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Thursday, August 23, 2007

The US - Israel relation versus Mearsheimer and Walt

In Understanding the U.S.-Israel Alliance, former diplomat Dore Gold provides one response to the Mearsheimer and Walt "Israel Lobby" thesis. What Gold writes is certainly true from the Israeli perspective. The "Israel Lobby" is not an analysis, but a polemical smear campaign. The US - Israel relation is not built on the power of the non-existent nefarious International Jewish conspiracy.
Gold summarizes:
  • Contrary to the assertions of Professors Stephen Walt of Harvard University and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, who claim that no compelling strategic argument can explain American support for Israel, which they argue has been promoted by "the unmatched power of the Israel lobby," the two countries have, in fact, developed strong strategic ties over the years that have evolved into a unique alliance.
  • As early as December 27, 1962, President John F. Kennedy told Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir: "The United States has a special relationship with Israel in the Middle East really comparable only to what it has with Britain over a wide range of world affairs." During the Cold War, the U.S. and Israel had a joint strategic interest in defeating the aggression of Soviet-backed rogue states in the Middle East. This began when Nasser's Egypt intervened in the Arabian Peninsula in 1962, through Yemen, and in 1970 when Syria invaded Jordan.
  • In 1981, Israel destroyed the nuclear reactor of Iraq's Saddam Hussein, severely reducing Iraqi military strength. Ten years later, after a U.S.-led coalition had to liberate Kuwait following Iraq's occupation of that oil-producing mini-state, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney in October 1991 thanked Israel for its "bold and dramatic action" a decade earlier.
  • Presently, U.S.-Israeli defense ties have grown even tighter. Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on March 15, 2007, USEUCOM commander General Bantz J. Craddock stated that Israel was America's "closest ally" in the Middle East and that it "consistently and directly" supported U.S. interests. This professional evaluation of the U.S.-Israel relationship flies in the face of Walt and Mearsheimer's assertion that Israel is a "strategic burden" that does not serve the American national interest.
  • Because many elements of this strategic relationship are kept secret - particularly in the intelligence field - it is difficult for academics and pundits to assess the true value of U.S.-Israel ties. Nonetheless, General George F. Keegan, a retired U.S. Air Force intelligence chief, disclosed in 1986 that he could not have obtained the same intelligence that he received from Israel if he had "five CIAs." During his interview, at which time the Cold War was still raging, he added: "The ability of the U.S. Air Force in particular, and the Army in general, to defend whatever position it has in NATO owes more to the Israeli intelligence input than it does to any single source of intelligence."
    It is all true as far as it goes, from the Israeli point of view. Gold presents what Israeli diplomats, or at least some of them, believe: that Israel is a valuable "ally." Surely, the fly that befriends the lion and warns of impending danger is convinced that it is giving a valuable service. But after all, it is still only  a fly.
    We need to be a bit more cautious in assessing our own worth and a bit more perspicacious in assessing the reasons for US involvement in Israel. It is true that Israel has provided valuable information and cooperation to the USA, but that is not the reason for US support of Israel.
    Firstly, there is no Israel-US alliance. No treaty of alliance was ever signed, because Israel would not undertake never to go to war or initiate military activity without US approval, and because the US could not realistically provide a commitment to send US troops to defend Israel. No matter what was written on paper, it is not going to happen. Gold and others should be clear to themselves and to everyone else about the actual state of affairs. The United States supports Israel, and has a close relationship with Israel. There is no alliance however, and it is not likely that there every will be one.
    Active US interest in Israel began in 1967, following the Six Day War. US officials were horrified to find that Israel had won the war without US help or weapons, and was now in a position to pursue an independent foreign policy. The goal of US policy, first fully understood and shaped by Henry Kissinger perhaps, was to ensure that Israel would be dependent on the United States at all times. That would allow the United States to use Israeli territorial concessions as a lever to obtain influence in the Middle East. The first fruit of this policy was the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, which was more the result of Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy than Jimmy Carter's mediation. From the US point of view, the treaty was ideal, because it would tie Israel to US arms supplies. At the same time, the US would supply Egypt with weapons, to ensure that Israel had to have parity. A similar deal is currently under way with respect to US arms to be supplied to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, and a "balancing" package to be supplied to Israel.
    I have explored the ramifications of this relationship at length elswhere:

    Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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