“Allies fear a U.S. Pullback in Mideast,” shouted a headline splashed on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, reflecting a sense of hysteria in Israel and Saudi Arabia that the diplomatic rapprochement between Washington and Tehran was “just the latest evidence that a war-weary U.S. is slowly seeking to close the books on a series of nettlesome long-term problems, allowing Washington to pull back from its longtime commitment to the Middle East.”

Reading the report and, in particular, the reference to these two U.S. “allies,” I recalled that political thinker Walter Lippmann had urged Washington to resist the temptation to inflate the number of U.S. allies and alliances.  “A great power like the United States gains no advantage and it loses prestige by offering, indeed peddling, its alliances to all and sundry,” he stressed.

Indeed, by accepting the notion that the relationship between the United States, the Jewish state, and the gas station in the Arabian Peninsula amounts to a strategic “alliance,” we assume that Washington shares with the Saudis and the Israelis a set of long-term common interests and a similar view of the world.  As a result we end up interpreting major disagreements between Washington and these two Middle Eastern countries as a sign that a critical alliance is crumbling and that the Americans need to “do something” to prevent that from happening by accommodating the concerns of Jerusalem and Riyadh.

In reality, Saudi Arabia and Israel are two client states of Washington, and they are dependent on U.S. military and diplomatic support for their survival.  For more than six decades moral considerations created a semblance of strategic partnership between the Americans and the Israelis and Saudis.  These considerations included, in the case of Israel, access to oil (in Saudi Arabia) and the need to contain the threats from the Soviet Union and its client states in the region during the Cold War.

Even at the heights of these affairs, the Americans haven’t always agreed with the leaders in Riyadh (over oil prices and policy toward Israel) and Jerusalem (over the issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank), and such disagreements frequently got very ugly.

Now that the conditions that helped advance these partnerships are changing in a very dramatic way, the disagreements are getting even uglier, creating the impression that, while it’s hard to do, the time may have come for breaking up and starting to look around for new dates.

Indeed, since the United States is expected to produce enough oil in the coming years to rival Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest energy producer, it’s not surprising that Americans feel they can tell the Saudis to go fly a falcon.  More specifically, they need to explain to them that the conflict between their Arab-Sunni theocracy and the Persian-Shi’ite Iranians affects core U.S. interests in a very marginal way, and that Washington is not going to be drawn into the civil war in Syria or into a military confrontation with Iran in order to help advance the interests of the Saudis and their Arab-Sunni allies.

And since Israel has become an advanced industrial economy and a global high-tech center, not to mention that she is now a regional military superpower equipped with nuclear weapons, there is no reason why Washington should buy into the spin being promoted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Islamic Republic of Iran is like Nazi Germany, threatening an Israel that is, in turn, like Czechoslovakia in 1938, and that an American President making deals with Tehran is an appeaser like Neville Chamberlain.

Netanyahu considers it in Israel’s interest to secure her current nuclear military monopoly in the Middle East by preventing Iran from having nukes.  Whether going to war with Iran in order to achieve that goal makes sense for Israel is a decision that the Israelis should make.

But the Israelis should also recognize that a militarily overstretched United States that is in the process of shifting her strategic focus to East Asia to respond to challenges from China has no interest in going to war with Iran to secure Israel’s nuclear monopoly.

Instead, Washington can live with a deal that slows down Iran’s drive for nuclear military power and allows the Americans to launch a process of diplomatic and economic engagement with Iran, a leading regional power that exerts enormous influence on what is happening in the Persian Gulf and the Levant.

Now, if the Israelis, or for that matter the Saudis (or the Turks or the French), don’t like the idea of American engagement with Tehran and consider Iran with or without a nuke a direct threat to their national security, here is an idea: Israel and Saudi Arabia could band together and combine their enormous military and economic power to deal with Iran.

And if they are not ready to do that, they may have no choice but to lower the volume of their criticism of Washington and to follow the lead of their global patron.  That’s what client states do.