With this latest Moscow visit, Benjamin Netanyahu confirms that the era of the post-American Middle East has begun. The Israeli prime minister and the Russian president share a disdain for what they see as the weakness of the current U.S. leadership.
Haaretz One of the most significant geopolitical moments in recent years, Israel’s acknowledgement of Russia’s return as a major player in the region, took place without American participation.
Netanyahu is what they call in European politics, an Atlanticist. He believes in the never-ending centrality of a strategic alliance with the United States as his foreign policy. But what is such a man to do when he feels that his beloved America is itself giving up on that alliance?
Not that long ago, it would have been nearly unthinkable that an Israeli prime minister could ask for, and receive, an invitation to an emergency summit with the president of Russia, in much less time than it would take him to obtain a similar invitation to meet the president of the United States.
Netanyahu is still the most American of all Israeli leaders, but one thing he shares with Vladimir Putin is the disdain for what they both see as the weakness and prevarication of the current American leadership. It was that perceived weakness which allowed Putin to continually challenge the West over his invasions of Ukraine and it allowed him this month to steal a march on the United States and become the first world power (and second country after Iran) to put its soldiers boots on the ground in Syria.
It is that frustration with the hesitancy of America to act in response to Russia which prompted Netanyahu to rush to Moscow and promise Putin that “Israel is neither for, or against Assad.”
Putin and Netanyahu are not alone in this club of leaders who feel that under Barack Obama, the U.S. has left a vacuum in world affairs. Two other prime ministers in Asia whose politics would normally put them in the pro-America camp, India’s Narendra Modi and Japan’s Shinzo Abe, feel the same, and not surprisingly, Netanyahu gets along very well with them.
That’s also true of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the first Egyptian leader who has no problem saying in an interview that he speaks with Netanyahu on the phone every week.
Sisi and Modi have also been courting Putin. Even Abe has been making overtures to the Kremlin despite the ongoing territorial dispute with Russia over the Kuril Islands. They and other like-minded leaders don’t like or trust Putin very much, but they recognize they may be operating in what is becoming a post-American world order.
This of course could all prove to be very premature. The United States is still the world’s only superpower with unparalleled military and economic might, but for the last six and a half years ago, that power has rarely been wielded by President Obama and few feel that in his last 18 months in office, anything is about to change.
“Obama’s reluctance to use his power around the world hasn’t only weakened America’s position,” says one senior European diplomat. “It has weakened the main European countries as well, because we have been so used to operating together with the U.S. over the last 70 years, we can’t go it alone today.”
Certainly the next occupant of the Oval Office may be much more of an interventionist, but it will be too late for Syria. The bloody civil war with over a quarter of a million dead and growing millions of refugees, which is rapidly becoming known as “Obama’s Rwanda,” will be the monument of his inaction and lack of coherent policy on most foreign affairs, with the exception of engagement with Iran.
Netanyahu, who is so often lambasted for his heavy-handed style of diplomacy, can be hardly blamed in this case for his prompt and pragmatic response.
Putin is the president whose has fighter jets and special forces deployed in Syria, while for the first time in eight years, the United States will for the next two months have no aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean or Persian Gulf. Washington will still have 10 (soon 11) ocean-going carriers while Russia still has none, but the test in the Middle East is not having the power, but being prepared to use it.