The USA, Israels’ Friendly Bully

But Macedonia would do well to learn from Israel’s turbulent and bitter experience with the United States. Despite the fact that the Israeli lobby in Washington – AIPAC – is by far the mightiest and the best organized, backed as it is by millions of affluent and politically active Jews, Israel was often pressured by its “friend” and strategic ally into compromises that subverted its national interest and even endangered its very existence.

II. 1948-1967

During the 1950s and 1960s, the USA was essentially pro-Arab. It attempted to secure the oil fields of the Middle East (in the Gulf, Iraq, and Iran) from Soviet encroachment by nurturing friendly relations with the region’s authoritarian regimes and by fostering a military alliance with Turkey (later, a part of an extended NATO).

Remarkably, Israel was forced to rely on the USSR for arms (supplied via the Czech Republic) and, later, on France and Britain, who were desperately trying to hang on to the smoldering remnants of their colonial empires

Thus, in 1956, Israel (in collusion with France and Britain) attempted to prise open the critical recently-nationalized waterway, the Suez Canal, by invading the Sinai Peninsula, then, as now, a part of Egypt. The USA forced Israel into a humiliating and public retreat and threatened the fledgling state with economic, military, and diplomatic sanctions if it did not comply with American demands without ado.

During the 1960s, even when America did (rarely) sell weapons systems to Israel, it made sure to make the same armaments available to Israel’s avowed and vociferous enemies, Egypt and Jordan. By 1967, the USA has granted the Hashemite Kingdom of Trans-Jordan far larger sums of military and foreign aid than it did its neighbor to the west, Israel.

President Johnson was a staunch supporter of Israel. Yet, in the run-up to the Six Days War, the Johnson Administration summoned Israeli politicians and military leaders to Washington and publicly chastised and berated them for refusing to succumb to American pressure and yield to Arab demands (which amounted essentially to the dismantling of the Jewish State by economic and diplomatic means). Secretary of State Dean Rusk went as far as blaming Israel for the war. A diplomatic solution, he insisted, was possible, had Israel shown more flexibility.

The deliberate or mistaken Israeli attack, during the conflict, on the USS Liberty, an American intelligence-gathering ship, moored in international waters, did not help bilateral relations any.

III. 1967-Present

Still, Israel’s decisive victory over the combined forces of numerous Arab states, many of which bore Soviet arms, changed perceptions in Washington and among the Jews: here was a military democracy that could serve as a bulwark against Soviet expansion in the Middle East; a regional cop; a testing ground for new weapons; a living breathing demonstration of the superiority of American arms; an intelligence gathering “front office”; and a frontline base in case of dire need.

Israel’s standing was thus transformed from pariah to a major non-NATO ally overnight (a status officially granted it in 1987). Israel felt sufficiently secure in its newfound pivotal strategic role to reject a peace plan forwarded by then Secretary of State, Will Rogers in 1970.

Yet, even in the heyday of this “special relationship”, Israel refrained from defying the USA and feared the repercussions of any disagreement, major or minor. This hesitancy and dread were not confined to the political echelons: the entire population were affected. People of all walks of life engaged in reading the tea leaves of “the mood in Washington” and what should Israel do to placate its fickle, thuggish, and overbearing “partner”.

Thus, despite numerous warning signs that it is about to be attacked by superior Arab forces in 1973, the Israeli leadership gambled with the country’s very existence and did not launch a pre-emptive strike, having been cautioned not to act by President Nixon and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.

When Israel repelled and encircled the invading Egyptian Army, Kissinger called Israel’s Ambassador in Washington, Simcha Dinitz and instructed him not to pursue a military victory. When Dinitz protested, Kissinger told him that disobeying the United States (and destroying the aggressor’s remaining forces on the ground) was “an option that simply does not exist”.

Kissinger then proceeded with shuttle diplomacy aimed at pressuring Israel into ceding most of the land it conquered in the last two wars in return for a mere ceasefire. Whenever Israel resisted any of his dictates, however inconsequential, Kissinger would publicly threaten Israel with abandonment and even sanctions. This modus operandi continued throughout President Carter’s years in office.

Even in the early Reagan years, Israel was berated and threatened on a regular basis, owing to its invasion of Lebanon and its rejection of yet another American-imposed “peace” plan in 1982 and in 1988. The Reagan Administration also openly consorted with the PLO, at the time still an unrepentant, anti-Jewish terrorist organization.

Yet, throughout these very public and advertent humiliations, the USA remained Israel’s main backer. Friendship and bullying appeared to be two inalienable facet of the same coin of American-Israeli relations.

The two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 1981; formed a Joint Military Political Group in 1983; conducted joint air and naval exercises in 1984; stockpiled American weapons and materiel on Israeli soil; and signed a free trade agreement in 1985. Israel has also been the recipient of 3 billion USD annually (until 2004, one third of all American foreign aid) since the early 1980s.

At the very same time, Secretary of State, James Baker reprimanded Israel for its “expansionist” policies and his boss, President Bush (the father) insisted that east Jerusalem – the very soul and heart of the Jewish state – was an “occupied territory”.

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Blowing hot and cold on the “special” relationship strained them to the hilt. Disagreements and misunderstandings proliferated as the USA began to micromanage Israeli affairs, telling the country how to conduct its investigations into incidents and even how to hold elections (for the Palestinian delegation to a peace conference).

With the first Gulf War imminent in 1990, Bush affirmed the USA’s commitment to Israel’s existence and security. But, only a year later, when Iraq attacked Israel with Scud missiles and Israel heeded America’s request not to retaliate did relations between the two asymmetric allies thaw. Israel was granted loans, albeit under the condition that it freezes all settlement activities in the West Bank.

Relations between Israel and the Administration of President Bush (the son) started off on the wrong foot, with recriminations and accusations, only to be rendered an intimate collaboration by the terrorist attacks of September 2001.

Currently, in the throes of an umpteenth honeymoon, Israel can do no wrong. But, history teaches us that such phases are invariably followed by discord. Israel has consistently jeopardized both its national security and its interests to placate American impetuous demands and to cater to its ally’s geopolitical and -global economic interests.