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The End of U.S.-Israel Strategic Cooperation?


Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu meets with  Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey in Jerusalem, January 20, 2012.

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu meets with Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey in Jerusalem, January 20, 2012.
Photo Credit: Moshe Milner/GPO/FLASH90

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“I don’t want to be complicit if they (Israelis) choose to do it (attack Iran’s nuclear program),” said Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey.

News flash, General Dempsey: You are complicit in the way that counts; you are trapped: the Iranian leadership does not care what we say — or what we do — about our military relations with Israel. The Iranian leadership needs the U.S. as its adversary and will not allow you deniability. If there is a strike on Iran, they will need for it to have been the U.S. – will need, General Dempsey, for it to have been you.

It is unlikely, General, that you spoke on your own hook as you are still wearing your stars. The last General who spoke to journalists out of turn and out of the country was Stanley McChrystal – and he lasted only as long as it took to arrive in the Oval Office. Your Commander in Chief appears to have used you to hammer another nail in the coffin of a relationship that had, until he got here, been remarkably productive for more than 30 years.

Since the Reagan administration, U.S.-Israel military relations have generally been buffered from US-Israel political relations. They were not always smooth, but the military establishments were largely left to determine their interests together and separately. The late Caspar Weinberger was not enamored of Israel (certainly he was not enamored of the late Prime Minister Begin nor of the 1982 war in Lebanon), but the designation and early growth of “U.S.-Israel Strategic Cooperation,” and the designation of Israel for Major Non-NATO Ally status came in those years.[1] The Sixth Fleet came to Israel and the Haifa USO was built then to handle the enthusiastic crowds of American sailors and Marines.

Israel had the first wartime operational drones in 1982. The war that Weinberger opposed was a catalyst for U.S. thinking about remotely piloted vehicles. I took a small group of retired American military officers (including the former head of DIA, the former commander of US Air Forces Europe and the former commander of NATO’s Southern Command) to Israel in September 1982 so they could put their hands on the drones that emerged from an Israeli model-airplane-flying club. The officers compared it to the US Army’s then-unsuccessful drone program and the rest is history. U.S. conceived and built drones carry the weight of the Afghan war, but they also carry the history of 1982.

The First Gulf War complicated the relationship when President Bush (41) built a broad Arab coalition to rescue Kuwait. Israel withstood Saddam’s rocket barrage without retaliation because that was what the U.S. wanted, setting into motion deterrence difficulties for Israel that played out later as its closer neighbors acquired and used rockets and missiles. But it also set in motion Israel’s rapid quest for missile defense capabilities, which became an area of close U.S.-Israel cooperation.

After 9-11, Americans instinctively understood that we had been hammered by something with which the Israelis were familiar. “We Are All Israelis Now” was the headline in a major American paper. The Israelis “opened their closets” to help the U.S. deal with Islamic terrorism, urban warfare and counter-terror operations. Israel taught members of the U.S. Army to train bomb-sniffing dogs. While the work was going on, Israel loaned I.D.F. dogs to the Americans – Hebrew-commanded dogs were in Baghdad.

As the U.S. has become more adept in the ways of Middle East ground warfare, it is the Americans who have technology, tips and training to share with Israel.

“Complicity” is the wrong word for a relationship between countries that was grounded in the most fundamental agreement on democratic governance, civil liberties, minority rights, rule of law, and what constituted the enemy – at least until now.

General Dempsey meant Iran, but there is more than a divergence on Iran going on here. There has been a determined shift of emphasis in the current administration. President Obama has elected to focus on how and where the U.S. might find partners in the Arab/Muslim world – not itself a bad thing, but dangerous if it means a) eroding the definition of an ally to mean anyone with any set of political/religious/strategic beliefs that does not involve killing Americans outright; and b) throwing the Jews down the well (to channel Borat).

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About the Author: Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center. She was previously Senior Director of JINSA and author of JINSA Reports form 1995-2011.


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3 Responses to “The End of U.S.-Israel Strategic Cooperation?”

  1. Mark L. Shane says:

    we keep our oil and gas. we retake gaza, east jerusalem, judea, samaria, sinai , medina and mecca too then we will see who is apartheid.

  2. John T. Webb says:

    I see the end getting closer and closer.

  3. Zev Guber says:

    Dear Shoshana, I follow your logic and conclusions, yet your focus implies that the US can walk away from Israel. This just is not the case and the facts do not bear it out. The US and Israel are linked via governments, science, finance, technology, and military/ anti-terrorism. The separations between them are actually heathy for both sides.

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