For Oil and Allies, US Offers a $50 Billion Solution
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It was several days before Washington condemned the attack, which a UN investigation found was deliberate. The post had been watched by the Israelis using a direct video link.Skip to next paragraph
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Western diplomats, including many Americans, regularly charge that the US line is too "Israel specific." During the cold war, Israel's strategic value to the US was as a Mideast ally against Soviet-backed regimes. Now many supporters of Israel cast it as a bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism.
Two years before dual containment of Iran and Iraq became policy, for example, Israel began encouraging the US to isolate Iran. In 1995, at a World Jewish Congress dinner, Clinton announced a US embargo.
"The Israeli lobby has been a primary source of the problem," says Javad Zarif, Iran's deputy foreign minister in Tehran, echoing many Western diplomats. "It shows how far [the US] has gone to cater to ... a very specific interest group, that they are able to overcome all the 'experts.' "
A request by Saudi Arabia to purchase 100 F-16 fighter planes, in line with the US policy of arming allies in the Gulf, was said by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to "put into question" the strategic balance.
With Mr. Netanyahu by his side in February, Mr. Clinton said that "any decision I make about [the F-16 sale] has to be made in a way that is consistent with our first commitment, which is to do nothing that will undermine the qualitative edge of Israeli security forces in the Middle East."
The Saudi request has been quietly put off. Top Saudi officials are looking to take the $5 billion contract elsewhere. One diplomat was quoted as saying the crown prince "wants the US to stop giving the impression they side systematically with the Star of David."
For other Arab allies, the Jewish lobby can be useful. It is one of the strongest proponents of America's $2.1 billion annual "reward" to Egypt for making peace with Israel. That amount, US diplomats say, makes Israel's own annual subsidy of $3.5 billion look more palatable to US taxpayers. There is also a strategic benefit.
"The US will not allow Israel to go to war," says Mamdouh Anis Fathy of the Egyptian Army's Strategic Studies Center. "They will allow limited attacks against Lebanon, or Syria, or Iran ... but not total war."
Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld in Jerusalem says the US support has also been an "act of bribery" to keep Israel from relying too much on its nuclear deterrent. Without cash for conventional forces, he says, Israel's reliance on its atomic arsenal would have "made the Mideast a much more dangerous place for the US."
But the US-Israel alliance is widely seen to have weakened the US role. A recent poll of Palestinians found 96 percent say the US favors Israel in the process. The peace process has fallen apart since Israel began building Jewish housing in Arab East Jerusalem in March and a Palestinian suicide bomb ravaged a Tel Aviv cafe. On July 30, a double bombing in Jerusalem further dimmed hopes for progress.
Under President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker, Arab leaders were convinced by a relatively tough American stance toward Israel. Irritated at one point in 1990, Mr. Baker publicly told the Israelis: "Our telephone number is 456-1414. When you're serious about peace, call us."
" 'Provocation' is a strong term, but the manner in which Mr. Netanyahu has acted makes it apt," Mr. Scowcroft wrote in a June article in the International Herald Tribune. "The United States needs to assert the absolute priority of its own interests in the Middle East peace process. It never should provoke confrontation with Israel, but ... this sometimes is unavoidable."
Clinton only lightly criticized Israel for building in East Jerusalem and cast two vetoes against a UN Security Council condemnation. "This commitment [to Israel's security] is iron clad and unequivocal," Vice President Al Gore recently said.
In Jerusalem, meanwhile, sales are up for one long-selling T-shirt. "Don't worry America," it reads. "Israel is behind you."