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Yoram Ettinger
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Israel is not a Banana Republic

In October 1998, on the eve of the Wye Plantation Summit, Democratic leaders of the US House of Representatives told Secretary of State, Madelyn Albright: “Should President Clinton decide to pressure Israel, he would face a Democratic-Republican opposition.” In September 1982, Prime Minister Begin rejected the Reagan Plan – which called for an Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria – by throwing the official envelope at the lap of the US Ambassador, declaring: “Israel is not a Banana Republic.” In spite of – and probably due to – the blunt rejection, the Reagan era enhanced US-Israel strategic relations in an unprecedented manner.


The assumption that an Israeli Prime Minister cannot face a US presidential pressure is as unfounded as the assumption that a US-Israel disagreement over the Arab-Israeli conflict should necessarily undermine vital Israeli interests.


Such assumptions reflect miscomprehension of the structure of the US government and the American state of mind. They are inconsistent with the larger context of US-Israel ties, recent precedents and global developments, which have improved understanding of Israel’s security predicaments. These assumptions distort the meaning of leadership.


The US President is strong but not almighty. The US Congress is the most genuine representation of the American People, which appreciates patriotism, tradition, political incorrectness and walking against the grain, considering the Jewish State a domestic-shared-value issue and not just a matter of foreign policy. The House and the Senate – which possess the Power of the Purse – constitute a sustained source of support for the Jewish State, which is equal in power to the President. The loyalty of Democratic and Republican legislators is primarily to their constituents, to the principles of Separation of Powers, Checks and Balance and the Independence of the Legislature, rather than to the President. Their political life expectancy is different than the political life expectancy of the President. House Members and Senators have the power to suspend, cut, expand or initiate budgets and policies. During 1991-2, Congress appropriated Israel – in defiance of the brutal opposition by Bush/Baker – a $650MN emergency assistance, a $700MN transfer of military systems, in addition to the upgrading of the port of Haifa for the use of the 6th Fleet and other forms of strategic cooperation. Congress aborted an attempt by Bush/Baker to cut foreign aid to Israel, to link foreign aid to settlement activity. Capitol Hill introduced – despite harsh opposition by Bush/Baker – $10BN loan guarantees for the absorption of Soviet Jewry. If Israel would have followed then Majority Leader George Mitchell’s advice (“The US is not a monarchy, and the President is not a king”), Bush/Baker would not have been successful in delaying the approval of the loan guarantees.


Until 1992, all Israeli Prime Ministers viewed both Chambers of Congress as the focus of forging US-Israel relations. Since 1992, all Israeli Prime Ministers have regarded the US Legislature as a “Support Actor”, secondary to the Executive, thus undermining vital Israeli interests.


US-Israel special relations have not evolved around the Arab-Israeli conflict axis. They have evolved around the trilateral axis of shared values, mutual threats and joint interests. Thus, Congress (always) and the President (usually) have not allowed disagreements over the narrower Arab-Israeli context to cloud, or to undermine the benefits, derived from the larger historical, regional and global bilateral context. Therefore, strategic memoranda of understanding were concluded in 1981, 1983 and 1988, in spite of the rough US-Israel confrontation and the US military embargo following the 1981 bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor, irrespective of the blunt 1982 rejection of the Reagan Plan and independent of the severe bilateral tension surrounding the 1982 War against the PLO in Lebanon and the First Intifadah, which erupted in December 1987. The memoranda were concluded due to Israel’s unique contribution to deterrence of radical anti-US Arab regimes, to the stability of weak pro-US Arab regimes, to the war on Islamic terrorism, to the containment of Soviet penetration to the Middle East, to the enhancement of US intelligence and missile defense, to the upgrading of US defense and commercial industries and to he expansion of US employment and exports.


The identification, by Americans, with Israel’s security predicament has steadily grown since 9/11, since the daily reports on US casualties, caused by Islamic terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, and since the intensification of the Islamic threat to the mainland of Europe and the US.


A genuine leadership requires withstanding pressure, in order to attain strategic goals/vision. On the other hand, avoiding pressure usually leads to relinquishing strategic goals/vision. Fending off pressure may allow for altered tactics, but never for altered strategy/goal/vision. Ben Gurion, Golda, Begin and Shamir realized that repelling presidential pressure tended to damage their popularity and to cause short-term diplomatic, political, economic and defense cost. However, they were not concerned with personal popularity and immediate national convenience; they were focused on the long-term strategy/goal/vision of the Jewish State.


During 1948-1992, all Israeli Prime Ministers tended to decline US imposed prescriptions to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and have thus advanced US-Israel strategic relations. Since 1992, all Israeli Prime Ministers have used the concern for US pressure, as an excuse to retreat from strategy/vision, and have thus undermined Israel’s strategic posture in Washington and in the Middle East. Will the outcome of the February 10, 2009 Israeli election resurrect the pre-1992 Jerusalem state of mind?


The post-1967 turning point of US-Israel cooperation

Israeli benefits to the US taxpayer exceed US foreign aid to Israel

Iran - A Clear And Present Danger To The USA

Exposing the myth of the Arab demographic time bomb

Congress – the co-equal and systematic ally of Israel

Presidents propose and Congress disposes

On September 23, 2021, the US House of Representatives voted 420:9 to replenish the Israeli-developed defensive “Iron Dome” missiles, which are increasingly manufactured – and eventually exported – by the US defense company Raytheon, that benefits from the battle-tested “Israeli laboratory.”

The overwhelming vote reflects Congressional realization that the “Iron Dome”:

*Enhances Israel’s posture of deterrence, which is critical to the survival of all pro-US Arab regimes and minimization of regional instability;
*Reduces the need for full-scale Israeli wars on Palestinian and Islamic terrorism;
*Provides an alternative to Israeli military ground-operations against Palestinian terrorists, which would entail substantial Israeli and Palestinian fatalities;
*Represents joint US-Israel interests, militarily and technologically, in the face of mutual threats (e.g., Islamic terrorism) and mutual challenges (e.g., developing world-class, game-changing technologies).

*Constitutes another example of the systematic support by Congress of enhanced US-Israel cooperation.

The decisive role played by Congress in the replenishment of the “Iron Dome” underscores the cardinal rule of the US political system: The President proposes, but Congress disposes.

The involvement of Senators and House Representatives in foreign policy and national security-related issues has surged since the Vietnam War, Watergate and Iran Gate scandals, the dismantling of the USSR (which transformed the world from a bi-polar to a multi-polar) and rapidly-expanding globalization.

In fact, former Secretary of State, Jim Baker, complained about the growing congressional assertiveness in the area of foreign policy: “You can’t conduct foreign policy with 535 Secretaries of State….”  Former Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, criticized Congress for micromanaging the defense budget: dictating how much to spend on particular weapons, imposing detailed requirements and programmatic restrictions, venturing into policy-setting and requesting that the Department of Defense submits mountains of reports.

Congressional muscles 

The US Congress is the most powerful legislature in the world, and it has demonstrated its co-equal, co-determining muscle in the areas of foreign and defense policies on many occasions, such as:

*Imposing sanctions against foreign countries in defiance of Presidents Clinton, Obama and Trump (e.g., Egypt – 2012, Iran – 1996-97 and 2013, Russia – 2017);
*Non-ratification of the 2015 JCPOA, which enabled withdrawal by the US;
*The 2009 non-closure of the Guantanamo Detention Camp was led by Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (NV-D), in defiance of President Obama.
*The 2009 non-confirmation of Charles Freeman to the Director of National Intelligence was led by Senator Chuck Schumer (NY-D);
*The 1999 non-ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in defiance of President Clinton and the international community;
*The unprecedented expansion of US-Israel strategic cooperation took place despite stiff opposition by President Bush and Secretary of State Baker;
*The Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act overrode President Reagan’s veto;
*The 1984 Boland Amendment aborted President Reagan’s financial and military aid to anti-Communist elements in Nicaragua;
*The 1983 blocking of President Reagan’s attempted coup against the Surinam pro-Soviet regime;
*The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act mandated congressional authorization of surveillance of persons and organizations, which may threaten national security;
*The 1975/76 Tunney (CA-D) and Clark Amendments stopped financial and military covert support of the opposition to the pro-Soviet regime in Angola;
*The 1973 Church-Case Amendment ended funding of military involvement in Southeast Asia;
*The 1973 War Powers Act overrode President Nixon’s veto;
*The Jackson-Vanik Amendment preconditioned aid to Moscow upon free immigration.

Congress empowered by the Constitution

As documented in the aforementioned paragraphs, one is advised to note that while Congress is preoccupied with District and State issues, it has the power to both propose and dispose in the areas of foreign and defense policies.

The US Constitution aspires for a limited government and a non-monarchical president, and therefore does not limit Congress to overseeing the budget. It provides the Senate and the House of Representatives with the power to act on strategic issues and policy-setting.

The Constitution accords Congress ”the power of the purse,” oversight of government operations, ratification of treaties, confirmation of key appointments, declaration of war, funding of military operations and cooperation with foreign entities, creation and elimination of government agencies, imposing sanctions on foreign governments, etc.

In other words, the President is the “commander in-chief” within constraints, which are set by Congress.


The post-1967 turning point of US-Israel cooperation

Israeli benefits to the US taxpayer exceed US foreign aid to Israel

Iran - A Clear And Present Danger To The USA

Exposing the myth of the Arab demographic time bomb