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U. S. Policy Towards Israel: The Special Relationship
CSC 1990
Author Major Cozy E. Bailey, USMC
                       EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
THESIS:  U.S. policy towards Israel has been contradictory,
unfulfilling and defined and driven by special interest
ISSUE:   The U.S. has strong ties with Israel.  Until very
recently the U.S. -Israeli relationship was not bound in
formal treaties or documents but has remained strong and
durable nonetheless.  The ties that bind these two countries
are varied:  cultural, military, economic, political, and
ideological.  Strongest among these are the political and
military ties.
    The political ties are influenced and kept strong by a
very active Jewish lobby.  This lobby is so strong that
Israel has weathered many storms of controversy and
continues to thrive with U.S. support and monetary aid.  The
military ties are influenced by Israel's success on the
battlefield using American supplied weapons.
    This paper examines the bonds between Israel and the
U.S. focusing on political and military ties.  It also takes
a look at the future of the "special relationship"  between
the two countries and discusses changing determinants of
that relationship.
                   U.S. POLICY TOWARDS ISRAEL:
                    THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP
THESIS STATEMENT.  U.S. policy towards Israel has been
contradictory, unfullfilling, and driven and defined by
special interest groups.
I.  Beginnings of U.S.-Israeli Ties
    A.   Formation of Israel
    B.   Early U.S. interest in the Middle East
II. U.S. Israeli Policy Formulation
    A.   U.S. Middle East Policy defined
    B.   The Soviet Factor
    C.   Special Interest Group Role
III. Israeli Policy Contradictions
     A.   USS Liberty Incident
     B.   War with Lebanon
     C.   Arms Control Violations
IV.  Military Value
     A.   Intelligence
     B.   Battlefield Experience
     C.   Military Performance
V.  Conclusions
    A.   Special Relationship
    B.   Future Considerations
                   U.S. POLICY TOWARDS ISRAEL:
                    THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP
     Since the creation of the Jewish state on May 14, 1948,
the United States and Israel have maintained very strong
ties.  Israel owes it very existence in large part to the
efforts of the United States.  Traditionally, Israel has been
looked upon as a solid friend and ally in a very tumultuous
region of the world.  A tremendous amount of aid, especially
military and economic, has been given to the country.
American support for Israel has been accepted as the  "right
thing to do."
     Most alliances formed by the United States tend to be
because the potential ally in some way can assist in the
protection or attainment of U.S. vital interests.  Israel
holds no such strategic value.  It has no raw materials
required by the United States, it doesn't occupy strategic
land, and it certainly doesn't exert political influence over
its neighbors.  Why then does the United States maintain a
de facto alliance with Israel?
     The United States had a history of isolationism much
longer than its history of support for Israel.  How does a
country which practically had to be forced into World War II
suddenly become so committed to the survival of a tiny nation
half a world away?  Why is so much military and economic aid
provided to a nation which holds such little strategic value
to United States vital interests?  An examination of the
origins of U.S. -Israeli relations must be made to begin to
answer these questions.
     The United States has had interests in the Middle East
dating back to the 1920's.  The interest then, as now, was
oil.  Private companies realized the potential of Middle East
oil reserves and began exploration and exploitation.  The
primary interest the U.S. government had was to protect the
investments of its citizens.  During World War II the
interest shifted to one of a national nature because of the
increased need for oil supplies for the U.S. war effort.
Still, at this time, the United States was not interested in
forming and supporting a Jewish homeland.  Maintaining
friendly relations with the oil producing countries was of
paramount importance.  The United Kingdom had been active in
the internal politics of the Middle East for quite some time
and Arab-Jewish problems were considered British problems.
     With increased persecution of Jews in Europe led by Nazi
Germany, world wide clamor by Jews for a separate homeland
began to increase in volume.  In the United States alone,
four agencies; the American Jewish Conference, the Jewish
Agency for Palestine, the American Emergency Committee for
Zionists Affairs, and the American Palestine Committee, were
formed for the sole purpose of forming a Jewish state in
Palestine. (2:24)  These agencies began to exert tremendous
pressure on the U.S. government to support a Jewish homeland
in the Middle East.  Finally, the United States gave de facto
recognition to the State of Israel and thus began a history
of U.S. support to Israel sponsored by special interest
     Over time, the United States has developed a traditional
or classic list of interests in the Middle East.  They are:
     - Avoiding confrontation with the Soviet Union
     - Preventing the establishment of Soviet regional
     - Continuing access to oil at reasonable prices for the
     U.S., Western Europe, and Japan.
     - The survival of Israel
     - Preventing polarization of regional powers along
     ideological lines
     - Establishing a stable and durable peace in the
     region (3:6)
Although it is generally agreed that the above list
encompasses the spectrum of U.S. interests in the Middle
East, there has been little consensus on priority.  Further,
debate has raged in Congress and the executive branch as to
which of the interests can be termed vital.
     Every discussion or debate concerning continued support
to Israel is couched in classic diplomatic terminology
referring to subjects such as regional, economic, and
political stability.  However, unique to Israel, political
leaders speak of moral obligations and shared values in
defense of sustaining or increasing aid.  In a 1970 report to
the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Henry Jackson
stated that  "this country and Israel are bound together by
shared values, cultural affinities, and a common ethical and
religious heritage.   The senator further stated that  Israel
is a stable and egalitarian democracy; ...... qualities that
inspire the respect of many Americans.  Israel is the first
line of Western defense against Soviet expansionism." (6:8)
     American concern for Soviet domination of the Middle
East is consistent with concerns for Soviet domination in
every region of the world.  Likewise, desires for regional
peace and stability go hand in hand with the need to protect
a source of raw materials, in this case oil, for the United
States and its military and economic allies.
     The Arab-Israeli conflict is the principal basis for
Soviet influence in the Middle East.  Continued steadfast
U.S. support for Israel only serves to enhance the atmosphere
for Soviet influence.  Yet, the United States continues to
implement policy decisions; strong support for Israel,
seemingly at odds with the accomplishment of traditional
national goals and objectives.  The only interest or goal
from the list that is out of place is the "survival of
Israel", based upon the special relationship between the two
countries rather than a pragmatic approach to foreign
     This special relationship is not easily explained in
terms of tangible linkages.  There are several aspects of the
relationship that must be understood.  Among these aspects,
probably the single most significant is the U.S. domestic
political factor.  The connection to Israel is particularly
strong in domestic politics due to the high level of
political activism characteristic of the American Jewish
Community; the same force that helped convince the U.S.
government to support establishment of Israel.  Obviously the
thrust of these organizations has changed to sustainment of
Israel, but the power and influence have only increased.
Organizations that influence United States policy in favor of
Israel have organized themselves under the umbrella of the
American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).(5:236)
According to Rowland Evans and Robert Novak of The Washington
Post, AIPAC's efforts are covertly directed from
Israel.(5:236)  AIPAC and affiliated organizations were
extremely successful during the decade of the 70's and on
into the early 1980's.  According to the May 1983 issue of
the National Journal, the major pro-Israel political action
committee, NATPAC, contributed $542,500 to the 1982
congressional elections.  Moreover, according to the Federal
Election Committee, during the same congressional campaign,
the combined contributions of Jewish organized PAC's was more
than $1.67 million. (8:94) The PAC's used this money
intelligently.  The funds supported friendly incumbents and
helped defeat unfriendly ones.  By way of comparison,
donations made by the Jewish PAC's was matched only by
contributions the United Auto Workers and the American
Medical Association. (8:96)
     The American Jewish community has power and knows how to
use it.  Its power is not so much in numbers as it is in
political awareness and expertise, and money.  The power
wielded is all the more awesome considering that American
Jewry comprises only 3% of the population of the United
States.  The power projection is intensified by the various
Jewish organizations; unwavering, universal support for the
existence and security of a sovereign Israel.  In this
country, the best way to exert political and policy making
influence is to have a friend in Congress.  The American
Jewish community knows how to get a friend.
     The American Jewish community knows how to get a friend
but does Israel know how to keep a friend?   Two occurrences
in the past 25 years tend to indicate that it doesn't; the
attack on the USS Liberty in 1967 and the invasion of Lebanon
in 1982.  Both of these incidents depict an upside down
relationship between the United States and Israel.
     A total rehash of the sinking of the USS Liberty is not
necessary to understand the important aspects of the
incident.  In summary, the Liberty was a SIGINT platform
working for the National Security Agency.  It kept the
country abreast of developments in the 1967 war.  When Israel
decided that the ship might have been gathering information
undesirable to Israeli policies, the ship was sunk. (5:252)
The Israelis offered official apologies stating that the
sinking of the ship was an accident.  Evidence shows that the
vaunted Israeli intelligence community should definitely have
known that the Liberty was a U.S. naval vessel.(5:252)  Even
if the assertion that the attack on the Liberty is wrong,
subsequent U.S. actions towards Israel are no less than
     First, as previously stated, following the 1967 war, the
United States became the principal supplier of arms to
Israel.  This became in fact a repudiation of America's
concept of an arms balance in the Middle East.  Worse, it was
exactly counter to America's policy that aggressors should
not be allowed to keep the lands they conquer by force or
impose conditions on the restoration of those lands. (5:260)
The attack on the USS Liberty was designed to hide the fact
that Israel was the aggressor in the 1967 war.
     The military aspect of U.S. support to Israel is also
important.  By 1967, the United States was the only major
source of arms to which Israel could turn.  In becoming the
major supplier of arms to Israel, the Unites States risked
confrontation with the Soviet Union twice; in 1967 and again
in 1973.  In 1973, the Israeli requirements were so great
that in order to meet them, the Unites States drew equipment
from military stocks in Europe and from reserve units;
risking degradation of its own readiness posture.  These
demonstrations of U.S. support for Israel created conflict
with the European Allies and an increased U.S. isolation in
the United Nations.
     In Lebanon, the United States followed Israel down a
path that may yet prove to be disastrous.  America has no
interests in Lebanon other than Israeli interests.  By taking
sides with Israel, America has diminished its ability to act
as a mediator between Arab nations and Israel.  Also, the
United States' reputation as a champion of human rights was
hurt due to its failure to keep its promise to protect
Palestinians left behind when the PLO leadership left.  Of
course, American involvement in Lebanon with no clear purpose
resulted in the deaths of over 240 Marines and sailors at
Beirut Airport.
     When Israel decided to invade Lebanon, it was a clear
violation of the Arms Export Control Act, yet no punitive
action was taken.  This act requires that a country receiving
military aid from the United States must use weapons only for
defensive purposes.  When Turkey violated a similar
commitment by using American supplied military equipment to
invade Cyprus in 1974, the U.S. strictly enforced the law.
This was done even thought Turkey was a member of NATO and
Cyprus provided provocation for the invasion. (1:34)
Obviously, Israel received preferential treatment.
     Not since President Eisenhower did in 1956 has the
American government subjected Israel to sanctions for
violations of agreements.  On the contrary, just as in the
aftermath of the `67 war, Israel seems to gain from her
actions.  For example, the first session of the 101st
Congress which ended in December of 1989 voted more aid to
Israel than ever before.  According to AIPAC, Congress
approved a record $666.1 million in special economic and
military aid above and beyond the $3 billion originally
appropriated. (10)
     Thus far, discussion has centered on the fact that
Israel receives special treatment from the United States yet
doesn't have any direct strategic value.  Israel does however
have some indirect value to the United States.
     Israel provides some positive gains for United States
interests when seen in the global military context.  Israel
can be viewed in the global military context from several
perspectives: its intelligence techniques, the implications
of its battlefield experiences, and the impact of its
military performance on the reputation of U.S. arms.
     American intelligence services have cooperated with
their Israeli counterparts for more than three decades.
Shared information has enabled the United States to save on
training by deploying fewer intelligence operatives and
utilizing fewer facilities.  On many occasions over the past
25 years Israel has provided information regarding planned
terrorist activities.  Israel has become not only a provider
of information, but also an important developer of
instruments designed for collection of intelligence data.
The Israelis have helped to devise intelligence systems with
several U.S. corporations which saves dollars for the U.S.
government.  The Israelis assume the development costs and
the United States either adopts the already refined product
or benefits from the information acquired.
     The Israelis cannot contribute to such areas as
strategic weapons system or aircraft carrier technology, but
Israel is the only nation recently to fight repeatedly on the
front line against authentic electronics, aircraft, and
artillery of the Soviet Union. (11)  The lessons learned
cannot be purchased, developed, or simulated.  The advantage
Israel offers is not only data but experience, technique, and
tactics that cannot be gained anywhere else.  In the 1982
Lebanon War, the Israelis were able to inspect electronic
equipment from the remains of several MiG-23s and one MiG-
25, which had been shot down, providing the basis for
adjusting operational tactics and improving American weaponry
to counter equipment of Soviet design. (11)
     It is obviously not in the interest of the United States
or of Israel for periodic wars in the Middle East to occur.
However, once conflicts have been initiated and battles have
been fought, there is no reason not to admit the value for
the United States in terms of the enhanced credibility of
U.S. arms, the lessons learned, and the lost credibility of
Soviet weapons.
     Arms sales represent an ironic example of the effect of
Israel's military successes.  Since the War of Attrition in
1969-1970, Israel has advertised the proficiency of U.S.
weaponry in combat.  This process has been expanded
considerably as a consequence o the Lebanon War in 1982.
Israeli weapons capability makes American arms attractive to
Arab nations because the Israelis have succeeded so well with
them.  Subsequently, the results have been an increase in
arms sales to Arab nations which by 1982 accounted for 50
percent of U.S. sales worldwide, compared with 11 percent in
1972. (3)  The reputation of Soviet arms has plummeted as a
result of the Lebanon War.  Both Iraq and Peru questioned the
adequacy of their Soviet supplied weapons after the disaster
in Lebanon.  So Israel simultaneously enhances the reputation
of American arms while lowering the status of Soviet weapons.
     Examining the relationship of the United States and
Israel from these three perspectives reveals that the United
States has interests in Israeli military performance and
capability beyond concern for the Arab-Israeli balance of
power.  The intelligence gathering capabilities of the
Israelis are superior.  They improve American arms and
advertise their superiority.  Their combat experience yields
import lessons.  Yet, Israel is not just a military
laboratory.  Its military expertise is a fact of contemporary
international politics.
     Why does the United States give strong support to
Israel?  As the previous discussion has shown, the United
States supports Israel for two basic reasons, political and
miliary.  The political force exerted is a strong but not
pragmatic one.  Submission to special interest groups
lobbying activities has placed the United States in a big
brother role to Israel.  Often, Israel plays the part of the
spoiled and overindulged younger sibling.  Military support
is where the United States reaps the greatest dividends.  The
benefits of the U.S. -Israeli military connection could not
have been duplicated by any other country.
     The U.S. -Israeli connection has been an open ended,
informal, and contradictory association which has proven to
be increasingly strong and durable for the past forty years.
Based upon strong ideological, political, and military
linkages, the relationship has created a basic U.S. foreign
policy dilemma, reconciling conflicting U.S. national
interests in the Middle East.  That dilemma has consistently
been resolved in favor of preserving the  special
relationship  between the two states; but that relationship
should not continue to be the overarching determinant for
U.S. national policy in the Middle East.
     As the speed of world change increases, Americans are
likely to once again turn inward.  Recent demands for a
peace dividend  from our national leaders appears to be the
first wave of this renewed internal focus.  The challenges of
domestic problems will very likely dominate political debate
over the next few years.  If this assertion is true, what of
     Should the  "outbreak of peace"  spread to the Middle
East, continued military support to Israel will be in serious
jeopardy.  All of the many and varied determinants of U.S.
policy towards Israel would be drastically changed except for
one, the special interest groups that garner support for
Israel.  The influence of these groups is strong, but not
invincible.  Future U.S. policy towards Israel will
increasingly and finally rest upon the Israel's own behavior
and conduct.
1.  Ball, George W., Error and Betrayal in Lebanon.
Washington, D.C.:  Foundation for Middle East Peace,
2.  Chafets, Ze'ev, Double Vision.  New York:  William Morrow
         and Company, 1985.
3.  Chambers, Howard L., The US-Israeli Connection.
Carlisle, PA:  Strategic Studies Institute, US Army
War College, 1976.
4.  Dershowitz, Toby, The Reagan Administration and Israel.
         Washington, D.C.:  American Israel Public Affairs
     Committee, 1987.
5.  Green, Stephen, Taking Sides.  New York:  William Morrow
         and Company, 1984.
6.  Jackson, Henry M., The Middle East and American Security
         Policy: Report to the Committee on Armed Services,
         United States Senate.  Washington, D.C.:  U.S.
         Government Printing Office, 1970.
7.  Kenen, I.L., Israel's Defense Line.  Buffalo:  Prometheus
         Books, 1981.
8.  Novik, Nimrod, The United States and Israel.  Boulder and
         London:  Westview Press, 1986.
9.  Safran, Nadav, The United States and Israel.  Cambridge,
         Mass.:   Harvard University Press, 1963.
10.  Sieff, Martin,  Special Friends.   The Washington Times,
          March 16, 1990.
11.  Spiegel, Steven L.,  U.S. Relations with Israel:  The
       Military Benefits.   DISAM Journal, Fall 1987.

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