The End of U.S.-Israel Strategic Cooperation?
“I don’t want to be complicit if they (Israelis) choose to do it (attack Iran’s nuclear program),” said Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey.
News flash, General Dempsey: You are complicit in the way that counts; you are trapped: the Iranian leadership does not care what we say — or what we do — about our military relations with Israel. The Iranian leadership needs the U.S. as its adversary and will not allow you deniability. If there is a strike on Iran, they will need for it to have been the U.S. – will need, General Dempsey, for it to have been you.
It is unlikely, General, that you spoke on your own hook as you are still wearing your stars. The last General who spoke to journalists out of turn and out of the country was Stanley McChrystal – and he lasted only as long as it took to arrive in the Oval Office. Your Commander in Chief appears to have used you to hammer another nail in the coffin of a relationship that had, until he got here, been remarkably productive for more than 30 years.
Since the Reagan administration, US-Israel military relations have generally been buffered from US-Israel political relations. They were not always smooth, but the military establishments were largely left to determine their interests together and separately. The late Caspar Weinberger was not enamored of Israel (certainly he was not enamored of the late Prime Minister Begin nor of the 1982 war in Lebanon), but the designation and early growth of “US-Israel Strategic Cooperation,” and the designation of Israel for Major Non-NATO Ally status came in those years. The Sixth Fleet came to Israel and the Haifa USO was built then to handle the enthusiastic crowds of American sailors and Marines.
Israel had the first wartime operational drones in 1982. The war that Weinberger opposed was a catalyst for U.S. thinking about remotely piloted vehicles. I took a small group of retired American military officers (including the former head of DIA, the former commander of US Air Forces Europe and the former commander of NATO’s Southern Command) to Israel in September 1982 so they could put their hands on the drones that emerged from an Israeli model-airplane-flying club. The officers compared it to the US Army’s then-unsuccessful drone program and the rest is history. U.S. conceived and built drones carry the weight of the Afghan war, but they also carry the history of 1982.
The First Gulf War complicated the relationship when President Bush (41) built a broad Arab coalition to rescue Kuwait. Israel withstood Saddam’s rocket barrage without retaliation because that was what the U.S. wanted, setting into motion deterrence difficulties for Israel that played out later as its closer neighbors acquired and used rockets and missiles. But it also set in motion Israel’s rapid quest for missile defense capabilities, which became an area of close U.S.-Israel cooperation.
After 9/11, Americans instinctively understood that we had been hammered by something with which the Israelis were familiar. “We Are All Israelis Now” was the headline in a major American paper. The Israelis “opened their closets” to help the U.S. deal with Islamic terrorism, urban warfare and counter-terror operations. Israel taught members of the U.S. Army to train bomb-sniffing dogs. While the work was going on, Israel loaned IDF dogs to the Americans – Hebrew-commanded dogs were in Baghdad.
As the U.S. has become more adept in the ways of Middle East ground warfare, it is the Americans who have technology, tips and training to share with Israel.
“Complicity” is the wrong word for a relationship between countries that was grounded in the most fundamental agreement on democratic governance, civil liberties, minority rights, rule of law, and what constituted the enemy – at least until now.
General Dempsey meant Iran, but there is more than a divergence on Iran going on here. There has been a determined shift of emphasis in the current administration. President Obama has elected to focus on how and where the U.S. might find partners in the Arab/Muslim world – not itself a bad thing, but dangerous if it means a) eroding the definition of an ally to mean anyone with any set of political/religious/strategic beliefs that does not involve killing Americans outright; and b) throwing the Jews down the well (to channel Borat).
President Obama’s Cairo Speech showed only a superficial understanding of the Jewish relationship with the Land of Israel. He called Israel’s independence a response to the Holocaust and not the establishment of the third Jewish Commonwealth after a 1,900-year interregnum. So doing, he fed into the Arab complaint that Israel was foisted on the region by guilty Europeans rather than as a legitimate and permanent part of the region.
He dispatched NASA administrator (and retired Marine LTG) Charles Bolden to find space exploration partners in the Muslim world (visual evidence of his discomfort can be seen here and in the video posted below). The administration accepted the 2010 Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Review that singled out Israel for condemnation – despite public statements that it would never do that. The U.S. rejoined the UN Human Rights Commission and the UN Alliance of Civilizations, an openly anti-Israel body that claimed in 2006 that global tensions were driven primarily by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and referred to the September 11th attacks as resulting from “a perception among Muslim societies of unjust aggression stemming from the West.”
The U.S. declined to support Canada’s traditional, once-a-decade bid for a Security Council seat. Canada, an outspoken supporter of Israel, lost to Portugal, a stalwart representative of EU ambivalence. The U.S. voted against the infamous “Goldstone Report,” but declined to use its influence to encourage others to do the same. Israel’s housing policy was debated by some of Israel’s fiercest critics in the Security Council before the US exercised its veto, and the U.S. drove a Security Council “compromise” that allowed Israel to be criticized along with Syria. The administration heaped emergency aid on Gaza – an allocation of $27 million in its earliest days in office and another $400 million in 2010 – aside from the $100 million+ given to the Palestinian Authority, including $115 million this year over the protestations of Congress.
Despite the demand for a “total settlement freeze” that forced the Palestinian Authority to harden its negotiating position, a vision for a “two-state solution” beginning with the 1967 lines and working backward, and a nasty comment about Prime Minister Netanyahu that was supposed to be off-camera, the Obama administration continues to proclaim itself Israel’s friend and ally – citing increases in military assistance; the X-Band Radar; Israel’s “qualitative military edge”; and missile defense.
Mark 2012, however, as the year the Obama administration took its most overt steps yet to tell the Arab and Muslim world that the U.S. was severable from Israel. The NATO-related air rescue operation Anatolian Eagle was canceled because Turkey would not let Israel participate. The administration then touted the bilateral missile defense exercise Austere Challenge as bigger and better — and more meaningful — until they canceled it in April, with more than a suggestion that it might give Iran the idea that the U.S. and Israel could use it as cover for an attack (an early sign of the “complicity” argument to follow). In May, the Administration went ahead with Eager Lion 2012, a Special Operations exercise with 19 Arab and Muslim countries, including Egypt, Lebanon and Pakistan. The tactics and training of Special Operations is an important component of Israel’s “qualitative military edge.” How much of what the U.S. and Israel developed over the years was shared with countries overtly hostile to Israel? Israel was not invited to the May NATO confab, although 13 NATO “partner nations” were invited to discuss terrorism. Two other US-organized and led multilateral counterterrorism confabs excluded Israel as well. When Turkey objected to the sharing of intelligence information with Israel, Secretary of Defense Panetta said no NATO radar intelligence would be shared “outside of NATO.” NATO Secretary General Rasmussen rushed to assure the Turks of the same thing.
Finally, the administration announced that Austere Challenge would be reconstituted as the biggest and best missile defense exercise yet. Until this week, when it announced that the exercise would be scaled back – way, way back – so Iran would not think it was cover for a U.S.-Israel attack.
This is where General Dempsey comes in – he is the President’s emissary to reassure the Iranians that the U.S. will have nothing to do with an attack on them; that they are safe from us. And he is the President’s emissary to tell the Arab and Muslim world that the relationship with Israel is expendable. Too bad he doesn’t understand that we are not safe from the Iranians and that dumping Israel will not make Islamist and Islamist-leaning countries — from Turkey to Egypt to Pakistan to Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan — our friends.
The United States is trading a long-standing, mutually beneficial security relationship for relations that will be less solid (is anything less solid than the US-Egypt relationship AFTER we’ve spend $1.5 billion on it annually since the early 1980s and welcomed its Muslim Brotherhood revolution?); less technologically advantageous to the U.S. (the technology relationship with the Arab/Muslim world flows only one way); and less protective of minority and civil rights (as the Egyptians discover we have no leverage).
General Dempsey is the fall guy for an administration that increasingly holds Israel in contempt before Arab and Muslim countries — which increasingly hold us in contempt.