Relations between the United States and Israel in wake of the Trump administration are in complete harmony. This harmony is closer to fantasy than reality. Countries usually strike alliances and have similar interests, but they rarely enjoy such accord. This harmony is a facet that complements absolute hostility. In either case, politics loses its complexities against tales of love, hate and revenge.
The current mythical relations between the US and Israel prompts us Arabs to “analyze” them from a fantastical lens. We have often said that Israel is at the United States’ beck and call. We have also said that Israel and the Jews are the true rulers in Washington. These two contradictory descriptions have often been found in Arab politics, with late Syrian professor Sadiq Jalal al-Azm wondering: Who controls the other? The challenge is that with Trump, it is difficult to draw a clear picture of the actual history of this relationship.
A few days ago, Israel’s Haaretz daily published for the first time, American documents that revealed the extent of the 1963 disputes between Washington and Tel Aviv over Israel’s Dimona nuclear project. The dispute reached a point of enmity with Israel fearing that Washington may dispatch jets to strike the reactor given how much President John F. Kennedy’s administration was opposed to nuclear proliferation. Israeli Prime Ministers David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol were committed to the project, which France began to secretly build in 1958. They believed the project guaranteed their country’s security and existence.
Israel attempted to deceive the US over the “peacefulness” of its project, claiming another Holocaust could be committed, this time by Arabs against Jews. It therefore demanded American and American-Soviet guarantees. Kennedy, however, ignored these calls and insisted that American inspectors regularly visit Dimona. Some analysts believed that the conflict with Kennedy pushed Ben-Gurion to later resign. Tensions between Washington and Tel Aviv subsided after Kennedy’s assassination and Lyndon Johnson's arrival to the White House.
Haaretz’s documents also recall another instance of lack of harmony between the US and Israel. When Secretary of State George Marshall refused to recognize Israel as a state in 1948, President Harry Truman was forced to exert serious efforts to overcome this adversity. In 1956, as we all know, the American administration under Dwight Eisenhower sided with Egypt against Israel, which was allied with Britain and France. This position forced Israel to reluctantly withdraw from Sinai, which it had occupied, and hand Gamal Abdel Nasser a major political victory, despite his defeat on the ground.
The US sided with Egypt at the time because Washington had given priority to its relations with Arabs. It believed that it was more strategic for it to establish friendships with Cairo, Baghdad, Riyadh and the rest of the Arab and Islamic capitals, than to strike up a friendship with Israel, especially in wake of the Cold War.
Two other more recent conflicts come to mind:
In 1991, President George Bush refused to approve 10 million dollars in loans to take in migrants from the former Soviet Union. He said he would only approve them if Israel agreed to freeze settlement building on Palestinian territory. In 2015, President Barack Obama differed sharply with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Iran nuclear file.
The above does not negate the fact that the US is Israel’s permanent guarantor of security. Ties between them made a qualitative leap after the 1967 war when Tel Aviv handed Washington its greatest and least costly victory in the confrontation against the Soviet Union and its allies. This does not, however, rule out the fact that the stronger partner in this relationship is the US because it is viewed as the strongest power in everything, without ignoring the wide margin to maneuver that Israel has seized for itself.
Myths and conspiracies do not offer much for those seeking to study the history of the actual relations between the two countries. We are living in a time when our consciousness resorts to myth since the reality itself welcomes fantasy with open arms.