Israel: the only issue where America and Russia find common ground
For a President so accused of “Russia collusion” that most would-be positive steps taken alongside Moscow have effectively ended before they had a chance to even be attempted, it is noteworthy that one of the few areas where the US and Russia have cooperated involves Israel and Tel Aviv’s self-identified “security concerns”. Specifically, the US endorsed Russia’s role as guarantor that Iranian and non-Syrian forces aligned with Iran (primarily Lebanon’s Hezbollah) would withdraw from the areas surrounding the 1967 Purple Line which continues to serve as the de-facto border between the occupied Golan Heights and the rest of Syria.
At their recent Helsinki summit, Russia and the US also pledged to cooperate on further measures to “insure Israel’s security” while after the meeting Donald Trump remarked that Russian President Putin is a “fan of Bibi”, meaning Benjamin Netanyahu and that the meeting in Helsinki was “good for Israel”. In both of these statements, Donald Trump was speaking accurately. The meeting in Helsinki gave Israel just about everything it sought prior to the meeting while the Russian President is as Trump stated, on incredibly good terms with Netanyahu.
America’s pro-Israel political landscape
In the United States, it is difficult for one to get elected to a major political office if one does not support Israel. The combination of pressures from the powerful Israel lobby based in the US, the still powerful Evangelical Christian lobby which is overwhelmingly Zionist, the surging American centre-right which tends to support Israel and remain sceptical of any Arab movement for a variety of reasons and the permanently pro-Israel military industrial complex mean that if one wants political office in the US, it is necessary to like Israel and it doesn’t hurt to love Israel.
It is with this context in mind that I wrote the following statement immediately following Trump’s Helsinki summit with the Russian President:
“Therefore it would behove Trump in these Machiavellian times to publicly accuse those who have openly criticised his Helsinki Summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin of advocating policies that would harm Israel’s security or to put it in the Israeli lexicon ‘threaten Israel’s right to exist’. Such an accusation is political kryptonite among the US elite”.
Donald Trump must link Russophobia with undermining Israel
While one doesn’t claim there is any moral clarity offered in this policy, in terms of tactical politicking, it represents a kind of proverbial nuclear option which forces Donald Trump’s opponents on the defensive by challenging their support of Israel, something which in many ways is the American equivalent of challenging a Chinese politician’s loyalty to the Communist Party of China. The reality of the situation is such that Putin praised Trump for cooperating over “Israel’s security concerns” while Trump in turn praised Putin’s strong support of Israel and then Israel’s Premier Benjamin Netanyahu made an online video praising both Trump and Putin for their mutual position.
In this sense, undermining America’s relationship with Russia could harm these security arrangements and furthermore undermining Donald Trump over his allegedly “close ties” with Russia could undermine an historic Russo-American agreement over Israel, the likes of which would have been impossible during much of the Cold War era.
Rather than constantly be on the defensive against accusations that he is too close to Russia, Trump can turn this entire “witch hunt” around by suggesting that those making the accusations are themselves undermining Israel’s security, an accusation which would put anyone in mainstream US politics on the defensive.
A collapsing Democratic party
In terms of domestic strategy, at a time when calls for Trump’s impeachment from his prototypical domestic antagonists are once again being raised in the aftermath of his former lawyer now cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Trump has nothing to lose by playing the Israel card, especially months before November’s mid-term Congressional elections. This is especially true as a new wing of the Democratic party, one detested by mainstream Democrats as much as Republicans seems to have committed an act of political heterodoxy in the American context. The so-called “Democratic Socialist” coalition who look to Senator Bernie Sanders as a kind of political Godfather now has a leading deputy in the form of the young Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Ocasio-Cortez comes from a generation and social class in the United States whose members appear to believe that supporting Palestine is a “fashionable cause”. When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez admitted on a televised interview that her support for Palestine was derived from a position of foreign policy ignorance rather than a profound understanding of the Middle East, it became clear that for many in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s peer group, Palestine is just another fashionable cause to be changed with the seasons. However, perception is often more important than fact in politics and the anti-Israel perception of Ocasio-Cortez and her all too young cohorts is now ripe for exploitation by any experienced political tactician.
Retired centrist Democratic Senator and long time Israel supporter Joseph Lieberman spoke openly about what many mainstream Democrats think about Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders but rarely say in public. According to Lieberman,
“Really the point was, what is the Democratic party going to be? I am still a Democrat and when I see somebody that really says she is a Socialist, she is a very charismatic, captivating candidate but if you look at the policies, those are not policies that will be supported very many places across America. If her win makes her into what Kellyanne Conway calls it “the new face of the Democratic party”, the Democratic party will not have a bright future…
As I said in the column in the Wall Street Journal today, she didn’t talk too much about foreign policy during the campaign. She obviously by her own acknowledgement does not know that much about foreign policy. But when she did talk about it, it was from the Democratic-Socialist organisation policy book. It is very pro-socialist around the world…. Let me put it this way, it is too quick to criticise Israel so she during the campaign actually said at one point that the Israeli action to defend against the massing of troops on the border in Gaza by Hamas, was a massacre. That is very hot language and not fair”.
Perhaps without intending to do so, Lieberman has given Trump a clear playbook for not only seeing his Republican Party win the midterm elections but a playbook to help Trump see off a potential future impeachment attempt. All Trump needs to do is to challenge his opponents in respect of not being sufficiently pro-Israel while then associating any insufficiently pro-Israel opponents with the confused policies of the Ocasio-Cortez brigades. To wrap things up, Trump must continually remind Americans that his meeting with Vladimir Putin was praised by Israel and achieved an historic feat of Russo-American cooperation regarding Israel.
If Trump uses this theme relentlessly not only will he avoid impeachment but he will likely win a second term in the White House.