By Ariel Cohen
Partisan Democrats in the Jewish community are attempting to politicize the security debate of the New START nuclear arms control treaty, the centerpiece of President Obama’s “reset” policy with Russia.
According to a blog posted in The Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA), the New START should be “a Jewish issue.” This is both preposterous and unwise, to say the least.
The JTA blog parrots the National Jewish Democratic Council statement, which suggests that New START has forced Russians to cooperate on U.N. Security Council sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program.
The NJDC statement proclaims: “Can anyone deny that Russian cooperation is essential to ensuring a nuclear-free Iran? Can anyone deny that not passing START will be a dramatic blow to U.S.-Russian relations—and a disaster in terms of our Iran policy? Where is the outcry? Our actions—in this case, our action or inaction on START—will have profoundly important repercussions. The time has come for those in the American Jewish community who care deeply about confronting Iran to help pass START now.”
Newsflash: not every foreign and security debate is about ethnic politics! The truth is, the New START debate is about deadly serious issues, such as nuclear weapons. It should be kept outside of politics, let alone ethnic politics.
There isn’t anything particularly Jewish or Democratic about an arms control treaty. Nor there is anything “Jewish” about the Obama Administration’s decision not to back off criticism about the undervalued Chinese currency just to keep Beijing on board regarding the UN Security Council Iran sanctions.
The New START should be considered on its merits. And it is only marginally relevant to Moscow’s policy in the Middle East.
It is true, of course, that in response to the Bush and then Obama Administrations’ insistence, Russia has acquiesced to signing on to U.N. sanctions against Iran. Bowing to American and Israeli pressure, Russia also halted its sale of S-300 surface-to-air missiles to the Iranian military. The Russian long-range anti-aircraft missile system would make an aerial attack on the Iranian nuclear infrastructure that much more difficult. Yet, as last week’s meeting between President Dmitry Medvedev and his Iranian counterpart in Baku, Azerbaijan, demonstrated, Russia still prefers to talk to, rather than sanction, the ayatollahs.
NJDC, in calling for the Jewish community to promote the New START ratification, assumes a knee-jerk response from a White House functioning as little more than a political mouthpiece. It suggests that passing such an arms control treaty would boost U.S.-Russian relations, and, in turn, somehow reflect on ties between Israel and Russia. This is patently false.
Russia and Israel have good working relations and President Dmitry Medvedev is going to visit Jerusalem in spring of 2011. Israel is planning to sell Russia weapons systems worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Over a million of Russian speakers, who emigrated from the USSR and the post-Soviet countries, live in the Jewish State. Trade ties and tourism between the two nations are flourishing, and Moscow views Israel as a model of the innovation and technological prowess that it desires for itself.
Tellingly, however, the Government of Israel stayed outside the START debate in the U.S., recognizing that this is an exclusively U.S.-Russian issue, and is “above its pay-grade.”
More alarmingly, NJDC ignored the treaty’s restrictions of U.S. missile defenses development and deployment, which would protect U.S. Middle Eastern forces and allies. In fact, Israel is developing its own Arrow missile defense system with U.S. funding.
Nor is Russian behavior in the Middle East beyond reproach. On the contrary: Russia, despite its warm relations with Israel, has built and fueled the Bushehr nuclear plant for the old U.S./Israel enemy Iran; and offered to do the same for Turkey and Syria, antagonizing both the United States and Israel.
Russia has also expanded missile sales to another old friend in the Middle East, Syria, including the state of the art Yakhont anti-ship missiles, and has cultivated diplomatic relations with Hamas, the Islamist terrorist organization that controls Gaza and shells and murders Israeli civilians. Hamas is on the U.S. and the European Union’s terrorism watch list.
Moscow also has contacts with Hezbollah, the fully owned subsidiary of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Lebanon, which remains publicly committed to Israel’s destruction.
Russia wants to once again become a power player in the Middle East in the way its predecessor, the USSR did: by selling weapons, missiles, and nuclear technology; and undermining U.S. interests when it can. Occasionally, it gives terrorists a free pass. At the same time, at least some policymakers in Moscow recognize that a nuclear-armed Iran may be a danger to Russian interests, and as are Sunni radicals who support and fund a decade-and-a-half long Islamist insurrection in North Caucasus, in which tens of thousands of Russian citizens have died.
The Kremlin will formulate its policy towards Iran, Turkey, Israel and the Arab countries based on its own interests, and at times, in opposition to the U.S. agenda. Dragging New START into this equation is bad politics—and bad policy.