfying,” the report cited the US officials as saying that for Israel to do so is “ultimately counterproductive". The Americans emphasized that in nearly every episode of purported Israeli action, the Iranians quickly rebounded and returned ever stronger and even closer to their aim of producing a nuclear weapon. The report stated that Israeli officials rejected Washington’s warning and stressed that the Jewish state has no intention of backing off. Bennett told reporters: “No matter what happens between Iran and the world, Biden seems willing to tolerate Iran having the status of a nuclear threshold state, similar to nations like Japan that are able to quickly assemble nuclear weapons should they so desire. On this point former ambassador Michael Oren wrote in an op-ed for The Times of Israel: “While the United States can live with an Iran that has the ability to make a bomb but doesn’t do so, Israel simply cannot”. The BBC news further elaborates well: 'Even without ever producing “the bomb,” an Iran that reaches threshold status would alter the balance of power in the Middle East by providing a viable, if potential nuclear deterrent for itself and all its proxies. Taking action against Iranian aggression would suddenly become a far more perilous endeavor...Lastly, for Iran to reach threshold status would prompt a number of rival Sunni Arab states to do the same, sparking a nuclear arms race in one of the most unstable regions in the world'.

Indeed, Iran has been making strategic advancements via their proxies, the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Their position on the edge of the Arabian peninsula gives Iran substantial coastal control of the Arabian Sea, and potentially threatens Oman due to the Iranian Shia hatred of Sunni governments. Longer term Iran could presumably acquire effective terrestrial control of both sides of the Straits of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. Such military calculations are buttressed and emboldened by the perceived impotence of Biden's administration, following de facto surrender to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Shia radicalism interprets this loss of US influence as a sign that Allah is giving the Muslims victory in the Jihad against the 'great satan' America. In a comparable vein Russia and China estimate a similar approximation of US declining influence in the region , deriving from Bidedn's policy failres, as a matter of good fortune. They have moved in together with Iran and Pakistan to form a quadripartite alliance for stabilizing Afghanistan within the scope of their own world view, rather than within the ambit of western interests. Further afield Putin is emboldened to take ever increasing infringements on Ukraine's sovereignty, and China likewise encroaches on Taiwan's airspace by frequent military flights.

As US power and influence declines in the Middle East, China and Russia have been moving in to fill the void. Even staunch US allies like Israel have consequently been courting Chinese initiatives involving commerce and trade. In opposition to US interests, Israel has begun accepting direct Chinese investments in its core infrastructure. Such projects are rumoured to include expansion of the Haifa port to accommodate increased activity from newly discovered offshore gas and oil reserves. Moreover, Israel has been emphasizing diplomatic negotiation and compromise with Russia, rather than adopting the traditionally harsh US tone it mimicked in the past. Israel has effectively given Russia a free hand in propping up Assad's regime in Syria.
In terms of immediacy, Russia is a more likely candidate for subjecting the West to an imminent hostile attack (probably due to the standoff in Ukraine flaring, and spilling over into the EU). But in terms of framing an international agenda of geo-politics and global governance that is geared towards profiting Chinese interests, then in the long term China constitutes a bigger challenge. It potentially has the economic capacity to dominate relationships with more countries than the US has, thus unseating Washington hegemony. However, China has under-reported very serious internal economic perils that could obstruct its international agena, and notably China has become outspokenly critical of Israel in the international arena, probably in order to placate its interests with Iran..

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