Headlines, Middle East & North Africa, North America | Analysis

MIDEAST: Israel May Have Become a Liability for U.S.

Analysis by Cherrie Heywood

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Oct 13 2008 (IPS) - The relationship between two of Iran’s strongest critics, the U.S. and Israel, is once again under the spotlight as the international heat on Iran’s alleged nuclear programme increases following a warning from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director-general Mohamed ElBaradei for the Islamic republic to show more transparency.

With a U.S.-backed Israeli strike on Iran now considered more probable, critics are questioning the coordinated beating of war drums in Israel and the U.S. They fear a new conflagration in a region already mired in a violent and bloody quagmire. The bellicose responses from Iran are also being condemned.

The U.S. has deployed a sophisticated long-range radar system in Israel capable of providing crucial early warning in case of a missile attack. The U.S. has also agreed, following several Israeli requests, to sell a thousand GBU-39 bunker-busting bombs capable of penetrating reinforced concrete. Some of Iran’s alleged nuclear programme is said to be buried in concrete bunkers below ground level.

Israel also sought upgraded refuelling jets, which would be necessary to refuel fighter jets returning from an attack on Iran, as well as a clear flight path over Iraq in order to reach Iran without being accidentally hit by U.S. fighter jets. These requests have been turned down.

Earlier in the year, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert held a secret meeting with Aviam Sela, the chief architect of Israel’s 1981 attack on Iraq’s Osiraq nuclear reactor. Following a leak of the meeting, Israeli media reported that the subject of discussion was a possible attack on Iran.

In June the Israeli Air Force (IAF) carried out a military exercise involving more than 100 F-15 and F-16 fighter jets over eastern Greece, in what was said to be a dummy attack on Iran. The distance covered was approximately 900 miles, the same distance to Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant from Israel.

In their book ‘The Israel Lobby and U.S Foreign Policy’, U.S. academics John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago’s Department of Political Science and Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government point out that the centrepiece of U.S. Middle East policy is its intimate relationship with Israel.

“One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the U.S. provides,” Mearsheimer and Walt say.

Many of the key organisations in the Israel lobby, such as the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organisations, are run by hardliners who generally support the expansionist policies of Israel’s right-wing Likud Party, including its hostility to the Oslo peace process. Very few U.S. decisions on its Middle East policies are taken without heavy input from AIPAC, the academics say.

The New York Times has called AIPAC the most important organisation affecting the U.S. relationship with Israel, while Fortune magazine said years ago that it was the second most powerful lobby group in the U.S. after the Aged American Retirement Association.

AIPAC can on Israel’s behalf draw on the resources of 52 national Jewish organisations from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations.

Together they lobby support for Israel’s hawkish policies by heavily influencing members of the U.S. Congress with substantial financial donations, and through letter writing campaigns and campus action committees.

While AIPAC itself does not contribute financially, the 126 Political Action Committees (PACs) that it coordinates with are able to donate 10,000 dollars per committee, and 2,000 dollars per individual.

The Washington Post once estimated that Democratic presidential candidates “depend on Jewish supporters to supply as much as 60 percent of the money.” And because Jewish voters have high turnout rates and are concentrated in key states like California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania, presidential candidates go to great lengths not to antagonise them.

Israel is also by far the biggest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, receiving 3 billion dollars annually from the foreign budget. This excludes loan agreements and other military packages from different budgets which come to another few billion dollars annually.

And while other recipients of U.S. foreign aid have to account for how the money is spent, Israel does not. Some of the money goes into settlement building in the West Bank, even if this is against U.S. policy.

AIPAC silences critics with accusations of “anti-Semitism”, and calls U.S. Jews such as Mearsheimer and Walt who have been critical of the U.S. Israel policy “self-hating Jews.” Many critics have found themselves on the organisation’s ‘enemies file’.

AIPAC has also been indirectly involved in spying on the U.S., and supplying confidential information to Israel. In 2006 Lawrence Franklin, a former U.S. defence department employee, was sentenced to 12 years in jail after information he provided was passed on through two AIPAC employees to Israel.

Mearsheimer and Walt question the U.S. Administration’s extraordinary generosity towards Israel. They argue that although Israel was an asset during the Cold War when it helped curb Soviet expansion in the region, this policy backfired with the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) embargo against the Western economies.

During the first Gulf War, Israel became a strategic burden when the U.S. could not use Israeli bases without rupturing the anti-Iraq coalition. This scenario was repeated in 2003 when despite Israel’s enthusiasm for an attack on Iraq, U.S. President George W. Bush had to refrain from asking Israel for help due to fears of an Arab backlash.

And despite Bush’s argument that both countries face a “terror threat”, the invasion of Iraq has actually strengthened the case of Islamic extremists in the region as well as removed Iraq as a bulwark against the spread of Iran’s brand of fundamentalism.

“In fact, Israel is a liability in the war on terror and the broader effort to deal with rogue states. Moreover the U.S. has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around,” argue Mearsheimer and Walt.

“The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only U.S. security but that of much of the rest of the world,” they say.

Many of the architects of the invasion of Iraq include neo-conservatives who have dual Israeli-U.S. citizenship. These are the same individuals who are currently heavily involved in planning a way to deal with Iran.

Republish | | Print |