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July 27, 2022 10:47 am

Israel: From Strategic Liability to Strategic Asset

avatar by Yoram Ettinger


The national flags of Israel and the United Arab Emirates flutter along a highway, in Netanya, Israel, Aug. 17, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Nir Elias.

“Israel did not grow strong because it had an American alliance. It acquired an American alliance because it had grown strong.” — Walter Russell Mead

In 1948, Israel was misconstrued by the US State Department as a burden upon America — it was seen as too feeble to withstand an all-out Arab military offensive, a state that would jeopardize US ties with the Arab world, and a country that was potentially pro-Soviet.

However, since 1967, Israel has emerged as the most effective, reliable, and democratic ally of the US, and a force-multiplier for the US.

For example, the June 1967 Israeli military victory devastated the pro-Soviet Egyptian military, at a time when the US was heavily dependent on Persian Gulf oil. The resounding Israeli victory weakened the Arab oil market, spared the US a huge economic and national security setback, and denied the USSR a dramatic geo-strategic gold mine.

25 US military experts went to Israel to study the lessons of the 1967 Six-Day War, and to examine the captured Soviet military systems. Their findings upgraded the performance of the US armed forces and defense industries.

The December 1969 “Operation Rooster 53” highlighted Israel’s unique intelligence and battle tactic capabilities, which were shared with the US. An Israeli commando unit snatched an advanced Soviet P-12 radar system from Egypt. The Soviet radar was studied by Israel and transferred to the US, as were additional Soviet military systems, enhancing the capabilities of the US intelligence, special operations forces, and US defense industries.

According to the late Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who was the Chairman of the Appropriations and Intelligence Committees, the value of the Soviet radar to the US defense industries and armed forces was around $3 billion. He added that the scope of intelligence shared with the US by Israel, exceeded the intelligence shared with the US by all NATO countries combined.

In 1966 and 1989 respectively, Israel acquired MIG-21 and MIG-23 Soviet combat planes through defecting Iraqi and Syrian pilots. The planes were shared with the US, impacting the global balance of power, and enhancing the performance of the US Air Force and the aerospace industries.

In 1970, Israel manifested its pro-US posture of deterrence by forcing — through its military presence on the Golan Heights — a pull-back of the pro-Soviet Syrian invasion of pro-US Jordan. Israel spared the US either a loss of an Arab ally, or the need to get involved militarily in an intra-Arab war, while it was bogged down in Southeast Asia.

The lessons of the July 4, 1976, Entebbe Rescue Operation — which underscored Israel as a role model of pro-active, daring, and innovative counter-terrorism — were shared with the US intelligence and special operations forces.

The 1981 Israeli destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor — in defiance of fierce US opposition — spared the US the potential devastation of a nuclear confrontation during the 1991 Gulf War. It also saved the pro-US oil-producing Arab regimes from the jaws of Saddam Hussein.

In the October 1982 “Operation Mole Cricket 19,” Israel’s Air Force destroyed 29 Soviet surface-to-air missile batteries operated by Syria, which were perceived to be impregnable. It was the first time that a Western-equipped air force destroyed a Soviet-built surface-to-air missile network. In the process, the Israeli Air Force downed 82 Soviet MIG combat planes without a single loss to Israel’s Air Force. The game-changing Israeli battle tactics, including jamming technologies, were shared with the US armed forces, bolstering the US military edge over the USSR.

The 2007 Israeli destruction of the Syria-North Korea-Iran nuclear reactor, spared the region and the globe of a potential nuclearized civil war in Syria.

In 2022, Israel’s posture of deterrence plays a key role in preventing the collapse of the pro-US Arab regimes and the dominance of the anti-US Iran, which is crucial to global trade, the war on terrorism, and the US-Russia-China balance of power.

To paraphrase professor Walter Russell Mead’s observation: Israel’s posture of deterrence is not growing stronger due to the recent peace accords with Arab countries. Arab countries concluded peace accords with Israel due to the fact that Israel’s posture of deterrence is growing stronger.

The author is a commentator and former Israeli ambassador.

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