A Costly Friendship
From 1967 onward there was no stopping the extravagant blossoming of the US-Israel relationship. If Johnson had been the father of the alliance, Henry Kissinger was to be its sugar daddy. In 1970, he invited Israel to intervene in Jordan when a beleaguered King Hussein asked for US protection. Syrian troops had entered the country in support of militant Palestinians then engaged in a trial of strength with the little King. Israel was only too happy to comply with this most irregular request. It made some much-publicized military deployments in the direction of Jordan. Emboldened by this support, Hussein's own forces then engaged the Syrians, who quickly withdrew. Hussein's army was thus left free to slaughter the Palestinians.
Rather than seeing Black September as the local tiff that it actually was, Kissinger blew it up into an "East-West" contest in which Israel had successfully faced down not just the Syrians but the Russians as well. This was the real launch of the US-Israel "strategic relationship," in which Israel was entrusted with "keeping the peace" in the Middle East on America's behalf--and was lavishly rewarded with arms, aid and a cupboard-full of secret commitments directed against Arab interests.
Kissinger adopted as America's own the main theses of Israeli policy: that Israel had to be stronger than any possible combination of Arab states; that the Arabs' aspiration to recover territories lost in 1967 was "unrealistic"; that the PLO should never be considered a peace partner. His step-by-step machinations after the October war of 1973 were directed at removing Egypt from the Arab lineup, exposing Palestinians and other Arabs to the full brunt of Israeli military power. Ariel Sharon's invasion of Lebanon in 1982--in which some 17,000 Palestinians and Lebanese were killed, triggering the birth of the Hezbollah resistance movement--was a direct consequence of Kissinger's scheming. In 1970 Israel received $30 million in US aid; in 1971, after the Jordan crisis, the aid rose to $545 million. During the October war Kissinger called for a $3 billion aid bill, and it has remained in the several billions ever since.
In due course Congress was captured by AIPAC--in Bass's phrase, "the purring, powerful lobbying machine of the 1980s and 1990s"--while the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, founded in 1985 by Martin Indyk, an Australian-born lobbyist for Israel, set about carefully shaping opinion and placing its men inside the Administration. Dennis Ross, Indyk's colleague at WINEP and a high-level negotiator for Bush I, became Clinton's long-serving coordinator of the Arab-Israeli peace process; he rarely failed to defer to Israel's interests, which is one reason the peace process got nowhere. He has now returned to WINEP as its director and continued advocate.
But nothing in the history of the US-Israel alliance has equaled the accession by "friends of Israel" to key posts in the current Bush Administration, and their determined and successful struggle to shape America's foreign policy, especially in the Middle East--including the destruction of Iraq.
The nagging question remains as to what the special friendship has achieved. Have the wars, security intrigues and political showdowns of the past decades really served Israel's interest? A student of the region cannot but ponder these questions: What if the dovish Moshe Sharett had prevailed over the hawkish Ben-Gurion in the 1950s? Sharett sought coexistence with the Arabs, whereas Ben-Gurion's policy was to dominate them by naked military force, with the aid of a great-power patron--ideas that have shaped Israeli thinking ever since. What if the occupied territories had truly been traded for peace after 1967 (as Ben-Gurion himself advised, with rare prescience), or after 1973, or after the Madrid conference of 1991, or even after the Oslo Accords of 1993? Would it not have spared Israelis and Palestinians the pain of the intifada, with its miserable legacy of hatred and broken lives? Has the triumphalist dream of a "Greater Israel" (which James Baker, for one, warned Israel against) proved anything other than a hideous nightmare, infecting Israeli society with a poisonous dose of fascism? The US-Israel alliance is officially and routinely celebrated in both countries, but its legacy is troubling. Without it, Israel might not have succumbed to the madness of invading Lebanon and staying there twenty-two years; or to the senseless brutality of its treatment of the Palestinians; or to the shortsighted folly of settling 400,000 Jews in Jerusalem and the West Bank, who are now able to hold successive Israeli governments to ransom.
An inescapable conclusion is that the intimate alliance, and the policies that flowed from it, have caused America and Israel to be reviled and detested in a large part of the world--and to be exposed as never before to terrorist attack.