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Israel: Strategic Ally or Liability?

by Stephen Sniegoski Wednesday, Jul. 07, 2010 at 11:26 AM

srael: Strategic Ally or Liability?

The claim that Israel serves as a valuable ally for the United States is made by both pro-Zionists and  much of the anti-war and anti-Zionist Left that is influenced by Noam Chomsky.  As a result of the Gaza f lotilla massacre, which has caused a world-wide uproar against Israel, the value of Israel to the United States is being publicly questioned in more mainstream foreign policy forums.

[See Jim Lobe, “Doubts Grow Over Israel’s Value as US Ally,” ]

Writing shortly before the massacre, the always astute Philip Giraldi critically analyzed the claim of Israel’s value to the United States in “The Strategic Ally Myth,” which focuses on a recent article by Israel Firster Mort Zuckerman entitled , “Israel Is a Key Ally and Deserves U.S. Support.”

Zuckerman is a real estate billionaire and editor-in-chief of U.S. News & World Report, and his article came out in that magazine. (He is also  publisher/owner of the New York Daily News).   Zuckerman’s writing for his own publications has credentialed him for other media outlets, and he regularly appears on MSNBC and The McLaughlin Group.  Between 2001 and 2003, Zuckerman was the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Giraldi underscores Zuckerman’s pro-Israel orientation: “Zuckerman is frequently spotted on the television talking head circuit where he dispenses analysis of international events that could have been crafted in Tel Aviv or Herzliya, where the Israeli intelligence service Mossad has its headquarters.”  Zuckerman’s immense wealth and media influence exemplifies why Israel has been able to gain the reputation as a valuable ally to the United States.

 Giraldi, however,  points out  that the United States is not technically an ally of Israel’s.  Giraldi writes that  “to be an ally requires an agreement in writing that spells out the conditions and reciprocity of the relationship. Israel has never been an ally of any country because it would force it to restrain its aggressive behavior, requiring consultation with its ally before attacking other nations. It is also unable to define its own borders, which have been expanding ever since it was founded in 1948. Without defined borders it is impossible to enter into an alliance because most alliances are established so that one country will come to the aid of another if it is attacked, which normally means having its territorial integrity violated. Since Israel intends to continue expanding its borders it cannot commit to an alliance with anyone and has, in fact, rebuffed several bids by Washington to enter into some kind of formal arrangement.”

Zuckerman maintains that there are no drawbacks to America’s support for Israel, explicitly denying the allegation that American support for Israel causes anti-American  hostility in the Islamic countries.  Instead, Zuckerman maintains that the Muslims “are fighting America because they see the whole West and its culture, values, and belief in democracy as antithetical to their own beliefs.” Giraldi correctly points out that this is ridiculous—a higher-IQ version of Bush’s “they hate us for our freedom.”

It would seem almost self-evident that support for the Arabs’ fundamental enemy would lead to the hostility of Arab states  or, should a particular regime remain friendly to the United States, cause groups within the state to threaten its stability.  During the Cold War, US/Israeli ties caused some Arab states to turn to the Soviet Union, especially since the Soviets were willing to provide them with weapons, which they could not obtain from the US because of the opposition from Israel and the Israel lobby.  American support for Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur war led to the Arab oil embargo against the United States in 1973.  Obviously, it has induced the Islamic terrorism during the past decade, as Osama bin Laden has maintained.  Certainly, the Gaza f lotilla massacre has heightened Arab and Islamic animosity to the United States, which has been  recognized even by mainstream media commentators.  Because of the power of the Israel Lobby the United States cannot offer harsh criticism of Israel and must work to prevent any form of United Nations sanctions against it, thus complicating its relationship with the entire Arab/Islamic world.  While it must be acknowledged that hostility to the United States has also been accentuated by its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American military involvement has  been caused in large part by the influence of the Israel lobby.

M. Shahid Alam points out in his excellent book, “Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism,”  that much of the  anti-Americanism in the Middle East was  initially triggered by Israel.  This anti-Americanism has in turn, enabled Israel  to present itself as America’s only reliable friend in the Middle East.  In essence,  “Israel had manufactured the threats that would make it look like a strategic asset” (p. 218),  writes Alam.  “Without Israel,” Alam maintains, “there was little chance that any of the Arab regimes would turn away from their dependence on the West.” (p. 171)

The realization that Israel is not really a strategic ally of the United States is now being expressed by individuals far more sympathetic to Israel than Alam.  Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, for example,  makes such a argument in his article, “Israel as a Strategic Liability.”

Cordesman served as national security assistant to the pro-Israel Senator John McCain, though he is considered a centrist.  In denying that the United States supports Israel for  strategic reasons, Cordesman writes that “the real motives behind America’s commitment to Israel are moral and ethical. They are a reaction to the horrors of the Holocaust, to the entire history of Western anti-Semitism, and to the United States’ failure to help German and European Jews during the period before it entered World War II. They are a product of the fact that Israel is a democracy that shares virtually all of the same values as the United States.” 

I would simply point out that this belief in Israel’s moral superiority is not some objective notion that is determined by an objective weighing of all the evidence, but exists primarily in United States because of the power of the pro-Zionist media and political lobby.  If somehow the wealth and power conditions  of American Jews and Arab Americans were reversed,  and all mainstream media information coming to the American public was filtered through a pro-Arab/Palestinian slant, it is inconceivable that America would support Israel over the Palestinians.  It is hard to believe that someone as sharp as Cordesman does not recognize the power of the Israel lobby in American domestic politics, and he undoubtedly does,  but he is also keen enough to know that people who openly express such a view do not hold cushy  positions in leading think tanks.   However, so as not to go too far off track, the issue here is whether Israel is a strategic asset to the United States, not whether the US should support Israel for moral reasons, and concerning the issue at hand Cordesman comes down against the strategic asset argument. 

Jim Lobe alludes to the career ramifications of speaking the truth regarding Israel when he quotes  Stephen Walt, the co-author of the bombshell book, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” who states: "The fact that Cordesman would say this publicly is a sign that attitudes and discourse are changing . . . . Lots of people in the national security establishment — and especially the Pentagon and intelligence services — have understood that Israel wasn’t an asset, but nobody wanted to say so because they knew it might hurt their careers."

Intriguingly, Lobe points out that head of the Mossad, Israel’s foremost spy agency,  also recently made reference to Israel’s liability to the United States.  Mossad chief Meir Dagan told members of the Israeli parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that "Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden."  In reality, it is highly questionable whether Israel has ever been a net asset to the United States.

Zuckerman tries to illustrate what assistance Israel provides the US—a good strategic location in the Middle East, a place to stockpile American weapons, and beneficial intelligence.  Giraldi rebuts these alleged benefits, maintaining   that “the notion that Israel is some kind of strategic asset for the United States is nonsense, a complete fabrication.”  He points out that the United States cannot utilize Israeli territory to project its power throughout the region.   “The US has numerous bases in Arab countries,” Giraldi notes,  “but is not allowed to use any military base in Israel. Washington’s own carrier groups and other forces in place all over the Middle East, including the Red Sea, have capabilities that far exceed those of the Israel Defense Forces.”  It should also be added, as John Mearsheimer and  Stephen Walt bring out in their book, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” (p. 56),  that Israel does not help the United States in its key military objective in the Middle East: maintaining access to Gulf oil.

Giraldi points out that the stockpiles of US equipment in Israel are basically for Israel. “The supplies are, in fact, regularly looted by the Israelis, leaving largely unusable or picked over equipment for US forces if it should ever be needed.”

Regarding Zuckerman’s reference to the provision of “good intelligence,” Giraldi observes that “The intelligence provided by Israel that Zuckerman praises is generally fabricated and completely self serving, intended to shape a narrative about the Middle East that makes the Israelis look good and virtually everyone else look bad.”  For some specific examples of actually misleading intelligence, it should be recalled that Israel was providing some of the spurious intelligence on Iraq’s alleged formidable WMD during the build-up to the 2003 US invasion (the Knesset investigated this issue) and, for the past decade, has been issuing alarmist warnings that Iran is on the verge of developing  nuclear weaponry. In short, the intelligence Israel provides to the United States is intended to induce it to take actions to advance Israel’s interests, which can run counter to the interests of the United States. 

The idea of Israel as a strategic asset is especially significant because, as mentioned earlier,  it is expressed not only by Israel Firsters but also by Noam Chomsky and his epigones, and thus is a view that looms large in the anti-war camp.  Stephen Zunes, a prominent member of the Chomsky group, even implies that Israel is but the passive instrument of American policymakers.  This approach, of course, provides psychological satisfaction to those on the left who want to believe in the ultimate evil of gentile capitalism and the perpetual victimization of Jews,  but is counterproductive in actually dealing with the problem of American military intervention in the Middle East.  

[See my article: “Israel-lobby denial: The bankruptcy of the mainstream Left as illustrated by Stephen Zunes,” ]

Actually the case of billionaire Mort Zuckerman should serve as an example to undermine the Chomskyist interpretation. The Chomskyist position is based on the idea that overriding wealth determines American foreign policy; while not strictly Marxist, it has strong similarities to Marxism.  But, of course, pro-Zionist Mort Zuckerman is an individual of great wealth, and he would seem to have considerable clout in the media.  And Zuckerman is far from being an aberration.  A huge disproportion of the super-wealthy are Jewish.  A recent analysis determined that at least 139 of the richest 400 Americans listed by Forbes are Jewish.

Since many wealthy Jews publicly promote Zionism, it stands to reason that their view should be able to shape American foreign policy especially in areas where their interest is far greater than that of other wealthy Americans.  We are frequently told that the oil interests control American Middle East policy. But one would think that the combined wealth of  super-wealthy pro-Zionists far exceeds the wealth of the oil barons with interests in Middle East oil.   A cursory look at the list of America’s 400 wealthiest individuals showed about 20 or so of the 400 were, at least, to some extent involved in oil/energy.  Those specializing in Middle East oil would be somewhat fewer, I would think.  

Actually these figures provide a rough view of how wealth shapes the American foreign policy.  Pro-Zionist money  can sway the area where its concern is the greatest and where that of the oil interests is less so—the Israel/Palestine issue.    The issue of overall Middle East policy directly involving the flow of Gulf oil, however, would be of fundamental concern to the oil industry, as well as the wealthy as a whole, since the flow of oil affects the economies of the entire industrial world. Thus, with respect to the current question of whether the US should attack Iran, hardline Zionists would seem to  identify fully with the interest of Israel to eliminate an enemy, no matter what the impact on the global economy.   However, those wealthy individuals whose fundamental concerns involve oil and economic matters in general are fearful  of the possible  negative economic effects resulting from such an attack.   This explains why  the United States has not yet attacked Iran.  

Cordesman, who eschews any mention of Zionist influence in the United States, maintains that while the United States will defend, and presumably ought to defend,  Israel for moral reasons, it should not provide Israel a blank check.  It did “not mean that the United States should extend support to an Israeli government when that government fails to credibly pursue peace with its neighbors.”   In short,  Israel cannot simply do anything  it wants and receive the support of the United States.  “It is time Israel realized that it has obligations to the United States, as well as the United States to Israel, and that it become far more careful about the extent to which it tests  the limits of U.S. patience and exploits the support of American Jews. This does not mean taking a single action that undercuts Israeli security, but it does mean realizing that Israel should show enough discretion to reflect the fact that it is a tertiary U.S. strategic interest in a complex and demanding world.”   Cordesman seems to believe that Israel can alter its policies to establish much improved relations with the Palestinians and its neighboring countries  so that American interests would not be harmed.  In short, Cordesman does not say that Israel could become a strategic asset, but that, by following conciliatory policies towards its current enemies, it could become much less of a liability to the United States.

The problem with Cordesman’s position, however, is that the Israeli leadership, and the Zionist establishment in the United States,  really believe that Israel has to do what it does to preserve the existence of Israel, i.e., the exclusivist Jewish state.  As an exclusivist Jewish state, Israel is threatened by peaceful demographics as well as by terrorism and warfare.  To stave off this danger,  Israel will not allow for any significant Palestinian return to Israel or  any viable Palestinian state, which is exactly what the  Palestinians and the Arab and Islamic countries supporting them demand. In short, the positions of Israel and the Palestinians and their backers are antithetical.  The United States cannot support Israel without antagonizing the Arab and Islamic states, and vice versa.   Since it is widely recognized that friendly relations with the oil-producing Middle Eastern states are vital to U.S.  national security,  America’s unwavering backing of  Israel can only harm its strategic interests.

Furthermore, unconditional support for Israel fuels terrorism against the United States, making American citizens less safe abroad and even on American soil.  And, of course, such terrorism can lead America into wars that would not take place if the United States were not targeted.

Finally, automatic support for Israel completely undermines the United States’ advocacy of a world governed by international law, a goal which President Obama has addressed on a number of occasions. As Scott Wilson writes in the article, “Obama's agenda, Israel's ambitions often at odds,”  in the “Washington Post” (June 5) : “Since its creation more than six decades ago, the state of Israel has been at times a vexing ally to the United States. But it poses a special challenge for President Obama, whose foreign policy emphasizes the importance of international rules and organizations that successive Israeli governments have clashed with and often ignored.”

As President Obama stated in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don't.”  Then,  in an implicit swipe at the Bush administration, he continued: “Furthermore, America -- in fact, no nation -- can insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves.”  This admonition could also apply to America’s tacit support for Israel’s policies.

America’s concern about international legality did not begin with Obama—Woodrow Wilson was a major proponent of the League of Nations and Franklin Roosevelt of  the UN-- even though America’s unwillingness to join the League of Nations resulted from its devotion to national sovereignty and opposition to permanent alliances that could force the country into unwanted wars.  America’s continued support for international legality during the interwar period (while the US was outside the League of Nations) was especially illustrated by the involvement of American peace advocates and Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg in framing what became known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, which was a multilateral treaty outlawing war except for purpose of self-defense.  It was signed by all major countries (eventually 62 signatories), except for Soviet Russia.   Although sometimes ridiculed as a meaningless utopian gesture, the treaty served as the basis to judge the Nazi high command at Nuremberg in 1945-46, and was incorporated and expanded in the UN Charter.

America’s verbal support for international law is not based simply on morality, nor is does it represent high-sounding but empty rhetoric.  As a wealthy, powerful nation the United States has a vested interest in maintaining the international status quo in the same way as the preservation of the status quo was sought by the victors of the Napoleonic Wars and World War I. (The Congress of Vienna, of course, was far more effective than the Paris Peace Conference in establishing a long-lasting peace.)    International stability not only preserves America’s power position, but also provides the optimal  environment for the international trade and investment that benefits the American economy.

Obviously, as Obama pointed out, when the United States seeks to use international agreements to restrain the actions of other countries, it cannot expect other countries to obey these rules if does not do so itself.  And it acts in this manner when it ignores, or  supports,  Israel’s violations of international law and prevents UN-sponsored actions against Israel that would be undertaken if any other country in the world engaged in comparable activities. 

In conclusion, it is apparent that Washington’s support for Israel interferes with a number of the United States’ basic international goals.  It can only be said that Israel is a liability rather than an asset.

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