Israel’s battle against Palestinian terrorism and conventional military threats must not be inhibited by its ties with the USA and Egypt.
In 1982, Prime Minister Begin launched a comprehensive war on PLO terrorist headquarters in Lebanon. In 1981, he ordered the bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor. Both operations were executed irrespective of bullying US pressure and notwithstanding the fragile 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty. Begin realized that a failure to eradicate these threats would imperil Israel’s survival, erode its posture of deterrence, thus undermining the deterrence-driven peace with Egypt and the strategic cooperation with the USA.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Israel-Egypt peace treaty did not collapse. Once again, Arab leaders did not rush to rescue the PLO, demonstrating that the Palestinian issue was not a crown jewel of Arab policy-making. Moreover, Egypt – just like all other Arab countries – would not sacrifice its own national interests on the altar of the Palestinian issue.
While the US Administration condemned Israel for the large scale preemptive military operations, and imposed a brief military embargo, these operations yielded the 1981 and the 1983 strategic Memoranda of Understanding between the two countries, which enhanced joint national security projects, upgrading Israel’s long-term strategic posture.
From 1983 to1992, Prime Minister Shamir was severely criticized by Presidents Reagan and Bush for crushing Palestinian terrorism during the 1st Intifadah and expanding Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem. However, US-Israel strategic cooperation was unprecedently augmented during his terms in office. Washington recognized that US-Israel cooperation never evolved around the Arab-Israeli conflict. The mutually-beneficial US-Israel ties are based upon shared values, mutual threats, such as Islamic terrorism, ballistic missiles and rogue regimes and joint interests, such as research & development and job-creation in the high-tech market and in the defense industries.
In August,1948, the US Ambassador to Israel, James McDonald, recorded Prime Minister Ben Gurion’s response to the American demand (accompanied by a regional military embargo) to end the “occupation” of Arab land or agree to a land swap, to accept the internationalization of Jerusalem and to allow the return of the Arab refugees: “Speaking with solemn emphasis, [Ben Gurion] added that much as Israel desired friendship with the US and full cooperation with it and the UN, there were limits beyond which it could not go. Israel could not yield at any point which, in its judgment, would threaten its independence or its security. The very fact that Israel was a small State made more necessary the scrupulous defense of its own interests; otherwise it would be lost…Ben Gurion warned President Truman and the Department of State that they would be gravely mistaken if they assumed that the threat or even the use of UN sanctions would force Israel to yield on issues considered vital to its independence and security. [He] left no doubt that he was determined to resist at whatever cost ‘unjust and impossible demands.’ On these he could not compromise (My Mission. 1951, pp 49-50).”
Ben Gurion’s defiance transformed the image of the Jewish State in Washington – from a strategic liability to a potential strategic asset.
In1973, Prime Minister Golda Meir subordinated Israel’s national security concerns to its ties with the USA, rejecting the advice to preempt the pending Egyptian-Syrian offensive, lest Israel be perceived as the aggressor. Irrespective of Israel’s military victory, the trauma of the 3,000 Israeli fatalities and the near elimination of Israel still haunt Israelis and embolden Israel’s enemies.
In 2011, Israel benefits from a robust economy, demography and military and from the growing Western awareness to the threat of Islamic terrorism and to the violence and volatility of the Arab Street. Therefore, Israel should not refrain from flexing its decisive military muscle in face of military threats, lest it reaffirm the image of a restrained and indecisive Israel, thus inflaming anti-Israel and anti-Western terrorism.