Reassessing US aid to Israel

Unfortunately, Harry J. Shaw confuses economics with politics -- and vice versa -- in reassessing US-Israeli economic relations [``Israel and US budget: time to reassess,'' Dec. 19]. The facts are:

American aid to Israel is less than 1 percent of the US defense budget and about 2 percent of what the US spends annually in defense of our NATO allies. Unlike NATO, however, Israel does not have, nor has she ever requested, American soldiers stationed on her soil. She is ready and willing to defend herself with her own troops.

The value of US aid to Israel has long been noted by our military. Maj. Gen. George Keegan, former chief of US Air Force Intelligence, said that for every dollar of support we have given to Israel, ``we have gotten a thousand dollars worth of benefits in return,'' through access to captured Soviet equipment, Israeli technological breakthroughs, and vital intelligence information.

Moreover, last year more than 130 retired US generals and admirals urged President Reagan to ``revitalize strategic cooperation between the US and Israel.''

Unfortunately, Mr. Shaw clings to the idea that were it not for Israel's alleged ``intransigence'' on the West Bank, ``the Arab moderates would be making peace.'' Ridiculous! For some 19 years before Israel ever moved into the West Bank, which she did in responding to a war against her, the Arab countries -- and Jordan in particular -- refused to make any peace, just as all Arab countries (save Egypt) do today. Within the past month alone, Jordan rejected Israel's invitation to meet in Jordan or in Israel to make peace. Philip Perlmutter, Executive Director, Jewish Community Council, of Metropolitan Boston

Harry J. Shaw's article is most timely. US relations with Israel have for too long been distorted by emotion and by political estimates of their impact on the Jewish vote, epitomized by the preconvention competition over which candidate would more promptly move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The US has important mutual interests in the Middle East with all the nations of that region. American policies there are complicated and controversial. They should be developed in the light of that wise principle that ``nations don't have friends, they have interests.''

A new look at US-Israeli relations on this basis would benefit both nations and their citizens, including Jewish Americans. Mr. Shaw has given us some relevant informaton to assist in this overdue exercise. James K. Penfield, Longbranch, Wash.

The political and historical premises underlying Harry J. Shaw's argument against increased American aid to Israel are fallacious and do not hold up under scrutiny.

His first objection is based on the thesis that Israel is ``relying excessively on military power'' vis-`a-vis the Arab regimes. True, Israel's defense outlay consumes one-quarter of its budget. However, as an experienced former government official, Mr. Shaw must surely be aware of -- but ignores -- the fundamental fact that this cruel burden has been forced upon us by the enmity of the Arab world.

Mr. Shaw falsely explains away -- in effect, justifies -- Syria's ``recent'' military buildup with massive Soviet military equipment as ``a direct response to Israel's invasion of Lebanon'' in 1982.

He conveniently neglects to mention that the Syrians began their ``recent'' Soviet military buildup well before the 1967 ``six-day war,'' and that Moscow immediately replenished the hoard of supplies that Syria lost; that it was with a vast Soviet arsenal that Syria (and Egypt) unleashed the aggressive 1973 Yom Kippur war, and that Moscow again massively rebuilt the Syrian military after its debacle. The Damascus-Moscow military bond has been a lengthy and durable one, and it undoubtedly serves US strategic interest to have Israel stand up to it.

Mr. Shaw trots out the well-worn clich'e that Israel claims the ``West Bank'' as part of ``historic greater Israel.'' There is no such thing as ``greater Israel,'' and there never was. There is, and always was, the Land of Israel, which all of Western civilization acknowledged for millennia, and which, by all historical reckonings, always included Judea and Samaria, known as the ``West Bank'' only after Jordan usurped it in 1948.

Mr. Shaw objects to Israel's control of the Golan Heights since 1967, ignoring Syria's use of that strategic plateau to make life intolerable for the Jewish farms and town of Upper Galilee by pouring constant artillery fire on them. Israel, meanwhile, in all its years on the Golan, has never used it to threaten Damascus.

In an amazing passage, Mr. Shaw claims that ``Israel's territorial aggrandizement and intransigence on the West Bank issue have made it politically impossible for Arab moderates to extend the hand of peace.'' What Arab moderates?

Israel's ``territorial aggrandizement'' consists of having, at great self-sacrifice, returned the Sinai to Egypt. Israel's ``intransigence'' is reflected in the 1978 Camp David Accords, when it proposed a fair and practicable plan for Palestinian Arab autonomy in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza District, as well as negotiations to determine the final status of these areas.

Mr. Shaw's most outlandish premise is that ``the concept of Israel as an `ally' is more rooted in myth and emotion than in any straightforward assessment of where US-Israeli interests coincide and conflict.''

There is, in truth, a vital affinity between the largest and this small democracy. The bond between America and Israel is grounded not only in strategic understanding, but in something more immutable: a common democratic faith, shared moral values, humane aspirations, institutions of freedom and independence. Michael Shiloh, Consul General of Israel, Boston

Thank you for Harry J. Shaw's article. Israel and its American [supporters] will always have very good, very articulate reasons to ask for greater American subsidies. In responding positively to those requests we are funding a bottomless hole. Nancy W. McGuire, Ottumwa, Iowa

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none individually acknowledged. All are subject to condensation. Please address letters to ``readers write.''

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