American-Israeli relations: US still Israel's best friend but no longer country's only friend

Late last month the United States introduced a U.N. resolution condemning Russia’s de facto seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. As expected, the resolution passed the General Assembly easily. Unexpected, though, was the decision by Israel, long America’s most reliable U.N. vote (and vice versa), to absent itself from the ballot.

This shook up the Obama administration. National Security Adviser Susan Rice met with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and demanded an explanation. Lieberman blandly blamed it on a strike at the foreign ministry. What was he supposed to do, ask Israeli diplomats to cross a picket line?


At home he was more candid. “We have good, trusting relations with the Americans and the Russians,” he told a TV interviewer. “I don’t see why we need to get caught up in this.” General Amos Gilad, a senior figure in the Ministry of Defense, seconded this new, even-handed approach. “Our security interests should not be defined as identical to that of anyone else, even the United States,” he said.

Ha’aretz, a left-wing Israeli newspaper, reported that White House officials “nearly went crazy” with shock and anger when they heard such ungrateful sentiments.

If so, Rice and her colleagues haven’t been paying close attention. Israel is no longer an impoverished, embattled, emotionally needy client state. It is an emerging international power with options it never had before. Locked doors are now wide open. Old enemies want to be given another chance. America is still Israel’s best friend, but it is no longer its only friend.

This year Israel’s sunny new place in the world has been increasingly evident. In February, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to Jerusalem and delivered an almost embarrassingly pro-Israel speech.

A month later, German Chancellor Angela Merkel brought virtually her entire government to Israel in what was an astonishing show of solidarity by Europe’s most powerful government.

Merkel and other world leaders still have talking-point problems with Israeli policies in the West Bank, but in the real world, these are not leading to the kind of international isolation that the Obama administration has been darkly forecasting.

Just the opposite, in fact. Early this month, President Shimon Peres was given a red-carpet welcome in formerly anti-Zionist Beijing.

India, once a leader of the anti-Zionist Third World bloc, now has a close military relationship with Israel. And, of course, there are those “good and trusting relations” between Jerusalem and Israel’s Cold War arch-enemy, Moscow.

Even the Arab world is coming around. Peace with Egypt, fragile during the Muslim Brotherhood regime of Mohammed Morsi, is once again firm; the two countries are fighting a common jihadist enemy in Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula.

Jordan, Israel’s neighbor to the east, is friendly.

And, on the eve of Passover, Foreign Minister Lieberman disclosed the open secret that Israel closely cooperates with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States in a joint effort to block Iranian expansionism and Teheran’s nuclear ambitions.

None of this reflects a spontaneous outburst of affection for the Jewish State. Israel has become one of the world’s leading hi-tech innovators. Its transformative breakthroughs in water desalination, medical technology and agriculture offer practical solutions to the urgent problems of developing countries. It is at the forefront of drone and satellite technology. It exports sophisticated weapons systems and lends expertise in fighting Islamic terror to targeted nations like Russia, India and the U.S. And, of course, it has the strongest military in the Middle East.

To top it all off, Israel has now hit the fossil fuel jackpot. During the heyday of the Arab oil boycott, people joked that Moses should have headed for Saudi Arabia. But Moses was smarter than he looked. Off its Mediterranean coast, Israeli and American companies are now developing tens of trillions of cubic meters of natural gas. Egypt, Turkey, Cyprus and other nearby nations are hotly competing for a piece of the action as distributors and consumers.

All this and Jaffa oranges, too.

Next month, Israel will celebrate its 66th Independence Day. Sixty-six is adolescence in nation-years. This country is just at the start of its growth spurt. Washington is going to have to accept that its young ward is not a kid anymore (Israel needs to internalize this, too, but that’s a different story). And, as Rice and her fellow policymakers know better than anyone, being a grown-up nation means making complicated choices, pursuing your own vital interests and, unavoidably, sometimes disappointing even your very best friends.