President Obama mentioned the “unbreakable bond” between the US and Israel yet again at the UN last week.
It hasn’t always been that way. In 1947, the US imposed an arms embargo on the region, while the Arabs were being supplied by the British. But until Stalin put an end to it in 1949, Israel was able to import much-needed weapons and ammunition from Czechoslovakia. From 1953 until 1967, Israel bought weapons — and a nuclear reactor — from France.
American support began secretly and on a small scale in the early 1960’s and became overt after 1967, as part of a proxy struggle with the Soviet Union for control of the Middle East (of course the US also sold weapons to Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia).
After Israel suffered massive losses in the first days of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, officials approached the Nixon Administration for resupply. The initial response was that the US would have to think about it, but after Israel began to prepare its nuclear arsenal for use, and while the Soviets were sending large quantities of war materiel to the Arabs, Nixon and Kissinger decided to take action, and ordered a 32-day airlift of tanks, aircraft and other weapons and supplies to Israel.
US policy became less pro-Israel after the war, as a result of the Arab oil boycott and the desire to woo the Arabs away from the Soviet Union. Although aid to Israel reached new heights with the 1976 Camp David accords — keeping in mind that this aid was almost entirely directed to the purchase of US arms — US policy began to emphasize the goal of bringing about an Israeli withdrawal from the territories captured in 1967. Meanwhile, Western Europe, also stung by the boycott and lacking the pro-Israel base of the American people and Congress, moved still closer to the Arabs.
Since then, Israel and the US have developed a somewhat ambiguous relationship, with very close military and security cooperation along with growing distrust (it’s recently been revealed that Israel is one of the main targets of US espionage, along with Russia and China).
American and Israeli interests have never been perfectly aligned, but they diverged further with the end of the Cold War struggle for influence in the Mideast. More recently the divide has widened even more, for several reasons.
One is a leftward shift in the Democratic Party, with cold warriors being replaced by activists with roots in the New Left that gained influence at the time of the Vietnam War. These circles (and we can probably thank the KGB for this) tend to see Israel as an oppressive colonial power rather than the national liberation movement of an oppressed Jewish people. This has culminated in the election of Barack Obama, probably the president with the least amount of personal sympathy for Israel of any US chief executive since Israel’s founding.
Another recent wedge driven between the US and Israel is the Iranian nuclear program. Israel sees an Iranian bomb — or the ability to quickly produce one — as a threat to Israel’s continued existence, and is prepared to use military force to stop it. The US believes that rapprochement with Iran is more important than ending the development of its nuclear weapons.
Unfortunately, Israel’s dependence on the US has reached the point that it can’t say ‘no’ to US requests. One example is recent US pressure on Israel to give in to PLO demands to release Arab terrorists, some of whom are convicted mass murderers serving life sentences, as a condition for negotiations — which I called a “national degradation.” Given that the overwhelming majority of Israelis are convinced that there is no possibility of peace with the PLO, Israel’s justice system and the feelings of the families of terror victims appear to have been sacrificed for nothing — or for no other reason than to give President Obama a foreign policy ‘success’.
Even more serious is the near certainty that the US vetoed a planned Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities last October. There have also been several cases in which the US prevented Israel from developing weapons systems in order to protect the US arms industry, or kept Israel from selling equipment to particular countries (e.g., China) for its own policy aims. The US, on the other hand, has no compunctions about selling the most advanced weapons to Saudi Arabia.
US interference in Israel’s affairs has reached the point that one could say that Israel is becoming a satellite of the US rather than an independent sovereign state. Those of us who remember the Cold War remember the contempt with which the governments of ‘countries’ like the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) were held. Although Soviet satellites had their own national character, everyone knew that policies were dictated from the Kremlin.
It’s becoming clear that it is imperative for Israel to start reducing its dependence upon — and its obeisance to — the US, which is increasingly making it harder for Israel to take the necessary actions to defend itself. The greatest threat to Israel’s existence today is Iran’s nuclear program, but in the longer term, the loss of strategic depth as a result of an imposed agreement with the PLO is equally dangerous.
The US is not the only foreign ‘ally’ that is acting counter to Israel’s interests. European funding of anti-state NGOs in Israel also needs to be curtailed. But the Europeans do not appear to exercise the kind of control over Israel’s government that the US does.
There are other great powers in the world than the US, particularly China. A recent $130 million grant to the Technion in Haifa is hugely encouraging. Israel should do its best to develop commercial, diplomatic and security relationships with China, India, even Russia, as well as tell its story to the people in those places.
As much as it would be satisfying, it is probably impossible to simply tell Obama to go to hell tomorrow. But Israel should make it a top priority to get out from under the American thumb, which will only get heavier in the future.
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