USA’s Dilemma: Balancing Relations with Muslim World and Israel

The end of the Cold War witnessed a sea change. Having shed its pretensions to superpower status, Moscow saw its influence in the Middle East dissipate.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) greets US President Joe Biden upon his arrival at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport on October 18, 2023. (Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)

Joe Biden was Vice President in Barack Obama’s administration from 2009 to 2017. In May 2013 Joe Biden in a speech a speech to a Jewish group said that the Jewish influence “behind” American culture is “immense.” Praising a Jewish audience, he spoke of the prominent roles Jews had played in transforming American attitudes toward civil rights, feminism, and gay rights. He said quote   You make up 11 percent of the seats in the United States Congress. You make up one-third of all Nobel laureates. So many notions that are embraced by this nation that particularly emanate from over 5,000 years of Jewish history, tradition, and culture: independence, individualism, fairness, decency, justice, and charity unquote. Biden added that Think behind of all that, I bet you 85 percent of those changes, whether it’s in Hollywood or social media are a consequence of Jewish leaders in the industry. The influence is immense, the influence is immense. And, I might add, it is all to the good,” he said. Jews have also been key to the evolution of American jurisprudence. “You literally can’t. You can’t talk about the recognition of … rights in the Constitution without looking at these incredible jurists that we’ve had.” “Jewish heritage has shaped who we are – all of us, us, me – as much or more than any other factor in the last 223 years.


And that’s a fact,” he said. If I may add a long dissertation from WIKIPEDIA which says that John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt state in their controversial bestseller, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, that the tone of the right-leaning component of the Israel lobby results from the influence of the leaders of the two top lobby groups: AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. They go on to list, as right-leaning think tanks associated with the lobby, the three important analysis groups. Added were other similar lobbies, such as the NRA (NRA) and the AARP.A number of commentators have asserted that the Israel lobby has undue or pervasive influence over U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.     Mearsheimer and Walt state that “pro-Israel figures have established a commanding presence at the American Enterprise Institute, , the Center for Security Policy, , the Foreign Research Institute, The Heritage Foundation,  the Hudson Institute, the Institute of Foreign Policy Analysis,  and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). These think tanks are all decidedly pro-Israel.  In 2002, the Brookings Institution was founded the, named after Haim Saban, an Israeli-American media proprietor, who donated $13 million toward its establishment. Saban has stated of himself, “I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel”.  


 JINSA had close ties to the administration of George W Bush in that it “draws from the most conservative hawks in the U.S. establishment for its board of directors” including Vice-President Richard Cheney and some important Bush administration appointees. Analyst Jason Vest wrote that both(the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs- JINSA) and the Center for Security Policy think they are “underwritten by far-right American Zionists” and that they both “effectively hold there is no difference between US and Israeli national security interests, and that the only way to assure continued safety and prosperity for both countries is through hegemony in the Middle East – a hegemony achieved with the traditional cold war recipe of feints, force, clientism and covert action.” 


However former Secretary of State George Schultz stated that “the notion that U.S. policy on Israel and the Middle East is the result of the Israeli lobby’s influence is simply wrong.”  That is not to say that AIPAC and others have no influence. Nor did the US  shy away from one because ‘the lobby’ opposed it. That is not to say that AIPAC and others have no influence. Friendly relations between Israel and the U.S. have been and continue to be a tenet of both American and Israeli foreign policy. Israel receives bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress. The Israeli Foreign Ministry states that U.S. and Israel share common “economic, political, strategic, and diplomatic concerns” and that the countries exchange “intelligence and military information” and cooperate in an effort to halt international terrorism and illegal drug trade. Furthermore, a majority of American citizens view Israel favorably. In 2011, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (a think tank founded by “a small group of visionary Americans committed to advancing U.S. interests in the Middle East”) argued that the U.S.-Israel relationship is “A Strategic Asset for the United States   One analyst asked: Would Saudi Arabia’s policies toward the United States be markedly different in practice if Washington entered into a sustained crisis with Israel over the Palestine issue during which the bilateral relationship between the United States and Israel went into steep, systemic decline? In that instance, would Riyadh lower the price of oil? Would it stop hedging its regional bets concerning U.S. attempts to coerce Iran into freezing its nuclear weapons program? Would it regard U.S. policy toward Afghanistan any less critically? Would it view American democracy promotion in the Middle East more favorably? Would it be more inclined to reform its internal governmental processes to be more in line with U.S. preferences? Many more questions may be raised defying a clear-cut answer.


The US today already lives in a multi-polar world. It has to depend on NATO, the EUROPEAN UNION, and other Western countries for support and for demonstrating to the world that Sino-Russian “limitless” friendship notwithstanding the benefits derived since the Yalta Conference, albeit with beneficial changes when needed, would continue despite Russian aggression of Ukraine.   These are difficult questions to answer. British newspaper The Guardian ( 03-11-2023) which in print wrote Russia is no longer a superpower surmised Russian benefit from the present global crisis. The Guardian wrote that what the Soviets really wanted was a comprehensive peace settlement through a Soviet-American agreement, where the US “delivered” Israel, while the Soviet Union “delivered” the Arabs. Only there was a small problem: neither Israel nor the Arabs were cooperating. The Yom Kippur War left the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, deeply dissatisfied with his Arab friends. Brezhnev was very angry and was reported as saying. “We’ve been offering them a reasonable way all these years. But no, they wanted to have a fight.”


In the aftermath, Egypt’s President, Anwar Sadat, pursued rapprochement with the US and then with Israel, a policy that led to the signing of the Camp David Accords in 1978 and the return of Sinai to Egypt. The Soviets fumed at what to them looked like a break in the united Arab front; they worried, in particular, about the unresolved Palestinian question. The 1970s were the high point for Moscow’s standing in the Middle East. Its influence there was largely a function of the Soviet ability to furnish a wide-ranging clientele with military aid. Its advocacy on behalf of the Palestinians (including consistent support for Yasser Arafat) helped sustain the Soviet Union’s reputation in the region, even if it was tarnished by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. The end of the Cold War witnessed a sea change. Having shed its pretensions to superpower status, Moscow saw its influence in the Middle East dissipate. Yet today, unlike in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, Russia is not a superpower that can project force across the region and sustain a wide-ranging clientele through military and economic aid.  There is one immediately tangible way a war in the Middle East would benefit Vladimir Putin: by potentially raising the price of oil. So far, the impact has been limited, but the world may not have yet seen the worst of it.

Kazi Anwarul Masud

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a retired Bangladeshi diplomat. During his tenure, he worked in several countries as the ambassador of Bangladesh including Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea and Germany

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