Israel - US Relations - Background
In the months leading up to the founding of the state of Israel, the CIA, in its first report dealing with the Palestine situation had warned that the formation of a Zionist state would most likely harm US relations with the Arabs.3 At the time, the CIA worried that the Zionists were a cat’s-paw for the Soviet Union, and were concerned that formation of a Jewish state in Palestine would provide a precedent for the Soviets to demand that an independent Kurdistan be established and that Turkey’s Kars Province be ceded to Soviet Armenia.
CIA analysts responsible for the region did not believe the Jews would be able to win the vicious, protracted guerrilla war that was certain to erupt upon British withdrawal and worried that public pressure would force the United States to come to their rescue. This, the CIA warned, would damage US-Arab relations and push the Arabs into the arms of the Soviet Union even though the Muslim Arabs had very little sympathy for communism because of its avowed atheism. Alternatively, it was feared that the USSR might assume the role of rescuer of the Jews and send troops into the region.
Commitment to Israel's security and well being has been a cornerstone of U.S. policy in the Middle East since Israel's founding in 1948, in which the United States played a key supporting role. Israel and the United States are bound closely by historic and cultural ties as well as by mutual interests. Continuing U.S. economic and security assistance to Israel acknowledges these ties and signals U.S. commitment. The broad issues of Arab-Israeli peace have been a major focus in the U.S.-Israeli relationship. U.S. efforts to reach a Middle East peace settlement are based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and have been based on the premise that as Israel takes calculated risks for peace the United States will help minimize those risks.
American policy toward Israel was driven by politics. Politics, in turn, was driven by American public opinion, not by calculation. Public opinion, in its turn, was driven by a complex interrelationship of emotional sympathy for the Jews growing out of the Holocaust, preconceptions based upon history and religion, and often-times flawed or outmoded understandings of the real situation in the Middle East.
For strategic security and diplomatic support, Israel has depended almost totally upon the United States. Since the establishment of the state in 1948, the United States has expressed its commitment to Israel's security and well-being and has devoted a considerable share of its world-wide economic and security assistance to Israel. Large-scale American military and economic assistance began during the October 1973 War, with a massive American airlift of vital military matériel to Israel at the height of the war. From 1948 through 1985, the United States provided Israel with US$10 billion in economic assistance and US$21 billion in military assistance, 60 percent of which was in the form of grants. From 1986 through 1988, total United States economic and military assistance to Israel averaged more than US$3 billion a year, making Israel the largest recipient of United States aid. Of the annual total, about US$1.8 billion was in Foreign Military Sales credits, and about US$1.2 billion was in economic assistance.
During the administration of President Ronald Reagan, the United States-Israeli relationship was significantly upgraded, with Israel becoming a strategic partner and de facto ally. A number of bilateral arrangements solidified this special relationship. In November 1983, the United States and Israel established a Joint Political-Military Group to coordinate military exercises and security planning between the two countries, as well as to position United States military equipment in Israel for use by American forces in the event of a crisis. In 1984 Israel and the United States concluded the United States-Israel Free Trade Area Agreement to provide tariff-free access to American and Israeli goods. In 1985 the two countries established a Joint Economic Development Group to help Israel solve its economic problems; in 1986 they created a Joint Security Assistance Group to discuss aid issues. Also in 1986, Israel began participating in research and development programs relating to the United States Strategic Defense Initiative. In January 1987, the United States designated Israel a major non-NATO ally, with status similar to that of Australia and Japan. Two months later, Israel agreed to the construction of a Voice of America relay transmitter on its soil to broadcast programs to the Soviet Union. In December 1987, Israel signed a memorandum of understanding allowing it to bid on United States defense contracts on the same basis as NATO countries. Finally, the two countries signed a memorandum of agreement in April 1988 formalizing existing arrangements for mutually beneficial United States-Israel technology transfers.
Israel has also cooperated with the United States on a number of clandestine operations. It acted as a secret channel for United States arms sales to Iran in 1985 and 1986, and during the same period it cooperated with the United States in Central America. The United States-Israeli relationship, however, has not been free of friction. The United States expressed indignation with Israel over an espionage operation involving Jonathan Jay Pollard, a United States Navy employee who was sentenced to life imprisonment for selling hundreds of vital intelligence documents to Israel. During the affair, Israeli government and diplomatic personnel in Washington served as Pollard's control officers. Nevertheless, United States government agencies continued to maintain a close relationship with Israel in sensitive areas such as military cooperation, intelligence sharing, and joint weapons research.
On a bilateral level, relations between the United States and Israel were continually strengthening in every field. In addition to the Joint Political-Military Group described above, there are: bilateral science and technology efforts (including the Binational Science Foundation and the Binational Agricultural Research and Development Foundation); the U.S.-Israeli Education Foundation, which sponsors educational and cultural programs; the Joint Economic Development Group, which maintains a high-level dialogue on economic issues; the Joint Counterterrorism Group, designed to enhance cooperation in fighting terrorism; and a high-level Strategic Dialogue.
The United States is Israel's largest single trading partner. In 2008, bilateral trade totaled $28 billion, an increase of almost 5% over 2007, even in light of the slowdown in global trade. The U.S. trade deficit with Israel was $11.9 billion in 2008, including diamonds. Excluding diamonds, the trade deficit was $4.5 billion in 2008. Israel is our 20th largest export market for goods. The principal goods exported from the U.S. include civilian aircraft parts, telecommunications equipment, semiconductors, civilian aircraft, electrical apparatus, and computer accessories. Israel's chief exports to the U.S. include diamonds, pharmaceutical preparations, telecommunications equipment, medicinal equipment, electrical apparatus, and cotton apparel. The two countries signed a free trade agreement (FTA) in 1985 that progressively eliminated tariffs on most goods traded between the two countries over the following 10 years. An agricultural trade accord signed in November 1996 addressed the remaining goods not covered in the FTA but has not entirely erased barriers to trade in the agricultural sector. Israel also has trade and cooperation agreements in place with the European Union, Canada, Mexico, and other countries.
Although Israel frequently is referred to as an ally of the United States, technically Israel may not fall under the definition of "ally" because there was no mutual defense agreement between the two countries. The Reagan Administration considered Israel a "strategic asset" because of Israel's opposition to the Soviet Union. Israel's Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on November 30, 1981, establishing a framework for continued consultation and cooperation to enhance the national security of both countries and confront the Soviet threat. On December 18, 1981, the State Department announced the "suspension" of the MOU in reaction to Israel's annexing the Syrian Golan Heights. In November 1983, Israel and the United States renewed the dialogue on bilateral strategic cooperation, and formed a joint political-military committee to implement most of the 1981 MOU provisions.
Prime Minister Shamir signed a 5-year agreement during his March 1988 visit to Washington, formalizing a number of Reagan era working arrangements in military, economic, political, and intelligence matters. The agreement designated Israel a "major non-NATO ally of the United States," which gives Israel preferential treatment in bidding for DOD contracts and lower prices on U.S. defense equipment.
The US decision to back an agreement among states signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty to sponsor a Middle East conference in 2012 aimed at ridding the region of nuclear weapons raised alarms among conservatives and mainstream pro-Israel groups. "What the U.S.'s vote in favor of the NPT review conference's final anti-Israel (and by default pro-Iranian) resolution makes clear is that under Obama, the U.S. is no longer Israel's reliable ally," wrote Caroline Glick, a conservative Jerusalem Post columnist.
Gen. David Petraeus, chief of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), warned lawmakers that "perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel ... foments anti- American sentiment" throughout the region and had an "enormous effect" on "the strategic context in which we operate". The beneficiaries, he said, include Iran, al Qaeda, and other radical Islamist groups.
It appears that Israelis want to maintain their status as strategic ally by creating an Islamic adversary to replace the Soviet nemesis of the past. Israel faces a unique set of security threats and national ambitions that sustain policies inconsistent with the Obama Administration's broader agenda of establishing a rule-bound international order that would eliminate double standards in US foreign policy. Israel has been gradually turning from a strategic asset to a burden for the United States, the head of Israel's intelligence service said.
Mossad Chief Meir Dagan told members of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee ony 01 June 2009 that changes in U.S. foreign policy after the Cold War have left Israel with a decreased role as an ally in the Middle East, the Israeli daily, Jersualem Post, reported. "When there was a conflict between the blocs, Israel was an asset, and today it has declined," he said. U.S. foreign policy now prefers a "soft power" approach and an "unwillingness to use force to solve conflicts". On the eve of Obama's inauguration, the influential National Journal ran a symposium on the question: "Is Israel a Strategic Liability for the United States?" in which a surprising number of respected national security analysts answered in the affirmative.
In January 2014 Israeli media quoted private remarks by defense minister Moshe Yaalon criticizing US Secretary of State John Kerry for acting “out of misplaced obsession and messianic fervor” during the last round of peace talks. “The defense minister had no intention to cause any offense to the secretary, and he apologizes if the secretary was offended by words attributed to the minister,” read a statement the defense ministry released March 20, which the U.S. rejected. When Ya’alon visited Washington October 2014 according to the Jerusalem Post, he hoped to meet with Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who turned him down.
Strained diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and Israel further frayed in late 2014 after an anonymous U.S. official was quoted October 29, 2014 in a magazine article characterizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu using a profane slang that means “worthless coward.”
In March 2015 Prime Minister Netanyahu traveled to Washington and spoke to a joint meeting of the US Congress. His comments about nuclear negotiations with Iran angered the administration of President Barack Obama. He called a yet-to-be-announced agreement with Iran, “a bad deal.” There were also tensions about the Middle East peace process. Earlier this week, Netanyahu said he would never support a Palestinian state. His comment came in the final hours of the election campaign. It appeared to overturn the position he had held as prime minister, when Israelis and Palestinians held peace talks. Those negotiations eventually broke down.
The underlying relationship, which is expressed in myriad ways -- in daily cooperation, in military cooperation and cultural exchanges, tourism, academic exchanges and business ties -- is extremely deep, extremely wide and extremely strong.
In October 2015 Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and US Secretary of State Ash Carter opened talks on the defense package Washington will offer Israel over the next decade in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal. Ya’alon said “We will discuss how to further increase the IDF’s capacity and capabilities to maintain our qualitative edge given increased and growing regional threats on the security of our country,” he continued.
In remarks at the Pentagon 28 October 2015, Defense Secretary Ash Carter noted the Joint Strike Fighter is the visible manifestation of U.S. support for Israel. The Israeli air force will start receiving the aircraft next year and will be the only force in the region to be armed with a fifth-generation fighter.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed 09 November 2015 at the end of his meeting with US President Barack Obama that Israel has asked for military aid totaling $50 billion over ten years, starting in 2018. The new $5 billion per year figure includes not only the annual defense aid, but also the separate American investment in the development of missile interceptor systems like the Iron Dome and the Arrow. According to the current agreement, through 2017, America provides Israeli military aid worth $3.1 billion annually. The funds for the missile interceptor systems - which is approved separately each year - has reached $750 million. Thus, Israel was asking for a de facto increase of more than $1 billion each year.
US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford met with his Israeli counterpart Lt. Gen. Eizenkot at the Pentagon in early August 2016 to discuss the new multi-billion-dollar military assistance package currently in negotiation between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations. The package, proposed by the White House, called for an unprecedented $40 billion in military aid over the next ten years, the single largest appropriation of foreign financial aid in world history, and significantly higher than the previous $30-billion agreement signed 10 years earlier. Concurrent to Eizenkot’s visit, acting head of the Israeli National Security Council Yaakov Nagel met with US National Security Adviser Susan Rice on a final draft of a new memorandum of understanding on military assistance to Israel set to come into effect in 2018 when the current memo expires.
The United States signed a record 10-year multibillion-dollar security assistance deal with Israel — "the single largest pledge of bilateral military assistance in U.S. history." The State Department confirmed the deal 13 September 2016, without placing a dollar figure on the aid package. But sources close to the deal said it was valued at $38 billion. The current 10-year package, which expires in 2018, is valued at $31 billion. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu originally sought $4.5 billion annually. US officials said the new deal would phase out Israel's ability to spend part of the US funding on Israeli military products. Instead, it would require the Jewish state to buy US-made weaponry. It also would end Israel's practice of seeking additional funds from Congress beyond what had been guaranteed in earlier packages. It also does away with a unique arrangement Israel enjoyed which allowed it to spend a quarter of the American assistance money on purchases within Israel. This benefit will be phased out gradually ending completely in the last year of the agreement.
“This deal illustrates a simple truth,” Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video message hours after the agreement was signed. “The relationship between Israel and the United States is solid and powerful. It does not mean that we don’t have disputes now and then, but these are disputes you have between family.” National Security Adviser Susan Rice, noted the historic nature of the deal. “This is the single largest pledge of military assistance to any country in U.S. history,” Rice said. “And that’s not an accident. It’s a reminder of the United States’ unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.”
A resolution on reining in Israeli settlement building passed 23 December 2016 at the Security Council after the U.S. chose not to veto the resolution. Prime Minister Netanyahu accused U.S. President Barack Obama of backing out of a long-standing commitment to stand by Israel. The prime minister said he had recently told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that "friends don't take friends to the Security Council."
Prime Minister Netanyahu said 25 December 2016 at his Cabinet meeting that the Israeli government and the United States administrations have agreed "over the decades" that the U.N. Security Council was not the place to resolve their issues about Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
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