Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Bye-Bye the "Strategic Asset": Hello the Client State

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Bye-Bye the "Strategic Asset": Hello the Client State

Article excerpt

In the short run, at least, Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and his Likud government said that they have emerged as winners in the Gulf war. After all, the military power of Israel's adversary, Saddam Hussain, was destroyed, and Israel's regional nuclear monopoly is no longer challenged. The PLO's diplomatic status was diminished and the Palestinian cause may also have suffered serious damage. Moreover, Israel's "amazing restraint" during the war has been quickly translated into a bold request for massively increased American financial and military aid.

However, the anti-Saddam coalition of Western and Arab forces destroyed more than the military power of the Iraqi ruler. It also demolished the myth of Israel's role as America's "strategic asset" in the Middle East. The US stationed its bombers in airfields as far away as England, and not in those available in the geographically closer Israel. While close to 40 nations, including Romania and Argentina, participated in one way or another in the American-led military operation, Israel was requested not to deploy its military might, subsidized since 1967 by the American taxpayer, to contribute to the rapid victory in the Gulf.

Actually, Israel proved to be an expensive diplomatic and military liability during the war. Not only could it not perform any effective military role in the crisis because it is a political pariah in the area, but Washington found itself using crucial military airpower resources in order to defend Israel from Iraqi Scud attacks.

The Gulf war, in fact, sank the concept of Israel as America's unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Eastern Mediterranean. The US will, therefore, almost certainly return to the more disengaged approach that characterized its relationship with Israel before the Reagan administration's "strategic consensus" policy automatically promoted Israel, along with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, into an American "strategic asset."

The lessons of the Gulf war, as well as the end of the Cold War, are bound to reduce the connection between Israel and the United States to a more "normal" state of affairs. As Israel relinquishes its militarily hollow and politically harmful role of America's strategic ally in the Middle East, the Israeli-American "special relationship" will be exposed for what it really is: a relationship between a small client state and its superpower patron, in which the former is dependent on the latter, rather than the other way around.

Sources and Consequences of the "Strategic Asset" Concept

The concept of Israel as a "strategic asset" developed only after the 1967 war, when some US policymakers began to subscribe to the Israeli-inspired notion that there was perfect harmony between America's moral commitment to Israel and Washington's strategic interests in the Middle East. This, however, had an unforeseen effect. US support played into the hands of extremist Israeli political forces that contended that Israel could cling with impunity to the territories it had occupied, in exchange for serving America's anti-Soviet interests in the region.

Although the policies of both the Nixon-Kissinger and Carter eras assigned to Israel that strategic role, they were balanced somewhat by an emphasis on the US acting as a mediator between Israel and the Arabs. Only during the Reagan administration did Washington elevate the "strategic alliance" between the two states to a formal level, while relegating the Palestinian problem to the bottom of America's foreign policy agenda. Those Reagan policies helped produce such disasters for both Israel and the United States as the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the Iran-Contra affair and led directly to the Palestinian uprising, the intifada.

With the end of the Cold War and with Moscow cooperating with Washington in addressing various Middle Eastern issues, Israel increasingly was unable to market itself on the eve of the Gulf crisis as America's anti-Soviet strategic asset in the region. …

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