Israel: Strategic Ally or Liability?
Thursday, June 10, 2010 3:47 AM
From: “Stephen Sniegoski”
Strategic Ally or Liability?
The claim that Israel serves as a valuable ally for the United States is made by both pro-Zionists and much of the anti-war and anti-Zionist Left that is influenced by Noam Chomsky. As a result of the Gaza flotilla massacre, which has caused a world-wide uproar against Israel, the value of Israel to the United States is being publicly questioned in more mainstream foreign policy forums.
See Jim Lobe, “Doubts Grow Over Israel’s Value as US Ally,”
Writing shortly before the massacre, the always astute Philip Giraldi critically analyzed the claim of Israel’s value to the United States in “The Strategic Ally Myth,”
(http://tinyurl.com/giraldiisraelally), which focuses on a recent article by Israel Firster
Mort Zuckerman entitled , “Israel Is a Key Ally and Deserves U.S. Support.”
[ http://tinyurl.com/zuckermanisraelally ]
Zuckerman is a real estate billionaire and editor-in-chief of U.S. News & World Report, and his article came out in that magazine. (He is also publisher/owner of the New York Daily News). Zuckerman’s writing for his own publications has credentialed him for other media outlets, and he regularly appears on MSNBC and The McLaughlin Group. Between 2001 and 2003, Zuckerman was the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Giraldi underscores Zuckerman’s pro-Israel orientation: “Zuckerman is frequently spotted on the television talking head circuit where he dispenses analysis of international events that could have been crafted in Tel Aviv or Herzliya, where the Israeli intelligence service Mossad has its headquarters.” Zuckerman’s immense wealth and media influence exemplifies why Israel has been able to gain the reputation as a valuable ally to the United States.
Giraldi, however, points out that the United States is not technically an ally of Israel’s. Giraldi writes that “to be an ally requires an agreement in writing that spells out the conditions and reciprocity of the relationship. Israel has never been an ally of any country because it would force it to restrain its aggressive behavior, requiring consultation with its ally before attacking other nations. It is also unable to define its own borders, which have been expanding ever since it was founded in 1948. Without defined borders it is impossible to enter into an alliance because most alliances are established so that one country will come to the aid of another if it is attacked, which normally means having its territorial integrity violated. Since Israel intends to continue expanding its borders it cannot commit to an alliance with anyone and has, in fact, rebuffed several bids by Washington to enter into some kind of formal arrangement.”
Zuckerman maintains that there are no drawbacks to America’s support for Israel, explicitly denying the allegation that American support for Israel causes anti-American hostility in the Islamic countries. Instead, Zuckerman maintains that the Muslims “are fighting America because they see the whole West and its culture, values, and belief in democracy as antithetical to their own beliefs.” Giraldi correctly points out that this is ridiculous—a higher-IQ version of Bush’s “they hate us for our freedom.”
It would seem almost self-evident that support for the Arabs’ fundamental enemy would lead to the hostility of Arab states or, should a particular regime remain friendly to the United States, cause groups within the state to threaten its stability. During the Cold War, US/Israeli ties caused some Arab states to turn to the Soviet Union, especially since the Soviets were willing to provide them with weapons, which they could not obtain from the US because of the opposition from Israel and the Israel lobby. American support for Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur war led to the Arab oil embargo against the United States in 1973. Obviously, it has induced the Islamic terrorism during the past decade, as Osama bin Laden has maintained. Certainly, the Gaza flotilla massacre has heightened Arab and Islamic animosity to the United States, which has been recognized even by mainstream media commentators. Because of the power of the Israel Lobby the United States cannot offer harsh criticism of Israel and must work to prevent any form of United Nations sanctions against it, thus complicating its relationship with the entire Arab/Islamic world. While it must be acknowledged that hostility to the United States has also been accentuated by its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American military involvement has been caused in large part by the influence of the Israel lobby.
M. Shahid Alam points out in his excellent book, “Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism,” that much of the anti-Americanism in the Middle East was initially triggered by Israel. This anti-Americanism has in turn, enabled Israel to present itself as America’s only reliable friend in the Middle East. In essence, “Israel had manufactured the threats that would make it look like a strategic asset” (p. 218), writes Alam. “Without Israel,” Alam maintains, “there was little chance that any of the Arab regimes would turn away from their dependence on the West.” (p. 171)
[Alam, “Israeli Exceptionalism,” http://tinyurl.com/alamisrael ]
The realization that Israel is not really a strategic ally of the United States is now being expressed by individuals far more sympathetic to Israel than Alam. Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, for example, makes such a argument in his article, “Israel as a Strategic Liability.”
[ http://tinyurl.com/israelcordesman ]
Cordesman served as national security assistant to the pro-Israel Senator John McCain, though he is considered a centrist. In denying that the United States supports Israel for strategic reasons, Cordesman writes that “the real motives behind America’s commitment to Israel are moral and ethical. They are a reaction to the horrors of the Holocaust, to the entire history of Western anti-Semitism, and to the United States’ failure to help German and European Jews during the period before it entered World War II. They are a product of the fact that Israel is a democracy that shares virtually all of the same values as the United States.”
I would simply point out that this belief in Israel’s moral superiority is not some objective notion that is determined by an objective weighing of all the evidence, but exists primarily in United States because of the power of the pro-Zionist media and political lobby. If somehow the wealth and power conditions of American Jews and Arab Americans were reversed, and all mainstream media information coming to the American public was filtered through a pro-Arab/Palestinian slant, it is inconceivable that America would support Israel over the Palestinians. It is hard to believe that someone as sharp as Cordesman does not recognize the power of the Israel lobby in American domestic politics, and he undoubtedly does, but he is also keen enough to know that people who openly express such a view do not hold cushy positions in leading think tanks. However, so as not to go too far off track, the issue here is whether Israel is a strategic asset to the United States, not whether the US should support Israel for moral reasons, and concerning the issue at hand Cordesman comes down against the strategic asset argument.
Jim Lobe alludes to the career ramifications of speaking the truth regarding Israel when he quotes Stephen Walt, the co-author of the bombshell book, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” who states: “The fact that Cordesman would say this publicly is a sign that attitudes and discourse are changing . . . . Lots of people in the national security establishment — and especially the Pentagon and intelligence services — have understood that Israel wasn’t an asset, but nobody wanted to say so because they knew it might hurt their careers.”
Intriguingly, Lobe points out that head of the Mossad, Israel’s foremost spy agency, also recently made reference to Israel’s liability to the United States. Mossad chief Meir Dagan told members of the Israeli parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that “Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden.” In reality, it is highly questionable whether Israel has ever been a net asset to the United States.
Zuckerman tries to illustrate what assistance Israel provides the US—a good strategic location in the Middle East, a place to stockpile American weapons, and beneficial intelligence. Giraldi rebuts these alleged benefits, maintaining that “the notion that Israel is some kind of strategic asset for the United States is nonsense, a complete fabrication.” He points out that the United States cannot utilize Israeli territory to project its power throughout the region. “The US has numerous bases in Arab countries,” Giraldi notes, “but is not allowed to use any military base in Israel. Washington’s own carrier groups and other forces in place all over the Middle East, including the Red Sea, have capabilities that far exceed those of the Israel Defense Forces.” It should also be added, as John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt bring out in their book, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” (p. 56), that Israel does not help the United States in its key military objective in the Middle East: maintaining access to Gulf oil.
Giraldi points out that the stockpiles of US equipment in Israel are basically for Israel. “The supplies are, in fact, regularly looted by the Israelis, leaving largely unusable or picked over equipment for US forces if it should ever be needed.”
Regarding Zuckerman’s reference to the provision of “good intelligence,” Giraldi observes that “The intelligence provided by Israel that Zuckerman praises is generally fabricated and completely self serving, intended to shape a narrative about the Middle East that makes the Israelis look good and virtually everyone else look bad.” For some specific examples of actually misleading intelligence, it should be recalled that Israel was providing some of the spurious intelligence on Iraq’s alleged formidable WMD during the build-up to the 2003 US invasion (the Knesset investigated this issue) and, for the past decade, has been issuing alarmist warnings that Iran is on the verge of developing nuclear weaponry. In short, the intelligence Israel provides to the United States is intended to induce it to take actions to advance Israel’s interests, which can run counter to the interests of the United States.
The idea of Israel as a strategic asset is especially significant because, as mentioned earlier, it is expressed not only by Israel Firsters but also by Noam Chomsky and his epigones, and thus is a view that looms large in the anti-war camp. Stephen Zunes, a prominent member of the Chomsky group, even implies that Israel is but the passive instrument of American policymakers. This approach, of course, provides psychological satisfaction to those on the left who want to believe in the ultimate evil of gentile capitalism and the perpetual victimization of Jews, but is counterproductive in actually dealing with the problem of American military intervention in the Middle East.
See my article: “Israel-lobby denial: The bankruptcy of the mainstream Left as illustrated by Stephen Zunes,” http://tinyurl.com/snieglobby
Actually the case of billionaire Mort Zuckerman should serve as an example to undermine the Chomskyist interpretation. The Chomskyist position is based on the idea that overriding wealth determines American foreign policy; while not strictly Marxist, it has strong similarities to Marxism. But, of course, pro-Zionist Mort Zuckerman is an individual of great wealth, and he would seem to have considerable clout in the media. And Zuckerman is far from being an aberration. A huge disproportion of the super-wealthy are Jewish. A recent analysis determined that at least 139 of the richest 400 Americans listed by Forbes are Jewish.
Since many wealthy Jews publicly promote Zionism, it stands to reason that their view should be able to shape American foreign policy especially in areas where their interest is far greater than that of other wealthy Americans. We are frequently told that the oil interests control American Middle East policy. But one would think that the combined wealth of super-wealthy pro-Zionists far exceeds the wealth of the oil barons with interests in Middle East oil. A cursory look at the list of America’s 400 wealthiest individuals showed about 20 or so of the 400 were, at least, to some extent involved in oil/energy. Those specializing in Middle East oil would be somewhat fewer, I would think.
Actually these figures provide a rough view of how wealth shapes the American foreign policy. Pro-Zionist money can sway the area where its concern is the greatest and where that of the oil interests is less so—the Israel/Palestine issue. The issue of overall Middle East policy directly involving the flow of Gulf oil, however, would be of fundamental concern to the oil industry, as well as the wealthy as a whole, since the flow of oil affects the economies of the entire industrial world. Thus, with respect to the current question of whether the US should attack Iran, hardline Zionists would seem to identify fully with the interest of Israel to eliminate an enemy, no matter what the impact on the global economy. However, those wealthy individuals whose fundamental concerns involve oil and economic matters in general are fearful of the possible negative economic effects resulting from such an attack. This explains why the United States has not yet attacked Iran.
Cordesman, who eschews any mention of Zionist influence in the United States, maintains that while the United States will defend, and presumably ought to defend, Israel for moral reasons, it should not provide Israel a blank check. It did “not mean that the United States should extend support to an Israeli government when that government fails to credibly pursue peace with its neighbors.” In short, Israel cannot simply do anything it wants and receive the support of the United States. “It is time Israel realized that it has obligations to the United States, as well as the United States to Israel, and that it become far more careful about the extent to which it tests the limits of U.S. patience and exploits the support of American Jews. This does not mean taking a single action that undercuts Israeli security, but it does mean realizing that Israel should show enough discretion to reflect the fact that it is a tertiary U.S. strategic interest in a complex and demanding world.” Cordesman seems to believe that Israel can alter its policies to establish much improved relations with the Palestinians and its neighboring countries so that American interests would not be harmed. In short, Cordesman does not say that Israel could become a strategic asset, but that, by following conciliatory policies towards its current enemies, it could become much less of a liability to the United States.
The problem with Cordesman’s position, however, is that the Israeli leadership, and the Zionist establishment in the United States, really believe that Israel has to do what it does to preserve the existence of Israel, i.e., the exclusivist Jewish state. As an exclusivist Jewish state, Israel is threatened by peaceful demographics as well as by terrorism and warfare. To stave off this danger, Israel will not allow for any significant Palestinian return to Israel or any viable Palestinian state, which is exactly what the Palestinians and the Arab and Islamic countries supporting them demand. In short, the positions of Israel and the Palestinians and their backers are antithetical. The United States cannot support Israel without antagonizing the Arab and Islamic states, and vice versa. Since it is widely recognized that friendly relations with the oil-producing Middle Eastern states are vital to U.S. national security, America’s unwavering backing of Israel can only harm its strategic interests.
Furthermore, unconditional support for Israel fuels terrorism against the United States, making American citizens less safe abroad and even on American soil. And, of course, such terrorism can lead America into wars that would not take place if the United States were not targeted.
Finally, automatic support for Israel completely undermines the United States’ advocacy of a world governed by international law, a goal which President Obama has addressed on a number of occasions. As Scott Wilson writes in the article, “Obama’s agenda, Israel’s ambitions often at odds,” in the “Washington Post” (June 5) : “Since its creation more than six decades ago, the state of Israel has been at times a vexing ally to the United States. But it poses a special challenge for President Obama, whose foreign policy emphasizes the importance of international rules and organizations that successive Israeli governments have clashed with and often ignored.”
[ http://tinyurl.com/2fd3a7z ]
As President Obama stated in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don’t.” Then, in an implicit swipe at the Bush administration, he continued: “Furthermore, America — in fact, no nation — can insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves.” This admonition could also apply to America’s tacit support for Israel’s policies.
America’s concern about international legality did not begin with Obama—Woodrow Wilson was a major proponent of the League of Nations and Franklin Roosevelt of the UN– even though America’s unwillingness to join the League of Nations resulted from its devotion to national sovereignty and opposition to permanent alliances that could force the country into unwanted wars. America’s continued support for international legality during the interwar period (while the US was outside the League of Nations) was especially illustrated by the involvement of American peace advocates and Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg in framing what became known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, which was a multilateral treaty outlawing war except for purpose of self-defense. It was signed by all major countries (eventually 62 signatories), except for Soviet Russia. Although sometimes ridiculed as a meaningless utopian gesture, the treaty served as the basis to judge the Nazi high command at Nuremberg in 1945-46, and was incorporated and expanded in the UN Charter.
America’s verbal support for international law is not based simply on morality, nor is does it represent high-sounding but empty rhetoric. As a wealthy, powerful nation the United States has a vested interest in maintaining the international status quo in the same way as the preservation of the status quo was sought by the victors of the Napoleonic Wars and World War I. (The Congress of Vienna, of course, was far more effective than the Paris Peace Conference in establishing a long-lasting peace.) International stability not only preserves America’s power position, but also provides the optimal environment for the international trade and investment that benefits the American economy.
Obviously, as Obama pointed out, when the United States seeks to use international agreements to restrain the actions of other countries, it cannot expect other countries to obey these rules if does not do so itself. And it acts in this manner when it ignores, or supports, Israel’s violations of international law and prevents UN-sponsored actions against Israel that would be undertaken if any other country in the world engaged in comparable activities.
In conclusion, it is apparent that Washington’s support for Israel interferes with a number of the United States’ basic international goals. It can only be said that Israel is a liability rather than an asset.
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The Strategic Ally Myth
Posted By Philip Giraldi On May 26, 2010 @ 11:00 pm In Uncategorized | 26 Comments
It is difficult to understand why anyone would take Mort Zuckerman seriously. He is a New York based but Canadian born Israel firster who made a fortune in real estate before buying The New York Daily News and the US News and World Report. He now fancies himself as a leading journalist and political commentator. Zuckerman is frequently spotted on the television talking head circuit where he dispenses analysis of international events that could have been crafted in Tel Aviv or Herzliya, where the Israeli intelligence service Mossad has its headquarters.
Zuckerman’s latest contribution to international harmony is a lengthy piece in the US News & World Report entitled “Israel Is a Key Ally and Deserves US Support.” It is a propaganda piece that promotes one of the most persistent fictions put out by the mainstream media, that the relationship with Israel somehow benefits the United States. To give the devil his due, it is not often that an article in a national publication includes an out-and-out lie in its first few words, but Zuckerman succeeds in doing just that. As he is a smart man who went to Harvard Law School before becoming a propagandist for Israel, he must know that words have meanings. But the significance of the word “ally” must have somehow eluded his grasp. Israel is not now and never has been an ally of the United States. As Zuckerman is a lawyer he should know that to be an ally requires an agreement in writing that spells out the conditions and reciprocity of the relationship. Israel has never been an ally of any country because it would force it to restrain its aggressive behavior, requiring consultation with its ally before attacking other nations. It is also unable to define its own borders, which have been expanding ever since it was founded in 1948. Without defined borders it is impossible to enter into an alliance because most alliances are established so that one country will come to the aid of another if it is attacked, which normally means having its territorial integrity violated. Since Israel intends to continue expanding its borders it cannot commit to an alliance with anyone and has, in fact, rebuffed several bids by Washington to enter into some kind of formal arrangement.
The article’s spin begins almost immediately thereafter in paragraph one, where the reader is informed that “the Israelis have agreed to [a Palestinian state] in principle.” Zuckerman conveniently overlooks that Tel Aviv has in fact obstructed every move toward creation of a Palestinian state because that would stop its continued colonization of the West Bank and Jerusalem. He then proceeds to lay it on really thick in the next two paragraphs, where one learns that the Palestinians need to “do what the Israelis have done for decades, which is to declare…that both sides have genuine claims to this land,” that the “Palestinian leadership has all along made an honorable peace impossible,” and that the Palestinians are not prepared to live with an Israeli state along their borders. The Palestinians also “beat the drums of hate” and only the Israelis guarantee freedom of religion in Jerusalem. Without wishing to be too contentious, it is safe to say that everything Zuckerman writes blaming the Palestinians can easily be disputed and should be challenged.
Zuckerman then launches into one of his major themes, that poor little Israel, always willing to take risks and do what is right in the cause of peace, has been betrayed by Washington. Zuckerman opines that Tel Aviv is right to hold on to the West Bank because if it gives it up Israel will not be “secure and defensible” against Arab terrorism. He also provides a hagiography of Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, who apparently is “serious about making peace” and has done lots of good things for the Palestinians that he is not given credit for (except by Zuckerman). Bibi is also reported to be “disturbingly” under-appreciated by the White House.
According to Zuckerman, Netanyahu and Israel are “not to blame for trouble in the Middle East,” and one also learns that “The Islamists are not enemies of America because of Israel. They are fighting America because they see the whole West…as antithetical to their own beliefs.” Yes, this is the new version of they hate us because of our freedom bumper sticker. Israeli bestiality toward the Arab population that it dominates, seen on television nightly all over the world except in the US, has nothing to do with it.
After making sure that everyone knows who is completely to blame for the Middle East imbroglio, Zuckerman arrives at the argument that he knows will crush all opposition. “Israel has been an ally that has paid dividends exceeding its cost.” Zuckerman asserts that seventy per cent of Washington’s military aid, now exceeding $3 billion per year, is used to buy equipment made in the USA, providing thousands of jobs and making sure that Lockheed and other struggling defense contractors don’t go bust. And the Israelis not only provide “access to the Red Sea,” they also permit US forces to stockpile equipment in Israel for contingencies. Furthermore, Israel has been “working jointly” and “cooperating” with the US to protect America’s troops all over the Middle East. And then there is all that good intelligence that Tel Aviv hands over to Washington on the many bad guys in the Near East region.
Israeli tunnel vision means that most of the actual intelligence that Tel Aviv collects is on organizations that resent being occupied or bombed by Israel, not groups that actually threaten the US, a point ignored by Zuckerman. And to those who argue that using billions of American taxpayers dollars to buy US military equipment for Israel is not necessarily money well spent in the middle of a financial crisis or that Washington’s unlimited support for Tel Aviv is precisely the reason why the United States is in trouble around the world, Zuckerman delivers a final, devastating retort. Israel has an unrivaled location on the Mediterranean. Per Zuckerman “One analyst has described Israel as a ’strategic aircraft carrier’…”
Well, Mort Zuckerman is certainly entitled to his own opinion and I suppose he can use the magazine he owns to spread Israeli hasbara, but the notion that Israel is some kind of strategic asset for the United States is nonsense, a complete fabrication. Most recently, Chas Freeman has pointed out that Israel is useless for the projection of American power. The US has numerous bases in Arab countries but is not allowed to use any military base in Israel. Washington’s own carrier groups and other forces in place all over the Middle East, including the Red Sea, have capabilities that far exceed those of the Israel Defense Forces. Israel has never been a strategic asset or any asset at all, always a liability. Even the stockpiles of US equipment in Israel are a typical bit of bonus support for Tel Aviv from Congress, placed there for the Israelis to use “in emergencies” while making it appear that they are for American forces. The supplies are, in fact, regularly looted by the Israelis, leaving largely unusable or picked over equipment for US forces if it should ever be needed.
Make no mistake, Tel Aviv is always carefully calculating how it can use Washington to further its own objectives with little regard for possible American interests. In 1967 the Israelis attacked the USS Liberty in international waters with the intention of sinking the ship and killing all the crew. During the first Gulf War Israel had to be defended by the United States. In the Cold War Israel spied aggressively on the US while cutting deals with both the Soviets and Chinese. The intelligence provided by Israel that Zuckerman praises is generally fabricated and completely self serving, intended to shape a narrative about the Middle East that makes the Israelis look good and virtually everyone else look bad – ask any intelligence officer who has seen the stuff. Israel as a key ally and security asset? A “strategic aircraft carrier”? Completely ridiculous.
Mort Zuckerman: Israel Is a Key Ally and Deserves U.S. Support
By Mortimer B. Zuckerman
US News and World Report
Posted May 21, 2010
America’s peace broker in the Middle East, George Mitchell, has a hot summer ahead. He will shuttle the few miles between the offices of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He’s already begun what looks to be a long, niggling process of shuttle diplomacy in which the Israelis and Palestinians will not meet face to face, leaving it to Mitchell to try to reconcile the differences that stand in the way of creating the Palestinian state that the Israelis have agreed to in principle.
If the Obama administration wants to leave any kind of decent mark in history for its handling of the Middle East—pretty poor so far—it should do something right now that would clear the air and save Mitchell the four months he’s allocated. It’s simple. Just invite the Palestinians to do what the Israelis have done for decades, which is to declare in the language of their own people that both sides have genuine claims to this land, that both sides have the right to live in peace, and that a viable compromise is possible. If the Palestinians were to publicly begin the process of reversing Yasser Arafat’s relentless delegitimization of the Israeli connection with this land, emblemized by his dismissal of the notion of a Jewish temple in Jerusalem, they would achieve the simultaneous feat of preparing their people for compromise and persuading Israel of its viability. The Palestinian leadership has all along made an honorable peace impossible by falsely stating that the Jews have no legitimate claims to any of the land.
The Israelis are clearly prepared to live with a Palestinian state along their borders. The trouble is precisely that the Palestinians are not. Every day, Fatah (to say nothing of Hamas and Hezbollah) continues to preach Israel’s illegitimacy and beat the drums of hate. Jerusalem and Bethlehem provide a lesson in what tolerance means to the Jews and what it means to the Arabs. In Jerusalem, it is only since the Israelis took control of that city that all faiths—Christians, Muslims, and Jews—had safe access to all the holy sites, in living testimony of the principle of freedom of religion. By contrast, in Bethlehem, which is controlled by the Palestinians, Christian cemeteries, churches, and individuals are frequently attacked, provoking an exodus of Christians from the town of Jesus’s birth. Fifty years ago, Christians made up 70 percent of Bethlehem’s population; today, it is about 15 percent.
Decades of terrorism have left Israelis demoralized about the potential of negotiations. Given the hostility President Obama has shown to Israel from the start, the new smooth talk from the White House won’t do it. “The president gets it,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York, one of 37 anxious Jewish members of Congress who met privately with Obama on May 18. Rep. Steve Rothman of New Jersey went so far as to say that from a military and intelligence-sharing perspective, the Obama administration is the best U.S. administration Israel has ever had. Hello?
What will make it difficult for the Israelis to be forthcoming in the brokered negotiations with the Palestinians is the widespread concern that this administration, unlike others going back to the Truman years, lacks a basic commitment to Israel, or sympathy for it. It was this sustained U.S. support that made it feasible for the Israelis to offer territorial concessions because they believed that Washington would protect their back.
Today, the Israelis no longer believe that the American commitment to Israel is rock-solid. They have witnessed the erosion of U.S. support for Israel at the United Nations and more recently at the International Atomic Energy Agency. The United States has taken public positions on the settlement freeze and Jerusalem that enhanced the expectations of the Palestinians, who cannot be less pro-Palestinian than the White House and, therefore, cannot climb down from the positions taken by the U.S. administration.
Even worse, the Israeli government will be more cautious in acceding to U.S. demands, believing that whatever compromises might be struck could be meaningless if Obama gets angry again. The Israelis now have the feeling that the Obama administration just wants a deal signed, without much concern about what happens later.
Obama did commit himself before the election to Israeli borders that were, in his words, “secure, recognized, and defensible.” But his administration uses the 1967 borders as the point of departure for a settlement—and that’s unacceptable. The administration of George W. Bush essentially agreed that Israel would not have to withdraw to the 1967 borders. Why? Because they are neither secure nor defensible. The Israelis are now being asked to take on the risk of withdrawing from territory that is immediately adjacent to their major population centers, especially Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. If the West Bank became a platform for rocket attacks, as Gaza did, especially with the more sophisticated weaponry now provided by Iran, Israel would become uninhabitable. Terrorism from Gaza is a security challenge for Israel; terrorism from the West Bank threatens Israel’s survival.
When the Israelis left Lebanon, Iran operated through its proxy, Hezbollah; when the Israelis left Gaza, Iran went in through Hamas, and all the U.N. and international guarantees failed to stop the attacks. Abba Eban, as Israel’s foreign minister in 1967, compared the U.N. force stationed on the Israel-Egypt border to an umbrella that is taken away when it rains: The umbrella was removed just as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser was moving against Israel. The new umbrellas have not been much more reliable. If you witness the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, even U.S. forces are unable to stop terrorist bombs and rocket attacks. There is no reason to believe things would go better in the West Bank.
Obama clearly wonders whether the current Israeli prime minister is serious about making peace. This is disturbing and puzzling in light of the fact that this is the prime minister who:
Overcame Likud resistance to a two-state solution.
Agreed to a temporary moratorium on new settlement construction, which no previous Israeli government was willing even to consider.
Authorized the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Dramatically reduced checkpoints and blockades, even though this could increase security risks to Israelis.
Gave free passes without further review to hundreds of Palestinians to move between Israel and the West Bank for economic reasons.
Authorized new security arrangements that were, in effect, a modified form of amnesty to help former terrorists join the Palestinian community as peaceful civilians.
Netanyahu is not to blame for trouble in the Middle East, no more than Israel is to blame for Islamic radicalism. The Islamists are not enemies of America because of Israel. They are fighting America because they see the whole West and its culture, values, and belief in democracy as antithetical to their own beliefs. Were Israel to disappear tomorrow, it would not end the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, cause Iran to stop its nuclear program, or put al Qaeda out of business. In fact, not only would a defeat for a country aligned with the United States strengthen Iran and al Qaeda, but many Arab countries understand that Israel, with its military power, is a major counterforce to the Iranian pressures.
What is forgotten in this administration is that Israel has been an ally that has paid dividends exceeding its costs. Yes, Israel receives $3 billion annually in military aid, but 70 percent is used to purchase American military equipment and provides jobs at home. Further, the United States and Israel are working jointly to improve missile defense capabilities, and they have cooperated on countermeasures against roadside bombs, the largest single cause of U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are already providing security to U.S. civilians and ground troops throughout the Middle East. Israel also provides U.S. officials with real-time access to one of the best intelligence services in the world regarding al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Iran, and Hamas.
Finally, there is Israel’s strategic location on the Mediterranean. It provides a port of call for U.S. troops, ships, aircraft, and intelligence sources, and a place where arms, fuel, munitions, and other supplies can be stockpiled and accessed when America needs them in the region. The country also offers access to the Red Sea. One analyst has described Israel as a “strategic aircraft carrier” in a chaotic part of the world. What would have been the cost in American blood and treasure if Saddam Hussein had developed nuclear weapons, or if Syria possessed them? Israeli forces in 1981 destroyed the nearly finished reactor at the Osirak facility near Baghdad, and in 2007 similarly attacked a suspected nuclear facility in Syria. This is the short list of all the contributions that Israel has made in terms of military and intelligence cooperation with the United States.
Israel needs America—and America needs Israel.
Israel as a Strategic Liability?
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Jun 2, 2010
America’s ties to Israel are not based primarily on U.S. strategic interests. At the best of times, an Israeli government that pursues the path to peace provides some intelligence, some minor advances in military technology, and a potential source of stabilizing military power that could help Arab states like Jordan. Even then, however, any actual Israeli military intervention in an Arab state could prove as destabilizing as beneficial. The fact is that the real motives behind America’s commitment to Israel are moral and ethical. They are a reaction to the horrors of the Holocaust, to the entire history of Western anti-Semitism, and to the United States’ failure to help German and European Jews during the period before it entered World War II. They are a product of the fact that Israel is a democracy that shares virtually all of the same values as the United States.
The U.S. commitment to Israel is not one that will be abandoned. The United States has made this repeatedly clear since it first recognized Israel as a state, and it has steadily strengthened the scale of its commitments since 1967. The United States has provided Israel with massive amounts of economic aid and still provides enough military assistance to preserve Israel’s military superiority over its neighbors. The United States has made it clear that any U.S. support for Arab-Israeli peace efforts must be based on options that preserve Israel’s security, and its recent announcements that it will consider “extended regional deterrence” are code words for a U.S. commitment that could guard Israel, as well as its neighbors, against an Iranian nuclear threat.
At the same time, the depth of America’s moral commitment does not justify or excuse actions by an Israeli government that unnecessarily make Israel a strategic liability when it should remain an asset. It does not mean that the United States should extend support to an Israeli government when that government fails to credibly pursue peace with its neighbors. It does not mean that the United States has the slightest interest in supporting Israeli settlements in the West Bank, or that the United States should take a hard-line position on Jerusalem that would effectively make it a Jewish rather than a mixed city. It does not mean that the United States should be passive when Israel makes a series of major strategic blunders–such as persisting in the strategic bombing of Lebanon during the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, escalating its attack on Gaza long after it had achieved its key objectives, embarrassing the U.S. president by announcing the expansion of Israeli building programs in east Jerusalem at a critical moment in U.S. efforts to put Israeli-Palestinian peace talks back on track, or sending commandos to seize a Turkish ship in a horribly mismanaged effort to halt the “peace flotilla” going to Gaza.
It is time Israel realized that it has obligations to the United States, as well as the United States to Israel, and that it become far more careful about the extent to which it test the limits of U.S. patience and exploits the support of American Jews. This does not mean taking a single action that undercuts Israeli security, but it does mean realizing that Israel should show enough discretion to reflect the fact that it is a tertiary U.S. strategic interest in a complex and demanding world.
Israel’s government should act on the understanding that the long-term nature of the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship will depend on Israel clearly and actively seeking peace with the Palestinians—the kind of peace that is in Israel’s own strategic interests. Israelis should understand that the United States opposes expansion and retention of its settlements and its efforts to push Palestinians out of greater Jerusalem. Israeli governments should plan Israeli military actions that make it clear that Israel will use force only to the level actually required, that carefully consider humanitarian issues from the start, and that have a clear post-combat plan of action to limit the political and strategic impact of its use of force. And Israel should not conduct a high-risk attack on Iran in the face of the clear U.S. “red light” from both the Bush and Obama administrations. Israel should be sensitive to the fact that its actions directly affect U.S. strategic interests in the Arab and Muslim worlds, and it must be as sensitive to U.S. strategic concerns as the United States is to those of Israel.
The United States does not need unnecessary problems in one of the most troubled parts of the world, particularly when Israeli actions take a form that does not serve Israel’s own strategic interests. This Israeli government in particular needs to realize that as strong as U.S.-Israel ties may be, it is time to return to the kind of strategic realism exemplified by leaders like Yitzhak Rabin. No aspect of what happened this week off the coast of Gaza can be blamed on Israeli commandos or the Israel Defense Forces. Israel’s prime minister and defense minister had full warning about the situation, and they knew the flotilla was deliberately designed as a political provocation to capture the attention of the world’s media in the most negative way possible. They personally are responsible for what happened, and they need to show far more care and pragmatism in the future.
Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
Doubts Grow Over Israel’s Value as US Ally
Jim Lobe June 4, 2010
Israel’s disastrous raid in international waters Monday on a Turkish-flagged flotilla carrying humanitarian supplies to Gaza has resurrected a long-running debate over whether Washington’s close alliance with the Jewish state really serves U.S. strategic interests.
Ironically, one negative answer was provided in Jerusalem Tuesday by none other than the head of Israel’s vaunted foreign-intelligence agency, Mossad.
Noting, among other things, the disappearance of the Soviet and Western blocs with the end of the Cold War, Mossad chief Meir Dagan told members of the Israeli parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tuesday that “Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden.”
That view was emphatically re-asserted the following day by one of Washington’s most highly respected and centrist Middle East analysts in an essay entitled “Israel as a Strategic Liability?” that instantly became must-reading for regional specialists both in and outside the administration of President Barack Obama.
“At the best of times, an Israeli government that pursues the path to peace provides some intelligence, some minor advances in military technology, and a potential source of stabilizing military power that could help Arab states like Jordan,” wrote Anthony Cordesman, a long-time fixture of the foreign policy establishment at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
“It is time Israel realized that it has obligations to the United States, as well as the United States to Israel, and that it (has to) become far more careful about the extent to which it test(s) the limits of U.S. patience and exploits the support of American Jews,” he went on, noting the Israeli government “should be sensitive to the fact that its actions directly affect U.S. strategic interests in the Arab and Muslim worlds…”
“This does not mean taking a single action that undercuts Israeli security, but it does mean realizing that Israel should show enough discretion to reflect the fact that it is a tertiary U.S. strategic interest in a complex and demanding world,” he wrote.
“Israel’s government should act on the understanding that the long-term nature of the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship will depend on Israel clearly and actively seeking peace with the Palestinians – the kind of peace that is in Israel’s own strategic interests,” he added.
Cordesman’s observations were not new. Indeed, some variant of them have been expressed with increasing frequency by a growing number of mainstream analysts over the last four years, particularly since the tactically successful but strategically disastrous military campaigns conducted by Israel in Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza 2008-9.
But the fact that Cordesman, a former national security adviser to the staunchly pro-Israel 2008 Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, felt moved to write so bluntly about the issue in the immediate aftermath of the lethal Israeli raid on Mavi Marmara suggests that the tide of elite opinion regarding the value of virtually unconditional support for Israel — especially for a government as aggressive as that of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu — is turning.
“Tony Cordesman’s authority derives as much from the fact that he is resolutely dispassionate and non-partisan as it does from his expertise, which is unmatched,” said Amb. Charles Freeman, a top-ranked retired diplomat who renounced his appointment last year to chair the National Intelligence Council (NIC) in the face of intense opposition by the right-wing leadership of the so-called “Israel Lobby.”
“When someone as balanced and centrist as Tony Cordesman begins to worry about the extent to which Israel is making itself into a strategic burden for the United States, Israel should pause for some self-reflection,” Freeman told IPS.
Stephen Walt, a Harvard international-relations professor and co-author with University of Chicago Prof. John Mearsheimer of the controversial 2007 book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, agreed.
“The fact that Cordesman would say this publicly is a sign that attitudes and discourse are changing,” he said. “Lots of people in the national security establishment — and especially the Pentagon and intelligence services — have understood that Israel wasn’t an asset, but nobody wanted to say so because they knew it might hurt their careers.”
“It will be interesting to see how Cordesman is treated in the future, and whether more people will be inclined to say what they really think,” he added.
The notion that Israel and its actions had since the Cold War increasingly become a “strategic liability” to U.S. interests in the region was a central thesis of Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s book, which came under immediate and sustained attack by the right-wing leadership of the Jewish and Christian Zionist communities.
The book itself was based on an article by the same name that the two men published in the London Review of Books in 2006 after a number of influential U.S. periodicals rejected it, apparently due to concerns that it was too controversial.
Yet, in the wake of the Lebanon and Gaza military offensives, the election of Netanyahu’s right-wing government and its resistance to the kind of two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict favored by successive U.S. administration, the question of Israel’s strategic value has become increasingly pertinent.
Already on the eve of Obama’s inauguration, the influential National Journal ran a symposium on the question: “Is Israel a Strategic Liability for the United States?” in which a surprising number of respected national security analysts answered in the affirmative.
When the Netanyahu government announced new Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden in March, the issue re-surfaced with a vengeance. Biden himself was reported by the Israeli press as telling Netanyahu that such provocations endangered the lives of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A few weeks later, the chief of the U.S. Central Command (CentCom), Gen. David Petraeus, warned lawmakers that “perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel …foments anti- American sentiment” throughout the region and had an “enormous effect” on “the strategic context in which we operate.” The beneficiaries, he said, include Iran, al-Qaeda, and other radical Islamist groups.
In his essay, Cordesman insisted that Washington’s commitment to Israel, which he identified as largely “moral and ethical” given their shared democratic values and the legacy of the Nazi Holocaust, “is not one that will be abandoned.”
“At the same time,” he went on, “the depth of America’s moral commitment does not …mean that the United States should extend support to an Israeli government when that government fails to credibly pursue peace with its neighbors.”
“…It does not mean that the United States should be passive when Israel makes a series of major blunders — such as persisting in the strategic bombing of Lebanon during the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, escalating its attack on Gaza long after it had achieved its key objectives, embarrassing the U.S. president by announcing the expansion of Israeli building programs in East Jerusalem at a critical moment in U.S. efforts to put Israeli-Palestinian peace talks back on track, or sending commandos to seize a Turkish ship in a horribly mismanaged effort to halt the ‘peace flotilla’ going to Gaza,” he wrote.
(Inter Press Service)
Obama’s agenda, Israel’s ambitions often at odds
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 5, 2010; A01
Since its creation more than six decades ago, the state of Israel has been at times a vexing ally to the United States. But it poses a special challenge for President Obama, whose foreign policy emphasizes the importance of international rules and organizations that successive Israeli governments have clashed with and often ignored.
His dilemma has come into clear focus after Israel’s military operation this week, in which commandos boarded a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in international waters, killing nine civilians, among them a 19-year-old U.S. citizen of Turkish descent.
The head of Israel’s foreign intelligence service warned parliament the next day that the country is “gradually turning from an asset of the United States to a burden.” An Irish aid ship was steaming toward Gaza on Friday night despite Israeli warnings that it would be stopped.
Israel has a unique set of security threats and national ambitions that have fostered policies inconsistent with Obama’s broader agenda, including his push to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and repair U.S. relations with the Islamic world. That has forced him to carve out exceptions for Israel that undermine the consistency he seeks in dealing with allies and antagonists alike.
Those differences have also made it hard for Obama to speak unequivocally in support of Israel during difficult times. Asked by CNN’s Larry King on Thursday if it were “premature then to condemn Israel,” Obama said, “I think that we need to know what all of the facts are.”
Israeli officials “look at the world quite differently from the way from this president does, and they are not willing to just fall in line because he is the president,” said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel who advised Obama’s campaign and now teaches at Princeton University. “Israel and the United States are seeing the threat environment in the region — and the ways to deal with the threat environment — in increasingly different ways. And for the United States that means Israel is a problem, as an ally heading in a very different direction.”
So far, Obama has little tangible to show for his Middle East policy; the raid threatens to undercut what progress he has made. His attempt to turn “proximity talks” between Israelis and Palestinians into direct negotiations has been complicated by the Gaza operation. So has his bid for new sanctions against Iran at the United Nations.
Before the raid, the administration was working to patch up relations with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which frayed this year over Israel’s settlement policy, and with an American Jewish community that has long viewed Obama as an uncertain friend of Israel.
Last week, Obama marked Jewish American Heritage Month with a White House reception for 200 guests, who encountered at the entrance President Harry Truman’s May 1948 statement recognizing the state of Israel. Obama also met last month with three dozen Jewish members of Congress, telling them, according to one participant, that he “can’t impose” a peace settlement on Israelis and Palestinians but “may outline a solution for the parties.”
To Israel and its supporters, though, Obama must show an emotional understanding of the threats they face before pushing peace proposals. Israeli leaders have traditionally found few places besides the United States to turn to for support. Israel mistrusts international organizations such as the United Nations, whose General Assembly once passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism. It was later reversed.
David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that “both Bill Clinton and [George W.] Bush were able to evince a visceral identification with an Israel that exists in a very difficult neighborhood.” That identification, he said, was essential to good relations with the Israeli government and public, which has a low opinion of Obama.
“Obama has been more detached and programmatic in his approach,” said Makovsky, who wrote the 2009 book “Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction in the Middle East” with Dennis Ross, an Obama adviser on the region. “But there’s a paradox in this because you need a shared agenda to have trust. And you need trust to forge a shared agenda.”
In his June 2009 address to the Muslim world at Cairo University, Obama drew applause for stating that “the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements” in territories Israel occupied in the 1967 war. He said that “this construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace.”
Those remarks represented a sharp turn from the Bush administration’s position that Israel could expect to keep its largest West Bank settlement blocs.
“The key to understanding this president is to know that he is about change — it wasn’t just a slogan,” said Michael B. Oren, Israel’s ambassador to Washington. “This is a changing relationship, but change doesn’t necessarily mean friction.”
Israeli leaders have argued that Jewish settlements in the West Bank serve as a buffer against Arab attack from the east. But many members of Netanyahu’s Likud party also believe Jews have a biblical claim to the land, making it politically difficult for the prime minister to stop settlement construction.
“We have areas of disagreement — Jerusalem is one, and the friction around the settlements,” said Oren, who spent four hours at the White House this week meeting with senior administration officials. “They want us to be more flexible on the Gaza issue, and we also want to change the status quo. The fact we are having this dialogue is a sign of our shared interests.”
But Obama, who has sought to eliminate double standards in U.S. foreign policy since taking office, has had to make exceptions for Israel on some of his most important initiatives.
At the end of the Nuclear Security Summit he convened in April, Obama spoke at length about Iran’s need to meet its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty or face harsher sanctions for not doing so.
Asked if he would press Israel to declare its decades-old nuclear program and sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which moments earlier he had called “the cornerstone of our global efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons,” Obama said, “I’m not going to comment on their program.”
“What I’m going to point to is the fact that consistently we have urged all countries to become members of the NPT,” he added.
A major treaty review last month ended with a statement that singled out Israel’s nuclear program for criticism, but did not condemn Iran’s secret nuclear facilities. James L. Jones, Obama’s national security adviser, called the omission “deplorable.”
“This administration faces two very difficult stances to reconcile,” said Robert Malley, a former Middle East adviser to Clinton. “You have Israel feeling that it stands apart because it faces challenges unlike anyone else. And you have an administration that wants to establish a rule-bound international order. The question is how effectively do they juggle the two, and the test of that will be whether they achieve their policy.”
Staff writer Glenn Kessler contributed to this report.