American leaders traditionally explain the foundations of the relationship with Israel by citing shared democratic values and the moral responsibility the United States bears to protect the small nation-state of the Jewish people. Although accurate and essential, this characterization is incomplete because it fails to capture a third, crucial, aspect: the many ways in which Israel advances U.S. interests.
Today, Israeli contributions to U.S. national interests cover a broad spectrum. Through joint training exercises and exchanges on military doctrine, the United States has benefited in the areas of counter-terrorism, intelligence, and experience in urban warfare. Increasingly, U.S. homeland security and military agencies turn to Israeli technology to solve some of their most vexing technical and strategic problems.
This support includes advice and expertise on behavioral screening techniques for airport security and acquisition of an Israeli-produced tactical radar system to enhance force protection. Israel has been a world leader in the development of unmanned aerial systems, both for intelligence needs and combat, and it has shared with the U.S. military the technology, doctrine, and experience regarding these systems. Israel is also a global pacesetter in armored vehicle protection, defense against short-range rockets, and the techniques and procedures of robotics, all of which it has shared with the United States.
In missile defense, the United States has a broad and multifaceted partnership with Israel. Israel’s national missile defenses – which include the U.S. deployment in Israel of an advanced X-band radar system and the more than 100 U.S. military personnel who man it – will be an integral part of a larger defense spanning Europe, the eastern Mediterranean, and the Persian Gulf.
Israeli-developed defense equipment, some of which benefited from generous U.S. aid, that is now used by the U.S. military, includes: short-range unmanned aircraft systems; targeting pods on hundreds of Air Force, Navy, and Marine strike aircraft; a revolutionary helmet-mounted sight that is standard in nearly all frontline Air Force and Navy fighter aircraft; lifesaving armor installed in thousands of MRAP armored vehicles used in Iraq and Afghanistan; and a gun system for close-in defense of naval vessels against terrorist small-boat attacks.
Moreover, U.S. and Israeli companies are working together to produce Israel’s Iron Dome – the world’s first combat-proven counter-rocket system.
Counter-terrorism and intelligence cooperation are deep and extensive. There are joint Special Forces training and exercises and collaboration on shared targets.
This intimate relationship reinforces overall U.S. intelligence efforts by providing Washington with access to Israel’s unique set of capabilities for regional information collection and assessments.
On important issues, the two nations differ at times, a phenomenon not unique to the U.S.-Israel relationship. Over the decades, there have been periodic policy flare-ups, some even bitter. Some of the most contentious disputes have been about the Middle East peace process.
More common, however, are instances of U.S.-Israel collaboration – most important, the Arab-Israeli peace treaties that anchor of this nation’s interests in the region.
We do not deny that there are costs to the United States, in the Arab world and elsewhere, for its support of Israel, as there are costs to U.S. support of other beleaguered – and sometime imperfect – friends, including West Berlin in the Cold War, Kuwait in 1990-91, and Taiwan today.
The long-standing U.S. commitment to Israel, however, has not prevented development of close ties with Arab nations, which understand – however much they disagree with U.S. support for Israel – that they benefit from a good relationship with the United States on other issues. It also has not made the Arab oil-exporting states any less conscious of their own economic and strategic interest in a reasonably stable flow of oil to world markets, or their eagerness to buy first-class military equipment from the United States, or to enjoy the benefits of U.S. protection against Iranian or other aggression.
Would Saudi Arabia’s policies toward the United States, for example, be markedly different if Washington entered into a sustained crisis with Israel over the Palestine issue? Would Riyadh lower the price of oil? Would it stop hedging its regional bets concerning U.S. attempts to coerce Iran into freezing its nuclear weapons programs? Would it regard current U.S. policy toward Afghanistan more positively? Would it view U.S. efforts to promote democracy in the Middle East more favorably? Would it be more inclined to reform its internal governmental processes to be more in line with U.S. preferences? No.
In sum, we believe that Israel’s substantial contributions to U.S. interests are an underappreciated aspect of this relationship and deserve equal billing to shared values and historical responsibility as rationales for U.S. support of Israel.
JTA Wire Service