Going Global: Israel is America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle East
Columns / March 29, 2015
Israel recently had a national election, with incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party securing 30 out of 120 seats in the Knesset, more than any other party. Netanyahu’s major foreign policy goal is to nullify Iran as a threat to their national security.
However, Netanyahu has been testing the tight U.S.-Israeli relationship, especially after comments regarding Palestinian statehood and Iranian nuclear power. How did the Israeli-U.S. relationship get so strong in the first place?
Researching Israel on the internet is extremely difficult. Merely typing in the countries name into Google yields a large series of conspiracy theories. Many, many people have sharply contrasting views regarding the country, even if they don’t personally know anyone from the area. It’s extremely difficult to write “objectively” about the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, we can discuss why the United States has such an interest in Israel. Alexander Haig, a then-former U.S. Army general, and U.S. secretary of state under president Richard Nixon once said that, “Israel is the largest American aircraft carrier in the world that cannot be sunk, does not carry even one American soldier, and is located in a critical region for American national security.”
Not only this, but Mossad–the Israeli equivalent to the American C.I.A.–has provided extremely useful information to the Americans. Major General George J. Keegan Jr., a former air force intelligence chief, was quoted as saying that, “America’s military defense capability owes more to the Israeli intelligence input than it does to any other single source of intelligence . . . its value is worth more than five C.I.A.s.”
When Israel’s geographic position and the geopolitical goals of the United States come together, it’s clear that they would benefit greatly from each other. The U.S. has tried to find allies in the region in the past; Iran only worked when the U.S. and U.K. orchestrated a coup to install a friendly dictator in the ‘50s. Saddam Hussein in Iraq was troublesome and didn’t always listen to the Americans, and there is some lingering distrust of Saudi Arabia, especially given family connections of Osama bin Laden. The Americans don’t want any one country in the Middle East to be too powerful, unless it’s a strong ally.
In this case, it would be Israel, who gets a few billion dollars each year to spend on military hardware from the U.S.. Even without these funds, Israel would still be formidable as a military presence. In 2013, Israel spent $16-billion on its military, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. In 2014, the United States provided $3.6-billion, 74 per cent of which is to be spent buying American military hardware. There is a large pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. While there are many groups, the most well-known would be the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), who had a budget of $67-million in 2010.
Many Christians in America support Israel, as the return of the Jews to Israel is consistent with biblical prophecy.
The U.S. hasn’t always been a close ally of Israel. When the country was founded in 1948, the country had very little in terms of benefactors, and actually purchased many of their weapons from former Czechoslovakia. The U.S. did send some aid, but no amount that would be seen as preferential. Many countries were broken in the post-war period. During the Cold War, Israel made sense as an ally. While revolutions–potentially communist ones–were taking place throughout a variety of Middle Eastern countries, Israel stood out for its staunch anti-communist stance. Neighbouring Egypt, Iraq and Syria in particular were very close allies of the U.S.S.R. Saudi Arabia and Jordan were monarchies that allied with the U.S.
As for geography, Israel has a host of geopolitical concerns. The Straits of Tiran, which gave access to Israel’s only Red Sea port, has been blocked in the past by Egypt, being a strong contributing factor to both the Suez Crisis and the Six-Day War. In addition, Israel is surrounded by many countries who have attacked them in the past, such as Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, who they last battled in 2006. Iran is further to the east, which some in Israel consider to be an existential threat, should they ever gain nuclear weapons.
Israel’s relationship with these various countries has strongly influenced American foreign policy, especially and most recently in the case of Iran. Ultimately, the U.S. relationship with Israel remains controversial, especially outside of the United States, even more so when considering its relationship with Palestine. Former U.S. defence secretary Robert M. Gates is quoted as saying that, “Israel lives at the focal point of some of the biggest security challenges facing the free world.”