Characterized by more than universal human and Judeo-Christian values, a special relationship has developed between the United States and Israel based first and foremost on American national interests.
U.S. elected officials and senior civil servants formulate American policy based on their foreign policy assessments and not based on powerful vested-interest groups that have ‘engineered’ the relationship. Furthermore, U.S. foreign policy decisions are not based on domestic considerations – that is, the Israel lobby, the Jewish vote, or the pro-Israel press, as the March 2006 “working paper” by Harvard Professor Stephen Walt and University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer suggest.
"... Israel’s claim to a shared religious legacy has not been sufficient by itself to stimulate a more favorable American policy... only after the administration began to recognize the strategic dimension and to appreciate how shaky other pro-Western governments in the region actually were, that it started to adopt a more explicitly cooperative policy towards Israel."
Professor Robert J. Lieber, Georgetown University, 1998
Despite the disparity in geographical and demographic size, the affinity between Israel and the United States draws on the fact that both countries are democracies and share a host of other enlightened values, including a similar defining ethos as nations of immigrants.
The United States does not give aid to Israel to convince Israelis and their leaders that American values are good, or to buy influence at the UN. That the two nations share many values and parallels in their historic development provides a natural and genuine bond. Both nations share Judeo-Christian values. They are committed to human rights and the principles of freedom, equality, and pluralism. And both nations were built by waves of refugees or persecuted immigrants who sought religious, political, or economic freedom. In fact, most American economic aid to Israel since 1948 has been earmarked to realize shared values.2 Early in their relationship, the United States in 1951 gave Israel a $65 million long-term loan to absorb Jewish Displaced Persons (DPs) after the Holocaust, and other Jewish refugees from Arab countries. In the 1990s, the United States provided guarantees for commercial loans to help absorb a million Jewish immigrants from what was then the Soviet Union. Israel has consistently repaid such humanitarian loans in full, while other nations have defaulted on their debts to the United States.
On a personal basis, the two nations also share strong ties, as an overwhelming majority of Israelis have relatives and friends in the United States with whom they maintain close contact. In fact, the number of phone calls between Israel and the United States ranks as one of the highest per capita in the world. Despite continued violence in the Middle East, tourism has long played an important role between the two nations, with hundreds of thousands of Israelis and Americans visiting each other’s country yearly. U.S. border control figures for 2002 showed that worldwide the number of Israeli nationals entering the United States ranked 14th (up from 16th), with 263,097 entries. That represents Israeli businesspersons and tourists, including families on vacation or visiting relatives from a population of 6.3 million. To appreciate the numbers, other nations that rank higher include 10th-place Brazil with a population of 172 million and 9th-place Italy with 57 million people. Many Americans and Israelis study in each other’s country and even establish residency. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have settled in the United States,3 and more than 120,000 North Americans have settled permanently in Israel,4 which has the largest community of American expatriates after Italy.
America and Israel reap the rewards of a shared entrepreneurial spirit, interacting within a dense web of collaborative endeavors – from scientific research to joint development of advanced technologies.
America and Israel have developed a special economic relationship as well.
Like Americans, Israelis live in a milieu that encourages independent thinking, freedom to develop their talents, and an urge to innovate. As a result, Israel has pioneered advances in fields ranging from agriculture and biotechnology to telecommunications and homeland security. Recognizing that common trait, the United States and Israel have forged an intellectual, strategic alliance that operates on federal and state levels. The first alliance included joint research into bilateral research and development frameworks in agriculture and industrial technology. The programs are supported with matching funds from both governments. A groundbreaking free trade agreement in 1985 was followed by a U.S.-Israel high-tech pact in 1994, which encouraged individual states within the United States to establish their own partnerships with Israel. One of the oldest and most comprehensive involves North Carolina, which not only encourages trade, but also joint research and technology exchanges in textile technology, telecommunications, and autism,5 an unprecedented form of international cooperation.
In the past two decades, over 200 key US high-tech firms and corporations6 (Applied Materials, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola, HP, CISCO, and others) have opened R&D facilities in Israel. In 1998 Israel was second only to the Silicon Valley in the number of startups founded annually. That made Israel a promising investment site too, and the number of active venture capital funds in Israel jumped from only one to 100 in the 1990s, most of which were largely or wholly funded with U.S. capital.7 In 2003, five Israeli firms made Forbes magazine’s list of the 50 most active venture capital funds in the world. Moreover, tens of thousands of Israelis hold key positions in American hi-tech companies.
In terms of trade, size can be deceiving: In 1996, Israel was the second-largest market for American goods in the Middle East, surpassed only by Saudi Arabia. Put another way, 6.2 million Israelis did more business with the United States than 60 million Egyptians and an oil-rich country such as Kuwait.8
U.S.-Israel trade in the 1990s soared from $6 billion to more than $20 billion,9 and between 1990 and 2000, U.S. exports to Israel increased by 243 percent,10 despite recessions and other adverse market or security conditions. The same cannot be said of Arab countries. A senior American official revealed that trade with Arab states dropped between 20 percent and 26 percent following September 11th,11 due not only to objective economic conditions, but also because of anti-American sentiments, including “a backlash among Saudis” generated by the fact that “American media have sharply criticized the Saudi regime for tolerating the activities of militant Islamic groups and supporters of al-Qaeda.”12
Historically, Israel and America have had a host of overlapping strategic interests. During the Cold War, Israel played a key role containing Soviet penetration of the Middle East.
The Soviet Union posed a real threat to the United States during the Cold War, and in the Middle East, the Soviet Union eagerly armed radical Arab states and the PLO, helping to fuel instability that would hurt American interests. Israel repeatedly demonstrated the superiority of American weaponry in war after war, discrediting the Soviet’s weaponry, training, and sponsorship. Observers believe Israel’s role played a key factor in eroding the stature of the USSR and the decision of Arab states to turn to the West for defensive needs.13 One way Israel aided the United States was to allow Americans to scrutinize state-of-the-art Soviet technology, whose value to American security in the Cold War was priceless. Among those weapons were an Iraqi MiG-21 (whose pilot defected to Israel in a complicated undercover operation in 1966), a fully operational Russian-made ground-to-air missile system captured in the 1967 Six-Day War (that contributed greatly to protecting American pilots during the Vietnam War), and a Soviet radar system capable of detecting low-flying aircraft (literally lifted intact by two Israeli CH-53 helicopters from Egypt in 1969 during the War of Attrition).
In short, Israel has remained one of the few allies upon which the United States has always been able to count on in a crisis. Well before other Middle Eastern states curtailed their commitment to the 2003 coalition created to disarm Iraq, security expert and former U.S. Secretary of State Gen. (Ret.) Alexander Haig described Israel as “the largest pro-U.S. aircraft carrier, which doesn’t require U.S. personnel and can’t be sunk.” Indeed, Haifa has become one of the most hospitable (and safest) ports for the 6th Fleet. More recently, Israel has become a dependable base for pre-positioning emergency military stores in the Middle East, with the capability to provide close-by sophisticated medical services, if needed.
From a geopolitical standpoint, Israel and America for decades have had many overlapping strategic goals in the Middle East, long before terrorism became a threat to America’s own security. A case in point centers on Israel’s role in helping the West maintain Jordan’s integrity as a pro-Western, stable ally. In 1958, President Eisenhower wanted to cross Israeli airspace in order to save the Hashemite Kingdom; Israel granted the U.S./UK request. Then in 1970, at the request of President Nixon, Israel flexed its muscles as a deterrent, preventing pro-Soviet Syrian and PLO forces from toppling King Hussein and eliminating the need to send U.S. Marines into Jordan, a step America was forced to take in 1957 to ‘save’ Lebanon.
Although American and Israeli strategic interests overlap, they are not identical. At times, the United States has ordered, for example, temporary embargoes, reassessments, or postponements of munitions deliveries; yet the relationship has remained strong enough to ride out conflicting interests, avoiding communications breakdowns or a rupture of relations. In some cases – such as Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 – joint strategic interests have been recognized only in retrospect.
Following destruction of the reactor, the New York Times charged Israel with embracing a “code of terror” and claimed the raid was “inexcusable and short-sighted aggression”; the State Department spoke of a “reassessment” of relations with Israel;14 and the U.S. Ambassador to the UN chastised Israel, noting:
“I do think that one has to recognize that Israel had reason for concern in view of the past history of Iraq, which has never signed a cease-fire or recognized Israel as a nation... Nonetheless, we believe the means Israel chose to quiet its fears about the purpose of Iraq’s nuclear program have hurt, and not helped, the peace and security of the area. In my Government’s view diplomatic means available to Israel had not been exhausted and the Israeli action has damaged the regional confidence that is essential for the peace process to go forward.”15
However, after the 1991 Gulf War, then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney belatedly thanked Israel for destroying Iraq’s Osirak reactor,16 noting in a talk before The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) – a pro-Israel advocacy group – that the action, renounced at the time, had been central to the security of the United States:
“Let me … thank my good friend David Ivry [Commander of the Israel Air Force in 1981] for the action Israel took in 1981 with respect to the [Osirak] reactor.... There were many times during the course of the buildup in the Gulf and the subsequent conflict that I gave thanks for the bold and dramatic action that had been taken [by Israel] some ten years before.”
Since September 11th, and more recently as American forces face Iraqi insurgents, suicide bombers and the like, criticism of Israel’s measures to combat terrorism has waned. Targeting handlers, a tactic for which Israel has been roundly denounced, is being recognized as both operationally effective and the most moral choice under the circumstances.17
Indeed, Hamas agreed to discuss a hudna (temporary tactical truce) with the PA only after Hamas leaders became convinced that Washington had given Israel a green light to eliminate the Hamas “political” leadership. That implicit approval from Washington came after a botched attempt on Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi’s life in late June 2003, and warnings from President George W. Bush and the EU that Hamas would be targeted if it insisted on pursuing a fight.18
An in-depth study – Urban Warfare and the Lessons of Jenin19 – published in the summer of 2003 compares the conduct of urban warfare in the IDF’s Operation Defensive Shield Campaign (in Jenin) with the Russian invasion of Grozny (the capital of Chechnya), the NATO bombing of Kosovo, and the UN mission in Mogadishu (the capital of Somalia). It examined the circumstances, tactics and use of force, the scope of collateral damage and the response to civilian casualties, and who was to blame. What the study reveals is that not only was a gross double standard applied to Israel: it found that IDF operational tactics actually led to far fewer civilian casualties than was generally reported in the media, debunking the false charges of a massacre in Jenin. In fact, the study found that the Jenin battle took the lives of 23 Israeli soldiers and 52 Palestinian combatants and non-combatants, largely due to Israel’s decision not to use artillery and fighter planes. Instead, in most cases, Israel employed the unique tactic of limiting the firepower of its tanks to their machine gun turrets, not their cannon – employing armor-plated giant D-9 tractors instead to take out nests of resistance. That tactic – to try to limit civilian casualties – led to a decision by the U.S. army to acquire at least a dozen D-9 civilian bulldozers with Israeli-developed armor for use in Iraq.20 Ironically, media reports21 that American and British forces are applying Israeli battle tactics to urban warfare were only yesterday branded as humiliating, or as excessive use of force when Israel moved into PA-controlled areas in response to the guerrilla war Arafat launched in September 2000.
Yet the probability and magnitude of a joint threat inherent in unwittingly creating a Palestinian rogue state does not seem to be fully apparent to American policy-makers.
Purdue Professor Louis René Beres, an expert in international law, believes that:
“any new state in Palestine would preoccupy Israeli military forces to a much greater extent than the current Intifada. Even if it were able to resist takeover by one of the other Islamic states in the region, either a takeover accomplished directly or by insurgent surrogates, Palestine would surely become a favored launching point for unconventional terrorism against Israel … [while] a state of Palestine would also provide a sympathetic host to various terrorist enemies of the United States. This would include Al Qaeda, which already has close ties to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah, and which could identify in Palestine, a replacement for Iraq.”22
A study of American policy toward Israel shows that the special relationship has been gradual: from ‘a moral stance’ (from 1948-1951) to a ‘strategic asset’ (in the 1970s) to ‘strategic cooperation’ (in 1981). America has come to the conclusion that when Israel is strong, not only does Israel benefit, but the United States does too.
Like a courtship, the relationship between the United States and Israel was a slow-developing affair.
Both America and Israel pride themselves as special countries. That is, both perceive they were founded on the basis of an ‘escape from European decadence,’ and both believe foreign policy should reflect moral choices – what is right, not just what is expedient and self-serving.23 Yet the relationship is not based solely or primarily on lofty values. Various scholars who have studied U.S.-Israel ties say the special alliance emerged out of a realization that Israel was like a Rock of Gibraltar, a strategic asset in a sea of unstable regimes. Robert J. Lieber, writing in the scholarly journal MERIA.24 Said:
“Israel’s claim to a shared religious legacy had not been sufficient by itself to stimulate a more favorable American policy…Instead it was only after the administration began to recognize the strategic dimension and to appreciate how shaky other pro-Western governments in the region actually were, that it started to adopt a more explicitly cooperative policy towards Israel.”25
Already in the late 1950s under Eisenhower and the early 1960s under Kennedy, America began to view Israel as an asset, rather than a liability or a burden26 that received American support in the first years of statehood as part of the ‘moral dimension’ to politics which sets America apart from the cynical brand of realpolitik practiced by Europe.
The real sea change came after the Six-Day War “when U.S. officials and analysts began to view the Jewish state as a major regional power, with assets and capabilities that could advance U.S. interests in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.”27 That position was first expressed in 1968 when Congress declared that it was committed to maintaining Israel’s “qualitative military edge” in the face of Soviet rearmament of the Arabs.
Then in the early 1980s came a watershed: the November 1981 Memorandum of Understanding on ‘strategic cooperation’ formally recognized Israel as a strategic ally of the United States. Other memoranda followed that institutionalized the relationship in a series of working frameworks: to counter the Soviet threat, oversee security assistance, pre-position military equipment in Israel, conduct joint training exercises, and jointly develop weapon systems. The most recent cooperative framework was established in 1996: a Joint-Anti-Terrorism Working Group, whose importance and scope have only grown since September 11th.
Israel has always been a stable American ally, but since September 11th, American-Israeli collaboration to combat mutual threats has taken a quantum leap forward.
A T-shirt sold in Israel sports a fighter plane and the slogan – “Don’t Worry America, Israel is Behind You.” Although designed as humorous pop-art for the tourist trade, September 11th has transformed its underlying message into a serious reality.
As preparations for a showdown on Iraq materialized in the early months of 2003, the community of nations at the UN sought to contain and restrict American power. Charter members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) such as France and Germany failed to come to the defense of the United States, and countries in the Middle East that the United States had courted for decades and considered key geopolitical allies – specifically, Turkey and Saudi Arabia – bailed out at the last moment. Only Israel remained one of America’s most trustworthy, consistent and important allies, even though many of its contributions to the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq remain undisclosed. Against the backdrop of “the emptiness of old alliances,” Israel’s record – at the UN30 and in other domains – has demonstrated its bond with the United States.
America benefits from Israel’s experience, innovations, and willingness to share its expertise. In the war against terrorism, Israel is a valued U.S. partner who has saved American lives and bolstered America’s defense.
While Israel has been the single largest recipient of U.S. aid since the 1970s, that support has established a two-way street and the United States now cashes in on Israel’s experience and know-how.
As fate would have it, Israel has more experience than any other nation in the world when it comes to combating terrorism. That expertise – in terms of technology, tactics, and administration – is playing an increasing role both in protecting America’s home front against terrorist attacks and waging wars with rogue states that support terrorism.
The experience of two members of an American rescue squad is instructive. They spent two weeks in Israel learning how Israelis handle mass casualty events, noting that their Jerusalem counterparts had handled more than 1,000 terrorist incidents, including suicide bombings, car bombings, package bombings, and sniper shootings in 18 months, while an American rescue squad might expect perhaps one such incident in a lifetime.31
Militarily, the relationship between the two nations is also more complex than is generally understood.
Few know that nearly 75 percent of U.S. military aid to Israel (and even more in the not-so-distant past) goes directly toward purchase of products made in the USA – from military uniforms to supersonic aircraft. Thus, most U.S. aid effectively amounts to a transfer of federal funds that are pumped back into the American economy, from textile to defense industries.
But because of Israel’s technological sophistication – equaled by only a handful of nations – it is more than another client purchasing American military equipment off the shelf. A 2003 evaluation by the World Economic Forum ranked Israel second only to the United States as a technological powerhouse. As a result, Israel designs and builds its own tanks, and has launched its own spy satellites. Often, Israel makes changes in American-made systems to upgrade their overall performance or address specific conditions faced in Middle East battlefield conditions, all of which has growing relevance to the U.S. military since September 11th.
For historical reasons, Israel also has been forced to develop many of its own top-of-the-line defense systems, many of which enhanced America’s military prowess, particularly in the war with Iraq.32 Those innovations included Popeye missiles on B-52s, Hunter unmanned aerial vehicles, and the Pioneer, used by the Marines to scout Iraqi defenses.
In addition, America and Israel have developed a unique form of collaboration in which the United States underwrites the cost of developing expensive defense systems based on Israeli know-how such as the Arrow missile system designed to protect Israel’s population centers and American forces abroad.
In short, the United States is as much a favored ally of Israel as Israel is a favored ally of the United States, given the fact that Israel provides America with unique scientific data, research and development, and intelligence. George Keegan, a former U.S. Air Force Intelligence director, once dubbed Israel “equal to five CIAs in terms of intelligence sharing and power projection.”33 All these factors explain why Israel is one of five U.S. allies involved in a technical support counterterrorism working group34 designed to provide rapid research development and prototyping for urgently needed tools to beef up America’s security in the wake of September 11th.
The special relationship extends to other areas as well. Israeli physicians, for example, train American physicians in lifesaving medical procedures to treat patients who suffer multiple wounds from suicide bombings. American hospital administrators are studying innovative solutions adopted in Israel that address a surge in demand for hospital emergency services after terrorist attacks, and emergency medical physicians and nurses are receiving hands-on experience in triage in case of future terrorist attacks.35 Parallel to this, private Israeli firms are addressing a host of solutions related to terrorist attacks, ranging from innovative escape equipment from tall buildings to anti-ground-to-air missile systems for civilian aircraft.
For decades, Americans from all backgrounds have exhibited strong support for Israel. In the aftermath of September 11th, U.S. Senator Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, said ruefully: “The conflict Israel is fighting against terrorism is coming closer to home.”36 The day after devastating attacks on New York and Washington, columnist George Will wrote: “Tuesday morning Americans were drawn into the world that Israelis live in every day.”37 An ABC News survey conducted in early October 2001 found that 81 percent of Americans favor maintaining or deepening strong ties with Israel; another poll, conducted for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal in early November 2001, found similarly high support for Israel (77 percent), with 28 percent of Americans calling for even closer ties to Israel.38
An annual Gallup Poll conducted in early 2003 showed 64 percent of Americans view Israel in a favorable light, and a majority (58 percent) said their sympathies lie more with the Israelis than with the Palestinian Arabs.39 America’s new concerns about terrorism might explain Americans’ new understanding of what Israelis face, but support for Israel has been strong in the United States for decades.
Indeed, since Gallup began polling Americans in 1988 about Israel, results have consistently shown sympathy toward the tiny nation, with Americans’ support of Israel increasing when the two nations share a threat from the same enemy.
Similar results come from a 1999 study40 of attitudes of the public and American leaders conducted by Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (or CCFR).41 Its 1995 study, found that 64 percent of the public identified an American vital interest with Israel, not far behind Great Britain (69 percent) and Germany (66 percent); by 1999, the identification factor for Israel climbed to 69 percent, equal to Canada and greater than Great Britain (66 percent) and Germany (60 percent). Among American leaders (which included members of the executive branch, Congress, and other designated movers and shakers), responses were even more favorable: 86 percent in 1995 and 1999 said they believe the United States has a vital interest in Israel, up from 78 percent in 1991. The only nations to rank higher than Israel were major global powers (China, Japan, Russia), immediate neighbors (Canada and Mexico), or those controlling a strategic commodity (Saudi Arabia).
The Harris Poll® #62, of September 1, 2004 asks a nationwide cross section of Americans how they feel about a list of countries with a scale varying from "close ally" at one end to "unfriendly" at the other. The poll found that Israel, Britain, Canada and Australia make the top list of closest U.S. Allies.
That kinship with Israel apparently reflects both American empathy and a growing sense that the two peoples might face a common threat. The increase in Americans’ support was paralleled by a sharp rise in their identification that international terrorism posed a threat to vital U.S. interests (84 percent of the public saying so; 61 percent of American leaders). Similar to Gallup’s findings, the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations found that Americans’ “warm feelings” toward Israel have remained constant, based on its “Feelings Thermometer,” which measures Americans’ affinity to 25 countries. That strong support can be found among both Jews and Christians, according to a recent Tarrance Group poll commissioned by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. While 85 percent of American Jews support Israel, 65 percent of conservative churchgoing respondents were pro-Zionist. Moreover, throughout Israel’s existence, U.S. presidents have spoken out in support of the Middle Eastern nation, as has Congress. As with any relationship, American and Israeli administrations don’t always see eye to eye, yet most disagreements have been tied to means, not goals, as both sides struggle over what they believe is the best way to achieve a lasting peace. Yet despite their differences, every American president has clearly voiced support of Israel since the state’s establishment in 1948:
"I had faith in Israel before it was established; I have faith in it now. I believe it has a glorious future before it – not just another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization. Harry S Truman
"Our forces saved the remnant of the Jewish people of Europe for a new life and a new hope in the reborn Land of Israel. Along with all men of good will, I salute the young state and wish it well. Dwight D. Eisenhower
"Israel was not created in order to disappear – Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom. John F. Kennedy
"The United States and Israel share many common objectives … chief of which is the building of a better world in which every nation can develop its resources and develop them in freedom and peace. Lyndon B. Johnson
"Americans admire a people who can scratch a desert and produce a garden. The Israelis have shown qualities that Americans identify with: guts, patriotism, idealism, a passion for freedom. I have seen it. I know. I believe that. Richard M. Nixon
"My commitment to the security and future of Israel is based upon basic morality as well as enlightened self-interest. Our role in supporting Israel honors our own heritage. Gerald Ford
"The survival of Israel is not just a political issue, it is a moral imperative. That is my deeply held belief and it is the belief that is shared by the vast majority of the American people. … A strong secure Israel is not just in Israel’s interest. It’s in the interest of the United States and in the interest of the entire free world. Jimmy Carter
"In Israel, free men and women are every day demonstrating the power of courage and faith. Back in 1948 when Israel was founded, pundits claimed the new country could never survive. Today, no one questions that. Israel is a land of stability and democracy in a region of tyranny and unrest. Ronald Reagan
"For more than 40 years, the United States and Israel have enjoyed a friendship built on mutual respect and commitment to democratic principles. Our continuing search for peace in the Middle East begins with a recognition that the ties uniting our two countries can never be broken. George W. Bush42
"The United States admires Israel for all it has overcome and for all that it has accomplished. We are proud of the strong bond we have forged with Israel, based on our shared values and ideals. That unique relationship will endure just as Israel has endured. Bill Clinton43
"We will speak up for our principles and we will stand up for our friends in the world. And one of our most important friends is the State of Israel. … My Administration will be steadfast in supporting Israel against terrorism and violence, and in seeking the peace for which all Israelis pray. George W. Bush"
As stated, the U.S. Congress also has been a stalwart friend of Israel, whose bipartisan support has only deepened over the past 58 years. Among the major milestones that reflect a host of mutual interests and shared values:
In 1922, “Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of tile United States of America in Congress assembled. That the United States of America favors the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of Christian and all other non-Jewish communities in Palestine, and that the Holy places and religious buildings and sites in Palestine shall be adequately protected.”
In 1951, approval of the first aid package to Israel – $65 million to help Israel take in Holocaust survivors and Jews expelled from Arab nations.
In 1968, a Congressional declaration pledging to maintain Israel’s “qualitative edge” through military aid (a commitment that has been maintained ever since).
In 1974, landmark legislation (supported by 76 senators and 288 representatives) that denied the Soviet Union trading privileges until it allowed its Jewish citizens to emigrate to Israel – a move that miraculously parted the Iron Curtain as if it was the Red Sea, allowing Jews to leave the Soviet Union in the early 1980s, a majority of whom immigrated to Israel.
In 1983, a Congressional grant of “strategic asset” status to Israel.
In 1985, Congressional approval of $3 billion in foreign aid, for the first time in the form of a grant rather than a loan, a change in assistance reflecting the deepening U.S.-Israel tie.
In 1988, passage of a Memorandum of Agreement recognizing Israel as “a major non-NATO ally of the United States.”
In 1990, Congressional recognition that “Jerusalem is and should remain the capital of the State of Israel” and support of Jerusalem “remaining an undivided city” open to people of all faiths.
In 1995, passage of the “Jerusalem Embassy Act” requiring relocation of the U.S. Embassy and its transfer from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
In 1999, a joint resolution of Congress expressing support for final political status of PA territory being determined solely though negotiation and agreement between Israel and the PA.
In 2000, a joint resolution of Congress stipulating steps the United States would take, should a Palestinian state be unilaterally declared, including non-recognition, prohibition of assistance, opposition to international aid, and other steps.
In 2001, a joint resolution of Congress expressing solidarity with Israel in the common struggle against terrorism and condemning Palestinian use of terrorism – demanding the PA take effective action to eradicate this scourge and urging the President to take parallel steps to do the same.
In 2002, passage of joint resolution of Congress stating that Israel and the United States are engaged in “a common struggle with terrorism and are on the front line of a conflict thrust upon them” and reiterating that the Congress remains committed to Israel’s right to self-defence.
In 2004, passage of the concurrent resolution in the 108th Congress 2D Session. Stating that the United States strongly committed to the security of Israel and its well-being as a Jewish state; sees as unrealistic the return of Israel to the armistice line of 1949 and that settling of Palestinian refugees will be through the establishment of a permanent alternative rather than in Israel.
Those examples of advocacy for Israel illustrate deep-seated, genuine American interests more than the influence of organized lobbying, donations, and the domestic considerations of getting re-elected.
Dr. Robert J. Lieber, a professor of government and public service at Georgetown University, studied the development of the special relationship between the United States and Israel as it has evolved. In an article published in 199544 in the scholarly journal Middle East Review of International Affairs, Lieber found that:
“The United States-Israeli special relationship is the product of a complex mixture of causal factors and incorporates historical memory, religious values, societal ties, considerations of regional stability and American national interest. Domestic politics within the United States … and personal relationships [have an impact], … but … it is these longer term causes that ultimately have come to matter most in shaping the relationships and course of American policy toward Israel.”
His conclusions echo the findings of two previous works by other scholars – a 1985 work by Steven Spiegel and a 1990 work by A. F. K. Organski.45 In his work The Other Arab-Israeli Conflict: Making America's Middle East Policy, From Truman to Reagan, Spiegel found that the decisive factors setting American policy are “the principle policy-makers and their ideas,” based on their consciences and “generally for reasons of state, largely unrelated to domestic politics and often in defiance of domestic groups.” U.S. policy was the upshot of "the basic assumptions of the President, the individuals on whom he relies for advice, and the resulting decision-making system which converts ideas into policies.” In his study of Middle East policy during the Cold War, Organski stressed that the deepening relationship between the U.S. and Israel, and policy decisions vis-à-vis Israel were “in the main … made by presidents and presidential foreign policy elites both by themselves and for reasons entirely their own.” The special relationship was “based on a sober assessment of foreign policy” and “Israel’s utility” – not domestic or electoral considerations.46 In other words, advocacy, the media, academia, and even public opinion came into the equation only when they were believed to be genuine and in keeping with American interests.
Both studies break the myth that powerful vested-interest groups have ‘engineered’ the relationship or that foreign policy decisions are based on domestic considerations – that is, the Israel lobby, the Jewish vote, a pro-Israel press, etc. All three scholars found that elected officials and senior civil servants formulated American policy based on their foreign policy assessments.
The United States and Israel share a core strategic need: democratic reform in the Middle East that can bring peace, and change the political environment that breeds terrorists and funds terrorism.
Both Israel and the United States have a stake in promoting stability and achieving peace in the Middle East through democratization.
Many Arab nations are volatile and their leaders bellicose not because of Israel and the so-called Palestinian problem, but rather because of three interconnected factors: undemocratic regimes, polities that are split by fierce ethnic rivalries, and a lack of tolerance for the Other. What they share are societies that are stagnant and that trail behind all other developing countries.47
The failure of Israel’s Arab neighbors to recognize Israel’s right to exist is the result of these factors. These factors are the root cause of the Middle East’s endless political feuds, intervention of countries in their neighbor’s domestic affairs, civil wars and full-blown wars with one another and with oppressed minorities. Their ‘feud with Israel’ is only the tip of the iceberg.
To stay in power, Arab leaders fan anti-American, anti-Western, anti-Israeli, and antisemitic feelings to deflect criticism of their regimes.
America needs democratization in the Middle East because after September 11th, it became clear that the social and political stagnation afflicting the region has become a strategic threat to Americans and much of the world. What fuels the global terrorism network are radical Middle Eastern leaders’ cynical redirection of frustrations toward the West, coupled with their exportation of and support for radical elements across the globe. Israel also needs democratization in the Middle East because its core problem is much broader than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinian clashes with Israel dominate television footage and public debate. As a result, a form of myopic vision has enveloped the peace process, which assumes that solving the Palestinian problem will lead to all other Arab states accepting Israel and normalizing relations. But in reality, Israel faces an Arab-Israeli conflict, not a Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The crux of the problem is twofold: popular sentiment and the behavior of Arab leadership. In a broad-based way, Arab society opposes accepting Israel – a non-Muslim entity – as a neighbor in what they perceive as ‘their’ Middle East. Popular opposition blocks steps toward genuine normalization and feeds on rabid antisemitism. Autocratic Arab leaders and other elites within Arab society also fear the masses and eagerly stoke the flames of popular frustration by exploiting the “antisemitic” scapegoat. That is why the Palestinian refugee problem has been kept alive for more than 58 years while all other refugee problems from the same era were long ago settled. That is also why hatred of Israel is in the interest of many Middle Eastern regimes.
For Israel, real peace requires a long haul without any shortcuts, and that means that any blueprint for peace that is to succeed – the Road Map or any other scheme in the future, must begin with a genuine democratization of the Middle East.
Only democracies perceive peace as a strategic goal and a valuable commodity. That is why a Palestinian state will have to become a true and free democracy before it becomes independent. Only democracies perceive peace as a strategic goal and a valuable commodity. That is why a Palestinian state will have to become a true democracy before it becomes independent.
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