By leveraging its remarkable achievements in the fields most relevant to future conflicts, Israel can transition from dependence on the U.S. to partnership.
The roots of Israel’s bond with the U.S. run deep—preceding the establishment of the state. Immediately after the end of World War II, when British government policy in Palestine, led by Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, was outright hostile to the Zionist project, David Ben-Gurion nevertheless made a bold prophecy to the crusty British statesman. Like it or not, he said to Bevin, a confrontation was coming between the Western allies and the Russians—and the Jews, like them or not, would be on the side of Britain and the West.
And so it came to pass: in the post-Holocaust era, things could not have been otherwise. Although the coming cold war was still but a vague shape on the horizon, the Zionist national project was bound almost by definition to be counted among the defenders of democracy led by the United States. The “special relationship” between Israel and America, which in its present form far exceeds Ben-Gurion’s fondest dreams, is the direct product of that fundamental fact.
As described by Charles D. Freilich in his essay, “Has Israel Grown Too Dependent on the United States?,” the relationship today is an impressive edifice indeed. Having been there as both scholar and practitioner—he held the position of Israeli deputy national security adviser a few years before I did—Freilich is well positioned to judge the supreme value of the American contribution to Israel’s safety and survival.
The immense military-aid program for Israel is now enshrined at the level of $38 billion over the next ten years. And that is to say nothing of the equally vital diplomatic support, whose origins can be traced to the aftermath of the Six-Day War of June 1967. It was then that the U.S. reversed the course favored in 1956-7 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who compelled Israel to relinquish its gains in the Suez war (a decision, as Michael Doran has shown in Ike’s Gamble, later regretted and repented by Eisenhower himself). A decade later, the U.S. stood by Israel’s right not to withdraw from conquered territories—and then not necessarily from all of them—except in return for peace, and only to “secure and recognized” borders. This stance has been central to all that has happened since, in the halls of the United Nations and elsewhere.
Freilich also offers a glimpse into another crucial U.S. contribution to Israel’s deterrent abilities: namely, the persistent disinclination of all American presidents since 1970—notwithstanding some ugly private comments by President Jimmy Carter to Prime Minister Menachem Begin at Camp David in 1978, and some mismanagement by President Barack Obama in 2010—to put pressure on Israel with regard to its alleged nuclear capabilities.
Of course,as Frieilich duly notes, American policy toward Israel has hardly been lacking in domestic critics. The central charge, associated most notoriously with the names of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer and their 2007 book The Israel Lobby …read more