Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Putting Strings on Aid to Israel

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Putting Strings on Aid to Israel

Article excerpt

THE United States and Israel signed strategic cooperation agreements in 1983. Their purpose, said President Reagan, was to counter "Soviet involvement in the Middle East." But even in the cold-war era a US-Israel tie had little bearing on the possible spread of communism in the Arab world. Indeed, Israel was (and is) considered a net strategic liability by many US government officials.

This is why Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger, Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff General John Vessey, and others opposed the 1983 accords. Israel's importance to the US, as Henry Kissinger remarked at the time, is primarily "sentimental." Today the Soviet Union is largely absent from most of the region, yet the Bush administration is reportedly deepening the US-Israel relationship.

Sentimental considerations are crucial to Israel's standing with the American public. The twin pillars of Israel's special relationship with American are its democratic system and a moral stature rooted in the Holocaust experience. But the pillars are crumbling. Israeli democracy is in jeopardy. A 1990 poll found that more Israelis prefer a government with "strong leadership" to one that is democratic. Moreover, Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, sustained human-rights abuses, and stonewalling of peace negotiations made the Jewish state an international pariah and, before August 1990, strained ties with Washington and tarnished its image with the American public.

The US was right to send Patriot missiles to Israel. If commitments mean anything, they mean helping friends resist unprovoked attacks. It is also appropriate that US Army crews operating the Patriots will be replaced by Israeli operators. A feeling of self-reliance is important for the morale of Israelis who are, in reality, profoundly dependent on the US.

Israel must not, however, be rewarded financially by the US for pursuing a policy of restraint that is in its own national interest. …

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