Critical milestones, in the history of the Israel, occurred while constructive disagreements dominated the relations between the Jewish State and its only significant ally, the USA.
When a junior partner loses the capability to say “No” to a senior partner, they both lose!
US-Israel concurrence is not a prerequisite for the advancement of peace and bilateral strategic cooperation. Israel should strive for a wider agreement with the US, but not at any price. Common ground with the US should not be at the expense of Israel’s independent national security policy-making. It should not undermine Israel’s control of land, which is critical to its survival.
The superiority of Israel’s security considerations over agreement with the US – even at a painful cost to Israel – paved the road to the 1948 establishment of the Jewish State. “Much as Israel desired friendship with the US and full co-operation with it…Israel could not yield at any point which, in its judgment, would threaten its independence or its security…” stated Prime Minister Ben Gurion, when rejecting a brutal US ultimatum to refrain from declaration of independence and to accept a UN Trusteeship. Ben Gurion added that “[The US] would be gravely mistaken if [it] 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…” (My Mission In Israel 1948-1951, James MacDonald, Simon and Shuster, p. 49).
The US ultimatum included a military embargo and a threat of economic sanctions. But, Ben Gurion determined that sovereignty and national security – rather than concurrence with the US – constituted supreme strategic values. He realized that an agreement with the US would be transient, non-binding (according to the US Constitution) and subject to US interpretation, while national security would be a fixture largely controlled by Israel. Ben Gurion’s order of national priorities transformed Israel from a sympathy-deserving remnant of the Holocaust to a potential strategic partner.
The 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty was initiated by Prime Minister Begin, in defiance of a policy introduced by President Carter and National Security Advisor Brzezinski. While Begin insisted on a direct Jerusalem-Cairo dialogue, which minimized the Palestinian role, Carter and Brzezinski lobbied for an international conference, which would highlight the Palestinian issue. Begin’s and Sadat’s determination not to allow the peace process to become a hostage in the hands of the Palestinian issue and radical regimes, forced Carter and Brzezinski to abandon their own policy and jump on the bandwagon.
The first Intifadah (1987-1992) escalated US-Israel disagreements, fueled by the US-PLO dialogue. President Bush #41st and Secretary Baker did not waste an opportunity to condemn Prime Minister Shamir as a supposed obstacle to peace and persona non-grata in Washington, DC. However, regional and global challenges, and Shamir’s steadfastness in face of internal and external pressure, yielded the dramatic enhancement of US-Israel strategic cooperation: upgrading Israel to “Major Non-NATO Ally,” inclusion of Israel in “Star Wars” and US funding of most of the anti-ballistic missile “Arrow” project, expansion of joint military exercises, increasing pre-positioning of US military ammunition and supplies in Israel, upgrading of the port of Haifa for the Sixth Fleet, participation of Israeli defense contractors in Pentagon contracts in Europe, emergency assistance following the 1991 Gulf War, etc.
The US Administration was not at ease with Shamir’s demand to stop issuing refugee certificates to Soviet Jews, and to force the USSR to fly Jewish Olim (immigrants) only to Israel. Shamir’s readiness to risk disagreement with the US stopped the 95% dropout rate among Jewish Olim and produced a wave of one million Olim to the Jewish State, which has catapulted the country demographically, technologically, medically, culturally and militarily.
In 1967 and in 1981, President Johnson and President Reagan pressured Israel against a unilateral military action against the Egypt-Syria-Jordan axis and Iraq’s nuclear reactor. Prime Minister Eshkol and Prime Minister Begin defied US (and global pressure), wrecked the Nasser-led anti-US Arab axis and destroyed Iraq’s nuclear project, thus advancing drastically US’ and Israel’s national security. Eshkol and Begin realized that sovereignty and national security – rather than concurrence with the US – constituted the top strategic values. Will Prime Minister Netanyahu follow in their footsteps, avoiding temptation to transform common ground with the US into the top strategic value?