The present volatile situation in the Middle East is such that the US needs Israel more than ever if it is to keep secure its own stakes in the region and maintain its global superpower position.
By Hriday Ch. Sarma*
“Zionism’s only hope is the Jews of America.” Max Nordau, co-founder of the World Zionist Organization, said this after the First Zionist Congress to emphasize the importance of the US for the success of political Zionism and the establishment of a future Jewish homeland. Today the (Western) media is inundated with sensational stories about the Obama-Netanyahu personal rivalry and growing strains in the US-Israeli relationship. Whilst both relationships are not in perfect shape, this has really never been the case.
Privately-owned media houses often deliberately infuse sensationalism in order to make stories more appealing. In reality, however, there exists a larger situational and contextual picture to all hard news stories. For instance, various media sources have described Victory15, commonly known as V15, as a planned US campaign to oust Netanyahu. However, the seeds of V15 were hatched when Itamar Weizmann, an Israeli national studying history at the Tel Aviv University, wrote a long analytical post on his Facebook account in September last year that drew impressive media exposure and public attention among Israelis. Nimrod Dweck, another Israeli national and founder of an online marketing company, sort a meeting with Itamar and invited former Shin Bet security service head, Yuval Diskin, to attend. Dweck and Weizmann started working on the idea of bringing about a new political reality and put together a growing team of volunteers. The main funding for this public relations campaign came from a tie-up with the OneVoice Movement, a nonprofit organization with headquarters in New York that aims to encourage worldwide grassroots support for a two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict. V15 also hired 270 Strategies, an American political consulting group headed by Jeremy Bird, who worked on President Obama’s two victorious presidential campaigns. In fact, there is no confirmed evidence of Obama administration getting directly or even indirectly involved with the Israeli presidential election in any capacity.
Durable relationship built on interdependency
The US and Israel have always shared an intimate bond which goes beyond strategic alliance, however divergent their political and military interests often are. Since World War II, Israel has received the bulk of direct aid from the US. The financial support and political pressure of American Jews, a group whose number and socioeconomic importance made them by the mid-twentieth century the most powerful Jewish community in modern history, have been vitally instrumental in the birth of Israel as a state and with subsequent state-building activities. Until the mid-sixties, the US refrained from officially supplying arms to Israel, considering the fact that the Arabs would be alienated and provoked to ask the Soviets for weapons, which would start a frantic arms race across the Middle East. The US policy towards Israel first shifted under President John Kennedy with the sale of HAWK antiaircraft missiles in 1962. This strategic shift was pursued to avoid providing one state in the region a military advantage over the other. It further changed in 1968 when President Lyndon Johnson announced the sale of Phantom jets to Israel. That sale established the US as Israel’s principal arms supplier. It also marked the beginning of the US policy to give Israel a qualitative military edge over its neighbors.
Between 1949 and 1973, the US provided Israel with an average of about $122 million a year, a total of $3.1 billion. Since 1974, Israel has received nearly $108 billion in direct assistance from the US, according to conservative estimates of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Moreover, all past US loans to Israel have eventually been forgiven by Congress, which has helped Israel’s often-touted claim that they have never defaulted on a US government loan. In addition, there is the more than $1.5 billion in private US funds that go to Israel annually in the form of $1 billion in private tax-deductible donations and $500 million in Israeli bonds. These figures exclude short- and long-term commercial loans from US banks, which have been as high as $1 billion annually in recent years. That entire package of financial bonanza has not come as a free gift rather that has been paybacks, concessions and deserving dues which the US has handed out to Israel for its devoted loyalty, religious bonding, complimenting hi-tech businesses and strategic partnership.
Asset test: new strategic and economic dimensions of US-Israeli relations’ (2013), a report co-authored by Michael Eisenstadt and David Pollock from The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, lays out insightful findings about the two country’s mutual dependency. It says that Israel is the only ally of the US in the Middle East whose interests are closely-aligned. At least very locally, Israel is today a bulwark against radical Islam in its controlled territories and in Jordan as a result of its cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. Israel is also a US-ally against radical nationalist regimes, like Syria, and radical Islamic regimes, like Tehran. Israel serves US interests at a time when US is not willing to use military force to prevent the spread of chemical weapons to extremist groups. US support for Israel has contributed to anti-Americanism among Arab societies, but there are various other reasons like support for authoritarian regimes, perceived anti-Muslim actions (such as Iraq), discontent with the war on terror. The US-Israeli relationship has not affected the subject of US-Arab relation. Moreover, Israel makes substantial hard security contributions to US national security in the military and defence domain with intelligence sharing, counter-terrorism cooperation, rocket and missile defence, military to military cooperation, defence industrial cooperation and homeland security. The report also talks in length about Israel’s contribution to the US in non-military sectors, especially economics and technology.
Current necessity overrides conundrum
US-Israeli relations hit a roadblock at the time when Israel executed Operation Protective Edge, and there were reported incidents of indiscriminate Israeli shelling of centres that hosted civilians in Gaza territories. However the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of 2014 occurred within a large security void at the regional level. This security void was first created when US and allied military pulled-out from Iraq by the end of 2011, and has thereupon expanded in scope and territory. Many restive non-state actors driven by their selfish interests have fiercely competed among themselves and against government authorities in order to fill the power vacuum.
Islamic State (IS) has been at the forefront all others in exploiting the power vacuum in the Middle East. It has achieved notable successes in erecting a caliphate that is spread over a 400-mile swathe of terrain that extends from southern Syria into central Iraq. This Islamic caliphate, with its distinct characteristics, effectively qualifies as a political-military entity that is alien to the established Westphalia based state system around the world. Now IS is attempting to fortify this newly-built caliphate and in this pursuit is unleashing a spree of terror attacks against all accessible soft-targets, i.e. particularly those within or adjacent to its area under domination. Although IS has not openly issued any threat of executing terrorist attacks against Israel for now, unlike it recently did against the US. However IS has openly proclaimed in the past that its final aim is to capture Jerusalem – the political capital of Israel.
The Iran nuclear agreement, which the US has recently started implementing with a view to lifting economic sanctions imposed on Tehran by the West, complicates the US-Israel relationship. Netanyahu addressed a joint meeting of US Congress and the UN General Assembly to vociferously criticise the deal as bad for US national security and regional/global security. However, even Netanyahu understands that sabotaging the deal at this moment through Jewish connections within the US will seriously damage the US’s international reputation as a global peacemaker. The deal is an opportunity for Israel to further consolidate its position as an unrivalled military power in the Middle East with new bounties coming from the US and Western counties, which the highest Israeli political-military establishment understands well.
The present volatile situation in the Middle East is such that the US needs Israel more than ever if it is to keep secure its own stakes in the region and maintain its global superpower position. Israel needs to urgently strike a lasting peace arrangement with Palestine if it is to continue to economically grow amid escalating criticism from different quarters. The world today is no more a compartmentalized world of different unconnected regions; we are living in an information age whereby the cause of humanity prevails over chauvinistic-nationalism. A next Paris or Beirut like incident can only be avoided if the U.S. and Israel gets perfectly on-board to fight strong against radical Islamic terrorism.
*Hriday Ch. Sarma is a PhD Candidate in Energy Studies Program at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. He is also a Israel Analyst.