ISRAEL is troubled by the perception the US is an “empire of the past” and wants a resurgent America to lead a decisive confrontation with Iran, a top official has said.

“America is tested” at a pivotal moment in the history of the Middle East, said Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister, Dan Meridor, who is also the Minister for Intelligence and Nuclear Energy.

The Arab world was watching the US closely: “They look to America. If America does not seem to be able to contain the Iranian threat, will they go with Iran?”
“This is of world-order magnitude,” he told the Herald in an interview. Israel, which depends on the US as its security guarantor, itself appears to have new doubts about US judgment.

Mr Meridor said he was “surprised” at the Obama administration’s treatment of a longstanding US ally, Egypt’s former president: “Was it necessary to immediately empower the demonstrators against him and let [Hosni] Mubarak go? It’s seen by all the allies of America in the Arab world. I don’t know where the tide of history will go and I’m not sure they know.”

“The perception, that I hope is wrong, that America is weakening is not good, but I hope that America will find a way, and I believe they can, to restore itself as the leading country and not allow those impressions spread by the Iraq war that America is an empire of the past. All this is here on the table.

“America has started wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Is it a success story or not? What happens in Pakistan? … It may be the use of power showed the limits of power.”

Mr Meridor, a senior member of the Likud party of the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said the confrontation with Iran was “a decisive conflict”.

“The end of it is very important. 

If the end of it is that Iran has nuclear power, it will have grave effects on world order, on balance of power, and on the Middle East.

“It may spell the end of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty regime, not only because Iran will be nuclear, but because other countries say they will need to be nuclear, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and others may do it. 

“No more the responsible adults tell the kids what to do. When everybody has the bomb you can’t contain or control or interfere as America could do.”

The US President, Barack Obama, last week called on Israel to take the initiative to break the stalemate over peace talks.

Mr Meridor said the Netanyahu government was still debating its position internally.

His personal position, he said, was “we should be very active in trying to bring them to the table.

“Time is not neutral here. Neither the Palestinians nor we gain from the passage of time. I don’t think their situation gets better.”

The Arab uprisings would affect the internal Palestinian power struggle between the moderate Fatah party, which controls the West Bank, and the radical Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
Because Fatah drew support from Egypt, it would become relatively weaker than Hamas, which is supported by Syria and Iran.

This would mean “the strengthening of the religious paradigm and the weakening of the national paradigm,” Mr Meridor said. And Israel did not benefit from delay either: “We can’t stay like this with undefined borders. We need to put an end to it if we can.”

Peter Hartcher travelled to Israel as a guest of the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce.