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US-Israel relations – an American perspective

Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, “Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative”
February 1, 2019, https://bit.ly/2SknjYD
A realistic evaluation of the key elements which have shaped US-Israel relations, should not focus on the relatively secondary role – regionally and globally – played by the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Palestinian issue and domestic US politics.

The substantial amplification of the mutually-beneficial US-Israel cooperation – militarily, intelligence-wise, technologically and commercially – has been driven by Israel’s operational, innovative and industrial capabilities, regional (Middle East) and global American interests as well as the rising threat of Islamic terrorism to the US homeland security.

US-Israel relations have been transformed dramatically since 1948, when the State Department, Pentagon and CIA opposed the founding of the Jewish State and prevented the delivery of military supplies to the newly-born state. They claimed that a Jewish state would join the Soviet Bloc, would be wrecked demographically by an eventual Arab majority, would be decimated by the surrounding Arab armies, and would undermine vital US interests in the Middle East. These claims have been demolished by Middle East reality.

US-Israel relations have been reshaped substantially since 1956, in the aftermath of the Sinai Campaign – which was triggered by the sustained campaign of Arab terrorism from Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula – when the US Administration brutally pressured Israel, forcing the full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and Sinai.

US-Israel cooperation has been revolutionized since 1967 – before the preemptive Six Day War – when the US Administration threatened Israel, which was besieged by a newly-established Egypt-Syria-Jordan unified military command, trumpeting the mission to destroy Israel. The US warning to Israel was: “Israel will not be alone, unless it decides to go alone [preempt]….”

The 1967 Six Day War was a game-changer, leading the US to recognize Israel’s enhanced military posture of deterrence in the face of Arab threats, in general, and the Soviet Union and its Arab proxies (Egypt and Syria), in particular. For example, Israel’s 1967 victory destroyed the regional military posture of the pro-Soviet Syrian President Hafiz Assad, who constituted a clear and present threat to then pro-US Turkey as well as to Jordan’s Hashemite regime. Moreover, Israel devastated the military base of Egyptian President Nasser, whose ground forces were fighting in Yemen, attempting to surge into Saudi Arabia. Israel intercepted Nasser’s attempt to assume Pan Arab leadership from Egypt, Syria and Jordan to the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf; to topple all pro-US Arab regimes; to threaten the pro-US regime of the Shah of Iran; to ravage US interests throughout the Middle East, the Indian Ocean and the eastern Mediterranean; and, to accord the USSR a rare geo-strategic bonus.

Post-1967 Israel – controlling the Golan Heights and the mountain ridges of Judea & Samaria, which are the “Golan Heights” of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion Airport – has emerged as a unique strategic asset, producing significant dividends to the US, contrary to the pre-1967 Israel, which was deemed a strategic burden/liability.

The 1970 Syrian invasion of Jordan – while the US was preoccupied with Southeast Asia – underlined the convergence of US and Israeli strategic interests. Thus, Israel extended the strategic hand of the US in the strategically significant Middle East, by deploying its own military force to the joint Israel-Syria-Jordan frontier (on the Golan Heights), triggering a Syrian retreat without firing a single bullet, and with no US troops involved.

The 1976 Entebbe Operation exposed Israel’s unique capabilities in the areas of intelligence and counter-terrorism, which has emerged as the top threat to the homeland security of the Western World.

The 1981 Israeli bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor has reinforced Israel’s regional and global posture of deterrence, sparing the US and the Free World a confrontation with a nuclearized Saddam Hussein following his 1990 occupation of Kuwait.

In 1982, the US deployed troops to Lebanon, aiming to block Israel’s campaign against PLO terrorists in Lebanon. In spite of the anti-Israel US deployment, Islamic car bombs hit the US Embassy (April 1983) and the US military barracks (October 1983) in Beirut, murdering 260 Americans, which led to the establishment of the US-Israel Joint Political Military Group in November 1983. In 1987, Israel was granted the status of A Major Non-NATO Ally.

Contrary to the superficial assumption that US-Israel strategic cooperation was relevant as long as there was a Soviet threat, the US-Israel strategic compatibility has been reinforced since the 1991 demise of the USSR. Hence, the collapse of the Soviet empire transformed the bipolar globe (the USA vs. the USSR) into a much more fractured, unpredictable, explosive, violent and dramatically uncontrollable, intolerant and unstable multipolar world, which has confronted the US with the wrath of megalomaniacal non-super power rogue regimes such as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Iran’s Ayatollahs. While Israel had a limited role in confronting the USSR, it has become the US’s most effective ally in the face of such regional threats.

The 2010 eruption of the Arab Tsunami, which is still raging, has further exposed the similarity of US-Israel strategic challenges and threats, leveraging Israel’s 70-year old do-or-die military and intelligence experience. The Arab Tsunami threatens the existence of all pro-US Arab regimes from North Africa (e.g., Morocco), through Egypt and Jordan to the Persian Gulf (e.g., Saudi Arabia) and down to the Indian Ocean (e.g., Oman).

In 2019, the US and Israel share identical national and homeland security concerns in the Middle East and beyond: the megalomaniacal vision of Iran’s Ayatollahs (who consider the US as the major hurdle on the road to domination of the Persian Gulf), the clear and present threat of Sunni and Shiite Islamic terrorism, and the critical security requirements of all highly vulnerable pro-US Arab regimes.

Contrary to the State Department establishment’s traditional claim that the US must choose between strategic cooperation with Israel or Saudi Arabia – as long as the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian issues remain unsolved – Israel’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and the other Arab Gulf states has surged unprecedentedly, irrespective of the Palestinian issue. In fact, US-Israel and US-Arab relations complement – not contradict – one another.

The pro-US Arab countries have realized that when smothered by lethal sandstorms (e.g., the Ayatollahs, ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood), drivers must not be sidetracked by the tumbleweeds on the road (the Palestinian issue).

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