In Israel, well-founded worries over the “Arab Spring.”
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As if all this weren’t enough, Israel is now weathering its own version of the Arab Spring — albeit in rather more civilized fashion than is visible elsewhere in the region. Since July, hundreds of thousands of Israelis, discontented over everything from the high price of cottage cheese to prohibitive housing costs in the country’s desirable metropolitan areas, have staged peaceful marches, sit-ins, and protests. The movement, which some pundits have taken to calling the “Israeli summer,” has presented a costly domestic distraction to Netanyahu’s coalition government, now grappling with new and vexing national security headaches.
YET ALL OF THESE CHALLENGES, while difficult, might be manageable, if only Israel’s relationship with its most important strategic partner, the United States, were stable. But the past two years have seen a distinct chill creep into the political dialogue between Washington and Jerusalem. To be sure, bilateral cooperation can still be said to be flourishing on a range of issues — counterterrorism, military training, and missile defense, to name just a few. Yet the Obama administration’s heavy-handed pressure on Israel to conclude a peace deal with the Palestinians, and its abandonment of the appearance of being an impartial broker in that process, has injected considerable friction into the “special relationship.” So has the White House’s meandering regional policy, with its dithering on Syria and halfhearted approach to countering Iran’s nuclear program. Cumulatively, these dynamics have brought the strategic partnership that serves as a key guarantor of Israel’s security to what is arguably its lowest ebb since it was codified in the early 1980s.
The resulting view now held by Israeli policymakers was neatly encapsulated not long ago by Moshe Arens, a former minister of defense and of foreign affairs. “You would expect Israel, a democracy, to welcome the downfall of dictatorships in neighboring countries, and see the Arab Spring bring freedom to the Arab World,” Arens wrote in an August op-ed in the liberal daily Ha’aretz. “But in recent months we have learned to our dismay that the downfall of Arab dictators may bring in its wake chaos and anarchy.”
The result is a more cautious and conservative Israeli polity. More than at any time in recent memory, policymakers in Jerusalem are disinclined to take risks for peace, or to seek compromise in the service of regional acceptance. Rather, Israel is now animated by the notion that, as Arens has put it, “it is a time for watching and waiting to see how things are going to turn out.”
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