For his first overseas trip of a new term, President Barack Obama chose to visit Israel – keen to make a new start with an old ally.

"I think Israel uses scare tactics to force the US to abide by Israeli demands by threatening Iran, by behaving like a mad dog that needs to be controlled."

- Mohammad Marandi, University of Tehran

The pomp, ceremony and mutual glad-handing between Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, was meant to highlight how the 'special relationship' between the US and Israel has developed into the 'Unbreakable Alliance'.

But what exactly was the point of President Obama's recent venture to the Middle East?

Recent elections in both countries served to highlight the undisguised antipathy between the two leaders, but, at the same time, the last four years have seen unrivalled levels of military and intelligence cooperation as well as increased levels of US aid to Israel.

In the muddied waters of geopolitical exchange, America and Israel have never been so close and yet so far apart – not least on the two most contentious issues: the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Iran's nuclear ambitions.

As the fractious partners in the 'Unbreakable Alliance' naval gaze at their own uncertain futures, we analyse how the Middle East views the US and its regional ally with burgeoning self-assurance.

"[In] Saudi Arabia ... we are not talking with the Iranians about the nuclear issue .... We want to stay away from it ... this matter is very sensitive, we would much rather leave it to the Americans and to the Israelis and stay away from this confrontation which will hurt us all."

- Jamal Khashoggi, editor-in-chief of Al Arab news channel

With a panel of international experts with an unprecedented scope of regional knowledge, Empire explores the unspoken realities facing the Middle East, left unresolved by Obama's visit. On the subject of Iran and how to deal with its aspiring nuclear capabilities, we hear the views of those most affected but very rarely heard at the same time in the same place.

As the recent Arab League summit in Doha showed, new alignments and new cartographies of power are being drawn across the Middle East - a region in flux that is underscoring the relative decline of one-time US domination.

With Israel scrambling to maintain its assumed nuclear and strategic pre-eminence, and the US keen to retain some authority in a Middle East where it dithered in responding to the uprisings of the Arab Spring, as it has on the crisis in Syria, Empire unpacks the rhetoric of Obama's Israeli visit and dissects the real issues that the US President, Israel and the Arab world, urgently need to address.
To examine these crucial matters, we are joined by guests: Hillary Mann Leverett, co-author of Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms With the Islamic Republic, and in depth analysis from Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist, columnist and author, currently editor-in-chief of the Bahrain based 24-hour Al Arab news channel; Mehran Kamrava, director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, and author of several books, including his most recent The Modern Middle East: A Political History since the First World War; Robert Fisk,  Middle East correspondent for The Independent and author of numerous titles, including The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East; and Mohammad Marandi, professor of English Literature at the University of Tehran and member of the North American Studies department.

"It was theatrics. It was a preposterous visit. What better symbol is there of failing American power than to have a president who even before he goes to Israel summons representatives of major American groups and says 'I'm not going to be able to do anything, I have no plan, I have no project'. How pathetic, how pitiful."

Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for The Independent


This episode of Empire can be seen from Sunday, March 31 at the following times GMT: Sunday: 2000; Monday: 1200; Tuesday: 0100; Wednesday: 0600.

Click here for more Empire.

Source: Al Jazeera