The Administration’s National Security Strategy Shares Much, but Not Everything, with the Israeli Outlook

February 7, 2018 | Shimon Arad

December’s official document outlining the overall U.S. approach to matters of security and international relations incudes a relatively short section on the Middle East. Shimon Arad analyzes the section and its implications for Israel:

In a distinct deparure from the perspective of the Obama administration, the document does not view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a major cause of the region’s problems. Nevertheless, the strategy reaffirms the Trump administration’s commitment to facilitating a comprehensive peace agreement, which it believes can serve the wider interest of promoting a favorable regional balance of power by increasing Israeli-Arab cooperation in confronting common threats. . . . [It also] breaks from the previous administration’s perception of Iran as part of the solution to regional instability, instead squarely defining Tehran as a major contributor to the region’s problems. American leadership is [now] working to contain and roll back Iran’s malign influence and nuclear ambitions. This is a primary Israeli interest. . . .

The strategy also marks a clear change in the way the U.S. administration understands Israel’s place in the region. Gone are the assumptions held by previous administrations that support for Israel comes with high costs from the Arab world, and that resolving the Palestinian conflict is key to improving U.S. standing in the region. This opens the way for Israel to play a more substantial role in advancing American interests in the Middle East. . . .

The Trump administration’s perception of Russia and China as global power rivals [also] needs to be appreciated by Israel at the regional level. While this perception is not far off from Israel’s own assessment of Russian and Chinese involvement in the region, Jerusalem must ensure that its dealings with these powers are transparent to, and coordinated with, the U.S. administration.

From Israel’s perspective, a major gap in the strategy is the lack of any reference to Hizballah. Though [it is a key instrument of] Iranian influence, Hizballah has developed into a significant regional player in its own right. The U.S. needs a clear policy toward Lebanon that explicitly addresses Hizballah’s domestic power and foreign interference.

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