With friends like this… U.S. – Israeli rift clouds “special relationship”
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was due for a visit to Washington last week, but failed to show: the excuse given was another uptick in violence on the West Bank, but Israeli sources indicated the real reason: Mofaz is miffed that the U.S. is now demanding a written apology for Israeli arms sales to China.
The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz was first to break the story that Israel faced U.S.-imposed sanctions as a result of selling replacement parts for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to China, Harpy Killer unmanned attack drones, designed to take out radar systems – just the sort of thing the Red Army needs in order to make good on its threat to invade Taiwan.
U.S.-Israeli relations are in crisis, as the Americans demand that Israel fess up to the details of more than 60 secret agreements with the Red Chinese. U.S. technology transfers to Israel, in the guise of “foreign aid,” have been funneled through the back door to Beijing via Tel Aviv – and the U.S. is trying to put a stop to it once and for all.
Israeli officials argue that, in the case of the UAVs, they were merely repairing older model drones that had been legally exported from the U.S. to Israel. The reality is that these drones received a major upgrade – using technology developed by the U.S. and shared with the Israelis. A few months after the sanctions were imposed, some Chinese general was boasting about how easy it would be to nuke a few American cities, and the neocons were demanding a bigger defense budget to counter a purported threat from Beijing – one their Israeli friends are helping to create.
“If things were done that were not acceptable to the Americans, then we are sorry,” Israel’s Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom avers, “but these things were done with the utmost innocence.”
Yeah, sure, Shalom: that’s why Israel has been sneaking around behind our back, selling Phalcon fighters to China until they were caught red-handed. That’s why they’ve been leaking U.S.-produced military technology like a sieve, and why they are now chafing at signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. about future weapons sales. Yet Shalom has the nerve to protest: Who – us?
The sheer arrogance of the Israelis is breathtaking. So accustomed are they to the best military equipment U.S. tax dollars can buy that their sense of entitlement blinds them to our need to maintain our own security. Why aren’t we putting Israel first? This certainly seems to be a change in policy direction, and it’s an inconvenience they find quite irritating. Writing in Ha’aretz, Ze’ev Schiff complains:
“The American side is broadcasting that it has been burned by Israel several times, and this time it has decided to be firm. Because they feel affronted, they are not taking into account the political situation in Israel, and are trying to dictate to the Knesset, in an insulting manner, a timetable for its decisions. An agreement is meant to end a crisis, and not to force a friendly nation to agree to be punished in stages. Even a banana republic would not sign such an agreement.”
The U.S. provides $2 billion per year in military aid to Israel, not counting all the “special” dispensations demanded by Tel Aviv every time they are somehow maneuvered into making minor concessions to the Palestinians. Without Uncle Sam, Israel would sink not so slowly beneath a giant demographic wave, buried alive under an Arab population tsunami that would soon overwhelm the Zionist experiment. Yet they turn around, and, without the least compunction, sell advanced weaponry – created by American technology and tax dollars – to a country that has the potential to become our main military competitor.
What’s up with that?
What’s up is the seemingly obvious point that Israel, after all, is not the 51st state, as much as it acts like it at times, and even though its supporters in this country treat it as if it were. Israel is a separate nation, with its own national interests quite distinct from our own. Increasingly, in the post-9/11 world, those interests are in opposition, in spite of the mythos pushed by Israel Firsters in the U.S. that the age of terrorism has brought the two countries closer together.
Our reflexive support for Israel’s depredations in Palestine empowers the worldwide Islamist insurgency against the U.S., and undermines our position vis-à-vis the existing Arab states. Up until this point, the Bush administration has been motivated by political considerations on the domestic front, which require pacifying a vocal Christian fundamentalist faction that supports Israel for theological reasons. Yet pressing geostrategic and military considerations have lately necessitated a modification of U.S. policy: the global “struggle against extremism,” AKA the “war on terrorism,” means we must win over relatively moderate elements in the Muslim world and minimize the influence of Muslim militants. Bin Laden and his allies point to our alliance with Israel – and our single-minded pursuit of Israeli interests, even to the detriment of our own – as evidence that a “Crusader-Zionist” conspiracy exists to destroy Islam and enslave Muslims the world over.
Israel’s own actions, on the other hand, have woken up American policymakers to a rising danger posed, not by terrorist infiltrators, but by the penetration of U.S. security by our alleged closest allies in the struggle against terrorism. The U.S. has frozen a number of military and technical interactions with the Israelis, including the provision of certain equipment to the IDF, such as night-vision equipment. However, according to Ha’aretz,
“Some of the equipment disappeared from one of the shipments, and an Israeli probe indicates it was stolen before the goods left the U.S. Meanwhile, Washington has declared a freeze on all such equipment shipments to Israel, which could harm the IDF’s operative activity.”
Is Ha’aretz saying the Americans stole their own equipment? And if the Israelis are probing this incident, then what are the Americans doing about it? After all, the theft occurred on American, not Israeli, soil. Ha’aretz continues:
“Following the crisis, one can sense the repulsion toward Israel among lower- and middle-ranking officials in Washington. More and more of them are saying that it is not worth doing business with Israel.”
Repulsion – an interesting choice of words. Yes, there is something repulsive about a small nation that depends for its very life on a much larger and more powerful big brother, yet – out of resentment, or sheer perversity – turns around and stabs its protector in the back, while loudly professing undying loyalty and friendship.
This weapons imbroglio is what has visibly roiled the surface of U.S.-Israeli relations at the moment, but the future promises much rougher turbulence. Prosecutors pursuing the Larry Franklin-AIPAC espionage investigation have already landed one indictment, with at least two more in the works, and this is really only the beginning of what promises to be one of the most politically portentous spy scandals since the trials of Alger Hiss. Franklin, the Pentagon’s chief Iran specialist, was handing over sensitive classified information to the Israelis for ideological reasons: he’s a true believer in the neoconservative cause, just as Hiss was a communist-leaning ideologue. Like Hiss – and unlike, say, Jonathan Pollard – Franklin did it for love, not money: devotion to an ideological vision that puts the interests of a foreign nation first.
This same ideological vision animates all too many Bush administration officials, most of them centered in the upper civilian echelons of the Pentagon and clustered around Vice President Dick Cheney. The pincer movement of prosecutors homing in on this pro-Israel cabal – Paul McNulty, in the Eastern District of Virginia, investigating AIPAC-gate, and Patrick J. “Bulldog” Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the Plame case – has the neocons caught in a legal vise. They are doing their best to wriggle out of it, but Fitzgerald isn’t called “Bulldog” for nothing – and McNulty, who is now moving to interrogate Israeli diplomats, is turning out to be no pussycat, either.
Mr. Schiff is outraged that we are treating Israel like “a banana republic,” but how long has the U.S. been treated like a hapless sugar daddy, who not only has to pay for a tart’s time but is subjected to having his pockets rifled – and his pants stolen – in the morning? Even as they’re stretching out one hand to receive the latest “emergency” subsidy, they’re lifting our wallet – and our car keys – with the other, ripping off American secrets and technology and selling it to the highest bidder.
What is needed is a U.S. policy reversal vis-à-vis Israel: the “special relationship” should be downgraded to a neutral stance, with the potential to become openly adversarial. What’s needed, in short, is a good dose of foreign policy realism about Israel.
All states, of course, are potential adversaries, as they constantly seek to expand their domains at others’ expense. Yet some temporary accommodation is always necessary, and out of these are born alliances, some unique in that they seem to be semi-permanent, as in the Atlanticist duo of the U.S. and Great Britain. Within that union of interests, however, it is clearly the U.S. that is the dominant partner, with Britain, the declining superpower, in a strictly advisory role.
The Israelis, on the other hand, are not passive recipients of aid and instructions from Washington. They, like the Brits, are forced to recognize the new world reality of American power, but, unlike London, the Israelis assume an aggressive stance. The Israeli idea of an alliance is not so much a union of interests as a symbiosis, in which one partner uses the other to pursue its own interests: the ally is treated, not as a comrade-in-arms but as a cat’s-paw. It is a strategy of parasitism that has been so successful that the host is beginning to feel the first debilitating effects – fatigue, nausea, and the sudden shocking realization that something isn’t quite right.
The Americans have finally had enough: sanctions, however, should be only the beginning. U.S. aid to Israel is a drain that we can no longer afford – especially when our charity is rewarded with malice. If we’re such a mighty empire, then why are we paying billions per year in “aid” to Israel – not to mention a somewhat lesser amount to Arab dictatorships such as Egypt? Ours is an empire of the unlimited purse, as the Old Right author Garet Garrett used to say: “Everything goes out, and nothing comes in.” Except for spies, foreign lobbyists, and endless trouble.
I have to say that Antiwar.com has come under a lot of pressure to go easy on Israel, and to refrain from making judgements that might seem, at times, to be unduly harsh, even to those who are reasonably objective on the subject. I have been told that my writings would be a lot more welcome in “mainstream” venues if only I would lay off the Israelis, and stop doing investigative work on their political and intelligence activities in this country, both overt and covert – or, at least, stop emphasizing it so much. A tiresome campaign of calumny and smears has been unleashed against me, personally, in certain quarters, with right-wing/neoconservative hacks routinely smearing me and this Web site. That strategy has failed miserably. As prosecutors home in on an extensive Israeli spy ring inside the highest reaches of the Pentagon, and the same crowd is implicated in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame and the fabrication of “intelligence” that got us into a war, Antiwar.com’s refusal to drop this angle is proving prescient. We’ve stuck by our guns, and it turns out we were right after all – where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and, in this case, it’s beginning to look like a forest fire.