Americans Know That Israel is Their Ally
In a recent interview New York Senator Chuck Schumer noted that there is a battle going on inside the Obama administration about Israel and added correctly that such a battle is not unusual. The State Department tends to be Arabist, while the Defense Department and the military appreciate Israel's strategic value. The difference is that, educated by the most radical leftist (hence anti-Israeli) professors he could find, Barack Obama came to power believing that Israel, like the U.S., is a bully that needs to be humbled and the way to sell that need to the American public is by convincing it that Israel is a strategic burden even if that hurts U.S. interests in the process. The result is a transformation of U.S. policy towards Israel radical enough to shock as savvy a foreign policy expert as Fareed Zakaria.
ZAKARIA: Rashid, what do you think? Does -- does it strike you as a shift for the -- the United States to be suggesting that this stalled peace process hurts America's ability to pursue its interests?
KHALIDI: What they're saying is that Israel is a drag on the United States. It's not a strategic asset, and this is a discursive shift of some significance.
I don't think they're saying, you know, remove Settlement X from Hilltop Y and the Arab will sing Hosannas to, you know, American power. What they are saying is that Israel is not the strategic asset it was touted as during the Cold War. . . .
ZAKARIA: Do you see the shift is as dramatic as -- as you were just describing? Because what Obama has said and what Petraeus' report says is not Israel is a strategic drag, it's that the lack of progress in the peace process is the problem, you know, that -- that we need this process to be energized. Otherwise, it is pointed to by the -- by Jihadis, it is used as a recruiting tool. That's a -- that's very different from saying Israel is a strategic drag.
KHALIDI: I think that discursively, if you sit down and parse what they're saying, at -- at base, at root, that is essentially the message. . . .
But is Khalidi right? Is Israel a strategic drag? Not if Defense Secretary Robert Gates is right. Gates writes:
In coming years, the greatest threats to the United States are likely to emanate from states that cannot adequately govern themselves or secure their own territory. The U.S. government must improve its ability to help its partners defend themselves or, if necessary, fight alongside U.S. troops.
Unlike its neighbors, Israel is a thriving democracy with a first rate military which has repeatedly proved its ability to defend itself under the most trying circumstances. Alexander Haig aptly called Israel America's "unsinkable battleship in the Middle East." Much of the left's distaste for Israel is directly related the Jewish country's usefulness as an American strategic ally. The Israeli military may not fight along side the American one as some NATO members do but it has done much, if not more, than many NATO members to enhance U.S. military ability in the post-Cold War era.
Benjamin Netanyahu said as much when he remarked that Israel shared everything with the United States, everything. That may be the reason that fifty American admirals and generals responded to intimations that Israel is a strategic burden with an open letter to Congress and the President. They wrote:
As American defense professionals, we view events in the Middle East through the prism of American security interests.
The United States and Israel established security cooperation during the Cold War, and today the two countries face the common threat of terrorism by those who fear freedom and liberty. Historically close cooperation between the United States and Israel at all levels including the IDF, military research and development, shared intelligence and bilateral military training exercises enhances the security of both countries. American police and law enforcement officials have reaped the benefit of close cooperation with Israeli professionals in the areas of domestic counter-terrorism practices and first response to terrorist attacks..
Israel and the United States are drawn together by shared values and shared threats to our well-being.
The proliferation of weapons and nuclear technology across the Middle East and Asia, and the ballistic missile technology to deliver systems across wide areas require cooperation in intelligence, technology and security policy. Terrorism, as well as the origins of financing, training and executing terrorist acts, need to be addressed multilaterally when possible. The dissemination of hatred and support of terrorism by violent extremists in the name of Islam, whether state or non-state actors, must be addressed as a threat to global peace.
In the Middle East, a volatile region so vital to U.S. interests, it would be foolish to disengage -- or denigrate -- an ally such as Israel.
Danny Reshef argues that the time has come to tell the full story, but to do so, Israel will have to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding Israeli aid to the U.S.:
When the U.S., for its own reasons, went to war against Muslim states, Israel possessed the most extensive knowledge base of the type of fighting involved as a consequence of her experience in Lebanon and in fighting Palestinian terror. Since 2003, the American army in Iraq made extensive use of Israeli technology in using and fortifying vehicles. Operational methods, defensive measures, identification and diffusion of mines, as well as training methods, were transferred from Israel to the American army and saved the lives of hundreds of American soldiers.
Israel has in its possession a wide array of correspondence from various American agencies gratefully acknowledging Israel's contribution, and even estimating the number of lives it saved in Iraq and Afghanistan. Israel helped to militarize and make more precise American drones technology, thereby improve the efficacy of its targeted assassinations.
Indeed, it was the use of Israeli methods which enabled the U.S. to increase significantly its use of drones in the past year because those methods increased the number of enemy casualties while at the same time decreasing civilian casualties. Foreign sources estimate that up to 400 American military personnel went through Israeli training in real time intelligence gathering to identify and pin point military targets.
A recent Quinnipiac poll shows that Americans may not be aware of all the details of Israeli help to the U.S., but they, if not their current president, understand Israel's strategic value and, hence disagree with Barack Obama's policy towards it. Most instructively, those who understand Israel's value most support it most. Israel has no better allies than American military families whose lives are on the line. Asked in a recent poll "Do you think the President of the United States should be a strong supporter of Israel or not?" 66% of Americans answer "yes" and 19% "no." The affirmative number amongst military families is 75%.
Similar results can be found when asked whether "President Obama is a strong supporter of Israel or not?" 34% of Americans believe he is a strong supporter and 42% think he is not. Amongst military families only 32% believe he is a strong supporter of Israel, while 49% understand he is not.
These realities are not, as critics like to insinuate, the result of a powerful Israeli lobby (which is, in any event, headed at the moment by a staunch Obama supporter). Is the Israel lobby responsible for the fact that two-thirds of both houses of Congress sent President Obama a letter suggesting an end to his orchestrated attack on Israel? It is these realities that forced the president's spokesman to deflect Senator Schumer's criticisms of Obama's treatment of Israel by stating that the U.S. has "an unwavering commitment to the security of Israel and the Israeli people." The pertinent question is whether a commitment by an American administration that believes Israel to be a strategic burden is credible. The simple answer is no.
The last time an American president so believed was in 1967. Then, as now, Foggy Bottom argued that American-Israeli relations are a one way street and that Israel is a strategic burden. The president was Lyndon Johnson, and the result was the Six Day War. It was instigated by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser in the belief that he was strong enough to beat Israel provided Washington did nothing to save the Jewish state. He was wrong about Egypt's military strength, but right in doubting American interference.
Israel stood alone, but her victory also helped save the American position in the Middle East at a time when the U.S. was mired in the jungles of Vietnam. The role played then by Egypt is played today by Iran, with Nasser's stand-in today played by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As Lebanese journalist Elias Bejjani has already concluded, this is the reason that Iran, not Israel, will start the war. Now, unlike then, U.S. forces are stationed in the Middle East and the weapons involved are nuclear. Need I write more?
Dr. Judith Apter Klinghoffer taught history and International relations at Rowan University, Rutgers University, the Foreign Affairs College in Beijing as well as at Aarhus University in Denmark where she was a senior Fulbright professor. She is an affiliate professor at Haifa University. Her books include Israel and the Soviet Union, Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East: Unintended Consequences and International Citizens' Tribunals: Mobilizing Public Opinion to Advance Human Rights