Does the US jeopardize its own security?

John J. Mearsheimer, Stephen M. Walt
Dr. Mearsheimer is a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago. Dr. Walt is a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

Why has the United States adopted policies that jeopardized its own security in order to advance the interests of another state? Are U.S. and Israeli interests essentially identical?  

American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), “The United States and Israel have formed a unique partnership to meet the growing strategic threats in the Middle East . . . . This cooperative effort provides significant benefits for both the United States and Israel.”

Total direct U.S. aid to Israel amounts to well over $140 billion in 2003 dollars. Israel receives about $3 billion in direct foreign assistance each year, which is roughly one-fifth of America’s foreign-aid budget. In per capita terms, the United States gives each Israeli a direct subsidy worth about $500 per year. This largesse is especially striking when one realizes that Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to that of South Korea or Spain. Israel receives its entire appropriation at the beginning of each fiscal year and thus earns extra interest.

Israel can use roughly 25 percent of its aid allotment to subsidize its own defense industry. Israel is the only recipient that does not have to account for how the aid is spent. The United States gives Israel access to intelligence that it denies its NATO allies and has turned a blind eye toward Israel’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Since 1982, the United States has vetoed 33 United Nations Security Council resolutions that were critical of Israel, a number greater than the combined total of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members. It also blocks Arab states’  efforts to put Israel’s nuclear arsenal on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s agenda.

In April 2004, for example, 52 former British diplomats sent Prime Minister Tony Blair a letter saying that the Israel-Palestine conflict had “poisoned relations between the West and the Arab and Islamic worlds” and warning that the policies of Bush and then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon were “one-sided and illegal.” 

Israel has provided sensitive U.S. military technology to potential U.S. rivals like China, in what the U.S. State Department inspector general called “a systematic and growing pattern of unauthorized transfers.” According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, Israel also “conducts the most aggressive espionage operations against the U.S. of any ally.”

Israel’s backers also argue that it deserves unqualified U.S. support because 1) it is weak and surrounded by enemies; 2) it is a democracy, which is a morally preferable form of government; 3) the Jewish people have suffered from past crimes and therefore deserve special treatment; and 4) Israel’s conduct has been morally superior to its adversaries’ behavior.

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) won quick and easy victories against Egypt in 1956 and against Egypt, Jordan and Syria in 1967 – before large-scale U.S. aid began flowing to Israel. Israel is the strongest military power in the Middle East.

The United States is a liberal democracy where people of any race, religion or ethnicity are supposed to enjoy equal rights. By contrast, Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish state, and whether a citizen is regarded as Jewish ordinarily depends on kinship (i.e., verifiable Jewish ancestry). Given the priority attached to Israel’s Jewish character (which explains its longstanding commitment to maintaining an unchallenged Jewish majority within its territory), it is not surprising that Israel’s 1.3 million Arabs are treated as second-class citizens or that a recent Israeli government commission found that Israel behaves in a “neglectful and discriminatory” manner towards them.

Israel does not permit Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens to become citizens themselves and does not give these spouses the right to live in Israel. Israel is formally democratic, but the millions of Palestinians that it controls are denied full political rights, and the “shared democracy” rationale is correspondingly weakened.

When political Zionism began in earnest in the late nineteenth century, there were only about 15,000 Jews in Palestine. In 1893, for example, the Arabs comprised roughly 95 percent of the population, and, though under Ottoman control, they had been in continuous possession of this territory for 1300 years. 

Even when Israel was founded, Jews were only about 35 percent of Palestine’s population and owned 7 percent of the land.

As David Ben-Gurion put it in the summer of 1937, “After the formation of a large army in the wake of the establishment of the state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine.” According to Israeli historian Benny Morris, “Zionist mainstream thought had always regarded a Jewish state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River as its ultimate goal.” The vision of ‘Greater Israel’ as Zionism’s ultimate objective did not end with the 1948 war. This opportunity came in 1947-48, when Jewish forces drove up to 700,000 Palestinians into exile. After the war, Israel barred the return of the Palestinian exiles.

As Ben-Gurion told Nahum Goldmann, president of the World Jewish Congress, “If I was an Arab leader, I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, it’s true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been antisemitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?”

– the tragic history of the Jewish people does not obligate the United States to help Israel no matter what it does today.

In 1967, it expelled between 100,000 and 260,000 Palestinians from the newly conquered West Bank and drove 80,000 Syrians from the Golan Heights. The Swedish “Save the Children” organization estimated that “23,600 to 29,900 children required medical treatment for their beating injuries in the first two years of the intifada,” with nearly one-third sustaining broken bones. It also estimated that “nearly one-third of the beaten children were aged ten and under.

The goal is to prevent critical commentary about Israel from getting a fair hearing in the political arena. Controlling the debate is essential to guaranteeing U.S. support, because a candid discussion of U.S.-Israeli relations might lead Americans to favor a different policy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s