The strategic foundations of the US-Israel alliance
In honor of Israel’s 62nd Independence Day, and in light of President Obama’s repeated claims that US interests are best served by distancing itself from Israel, I decided to write the following essay explaining why a strong Israel is essential for US national security.
Yom Ha’atzmuat Sameach.
Israel’s status as the US’s most vital ally in the Middle East has been so widely recognized for so long that over the years, Israeli and American leaders alike have felt it unnecessary to explain what it is about the alliance that makes it so important for the US.
Today, as the Obama administration is openly distancing the US from Israel while giving the impression that Israel is a strategic impediment to the administration’s attempts to strengthen its relations with the Arab world, recalling why Israel is the US’s most important ally in the Middle East has become a matter of some urgency.
Much is made of the fact that Israel is a democracy. But we seldom consider why the fact that Israel is a representative democracy matters. The fact that Israel is a democracy means that its alliance with America reflects the will of the Israeli people. As such, it remains constant regardless of who is power in Jerusalem.
All of the US’s other alliances in the Middle East are with authoritarian regimes whose people do not share the pro-American views of their leaders. The death of leaders or other political developments are liable to bring about rapid and dramatic changes in their relations with the US.
For instance, until 1979, Iran was one of the US’s closest strategic allies in the region. Owing to the gap between the Iranian people and their leadership, the Islamic revolution put an end to the US-Iran alliance.
Egypt flipped from a bitter foe to an ally of the US when Gamal Abdel Nasser died in 1969. Octogenarian President Hosni Mubarak’s encroaching death is liable to cause a similar shift in the opposite direction.
Instability in the Hashemite kingdom in Jordan and the Saudi regime could transform those countries from allies to adversaries.
Only Israel, where the government reflects the will of the people is a reliable, permanent US ally.
America reaps the benefits of its alliance with Israel every day. As the US suffers from chronic intelligence gaps, Israel remains the US’s most reliable source for accurate intelligence on the US’s enemies in the region.
Israel is the US’s only ally in the Middle East that always fights its own battles. Indeed, Israel has never asked the US for direct military assistance in time of war. Since the US and Israel share the same regional foes, when Israel is called upon to fight its enemies, its successes redound to the US’s benefit.
Here it bears recalling Israel’s June 1982 destruction of Syria’s Soviet-made anti-aircraft batteries and the Syrian air force. Those stunning Israeli achievements were the first clear demonstration of the absolute superiority of US military technology over Soviet military technology. Many have argued that it was this Israeli demonstration of Soviet technological inferiority that convinced the Reagan administration it was possible to win the Cold War.
In both military and non-military spheres, Israeli technological achievements – often developed with US support – are shared with America. The benefits the US has gained from Israeli technological advances in everything from medical equipment to microchips to pilotless aircraft are without peer worldwide.
Beyond the daily benefits the US enjoys from its close ties with Israel, the US has three fundamental, permanent, vital national security interests in the Middle East. A strong Israel is a prerequisite for securing all of these interests.
America’s three permanent strategic interests in the Middle East are as follows:
1 – Ensuring the smooth flow of affordable petroleum products from the region to global consumers through the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal.
2 – Preventing the most radical regimes, sub-state and non-state actors from acquiring the means to cause catastrophic harm.
3 – Maintaining the US’s capacity to project its power to the region.
A strong Israel is the best guarantor of all of these interests. Indeed, the stronger Israel is, the more secure these vital American interests are. Three permanent and unique aspects to Israel’s regional position dictate this state of affairs.
1 – As the first target of the most radical regimes and radical sub-state actors in the region, Israel has a permanent, existential interest in preventing these regimes and sub-state actors from acquiring the means to cause catastrophic harm.
Israel’s 1981 airstrike that destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor prevented Iraq from acquiring nuclear weapons. Despite US condemnation at the time, the US later acknowledged that the strike was a necessary precondition to the success of Operation Desert Storm ten years later. Richard Cheney – who served as secretary of defense during Operation Desert Storm – has stated that if Iraq had been a nuclear power in 1991, the US would have been hard pressed to eject Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army from Kuwait and so block his regime from asserting control over oil supplies in the Persian Gulf.
2 – Israel is a non-expansionist state and its neighbors know it. In its 62 year history, Israel has only controlled territory vital for its national security and territory that was legally allotted to it in the 1922 League of Nations Mandate which has never been abrogated or superseded.
Israel’s strength, which it has used only in self-defense, is inherently non-threatening. Far from destabilizing the region, a strong Israel stabilizes the Middle East by deterring the most radical actors from attacking.
In 1970, Israel blocked Syria’s bid to use the PLO to overthrow the Hashemite regime in Jordan. Israel’s threat to attack Syria not only saved the Hashemites then, it has deterred Syria from attempting to overthrow the Jordanian regime ever since.
Similarly, Israel’s neighbors understand that its purported nuclear arsenal is a weapon of national survival and hence they view it as non-threatening. This is the reason Israel’s alleged nuclear arsenal has never spurred a regional nuclear arms race.
In stark contrast, if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, a regional nuclear arms race will ensue immediately.
Although they will never admit it, Israel’s non-radical neighbors feel more secure when Israel is strong. On the other hand, the region’s most radical regimes and non-state actors will always seek to emasculate Israel.
3– Since as the Jewish state Israel is the regional bogeyman, no Arab state will agree to form a permanent alliance with it. Hence, Israel will never be in a position to join forces with another nation against a third nation.
In contrast, the Egyptian-Syrian United Arab Republic of the 1960s was formed to attack Israel. Today, the Syrian-Iranian alliance is an inherently aggressive alliance against Israel and the non-radical Arab states in the region. Recognizing the stabilizing force of a strong Israel, the moderate states of the region prefer for Israel to remain strong.
From the US’s perspective, far from impairing its alliance-making capabilities in the region, by providing military assistance to Israel, America isn’t just strengthening the most stabilizing force in the region. It is showing all states and non-state actors in the greater Middle East it is trustworthy.
On the other hand, every time the US seeks to attenuate its ties with Israel, it is viewed as an untrustworthy ally by the nations of the Middle East. US hostility towards Israel causes Israel’s neighbors to hedge their bets by distancing themselves from the US lest America abandon them to their neighboring adversaries.
A strong Israel empowers the relatively moderate actors in the region to stand up to the radical actors in the region because they trust Israel to keep the radicals in check. Today’s regional balance of power in which the moderates have the upper hand over the radicals is predicated on a strong Israel.
On the other hand, when Israel is weakened the radical forces are emboldened to threaten the status quo. Regional stability is thrown asunder. Wars become more likely. Attacks on oil resources increase. The most radical sub-state actors and regimes are emboldened.
To the extent that the two-state solution assumes that Israel must contract itself to within the indefensible 1949 ceasefire lines, and allow a hostile Palestinian state allied with terrorist organizations to take power in the areas it vacates, the two-state solution is predicated on making Israel weak and empowering radicals. In light of this, the two-state solution as presently constituted is antithetical to America’s most vital strategic interests in the Middle East.
When we bear in mind the foundations for the US’s alliance with Israel, it is obvious that US support for Israel over the years has been the most cost-effective national security investment in post-World War II US history.