Published by The Freeman Center

The Maccabean Online

Political Analysis and Commentary
on Israeli and Jewish Affairs

"For Zion's sake I shall not hold my peace, And for Jerusalem's sake I shall not rest."



The Basis of the U.S.-Israel Alliance
An Israeli Response to the Mearsheimer-Walt Assault
by Dore Gold

Jerusalem Issue Brief Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Vol. 5, No. 20 - 24 March 2006

On December 27, 1962, President John F. Kennedy told Israeli Foreign
Minister Golda Meir: "The United States has a special relationship with
Israel in the Middle East really comparable only to what it has with Britain
over a wide range of world affairs."

The U.S. and Israel had a joint strategic interest in defeating aggressors
in the Middle East seeking to disrupt the status quo, especially if they had
Moscow\'s backing. In 1970 when Syria invaded Jordan, given the huge U.S.
military commitment in Southeast Asia at the time, it was only the
mobilization of Israeli strength that provided the external backing needed
to support the embattled regime of King Hussein. That same year, Israeli
Phantoms downed Soviet-piloted MiG fighters over the Suez Canal, proving the
ineffectiveness of the military umbrella Moscow provided its Middle Eastern
clients.

In 1981, Israel destroyed the nuclear reactor of Iraq\'s Saddam Hussein,
severely reducing Iraqi military strength. Ten years later, after a U.S.-led
coalition had to liberate Kuwait following Iraq\'s occupation of that
oil-producing mini-state, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney in October
1991 thanked Israel for its "bold and dramatic action" a decade earlier.
In the 1980s, several memoranda of understanding between the U.S. and Israel
on strategic cooperation were followed by regular joint military exercises,
where U.S. forces were given access to Israel\'s own combat techniques and
vice versa. The U.S. Marine Corps and special operations forces have
particularly benefited from these ties, though much of the U.S.-Israel
strategic relationship is classified.

Saudi Arabia has tried to tilt U.S. policy using a vast array of powerful PR
firms, former diplomats, and well-connected officials, with the result being
that America is still overly dependent on Middle Eastern oil. Given the
ultimate destination of those petrodollars in recent years (the propagation
of Islamic extremism and terrorism), a serious investigation of those
lobbying efforts appears to be far more appropriate than focusing on
relations between the U.S. and Israel.

A Special Relationship Spanning Decades
It was mid-morning on December 27, 1962, when President John F. Kennedy
hosted the Foreign Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, in Palm Beach, Florida,
for a heart-to-heart review of U.S.-Israel relations. Kennedy\'s language was
unprecedented. In the secret memorandum drafted by the attending
representative of the Department of State, Kennedy told his Israeli guest:
"The United States has a special relationship with Israel in the Middle East
really comparable only to what it has with Britain over a wide range of
world affairs "1

According to a new paper prepared by two of America\'s top political
scientists, Professor John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago and
Professor Stephen Walt from the Kennedy School at Harvard University,
"neither strategic nor moral arguments can account for America\'s support for
Israel." The explanation for U.S. backing of Israel, according to these
academics, is the "unmatched power of the Israel lobby."2 Yet their analysis
is not grounded in any careful investigation of declassified U.S. documents
from the Departments of State or Defense.

What led Kennedy in 1962 to declare that the U.S.-Israel relationship was
even comparable to America\'s alliance with the British? Since the early
1950s, the U.S. defense establishment has understood Israel\'s potential
importance to the Western Alliance. Thus, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff, General Omar Bradley, assessed in 1952 that only Britain, Turkey,
and Israel could help the U.S. with their air forces in the event of a
Soviet attack in the Middle East.3 But against whatever Israel could
tangibly offer the U.S., there was always a need to politically juggle
America\'s ties with Israel and its efforts to create strategic relations
with the Arab states.

The first limited U.S. arms supply to Israel preceded Kennedy. During the
Eisenhower years, when Secretary of State John Foster Dulles\' plans for a
Baghdad Pact collapsed with the 1958 overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy in
Iraq, the U.S. began to upgrade its defense ties with Israel. Kennedy
started his presidency trying to build on a new relationship with Egypt\'s
Nasser. But by 1962, Nasser intervened with large forces in Yemen, bombed
Saudi border towns, and threatened to expand into the oil-producing areas of
the Persian Gulf.

Israeli Actions That Served U.S. Interests
The U.S. and Israel had a joint strategic interest in defeating aggressors
in the Middle East seeking to disrupt the status quo, especially if they had
Moscow\'s backing. This became the essence of the U.S.-Israel alliance in the
Middle East. It would repeat itself in 1970 when Syria invaded Jordan. Given
the huge U.S. military commitment in Southeast Asia at the time, it was only
the mobilization of Israeli strength that provided the external backing
needed to support the embattled regime of King Hussein.

In 1981, Israel destroyed the nuclear reactor of Iraq\'s Saddam Hussein,
severely reducing Iraqi military strength. Ten years later, after a U.S.-led
coalition had to liberate Kuwait following Iraq\'s occupation of that
oil-producing mini-state, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney thanked Israel
for its "bold and dramatic action" a decade earlier. Indeed, Cheney would
add in an October 1991 address: "strategic cooperation with Israel remains a
cornerstone of U.S. defense policy."

During those years, Israel became one of the main forces obstructing the
spread of Soviet military power in the Eastern Mediterranean. In 1970
Israeli Phantoms downed Soviet-piloted MiG fighters over the Suez Canal,
proving the ineffectiveness of the military umbrella Moscow provided its
Middle Eastern clients in exchange for Soviet basing arrangements. When in
the 1980s the Soviet Mediterranean Squadron made the Syrian port of Tartus
its main submarine base, Israel offered Haifa to the U.S. Sixth Fleet, which
had already begun to house U.S. ships in 1977. U.S.-Soviet arms control
agreements in the 1980s over arms deployments in Central Europe increased
the importance of NATO\'s flanks - including its southern flank - in the
overall balance of power between the superpowers.

This expanding cooperation was made concrete in the 1980s by several
memoranda of understanding (MOU) between the U.S. and Israel on strategic
cooperation, signed in 1981 and 1983. According to the Congressional
Research Service, the strategic cooperation agreements were followed by
regular joint military exercises, where U.S. forces were given access to
Israel\'s own combat techniques and vice versa. The U.S. Marine Corps and
special operations forces have particularly benefited from these ties. The
U.S. European Command took a particular interest in Israeli combat
helicopter training ranges.

By 1992, the number of U.S. Navy ship visits to Haifa had reached 50 per
year. Admiral Carl Trost, the former Chief of Naval Operations, commented
that with the end of the Cold War and the shifting American interest in
power projection to the Middle East, the Sixth Fleet\'s need for facilities
in the Eastern Mediterranean had actually increased.

Do U.S. and Israeli interests diverge sometimes? Like any two countries,
such differences can be expected. During the Cold War, Israel needed U.S.
security ties in order to increase its own capabilities to deal with hostile
Arab states. But Israel did not seek to become a target of the Soviet Union.
Nonetheless, it signed an MOU with the U.S. in 1981 which singled out the
USSR as a joint adversary of both countries. The MOU underscored that "the
parties recognize the need to enhance strategic cooperation to deter all
threats from the Soviet Union to the region."4 In the 2003 Iraq War, most
Israeli military leaders identified Iran as the greater threat to the Middle
East at the time. Nonetheless, Israel certainly did not oppose the efforts
of the U.S.-led coalition to topple Saddam Hussein.5

One complaint about the U.S.-Israel defense relationship has been the
constraints Israel has put on it as a result of Israel\'s firm commitment to
its doctrine of self-reliance. As Carl Ford, the Principal Assistant
Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs in the Bush (41)
administration, confided to a Senate Caucus in October 1991: "Another
limitation, of course, is the longstanding view on the part of Israel, one
which I think most of us share the viewpoint on...that not one ounce of
American blood should be spilled in the defense of Israel." He suggested
that changes needed to be introduced to make "our operations and
interactions with Israel the same as they are with Great Britain and
Germany."

This comment was significant since detractors of the U.S.-Israel
relationship like to insinuate that Israel seeks to get America to fight its
wars for it. The truth is completely the opposite: while U.S. forces have
been stationed on the soil of Germany, South Korea, or Japan to provide for
the defense of those countries in the event of an attack, Israel has always
insisted on defending itself by itself. If Israel today seeks "defensible
borders," this is because it wants to deploy the Israel Defense Forces and
not the U.S. Army in the strategically sensitive Jordan Valley.

Much of the Relationship Is Classified
There are other issues affecting the public discourse on U.S.-Israel defense
ties. Much of the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship is classified,
particularly in the area of intelligence sharing. There are two direct
consequences from this situation. First, most aspects of U.S.-Israel defense
ties are decided on the basis of the professional security considerations of
those involved. Lobbying efforts in Congress cannot force a U.S. security
agency to work with Israel.

Second, because many elements of the relationship are kept secret, it is
difficult for academics, commentators, and pundits to provide a thorough net
assessment of the true value of U.S.-Israel ties. Thus, Israel is left
working shoulder-to-shoulder with the U.S., and finds itself presented by
outside commentators as a worthless ally whose status is only sustained by a
domestic lobby. Nonetheless, what has come out about the U.S.-Israel
security relationship certainly makes the recent analysis of Professors Walt
and Mearsheimer extremely suspect.

Ask About the Saudi Lobby and U.S. Dependence on Middle East Oil
Does Israel have supporters in the U.S. that back a strong relationship
between the two countries? Clearly, networks of such support exist, as they
do for U.S. ties with Britain, Greece, Turkey, and India. There are also
states like Saudi Arabia that have tried to tilt U.S. policy using a vast
array of powerful PR firms, former diplomats, and well-connected officials.
The results of those efforts have America still overly dependent on Middle
Eastern oil with few energy alternatives. Given the ultimate destination of
those petrodollars in recent years (the global propagation of Islamic
extremism and terrorism), a serious investigation of those lobbying efforts
appears to be far more appropriate than focusing on relations between the
U.S. and Israel.

Notes
1. "Memorandum of Conversation, Palm Beach, FL, December 27, 1962, 10:00
a.m.," in Nina J. Noring (ed.), Foreign Relations of the United States,
1961-1963, Volume XVIII: Near East 1962-1963 (Washington: Government
Printing Office, 1995), pp. 276-283.
2. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, "The Israel Lobby," London Review of
Books, Vol. 28, No. 5, March 23, 2006,
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n06/print/mear01_.html.
3. "Military Requirements for the Defense of the Middle East" (A Briefing by
the Chairman, the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the Deputy Secretary of
Defense), JCS 1887/61, November 26, 1952, in Paul Kesaris (ed.), Records of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Part 2, 1946-53, the Middle East.
4. "U.S.-Israel Memorandum of Understanding, October 30, 1981, Memorandum of
Understanding between the Government of the United States and the Government
of Israel on Strategic Cooperation," Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace+Process/Guide+to+the+Peace+Process/US-Israel+Memorandum+of+Understanding.htm.
5. Dore Gold, "Wartime Witch Hunt: Blaming Israel for the Iraq War,"
Jerusalem Viewpoints #518, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, June 1,
2004.

Dr. Dore Gold, who served as Israel\'s ambassador to the United Nations in
1997-1999, heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

This Jerusalem Issue Brief is available online at:
http://www.jcpa.org/brief/brief005-20.htm
Dore Gold, Publisher; Yaakov Amidror, ICA Program Director; Mark Ami-El,
Managing Editor. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (Registered Amuta), 13
Tel-Hai St., Jerusalem, Israel; Tel. 972-2-5619281, Fax. 972-2-5619112,
Email: jcpa@netvision.net.il. In U.S.A.: Center for Jewish Community
Studies, 5800 Park Heights Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21215; Tel. 410-664-5222;
Fax 410-664-1228. Website: www.jcpa.org. Copyright. The opinions expressed
herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board of Fellows of the
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
The Institute for Contemporary Affairs (ICA) is dedicated
to providing a forum for Israeli policy discussion and debate.