On March 28-30, 2020, the US-Israel air forces conducted a joint F-35 jet training exercise over southern Israel. It took place while most US joint military maneuvers with allied forces were suspended due to the Covid19 pandemic.
The exercise highlighted the blossoming, mutually-beneficial US-Israel strategic cooperation, which is driven by mutual threats and challenges, such as Iran’s Ayatollahs, Turkey’s Erdogan, ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the need to maintain global technological edge, militarily and commercially. These threats and challenges significantly transcend the Palestinian issue, which has played a minor role in shaping the Middle East.
While Israel benefits from the unprecedented, multiple capabilities of the US air force, the latter leverages the unique operational experience of the Israeli air force. The Israeli military, in general, and Israel’s air force, in particular, have emerged as the most cost-effective, battle-tested laboratory for the US defense industries (e.g., aircraft manufacturers) and armed forces (e.g., the US air force).
In fact, Israel’s air force battle experience and technological capabilities contributed to the development of the F-35, systematically enhancing its capabilities, by sharing with the US manufacturer operational, maintenance and repair lessons. This flow of Israeli experience (related to the litany of US military systems employed by Israel) has spared the US defense industries many years of costly research and development, and has advanced US competitiveness in the global market, increasing US exports and expanding the US employment base.
Moreover, the unique combat experience of the Israeli pilots – who always fly within the range of enemies’ radar and missiles – has yielded more daring and innovative battle tactics, which are regularly shared with the US air force.
Israel’s role as a major force-multiplier for the US, is highlighted against the backdrop of European vacillation, the growing ineffectiveness of NATO (No Action Talk Only?) and the intensifying vulnerabilities of all pro-US Arab regimes.
However, Israel was not always perceived as a value-producing, strategic ally, as documented by the following milestones:
*In 1947/48 the State Department, Pentagon and the CIA, along with the NY Times and Washington Post, opposed the establishment of the Jewish State, misperceiving it a burden on US interests. Secretaries George Marshall (State) and James Forrestal (Defense) and the “Wise Men” of Foggy Bottom contended that supporting the establishment of a Jewish State would mean “buying a pig in a poke.” They alleged that a Jewish State would be pro-USSR, overwhelmed militarily by the Arabs, undermine US-Arab relations and jeopardize US access to Persian Gulf oil. They dismissed presidential advisor, Clark Clifford, who asserted that a Jewish State would be a loyal and effective strategic ally of the US. In July 1950, following Israel’s victory in its War of Independence, the national security establishment rejected a recommendation by General Omar Bradley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to consider Israel a favored strategic partner in the vein of Turkey and Iran: “The Israeli army would be the most effective force south of Turkey, which could be utilized for delaying action [in case of a Soviet invasion]….”
*The assessment of Israel as a strategically non-viable entity was accentuated in 1954-1956, when the US and Britain conceived the Operation Alpha Israel-Arab peace plan, which was based on land sacrifice by Israel, while extending inducements to the Arabs. Accordingly, President Eisenhower, Secretary of State Dulles and Special Presidential Envoy Robert Anderson proposed an Israeli withdrawal from parts of the Negev, creating a territorial link between Egypt and Jordan, a resettlement in Israel of 75,000 Arab refugees, evasive and illusory US security guarantees and trade benefits to Israel, and the establishment of non-belligerence between Israel and Arab countries. The plan was rejected by both Israel and the Arabs.
*The June 1967 War transformed Israel into a most effective power-projecting US beachhead in the Middle East and beyond, extending the strategic hand of the US with no need for additional US troops on the ground. The resounding Israeli victory obliterated the military posture of then radical, pro-Soviet Egypt, aborting an Egyptian drive to become the effective pan-Arab leader (e.g., 70,000 Egyptian soldiers in Yemen, aiming to topple the pro-US Saudi regime), while toppling all pro-US Arab regimes. In 1967, the US was heavily dependent upon the importation of Persian Gulf oil, and the Israeli victory spared the US an economic calamity, while denying the USSR a game-changing regional and global geo-strategic bonus. The battle-tested-laboratory feature of Israel was emphasized by a team of 25 US military experts, who spent three months in Israel, studying Israel’s battle tactics and scrutinizing Soviet military systems captured by Israel.
*In September 1970, Israel’s posture of deterrence – through Israeli troops on the Golan Heights, at the trilateral border of Israel, Syria and Jordan – forced a rollback of a pro-Soviet Syrian invasion of pro-US and militarily inferior Jordan. The aim of the invasion – while the US was preoccupied with the war in Vietnam – was to topple the Hashemite regime in Amman and to activate an anti-US geo-strategic avalanche, consuming the pro-US regimes in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf region.
*Following the October 1973 War, 50 US military experts, headed by General Donn Starry, spent six months studying Israeli battle tactics and scrutinizing captured Soviet military systems. Their lessons upgraded US battle doctrines, tilted the global balance of power in favor of the US, bolstered the US defense of Europe during the Cold War, and improved the competitiveness of the US defense industries.
*The July 4, 1976 Entebbe Operation, spotlighted Israel as a role-model in combatting Islamic terrorism and the unique Israeli counter-terrorism experience, which has been systematically shared with the US special operations forces.
*The 1979 toppling of the Shah of Iran and the rise of Iran’s Ayatollahs, transformed Iran from “the US policeman in the Persian Gulf” to the lead enemy of the US. It has accentuated the role of Israel as the most reliable and effective US outpost in the Middle East and the globe. The 2003 rise of Erdogan to power in Turkey – which used to be a leading strategic ally of the US – further underlined Israel’s unique contributions to US national security.
*The June 7, 1981 Israeli destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor was brutally condemned by the US Administration, but it spared the US and the world the option of a nuclear confrontation in the 1991 First Gulf War. The destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor also snatched the pro-US Saudis from the jaws of the pro-Soviet Saddam Hussein. In March 2007, Israel destroyed the Syria-North Korea-Iran nuclear reactor, sparing humanity the trauma of a nuclearized civil war in Syria.
*The 1990 disintegration of the USSR transformed the globe from bipolar to multipolar with a proliferation of rogue regimes. While Israel assisted the US during the Cold War, its added-value has grown exponentially in the face of the post-USSR proliferation of rogue Islamic regimes.
*The 2010 eruption of the Arab Tsunami, which is still traumatizing every Arab regime, has stressed Israel’s position as the only stable democratic, militarily and technologically, effective Middle East entity, which shares with the US mutual threats, challenges and values dating back to 1620.
According to Admiral James Stavridis, former NATO Supreme Commander: “…. Our best military partner in the [Middle East], by far, is Israel…. The US would be well served to more fully develop its partnership with the Israel Defense Forces…. Having the US Special Operations Command constantly operating with Israeli commandos would be of enormous benefit to both forces…. It truly is a case of two nations that are unarguably stronger together…”