THE BOTTOM-UP US-ISRAEL RELATIONS
The enthusiastic reception – by Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, doves and hawks - to Prime Minister Netanyahu's May 24, 2011 speech before a joint session of the US Congress reflected the unique relationship between the United States and Israel. The ties between the US and Israel resemble a triple-braided cord, which is not easily broken, consisting of shared values and mutually-beneficial economic and security interests.
The US affinity towards the Jewish State is exceptional in the international relations arena. It is based upon a bottom-up structure, deriving its potency from the American people more than from American politicians.
Most Americans identify the Jewish State with cardinal US domestic values – not just with foreign policy – that reflect the Judeo-Christian roots of American democracy, liberty, morality, justice and the federalist system. Such sentiments have produced systemic and solid support for Jewish sovereignty in Zion, dating back to the 17th century Pilgrims and the 18th century American Founding Fathers. These sentiments are currently echoed by the representatives of the American people in the legislatures of the 50 states and in the US House of Representatives and Senate in Washington, DC. While American presidents play a critical role in shaping US-Israel relations, the American people and their representatives set the foundations, direction and tone, as well as the content of the bilateral relations, sometimes overruling or redirecting White House policies.
The 390 year old infrastructure of shared values between the US and the vision of a Jewish State – since the sermons of William Bradford on the "Mayflower" in 1620AD - has been buttressed in recent years by Israel's significant contribution to US national security in the face of mutual threats and in the pursuit of joint interests. In addition, Israeli cutting-edge technologies have stimulated the US economy. Moreover, Israel's role as the only reliable and capable Middle Eastern ally of the US is highlighted by the recent seismic developments destabilizing every Arab country.
Thus, the unique popular affinity towards Israel has produced a robust relationship, benefitting both countries, while facilitating quick healing of occasional tensions and crises between American and Israeli leaders.
THE FOUNDATIONS OF SHARED VALUES
Prime Minister Netanyahu received the longest standing ovations, from House Representatives and Senators, when he referred to the return of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel, to the Jewish deed over Judea and Samaria and to the indivisibility of Jerusalem.
The enthusiastic legislators of 2011 adhere to the legacy of the authors of the 1787 US Constitution. The latter were inspired by the Jewish Bible, by the Exodus from Egypt and by the political structure of the 12 Jewish tribes, which were governed by Moses the Executive, Aaron, the tribal governors and the legislature of 70 elders. The US Founding Fathers regarded themselves as “the modern-day People of the Covenant.” Hence, the term “Federalism,” a derivative of the Latin word for “Covenant” – Foedus.
Therefore, a marble replica of Moses – who is perceived by Americans as the chief law giver - is featured, prominently, at the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill, facing the seat of the Speaker of the House, the chief legislator. Two sculptures of Moses welcome visitors at the entrance to the Supreme Court and above the bench of the US Supreme Court Justices. Another sculpture of Moses is displayed in the rotunda of the Library of Congress. The inscription on the Liberty Bell, a corner stone of the American ethos is from the book of Leviticus 25:10: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." It inspired the anti-slavery movement, in general, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in particular.
The Ten Commandments proliferate in US government buildings, under the assumption that they have deeply impacted American civil laws. A granite rock, shaped like the Two Tablets, welcomes visitors to the Texas State Capitol in Austin, and the official seal of Yale University features the Hebrew words, "Urim and Thummim," which were the power of the High Priest during the Exodus. Furthermore, the map of the US features thousands of sites bearing biblical names, such as Salem (JeruSalem), Zion, Beth El, Bethlehem, Dothan, Ephrata, Hebron, Jericho, Canaan, Pisgah, Carmel, Gilboa, Rehoboth, etc.
American leaders often quote from the Bible, since the US is the most religious Western society, believing in God and in Judeo-Christian values (90% and 80% respectively), with 42% of Christians frequenting Sunday church services. For example, at the conclusion of the 2009 Senate debate on President Obama's health reform, the very liberal Democratic Senator, Tom Harkin, congratulated the Majority Leader for "displaying the patience of Job, the endurance of Samson and the wisdom of Solomon." In January 2001, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell introduced President Bush at a nation-wide televised Senate luncheon: “We trust that you shall lead us in the best tradition of Joshua and Caleb.” David’s lamentation featured prominently during the eulogies for Presidents Washington and Lincoln, and President Bush was compared to King David during the 2001 inaugural prayer services at the Washington National Cathedral.
MUTUAL-THREATS AND JOINT INTERESTS
Unlike European Parliamentarians, US legislators did not hold their breath, expecting Netanyahu to announce further concessions to the Palestinians. In fact, the vast majority of US legislators – just like their constituents – do not trust the Palestinians. Netanyahu should not have focused on the Palestinian issue, and certainly should not have offered further concessions. He should have focused on the larger context of US-Israel relations, which benefits America on the federal, state and district levels. He should have proposed specific job-creating, export-increasing and security-enhancing bilateral programs, similar to the mutually-beneficial existing programs. He should have offered the US expanded access to the ports of Haifa and Ashdod, and to dramatically enlarge and diversify the prepositioning of American military systems in Israel, for use by the US upon regional emergencies.
The larger context of the US-Israel relationship extends beyond the foundations of shared-values and transcends the Arab-Israeli conflict. It leverages Israel's unique capabilities in order to advance both regional and global American interests. It is not a one-way-street relationship - with the US giving and Israel receiving; it is a mutually-beneficial two-way-street.
For example, Senator Daniel Inouye, Chairman of the Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Defense, and former Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, contends that "Israel's contribution to US military intelligence is greater than all NATO countries combined." General Keegan, former chief of US Air Force Intelligence, asserted that "the scope of intelligence gained by the US from Israel is equal to five CIAs."
Currently, US special operations forces are trained in Israel, on their way to Iraq and Afghanistan, leveraging Israeli battle tactics and counter-terrorism experience in the face of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), car bombs, booby-traps, suicide bombers and anti-tank missiles. According to Brig. General Michael Vane, Deputy Chief of Staff at the US Army Training and Doctrine Command, the Israeli experience played a role in defeating terrorists in Iraq's "Sunni Triangle."
In September 2007, Israel demolished a nuclear plant in Syria, dealing a blow to the anti-Western Syria-Iran-North Korea axis, while upgrading the posture of deterrence and the joint interests of the US and Israel.
In 1982, Israel devastated 23 most advanced Soviet surface-to-air missile batteries, employed by Syria and considered impregnable. Israel's battle tactics and electronic warfare were shared with the US, thus tilting the global balance of power in favor of the US and delivering to the US defense industries sensitive and rare knowhow.
In 1981, Israel decimated Iraq's nuclear reactor, in defiance of US and international pressure. This provided the US with the conventional option during the 1991 war against Iraq, sparing the US a traumatic nuclear confrontation.
In 1970, Syria, invaded Jordan, aiming to topple the Hashemite regime and activate a pro-Soviet domino scenario into the Gulf States. US forces were over-stretched in Vietnam, but Israel mobilized its military, forcing Syria into a swift evacuation of Jordan, thus avoiding a dramatic setback to US national security and economy. Israel's capability of snatching roasting chestnuts out of the fire – without US involvement – vindicated enhanced US-Israel strategic cooperation, irrespective of severe US-Israel disagreements over the Arab-Israeli conflict. The US is determined to avoid cutting off its nose to spite its face.
Israel's unique contribution to US national security was summed up by the late General Alexander Haig, who was the Supreme Commander of NATO and US Secretary of State: "Israel is the largest, most battle-tested and cost-effective US aircraft carrier, which does not require even one American soldier, cannot be sunk and is located in a critical region for American national security and economic interests. If Israel did not exist - the US would have to deploy a few additional aircraft carriers to the Mediterranean, along with tens of thousands of military personnel, costing the US taxpayers $20BN annually and dragging the US into additional regional and international confrontations."
Israel constitutes a bonanza for the US defense industries, advancing US national security, employment, research & development and exports. In addition, Israel is a battle-proven laboratory, which has upgraded and refurbished hundreds of US military systems and technologies. It shares with the US most of these improvements, enhancing the competitive edge of the US defense industries, thus saving many US lives and mega billions of dollars in terms of new jobs, research and development. For instance, the current generation of the F-16 includes over 600 modifications introduced by Israel. Also, during the Cold War, Israel transferred to the US captured Soviet combat aircraft, radar and other military systems, which afforded the US a crucial advantage over the USSR, operationally and industrially.
If there had been an Israel-like nation in the Persian Gulf, there would not be a need to dispatch hundreds of thousands of US military personnel to the region!
THE IMPACT OF THE MIDDLE EAST UPHEAVAL
The upheaval in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, Syria and other Arab countries highlight Israel's unique qualities as an ally of the US. The 2011 turmoil has removed "the Middle East screensaver," exposing the real Arab Street: No “Arab Spring,” but the exacerbation of tribal-ethnic-religious-geographic-ideological rivalries, animosities, splits and power struggles; the intensification of domestic and intra-Arab fragmentation; the escalation of intolerance, violence and hate-culture; the absence of stability and the deepening of uncertainty, which exposes the tenuous nature of Arab regimes and their agreements and alliances; the ruthless submission of democracy-seeking elements and the perpetuation of atrocious tyrannies.
Egypt - a beneficiary of billions of dollars and state of the art US military systems – maintains close ties with North Korea, Russia and China, agitates the Horn of Africa and Sudan, consistently votes against the US in the UN, collaborates with Hamas' smuggling of missiles and explosives into Gaza and institutionalizes hate-education.
Iran had access to the most advanced US military systems when the Shah was at the helm. However, the Shah was toppled, and Iran was transformed from a staunch US ally into the most anti-US regime in the world.
Libya granted the US, in 1954, the use of Wheelus Air Base, which became the largest US Air Force base outside the USA. In 1969, Colonel Qaddafi overthrew King Idris and Wheelus serviced the Soviet Air Force. Libya became a terrorist state, responsible for the murder of 270 people during the 1988 PanAm-103 bombing, as well as for the 1986 LaBelle Discotheque bombing.
Iraq was pro-Western until the1958 anti-Western coup. Saddam Hussein – who ruled Iraq since 1979 - gained the confidence of the US and benefitted from a shared-intelligence agreement, the transfer of sensitive dual-use American technologies and $5BN loan guarantees until his 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The US evacuation of Iraq could trigger a volcanic-like eruption, which could consume Iraq itself, as well as neighboring countries.
Saudi Arabia depends on the US for its survival in the face of lethal regional threats. The 1991 and 2003 US Gulf Wars were largely induced by the concern for a Saddam takeover of Saudi Arabia. However, Riyad bankrolls the operations of anti-US Islamic organizations in the US and anti-US Islamic terrorists worldwide.
Israel's strategic added-value is underlined by the gathering conventional and non-conventional Arab storms, by the increasing vulnerability of pro-US Arab regimes, by the intensified threats of Islamic terrorism and Iran's nuclearization, by the deepening penetration of the Arab Middle East by Russia and China, by the recent erosion of the US posture of deterrence and by the expected US evacuation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Israel's reliability, capability, credibility, stability, democracy and unconditional alliance with the USA are anomalous in the Middle East.
US-Israel cooperation, in defiance of mutual threats, should not be undermined by US-Israel disagreements over the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian issue. Recent Arab havoc has reaffirmed that the Palestinian issue has never been the root cause of Middle East turbulence or the crown jewel of Arab policy-making. In fact, regional turbulence is unrelated to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Palestinian issue, Israel's policies or Israel's existence.
THE US PUBLIC SUPPORTS ISRAEL
In February, 2011, Gallup poll ranked Israel (68%) among the seven most popular countries in the USA, which include Canada, Britain, Germany, Japan, India and France, dramatically ahead of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt (37%, 50% and 40% respectively). The Palestinian Authority (19%) was at the bottom of the list, along with Iran and North Korea.
On February 25, 2011, the Rasmussen Report determined that most Americans would stop foreign aid to Arab countries, but support foreign aid to Israel. 61% do not expect the current Middle East upheaval to advance democracy or peace in Arab countries.
In April 2010, "The Quinnipiac Institute" – often quoted by The New York Time, The Washington Post and CNN – documented a 66%:19% majority, expecting President Obama to upgrade his support of Israel.
In fact, while support for Israel is consistently in the high 60%, President Obama has already lost his "Bin Laden bump," falling back to 45%-50% approval rating.
However, the "Super Poll" is conducted daily on Capitol Hill, where support of Israel constitutes a rare bi-partisan common denominator. House Members (about 75%) and Senators (about 80%) – who are extremely sensitive to the worldview of constituents - overwhelmingly support pro-Israel legislation and resolutions, even in opposition to the President. Most legislators and constituents identify the Jewish State with their own values: faith, religion, tradition, patriotism, democracy-liberty, military and counter-terrorism, while suspecting Arabs and opposing the UN. Under the American political system, Congress is equal in power to the President, and the constituent holds a big stick over the head of legislators and presidents, who fear the bi-annual battle cry: "We shall remember in November."
The solid foundation of shared US-Israel values, the recent volcanic eruptions in the Middle East and Israel’s proven-capabilities and reliability, have transformed the US into a sustained bastion of support for the Jewish State, notwithstanding brief and transient tensions between the leaders of both countries.
The congressional response to the May 24, 2011 Netanyahu speech reaffirmed the unique ties between the leader of the Free World and its sole soul ally in the Middle East. It underlined the limit to the White House pressure on Israel and clarified that Washington was not going to embrace the Palestinian position. In fact, the Netanyahu speech, and the exhilarated reaction by Congress test Palestinian intentions: Will they repeat past mistakes by intensifying terrorism? Or, will they reduce expectations, moderate radicalism, abandon terrorism and uproot hate education, thus advancing the cause of peace?