The central tenet of Israel's diplomatic, economic and military strategy is that it is inextricably bound to the United States. This alliance has given Israel and the US many benefits, and is of central importance to both countries. Of course, it makes sense to keep on the good side of the world's foremost (and currently the only) superpower, and of course, Israel and the US are natural allies in many ways -- due to coincidence of interests as well as shared moral and political values.
However, we should have no illusions. For all the natural good will that may exist between two democracies, alliances are founded on cold strategic considerations. Yitzhak Rabin made this point when he was Israel's ambassador to the US. The United States will maintain its alliance with Israel as long as it deems it to be of strategic value. Remember the Godfather: "Business is Business." The history of world diplomacy is replete with lies and betrayals, and the US, though better than most, is no exception.
The alliance has created a potentially dangerous imbalance. Today Israel essentially has one firm ally in the world, the United States, and it has grown increasingly dependent on that ally, burning bridges or ignoring others, tying its entire defense effort to US military aid, and hitching its diplomatic efforts to the fortunes of the US in the Middle East.
During the tenure of the Bush administration, this dependence has reached new highs. Israel and the "Israel lobby" have been identified with the war in Iran and the War on Terror. Israel does not make a move without consulting the US, and the US usually consults Israel about Middle East questions. The Bush administration will not continue indefinitely however, and its own Middle East policy may be about to change.
Gains from this alliance include US support for Israeli positions and generous military assistance. However, the alliance has egregious vulnerabilities and liabilities for both sides:Loss of Independence
- Israel is increasingly limited in foreign policy options because of US objections. Thus, Israel was obliged to respect the government of Fuad Seniora in Lebanon during the last war, and to pretend that the Seniora government was not harboring, aiding and abetting the Hezbollah terrorists who were attacking Israel. It would have been no trick at all for Israel to wipe out the Lebanese government and produce a decisive military victory, but that victory would have had disastrous diplomatic consequences, primarily because of the often repeated US commitment to supporting the Seniora government, which is billed as a democracy. Israel was also limited in its options for dealing with Palestinians. A US embargo on military spare parts at the start of the Bush administration voided the possibility of decisive Israeli action against the nascent Intifada. Since the terror attacks were possible, they became acceptable - a way of life that Israel had to endure for five years. Since those who advocated violence in Palestinian society were successful, the importance of Hamas and violent Palestinian factions grew. That was the damage inflicted by the Bush administration due to ignorance.
Indeed, the massive involvement of the US with Israel began not in 1948, when Israel needed the US the most, but rather in 1967, when Israel demonstrated that it could act independently in the Middle East, and was therefore a threat to US regional hegemony. US aid generally had strings attached. The US airlift during the Yom Kippur war was expressly intended by Henry Kissinger to give the US leverage in Israel and Egypt, to force Israeli concessions which would gain a position for the US in Egypt. What Kissinger sowed, Jimmy Carter reaped. The Israel-Egyptian peace was cemented by massive long term US aid to both countries. The aid comes with strings of course. It is the American way of ensuring that Israel behaves. Military vulnerability
- Israel has atrophied development of the local defense industry because US military hardware and supplies were cheaper or even free. That means that in any war, Israel is dependent for resupply on the distant United States, which is not always able or willing to respond in time to emergency needs. Economic and political consequences of military dependence
- Israel's defense exports are hurt because US vetos deals that supposedly export US strategic technology. Often this technology was actually developed in Israel, but FMS (Foreign Military Spending) regulations made it necessary to involve US firms. US and world public opinion
- Anti-Zionists make good use of the large amount of US aid to Israel, and of US support for Israel to drum up opposition to Israel and the "Israel lobby" in the USA. Persian Gulf and other Arab and Muslim pundits hammer at US support for Israel, which they want to barter for better relations with the US. If Israel had more western allies, the US position would not be so vulnerable. Opportunities for alliances that are ignored or missed
- Israel has several potential useful and powerful allies, but it cannot or does not cultivate these relations sufficiently because of its involvement with the US, and the apparent perception that only the US is important and the US will remain number one forever. These possible allies include Russia and India in particular. Guilt by association
- Zionism and Israel have come to be identified with all the worst features of Globalization, the Iraq war fiasco and the War on Terror. This hurts Israel and hurts the US. Opponents of the Iraq war in the Middle East and terrorist groups harp on US support for Israel. Opponents of Israel harp on the Iraq war, which they claim was due to the influence of the "neocon Zionists" and the "Israel Lobby." It doesn't matter that Osama Bin Laden wants to overthrow the Saudi regime, or that 65% of US Jews oppose the war in Iraq. Facts don't count. PR hype and ideological subversion are what counts. In the US, increasing numbers of people are convinced that Israel and the Jews are to blame for the war in Iraq, and in Europe and the Middle East this is certainly true. The huge tide of resentment this has created cannot be stemmed by a "branding" campaign alone. It requires some changes in policy. Diplomatic and Strategic Dependence
- The Israeli star is tied to that of the US. In the more distant future, we can say with fair certainty that other powers will challenge the pre-eminence of the US and that ultimately, it is unlikely that the US will remain number one forever.
More immediately, if the US were to suffer a major military or diplomatic reverse in the Middle East, it could signal disaster for Israel. Such a reverse is brewing in Iraq, and alarmingly enough, the Israeli government seems to be largely oblivious.
The US debacle in Iraq is unfortunately fairly close to a foregone conclusion. In addition to direct effects on regional stability, influence on Iran, possible toppling of relatively moderate Gulf regimes, Israel should be taking steps to cushion the blow rather than waiting for it to happen, but no such activity is visible.
The "New Middle East" will be one in which Russia, China and France are at least equal players with the US, and Iran will be an emerging regional power. Iran has over ten times the population of Israel, a huge land area, oil and uranium. As Iran industrializes, with or without the acquisition of nuclear weapons, it could become the number one power in the Middle East. The era in which Israel, backed by the USA, dominates the Middle East militarily, began in 1967. Now it is coming to an end.
A more direct threat may or may not come from the US bipartisan committee that is reviewing American polity in Iraq. Whatever this committee recommends, it is not going to find a formula for victory, but rather, a graceful way of disguising defeat. As noted, the fallout from this defeat itself will be enormous and Israel is not prepared for that. But the committee is chaired by Bush family consigliere James Baker, who has been commissioned to get the US out of the Iraq mess. Baker, it will be remembered, is the one who said "F*ck the Jews, they didn't vote for us," and pushed aggressively for "peace" between Israel and its neighbors, under conditions that would have been unacceptable to Israel. Baker has before him the report of Mearsheimer and Walt about the "Israel Lobby," which "explains" that Israel is a strategic liability to the U.S. He has before him the countless op-eds in Gulf state journals and anti-Zionist publications that say exactly the same thing.
An article in the Forward
seeks to calm fears about Baker's Iraq task force. But the report is anything but calming. For example, it states:
Yet some of the experts who advised the Baker-Hamilton group believe that the American role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be ignored when trying to address the situation in Iraq. Professor Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland, a member of the Expert Working Groups providing the committee with professional advice, told the Forward that “it is very difficult to think of Iraq in a way that separates between Iraq and the other interests of the U.S. in the region.” Telhami, who stressed that he was speaking for himself and not for the committee, added that even if the report is careful not to link the situation in Iraq and the Israeli-Arab conflict, it is still important to look at the ways of solving the Iraqi problem “in the sense of a broader Middle East policy.”
This is of little comfort either:
“You need to be paranoid to fear any change of policy towards Israel by this administration,” said Morris Amitay, former director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and a supporter of the hawkish Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs."
You need to be paranoid to think that the Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White house lawn would degenerate into today's nightmare, that Palestinian terrorists would attack Israel but the US would veto Israeli defensive actions, that Palestinians would fire rockets on Israeli towns from Gaza and Israel would be powerless to stop them -- and the US and the world would look on and do nothing, that hundreds of rockets would fall on the Gallilee but the world would blame it on Israel, that Israel would fight a war against a third rate guerilla force and not come out a decisive winner, that Nasser would close the straights of Tiran, but the US and other world powers would renege on their solemn commitments to open waterways, or that a madman would arise in Germany and kill six million Jews. You need to be paranoid to think that Britain would promise a national home for the Jews in Palestine, and then give 78% of it to an Arab state, and later cut off Jewish immigration to that homeland. All these are visions of a paranoid madman, but they all happened.
Someone should remind Amitay, that you need to be paranoid to survive in the Middle East, and you need to be paranoid to survive if you are Jewish. A long time ago my thesis advisor had a poster that was given to him by his wife. It read, "Just because you are paranoid, it doesn't mean everyone is not out to get you."
When we get into the specifics of what is contemplated, as explained by the Forward, it becomes obvious that a major change in US Middle East policy is in the works, and that it will most certainly affect Israel:
The bipartisan study group on Iraq co-chaired by former secretary of state James Baker will likely call for American engagement with Iran and Syria, but sources familiar with the process say there are no plans to push for a stepped-up role of the United States in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
...Even if the Baker-Hamilton committee avoids the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the widely held assumption is that the committee will call for an end to the diplomatic isolation of Syria and to the engagement with the regime of Bashar Assad. In an interview with ABC News last month, Baker openly acknowledged that he personally believes in dialogue with Syria. “I don’t think you restrict your conversations to your friends,”” Baker said, adding that without his 16 trips to Damascus as secretary of state, Syria never would have agreed to sit and negotiate with Israel at the Madrid conference in 1991.
Hamilton has expressed similar views. “It’s never been clear to me how you can solve questions without talking to people,” he said in a PBS interview. “It’s necessary to invite some of these countries with whom we’ve had a very rocky relationship over a period of years if you’re going to be thinking in terms of a solution to the problem.”
The idea of a regional conference in which America, Iraq and neighboring countries discuss the problems of the region is one of the recommendations being discussed by the committee. Such a conference, if convened, would bring together the United States and representatives of Iran and Syria, two countries that the administration has attempted to isolate on the international scene.
“I believe that engaging with Syria will be one of the recommendations of the committee and that the administration will act upon it, but I don’t think this will reflect any strategic shift towards Syria,” Alterman said, noting that the administration does not believe that Damascus has changed its basic policies in the region."Such a conference, if convened" will not discuss the price of bagels in Bialystok. It will discuss US support for Israel. There is no way that Iran and Arab countries will not put the Palestinian issue, as well as Syrian territorial claims, on the bargaining table.
Make no mistake. The issue is not whether or not there will be real peace. Real peace would be wonderful. Real peace is not what Mr. Ahmadinejad or Mr. Assad will be pushing at that conference and in their engagement. They will push for Israeli withdrawal to 1967 lines AND Palestinian right of return. They will push for establishment of a Palestinian state, which in present reality can only be a Hamas led state dedicated to destroying Israel. Syria will also push for Israeli withdrawal to 1967 armistice lines, giving it control of the Sea of Gallilee and rubber stamping acquisition of territory by force, since these territories were not part of Syria in the 1923 international border, but were acquired by force in 1948.
It is not likely that such an international conference, meeting with or without the participation of Israel, can having anything good in store for Israel.
The issue is whether a foreign power, displaying the ignorance of the Middle East and the irresponsibility characteristic of such powers, will force Israel into agreements that will not be kept, in return for guarantees that are worthless, such as those that underwrote the Oslo peace process or the withdrawal from Suez in 1956. "Land for peace" can be a justifiable policy. "Land for genocide" is not. Israel will be faced with an extremely unpleasant choice, because of its total dependence on the US.
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Replies: 5 Comments
It is also diar to admit that the mindless landgrab in the West bank choked monies that should have benn earmarked for internal development, education, health and the poor, thus making Israel not much poorer nation but also perecieved as a beligerent nation. It also convinced many israeli to leave and seek a better life elsewhere, because the politicians caved in to the pressures and let the settlers run amok. Therefore, Israel had to seek finaicial aid from the American Master. This one sided reporting is not fair to the readers nor to Israelis who try to remain honest about what happened and not be turned into yes men to the ambitious fantasies of Bible. You could calculate the dollars saved on not supporting the infrastructure and defense of over 125 settlemtns and see how much more freedom Israel could have had economically and in its foreing affairs. Keeping the facts in your reporting please!
Al Ramey, Sunday, November 5th
The writer needs to think of a long term vision for the Jewish and Israeli people and that can only be on the basis of Peace with the Arab neighbours.
Israel needs to to stop and think afetr their loss in Lebanon. The Military option is over and the political option of dialogue and a fair, just and truthful option is the only option. The US is jumping ship. See the writing on the Wall and learn to live like normal people for your and our sakes as well. I write this as a sympathizer of the Jewish people and as a friend
Feroze Mithiborwala, Saturday, November 4th
J.S. comment underlines the problem. Russia is an elemental fact of life, just like France, and other countries. And as US influence in the ME - and interest in Israel wanes -- Israel will be in danger if we don't take into account the facts of life.
Thomas - Anyone interested in publishing this article or an abbreviated version should contact me.
Ami Isseroff, Friday, November 3rd
I believe Israel is in *real* danger, but it's not just that Israel is far too dependent on the United States. It's about Russia. Putin visited Egypt. The reason? To develop Egypt's "peaceful" atomic capabilities. Russia wishes to assit Egypt in building 4 new reactors. Is this a new arms race? How will the U.S. respond? Already Egypt is Number 2 in terms of monetary and military aid from the U.S. Will this make the U.S. even more pro-Egypt?
J.S., Friday, November 3rd
This is an eye-opener, it should be published in the Israeli press and Jewish press, specially in the US. Is it possible? Regards,
Thomas Braun, Friday, November 3rd
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