The Israel-Iran countdown has begun and with respect to Tehran’s nuclear race we are witnessing the greatest crisis in the US-Israel relations. Will America help the tiny Jewish State? Can Israel trust the word of a US administration that has treated Jerusalem like a banana republic?
A few days ago, Israeli officials told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that “the US’ stance is pushing the Iranians to become a country at the brink of nuclear capability.” Very few people in Israel believe that the US will ever launch another preemptive war against the ayatollahs. The US, especially if Barack Obama gets the re-election, will be tempted to reach a compromise with the Iranians.
Israel is dependent on the US for economic, military and diplomatic support. American taxpayers fund 20-25% of Israel’s defense budget, with the Jewish State being the largest recipient by far of American aid since World War II. Israel is required to use a portion of US aid to buy from the US defense establishment, but no other country — certainly not any European one — provides the weapons needed to protect Israeli lives. Moreover, the United States has cast 40 vetoes to protect Israel in the UN Security Council.
There is a quid pro quo for such support, but also a limit to what even that degree of dependence can buy. The current Iranian nuclear race made it very clear. And it made clear that the US can forsake, again, the Israelis.
Washington doesn’t support Israel because of the Jewish State’s democracy, the Holocaust or its respect for human rights. Israel’s strategic value has always been the primary motivation for US support. But it can change tomorrow, especially if Israel’s survival becomes a burden for Washington (France has been Israel’s most important ally after the war, but Paris suddenly abandoned the Jews for the Arab world). Israel must remember that she is America’s ally and client, not “friend.”
The first US presidents after Israel was established — Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson — gave nothing to the Jewish State. And we were in a time when the ashes of Auschwitz were still warm, while today the memory of the Holocaust is fading. Truman maintained a US embargo against arms sales to the Israeli and Arabs, which was effective only against Israel. In 1948, it was US pressure which forced Israel to withdraw from the Sinai where Israeli forces were pursuing the defeated Egyptians.
In 1960 the Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann was apprehended by Israeli agents in Argentina and flown to Jerusalem for trial. Argentina turned to the UN Security Council, asking it to condemn Israel and order Eichmann’s return. Washington intended to support the Argentinean complaint and only the furious reaction of Israel’s foreign minister, Golda Meir, dissuaded Washington to do that.
Prior to the Six Day War, Abba Eban approached Lyndon Johnson and all he got was an arms embargo on the Middle East. In 1970, at the height of the “War of Attrition,” the US turned down an urgent Israeli request for security assistance.
In 1992 the Bush-Baker Administration humiliated the Israelis by an ultimatum: “Settlements or loan guarantees” (the latter Israeli general and minister Rehavam Ze’evi dismissed Bush senior as being “anti-Semitic”). The US post-Gulf War’s settlement included American efforts to dislodge Israel from the territories by endangering Israel’s security and claim to the land. The former editor of The New York Times, A.M. Rosenthal, wrote that “the Bush administration has a spiritual affinity for Arab rulers and oilmen, but bares its teeth when Jerusalem shows independence.”