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.”
Bill Clinton’s appeasement has been a tragedy for the Jewish people, since he pushed the Oslo process along and encouraged its implementation, bearing a historic responsibility for the Intifada’s bloodshed, in which 2000 Israelis paid with their lives.
In 1981 the Jewish State bombed the Iraqi reactor of Osirak. Recent files released by the UK National Archives show that Britain’s ambassador to Washington, Sir Nicholas Henderson, was with US Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger as the news came in. “Weinberger says that he thinks Begin must have taken leave of his senses. He is much disturbed by the Israeli reaction and possible consequences,” Nicholas cabled London. Alexander Haig was secretary of state then. “I argued,” he recalled, “that while some action must be taken to show American disapproval, our strategic interests would not be served by policies that humiliated and weakened Israel.”
Those who remember Ronald Reagan as friendly to Israel may be startled to recall the vehemence of his reaction against Israel. The Reagan administration's immediate response was to impose sanctions on the Jewish State and Reagan suspended the delivery of F-16 fighters doing something even Jimmy Carter refused to do: use arms supplies as leverage against Israel. Washington has also armed Israel’s western neighbor to the teeth. The Egyptian army is now infinitely more modern then when the Egyptians carried out their successful initial attack against Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Can we forget the US treatment of Jonathan Pollard, the only American to receive a life sentence for spying for an ally? Despite the fact that nobody has given one specific example of how Pollard hurt the US, the Israeli is still being held in solitary confinement in an underground cell. Pollard has been in prison longer than anyone ever sentenced in the US for passing classified materials to a friendly foreign power (the median sentence for someone spying for a non-Soviet power has been less than three years). For his contribution to Israel’s security and for his long suffering in prison, Pollard is an Israeli hero. He is the source of the Israeli preparedness for the Iraqi missile attacks during the Gulf War, when Saddam’s rockets began to rain down on Tel Aviv, and Israelis wore gas masks. Pollard warned Israel of Iraq’s bellicose intentions, and that Syria’s Assad was amassing quantities of chemical weapons. By its own agreement with Israel, the US should have given this information to Jerusalem. But it was deliberately blocked by Weinberger.
Today Israel can stand tall in the face of its important ally because it never asked American soldiers to spill their blood for its defense. It’s Washington that must beg for Israel’s alliance and protect the Jews, as it cannot afford disengagement from the only democracy in a region dominated by Islam. Will the US eventually be compelled to sacrifice Israel on the altar of “realism” and oil price, when Iran’s knife will descend on the Jews? And will the Jewish State’s leadership dutifully bind Israel on the altar?
As Charles Krauthammer spelled it out, “for Israel the stakes are somewhat higher: the very existence of a vibrant nation and its 6 million Jews.” If Israel won’t be able to change the US’s red line on Iran and Jerusalem capitulates to Washington’s appeasement, the Iranians' ghoulish utopia will be soon armed with atomic bombs. And the Jews? They will be psychologically weaker and totally dependant on others’ help. Like it was before and during the Holocaust.
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