Explaining the Continuing US-Israeli Alliance

The US relationship with Israel has been the cause of tensions for decades, with much of the International Community condemning their treatment of the Palestinians as well as Israel’s aggressive actions in other countries, yet the US has always defended Israel’s policies and actions in organisations like the UN security council (Chomsky, 2016: 9). In western (particularly American) news and scholarship, Israel is often portrayed as surrounded by aggressive Muslim states who wish to see them destroyed while Israel just wants to exist. It is commonly claimed by pro-Israeli writers that the entire world is discriminating against them. Including allegations that organisations like the UN and Amnesty International are led by anti-Semites. Curtis (2012) claims (correctly) that some stories of Israeli brutality are lies then implies that this discredits legitimate stories of atrocities committed by the IDF and Israeli clients such as those seen in the 1982 Lebanon war. He then proceeds to make ill-informed statements about other Middle Eastern nations. He perpetuates claims that Arab countries are too divided by religious conflict to govern themselves-in spite of the fact that conflicts are more political than religious in nature (McHugo,2017: 15)-and complains of the western support for other oppressive states, whilst conveniently ignoring the immense and unrivalled US aid to Israel (Mearsheimer and Walt, 2007: 7). It should be made clear that no part of this essay should be interpreted as anti-Semitic, this is just meant as an inquiry into a long-standing alliance between two states which seems to defy both strategic and moral justification.


We shall begin by expanding on the point made above, that there is no strategic or moral justification for the alliance. Both arguments have been made by those belonging to both the Democrat and Republican political elites (Mearsheimer and Walt, 2007: 3) and on this issue, the two parties have virtually identical positions. Other aspects of foreign policy where both sides agree tend to serve geopolitical aims to some extent, even if there are underlying ideological component, but in the case of Israel, as explained below, there is no such reasoning.


To address the moral argument first, at present no nation imminently threatens Israel’s continued existence. The Egyptian government has amicable relations with Israel (Pappé, 2015: 175) and no other neighbouring state possesses the military capacity to come close to challenging Israel’s military might (Mearsheimer and Walt, 2007: 83). It is unlikely that Iran could seriously constitute a threat to Israel considering the latter’s nuclear weapons. In addition, Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons violates both international law and the US’ stated policy on WMD’s (Mearsheimer and Walt, 2007: 34-5). The nation’s clear disregard for ceasefires and international law is far more brazen than most other states and has been the cause of innumerable innocent casualties (Chomsky, 2016: 71-5).


However, the single biggest issue with the moral argument is that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. From the use of targeted assassinations to silence opposition (Bergman, 2018: 444), to the destruction of hospitals supposedly used by Palestinians in Beirut (Chomsky, 2016, 256), to the “economic warfare” being practiced in Gaza which has led to the death of thousands (Finkelstein, 2018: 12-3), the actions of the Israeli state and the IDF cast doubt on the label of “most moral army” which Is sometimes attached to the IDF (Barak, 2018). With the passage of the new so-called “nation-state” law, Israel has enshrined in law discriminatory policies which already existed in many parts of the country and has been justified, with no sense of irony considering Jewish history, by citing the will of the majority (Holmes and Balousha, 2018). It could be argued that the dehumanisation and alienation of the Palestinians finds its way into other areas of society such as in the education system which actively seeks to prepare students for their time in the IDF which could very well involve contact with the Palestinians which might lead soldiers to question the legitimacy of the occupation (Peled-Elhanan, 2013). Furthermore, it is Israel, not Palestine, which is the major opponent of a two-state solution (Mearsheimer, 2012: 137-8).


We now turn our attention to the strategic argument. Since the end of the Cold War, Israel has had very little strategic value when compared to virtually every other major US ally in the region and has become more of a liability than an asset as its policies sometimes come into conflict with other US allies in the area. Furthermore, many nations in the Middle East see Israel as a threat to the region (Chomsky and Vltchek, 2017: 118). The support given to Israel in regional disputes has alienated other US allies in the Middle East, particularly turkey (Fouskas, 2003: 85), and has led to a souring of relations with an arguably more strategically important ally. The recent Turkish rapport with Iran might just be temporary but it is too early to say (Akçali and Perinçek, 2009: 562) and the fact that such a shift in allegiances has even been contemplated should provoke serious questions about current US policy in the Middle East. This is exacerbated by recent disputes over the arrest of an American pastor in Turkey apparently connected to a coup attempt, and the US sanctions as a response.


A cursory glance at the extent of US facilities throughout the Middle East raises further questions. Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Turkey (a NATO member) and the UAE all host large US military institutions (Vine, 2015: 6-7). Whilst Israel has some (secret) bases (Gerson, 2009: 54), this is a token commitment in comparison, especially if we consider that these states with far larger US facilities are provided much less aid than Israel and none receive the same level of diplomatic protection that Israel does. Other states that do not host large US bases tend to contribute to the US in other ways such as Saudi Arabia which has for a long time served to keep oil prices low and the US dollar strong (Gokay, 2015: 10). During the Iraq war, despite clear support for the invasion and unrivalled US military, economic and diplomatic aid (Mearsheimer and Walt, 2007: 24-48), Israel was not required to commit any military forces to the conflict. By comparison, the Philippines was compelled to send soldiers thousands of miles to fight in a conflict which offered them absolutely no gain (Simbulan, 2009: 156) and they receive significantly less US support than Israel.


We must also look at the opportunity costs of the alliance. In 2016, (the last fully reported year as of the time of writing) the US government states that it gave $3.1 billion to Israel in 2016 (USAID) which makes Israel the second largest recipient of US aid (behind Iraq) and the greatest receiver of aid per capita. This aid mostly consists of direct grants or loans that are quickly cancelled. It is estimated that, as of 2005, the US have given over $154 billion in aid to Israel (Mearsheimer and Walt, 2007: 24-5). If one wishes to take an altruistic stance on the issue of government spending, such money could have ended world hunger for more than five years (Abdallah, 2015). Alternatively, if one takes a more realist view, the money could have been better invested in Upgrading and boosting the aging US icebreaker fleet (Stavridis, 2017: 260) or greater investment in soft power/ humanitarian missions to improve the US’ poor reputation overseas.


Having done away with common explanations, we can now begin to address the real reasons behind the longstanding and unparalleled US support for Israel in spite of the lack of strategic or moral reasoning. The major factors behind the unrivalled support are purely domestic. A major reason is the colossal impact of Neoconservatism on American political thought. In particular, an aspect of Neoconservative ideology which Shields Israel from criticism and allows it, like the US, to disregard the concerns of the wider international community (Bacevich, 2013: 133-4). This is augmented and magnified by the influence of a group of lobbying organisations which effectively push for Israeli support and is known as the “Israel lobby.” the lobby should be understood as a “loose coalition of organisations that actively work to shape US foreign policy in the pro-Israel direction” (Mearsheimer and Walt, 2007: 112) the lobby is by no means a secret cabal but instead operates in the open by lobbying US senators. Additionally, there are many divides within the lobby, with many different groups holding different views on a range of issues, however what unites these groups into the “lobby” is their common consensus that the US should back Israel without question.


Many prominent Neoconservatives are extreme fundamentalist Christians-even having been assigned the title of Theocons by some (Scahill, 2007)-and see a militantly pro-Israel policy as in being in Americas best interests (Dorrien, 2004: 196). This ingrained ideological belief in the necessity of Israel’s existence has lead them to support policies that heavily favour Israel. This has led some veterans of old “classical conservatism” to suggest they cared more about Israel than the US (Dorrien, 2004: 198-9) And as this article has aimed to show, that claim is not without a limited foundation. This militantly pro-Israeli policy has been clearly demonstrated by the actions of the incumbent president who, while upending the international order and tearing up alliances left and right, has been considerably supportive of Israel, even moving the American embassy to Jerusalem and destroying any remaining belief in the two-state solution.  The support of Israel can also be seen in the way its actions are portrayed compared to other groups and states. It is worth noting that the aid Israel receives is considered in violation of both US and international law as has been highlighted repeatedly by groups like human rights watch to no avail (Chomsky 2015: 57).


The lack of awareness among the general population raises more questions. Why do so few people in the US know how much their government gives to Israel and why isn’t there any public debate on the issue? To address the latter, point first, while the power of the Congress has declined considerably in recent years (Johnson, 2006: 267-8), one issue members of Congress seem very concerned about is Israel. Major lobbying groups exert significant influence over politicians from both the Democrat and Republican parties and often provide major campaign contributions to them. This can be seen most clearly in the actions of congress under the Obama administration. Obama attached a small number of prerequisites to American aid and as a result, he was widely snubbed, with Prime Minster Netanyahu going over Obama and directly addressing congress with a speech that was heavy on the religious symbolism and the condemnation of Obama’s more neutral stance. Additionally, many members of Congress have been ardent Zionists or Christian Zionists themselves including former speakers making it even more challenging to have a meaningful debate (Mearsheimer and Walt, 2007: 152). This fear of being branded an anti-Semite combines with the enduring support for Israel among several members of Congress to create an atmosphere unfavourable to debate on the topic which helps to account for the lack of debate in Congress but not the lack of discussion in the general public.


The lobby has a history of closely monitoring US press coverage of Israel to ensure that media organisations are favourable to Israel. Many reporters for major news publications are also pro-Israeli as are most editors. Additionally, the Neoconservatives and can always be counted on to boycott publications which are not sufficiently pro-Israeli. This even extends to Jewish press organisations that are not sufficiently supportive such as the Washington Jewish-week (though the charge of anti-Semitism is usually replaced with claims that the writers are “self-hating Jews”) (Mearsheimer and Walt, 2007: 168-73). Additionally, the lobby and individual supporters of Israel will support think tanks and academic institutions with pro-Israel bias. Possibly the greatest weapon for the lobby is the charge of anti-Semitism. When legitimate criticism is allowed, it can often be refuted by accusing the writer of being anti-Semitic and invoking the so-called “new anti-Semitism” which in reality is any criticism of or protest about Israeli policy (Mearsheimer and Walt, 2007: 175-89).


In conclusion, the US has no strategic or moral reason for supporting Israel. The support Israel receives is a result of a neoconservative consensus which believes devoutly in supporting Israel and that to question this unilateral support for Israel, or the actions of the state itself, is anti-Semitic and racist. Few organisations in the US have the resources and willpower to stand up and challenge the prevailing policy, and those who do will likely suffer the consequences. As a result, the issue isn’t politicised in the media or Congress.




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