Late last week former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated that Washington must make it clear to Israeli leadersthat the U.S. must not permit Israel to harm American interests.
Speaking at an event in Norfolk, Virginia, Gates commented that Israeli leaders must be aware they “do not have a blank check to take action that could do grave harm to American vital interests.”
Previously, Gates had called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an “ungrateful ally,” stating that the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has received nothing in return, particularly regarding the peace process, for all the steps it has taken to ensure Israel’s security. Specifically, Gates referred to Israel’s access to top- quality weapons, assistance developing missile-defense systems and high-level intelligence sharing.
The former U.S. Secretary of Defense also accused Netanyahu of endangering Israel by refusing to grapple with the country’s growing isolation and with the demographic challenges it faces should it decide to maintain control over the West Bank [Judea and Samaria]. Such hypercriticism emanating from the highest echelons of the United Stated defense establishment is a far cry from U.S. President Harry Truman’s 1948 vow regardingIsrael “to help build inPalestine a strong, prosperous, free and independent democratic state… large enough, free enough and strong enough to make its people self-supporting and secure.”
It would be a serious mistake to slough off these most recent statements as the idle rantings of a retired civil servant. Rather, Gates’ view reflects a general shift in the U.S. stance vis-à-vis Israel.
It’s important to note that far from the fringe, Robert Gates, who served for 26 years in the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council and under U.S. President George H. W. Bush as Director of Central Intelligence, is in fact the consummate Washington insider. And it’s this U.S. stance that is pushing the Islamic Republic of Iran to become a country on the brink of nuclear capability. For the Obama administration’s reaction to Iran’s nuclear ambitions indicates a reassessment of Israel’s strategic value, which has always been the primary motivation for U.S. support.
With Israel’s survival increasingly viewed as a burden for Washington to bare, the Jewish state should remember that it is but one of many allies that the United States has around the world.
Let’s not forget that France too was a vital ally of Israel’s – until Paris suddenly decided to abandon Israel in favor of the Arab world. France was Israel’s main weapons supplier until its withdrawal from Algeria in 1966 removed most common interest from the relationship and France became increasingly critical of Israel, especially after the Six-Day War in June 1967, when Charles de Gaulle’s government imposed an arms embargo on the region that mostly affectedIsrael.
Israelsurvived and eventually even prospered without French largesse. Now, with the Obama administration’s obsession with being an “honest broker” leading it to shift its allegiance away from Israel and towards such regional power players as Turkey and Iran, it’s time for Israel to downgrade its dependence on US aid.
Beyond Obama’s cold shoulder, there are other reasons for Israel to consider going off U.S.aid, which comes with a rather heavy price tag: U.S. aid to Egypt and Jordan, for example, forces Israel to spend more on its military since it must maintain a qualitative advantage in equipment and weaponry.
By accepting U.S. aid, the Israeli government often has to go with U.S. weapons even if domestic products are better, cheaper or both, causing efficient Israeli producers to lose government contracts. When Israel purchases from the U.S., Israeli companies frequently loses contracts abroad. Washington has also used it leverage to limit Israeli overseas arms sales.
Finally, the guaranteed payment, irrespective of Israel’s defense needs, leaves the system with no incentive to become more efficient.
In sheer volume, the amount of aid provided to Israelby the United Statesis the most generous foreign aid program ever between any two countries.Israel receives moreU.S. aid per capita annually than the total annual GNP per capita of several Arab states.
What is perhaps even more unusual is that Israel, like its benefactor, is an advanced, industrialized, technologically-sophisticated country, as well as a major arms exporter.
About the Author: Gidon Ben-Zvi is an accomplished writer who left behind Hollywood starlight for Jerusalem stone. He maintains a blog, Jerusalem State of Mind. As a ‘returning resident’ to Israel, Gidon has vivid memories of playing hooky from Rene Cassin High School while strolling through Ammunition Hill. After serving in an IDF infantry unit for two-and-a-half years, Gidon returned to the United States, where he embarked on a twelve-year run of half-baked careers and wholly misguided educational pursuits.
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