Israel’s Role in the US Middle East Policy          

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The US President Donald Trump has made another scandalous foreign policy decision after announcing that “It’s time for US to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”. Considering his decision-making style that is not only incompatible with the usual diplomacy framework, but also provocative in its feature that draws the public attention, it would not be unexpected to observe such excessive actions that are in line with what is accustomed to. While interpreting his statement aforementioned, it must be acknowledged that Trump stands in favor of Israel from his ideological point of view, therefore, the US attempts to legitimize Israel’s annexation of Golan Heights. In fact, in the Human Rights Report released by the US Department of State in 2018 it is stated with regards to the status of the Golan Heights “under Israeli control” rather than “under Israeli occupation” shows Trump’s decision had already been taken by then.

Despite the populist nature of Trump’s foreign policy, it is still consistent in itself. However, it is not known if it is Trump or someone above him responsible for this consistency. It is admitted that with respect to the foreign policy and security issues, anti-Iran and pro-Israel elements are given greater maneuver space by the Trump administration. The rising influence of the hawks on the decision-making mechanism provides Trump with the necessary tools for further escalation of the tension. Under normal circumstances, the issues manageable to be balanced or softened are to be handled with the implementation of radical sanctions because of his political discourse. No doubt that it is costly to give such opportunities to a leader who is likely to abuse his power. Resulting from this situation, it became common that the issues he covers via Twitter get postponed and lost their level of significance over time.

The issues which Trump overstates are not pulled back if there is a direct relation to the Israeli national interests, though. The US recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel also proves that fact. Therefore, it should not be expected for the US to withdraw its decision on the recognition of Golan Heights either. Indeed, the pro-Israel attitude is closely related with Trump’s personal ideological standpoint. When it comes to the Israeli related issues, his sole prioritization turns out to be beyond the US national interests. As a matter of fact, he equates the US interests with that of Israel. That is why, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted, the bilateral relations of the two countries are at its height. The special relationship between Trump and Netanyahu plays key role for the establishment of the current partnership on such a scale. In addition, that is also striking to emphasize the timing of Trump’s recognition since it coincides both with the upcoming elections and the allegations of corruption against Netanyahu.

The recognition of Golan Heights as Israeli territory, on the other hand, overlaps with the US policy towards Syria as well. For the resolution of the disputes in Syria, Trump is willing to accept Russians to act on their initiatives, and therefore he insists Moscow to carry that financial burden on its own. Although the ambiguity continues regarding the US withdrawal from the region, it is certain that military existence is to be decreased. In the meanwhile, the US aims at eliminating its security concerns in the region by containing the Iranian military existence and ensuring Israeli security with the prevention of Iran from reaching Mediterranean Sea. At this point, it must be highlightened the strategic importance of the Golan Heights in order to realize the US’ objectives. The recognition of the Israeli occupied Palestinian territory by legal terms on behalf of the Israeli interests would pave the way for the US to extend its sphere of influence as if legally legitimate.

Another aspect to the issue is the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. From the beginning onwards, the US’ reluctance to end the Syrian War and topple the Assad regime down-despite the common understanding- has triggered Russians to take action, then enabled them to shape the future of the country. Also, the Russian military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea increased. Although the US accepted this situation for the time being, in the long-run the results will be severe. Therefore, in order to balance the Russians in the region Eastern Mediterranean Sea gets significant for the Americans. From that respect, the US-Israel relationship cannot be understood solely based on ideological reasons without considering the strategic weight of the region. In the light of recent natural gas discovery in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, and the idea of containing the Iranians from that resources, Israel becomes even more crucial to the protection of the US interests. Under these circumstances, it is highly likely to observe further deepening and strengthening of the US-Israel relationship.

The US foreign policy strategy framed as “Counterbalancing Russia in the Long-Run and Containing Iran in the Short-Run” does not only depend on the US-Israel relationship. Moreover, the trilateral alliance between Turkey, Russia and Iran on the resolution of the Syrian conflict, is targeted by the Americans as it become more institutionalized and consistent with regularly held meetings. Hence, the US puts its efforts to undermine the partnership between Turkey, Russia and Iran by emphasizing the differences of the actors’ interests over the region, so that the US could bypass the regional elements that are counterbalancing it. It can be said that the US reach certain degree of success with that strategy. Nonetheless, Russia preserves her pragmatic position, maintains its diplomatic relations with Israel just as with other regional countries. Thus, Russian and Iranian interests collide at that point. Besides, the Russians leave the doors open for future agreements with the Americans as well. The US government prioritizes Iran as a preliminary threat rather than Russia, benefits from the weaknesses of the alliance, and isolates Iran over Russian pressure.

In the meanwhile, the US also encourages Turkey to stand on its side at the expense of Russian-led alliance. While doing so, on one hand it approaches Turkey in a positive manner, on the other it threatens with imposing sanctions just as with the case of S-400s. Turkey avoids from degrading the tripartite cooperation and does not join anti-Iran pro-Israel coalition on the US side at the same time. However, the US government is able to gather its regional alliances except for Turkey at the expense of Iran. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Gulf countries’ ignorance of the US’ pro-Israel attempts is resulted from that success. Indeed, the US exploits the fragmentation between the Islamic countries for the purpose of defending Israeli interests. Ankara behaves cautious despite its willingness to normalize relations with Washington due to the past disappointments with the US. For the same reasons, Turkey is one of the countries opposing Israel’s activities that loudly.

Doç. Dr. Emre OZAN
Doç. Dr. Emre OZAN
He completed his undergraduate education at Istanbul University, Faculty of Political Sciences, Department of International Relations in 2008. He received his master's degree from Istanbul University, Department of International Relations in 2010 and his PhD degree from Gazi University, Department of International Relations in 2015. He worked as a research assistant at Gazi University between 2011-2015. Since October 2015, he has been working as a lecturer at Kırklareli University, Department of International Relations. His research interests include security studies, Turkish foreign policy, Turkey's national security policies and international relations theories. Assoc. Prof. Emre OZAN is fluent in English.