The "special relationship," under various names such as "strategic alliance" and "unbreakable bond", between Israel
and the United States, is very much in the news these days. Yoram Ettinger
and Shlomo Ben-Ami
think it is very hard to break this relationship. Caroline Glick thinks it is already broken
. In his Cairo speech, Barack Obama
America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.
Those who read such rhetoric imagine many things about United States policy. The facts tell a different story. U.S. President Wilson was moved by his adviser, Henry Morgenthau, and by sentiments of Louis Brandeis, to favor a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine after World War I. Anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic pressure, however, moved him to appoint the King Crane commission, led by unsympathetic politicians who returned an unfavorable report. In the critical period of World War II, the United States did almost nothing to facilitate rescue of European Jews, or to reverse the British White Paper policy that prevented Jewish immigration to Palestine. On the contrary, there is evidence that the OSS gave the British information about the Jewish underground. President Franklyn Delano Roosevelt assured King Saud that the United States would never favor an independent Jewish state. President Harry S Truman reversed this policy against the opposition of the US State Department, which was, and remained, anti-Zionist and not particularly favorable to persons of the Jewish persuasion. Despite granting recognition to the new Jewish state, the Truman administration imposed an arms embargo that primarily affected Israel during the Israel War of Independence. The United States later prosecuted Americans who had circumvented the embargo and smuggled aircraft to Israel. America did exert diplomatic pressure to prevent the United Nations from lopping off the Negev and giving it to the Arabs as favored by the Bernadotte Plan, but the US pressured Israel to accept Arab "peace" offers which included return of 500,000 Palestinian Arab refugees and territorial concessions.
After the war, the United States gave Israel a loan of $100,000,000, intended to be sufficient for resettlement of 250,000 European refugees (about $400 apiece) and rebuilding after the war. During the Eisenhower administration, American policy toward Israel can only be described as antagonistic. The United States and Britain pressured Israel to concede a chunk of territory in the Negev to Egypt. The CIA installed an adviser in Cairo who encouraged Gamal Abdul Nasser to camouflage his Soviet arms deal as a Czech arms deal, so it would appear less threatening. The Eisenhower administration, like all those following it, participated in UN condemnations of Israel for "violations" of the mythical international status of Jerusalem, and like all other US administrations until 1967, the Eisenhower administration did nothing about flagrant Jordanian violations of the cease fire agreement as well as the international status in Jerusalem. American financiers paid for a hotel built over part of the Jewish cemetery on Mt Olives. Eisenhower forced Israel to withdraw from Sinai and Gaza after the 1956 Suez campaign, in return for a memorandum about freedom of navigation that proved to be worthless, and Eisenhower entertained the slave owning King Saud of Saudi Arabia, his wives, sheep and chickens, in conspicuous luxury and with pomp and ceremony appropriate to a close, trusted and admired ally. No Israeli leader was accorded such honors. The only thing special about the US-Israel relationship until 1960 was the special part of the doghouse reserved for Israel.
Under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, Israel-US relations became less frosty. Israel got some minor military aid. Still, prior to the Six Day War, US aid to Israel was mostly symbolic and often in the form of loans that had to be repaid (See a complete history of US Aid to Israel) It never reached $100, million in loans or grants in any year after 1949. Israel did have a special relationship with France. The IDF was equipped with French arms, purchased with Israeli tax money and contributions from Jews abroad. President Johnson's professed love of Israel did not extend to helping equip the Israel army or to fulfilling US obligations to maintain Israel's freedom of navigation. Election campaign declarations and fond reminiscences must never be confused with policy.
The Six Day War brought a change in US - Israel relationships. This change was not based on any emotional tie of the American people to Jews or to Israeli democracy, but rather on some hard strategic facts. Yitzhak Rabin, who was Ambassador to the United States in that period, warned that US relations to Israel would always be based on strategic considerations rather than sentiment, and he has been proven consistently correct. The considerations were:
1. Cold War - Israel was "fortunate" enough to have the USSR as an enemy. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. The United States could not let the USSR and its allies score a victory over Israel, so Israel got Phantom interceptors and massive aid during the Yom Kippur war.
2. Aid means control - US policymakers were appalled by the fact that Israel was able to win the war without US arms, and was not dependent on the United States, because that meant that Israel was not subordinate to US interests. The Fulbright committee considered taxing US charitable donations to Israel in order to choke Israel's financing of arms. The senators were convinced that Israel used the money to buy Mirage jets rather than to build Hadassah hospital and the Hebrew University and plant trees. However, it was decided that this measure was impractical, since the senators believed that the Jews control congress. Such is the nature of the "special" relationship of the US with Israel. Supplying the arms to Israel was a more effective approach. If you want a say, you have to pay.
3. Leverage - With the US controlling Israel, and Israel holding Arab territories, Israeli concessions could be used as leverage to bring the United States into the Arab Middle East. That is precisely what Henry Kissinger and Jimmy Carter did regarding Egypt.
All three of the above considerations are clear from the public statements and memoirs of officials. They are only ignored at election time and occasions that call for speechifying. The largest increase in US aid to Israel was approved under the Carter administration. Nobody would argue that Jimmy Carter has a special love for Israel and the Jewish people, but that was the price that Carter was willing to pay in order to buy a peace settlement with Egypt and win Egypt as a US client. There is no need to expand on the state of US-Israel relations during the administration of George Bush Sr. and James ("F--- the Jews, they didn't vote for us") Baker. The Clinton administration was effusive with sentiments, but it took over the Israeli-initiated Oslo process and forced continued concessions from Israel even when it was obvious that the Palestinians had no intention of keeping to agreements. The US-Israel strategic partnership was just that. It was based on common needs in intelligence and other coordination, not on any love of the US intelligence or military community for Israel.
The administration of George Bush Jr. was cold to Israel prior to the 9-11 attacks, and had reportedly held up spare parts for the Israeli military because it disapproved of Israeli actions during the Second Intifada.
The entire history of Israel-US relations has been based on considerations of state. The "special relationship" exists only as a part of an election campaign ritual, which is performed religiously at the AIPAC convention and other such venues. The candidate or incumbent courting Jewish support says they will move the US embassy to Jerusalem, announces support for United Jerusalem and invokes the "special relationship." These festive declarations have as little relation to reality as the eternal pledge of Diaspora Jews, "Next Year in Jerusalem."
The basis of US-Israel relations must be seen and evaluated realistically. The consequences do not necessarily support one or another policy choice. If the US feels that its diplomatic goals are frustrated by Israel's unwillingness to make concessions to Arabs, the "special" relationship and the "deep historic ties" will undergo "reevaluation." We all know what that means. Do not have any illusions that the US congress can prevent US pressure on Israel. Arms shipments can and will dry up, as has happened in the past. Congress has no control over these administrative decisions. Diplomatic support will vanish. Congress cannot make foreign policy. Those who advocate taking unrealistic stands in defiance of the US should have no illusions about the price.
On the other hand, the cold war is over. Once the US has forced Israel to return all the territories conquered in the Six Day War, it really hasn't got much to offer the Arab and Muslim states that would give it any leverage, so Israel could become completely dispensable.
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Replies: 3 Comments
Mr. Isseroff states "This change was not based on any emotional tie of the American people to Jews or to Israeli democracy, but rather on some hard strategic facts." which may be true of official government ties but for many Americans (myself included) the ties we feel for Israel are very emotional. Although the views of Evangelical Christians are often disparaged the simple truth is that we believe that the Jewish people are and will always be God's chosen people. I am often frustrated when our support is belittled or considered unacceptable. I believe literally in the words of God to Abraham "I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse". (Genesis 12:3) Mr. Isseroff also gives a false impression when he states that aid to Israel from Americans has always been given with the expectation of repayment. In 1948 Golda Meir raised fifty million dollars in the United States specifically to provide arms to Israel and that money was given with absolutely no expectation of repayment. It was just the beginning of a long history of funds given to Israel from individual Americans who are emotionally invested in a Jewish homeland and a strong Israel. Please don't make the mistake of thinking that the views of an administration that 45.7% of Americans voted against reflect the views of all Americans.
Lorri Curto, Tuesday, June 30th
Exactly. In international affairs, there are no friends, no allies, only interests and circumstances. The latter can and do change. Israel's leaders should not imagine America cannot do without Israel. The Arabs have the oil and the strategic area of the Middle East dwarfs Israel. It would be foolhardy for Israel to be completely dependent upon the US, which is losing its superpower status. For the Jewish State would be far healthier pursuing its own national interest regardless of how it affects America.
NormanF, Wednesday, June 17th
I am in my third reading of "The Secret War Against the Jews" by John Loftus. It is a good tonic every time I begin feeling a bit altruistic.
Jerry, Wednesday, June 10th
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