Relying On Trump Is Dangerous
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Prime Minister Netanyahu fails to understand that President Trump does not view foreign policy in truly geopolitical terms. Trump is concerned with making America First and his own self-aggrandizement. Trump views symbols and pomp as the take-away from international relations. The President kicks serious issues around but does not consider their consequences until they explode. This a luxury that Israel and its prime minister do not have, despite the fact that Netanyahu may believe this to be the case. Bibi may admire the fact that Trump can get away with this behavior, but Israeli Governments cannot.
Threatening the Palestinians with shutting the PLO Mission in Washington if they proceed with asking the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israelis for alleged crimes against Palestinians is nicely bellicose. Conducting negotiations with the Palestinians in this manner, however, is making a child’s game out of foreign policy making. If you do not eat your dinner, there will be no ice cream.
Similarly, telling the Palestinians that the U.S. is seriously considering moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is igniting a fire over a symbolic issue in a region that hardly needs any kindling wood. Emphasizing the non-substantive foreign policy issues—regardless of how fundamentally wrong it is for the world not to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital—is creating a potential intifada over a peripheral issue.
On the other handle, Israel correctly perceives a serious shift and threat in the reported stationing of Iranian forces and materiel in Syria. The base or bases being constructed are reportedly within easy shooting range of the Golan Heights and Northern Israel. On this genuine regional rebalance, Trump appears to be telling Netanyahu that the Russians have Syria and Iran well under control. The President continues to believe Putin when he explains his relationship with Iran; much in the same manner, no doubt, that the President continues to argue that Putin and the Russians did not interfere in the 2016 elections. For Netanyahu to tolerate this type of relationship with the U.S. President is dangerous. The Trump-Netanyahu relationship is based totally on wishful thinking on the part of the Israelis. It is based on considerable double-talk and empty assurances on the part of Trump.
During the Obama years, Bibi publically contended that Obama not have Israel’s back. It is past time for the Netanyahu Government to comprehend that Trump may well like Israel and all the symbolic parts of the relationship, but he certainly does not nor would he have Israel’s back in a crisis. Nikki Haley may be a strong spokesperson for Israel’s concerns, but it ultimately is the President who makes the geopolitical moves.
In a security situation, the U.S. military will continue to have Israel’s back as it clearly did during the Obama years; something for which President Obama never received sufficient credit from the Israelis and the pro-Israeli community in the United States. Netanyahu and Obama may not have liked each other and Bibi may have slept at Trump’s son-in-law’s home when they both were much younger, but it is Netanyahu who must understand that relying on Trump is foolhardy.
In a pinch, Trump–it is very evident after ten months in all his conduct–only has his own back and his own interests which drive him. If Netanyahu misreads this reality he does so at Israel’s peril.