[Op Ed] The Washington Times | The first step toward a safer world

I will never forget the time Menachem Begin, a Nobel Peace laureate and Israel’s prime minister from 1977 to 1983, took me into his office and showed me a strategic plan he was to present to the president of the United States.

He had concluded that America could not effectively win wars in the Middle East. His theory was that by the time the United States reached the region to fight a war, that particular conflict would have ended, and a new one would have started. Wars in the Middle East take on a chameleon character.

Instead, America shouldn’t just like Israel, it needed Israel to be its champion in the region, and sometimes to be its surrogate.

Menachem Begin was right. Israel remains the only nation in the Middle East that believes what the United States believes about democracy, human rights and security.

Make no mistake, the renewed relationship between the United States and Israel — as illustrated by the warm meeting shared by President Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — was rarely weaker than it was during the Obama era and has almost never been stronger than it feels like today.

Echoes of this change in the U.S. — Israel relationship could be heard in Mr. Netanyahu’s words after his first meeting with Mr. Trump.

“Our alliance has been remarkably strong, but under your leadership I’m confident it will get even stronger,” said the Israeli prime minister, addressing the president at last week’s press conference. “I look forward to working with you to dramatically upgrade our alliance in every field — in security, in technology, in cyber and trade, and so many others. And I certainly welcome your forthright call to ensure that Israel is treated fairly in international forums, and that the slander and boycotts of Israel are resisted mightily by the power and moral position of the United States of America.”

Mr. Obama’s policy of deferment toward Israel — as evidenced by the administration’s refusal to veto a U.N. Security Council Resolution against Israeli settlements last year — wasn’t just a matter of preference. It was dangerous. It told the world that the United States did not back Israel, especially during some of the years the Jewish people have been threatened the most.

Since 2008 there has been an increase of concern among Western European Jews — up from 10 percent to 40 percent — that anti-Semitism is the most dangerous threat facing their communities. This fear is well-founded, given that in 2014 there was a 38 percent increase in anti-Semitic attacks in Europe, according to a study conducted by Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry.

Even more, the Obama administration’s softened stance toward Iran — especially as illustrated by the oft-criticized nuclear deal, lifting sanctions worth billions of dollars — put Israel in greater peril and helped feed the destabilization of the entire region. Even Obama Secretary of State John Kerry begrudgingly admitted that money freed from the lifted sanctions would probably be used for terrorism.

The fact that the United States secretly sent $400 million to Iran last year — even though the regime has been listed as a sponsor of terrorism since 1984, and the State Department confirmed in June that it’s currently the foremost state sponsor of extremism — should leave no trace of doubt that the past administration played a role, if indirect, in fueling violence.

Friendship with Israel is more than a matter of convenience, public approval or regional interest. It’s a matter of international safety.

Israel should have been America’s best friend during the rise of ISIS, the most violent terror group in modern history, and throughout the conflict in Syria. Yet, Mr. Obama snubbed Mr. Netanyahu as the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis unraveled in the Middle East and the terror group exported its brand of extremism to the world. The past administration left the world a more unstable place because, in an attempt to be for everyone and everything, it failed to keep its allies close.

Like him or not, Mr. Trump now has the job of leading the fight for world peace.

Rekindling the U.S.-Israeli relationship is not only correct and diplomatically expedient. In the post-Obama era, it’s the first step the United States must take to make the world a safer place.

• Michael D. Evans is the head of several prominent international nonprofit organizations in the United States, the Netherlands and Israel, including the Friends of Zion Heritage Center and Museum in Jerusalem.