In 2017, the national security interests of the U.S. and Israel have converged in an unprecedented manner in response to anti-U.S. Islamic terrorism; declining European posture of deterrence; drastic cuts in the U.S. defense budget; an increasingly unpredictable, dangerous globe; Israel’s surge of military and commercial capabilities and U.S.-Israel shared values.
Contrary to conventional wisdom — and traditional State Department policy — U.S.-Israel and U.S.-Arab relations are not a zero-sum game. This is currently demonstrated by enhanced U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, concurrently with expanded security cooperation between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other pro-U.S. Arab countries, as well as stronger cooperation between the U.S. and those same Arab countries. Unlike the simplistic view of the Middle East, Arab policymakers are well aware of their priorities, especially when the radical Islamic machete is at their throats. They are consumed by internal and external intra-Muslim, intra-Arab violence, which have dominated the Arab agenda, prior to — and irrespective of — the Palestinian issue, which has never been a core cause of regional turbulence, a crown-jewel of Arab policymaking or the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Israel’s posture as a unique ally of the U.S. — in the Middle East and beyond — has surged since the demise of the USSR, which transformed the bipolar globe into a multipolar arena of conflicts, replete with highly unpredictable, less controllable and more dangerous tactical threats. Israel possesses proven tactical capabilities in face of such threats. Thus, Israel provides a tailwind to the U.S. in the pursuit of three critical challenges that impact U.S. national security, significantly transcending the scope of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian issue:
1. To constrain/neutralize the ayatollahs of Iran, who relentlessly aspire to achieve nuclear capability in order to remove the U.S. from the Persian Gulf, dominate the Muslim world, and subordinate the American “modern-day Crusaders.”
2. To defeat global Islamic terrorism, which aims to topple all pro-U.S. Arab regimes, expand the abode of Muslim believers and crash the abode of non-Muslim “infidels” in the Middle East and beyond.
3. To bolster the stability of pro-U.S. Arab regimes, which are lethally threatened by the ayatollahs and other sources of Islamic terrorism.
Moreover, Israel has been the only effective regional power to check the North Korean incursion into the Middle East. For instance, on Sept. 6, 2007, the Israeli Air Force destroyed Syria’s nuclear site, built mostly with the support of Iran and North Korea, sparing the U.S. and the globe the wrath of a ruthless, nuclear Assad regime.
While Israel is generally portrayed as a supplicant expecting the U.S. to extend a helping hand, Adm. (ret.) James G. Stavridis, a former NATO supreme commander, currently the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, says otherwise. He maintains that Israel is not a supplicant but rather a unique geostrategic partner, extending the strategic hand of the U.S. through a mutually beneficial, highly productive relationship with the U.S.
On Jan. 5, 2017, Stavridis wrote: “Our best military partner in the region, by far, is Israel … as we stand together facing the challenges of the Middle East. … Israeli intelligence gathering is superb. … A second zone of potentially enhanced cooperation is in technology and innovation. … In addition to missile defense, doing more together in advanced avionics (as we did with the F-15), miniaturization (like Israel’s small airborne-warning aircraft) and the production of low-cost battlefield unmanned vehicles (both air and surface) would yield strong results. … We should up our game in terms of intelligence cooperation. [The Israeli intelligence services] of our more segregated sectors on a wide range of trends, including the disintegration of Syria, the events in Egypt and the military and nuclear capability of Iran. … Setting up a joint special-forces training and innovation center for special operations in Israel would be powerful. … It truly is a case of two nations that are inarguably stronger together.”
Unlike other major U.S. allies in Europe, the Far East, Africa and the Middle East, Israel does not require U.S. military personnel and bases in order to produce an exceptionally high added value to the annual U.S. investment in — and not ”foreign aid” to — Israel’s military posture.
For example, the plant manager of Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-16 and F-35 fighter planes, told me during a visit to the plant in Fort Worth, Texas: “The value of the flow of lessons derived from Israel’s operation, maintenance and repairs of the F-16 has yielded hundreds of upgrades, producing a mega-billion-dollar bonanza for Lockheed-Martin, improving research and development, increasing exports and expanding employment.”
A similar added value has benefitted McDonnell Douglas, the manufacturer of the F-15 fighter plane in Berkeley, Missouri, as well as hundreds of U.S. defense manufacturers, whose products are operated by Israel. The Jewish state — the most predictable, stable, effective, reliable and unconditional ally of the U.S. — has become the most cost-effective, battle-tested laboratory of the U.S. defense industry.
According to a former U.S. Air Force intelligence chief, Gen. George Keegan: ”I could not have procured the intelligence [provided by Israel on Soviet Air Force capabilities, new Soviet weapons, electronics and jamming devices] with five CIAs. … The ability of the U.S. Air Force in particular, and the Army in general, to defend NATO owes more to the Israeli intelligence input than it does to any other single source of intelligence.” The former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Daniel Inouye, revealed that “Israel provided the U.S. [operational lessons and intelligence on advanced Soviet ground-to-air missiles] that would have cost the U.S. billions of dollars to find out.”
On Oct. 28, 1991, in the aftermath of the First Gulf War, then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney stated: “There were many times during the course of the buildup in the Gulf, and subsequent conflict, that I gave thanks for the bold and dramatic action that had been taken some 10 years before [when Israel destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak].” The destruction of Iraq’s nuclear capabilities in 1981 spared the U.S. a nuclear confrontation in 1991.
An Israel-like ally in the Persian Gulf would have dramatically minimized U.S. military involvement in Persian Gulf conflicts, and drastically reduced the monthly, mega-billion dollar cost of U.S. military units and bases in the Gulf and Indian Ocean, as is the current Israel-effect in the eastern flank of the Mediterranean.
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.