by Jim Lobe
Updating the post I wrote a couple of weeks ago on how the U.S. failed to persuade some of its closest allies not to join the new Chinese-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), it’s worth noting that Israel has also abandoned Washington by signing up for membership.
The Israeli foreign ministry announced on March 31–the deadline for applying to join the new bank–that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had signed “a letter of application to join the [AIIB], a result of the initiative of the President of China.”
The process of joining the bank was led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in recognition of the importance of joining major Asian organizations on the continent. Israel’s membership in the Bank will open opportunities for integration of Israeli companies in various infrastructure projects, which will be financed by the bank.
…It should be noted that the establishment of the bank is a Chinese diplomatic achievement. China initially intended that 35 countries should join, and to date 50 countries have joined. The establishment of AIIB is one of the most important initiatives in terms of Chinese foreign policy and in particular for President Xi Jinping, as this is his personal initiative.
Needless to say, Israel’s decision, which is perfectly defensible on the grounds of national interest, constitutes another slap at the Obama administration, which in the view of many experts stupidly lobbied U.S. allies against membership. (Of Washington’s closest allies, only Canada and Japan did not apply.) Israel has substantial commercial interests in China, particularly in the hi-tech and defense sectors. In fact, the Pentagon has long complained about Israeli transfers of sensitive U.S. military technology to China. In 2004, the Bush administration even sent then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and Greater Israel advocate Douglas Feith to Jerusalem to demand the resignation of the director general of the Israeli Defense Ministry, Amos Yaron, for allegedly concealing details of the sale and upgrade of an Israel-made Harpy attack drone to China.
Of course, one of the reasons Obama lobbied allies against joining the bank is that he knew that a Republican Congress would itself reject Washington’s accession. The same Republican Congress has steadfastly refused to ratify a long-pending governance reform of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank that would give Beijing and some other middle-income countries a somewhat bigger voice in the two western-dominated Bretton-Woods institutions (even without diluting the U.S. voting power on their boards). And, yes, this is the same Republican Congress that invited Netanyahu to speak to it, that approves virtually any appropriation desired by Israel, and that is trying its utmost to derail a multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran largely at Bibi’s behest.
Of course, although the same Republicans insist that Obama and the West should take a tougher stand on Russian moves on Ukraine, Netanyahu has, so far as I’m aware, remained steadfastly neutral on Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. Russia’s ambassador to the UN even absented himself from the hall when the General Assembly voted to condemn the annexation one year ago.
Like most small countries, Israel practices realpolitik. Despite claims by AIPAC, neoconservatives, and many Christian Zionists that Israel is our “closest ally” in the Middle East, if not the world, and that its “values” are identical to our own, in fact, it pursues its own interests abroad with little regard for Republican (or anyone else’s) sensibilities. As we have reported before, it is also providing support to al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, but no Republican that I know of has raised the slightest objection.
Indeed, in their devotion to Netanyahu and his Likud Party, no doubt well lubricated by the millions of dollars in campaign and other political contributions offered by Sheldon Adelson, Paul Singer, and other Republican Jewish Coalition donors, most Republican lawmakers appear perfectly comfortable with Israel’s Middle East policies, including continued settlement-building and expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the de facto blockade against Gaza, and demands that Israel be recognized as a Jewish State. These actions and others serve not only to radicalize the Palestinians and other Arabs but also make it more difficult for the United States and its military to gain goodwill and operate effectively throughout the region, as then-CentCom Commander Gen. David Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee shortly after Netanyahu became prime minister.
Indeed, no one has undermined U.S. credibility in the region and beyond over the past six years as much as Bibi himself.