It Wasn't Always like This: There Is No Other Alliance That Compares, and It Is Newer Than You Might Think. Anton la Guardia Analyses Israel's Most Precious Lifeline, Its Emotional Bond with the United States

Article excerpt

Who provided the fighter aircraft and other weapons that the Jews used to carve out a state for themselves in Palestine in 1948? America, you might say. Wrong. It was the Soviet bloc. Who built the Dimona reactor that allowed Israel to become the only nuclear power in the Middle East? The United States, surely. No, France. Who conspired with Israel to invade Egypt and remove Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Arab anti-colonial trouble-maker of his time? Step forward Britain and France. It was the US president, Dwight Eisenhower, who demanded and obtained Israel's withdrawal from all the territory it had occupied in the Suez crisis of 1956.

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A quick reading of Middle East history shows that the US was not always Israel's best friend, not always the bankroller, armourer and diplomatic shield-holder it is today. In fact the alliance between Washington and Jerusalem was forged in the cold war, though it has been hardened by George W Bush's "global war on terrorism".

After the 11 September attacks, Israel convinced many Americans that its war against Palestinian suicide bombers was no different from the US war against those who sent suicide pilots crashing into the twin towers, and that Yasser Arafat was the same as Osama Bin Laden, only with a Palestinian headscarf on his head. It is a remarkable achievement for a country of almost seven million people to be able to convince a country 50 times larger, and many times more powerful, to see the world its way, to extract disproportionate amounts of subsidies from the US taxpayer and to lever a superpower's political might for its own ends.

"Israel is dependent on the United States as no country is on a friendly power ..." wrote Henry Kissinger in the 1980s. "It takes a special kind of heroism to turn total dependence into defiance, to insist on support as a matter of right than as a favour."

The relationship was born in the six-day war of 1967, when Israel's puny borders expanded to the Suez Canal, the Jordan river and the approaches to Damascus. This established Israel in America's eyes as a bulwark against Soviet influence in the Arab world. So although the Jewish state fought that war with French weapons, it has defended its conquests with American arms.

Israel was helped generously in its wars with Arab states, and even more so after it made peace with Egypt. For the past two decades it has received $3bn a year in civilian and military aid from the US, roughly the same as all current US development assistance to sub-Saharan Africa. The bond goes beyond strategic considerations. Over the years, supporting Israel has come to be seen as a moral obligation across the American political spectrum. The pro-Israeli lobby may be legendary for its ability to twist arms on Capitol Hill, Jewish votes are important in key states such as New York and Florida, and the Bush administration's neo-cons may be supporters of the Likud party, but the real secret of Israel's influence is that it resonates with the public. …