Briefing: Strains in US 'special relationship' with Israel
The 'special relationship' the US and Israel have long enjoyed is being tested again today as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses AIPAC, the most powerful Israel lobby in Washington.
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US diplomatic support for Israel, such as its veto power at the United Nations, is also a strategic asset. Without such diplomatic backing, Israel would find itself often without any allies on the international stage.Skip to next paragraph
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What does the US get out of it?
During the cold war, Israel helped the US curb Soviet expansion. Their intelligence services worked closely, with Israel famously obtaining Nikita Khrushchev’s “de-Stalinization” speech in 1956.
But it was Israel’s stunning defeat of Soviet clients Egypt and Syria in the 1967 war that made the United States see its ally as a real military asset, says William Quandt, a former National Security Council member who helped broker Israel-Egypt peace under President Jimmy Carter. After the cold war, however, it became unclear what the “glue” was in the US-Israel relationship, he says.
Today, Israel has strong cultural, educational, and economic ties with the US. It provides missile technology and intelligence on counterterrorism and nuclear proliferation. But its agencies were just as much in the dark as the US (and Britain) about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction. And while the two allies’ interests in fighting Islamist militants overlap, they are not uniform.
“Managing withdrawal of forces from Iraq, the balance of power in the Persian Gulf, dealing with Iran, seeing if Syria can be taken out of Iranian orbit – Israel could be helpful on that one by being engaged in the peace process,” says Dr. Quandt, now a politics professor at the University of Virginia. “[But] I would say that in most of our big strategic challenges ... Israel doesn’t figure.”
What are the costs?
Shortly after Israel took on a greater strategic role in 1967, US aid skyrocketed. In the first quarter-century of its existence, Israel received a total of $3.2 billion from the US. Since the 1970s, when the US pledged several billion dollars to Israel and Egypt annually under the Camp David Accords, Israel has averaged $2.9 billion per year, making Israel the biggest recipient of US aid.
But the cozier the ties, the less Israel can act independently. With 200,000 US troops in the region, Israel must weigh the potential damage to US interests of a preemptive strike on Iran, Hamas, or Hizbullah.
The Pentagon has become so concerned about rising Arab frustration over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that in a January briefing it warned that US lives could be lost if the deadlock isn’t broken.