Israel's New Asian Allies: The Deterioration In Relations Between Israel And The White House
02 April 2015
By Jonathan Cook
It was another difficult week for Israel.
In Britain, 700 artists, including many household names, pledged a cultural
boycott of Israel, and a leader of the Board of Deputies, the representative
body of UK Jews, quit, saying he could no longer abide by its ban on
Across the Atlantic, the student body of one of the most prestigious US
universities, Stanford, voted to withdraw investments from companies
implicated in Israel’s occupation, giving a significant boost to the growing
international boycott (BDS) movement.
Meanwhile, a CNN poll found that two-thirds of Americans, and three-quarters
of those under 50, believed the US foreign policy should be neutral between
Israel and Palestine.
This drip-drip of bad news, as American and European popular opinion shifts
against Israel, is gradually changing the west’s political culture and
forcing Israel to rethink its historic alliances.
The deterioration in relations between Israel and the White House is now
impossible to dismiss, as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and
President Barack Obama lock horns, this time over negotiations with Iran.
The US was reported last week to be refusing to share with Israel sensitive
information on the talks, fearful it will be misused. A senior Israeli
official described it as like being evicted from the ''deluxe guest suite''
in Washington. ''Astonishing doesn’t begin to describe it,'' he said.
The fall-out is spreading to the US Congress, where for the first time Israel
is becoming a partisan issue. A growing number of Democrats have declared
they will boycott Netanyahu’s address to the Congress next month, when he is
expected to try to undermine the Iran talks.
Things are more precarious still in Europe. Several leading parliaments have
called on their governments to recognise Palestinian statehood, and France
rocked Israel by backing just such a resolution recently in the UN Security
Europe has also begun punishing Israel for its intransigence towards the
Palestinians. It is labelling settlement products and is expected to start
demanding compensation for its projects in the occupied territories the
Israeli army destroys.
This month 63 members of the European Parliament went further, urging the
European Union to suspend its ''association agreement'', which allows Israel
unrestricted trade and access to special funding.
None of this has gone unnoticed in Israel. A classified report by the foreign
ministry leaked last month paints a dark future. It concludes that western
support for the Palestinians will increase, the threat of European sanctions
will grow, and the US might even refuse to ''protect Israel with its veto''
at the UN.
Israel is particularly concerned about the economic impact, given that Europe
is its largest trading partner. Serious sanctions could ravage the economy.
One might assume that, faced with these drastic calculations, Israel would
reconsider its obstructive approach to peace negotiations and Palestinian
statehood. Not a bit of it.
Netanyahu’s officials blame the crisis with Washington on Obama, implying
that they will wait out his presidency for better times to return.
As for Europe, Netanyahu blames the shift there on what he calls ''Islamisation'',
suggesting that Europe’s growing Muslim population is holding the region’s
politicians to ransom. On this view, the price paid for the recent terror
attacks in Paris and Copenhagen is Europe’s support for Israel.
Instead, Netanyahu has begun looking elsewhere for economic – and ultimately
political – patrons.
In doing so, he is returning to an early Israeli tradition. The state’s
founders were inspired by the collectivist ideals of the Soviet Union, not US
individualism. And in return for attacking Egypt in 1956, Israel was secretly
helped by Britain and France to build nuclear weapons over stiff US
In response to recent developments, Netanyahu announced last month that he
was courting trade with China, India and Japan – comprising nearly 40 per
cent of the planet’s population.
Last year, for the first time, Israel did more trade with these Asian giants
than with the US. Much of it focused on the burgeoning arms market, with
Israel supplying nearly $4 billion worth of weapons in 2013. A region once
implacably hostile to Israel is throwing open its doors.
India, plagued by border tensions with Pakistan and China, is now Israel’s
largest arms purchaser – and such trade is expected to expand further
following the election last year of Narendra Modi, known for his anti-Muslim
He has lifted the veil off India’s growing defence cooperation with Israel,
one reason why Moshe Yaalon last week became the first Israeli defence
minister to make an official visit.
Ties between Israel and China are deepening rapidly too. Beijing has become
Israel’s third largest trading partner, while Israel is China’s second
biggest supplier of military technology after Russia.
Last month the two signed a three-year cooperation plan, with China keen to
exploit – in addition to Israel’s military hardware – its innovations on
solar energy, irrigation and desalination.
Emmanuel Navon, an international relations expert at Tel Aviv University,
claims that, despite its poor public image, Israel now enjoys a ''global
clout'' unprecedented in its history.
Israel’s immediate goal is to future-proof itself economically against
mounting popular pressure in Europe and the US to act in favour of the
But longer term Israel hopes to convert Chinese and Indian dependency on
Israeli armaments – based on technology it tests and refines on a captive
Palestinian population – into diplomatic cover. One day Israel may be relying
on a Chinese veto at the UN, not a US one.
Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His
latest books are ''Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the
Plan to Remake the Middle East'' (Pluto Press) and ''Disappearing Palestine:
Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair'' (Zed Books). His website is