Support Any Friend: Kennedy's Middle East and the Making of the U.S.-Israel Alliance

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Support Any Friend: Kennedy's Middle East and the Making of the U.S.-Israel Alliance, by Warren Bass. A Council on Foreign Relations Book. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. 336 pp. $30.00.

The United States and Israel have had a fascinating and complicated special relationship extending over decades about which numerous authors (including this reviewer) have written extensively. Generally the relatively brief tenure of the Kennedy administration has been overlooked by most students of the Middle East because of its limited effect on regional developments.

Warren Bass, a senior fellow in U.S. foreign policy and Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, has examined the Kennedy administration and its role in the region, focusing on the relationship between the United States and Israel, in an effort to rectify that oversight. He argues that Kennedy set precedents that continue "to shape America's encounter with the-Middle East" (book cover). He concludes: "Kennedy was the first American president to make a major arms sale to Israel, the last president to push hard to stop Israel from getting the atomic bomb, and the last president to reach out to the greatest champion of Arab nationalism, Egypt's Jamal Abd al-Nasser" (book cover). Bass points out that one could call Israel an American "ally" by the end of Kennedy's administration and, while this is overstated, it certainly marked an important point on that path. Bass overstates a claim, on page 3, that Kennedy's was "the pivotal presidency in U.S.-Israel relations" and, on page 14, asserts that Kennedy's policies stand as the "foundation of the U.S.-Israeli alliance."

The inauguration of the Kennedy administration in 1960 suggested the possibility of change in U.S. Middle East policy. There were no precise conceptions concerning the appropriate course of American policy and the changes that needed to be made. The Kennedy administration also did not seek a comprehensive resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict but rather various smaller steps to move in the direction of a solution. To a significant degree the major policy lines were determined by existing programs and approaches, but John F. Kennedy seemed to develop a new style that had its effect on the U.S. position in the Arab world and with regard to Israel. Kennedy launched a more activist foreign policy than that of Eisenhower. Kennedy sought to establish a dialogue with Arab leaders and to improve the climate of relations by the reiteration of past policy in support of U.N. resolutions and the use of American influence to help establish a just and peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute.

The Kennedy tenure was also marked by a belief that peace in the area was dependent on a balance of military power between Israel and the Arabs, and in September 1962, the United States agreed to sell Israel missiles as a defense against the jet aircraft supplied to the United Arab Republic by the Soviet Union and also against the potential threat of Egypt's missiles. The Kennedy administration was the first to sell Israel modern weapons with the Hawk missile defense sale. Bass suggests that the Hawk precedent remains perhaps the most under-appreciated milestone in the U.S.-Israel relationship.

This is and remains a period and subject often overlooked by students of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Bass has helped to correct that omission by providing a glimpse into the diplomacy and politics of the early 1960s utilizing new archives and recently released documents. He has provided us with insights into the personalities and their diplomacy, a "feel" for the diplomacy, and an understanding of the relationship between the United States and Israel and between the senior players on both sides. He has put together some useful stories which are well written and dramatic in nature. …