Israel's Role as US Ally Debated Some Observers Cite Israel's Forbearance under Scud Missile Attack and Its Overall Military Prowess as Evidence of Its Strategic Value to the US, but Others Say Its Importance Is Overrated Series: US AID TO ISRAEL. THE PREMISE AND THE PRICE. Part 5 of a 6-Part Series

By George Moffett, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 27, 1991 | Go to article overview

Israel's Role as US Ally Debated Some Observers Cite Israel's Forbearance under Scud Missile Attack and Its Overall Military Prowess as Evidence of Its Strategic Value to the US, but Others Say Its Importance Is Overrated Series: US AID TO ISRAEL. THE PREMISE AND THE PRICE. Part 5 of a 6-Part Series


George Moffett, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


DEPENDING on where you stand, the Gulf war has either confirmed or undermined the notion that Israel plays a crucial role as a strategic ally of the United States in the Middle East.

Supporters of Israel say that, despite its noncombatant role, the Jewish state made major contributions to the allied victory with vital intelligence, defense technology, and tactics in air-to-ground warfare that helped coalition pilots locate and destroy Iraqi missile launchers.

Skeptics say the mere fact that the US had to beg Israel to stay out of the conflict - and to pay a steep financial price for Israel's acquiescence - proves that Israel is not an asset but a liability as the US seeks to advance its interests in the overwhelmingly Arab Middle East.

The debate goes to the heart of questions that bear on whether Israel should continue to receive massive amounts of US military assistance and multimillion-dollar weapons transfers:

*-Given the decline of the Soviet threat, is Israel as important to the US in strategic terms?

*-Given the objective of keeping Israel secure, should the cost to the US be as high in the aftermath of Iraq's military defeat in the Gulf war?

During the cold war Israel carved out a niche in US security policy, eventually achieving the status of "non-NATO" ally during the Reagan administration.

To justify increasing levels of US military assistance, Israel has pointed to its role in helping contain the spread of Soviet influence in the Middle East.

Israeli officials and pro-Israeli academics in the US underline the value of Israel's battlefield experience in providing information about the performance of Soviet weapons used by its Arab allies.

Because of its intelligence capabilities Israel has also been an important listening post for the US in the Middle East, while Israel's state-of-the-art Air Force has been widely viewed as an effective deterrent to the use of Soviet naval and naval air power in the eastern Mediterranean.

In a more general sense, Israel's political stability, technical competence, and warm relations with the US have made the Jewish state a natural partner for everything from prepositioning supplies to training exercises to weapons development. "To use their experience and have access to their technological thinking and innovation is valuable to us," comments one congressional source.

Whether it is valuable enough to warrant such massive US support remains a matter of considerable dispute.

Many analysts, including some current and former senior Defense Department officials who opposed Israel's designation as non-NATO ally, think that even in the cold-war era Israel's military value to the US was overrated.

"Looked at in an overall perspective, for example, Israeli intelligence is helpful but not decisive," notes one US official, who adds that with the cold war now over Israel has become far less important to the US. "Now that there is no Soviet threat, what can Israel do?" asks the official. "Where is Israel an asset?"

Israeli officials respond that with the US's military profile in Europe diminishing, geographically peripheral allies like Israel could actually become more important. But debate over the point may be academic since, in the last analysis, high levels of US military aid have very little to do with Israel's military importance to the US and almost everything to do with the US's military importance to Israel.

In the end, the calculation that counts for Israel is the US's assessment of the military threat to Israel. Despite Iraq's defeat in the Gulf war, US military planners generally believe the threat remains high. …

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Israel's Role as US Ally Debated Some Observers Cite Israel's Forbearance under Scud Missile Attack and Its Overall Military Prowess as Evidence of Its Strategic Value to the US, but Others Say Its Importance Is Overrated Series: US AID TO ISRAEL. THE PREMISE AND THE PRICE. Part 5 of a 6-Part Series
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