Magazine article The American Conservative

Special Relationship

Magazine article The American Conservative

Special Relationship

Article excerpt

A one-sided U.S. policy toward Israel endangers both countries' interests.

DISCUSSING THE U.S.-ISRAELI relationship on a radio talk show recently, I discovered that Americans are misinformed about their country's ties to the Jewish state. One listener, taking it for granted that Israel maintains a formal military alliance with Washington, speculated that since "the Americans established Israel after the Holocaust, maybe we can set it up now in Florida." But contrary to this misconception, the relationship between the two countries has never been grounded in strong geostrategic roots; it reflects the sentiments and interests of powerful American groups.

Israeli politicians, unlike their counterparts in Washington, recognize this reality. They will never romanticize the U.S.-Israel connection unless they are discussing it with American visitors. Similarly, much of the analysis of the relationship in the Israeli media is concerned almost exclusively with its utilitarian aspects: Will Washington back Israeli policy? Will the U.S. Congress increase aid to Israel? Is the new American president "pro-Israeli?" Ha'aretz recently convened a panel of experts to follow the 2008 U.S. presidential race and issue occasional reports on "who is the best presidential candidate for Israel." (The winner in the last poll was Rudy Giuliani.)

In short, Israelis are the ultimate realpolitik buffs when it comes to their relationship with Washington. The notion that the U.S. and Israel are allied together in the cause of spreading democracy in the Middle East and worldwide would be scoffed at by Israeli pundits. After all, their government has been strengthening its military ties with China despite U.S. opposition. Israelis are not "pro-American" because of their commitment to Jeffersonian values-the Jewish state has yet to adopt a constitution-but because they concluded that their interests and those of the U.S. are compatible now. But they see this "special relationship" not as marriage but as an affair. And like any affair, it could end.

Indeed, there was a time when Israelis were pro-Soviet and pro-French. In 1948, Stalin's Soviet Union was the most enthusiastic supporter of establishing Israel, which it hoped would be a leading anti-imperialist post in the Middle East, while Secretary of State George Marshall pressed Harry Truman not to recognize the new state, warning that it could harm America's position in the region. Hence Moscow recognized Israel immediately after the state was proclaimed and provided it with arms, while it took the Americans more than a year to grant de jure recognition to Israel, on which they imposed an arms embargo. At the height of the In-Russia-With-Love mood in Israel, the expectation was that the new state would remain neutral in the evolving Cold War.

Then Israel had its French kiss. It was France that served as Israel's main source of arms in the 1950s and early 1960s and helped it develop its nuclear arsenal. Israel was embracing then a European orientation and forming close ties with an emerging Franco-German bloc to help resist U.S. pressure to end its nuclear program. The Israeli alliance with France reached a peak in the aftermath of the 1956 Suez campaign during which the two conspired (with Britain and against U.S. wishes) to oust Egypt's Garnal Abdel Nasser. Their interests were seen to be compatible as the French tried to suppress the Nasserbacked struggle for independence in Algeria. But after Charles de Gaulle's decision to grant independence to Algeria, the relationship between Israel and France cooled; they soured after Israel rejected the aging French leader's advice not to attack Egypt in 1967.

It was only after Israel's 1967 victory over Egypt, a Soviet ally, that the intellectual predecessors of today's neoconservatives started popularizing the idea of Israel as an American "strategic asset" in the Middle East. Similarly, neoconservatives in the Reagan administration argued that Israel should become America's leading ally in the region during the renewed Cold War tensions, while depicting the Palestine Liberation Organization as a Soviet stooge. …

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