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US pressure on Israel? No need to panic!

Can Israel afford to defy US presidential pressure to concede land, which is historically and militarily critical to the future of the Jewish State?

US presidential pressure has been an integral part of the US-Israel saga since 1948. However, in retrospect, US pressure on Israel has been based on erroneous assessments of the Middle East, failing to advance the cause of peace, as evidenced by the only two peace accords (between Israel and Egypt and Jordan), which were the result of direct Israeli initiatives, not US pressure.

In fact, US pressure on Israel has forced Arabs to outflank the US from the maximalist side, causing further setbacks to the peace process. 

Furthermore, the outbursts of US pressure, over the last 69 years, have resembled bumps on the road of
staggering, mutually-beneficial, defense, commercial, technological, scientific and agricultural US-Israel cooperation, which has exceeded expectations. 

From 1948, US presidential pressure on Israel – in defiance of the majority of Americans and their representatives in the House and Senate – has reflected the
worldview of the State Department bureaucracy, which has systematically misread the Middle East.

For example, in 1948, “
The Wise Men” at the State Department opposed the establishment of the Jewish State, contending that Israel would be an ally of the USSR and would be crushed by the Arabs. In 1979, the State Department stabbed the back of the pro-US Shah of Iran and courted the anti-US Ayatollahs. In 1990, it considered Saddam Hussein a potential ally, unintentionally providing a “green light” for his invasion of Kuwait. In 1993, Foggy Bottom embraced Arafat as a messenger of peace, worthy of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. In 2011, it referred to the Arab Tsunami as the Arab Spring, transitioning toward democracy. In 2011, it turned its back on Egypt’s pro-US Mubarak, welcomed the rise to power of the anti-US Muslim Brotherhood, and in 2014, it turned a cold-shoulder toward the current pro-US Egyptian leader, General Sisi.  

If Prime Minister Ben Gurion had succumbed to US pressure during 1948-49, he would not have established the Jewish State, nor asserted Israeli sovereignty over western (pre-1967) Jerusalem, significant parts of the Galilee and the Negev, laying the foundations for the most effective US beachhead in the Middle East.

If Prime Minister Eshkol had submitted to the 1967 US pressure, he would not have preempted the Soviet-backed Egypt-Syria-Jordan military assault, intended to annihilate Israel, as a prelude to the pro-Soviet Egyptian hegemony of the Arab World, toppling the pro-US Arab oil-producing regimes, and devastating the US national security and economy. Nor would Eshkol have reunited Jerusalem, which has allowed unprecedented free access to all holy religious sites in the city.

Contradicting the architects of US pressure on Israel, the defiance of US pressure since 1967 transformed Israel from a supplicant to a strategic partner of the US, bolstering the vulnerable pro-US Arab regimes, sparing the US the mega-billion-dollar requirement to expand its naval, air and land military presence in the Middle East, Indian Ocean, Red Sea and Mediterranean.

If Prime Minister Begin had surrendered to US pressure in 1981, he would not have ordered the destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor, which spared the US a traumatic 1990-91 confrontation with a nuclear Saddam Hussein.

If Prime Minister Shamir had acceded to US pressure, retreating from the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria (West Bank), which dominate the 9-15-mile-wide “pre-1967 Israel,” he would have transformed Israel from a national security producer, extending the strategic hand of the US, into a national security consumer, a burden upon the US.

If Prime Minister Olmert had abided by US pressure, he would not have devastated the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, which would plague today’s global order with a nuclear Assad or nuclear ISIS.

If Prime Minister Netanyahu had not stood up to US pressure, allowing the establishment of a Palestinian state in the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria, he would have triggered an
anti-US chain-reaction in the region. This is evidenced by the Palestinian track record, which would have led to the toppling of the vulnerable Hashemite regime in Jordan, causing a ripple effect which would have destabilized all pro-US regimes in the neighboring Arabian Peninsula, upgrading the geo-strategic profile of Iran, Russia, China and possibly North Korea in the Middle East.

US presidential pressure of Israel has been an inherent, unavoidable leadership-litmus test for Israeli prime ministers, whose challenge has been to overcome – not to avoid – pressure, while adhering to core ideology and strategic goals. True leaders do not sacrifice deeply-rooted ideology and long-term national security on the altar of short-term, tenuous convenience (e.g., relief from US pressure). Leaders are aware that steadfastness and defiance of pressure may injure frivolous popularity, but enhance durable respect. Fending off – and not hesitancy and retreat in the face of – pressure, has advanced Israel’s posture of deterrence, thus moderating Arab aggression. 

In the battle against Iran’s Ayatollahs and other Islamic terrorists, and in the attempt to bolster pro-US Arab regimes, the US prefers a defiant and not a vacillating Israel as an ally.

The assumption that Israeli prime ministers must bow to US pressure and commit to dramatic concessions – lest they severely undermine US-Israel relations – ignores precedents set by former Israeli prime ministers, and constitutes a poor excuse for weak Israeli leaders.

At the end of a 1991 meeting between Prime Minister Shamir and Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, Senators George Mitchell and Bob Dole – which I attended and was replete with disagreements, the latter said: “Mr. Prime Minister, do you know why the Majority Leader and I absolutely disagree with you, but immensely respect you? Because you’re tough!”

Ignoring Middle East reality, US pressure on Israel has focused on
the Palestinian issue, which has never been the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict, a core cause of regional turbulence and anti-US Islamic terrorism, nor a crown-jewel of Arab policy-making. Hence, the Israel-Jordan peace treaty and the recent enhancement of Israel-Saudi relations are totally independent of the Palestinian issue.

Will President Trump learn from past mistakes, by avoiding self-defeating pressure on Washington’s most reliable, effective, democratic and unconditional ally?

Will Prime Minister Netanyahu follow in the footsteps of Prime Ministers Ben Gurion, Eshkol, Golda Meir, Begin and Shamir, who generally defied US pressure – while expanding Jewish presence in Jerusalem and the mountain ridges of Judea & Samaria – and therefore earned esteem, catapulting the national security of Israel and its strategic ties with the US to unprecedented heights?


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Open letter to Prime Minister Bennett ahead of visit to USA

(Hebrew edition in “Israel Hayom,” Israel’s largest circulation daily)

During your first official visit to Washington, DC, you’ll have to choose between two options:

*Blurring your deeply-rooted, assertive Israeli positions on the future of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), which would be welcome by the Biden Administration, yielding to short-term political convenience and popularity inside the beltway;


*Tenaciously advocating your deeply-rooted, principle-driven positions, which would underscore a profound disagreement with the Biden Administration and the “elite” US media, while granting you and Israel long-term strategic respect, as demonstrated by some of your predecessors.

For example, the late Prime Minister Shamir honed the second option, bluntly introduced his assertive Israeli positions on Judea and Samaria, rebuffed heavy US pressure – including a mudslinging campaign by President Bush and Secretary of State Baker – suffered a popularity setback, but produced unprecedented expansion of US-Israel strategic cooperation. When it comes to facing the intensified threats of rogue regimes and Islamic terrorism, the US prefers principle-driven, reliable, patriotic, pressure-defying partners, irrespective of disagreements on the Palestinian issue.

Assuming that you shall not budge on the historical and national security centrality of Judea and Samaria, it behooves you to highlight the following matters during your meetings with President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, National Security Advisor Sullivan, Secretary of Defense Austin and Congressional leaders (especially the members of the Appropriations Committees):

  1. The 1,400-year-old track record of the stormy, unpredictable, violent and anti-“infidel” Middle East, which has yet to experience intra-Arab peaceful-coexistence, along with the 100-year-old Palestinian track record (including the systematic collaboration with anti-US entities, hate-education and anti-Arab and anti-Jewish terrorism) demonstrates that the proposed Palestinian state would be a Mini-Afghanistan or a Mega-Gaza on the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria.

It would dominate 80% of Israel’s population and infrastructures in the 9-15-mile sliver between Judea and Samaria and the Mediterranean, which is shorter than the distance between RFK Stadium and the Kennedy Center.

Thus, a Palestinian state would pose a clear and present existential threat to Israel; and therefore, Israel’s control of the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria is a prerequisite for its survival.

  1. The proposed Palestinian state would undermine US interests, as concluded from the Palestinian intra-Arab track record, which has transformed the Palestinians into a role-model of intra-Arab subversion, terrorism and ingratitude. Arabs are aware that a Palestinian state would add fuel to the Middle East fire, teaming up with their enemies (e.g., Iran’s Ayatollahs, the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey’s Erdogan) and providing a strategic foothold to Russia and China. Consequently, Arabs shower Palestinians with favorable talk, but with cold and negative walk.

Hence, during the October, 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty ceremony, Jordan’s military leaders asserted to their Israeli colleagues that a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River would doom the pro-US Hashemite regime east of the River, and lead, subsequently, to the toppling of all pro-US Arab Peninsula regimes.

  1. There is no foundation for the contention that Israel’s retreat from the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria – which are the cradle of Jewish history, religion and culture – is required in order to sustain Israel’s Jewish majority. In reality, there is unprecedented Jewish demographic momentum, while Arab demography – throughout the Middle East – has Westernized dramatically. The Jewish majority in the combined area of Judea, Samaria and pre-1967 Israel benefits from a robust tailwind of fertility and migration.
  2. Israel’s control of the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights, bolsters its posture of deterrence, which has daunted rogue regimes, reduced regional instability, enhanced the national security of all pro-US Arab regimes, and has advanced Israel’s role as a unique force-multiplier for the US. An Israeli retreat from Judea and Samaria would transform Israel from a strategic asset – to a strategic liability – for the US.
  3. As the US reduces its military presence in the Middle East – which is a global epicenter of oil production, global trade (Asia-Africa), international Islamic terrorism and proliferation of non-conventional military technologies – Israel’s posture of deterrence becomes increasingly critical for the pro-US Arab countries (e.g., Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan), who consider Israel to be the most reliable “life insurance agent” in the region.

Contrary to NATO, South Korea and Japan, Israel’s defense does not require the presence of US troops on its soil.

  1. Sustaining Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge is a mutual interest for the US and Israel, which serves as the most cost-effective battle-tested laboratory for the US defense industries and armed forces. Thus, Israel’s use of hundreds of US military systems has yielded thousands of lessons (operation, maintenance and repairs), which have been integrated, by the US manufacturers, into the next generation of the military systems, saving the US many years of research and development, increasing US exports and expanding the US employment base – a mega billion dollar bonanza for the US. At the same time, the US armed forces have benefitted from Israel’s military intelligence and battle experience, as well as joint training maneuvers with Israel’s defense forces, which has improved the US formulation of battle tactics.

Prime Minister Bennett, your visit to Washington, is an opportunity to demonstrate your adherence to your deeply-rooted strong Israeli positions, rejecting the ill-advised appeals and temptations to sacrifice Israel’s national security on the altar of convenience and popularity.

Yours truly,

Yoram Ettinger, expert on US-Israel relations and Middle East affairs

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