Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

The Importance of the Eisenhower Debate

February 11, 2013 2:22 am 1 comment

Sinai Peninsula along Egypt Israel border. Photo: wiki commons.

Israel should stay clear of the internal American debate over the candidacy of former Senator Chuck Hagel to be the next defense secretary. The identity of the defense secretary can have profound implications for Israel, but this is an internal American decision. At the same time, it is impossible to ignore one aspect of this issue which touches on the history of U.S.-Israel relations. Recently, David Ignatius, one of the leading columnists of The Washington Post tried to compare Hagel’s worldview to that of President Dwight Eisenhower, who had to contend with the joint operation of Britain, France, and Israel against Nasser’s Egypt.

In particular, Ignatius reminds his readers how back in 1956, Eisenhower was willing to use the threat of sanctions to force Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula. The hardest U.S. pressure was actually employed in 1957, after Eisenhower was re-elected and he began his second term of office. But is it correct to view Eisenhower’s policy of pressure on Israel as a success story, worthy of imitation, that defended U.S. interests? Would Eisenhower have wanted his administration’s actions in the aftermath of the Suez Campaign to be remembered as his legacy?

Professor Isaac Alteras wrote a comprehensive history of this subject published in 1993 entitled “Eisenhower and Israel,” which reveals that Eisenhower actually came to regret the tough line he took against Israel in 1956. In a meeting in 1965 with the Republican Jewish leader Max Fisher, according to Alteras, Eisenhower said: “You know Max, looking back at Suez, I regret what I did. I should have never pressured Israel to evacuate Sinai.” Richard Nixon, who served as Eisenhower’s vice president, verified Fisher’s description of the former president’s view of what he had done. According to Nixon, Eisenhower even said that the Suez Crisis was the biggest foreign-policy “blunder” of his administration. In short, there is substantial evidence that Eisenhower came to renounce his own Suez policy.

Why did Eisenhower change his mind? His administration had hoped that by distancing itself from Israel, it would be able to erect a set of Cold War alliances in the Middle East modeled after NATO, like the famous Baghdad Pact, that would help the U.S. to contain the Soviet Union. But his strategy totally backfired. As one former U.S. official pointed out, Eisenhower’s support for Nasser in 1956 strengthened the Egyptian leader significantly and led to a wave of revolutions across the Arab world that eventually required active Western intervention in Lebanon, Jordan, and eventually in the Arabian Peninsula.

Moreover, in the wake of the revolutionary storm that followed the Suez Crisis, the Hashemite regime in Iraq was also overthrown in 1958; its leaders modeled themselves after Nasser and adopted an anti-Western orientation. The American-sponsored Baghdad Pact was finished. In the meantime, Eisenhower’s policy helped to drive the British out of the Middle East, while in the years that followed the Soviet Union managed to set up air and naval bases across the region.

Eisenhower’s changed attitude toward his own policy directly influenced events in the Middle East on the eve of the Six-Day War. Ten years earlier in 1957, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles told Abba Eban, who served as both the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and to the U.N., any American statement made about the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai “would lack any binding effect.”

Yet in May 1967, President Lyndon Johnson telephoned Eisenhower and asked him about Nasser’s latest decision to block Israel’s freedom of navigation in the Gulf of Eilat. Eisenhower now stated that the U.S. made a “commitment” to Israel that if the Egyptians used force to close the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, Israel would be entitled to exercise its right of self-defense.

Bill Quandt, who served on the National Security Council in the Nixon and Carter administrations, wrote that after the Six-Day War, President Johnson and his advisers were determined not to adopt Eisenhower’s approach to Israel from 1956. They refused to force Israel to withdraw from the territories that the Israel Defense Forces captured in the war, without it obtaining a peace agreement first.

Despite his Middle Eastern setbacks, President Eisenhower will always be remembered for his role as the commander of allied forces in World War II that defeated Nazi Germany and helped rescue the remnant of European Jewry that survived the Holocaust. But to turn his policy at Suez into some kind of heroic moment for U.S. foreign policy is a mistake, not only from an Israeli perspective, but also taking into account the wider interests of the West as a whole.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Sports Two Decades Before Cleveland’s First NBA Title, LeBron James Walked Onto a JCC Court

    Two Decades Before Cleveland’s First NBA Title, LeBron James Walked Onto a JCC Court

    JNS.org – The seed for the city of Cleveland’s first professional championship in a major sport in 52 years may have been planted at the Shaw Jewish Community Center on White Pond Drive in Akron, Ohio, nearly 20 years ago. That’s when a tall, lanky kid from Akron named LeBron James walked onto the hardwood court and changed the game of basketball forever. Coach Keith Dambrot, now the head basketball coach at the University of Akron, conducted those sessions that attracted […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    JNS.org – In 2008, Yoram Honig was a producer and director living in Jerusalem, fresh off his first international hit, when the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) came to him with a challenge: build a film industry from scratch in Israel’s capital. “When we started here, was nothing in Jerusalem,” he said during an interview in his office in the Talbiya neighborhood. Now, the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, which Honig heads as an arm of the JDA, pumps 9 million shekels […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas will wear a leotard bearing Hebrew lettering when she competes at the P&G Gymnastics Championships over the weekend. Douglas’ Swarovski-outlined outfit will feature the Hebrew word “Elohim,” meaning God, on its left sleeve. The Hebrew detailing honors the athlete’s “rich heritage of faith,” according to apparel manufacturer GK Elite, which produced the leotard and released a preview of it on Wednesday. The company said Douglas’ sister, Joyelle “Joy” Douglas, created the Hebrew design. The outcome of the P&G Championships will help […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    Britain’s world heavyweight champion, Taylor Fury, should be banned from boxing for making Nazi-like comments, a former world champion from the Ukraine said on Thursday, ahead of their upcoming match. “I was in shock at his statements about women, the gay community, and when he got to the Jewish people, he sounded like Hitler,” Wladimir Klitschko told British media, according to Reuters. “We cannot have a champion like that. Either he needs to be shut up or shut down in the ring, or […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Hanoch Hecht just made television history; but, unfortunately, he couldn’t have his rugelach and eat it too. Hecht became the first rabbi to compete on the hit show “Chopped,” where contestants are forced to use four random ingredients in their recipes, and have 20-30 minutes to create an appetizer, a main course and a dessert. A contestant is eliminated after each round. Hecht, 32, said that while the dishes and utensils were new, the kitchen was not kosher, so he couldn’t taste […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox singer and entertainer Lipa Schmeltzer is starring in a new Pepsi Max commercial for the company’s campaign in Israel. The commercial begins with a bunch of Jewish men eating at a restaurant, when Schmeltzer walks in and tries to decide what to order. An employee at the obviously Israeli eatery offers him a variety of foods, but the entertainer in the end decides on a bottle of Pepsi. Everyone in the restaurant then joins him, drinking Pepsi Max and dancing to […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Book Reviews Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    JNS.org – “Writing is a messy process,” says author Elizabeth Poliner. “People who don’t write fiction would be surprised to see what early drafts could look like.” But readers wouldn’t know “what a mess it was for the longest time,” as the Jewish author puts it, when reading Poliner’s critically acclaimed latest book, As Close to Us as Breathing. The volume garnered Amazon’s “Best Book” designation in March 2016 as well as rave reviews from the New York Times,W Magazine, NPR, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Sundance Tour Features Short Film About Elderly Jewish Woman’s Decision to Eat Bacon for First Time

    Sundance Tour Features Short Film About Elderly Jewish Woman’s Decision to Eat Bacon for First Time

    The Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour, which started on Friday in New York City, features a mini-documentary about an elderly Jewish woman whose journey away from Orthodoxy leads her to taste forbidden food for the first time in her life. In Canadian director Sol Friedman’s Bacon & God’s Wrath, Razie Brownstone talks about ending her lifelong observance of keeping kosher as her 90th birthday approaches. The recently declared atheist said the discovery of the search engine Google spurred a lapse in her Jewish faith and made her decide to […]

    Read more →