Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1312, (22-28 September 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1312, (22-28 September 2016)

Ahram Weekly

A new strategic imbalance in the Middle East

The newly signed security assistance memorandum between the United States and Israel guarantees instability and a regional arms race for the next half century, writesHussein Haridy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Negotiations had started back in November 2015, three months after the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between the P5+1 (the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) and Iran on the Iranian nuclear file. The negotiations I am referring to are the American-Israeli talks that led to the signing of the “Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel on Security Assistance” of 14 September 2016.

The signing ceremony took place in the Treaty Room at the US State Department. The ceremony was attended by Susan Rice, the US National Security advisor, and her Israeli counterpart, acting National Security advisor to the Israeli prime minister General Jacob Nagel. US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Ambassador Thomas Shannon Jr was presiding. Also attending was a group of US congressmen.

The MOU in question covers the period 2019 to 2028, during which time Israel will receive military assistance to the tune of $33 billion in foreign military financing funds, in addition to $5 billion for missile defence programmes. The existing MOU from 2007 to 2018 provided Israel with $3.1 billion annually plus $3.1 billion for missile defence programmes in the same period.

Ambassador Shannon described the MOU signed 14 September as, “The single largest pledge of military assistance to any country in the United States history.”

Ms Rice said by the act of signing this MOU, the United States, “reaffirm(s) the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel”. She added that over the past eight years, the United States has provided Israel with almost $24 billion in military aid. And she pointed out that the US administration invested over $3 billion in Iron Dome and other missile defence technologies. The new funding “will allow Israel to update the lion’s share of its fighter aircraft fleet, including the acquisition of additional F-35s and F-15s”. It will also enable Israel to substantially enhance the mobility of its ground forces, according to Ms Rice.

She added that the United States remains committed to Israel’s security over the long term. It is interesting to note that she made a linkage between this generous and unprecedented security assistance to the Israelis and the Palestinian question. American commitment to Israeli security leads the US administration to “continue to press for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security”. She further quoted President Barack Obama saying that the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realisation of an independent and viable Palestinian state.

General Nagel said that, “This agreement is a great blessing to the State of Israel for the coming new era.” For him, a strong Israel is “an island of stability in a stormy Middle East and an important partner in the fight against the forces of terror and extremism in our region and beyond… We believe… this assistance is not only a critical investment in Israel’s security, but also an investment in regional stability as well as an investment in the security of the United States.”

It goes without saying that this new security assistance agreement will enable the Israeli army to maintain its military edge over the combined armies of the Arab countries. Undoubtedly, it will lead to an arms race in the region. Some regional powers will not wait until Israel is in a position to impose its will on everyone in the Middle East. I have in mind the Iranians, the Saudis and the Egyptians. Thus it will become a four-way arms race that could lead the Iranians, some time down the line, to request a renegotiation of JCPOA with the P5+1.

From a larger strategic perspective, the military superiority of Israel has been the main driver of instability and insecurity in the region since 1948 when Israel was created. It seems illogical to think that the regional situation will get better in the future with the Israeli arsenal full of the latest in weaponry and missile defence technologies. What is striking is the reference that Ms Rice made to the effect that the new funding will lead to a substantial increase in the mobility of Israel ground forces. It only means that the United States, willingly or not, is empowering the Israeli army to go on the offensive against individual or groups of armies from within the region.

Egypt will definitely take all the necessary measures to make sure that the power equation will not tilt unfavourably against it. While we should not panic, we should always strive to narrow the gap between the Egyptian army and Israel’s, particularly in the field of the air force and ground forces. It will not be easy, nor inexpensive.

It is difficult to imagine how a stronger Israel will become more forthcoming in responding favourably to the realisation of the two-state solution. What will be the incentive, from an Israeli point of view, to go the extra mile and accept the establishment of a Palestinian state? There is none. So, the Palestinian question will keep haunting us for the next decade at least, as we have been haunted by the Palestinian cause for the last half-century. The US administration should have linked the new security assistance agreement with tangible movement on the Palestinian-Israeli track. With this agreement we are almost back to square one. And do not be surprised if in the next 50 years we will not see serious moves to settle the Palestinian question according to United Nations resolutions. Not only that, but more instability and war-mongering throughout the Middle East.

Arab countries will be adversely affected the most by the MOU between the United States and Israel. They are already squeezed between Israel, Turkey and Iran.

The writer is former assistant to the foreign minister.

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