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February 26, 2015 3:45 pm

Of Course There’s a Crisis in US-Israeli Relations

avatar by Morton A. Klein and Daniel Mandel

Email a copy of "Of Course There’s a Crisis in US-Israeli Relations" to a friend

US President Barack Obama is willing to accept a nuclear-armed Iran while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

We are, again, in the midst of that periodic occurrence: a crisis in Israel/US relations. This one revolves around White House pique over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s acceptance of an invitation by House Speaker John Boehner to address the US Congress on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, an issue on which the White House and Jerusalem have been divided for some time.

But any remotely careful analysis of the US/Israel relationship will show that Jerusalem and the White House (but rarely the Congress and, by extension, the US electorate) have often clashed on issues deemed vital to Israel’s security and existence.

In fact, Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared Israel’s very independence in the face of strong opposition from US Secretary of state George Marshall.

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Though personally favorable to Israel and quick to extend recognition to the new Jewish state when it emerged in May 1948, president Harry Truman imposed an arms embargo during Israel’s 1948-49 war of survival against six Arab nations. The embargo hurt Israel, which had few sources of weaponry, rather than the Arabs, who enjoyed many.

In 1956, Israel conquered the Sinai from the Egyptians, following six years of constant attacks by terrorist bands (fedayeen) sponsored by Egypt. Nonetheless, the Eisenhower administration insisted on Israel withdrawing completely from Sinai without any peace treaty or recognition demanded from Egypt and threatened Israel with sanctions if it failed to comply.

In 1967, Egypt imposed a blockade on Israel’s southern port at Eilat. Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban asked president Lyndon Johnson to honor U.S. commitments made in 1957 to ensure free passage of Israeli shipping and break the blockade.

Johnson refused.

When Israel was attacked by Egypt and Syria in 1973 the US pressured Israel into ending the war prematurely when Israeli forces were on the road to Damascus and Cairo. This prevented Israel from achieving a more decisive military victory.

During the Carter administration, the US voted for UN Security Council resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw from Lebanon following an Israeli incursion in 1978 – despite the fact that Lebanon had been the launching pad for major terrorist attacks on Israel – and condemning Israel’s annexation of the eastern half of Jerusalem; both vitally important issues to Israel.

In 1981, prime minister Menachem Begin ordered the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear reactor.

This was condemned by the Reagan administration, even though a nuclear-armed Saddam would have posed a mortal threat to Israel.

Successive US administrations have opposed Israeli settlement in the territories conquered in 1967, leading to recurrent tensions and crises in the relationship. In 1992, the first Bush administration even withheld loan guarantees to Israel in protest against Israeli settlement policies.

During the Oslo peace process (1993-2000), the Clinton administration often pressured Israel to make one-sided concessions of territory, arms, assets and even the releasing of imprisoned Palestinian terrorists, while ignoring Palestinian failure to comply with its obligations to stop terrorism and end the incitement to hatred and murder that feeds it. Securing new agreements was preferred to holding Palestinians to past ones, as US chief negotiator Dennis Ross subsequently admitted.

The US has criticized Israel’s security fence and both president George W. Bush and secretary of state Colin Powell pressured Israel to curtail military incursions against terrorist strongholds, most notably during Israel’s offensive in Jenin in 2002. Despite US understanding that the Palestinian Authority has been a haven and launching pad for terrorists, the Bush administration pressed Israel to resume negotiations and make concessions to the PA .

So why the panic about the latest crisis? When the US president and Israel do not agree on a policy bearing on the existence and security of Israel, there is bound to be a crisis. Yet none of these crises ruptured the US/Israeli relationship; indeed, they often served as the unlikely preludes to a stronger relationship.

The US /Israeli relationship became truly strategic in the 1970s, only years after the crisis that led to the Six Day War. The early ructions between the two countries in the first years of the Reagan administration settled into an expanded and harmonious strategic relationship for its remainder.

President Barack Obama has sought to cast Netanyahu’s acceptance of an invitation to address Congress as a slap in the face. But it isn’t.

The issue is entirely a product of Obama’s policy on Iran, which engenders bipartisan concern in Israel. Put simply, President Obama seems willing to tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapons threshold capacity – but Israel is not. Of course there’s a crisis.

Obama was glad to have British Prime Minister David Cameron urging members of Congress last month in support of his Iran policy, but is peeved to have Netanyahu there critiquing it. In the end, however, the two countries are bound in an alliance by a range of common interests which even a major policy difference can only temporarily sour, but not sunder.

The author is national president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Dr. Daniel Mandel is author of H. V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel (London: Routledge, 2004) and director of the ZOA’s Center for Middle East Policy.

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  • Pamela Levene

    The elected leader of Israel, a staunch ally who has the SAME AIM as the US – that is, to curb the increasingly dangerous power of a hostile country – is denigrated and vilified for wishing to explain why the proposed plan has flaws.

    If President Obama truly wished to stop the threat of Iran increasing its nuclear capabilities then why would he be so vehemently opposed to the Congress hearing alternative suggestions from an ally to achieve exactly this?

    It is hard not to draw the conclusion that President Obama does not genuinely wish to restrain Iran.

    If it is simply a matter of Obama’s ego -HIS plan or no plan – then that is a damning reflection on the so-called leader of such a great country.

    One has to ask, why is he not upholding the great principles of democracy and free speech in America?

  • Yoel Larry

    In the fifteen hundred year old story of Purim a Persian Official, Hamman, planned to hang Mordecai the Jewish Leader and annihilate the Jewish People. But in the end thanks to the ‘hidden’ Hand of G-d Mordecai and the Jews were saved and Hamman was himself hanged. Next week on the day before Purim the leader of the Jewish State, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, is appealing to the U.S. Congress for help in preventing that same Persian enemy from carrying out its plan to annihilate the Jewish State and once again a modern Hamman, barak obama, is doing everything possible to ‘hang’ him.
    We should pray that history repeats itself once again !

  • Lynne T

    The panic of course is about personalities and the very polarized politics in the US.

  • bissel essen

    Thankyou M.Klein and D. Mandel and ALGEMEINER FOR PUBLISHING THIS.

  • Theo

    This time, it is different, at least between Obama and Israel. Previous presidents have quarreled with Israel over policy without questioning whether the two countries should be allies. For Obama, questioning that relationship is the objective, and the crisis flows from it, rather than the other way around. In part, alienating Israel, and putting down the Jews, is why he is working so hard to be Iran’s friend, even as Iran continues to advocate “Death to America!”

  • steven L

    These facts confirm two underlying evidences:
    Strong western antisemitism and a very powerful Muslim/Islamic lobby!

  • Hill

    let us hope so. Such a good friend, hey.

  • Max Cohen

    This summary OF u.s./Israeli relations would be reassuring if it was credible that Barack Obama is just the latest visitation of Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower or Ronald Reagan. They were not plotting the “fundamental” overthrow of U.S. culture. Does anyone believe Israel’s future is secure if Obama prevails?

  • Carla Isselmann

    The current administration is working on a secret agenda and is terrified that the speech will make that clear to the world.
    Let us hope that is does and that, indeed ,there is more treason out in the open ,like Benghazi and Morsi-support and secret visits to the White House.
    It is all very serious and Netanyahu is the only leader who has the guts to oppose this treason.

  • EthanP

    The difference this time, IMHO, lies with the current POTUS. With the possible exception of 1956, where the Dulles’ wer the ones calling the shots, this was never personal. This time it is. President Obama “hates” PM Netanyahu down to his soul. Also, let us not forget that in the 6+ years of this administration, it has aided every enemy and hindered every ally. After the UK, Israel is our most important ally. Thus it is a prime target.

  • statcitizen

    Nice, nice! Nothing like a little context and historical review to clear the fog. I hope a copy went to every member of congress, and every department within the executive branch, including the White House.

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