Modern history is replete with instances of dramatic turning points, in which a qualitative change in the kind and character of events is masked by changes in degree or amount. The incremental American involvement in Vietnam is an example. The recently announced expansion of US-Israeli strategic collaboration shows every sign of being another turning point. America has gone beyond the threshhold of political, economic, and logistical support for Israel and fashioned a military alliance, the first ever in the history of American-Israeli relations. What this alliance means is, above all, the Americanization of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
As a world superpower, America's priority is the Soviet Union. As a regional superpower, Israel's priority is Syria. The target of the alliance, however, is not the Soviet Union but Syria.
There is something very new in America being formally identified as a military opponent of an Arab state. The agreement's principal effect will not be to draw Israel into the American-Soviet conflict but rather to draw the US into the Arab-Israeli conflict. Every American administration from Truman to Carter has steadfastly refused to make such a military commitment.
The reasoning behind this policy is obvious. America stood to gain little or nothing by taking military action against the Arabs and would risk losing everything. Only by not fighting the Arabs could America protect its vital interests in the area, particularly in the Persian Gulf. Only by staying militarily aloof from the conflict could the US retain any credibility as a political broker or peacemaker. Only by keeping its troops out of military conflict in an area so close to the Soviet Union could the US avoid the likelihood of a superpower confrontation.
That traditional policy and the whole situation has now changed. What is amazing is that this change has been purchased at an exorbitant price.
Over the past ten years, Israel has received about $22 billion in US aid in the form of grants and long-term, low-interest loans. In 1984 Israel will receive $2.61 billion in total aid, two-thirds of which is to be given as outright grants.
Even more serious is the decision last month to allow $550 million in military aid to subsidize a new Israeli jet fighter called the ''Lavi.'' Development and production costs for the Lavi program may eventually reach as high as $6 billion, most if not all of it to be paid by the US taxpayer. In addition, the Lavi will be sold by Israel on the world market in direct competition with US-made aircraft.
Israel's ability to compete against American firms was enhanced by a congressional decision to allow Israel to use $250 million of its Lavi aid to buy military hardware and services from Israeli defense industries, rather than American ones. This decision violates the intention of Congress to use military aid for the purchase of goods and services in the US in order to support the American economy. Instead of importing $250 million in US goods, Israel will be subsidizing its own defense industries with US aid.
A US Commerce Department formula estimates that for every $1 billion in US exports some 24,000 jobs are created and the $250 million in aid Israel will be spending in its own defense industries will cost 6,000 Americans their jobs.
The threat to US employment will be compounded when the first 300 Lavi aircraft are substituted for American aircraft at a cost of more than $3 billion. This translates into an additional 72,000 lost American jobs. Even more lost jobs would result from additional production of the Lavi.
American taxpayers are thus being committed by their government to subsidize their own future unemployment.
The President has agreed to resume deliveries of US-made cluster bombs despite charges that Israel used such terror weapons in Lebanon in violation of the US Arms Export Control Act and specific Israeli assurances regarding their use.
Finally, the President also is willing to negotiate an accord on duty-free trade between the United States and Israel, thereby adding to the deficits in our overall balance of payments.
In return, Israel made no political concessions. It reaffirmed its rejection of the Reagan peace plan and a freeze on building Jewish settlements in the West Bank. It will continue to oppose US arms sales to Arab countries. It refused to make a commitment to inform the US before taking unilateral military action.
Normally, subsidy melts sovereignty. The patron's benefits are conditional on the client's behavior. In this case, however, Israel does what it wants to do and gets everything it wants no matter what it does.
Each time Israel gets what it wants, Americans pay the bill. This time the cost is not only higher but of a different order. Despite the divisions among Arabs, the feeling of Arab nationalism and Arab solidarity is still a potent force in the Middle East. This agreement will cause the Arab people to put great pressure on their governments to distance themselves from the United States.
Thus, making this alliance with Israel, America risks, at best, the alienation of the entire Arab world. At worst, the United States faces the prospect of another protracted, costly, and inconclusive land war in Asia at a price that will be comparable to the one it paid in Vietnam.