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Israel no longer serves US interest, says ex-senior White House official

American support for Israel no longer serves strategic US interests, says Steven Simon, Washington’s former National Security Council senior director for the Middle East and North Africa. Simon, who directly managed the Israel-Palestine file, served under the administration of former US President Barack Obama. He urged the US to reconsider its relation in a new book titled ‘Grand Delusion: The Rise and Fall of American Ambition in the Middle East’.

Simon advocates for a fundamental revaluation of the US-Israel relationship, while arguing that American support for Israel no longer serves the strategic interests of the US. According to details of the book reviewed by Haaretz, Simon likens the current situation to “empty-nest syndrome,” suggesting that the US finds it difficult to let go of its long-standing support for Israel.

Over the decades, US policy in the Middle East has remained largely unchanged across different administrations. However, with Israel facing a crucial turning point in its own democracy, relations with Palestinians, and potential normalisation with Saudi Arabia, US policy in the region, which has been centred around Israel, needs to be reconsidered, Simon argues.

“It’s empty-nest syndrome,” says Simon commenting on US reluctance to press the reset button regarding its relation with Israel. “The chicks fly the coop, they hang out with the wrong people. ‘Why don’t they come home for dinner anymore and ask for advice’ – if you’re a parent, that’s really vexing and it’s hard to learn to let go.”

Simon likens the current situation to a “tipping point.” The division between Washington and Tel Aviv caused by the judicial overhaul and the rise of the ultra-right has reinforced the view that relations between the two countries are at a tipping point. “What we’re looking at now goes back to the 1930s at least. Now the chickens are coming home to roost in a fairly big way.”

On Israelis and Palestinians, Simon notes that the US has gradually lost influence. He argues that the foundations of the US-Israel relationship were grounded in the liberal temper of a certain era, first established by former President Harry Truman. The relationship evolved from being values-based to one based on strategy.

The prevailing wisdom in Washington has been that Israel is a strategic ally. Relations between two countries were based on the idea that they broadly share the same strategic outlook: Both are dedicated to counter-terrorism; both exchange intelligence and advanced technology and both are seen as bulwarks against Arab nationalism.

Critics, however, have questioned this, arguing that one only needs to look to US military involvement in the region over the decades to notice that, instead of being an ally, Israel has been a strategic liability. The Gulf States, for example, have played a far greater role in supporting the US militarily in the region than Israel.

The Iran nuclear deal negotiated by Obama is another case in point. Though the historic deal was applauded in Washington, including by major US allies, Israel is accused of sabotaging the agreement. It continues to throw obstacles in front of President Joe Biden, who has been trying to revive the deal negotiated by his predecessor. Also on Israel and Palestine, it is argued that the US has used nearly every ounce of political currency and good-will in defending the occupation state for decades such that America’s moral standing on the global stage is at its lowest point ever.

Simon argues that the US should focus on its domestic concerns while redefining its stance in the Middle East. The book sparks a fresh debate about the future of the US-Israel relationship, challenging long-held assumptions and advocating for a more pragmatic approach to the complex dynamics in the region.

Regarding future relations, Simon believes that Israel will lose the bipartisan support it has enjoyed. He predicts a growing divide between Israel and the Democratic Party in the US.

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