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June 27, 2017 11:31 am

US Pressure on Israel? No Need to Panic

avatar by Yoram Ettinger


US President Donald Trump and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu at a May 2017 press appearance in Jerusalem. Photo: Netanyahu’s Twitter account.

In recent weeks, commentators and others have been worried about the prospect of US pressure being applied to Israel. Can Israel afford, they ask, to defy US presidential pressure to concede land — land that is historically and militarily critical to the future of the Jewish state?

US presidential pressure has been an integral part of the US-Israel saga since 1948. However, in retrospect, US pressure on Israel has been based on erroneous assessments of the Middle East, and has failed to advance the cause of peace. In fact, Israel’s only two peace accords (with Egypt and Jordan) were the result of direct Israeli initiatives, not US pressure.

In fact, US pressure on Israel has forced Arabs to outflank the US from the maximalist side, causing further setbacks to the peace process.

Furthermore, the outbursts of US pressure over the past 69 years have resembled bumps on the road of staggering, mutually-beneficial US-Israel cooperation on issues such as defense, commerce, technological, scientific and agricultural initiatives.

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Since 1948, US presidential pressure on Israel — in defiance of the majority of Americans and their representatives in the House and Senate — has reflected the worldview of the State Department bureaucracy, which has systematically misread the Middle East.

For example, in 1948, “the Wise Men” at the State Department opposed the establishment of the Jewish State, contending that Israel would be an ally of the USSR and would be crushed by the Arabs. In 1979, the State Department abandoned the pro-US Shah of Iran, and courted the anti-US Ayatollahs. In 1990, it considered Saddam Hussein a potential ally, unintentionally providing a “green light” for his invasion of Kuwait.

The list goes on.

In 1993, Foggy Bottom embraced Yasser Arafat as a messenger of peace, worthy of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize. In 2011, it referred to the Arab Tsunami as the Arab Spring. In 2011, it turned its back on Egypt’s pro-US Mubarak, welcomed the rise to power of the anti-US Muslim Brotherhood, and then — in 2014 — it turned a cold-shoulder toward the current pro-US Egyptian leader, General Sisi.

If Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion had succumbed to US pressure, he would not have established the Jewish state, nor asserted Israeli sovereignty over western (pre-1967) Jerusalem, and significant parts of the Galilee and the Negev. Ben-Gurion’s actions, of course, laid the foundations for the most effective US beachhead in the Middle East.

If Prime Minister Levi Eshkol had submitted to 1967 US pressure, he would not have pre-empted the Soviet-backed Egypt-Syria-Jordan military assault, which was intended to annihilate Israel. This would have led to pro-Soviet Egyptian hegemony of the Arab World, and the toppling of pro-US Arab oil-producing regimes — which would have devastated the US economy and threatened America’s national security.

In fact, the defiance of US pressure since 1967 has transformed Israel from a supplicant to a strategic partner of the US, bolstering the vulnerable pro-US Arab regimes, and sparing the US the mega-billion-dollar requirement to expand its naval, air and land military presence in the Middle East, Indian Ocean, Red Sea and Mediterranean.

If Prime Minister Menachem Begin had surrendered to US pressure in 1981, he would not have ordered the destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor, which spared the US a traumatic 1990-91 confrontation with a nuclear Saddam Hussein.

If Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir had acceded to US pressure, retreating from the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), he would have transformed Israel from a national security producer — extending its strategic hand to the US — into a national security consumer, a burden upon the US.

If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had not stood up to US pressure, he would have triggered an anti-US chain-reaction in the region. If Netanyahu had given in to former President Barack Obama’s conditions for creating a Palestinian state, it would have led to the toppling of the vulnerable Hashemite regime in Jordan, causing a ripple effect that would have destabilized all pro-US regimes in the neighboring Arabian Peninsula, upgrading the geo-strategic profile of Iran, Russia, China and possibly North Korea in the Middle East.

US presidential pressure on Israel has been an inherent, unavoidable leadership-litmus test for Israeli prime ministers, whose challenge has been to overcome — not to avoid — pressure, while adhering to their core ideology and strategic goals. True leaders do not sacrifice deeply-rooted ideology and long-term national security interest on the altar of short-term, tenuous convenience (e.g., relief from US pressure). Leaders are aware that steadfastness and defiance of pressure may injure frivolous popularity, but enhance durable respect.

In the battle against Iran’s ayatollahs and other Islamic terrorists, and in the attempt to bolster pro-US Arab regimes, the US should prefer a defiant and not a vacillating Israel as an ally.

The assumption that Israeli prime ministers must bow to US pressure and make dramatic concessions — lest they severely undermine US-Israel relations — ignores the precedent set by former Israeli prime ministers, and constitutes a poor excuse for weak Israeli leaders.

At the end of a 1991 meeting between Prime Minister Shamir and US Senate Majority and Minority Leaders George Mitchell and Bob Dole — which I attended — the latter said: “Mr. Prime Minister, do you know why the majority leader and I absolutely disagree with you, but immensely respect you? Because you’re tough.”

Ignoring Middle East reality, US pressure on Israel has focused on the Palestinian issue, which has never been the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict, a core cause of regional turbulence and anti-US Islamic terrorism, or a crown-jewel of Arab policy-making. For example, the Israel-Jordan peace treaty and the recent enhancement of Israel-Saudi relations are totally independent of the Palestinian issue.

Will President Donald Trump learn from past mistakes, by avoiding self-defeating pressure on Washington’s most reliable, effective, democratic and unconditional ally? And will Prime Minister Netanyahu follow in the footsteps of Prime Ministers Ben-Gurion, Eshkol, Golda Meir, Begin and Shamir, who generally defied US pressure — while expanding the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and the West Bank — catapulting the national security of Israel and its strategic ties with the US to unprecedented heights?

I hope that the answer is yes.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom. 

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