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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Israel's alliance with the US is better than ever

In Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, college classmate and historian Michael Oren reviews the history of Israel's alliance with the United States, and concludes that while there are tensions, the alliance is better than ever.
Israel is the only Middle Eastern country where the American flag is rarely (if ever) burned in protest – indeed, some Israelis fly that flag on their own independence day. And avenues in major American cities are named for Yitzhak Rabin and Golda Meir. Arguably, there is no alliance in the world today more durable and multifaceted than that between the United States and Israel.

Yet the bonds between the two countries were not always so strong. For much of Israel's history, America was a distant and not always friendly power.


The Six-Day War nevertheless inaugurated a dramatic change in America's attitude toward Israel. Israel's astonishing victory in that conflict instantly transformed the "millstone" into an American asset, a hardy fellow democracy and Cold War ally. Nixon regarded Israel as "the best Soviet stopper in the Mideast," and furnished the weaponry Israel needed to prevail in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter both ran on platforms highly favorable to Israel, and dedicated themselves to the search for Israel-Arab peace. By the end of the 1970s, an inchoate U.S.-Israeli alliance had emerged, sealed by the existence of a potent pro-Israel lobby in Washington and the extension to Israel of billions of dollars of American aid.

But the relationship was hardly friction-free. Israel's reluctance to forfeit territories captured in 1967, and its efforts to settle them, became a perennial source of tension. Presidents Ford and Carter threatened to withhold assistance from Israel unless it made territorial concessions. President George H.W. Bush denied Israel loan guarantees for resettling Russian immigrants in the West Bank. Israel's security policies also jolted the alliance – Ronald Reagan condemned Israel's bombardment of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 as well as its siege of Beirut the following year. Americans, in turn, irritated the Israelis with their transfer of sophisticated weapons to Saudi Arabia and their opposition to Israeli arms sales to China.

Such rifts have grown increasingly infrequent, however, and today there are few visible fissures in the U.S.-Israeli front. Yet America has never recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital – imagine if Israel refused to recognize Washington. Powerful interest groups lobby against Israel in Washington while much of American academia and influential segments of the media are staunchly opposed to any association with Israel.
I cannot help but wounder whether the 'rifts' will become more frequent once President Bush leaves office. I fear that they will. But Oren argues that the rifts are generally overcome. Here's why:
One reason, certainly, is values – the respect for civic rights and the rule of law that is shared by the world's most powerful republic and the Middle East's only stable democracy. There is also Israel's determination to fight terror, and its willingness to share its antiterror expertise. Most fundamentally, though, is the amity between the two countries' peoples. The admiration which the U.S. inspires among Israelis is overwhelmingly reciprocated by Americans, more than 70% of whom, according to recent polls, favor robust ties with the Jewish state.

No doubt further upheavals await the alliance in the future – as Iran approaches nuclear capability, for example. Israel may act more muscularly than some American leaders might warrant. The impending change of U.S. administration will also have an effect. But such vicissitudes are unlikely to cause a major schism in what has proven to be one of history's most resilient, ardent and atypical partnerships.
On the whole, I agree with Oren. What puzzles me is that successive administrations do not appear to be pro-Israel despite the overwhelming grassroots support we have in the US.


At 3:35 PM, Blogger Naftali2 said...

Petroleum. This is it, this is what keeps creating the problem. This is why the US pays no attention to the Sudan and Mugabe and why the Arabs living in Gaza and the West Bank merit their own UN agencies.

For many years the US support was close to being a moral obligation. Since Israel became something akin to the world's largest research institution the US needs Israeli technology and military intelligence. Keeps the patents coming, and create alternative ways to power engines or invent different engines--that is going to be the glue that keeps this alliance strong.

Also, demographically, Europe will be more and more distant from the US as Islamism rises.

Israel also needs to forge a strong alliance with India--to form the opposite of OPEC, a tech-group that works not to strangle the west but to technologically free it from the grip of oil.

At 3:43 PM, Blogger etabori said...

So, it's Israel's 60th birthday.....

It seems to be fashionable this time for lots of people to wonder in print and aloud whether the country can survive...or if it should.

Especially in view of a very well funded effort to rewrite history and to delegitimize the US/Israel relationship. To hear some of these people, Israel is at the heart of the problems we have with the Muslim world, and things would be just fine if we became more 'balanced'...or translated, became more pro-Arab and curtailed our support for those pushy, stubborn Jews.

To hear others, Israel can't survive unless it pushes itself into an indefensible enclave and makes even more real estate in the Middle East Jew free, and perhaps not even then. They've forgotten that Israel has beaten much greater odds in the past. Nor do they see the grim irony in encouraging a retreat to borders 'for peace' that would make the destruction of the country and its people far more likely.

But let's take an objective look. So what? What difference does what happens to Israel make to us here in America? Why should we care? Why is what happens to Israel important to the US? If Israel somehow ceased to exist, would it matter?

Very legitimate questions, especially as many people are unaware of the real answers.

To get there, let's put aside any of those slooshy considerations of fairness, justice, religion or humanitarian principles...and go for the cold, hard, self-serving realpolitik reasons why what happens to Israel is important to the US.

First, history shows that the Jews are the early warning signal of history for the West, and the atrocities visited on them first get visited on the non-Jewish world later. Hitler is one example, Islamic terrorism and jihad is another.

The tactics used to bomb New York, London, Mumbai, Bali and Madrid were perfected in Israel.

So was the disinformation and propaganda to rationalize such actions, now used against the US and Europe as well as Israel. What happened in Israel was and is a precursor as to what we can expect here. Israel was merely a front for jihad, not the cause of it.

Second, Israel is one of the most important and reliable allies the US has, and one of the few allies we have with a significant military and intel quotient. Israel's destruction would considerably weaken the US, especially in the Middle East and cost us strategically. Here are a few examples of how that has worked to our advantage:

* Israel singlehandedly pushed the Soviets out of the Middle East during the Cold War and provided America a first hand look at the latest Soviet weapons and technology...without the cost of a single American soldier.

* Israel saved literally thousands of American lives by taking out Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor at Osirak. If not for that, the casualty lists from the first Gulf War would have been very different.

* Israel, with a first class intelligence service in the Mossad and native Arabic and Farsi speakers has contributed immeasurably to US intel by adding to its access in the region and by adding the dimension of `humint'-human intelligence - on the ground. General George Keagan, former head of U.S. Air Force Intelligence, once stated in Congress that "Israel is worth five CIAs," based on the value of intelligence passed to our country.
As our only truly reliable ally and strategic asset in the cradle of Islamofascism, it provides a bulwark and window on America's enemies in the region...like Iran. And Israel effectively secures NATO’s southeastern flank.

* Israel, as one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world is a major partner of the US in weapons technology in numerous joint projects like the Arrow missile. Israeli technology provided an important edge to the USA in both Desert Storm and the first Gulf War.
And the US has access to the fruits of some of the most sophisticated technological installations in the world at Tel-Aviv University and the Technion, Israel's MIT. For instance, the Green Pine radar system utilized in both the US missile defense shield and the proposed missile defense bases in Europe was developed in Israel.

* Israeli troops, with their knowledge of warfare in the Middle East saved US lives by drawing on their experiences in Jenin and elsewhere to teach American soldiers how to fight in the urban battlegrounds of the Middle East, like Falujah. They have also developed unique technology specially adapted to conditions in the Middle East for recon and warfare..all of which have been made available to the US for the asking.

* Israel is the only country we have - with the possible exception of Australia - that makes itself and its facilities available to the United States in any contingency. Israel is America’s base in the region and the defender of America’s interests in that area of the world.

* Israel’s government supports the foreign policy objectives of the United States. In the UN, Israel votes with the United States over 90% of the time. The Arabs and other Moslem countries, recipients of American aid that collectively dwarfs what the US gives Israel, almost always vote against the United States.

* And what about that aid? Israel receives $1.8 billion in military aid and $1.2 billion in economic aid from the US yearly. Almost all of the military aid is spent in the United States, making Israel one of the major customers of the U.S. defense industry.
Almost all of the economic assistance goes for debt repayment to the United States, incurred from military purchases dating back many years.
Unlike our troops and bases stationed in Korea, Japan, Germany, and other places, not a single American serviceperson needs to be stationed in Israel. Considering that the cost of one serviceperson per year — including backup and infrastructure — is about $200,000, and the minimum contingent is around 25,000 troops, the cost savings to the United States in cold hard dollars alone is on the order of $5 billion a year.

And that's without factoring in the value of the intel, technology and strategic benefits the US receives from our alliance with Israel.

Based on this, a good case could be made that aid to Israel, certainly the military portion, should be part of the United States defense budget and hardly considered `foreign aid' at all.

* Third, Israel is an important trading partner of the US and a leader in biotechnology, agriculture, solar, medical technology, computer science, irrigation technology, synthetic energy, and a number of other fields. And the 'value added' component to that trade far outweighs the actual dollar value.
Many American corporations like Intel and Hewlett Packard have facilities there to take advantage of the talent coming out of TAU and the Technion. The cell phone and cell communications technology, for example, were perfected in Israel.

Fourth, if Israel disappeared, America's problems with the Muslim world wouldn't change one iota and in fact would get much worse.

A casual examination of history shows the fallacy of abandoning a loyal, powerful ally to appease an enemy, especially during wartime.
Nor would it improve relations between the US and the Arab world .
The proof of that is to examine the US relationship with the Arab World before we became one of Israel's main allies..after the `67 Six-Day War. That's because real alliances come from shared values..something we don't have in common with a large chunk of the Islamic world.

Getting rid of what the Muslims world refers to as the Little Satan would just weaken the Big Satan, America and deprive us of one of our strongest and most valuable allies. And a victory over the hated Jews would only embolden America's enemies.

Take Israel out of the equation and the Saudis would still be exporting jihad to the West, Iran and its allies would still be a threat to the US and jihadis would still target America and Americans. And like Israel, it would be simply because of who we are, not because of anything we've done.

So yes, ordinary Americans should DEFINITELY care what happens to Israel. From a strictly pragmatic, self-interested point of view if nothing else...because it's been a good relationship for both parties.

And wishing our ally a happy 60th is certainly a good and proper thing to do.

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