The Israeli connection
WHETHER the alleged spying by Jonathan Pollard for Israel was officially sanctioned by the Israeli government or not, the apparent act illustrates that we have information which we do not consider in our interests to share with Israel. We do not do so because our interests differ. As with many other aspects of our foreign relations, we have built up a romantic convention about Israel: our only ally in the Midde East, a bulwark against Soviet expansion, a democracy with which we share basic values. The notion of differences may shock us.Skip to next paragraph
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Although Israel is an important friend of the United States, the degree of parallel interests can be exaggerated. In four ways, relating to common enemies, military strategy, attitudes toward the Soviet Union, and reactions to events, we have significant differences.
Israel's enemies are not necessarily our enemies. Many Israelis would like to see a polarized Middle East in which they were our only ally. We have important and traditional Arab friends with which we must maintain close relations. If some reports are correct, the Israeli spy activity was designed to gain information that we may have on Arab countries. We cannot share such information and maintain the broader ties essential to our political, strategic, and economic interests in the region.
Israel's military capacity is not necessarily designed to support our strategic objectives. Israel's armed forces are designed to defend its frontiers from its neighbors. The interest of the US must be to protect the region against a thrust by the Soviets, not only in territory near to Israel, but farther to the East as well. The critical area of the Persian Gulf is more than 800 miles from Israel over territory hostile to that country. It is difficult to see how Israel could provide any substantial s upport to the US and friendly Arab countries in that sector.
Israel could find it in its interests to improve relations with the Soviet Union. Conventional wisdom suggests they share our view of the Soviet Union. That view has yet to be put to the test. The Israelis could be tempted to improve relations with the Soviets if the Soviets decided to make that a condition of permit- ting the emigration of more Soviet Jews.
Israel's reaction to regional events is likely to be different. As the events in Lebanon in the last four years have indicated, the Israelis react to circumstances quite differently than do Americans. We may admire at times their audacity, but, at other times, we are dismayed at the damage such audacity does to our wider interests.
To someone who has observed our diplomatic relations with Israel over many years, the fact that we have different objectives comes as no surprise. The only surprise is that any Israeli felt a need to resort to espionage to gain significant information from the US. Not only do we share a great deal with Israel officially, but the large network of Israeli supporters in the Unied States makes certain that Israel is well informed on matters of interest to it. On two occasions, I can recall Israeli diplomats
approaching me in the Department of State, telling me on what desk lay a certain paper of interest to them and urging me to move it along. I do not recall ever having a similar approach from other close allies.
Israel is a democracy and we respect its democratic ideals and traditions. That does not necessarily mean that we see eye to eye on every issue. In many ways, we have greater difficulty melding our policies with democracies; that is in the nature of free societies.
We should not condone spying by Israel nor by any country. Still, the Pollard case should bring home that we can be carried away by simplistic expressions of closeness to allies. Allies are independent nations, and truly independent nations are allies -- never surrogates.
David D. Newsom is associate dean and director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University.