Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, “Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative”
July 13, 2023
*The extended delay of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s invitation to the White House, the threat to reassess US-Israel relations and the ostensible White House’s concern for the future of Israeli democracy, constitute means to intensify pressure on Israel to refrain from any independent military action against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, to freeze Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and East Jerusalm (while inducing Arab construction there), to redivide Jerusalem, to retreat to the pre-1967 lines (which were defined as “Auschwitz Lines” by the late very dovish Israeli Foreign Minister, Abba Eban) and to facilitate the establishment of a Palestinian state.
*Intensifying pressure on Israel also aims to deter Israel from sharing with the co-equal, co-determining Congress its concerns about the adverse impact of the Administration’s policy toward Iran’s Ayatollahs and the Palestinian issue on vital US interests.
*The methodical presidential pressure on Israel, which is mostly generated by the State Department, reflects Foggy Bottom’s worldview and policy, which has been systematically wrong on the Middle East. For example, it brutally opposed the establishment of the Jewish State (contending that Israel would join the Soviet Bloc….). It embraced Arafat and the PLO, Ayatollah Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. And, it has played a dominant role in anxiously courting the anti-US Iran’s Ayatollahs, while pressuring pro-US Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
Israeli response to US pressure
*Israel’s Prime Minister is advised to follow in the footsteps of Israel’s Founding Fathers – from Prime Minister David Ben Gurion through Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir – who realized that defiance of US pressure is critical to Israel’s national security policy. While it triggered short term confrontations with the White House, it yielded long term US strategic respect for Israel. In addition, these Prime Ministers recognized that the US prefers allies driven by vision and historic and national security principles, who do not sacrifice their cradle of history, religion and culture (the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria) on the altar of diplomatic and economic convenience, even when it entails defiance of US pressure.
*In 1948/49, the US, Britain and the UN threatened Israel with severe economic and diplomatic sanctions, to coerce the newly born Jewish State to end “occupation” of areas in the Galilee, coastal plain, the Negev and West Jerusalem; and to absorb Arab refugees, who joined in the failed Arab military attempt to annihilate the newly born Jewish State. Prime Minister Ben Gurion fended off that overwhelming pressure even though Israel only had a population of 650,000 Jews with hardly any military and economic infrastructure.
*Ben Gurion’s steadfastness earned him and Israel long term strategic respect, as evidenced by James McDonald, the first US Ambassador to Israel, who wrote in his book, My Mission in Israel, 1948-1951, page 241: “The more I studied and observed the manner in which he [Ben Gurion] met the burdens placed upon him, the more convinced I became that he was one of the few great statesmen of our day…. The comparison [to Winston Churchill] did not exaggerate the Israeli Prime Minister’s natural qualities of leadership…. Small in stature [5 feet], he was big in spirit…. He had unfaltering faith in the future of Israel…. The Prime Minister had no fear….”
*Notwithstanding the systematic US pressure in 1948-2017 and 2021-2023, US-Israel strategic cooperation was enhanced dramatically during that period, due to the volcanic Middle East and its threats, which are mutual to the US and Israel (e.g., Shiite and Sunni Islamic terrorism), as well as the principle-driven pro-US conduct of Israel’s Prime Ministers and Israel’s unique technological and military capabilities. US strategic cooperation with Israel has also been a derivative of Israel’s growing contribution to the US economy and national security, which exceeds – in dollar terms – the US “foreign aid” to Israel.
*Most Israeli Prime Ministers demonstrated that historic and national security concerns superseded diplomatic convenience. They realized the difference between short-term popularity and long-term strategic respect. The latter requires defiance of the odds and pressure.
*They recognized the fact that repelling US pressure was an integral part of US-Israel relations, which attested to Israel’s effectiveness and reliability as a strategic partner.
*They knew that there are no free lunches; that a failure to fend off the State Department’s pressure would yield more pressure, coupled with eroded strategic respect and reduced posture of deterrence, which would embolden enemies.
*These Israeli Prime Ministers were aware that simultaneously with pressure by the Executive, Israel has enjoyed – since 1948 – the support of most of the US constituency, and therefore most of the co-equal and co-determining US Legislature. They concluded that succumbing to pressure would injure Israel’s stature among its allies on Capitol Hill and the US population.
Milestones of US pressure
*During 1948-1955, Ben Gurion declared independence in defiance of brutal pressure by the State Department, the Pentagon, the CIA, the New York Times and the Washington Post, and rebuffed US and global pressure to withdraw to the suicidal 1947 lines of the “Partition Plan.”
*During 1967-1974, the Labor Prime Ministers Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir repulsed US pressure to desist from construction of Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria, the Jordan Valley, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem.
*In 1981, Begin ordered the bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor and applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights in defiance of ferocious US pressure, followed by a suspension of delivery of critical military systems and joint defense agreements.
*In 1982, Begin forthrightly rejected the “Reagan Plan,” which stipulated Israel’s withdrawal to the pre-1967 ceasefire lines.
*During 1983-1992, irrespective of the outrageous smear campaign conducted by the State Department, Shamir expanded the construction of Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria in defiance of the State Department and the White House.
Shamir was not liked, but he was highly respected by most of his US critics.
The bottom line
*The aforementioned documented facts illustrate that defiance of pressure has enhanced Israel’s posture of deterrence, and has therefore minimized regional instability, reducing the prospects of war, advancing US interests and bolstering US strategic appreciation of Israel.
*Regardless of the systematic State Department pressure, the US is well-aware that on a rainy day it can rely on the performance of Israel – its principle-driven, backboned ally, which refuses to sacrifice long-term historic and national security assets on the altar of short-term diplomatic and economic convenience.