Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Has Israel Been a Blessing or a Burden?

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Watt in their book The Israel Lobby, question whether Israel has really been as strong an ally as many believe. Is the enormous generosity justified? And again, this is not about religion, but the foreign country of Israel.
One might argue that Israel was an asset during the Cold War. By serving as America’s proxy after 1967, it helped contain Soviet expansion in the region and inflicted humiliating defeats on Soviet clients like Egypt and Syria. It occasionally helped protect other US allies (like King Hussein of Jordan) and its military prowess forced Moscow to spend more on backing its own client states. It also provided useful intelligence about Soviet capabilities. (1)
However, backing Israel has come at a price.

The October War or Yom Kippur War , that began with a surprise attack by an Arab coalition on Israel, led to a near-confrontation between the two nuclear superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. The U.S. provided $2.2 billion in military aid to Israel, while the Soviets backed Egypt and Syria.

The U.S. support of Israel, triggered an OPEC oil embargo creating the 1973 Energy Crisis, which inflicted considerable damage on Western economies. And while Arab Nations ignited this war, it was in response to Israeli aggression.

And when the Americans needed them, Israel did not deliver.
The US could not, for example, rely on Israel when the Iranian Revolution in 1979 raised concerns about the security of oil supplies, and had to create its own Rapid Deployment Force instead.

The first Gulf War revealed the extent to which Israel was becoming a strategic burden. The US could not use Israeli bases without rupturing the anti-Iraq coalition, and had to divert resources (e.g. Patriot missile batteries) to prevent Tel Aviv doing anything that might harm the alliance against Saddam Hussein. History repeated itself in 2003: although Israel was eager for the US to attack Iraq, Bush could not ask it to help without triggering Arab opposition. So Israel stayed on the sidelines once again. (1)
Allies in the War on Terror

Since the War on Terror is becoming a war between the United States and Arab Nations, or terrorist groups originating in the Arab World, many believe that Washington should then give Israel a free hand in dealing with the Palestinians and not press it to make concessions until all Palestinian terrorists are imprisoned or dead. They also feel that the US should go after countries like Iran and Syria, as shared enemies of Israel.
Israel is thus seen as a crucial ally in the war on terror, because its enemies are America’s enemies. In fact, Israel is a liability in the war on terror and the broader effort to deal with rogue states. ‘Terrorism’ is not a single adversary, but a tactic employed by a wide array of political groups. The terrorist organisations that threaten Israel do not threaten the United States, except when it intervenes against them (as in Lebanon in 1982). Moreover, Palestinian terrorism is not random violence directed against Israel or ‘the West’; it is largely a response to Israel’s prolonged campaign to colonise the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

More important, saying that Israel and the US are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: the US has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around. Support for Israel is not the only source of anti-American terrorism, but it is an important one, and it makes winning the war on terror more difficult. [and] Israel’s nuclear arsenal is one reason some of its neighbours want nuclear weapons, and threatening them with regime change merely increases that desire. (1)
Being "unapologetic supporters of Israel" is not in Canada's best interest. We have to look at the big picture. Suggesting that any enemy of Israel is an enemy of ours, is a dangerous precedent to set. It might help the Harper government politically, but what could it mean for us?


1. The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, By: John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, London Review of Books, March 23, 2006

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