Monday, February 18, 2013

"Foundations of the U.S.- Israel Partnership" - Haim Malka

A graduate student at Georgia Tech's Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, this semester I'm interning at the Department of Commerce - International Trade Administration - Advocacy Center - Middle East Division. Last week I attended a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies where I obtained a free copy of "Crossroads: The Future of the U.S. - Israel Strategic Partnership" by Haim Malka.
Below I've transcribed much of the section titled,
"Foundations of the U.S.- Israel Partnership" because much of it was new to me.

          The level of military cooperation is extraordinarily deep. The United States now provides Israel with $3 billion a year through the Foreign Military Financing program. In addition to direct military aid, the United States provides funds for the joint development of antiballistic missile systems and has pre-positioned nearly $1 billion worth of military equipment and ammunition in Israel for use by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) in emergency contingencies. U.S. military aid represents roughly 1.5 percent of Israel's gross domestic product (GDP) and approximately 21 percent of its defense budget. Nearly three-quarters of that money is used to purchase U.S. military equipment, providing an indirect subsidy to the U.S. defense industry and ensuring that Israel has access to the best U.S. made military equipment available for foreign sales.
          For several generations of Israelis and Americans, this robust partnership has been a reassuring constant.
          But for those with longer memories, there is nothing inevitable about strong U.S. - Israeli ties.
          As one historian has noted, the "U.S. - Israel alliance as we know it today is the cumulative product of individual decisions that could have gone another way."


          There was nothing strategic about President Harry S. Truman's recognition of Israel in May 1948. Israel was a fledgling state fighting for its independence and had little to offer the world's most formidable power. Truman's advisers made compelling arguments both for and against recognition. Secretary of State George C. Marshall in particular vehemently opposed recognizing Israel, arguing that is was a purely political calculation that could become a liability for the United States. Over and above political considerations, Truman made his own decision, largely based on religious conviction and his sense of moral obligation toward a persecuted minority. Although it took years to bear fruit, Truman's decision helped set the stage for what would become one of the most special and complicated U.S. partnerships of the modern era.
          Truman also based his decision on the abstract notion that Israelis and Americans shared basic beliefs rooted in liberty, democracy, and Judeo-Christian values. His strong religious impulse resonated with many Christian Americans who saw Israel's rebirth as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. For many Christian Americans, supporting Israel has deepened their physical connection to the Holy Land. Early U.S. support for Israel was also built on the idea of a small democracy struggling for survival against the odds, all while trying to absorb hundreds of thousands of immigrants. Many Americans glimpsed themselves and the American pioneer spirit in Israel's struggle for independence and survival. Israeli interlocutors tended to speak English well, were highly educated, and espoused a commitment to Western liberal and democratic ideals.
          Truman's recognition of Israel was a historic moment, but the first decade of U.S. - Israel ties tends to evoke bitter memories for many Israelis. After recognizing Israel, the United States remained aloof. The U.S. instinct was to mediate the Arab-Israeli conflict rather than the take sides. Under the Tripartite Agreement of 1950, the United States, France, Britain agreed to limit arms sales to all countries in the region so as to prevent an arms race from breaking out. Washington's leading strategic thinkers successfully argued that a close relationship with Israel endangered U.S. relations with oil-rich Arab states and could strengthen the Soviet foothold in the region.

My copy of "Crossroads".
Got it free when I attended aa discussion at the
Center for Strategic and International Studies here in Washington, DC.


          Although strategic ties were slow to take root, the 1950's and early 1960's were crucial years when it came to building cultural ties and the political pillar of U.S. Israeli relations. The discourses that developed during this time shaped the prevailing U.S. view of Israel for the coming decades and gave the partnership a deep political-cultural foundation. On the most basic level, anti-Semitism, which was a common feature of pre-World War II U.S. society and politics, declined dramatically after the war. AS one scholar noted, the decline of anti-Semitism in the United States helped transform Jews from "outsiders" to "insiders," which encouraged political acceptance of Israel.
          Growing Christian affinity eventually helped nurture greater bipartisan political support for Israel. Although Democrats had largely been the champions of strong U.S. - Israeli ties during the first two decades, Republicans slowly began embracing the bilateral partnership as well. By the 1980 elections, both the Democratic and Republican platforms were highlighting Israel's importance to the United States. With anti-communism and the Cold War at the center of his worldview, President Ronald Reagan viewed Israel as a vital ally and helped consolidate national bipartisan support for a strong U.S. Israeli partnership. Even more, President Reagan helped accelerate a process whereby Americans increasingly defined support for Israel as a "moral obligation" for the United States.
          The American Christian embrace of Israel corresponded with the rise of evangelical Protestant churches and the decline in membership in the mainline Protestant denominations, which historically have been openly critical of Israel and its politics. Over time evangelical Christian support grew and was based on the theological notion that a Jewish return to the Land of Israel was necessary for the Second Coming. Spiritual ties complemented the notion that Israel and the United States share common enemies, from communism during the Cold War to Islamic radicalism after September 11, 2001, which further deepened the strong affinity that many Christian Zionists feel for Israel.
          The Israeli government seized the opportunity, and Likud politicians in particular sought to nurture ties with the emerging Christian Zionist movement. Not only did Christian Zionists strengthen bipartisan support, but they helped resettle Soviet Jews in Israel, dispensed funding for Holocaust survivors, and provided a steady stream of tourism. More controversially, some but not all Christian Zionists were strong supporters of Israel's settlements in the West Bank. Over time the evangelical influence in the Republican party has helped make unconditional support for Israel a largely unquestioned tenet of mainstream conservative ideology in U.S. politics.


          In Israel's early years, the United States gave Israel only a relatively small amount of economic assistance, always carefully calibrated with similar U.S. support for Israel's Arab neighbors. Although Israel managed to obtain some surplus military equipment from the United States in the early 1950's, France was its primary strategic partner and military supplier. The Israeli Kfir fighter aircraft was based on the French Mirage, and France assisted in developing Israel's nascent nuclear program.
          Although France was Israel's first strategic ally, most Israeli leaders longed for closer ties with the United States. Even while U.S. leaders were initially reluctant to throw their weight behind Israel, Israeli leaders set their sights on deeper strategic ties and went to great lengths to make Israel strategically beneficial to the United States. Israeli immigrants, for example, came from a wide range of countries behind the iron curtain, providing opportunities for espionage that were invaluable during the Cold War. In 1956, Israel demonstrated its intelligence capability by obtaining Khrushchev's "Secret Speech," which it slipped to U.S. officials. Israel also demonstrated its regional military power by performing well against the Egyptian army that same year. As the Cold War intensified and a growing number of Arab governments deepened their ties with the Soviet Union, Israel increasingly emerged as a strategic partner of the United States.
          Perhaps partially in recognition of these shows of Israeli strength and usefulness, President John F. Kennedy introduced an element of warmth and commitment that had been lacking in high-level U.S. -Israeli relations. Until Kennedy, the U.S. government valued stability in the Middle East above all else. It feared that military aid to Israel would spark a regional arms race that could give the Soviet Union more regional leverage. The United States repeatedly turned down Israeli requests for more sophisticated weapons in the name of parity between Israel and its Arab enemies. That all changed in 1962, when Kennedy made a pivotal decision to sell Israel Hawk antiaircraft missiles, which became a crucial component of Israel's defensive structure.
          As Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman interpret the policy shift, Kennedy had figured out that "it was easier to live with an Israel that was getting the resources it needed to defend itself. Then Israel would not have to commit wild or unacceptable acts." Thus, Kennedy steered the U.S. - Israeli partnership to a new level of cooperation and changed the way the United States thought about regional stability, Israeli security, and U.S. - Israeli relations.
          President Lyndon B. Johnson took Kennedy's Hawk sale one step further with his historic decision to sell Israel 210 M-48 Patton tanks in 1965, marking the beginning of the U.S. policy of providing Israel with offensive weapons. A year later, in 1966, the United States sold Israel the A-4 Skyhawk attack aircraft. The new weapons ensured that Israel had not only defensive capabilities on par with Arab armies but offensive capabilities as well. The rationale was that a strong Israel equipped with the best military technology would deter Arab armies and prevent state-to-state wars in the region. During the next decade, this concept would evolve into a long-standing U.S. commitment to preserve Israel's qualitative military edge (QME).
          These offensive weapons sales contributed to Israel's swift and stunning victory over Arab armies in 1967, and U.S.- Israeli relations grew stronger still. Israel was a winner in the region, having defeated Soviet clients on the battlefield. Moreover, Israel's capture of Soviet military hardware was a gold mine for U.S. military intelligence. From that point, U.S. military aid to Israel took off: from 1967 until the conclusion of the Cold War in 1991, the United States provided Israel with nearly $30 billion in military loans and grants. In a short time, Israel's army was largely equipped by the United States, fulfilling a long-standing goal of Israel's leadership.

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