Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, “Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative”
June 27, 2023
Notwithstanding the current tension between the Administrations of the US and Israel, and while there is an erosion in Israel’s high favorability among Americans (according to Gallup: Israel’s favorability – 68% compared to 71% in 2022; Palestinian Authority’s – 26%), the US-Israel defense and commercial cooperation keeps expanding. This expansion responds to mutual threats and challenges, such as Iran’s Ayatollahs, Sunni Islamic terrorism, the vulnerability of all pro-US Arab regimes, and the need to bolster the US’ global, technological competitive edge. Facing these threats and challenges, the US is leveraging Israel’s unique defense and commercial capabilities, which have contributed to the US economy and defense – in dollar terms – more than the annual US “foreign aid” to Israel.
The mutually-beneficial US-Israel partnership has been a derivative of the following factors:
1. US-Israel relations transcend the reality of international relations, in general, and US foreign relations, in particular. US foreign relations are usually determined by the State Department establishment and the “elite” media, streaming in an up-bottom manner to the public. However, in the case of the US policy towards Israel, the direction of the policy has been determined by the general public’s state-of-mind – which has prevailed since the Early Pilgrims and the Founding Fathers – streaming in a bottom-up manner to elected officials in the House, Senate and White House. Moreover, US elected officials are accountable to their constituents, who expect them to faithfully represent their worldview (including their pro-Israel sentiments), or “we shall remember in November.”
2. While the White House tends to adopt the State Department’s worldview – which opposed the establishment of Israel in 1948, and has criticized Israel since then – both chambers of Congress (which are the most authentic representatives of the US constituency in the 435 Districts and 50 States) welcomed the newly-established Jewish State in 1948, and have always favored enhanced US-Israel cooperation. Furthermore, the US Congress is the world’s strongest Legislature, co-equal and co-determining to the President, capable of blocking, altering and initiating policy, as demonstrated by a litany of precedents, such as:
*Congress overruled Nixon and Reagan, ending the US military involvement in Southeast Asia (1973), Angola (1976) and Nicaragua (1984);
*Congress prevailed over Nixon (1974), forcing the USSR/Russia to allow free emigration;
*Congress overrode Clinton, Obama and Trump (1996-97, 2011, 2013, 2017), imposing sanctions on Iran, Egypt and Russia;
*The Senate did not ratify the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran (JCPOA), which enabled Trump to withdraw from the accord;
*Congress substantially expanded US-Israel strategic cooperation, in defiance of the Bush/Baker opposition (1990-1992);
3. The roots of Israel’s favorability among most constituents – and therefore among most legislators – are linked to the legacy of the Founding Fathers, who were inspired by Moses and the Exodus in shaping the Federalist Papers, the US Constitution, Bill of Rights and the Federal system (e.g., separation of powers and checks and balances). They considered the colonies and the emerging USA as “the modern day Promised Land” and “the New Israel.” Hence, the bust of Moses facing the Speaker of the House of Representatives; statues and engravings of Moses and the Tablets in the halls of the US Supreme Court; over 200 monuments of the Ten Commandments throughout the USA; and Biblical names of well over thousand sites in the US, such as Jerusalem, Salem (the original name of Jerusalem), Shiloh, Bethel, Zion, Boaz, Moab, Gilead, Pisgah, Canaan, Rehoboth, Sharon, Hebron, Bethlehem, Joshua, Hephzibah, etc. While the attachment to the legacy of the Founding Fathers is waning, it is still consequential among most constituents and legislators.
4. The dramatic, demographic transformation of the US through waves of immigration from Latin America, Africa and Asia has eroded the attachment to the legacy of the Founding Fathers. For example, in 1990, there were 20 million Americans, who were foreign born; the number surged to 45 million in 2023. This dramatic demographic transformation has yielded cultural, ideological and political transformation, increasingly distancing the US population from the legacy of the Founding Fathers, adversely impacting the appreciation of Israel; thus, facilitating presidential pressure on Israel.
5. Presidential pressure on Israel – which has been fended off on many critical occasions – has been a frequent feature of US-Israel relations since 1948, when Truman and then Eisenhower attempted to force Israel to withdraw from areas within its pre-1967 boundaries, including the whole of West Jerusalem. Presidential pressure on Israel, as currently exercised by the Biden Administration, clouds US-Israel relations whenever the State Department dominates foreign policy making, irrespective of its systematic failure in the Middle East at-large. The aim of the current pressure is:
*To prevent a large scale Israeli military operation, intended to obliterate the infrastructure of Palestinian terrorism, which is also a potential threat to every pro-US Arab regime;
*To forestall an independent Israeli military assault on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, which is a clear and present danger to the “Great American Satan” and every pro-US Arab regime;
*To induce Israel to retreat from the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), and facilitate the establishment of a Palestinian state, while ignoring the volcanic nature of the Middle East and the rogue Palestinian intra-Arab track record, as well as the lethal impact (of the proposed Palestinian state) on the pro-US Hashemite regime in Jordan, and the devastating ripple effect on the oil-producing, pro-US Arab regimes, as well as on the US economy and national security.
However, simultaneously with 75 years of presidential pressure on Israel, the mutually-beneficial US-Israel strategic cooperation has surged to a startling level.
6. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the US does not extend foreign aid to Israel, but makes an annual investment in Israel, which yields to the US taxpayer an annual Return-on-Investment of several hundred percent. For example, Israel has served as the cost-effective, battle-tested laboratory of the US defense and aerospace industries, sharing with them operational lessons, which have been integrated as upgrades into the US products; thus, sparing the US mega-billion-dollars of research and development, enhancing US competitiveness in the global market, which results in mega-billion-dollar exports, and expanding the employment base. The US commercial industries benefit in a similar way through some 250 research and development centers in Israel, owned by US high-tech giants, and leveraging Israel’s brainpower for the benefit of the US commercial industries. The Israeli battle-tested laboratory has also contributed to the battle tactics of the US armed forces, as has the flow of Israeli intelligence (worth five CIAs according to former Chief of Air Force Intelligence, General George Keegan), which exceeds the intelligence shared with the US by all NATO countries combined. Israel has been “the largest US aircraft carrier,” which does not require any American on board, deployed in a critical area for the US economy and defense. If there were not Israel in the Middle East, then the US would have to manufacture and deploy a few more real aircraft carriers to the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, in addition to several ground divisions, which would cost the US taxpayer $15-$20 BN annually.
7. The mutually-beneficial US-Israel two-way street is shaped by shared history, values and geo-strategic interests, much more than by the worldview of the State Department.