Political scientist and journalist Victor Olevich tells us why we shouldn't wait for a serious change in the Israeli-American relationship.
Right-wing party "Likud" won a decisive victory in early elections to the Israeli Knesset. Formation of a new ruling coalition – led by the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu – is expected in the coming weeks. Domestic and foreign experts, referring to the events of recent years, are already predicting a further escalation of tensions in Israeli-American relations. In early March, Prime Minister Netanyahu made a speech in the U.S. Congress about the threat of Iran's nuclear program. Traditionally, speeches by leaders of the main ally of Washington in the Middle East before U.S. lawmakers are met with the standing ovation of the latter. However, Netanyahu’s recent speech on Capitol Hill did not please all members of the American political elite.
Contrary to historical traditions and American diplomatic protocol, the Israeli prime minister arrived in the U.S. at the invitation of the Republican leaders of Congress, who are in opposition to the incumbent Democrat. This time the White House did not invite Netanyahu and made it clear the visit was undesirable. Even National Security Adviser Susan Rice, who is a growing influence in the Obama administration, spoke the day before the speech about the devastating effects of the Israeli leader's stunt on his country's relations with the United States.
The widespread concern about the imaginary cool down in Israeli-American relations has been prevailing in the expert community and the media on both sides of the Atlantic since the time of the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States in 2008. The cautious attitude of proponents of Israel toward the racial origin of the newly elected leader of the Western world played its role. Indeed, since the simultaneous battle for civil rights in the 1960s, the relationship between Jewish and African-American communities in the country has become strained.
Among other things that Obama's critics from the Israeli lobby held against him were his father’s Muslim faith, his youthful fascination with the ideas of black radical Malcolm X, and his close relationship with the influential anti-Zionist Chicago pastor, Jeremiah Wright, Jr.
The Israeli right and their neoconservative allies in America bring up these "errors" in the biography of Obama whenever the official Tel Aviv disapproves of the actions of the White House. Usually, there are no direct accusations of anti-Semitism, but at times not-so-subtle hints are made.
Russian supporters of rapprochement with Israel are active and see Obama and Netanyahu’s strained relationship as another reason to align Russian foreign policy with the interests of the Jewish state.
If we step back for a moment from the heated debate of the recent years and consider the current Israeli-American relationship from a historical perspective, we will see the current president’s Israeli policy in a new light.
The gradual integration of Israel in the U.S. geopolitical orbit began almost immediately after the declaration of independence in 1948. Despite the initial diplomatic courting and even the short-term supply of weapons to the young Middle Eastern state through Czechoslovakia, Moscow’s hopes for friendly relations with Tel Aviv soon dissipated. Since 1967, when the Israeli army proved its fighting capacity in the Six-Day War against the Arab allies of the USSR, the relations of Tel Aviv and Washington have moved to a new level, turning into a strategic partnership.
Meanwhile, relations between the two countries have always been tense. President Eisenhower opposed the aggression of Israel, France and Britain against Egypt during the Suez Crisis of 1956. The Kennedy and Johnson administrations were not happy with the aspirations of Tel Aviv to acquire nuclear weapons. Nixon treated Israeli politicians with contempt for the dream of recreating the state from the Nile to the Euphrates. The idol of American neoconservatives Ronald Reagan, who is now portrayed as Israel’s best friend, did not avoid criticism of America's closest ally in the Middle East.
Reagan’s refusal to support the operation of the Israeli Air Force to destroy Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in the summer of 1981 and the subsequent temporary suspension of the delivery of certain weapons to Tel Aviv caused a negative reaction of the then Israeli prime minister. Menachem Begin did not filter his words in his angry letter to the head of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Israel: “On June 7 we destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor Osirak near Baghdad. (... ) There was no doubt about it, our action was an act of salvation, an act of national self-defense in the loftiest sense of the concept. We saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians, including tens of thousands of children. Nonetheless, you announced that you were punishing us – and you left unfilled a signed and sealed contract that included specific dates for the supply of (war) planes.” The Israeli leader continued: “You have no moral right to preach to us about civilian casualties. We have read the history of World War II and we know what happened to civilians when you took action against an enemy. We have also read the history of the Vietnam War.”
Doesn't it remind you of Israel's current position? Change Reagan to Obama, Iraq to Iran and it all matches up. The debate, the logic, the rhetoric.
This is only a lovers' quarrel. The strategic alliance between the United States and Israel has survived half a century of political disputes of their leaders. Their "special relationship" will survive the current turmoil. After all, the ghost of Islamic fundamentalism has replaced the former Soviet threat as their ideological justification. The Israeli lobby in Washington is as strong as ever. The Israeli military and political establishment and economic elite are tightly tied to the American project.