Amidst a budding nuclear arms race in the Middle East, the Obama administration is seen by many as “resetting” the relationship between the United States and its long-time ally, Israel. This recalibration of the U.S.-Israel alliance is occurring while Israel is facing the first genuine threat to its existence since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The threat emanates from the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Iranian quest for nuclear arms production capability is nearly complete as most analysts estimate that Iran will have mastered the ability to produce nuclear weapons by 2013.
 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s repeated pronouncements of his hope that Israel will disappear are simply a more bellicose statement of the policy Iran has had towards Israel since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Yet with Iran on the verge of acquiring an ability to produce nuclear weapons, Israel can no longer afford to ignore Iranian intentions. This article will focus on the history of Israel as a partner in its alliance with the United States.
OCCASIONAL FRICTION IN U.S.-ISRAEL RELATIONS
Tensions in the relationship between the United States and Israel are nothing new. While Ronald Reagan’s tenure as president is remembered as being very pro-Israel, few remember that his first two years in office were filled with serious disagreements with Israel. In 1981, he embargoed the delivery of F-16 aircraft to Israel in response to Israel’s raid on the Osirak reactor in Iraq. A year later, his administration unveiled a unilateral blueprint for Middle East peace without consulting Israel. When it was finally presented simultaneously to Israel and its Arab neighbors, Prime Minister Begin was livid at Reagan’s failure to consult with Israel. Reagan also suspended diplomatic agreements with Israel following the Israeli Knesset vote to extend Israeli law to the Golan Heights. The Reagan approach to Israel began to change, however, following the almost universal rejection of his peace plan among Arab states as well as Hizballah’s attack, which killed hundreds of U.S. Marines in Beirut in 1983. Thus, Reagan’s preconceived notions about the causes of Middle Eastern instability and the lack of peace did not survive his experience. To his credit, Reagan recognized this and was able to shift U.S. policy from confrontation with Israel to one of cooperation.
The Clinton administration went through a similar learning curve, albeit a much slower one. Between 1993 and 2001, no world leader was invited to the White House as often as Yasir Arafat. Clinton and Secretary of State Albright clung to the belief that Arafat was interested in peaceful coexistence with Israel. This belief even survived Arafat’s continued refusal to rein in terrorist groups and his initiation of the Second Intifada. Unfortunately for Israel, Clinton did not recognize until late in 2000 that Arafat was an unreconstructed terrorist at heart.
President Obama has hinted that he would like to redefine the terms of the U.S. relationship with Israel. This is not mere speculation. While the Obama administration has reacted tepidly to serious policy challenges such as North Korean threats to use its atomic weapons and to the remarkable protests in Iran following a rigged election, Obama has focused vigorously on forcing Israel to cease any construction in the West Bank, even going so far as to condemn Israel for announcing a new housing project in Jerusalem. The cessation demanded by the Obama administration has not even been balanced with any request whatsoever from the Palestinian side. Presumably, by exerting pressure solely on Israel, he hopes to encourage the Palestinians and Arab states to embrace peace with Israel. Thus far, the only effect of his policy change toward Israel has been to retard any progress toward peace, as the Palestinians and Arab states have hardened their positions. They hope that Obama can deliver Israel solely on Arab terms.
The indicia of the changing relationship with Israel can be found in Obama’s insistence on a complete halt to settlement construction and his Cairo speech to the Islamic world. Prior to the Cairo speech, even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas never predicated the resumption of peace negotiations on a complete construction freeze and natural growth of existing settlements had imposed no impediment to engaging in discussions with Israel. Yet with Obama’s call for a complete settlement freeze without any corresponding gesture on the Palestinians’ part, Abbas has decided to “pocket” this Israeli concession prior to engaging in any meaningful discussions about peace. The effect of Obama’s insistence of a settlement freeze on the Palestinians has served only to make the resumption of negotiations more difficult. But he has accomplished something that no Israeli politician has been able to do since the early 1970s. Obama has united both the Israeli left and right wings in support of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s opposition to a construction halt. This unity has as much to do with Obama’s June 2009 speech in Cairo as with his demand for unilateral Israeli concessions prior to commencing negotiations.
OBAMA’S CAIRO SPEECH & THE MYTH OF HOLOCAUST GUILT
Obama’s Cairo speech returned American policy back to the Clinton administration approach of assuming moral equivalence between the parties. Thus, each statement seeming to castigate the Arab countries for terrorist acts was balanced by a criticism of Israel. The fact that Obama was equating the targeting and murder of more than a thousand Israeli civilians since 2000 with Israeli construction of settlements was jarring to Israelis. Yet this alone would not have been enough to unite the wide range of political parties in Israel. After all, moral equivalence was part of both the Carter and Clinton administrations’ mantra, and Israel had survived those. It was Obama’s complete acceptance of Palestinian propaganda concerning Israel’s creation that alarmed Israelis most. For more than half a century, the Palestinians sought to convince the world that Israel’s creation was an act of usurpation of Palestinian land and that Israel owed its existence solely to European guilt over the Holocaust. Given that Obama’s only statement concerning Israel’s creation was in connection with the Holocaust, the Palestinians may well count Obama as their most important convert. What Obama (and those who vetted his speech beforehand) failed to realize was that Israeli independence owed far more to the fact that Jews had successfully revolted against British colonial occupation than to presumed multinational guilt over the Holocaust. Even Winston Churchill understood this point and said, “It was the Irgun Zvai Leumi that caused the British evacuation from Palestine. Members of the Irgun caused us so much trouble that we had to station eighty thousand troops in the country to cope with the situation. The military costs were too high for our economy to bear, and the Irgun was responsible for driving the costs to such a high level.” Had European guilt over the Holocaust been the deciding factor, Israel would have been created immediately after August 1945. Instead, it was more than two years before a final partition plan was approved that Israel came into being in 1948. Moreover, during Israel’s War of Independence (1948-1949), no country sent troops to help protect Israel from annihilation. For its part, the United States refused to sell any weapons to Israel.
The reality was that World War II delayed the creation of a Jewish State much as it had placed India’s drive for independence in a state of suspended animation. As soon as the war ended and no progress was made concerning Britain’s departure from Palestine, the Jews of Mandate Palestine began their revolt against British rule in earnest. It should be noted that whatever guilt Britain may have experienced in the post-war environment, such guilt did not even motivate it to lift the restrictions on the immigration of Holocaust survivors to Israel. In fact, soon after the war’s end in 1945, Britain rejected an appeal from President Truman to admit 100,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors into Palestine immediately.
In 1946, when death camp survivors attempted to reoccupy their own homes in Kielce, Poland, more than 39 of them were slaughtered by local residents. Before the year’s end, more than 2,000 additional Jews were killed by Poles; and for those Jews who had been prescient enough to open Swiss bank accounts in the 1930s, they found the Swiss banks uncooperative in releasing funds to account holders (or their heirs) after the war. To the extent that any post-war European guilt existed at all, it is unclear that such guilt motivated many European countries to make amends to the Jewish people, including the 1947 vote to partition Palestine. Furthermore, what is often overlooked is that the 1947 UN vote was an attempt to create two separate countries only one of which was the State of Israel. Obama’s Cairo speech distortion of the historical record regarding Israel’s creation is what most disturbed Israelis. For if Obama’s and the Palestinians’ position is correct, then what follows logically is that Israel’s very creation was an act of aggression against the Palestinian Arabs and reflects a permanent moral stain for which Israel should now be forced to make amends. Furthermore, if Obama believes what he said in Cairo, how can he continue the American policy of allying itself with Israel? Israelis are wondering whether the current tensions with the Obama administration are a mere replay of past stresses with the United States or whether the alliance is in danger of fraying. It is the first time since President Eisenhower forced Israel to vacate the gains it had won in its 1956 war against Egypt that Israelis are facing the question of whether the United States will continue to be a friend. Exacerbating their unease is the steady progress in the Iranian nuclear program coupled with the inaction of the international community. While the question of whether the United States is preparing to lessen its support of Israel is pending, what of the role Israel has played as an ally over the years?
AIPAC’S OVERESTIMATED INFLUENCE ON U.S. POLICY
The existence of the informal alliance between Israel and the United States has sometimes been explained as being the result of domestic political pressure in the United States and the undue influence of The America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Yet as David Verbeeten notes in his 2006 article, “How Important Is the Israel Lobby?” the myth of the all-powerful Israel lobby is, “a useful illusion.” For pro-Israel lobbyists, the specter of a powerful AIPAC represents a significant political resource while opponents of the Israel lobby use the myth of the invincible Israeli lobby to excuse U.S. support for Israel as merely the product of this all-powerful domestic lobby and not as the result of broad-based support within the United States for Israel. Within the Arab world, the latter explanation makes more palatable U.S. support for Israel. While AIPAC may be effective, it is hardly invincible. In fact, on some very high profile issues of concern to Israel, AIPAC has either suffered defeat or been proven ineffectual. For example, in 1981, AIPAC lobbied hard to prevent the planned sale of advanced AWACs to Saudi Arabia. The sale went through as planned. In fact, no major sale of arms to a country in a state of war with Israel has ever been defeated by the pro-Israel lobby. Indeed, AIPAC’s impotence on this issue has apparently resulted in a tactical change, as AIPAC appears to have given up the idea of opposing such sales altogether.
During the Bush administration, AIPAC lobbied for U.S. loan guarantees to house the hundreds of thousands of Jewish émigrés from Russia. George Bush opposed the loan guarantees and such guarantees were not granted until a more pliable Israeli prime minister (Yitzchak Rabin) was elected. AIPAC has been unable to convince either the Bush or Obama administrations to take forceful action to forestall Iranian nuclear ambitions or to permit the IAF to flyover Iraq for an attack on Iranian nuclear sites. The reality is that broad-based support for Israel among Americans has been rather constant over the past 40 years. In fact, a February 2008 Gallup Poll showed that 71 percent of those polled had either a very favorable or mostly favorable opinion of Israel. Israel outranked India, France, and Egypt in this survey. Only 14 percent of respondents characterized the Palestinian Authority with a very/mostly favorable rating. Other commentators explain the foundation of the close Israeli-American relationship as based upon “shared values.” These values include a fundamental respect for human rights, an independent judicial system, a stable democratic form of government, and mutual admiration of the pioneering spirit manifest in both country’s histories. While these shared values played an important part in President Truman’s decision to recognize the State of Israel in 1948, they do not adequately explain how the United States came to regard Israel as a valuable ally or the depth of the alliance.
OVERVIEW OF ISRAEL’S RECORD AS AN ALLY
Israel began playing an important role for its allies (i.e., France and Britain) soon after the War of Independence. In 1956, Israel, France, and Britain undertook a joint invasion of Egypt. During an incipient revolution against Jordan’s King Hussein in 1958, Israel permitted Britain to airlift its troops from Cyprus over Israeli airspace in order to quell the disturbances in Jordan even though Jordan was then in a state of war with Israel. This was not the last time that Israel would support the request of its ally with respect to aiding Jordan. Yet within 11 years, both Britain and France would abandon any semblance of an alliance with Israel. In the case of France, there were almost no lengths to which it would not go to distance itself from Israel. Not only did France refuse to deliver Mirage aircraft and missile boats already paid for by Israel, but it agreed to arm a significant number of Israel’s enemies including Egypt, Iraq, and Libya. In fact, the Osirak nuclear reactor Israel destroyed in Baghdad in 1981 was built primarily with French expertise.
Yet what of the record of Israel as a U.S. ally? During the 1940s and 1950s, the Truman and Eisenhower administrations did not regard Israel as a worthwhile ally. It wasn’t that Israel was deemed to be unreliable or even at cross-purposes with American foreign policy goals. Rather, it was that Israel was not deemed powerful enough to advance American interests in the region. Yet given the steady rapid growth of the Israeli population, economy, and armed forces, as well as Israeli diplomatic successes in the third world (particularly sub-Saharan Africa), Israel’s potential value to the United States grew. Any hope that the Cold War would subside with the death of Joseph Stalin faded with Nikita Khruschev’s increasingly bellicose pronouncements.
As many of the Arab states became client states of the Soviet Union, it was only natural that Israel and the United States would draw closer as their respective national interests began to coincide. For the United States, the budding alliance among Egypt, Syria, and the Soviet Union was troubling. Of particular concern was that the Soviet navy would finally be able to establish a base in a warm water port, long a goal of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, if the Soviet Union could establish a naval base in the Mediterranean Sea, NATO could no longer count on bottling-up the Black Sea fleet in the Dardanelles. While the atheist nature of Soviet Communism was anathema to the Arab world, it was clear that the Soviets were making steady progress with many Arab states. For Israel, the Soviet Union’s willingness to provide substantial quantities of tanks, aircraft, artillery, anti-aircraft guns, anti-tank guns, and ships, caused Israel to cast about for as many of its own allies as possible. However, until the Kennedy administration, no arms sales of any substance were ever authorized by the United States. Further, even the Kennedy administration authorized only the sale of HAWK anti-aircraft missiles to Israel, not any tanks, jet aircraft, or other equipment that could be used for military offensives. This reticence lasted well into the Johnson administration. For example, during the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel had no jets of American manufacture and only 200 American-made M-48 Patton tanks. Israeli Air Force (IAF) combat jets were comprised solely of French aircraft, and more than half of the tanks in Israel’s arsenal were supplied by Britain and France.
After the Six-Day War, both Britain and France decided that an alliance with Israel, even an informal one, would not be in their best interests. They could afford to jettison Israel as an ally because they were resigned to let the sun set on their international influence and evolved from major powers into regional ones. Their waning power as major international actors continued through the 1990s until the present day. Israel and the United States found themselves drawing ever closer to each other as each recognized the increasing value of a more intimate relationship. For Israel, a steady supplier of key weapons systems was of paramount concern and U.S. support in the UN had some value; for the United States, Israel represented a client state that could provide victories against client states of the U.S. nemesis, the Soviet Union. That was a commodity, which had been in short supply in the 1950s and 1960s with the Iron Curtain being drawn down on Europe, the Korean police action fought to a stalemate, the abortive uprising in Hungary (1956), Cuban Revolution (1959), Prague Spring (1968), and the long Vietnam conflict heading toward failure. Israel’s continuing economic and military growth–and especially the decisive Israeli victories over the armies of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in the Six-Day War–transformed the view that Israel was teetering on the edge of being obliterated to that of a forceful regional power capable of defeating regional allies of the Soviet Union.
With no end of the Cold War in view, President Johnson authorized the first American sale of attack aircraft to Israel in 1966, the Skyhawk. The Skyhawk was a subsonic light bomber used primarily by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Following the Six-Day War, in 1968, President Johnson approved the sale of the much more versatile supersonic F-4 Phantom. By 1973, the combat jet inventory of the IAF had changed from 100 percent reliance on French aircraft to a mere 18 percent. The remainder of IAF combat aircraft was now American, with 150 Skyhawks and 140 Phantoms. The rearming of the IAF was to pay dividends to the United States much faster than anyone had imagined when the aircraft sales were first authorized.
In September 1970, the Syrian army invaded Jordan for the purpose of supporting the Palestinian insurrection, which began earlier that month. At first, the United States was unsure about the extent of the invasion. Was it merely a border raid or something more? Yet after a phone call to the U.S. Ambassador from King Hussein confirming that the city of Irbid had fallen to the Syrians and his observation that, “air strikes were imperative to save his country,“ the United States decided to act to preserve Jordanian independence. The United States did not want to stand by idly while yet another pro-Western nation fell into the orbit of the Soviet Union. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger asked Israel to fly reconnaissance over the battle area and report back the extent of the incursion. Reconnaissance confirmed that the Syrians had invaded in force. At that point, President Nixon made the decision that if conditions deteriorated further, he would request that Israel intervene with air strikes against Syrian forces in Jordan and be prepared to attack Syrian forces with ground troops.
Israel responded by immediately sending two brigades onto the Golan Heights threatening Syria’s flank in Jordan. Israel also began a limited mobilization of its reserve units in preparation for action in Jordan. The combination of the threat of Israeli intervention and successful Jordanian airstrikes against Syrian forces near Irbid helped convince Syria that it was advisable to withdraw its invasion forces.
This episode is striking for several reasons. First, at American request, Israel was prepared to expend its blood and treasure to support a country with which it had been at war just three years prior. Second, unlike the threat to Jordan 12 years earlier, the United States did not turn to Britain for help in saving the Jordanian regime but instead reached out to Israel. Last, the approach of some of America’s other “allies” during this crisis is instructive. French President Pompidou sent a message to President Nixon expressing his “great concern” about possible American intervention and urged Nixon to weigh his decisions with care. Henry Kissinger noted that, “The message was not especially helpful, nor did we fail to notice France’s attempt to dissociate from us in the midst of a crisis.” Israeli willingness to intervene had preserved the balance of power in the region. Future and more dramatic Israeli actions would have the same effect.
Nine months prior to the Jordanian crisis, the Soviet Union had provided Egypt with an advanced radar station. Such an advanced radar had never been deployed outside of the Warsaw Pact. Egypt immediately installed the radar near the Suez Canal. The extent of this radar’s capabilities was unknown to the West and to Israel. In late 1969, Israel decided that it was imperative to learn the full capabilities of this radar. Therefore, Israel decided to embark on a mission never before attempted. It planned to land commandos near the unit and airlift the entire radar back to Israel for study rather than merely destroy it. The raid was successful and within two weeks after being brought to Israel, the radar unit was shipped to the United States for further evaluation. At the time, this was an enormous intelligence coup for the United States as its aircraft had proven vulnerable to Soviet supplied radars over Vietnam. In addition, it is likely that possession and testing of this intact advanced radar aided the United States in developing stealth technology used in designing the first U.S. stealth aircraft in the 1970s.
Toward the end of the 1973 war, Israel was able to capture intact SAM 6 missile batteries and associated radar from the Egyptians. Israel shipped these items to the United States. As United States Air Force (USAF) losses to SAMS during the Vietnam Conflict were heavy, the United States welcomed its first opportunity to examine a fully operational SAM 6 battery. It is likely that data gleaned from testing the SAM 6 further aided U.S. development of stealth technology. It also permitted the United States to discover weaknesses in the SAM 6 that would enable the USAF to exploit the weaknesses by combat jets then in the U.S. arsenal well before stealth aircraft could be deployed. The IDF also captured other Russian-supplied equipment such as the T-55 and T-62 main battle tanks. Sharing these tanks with the United States permitted the United States to discover weaknesses that would be kept in mind as the United States was developing a new main battle tank of its own, the M-1 Abrams. Israel gave these captured weapons systems to the United States even though it was the United States that had coerced Israel into stopping short of achieving a clear-cut victory in its war with Egypt.
In 1979, with the fall of pro-Western Iran to Islamist radicals, the United States found itself even more reliant on its remaining allies in the region. Beginning with Ronald Reagan and continuing through the George Bush Republican administrations, Israel and the United States entered into important formal agreements. In 1981, the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) establishing a framework for consultation and cooperation on issues of national security. This was followed in 1983 with the formation of a Joint Political Military Group, which meets twice a year to implement the provisions of the MOU. The United States and Israel began joint military exercises in 1984 and the U.S. navy has paid periodic visits to the port of Haifa since 1978. In 1988, Israel was designated as a major non-NATO ally of the United States. The United States stockpiled $200 million of weapons in Israeli depots for American use in a crisis; and all of this occurred during 12 consecutive years of Republican presidents. Ronald Reagan and George Bush were keenly aware that Jewish-American voters voted overwhelmingly for their Democratic opponents in each election and if they were inclined to forget that fact, none other than James Baker was present to provide a not-so-gentle reminder. Yet they acted to cement Israel as a key ally though they knew that they would reap no personal benefit at the polls.
ACCOMMODATING THE UNITED STATES AT THE EXPENSE OF ISRAEL’S NATIONAL INTEREST
Which American allies would honor a request to refrain from retaliation as its cities were bombed repeatedly or agree to give the United States veto power over its armament sales or stop short of decisively defeating its enemy during wartime at U.S. insistence? Israel is the only country that fits this description. In fact, Israel may be the sole U.S. ally that has repeatedly put the interests of the United States above its own national interests.
During the First Gulf War, President Bush went to great lengths to convince Israel not to retaliate for missile attacks against its cities. Bush feared that the fragile (and temporary) coalition he had assembled would disintegrate if Israel (a non-combatant in the First Gulf War), retaliated. While it is difficult to understand why anyone feared Saudi Arabia would leave a coalition designed to safeguard its existence simply because Israel bombed Baghdad, that was the thinking in the Bush administration at the time. The First Gulf War was a prime example of how Israel bent its own national interest to accommodate the United States. In fact, the decision not to retaliate in any way has cost Israel a great deal. Between 1949-1991, it was axiomatic that any attacks on Israeli cities would invite a massive retaliatory response from the IAF. Even during the period of the 1973 war when Egypt and Syria were winning, they each refrained from launching their arsenal of ballistic missiles against Israeli cities. When the war turned against them, with one or two exceptions, they still did not launch their missiles. The threat of massive retaliation by the IAF in response to attacks on Israeli cities was a well-known “redline” that the combatants wouldn’t cross even during wartime. Saddam Hussein crossed that redline in a desperate hope that the coalition would disintegrate once Israel retaliated. For him, it was a win-win scenario. Either his gambit broke the coalition or Israel refrained from retaliating and he became the hero to the entire Arab world. After much hand-wringing, Israel did not retaliate, the coalition remained intact, and Kuwait was liberated but Saddam Hussein’s regime remained in power and became a major irritant to the United States for the better part of the next 11 years. For Israel, the consequences of honoring the request of the Bush administration reverberate to the present. Later administrations would request Israeli forbearance relating to other redlines. For example, both the Bush and Obama administrations have pressured Israel to refrain from attacking Iranian nuclear installations and have even refused overflight permission by the IAF over Iraq.
In Israel’s case, by not attacking Iraq forcefully in retaliation for the 39 Scud missiles launched against Israeli cities, groups such as Hizballah and Hamas stocked their armories with thousands of rockets, mortar rounds, and missiles, and eventually launched them against Israeli towns and cities. Moreover, looming ominously is the growing ballistic missile arsenal Iran is building. When Israel acceded to America’s request to refrain from retaliating, it sacrificed its own important national security interests for the sake of an ally. There are not many U.S. allies that would have done this for the United States
Even today, the United States cannot even convince France (with a population of 64,000,000) to take in more than a single Guantanamo Bay prisoner off its hands, even though France has been agitating for the United States to close the Guantanamo Bay prison for six years. On occasion, the United States’ own NATO allies have refused overflight permission for U.S. transport aircraft. For its part, New Zealand won’t permit any U.S. warships to dock in their ports unless the ships announce that they are not carrying any nuclear warheads.
It is hard to imagine any other allies permitting their cities to be attacked over several weeks by ballistic missiles simply to accommodate the United States. Since 2002, the NATO members committed to spend a minimum of two percent of their gross national product on defense expenditures to support the alliance. As of 2009, only Turkey and the United States are satisfying that commitment. And presumably, a stronger NATO would directly benefit its European members and even under those circumstances, they continue to arrange matters so that the United States bears the lion’s burden of European defense. The United States is having trouble convincing the NATO members to spend enough to defend themselves on their own continent. In other words, U.S. allies can’t even be counted on to defend themselves. Other than Britain, Poland, and perhaps a handful of other nations, how can the United States count on any of its allies to expend blood or treasure on its behalf as the United States pursues its own national interests?
During the Iraq War, other than Britain and Italy, precious few of America’s traditional allies have aided the United States. Israel, however, has provided significant support to the United States. U.S. units have undergone anti-insurgency warfare training within Israel. Israeli intelligence operatives have also assisted U.S. intelligence services within Iraq (especially in the areas controlled by the Kurds). In addition, at one point, the United States requested that shipments of armor plated Humvees that had been ordered, paid for, and were ready for shipment to Israel, be diverted to U.S. forces in Iraq. Israel acquiesced to this request notwithstanding that this decision put their own troops in harm’s way in operations in the Gaza Strip. Unmanned aerial vehicles manufactured by Israel have also been sold to the United States and have been used in Iraq by U.S. ground forces.
As with most international relations, the U.S. relationship with Israel has had some low points. What is interesting to note is that these low points never resulted in a complete rupture and in some cases, the relationship has been strengthened. For example, the Reagan administration was upset enough with Israel’s raid on Iraq’s nuclear reactor that it suspended delivery of F-16 jets schedule for delivery to Israel. Ultimately, the embargo was lifted and the jets were delivered. Just ten years later, after the First Gulf War, Dick Cheney remarked that Israel had done a great favor to the United States in destroying the reactor. In the mid-1980s, Israel announced that is was developing its own jet fighter, the Lavi. Israel produced a prototype but under pressure from the United States, Israel refrained from entering the Lavi into production. In exchange, the United States agreed to sell Israel additional F-16 aircraft. In 2000, Israel entered into a sale agreement with China for sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicles, drones, and reconnaissance aircraft (the “Phalcon”). After strenuous objections from the United States, Israel breached its sales agreement with China, at least with respect to the Phalcon sale and with regard to technical upgrades for equipment already delivered. Yet as in the past, in 2005, Israel accommodated U.S. concerns by entering into an understanding which gave the United States a virtual veto power over Israeli sales of advanced military hardware. No other U.S. ally has consented to a restriction of this type.
While the Pentagon views sales of advanced military equipment to China as posting a direct threat to U.S. interests, as noted below, the United States routinely sells advanced military hardware to countries in a state of war with Israel. While many have accused Israel of being “tone-deaf” in its attempt to sell arms to a country with which the United States may someday find itself in a state of war, the fact is that the United States has not fought the Chinese army for more than two-thirds of a century. Given the U.S. willingness to sell arms to countries with which Israel is currently in a state of war, Israelis logically assumed that its own arms sales to China would not raise the outcry it did. However, when faced with these objections, Israel accommodated the United States in a manner in which no other U.S. ally has.
In addition, arms sales constitute a significant source of revenue to Israel. Israel accounts for ten percent of the world’s defense exports and in 2004–such sales amounted to $3.5 billion. Contrast Israeli flexibility on this issue to the activities of the United States. Israel has objected repeatedly to U.S. arms sales to countries with which Israel is in a state of war. Yet there isn’t a single instance in which the United States has cancelled a sale to Saudi Arabia or any other Gulf State, and the weapons systems have included advanced F-16 aircraft, M-1 Abrams tanks, and sophisticated AWACS aircraft.
THE U.S.- ISRAEL ALLIANCE AND U.S.-ARAB RELATIONS
Critics of the U.S. alliance with Israel cite the damage this has caused in U.S. relations with the Arab world. While there can be no doubt that the Arab world would prefer American-Israeli relations to be more distant, in writing about this “irritant” in U.S.-Arab relations, Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution observed:
Overall, American support for Israel has been something more than an irritant in U.S. relations with the Arab world but something considerably less than a strategic dilemma. It has not precluded strong relationships with key Arab states. It has not prevented the United States from becoming the dominant power in the region. It has zero impact on America’s oil imports. It has had a very modest impact on the profits of American oil companies. It has created a number of complications for issues like basing, but it is only one of several complicating factors there and the problems have typically been tactical, not strategic, in their nature and impact. The price that the United States pays in diplomatic frustration and even the occasional lost opportunity, thought sometimes considerable to the individuals who have to endure it, is negligible from the perspective of our nation’s economic and strategic interests.
It is fair to say that the value the United States has received from its close relationship with Israel far outweighs the negligible negative effect on U.S. economic and strategic interests in the region.
As a superpower, the United States has an interest in maintaining a reasonable balance of power in regions in which it has important interests. Israel, on its own and without U.S. assistance, has done much to preserve the balance of power in the region. Two prime examples were the 1981 Israeli raid on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor and the 2007 raid on Syria’s nuclear reactor. Although the former action was initially opposed by the Reagan administration, in time, its value was appreciated and many U.S. officials doubt that the United States would have reversed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait had Iraq been a nuclear power. With regard to the raid on the Syrian reactor, not only did the United States refrain from criticizing the raid but no Arab country criticized it either. The next major challenge to the balance of power relates to Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons. It has become clear that the United States will take no military action whatsoever to prevent Iran from going nuclear. It remains to be seen whether Israel will, once again, take dramatic action to preserve the current balance of power. The stakes are far higher for the region this time because if Shi’i Iran becomes a nuclear power, the regional Sunni Arab countries will seek nuclear weapons and a nuclear arms race in that part of the world will likely not end well.
UTILITARIAN VALUE OF U.S.-ISRAEL ALLIANCE COMPARED WITH OTHER U.S. ALLIES
When one compares what the United States has received as a result of its informal alliance with Israel and contrasts the costs to the United States of its other alliances, one can only come to the conclusion that the United States has found itself a bargain. The Obama administration recently requested more than $96 billion to assist Iraqi and Afghanistan allies in their counterinsurgency efforts assisted by U.S. forces. U.S. troops are deployed in Europe to protect its allies there, and the U.S. navy patrols the Pacific Ocean to protect Japan and Taiwan.
By contrast, Israel has repeatedly announced that it wants no U.S. troops to fight for Israel. Israel simply requests the tools to defend itself. When compared with enormous outlays for most of the United States’ other allies, the $2.7 billion per year in military assistance given to Israel seems cheap. Moreover, unlike some of the other U.S. allies, Israel does not harbor sworn enemies of the United States such as nuclear proliferator A. Q. Kahn or Osama bin Laden (as Pakistan does). Osama bin Laden has been resident in Pakistan for several years now, but it does not appear that the Pakistanis are even attempting to look for him (as Hillary Clinton noted publicly in 2009). Furthermore, the Taliban have operated without significant interference within Pakistan. Whether the new $7.5 billion aid package for Pakistan alters Pakistani policy remains to be seen.
Israel does not fund Madrasas across the globe teaching contempt for non-Islamic peoples as Saudi Arabia does. In 2003, Turkey refused permission for U.S. troops to pass through Turkey on the eve of the U.S. attack on Iraq. In terms of voting with the United States in the UN General Assembly votes, whereas Israel votes with the United States more than 87 percent of the time, the United States is supported by Turkey 33 percent of the time, Pakistan is at 19 percent, and Egypt is at 7 percent; and yet the United States continues to count these countries as allies and sell them advanced arms without any preconditions.
Israel’s importance as an American ally is often underestimated. In part, this due to Israel’s continuing inability to articulate effectively its case in the press. This is understandable to a certain degree given the fact that public support of Israel in the United States has always tended to be high and so Israel could take U.S. support for granted. Most U.S. administrations tend to be pro-Israel in any case. Thus, the necessity for a vigorous public relations campaign has never been a necessity. Yet with Barack Obama’s election, Israelis are beginning to realize that the White House’s support can no longer be taken for granted. What is different about the Obama administration is that he has no personal affinity for Israel and has already made demands of Israel that exceeded those of the Palestinian Authority (i.e., demanding a complete settlement freeze as a precondition to renewing peace talks). It is just now beginning to dawn on Israel that it is facing an administration that may well be unsympathetic to Israel’s national interests. As a result, the Netanyahu government unveiled a plan to explain more aggressively its positions to foreign audiences, as it suspects that it may not now have an ally in the U.S. president.
While there is little doubt that Israel has benefitted greatly from its alliance with the United States, the United States too has benefitted greatly from its alliance with Israel. In fact, although the relative benefit it has received has been magnified over time by the ever increasing reticence of most of the other U.S. allies to assist in any meaningful way, the fact is that Israel was and remains an important ally of the United States. Yet whether the Obama administration views the alliance this way is now open to question. In fact, the administration almost seems eager to find and to magnify policy differences with Israel as witnessed by the recent controversy over the announcement of a housing project in East Jerusalem. In addition, how the Obama administration would react to an Israeli strike against some of Iran’s nuclear installations in unknown. Given the administration’s record to date, it is possible that in opposing an Israeli strike, that–like De Gaulle before him–Obama may use Israeli actions of self defense as a pretext to sever the alliance. This possibility has to be taken into account by Israel in its decision whether or not to strike Iran.
*Gil Ehrenkranz is a lawyer in the District of Columbia specializing in telecommunications law and international transactions. He has been published in Midstream Magazine, including an article concerning Israeli military options regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
 “U.S. Juggles Two Iran Timetables,” The Wall Street Journal, July 21, 2009, p. A2.
 “Iranian’s Oratoroy Reflects Devotion to ’79 Revolution,” The New York Times, December 20, 2005, p. A3.
 “Israel Hits New U.S. Plane Suspension,” The Boston Globe, August 12, 1981, p. 1.
 “Bush to Meet with Sharon, Keeping Arafat at Arm’s Length,” The New York Times, June 20, 2001, p. A3.
 “Obama Warns Against Direct Involvement by the U.S. in Iran,” The New York Times, June 16, 2009.
 Ben Hecht, Perfidy (New York: Messner, 1961), p. 40.
 Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars (New York: Random House, 1982), p. 12.
 “50 Years After Pogrom, City Shrinks at Memory,” The New York Times, July 6, 1996.
 “Saving History from the Shredder: Swiss Bank Guard Christoph Meili, No Hero at Home, Now Lives in California,” The Nation, September 6, 1999.
 John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007).
 “How Important Is the Israel Lobby?,” Middle East Quarterly (Fall 2006).
 Lydia Saad, “Americans’ Most and Least Favored Nations,” Gallup.com, March 3, 2008.
 Douglas Little, American Orientalism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), p. 93.
 A.J. Barker, Six Day War (New York: Random House, 1974), p. 37.
 In the 1990s, Britain and France would not even undertake joint military action on their own continent against Slobodan Milosevic over Kosovo without relying on the United States to do most of the heavy lifting. Both countries have also refused President Obama’s requests for troop increases in Afghanistan. Worthy of note is that neither Britain nor France has significant troop commitments outside of their borders at the moment.
 Besides losing the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula to Israel, the ratio of Arab soldiers to Israeli soldiers killed in action was 5:1, the ratio of combat aircraft lost was 11:1, and the ratio of tanks lost was 2.5:1 according to T.N. Dupuy, Elusive Victory (New York: Hero Books, 1984), p. 333.
 Ibid, p. 606.
 Henry Kissinger, The White House Years (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1979), p. 627.
 Author’s 2007 conversation with the helicopter pilot who airlifted the radar unit across the Suez Canal.
 Although U.S. pressure was the main reason the IDF failed to achieve another decisive victory, Israel likely provided important weapons systems to the United States in recognition of the value of the U.S. airlift during the war.
 “Europe Seen Willing to Taking Detainees; Holder ‘Pleasantly Surprised’ by Allies’,” The Washington Post, April 30, 2009, p. A12.
 “Armored Hummers Shipment to Iraq Instead of Israel,” The Jerusalem Post, April 14, 2004.
 Congressional Research Service, Israel: Background and Relations with the United States, May 18, 2006.
 Ibid, p. 12.
 Kenneth M. Pollack, A Path Out of the Desert, (New York: Random House, 2008), p. 48.
 “House Passes War Funds as 51 Democrats Dissent,” The Washington Post, May 15, 2009, p. A3.
 “U.S. Says Taliban Has a New Haven in Pakistan,” The Washington Post, September 29, 2009, p. A11.
 U.S. State Department, Voting Practices in the United Nations, 2008.
 “Obama Speech Signals a U.S. Shift on Middle East,” The New York Times, April 14, 2010.