Bibi's Independent Foreign Policy- Israel Is Not South Korea

This article develops an argument about Netanyahu's foreign policy using the case study of South Korea, in many ways still an American protectorate.

Dr. Chaim Charles Cohen

OpEds Chaim C. Cohen
Chaim C. Cohen

Bibi's Independent Foreign Policy

Prime Minister Netanyahu is vigorously pursuing a foreign policy independent of the Washington administration. This has been shown in his latest meeting with Putin, and his public, vehement opposition in Congress to the Iran nuclear accord. The Israeli Left opposes this strategy. They want our national security fate to be decided in Washington, Brussels or any other place other than Jerusalem. Bibi is determined that the decisions affecting our national existence will be made in Jerusalem.  This article develops this argument using the case study of South Korea, in many ways still an American protectorate. It concludes by describing how Israel can maintain, at the same time, both a high degree of diplomatic independence, and its strategic military cooperation with the United States.    

Prime Minister Netanyahu was not defeated on the issue of a nuclear Iran, as the Israeli Left is trying to portray. Given the asymmetric balance of international power and resources between Pres. Obama and Israel, Bibi accomplished as much as any Israeli prime minister could. Over the years, he succeeded in educating the world and American public opinion to the danger of a nuclear Iran. It was Israeli pressure that significantly acted to jump start the sanctions, and the very faulty Iran accord, that has somewhat delayed Iran's nuclear armament.

Most important, but often overlooked, Bibi firmly established the precedent of asserting Israel's diplomatic independence. This was dramatically demonstrated by the recent Putin-Bibi summit in Moscow.  Bibi has consistently refused to adopt the political posture, advocated
Prime Minister Netanyahu was not defeated on the issue of a nuclear Iran, as the Israeli Left is trying to portray.
by the Israeli Left, that Israel take on the diplomatic posture of South Korea, and become a "protectorate-satellite state" of the United States. Bibi's strategy may entail short term diplomatic dangers for Israel, but it is imperative, over the long run' for establishing a posture of 'diplomatic deterrence', and defending Israel's long term security interests. Bibi is successfully teaching the world that the path to making a deal with Israel goes through Jerusalem, and its nationalistic government, and not through Washington.

Why the Israeli Left wants Israel to become the second South Korea

The Israeli Left wants to diplomatically accomplish in Washington what it can not accomplish at the ballot box in Jerusalem.  Since the finalizing of the very faulty Iran nuclear accord, the American and Israeli Left has been proposing that Israel cope with existential dangers pose by a nuclear armed Iran by establishing a protectorate diplomatic-security relationship with America, similar to that of South Korea. Just as South Korea is in a state of permanent conflict with a nuclear armed, totalitarian North Korea that denies South Korea's right to exist, Israel similarly strategically now finds itself in a state of permanent conflict (Hezbollah and the Hamas have been Iran's sub contractors) with a totalitarian nuclear threshold Iran that denies Israel's right to exist. North Korea has possessed nuclear weapons for over six years. It has been deterred from attacking South Korea primarily because the United States has 29,000 troops permanently stationed in South Korea, and the United Sates policy is that any attack on South Korea will be regarded as an attack on the United States.

The U.S. will automatically fight alongside South Korean troops. Any North Korean use of nuclear weapons will mean that the U.S. armed forces will totally destroy North Korea's economic infrastructure. The results of the U.S. –Korean military alliance has been to successfully deter any out-right military aggression by a nuclear Korea for almost a decade. Protected by the American nuclear umbrella, South Korea has established a stable, primarily democratic government, and a rapidly expanding economy. For example, the Korean Samsung is the main computer software competitor of Apple.  The American nuclear umbrella similarly protected Western Europe from Russian (USSR) aggression for over forty years.

However South Korea (somewhat also like Japan) has paid the price for this American nuclear umbrella by losing much of its diplomatic independence in matters not directly related to the Pacific Basin. The most glaring example is that South Korea has not dared voice criticism of the Iran accord, despite its very bitter experience with North Korean's brazen non implementation of the 1994 nuclear agreement signed with the United States, and one very similar in content to the one that Obama has concluded with Iran.

The not- so- secret Strategy of the Israeli Left

This is the type of diplomatic security partnership that Israeli-American Left would like Israel to establish with the U.S. The United States would guarantee our physical security, and to a certain extent, our economic prosperity. In return America would have a decisive role in defining our borders, our relations with our Arab neighbors, and also the nature of the Israeli government with its Arab citizens. There are no free diplomatic lunches. The American hand that protects, will also take. The Israeli Left wants to use the Iranian nuclear threat to have Israel make the fatal concessions in Washington that the Left has failed to convince the 'sovereign' Israeli public to make in the Knesset.

In the Real Diplomatic world, what should be Israel-American Relations?

What I have so far makes a good, rightist op-ed article. Now, however, let us try to analyze the diplomatic reality of today and tomorrow. In the real (as opposed to the op-ed world) Israel is in fact dependent on the American government for funding a significant part of the Israel military budget. We need American diplomatic support at the U.N and in international forums. Israel, also, has much to gain from negotiating a 'post nuclear accord compensation package', including advanced armament, and hopefully congressional-backed economic and diplomatic sanctions concerning Iranian support for international terrorism. Finally, Israel probably needs America's behind the scenes support for covertly developing and strengthening security relations with its Sunni neighbors  (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and maybe even with Turkey). These diplomatic topics are relevant for both the present and incoming administrations.

Yes the Israeli Left is correct. Israel cannot diplomatically-security wise go at it alone. We need, and will need, strong American cooperation. Our alliance with America is a major factor of our existential deterrence policy vis-a-vis our Mid Eastern foes. However, unlike the Israeli Left, Bibi is trying to make this necessary cooperation one of semi-equal partnership, and not one U.S. trusteeship vis-à-vis Israel. Bibi wants to negotiate the U.S. –Israel relationship   from a posture of maximum independence. To do this he has adopted two basic tactics.

One, publically defining in black and white terms the existential truths of Israel's security needs ( such as the dangers of Iran, and Palestinian territorial concessions, and the Jewish character of the Israeli state) and not blurring them in order to create an illusion of  consensus (as the Left does). He is doing this in order to educate Israel and the world's diplomatic opinion concerning our diplomatic red lines. Second, Bibi is trying to make the least amount of concessions, at the last possible moment. Bibi will make concessions  that will be painful for the nationalist-right to accept, but I believe he will make them only when there is no choice, and hopefully concessions that will be justified by their long term strategic benefit. This two pronged mode of operation makes Bibi a difficult diplomatic partner. And his prickly, 'paranoiac' instincts make the cooperation even more difficult. The Israeli Left says Bibi is all bluster, and that quietly working behind the scenes is a more productive way to secure American's much needed diplomatic-security cooperation. With a more sympathetic Washington, and one that more naturally and intimately identifies with Israel security need, behind the scenes work could be a proper strategy. But with the Obama administration, we will be trampled if we do not stand up for our security needs, which are different from the American needs as perceived by the Obama administration.

This is the real reason for the congressional campaign against the Iran accord. Bibi did not really believe that he could convince 14 Democratic senators to betray their party's president. Rather, he believed that it was important to assert our diplomatic independence, despite the friction that was created with the Washington administration.

Conclusion-Bibi is playing a correct, high risk, diplomatic game

Diplomacy is a risk full game. Bibi's strategy to build our cooperation with the U.S. from a posture of declaratory independence, and not on the basis of South Korean type trusteeship, definitely entails risks, maybe even high risks. I believe his strategy is the correct one. So far American public opinion has been receptive to Bib's presentation of our security needs. I pray that this will continue.