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When did the United States ally with Israel?

Shortly after approving Palestine’s inclusion as a non-member observer State into the United Nations last year, the U.S. Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, as expected, categorically rejected the United Nation’s decision, and once again recalled the United States’ commitment to Israel.


Javier E. Núñez Calderón

“The United States’ commitment to the security of Israel is solid as a rock and unbreakable”, the U.S. Secretary of State claimed in a recent visit to Jerusalem.

The alliance between the U.S. and Israel has been one of the strongest and most complex in recent years because it was consolidated in a political context, in which the United States gambled on not affecting their economic interests in the majority of Arab countries, despite their alliance with Israel.

But this alliance has not always had the symbiosis that world now hears in the words of American diplomacy and their stance in front of the United Nation’s Security Council. Instead, it was the result of several historical events which have happened since Israel’s founding; such as the six-day war that the Jews faced against the Arab coalition, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Kuwait War and American public opinion.

Whilst the help of the United States helped the establishment of Israel in 1947, this did not mean resounding support for the Jews’ military activities throughout the 60s and 70’s. Even within the American government itself, there was worry that the creation of the Israeli State would jeopardize their trade relations with the Middle East.

So much so was the United States’ desire to maintain diplomacy with the Arabs that in the middle of the 50’s they managed to dissuade the British-Franco-Israeli alliance from military intervention in Egypt by nationalising the Suez Canal, which had been controlled up until then by the English and French. Furthermore, despite the fact that during Kennedy’s government the first important trade of weapons to Israel was authorised, the relations between both nations rose to a commercial plane, thanks to the arms race.

It was not until the end of the 1967 six-day war, that the Americans started to value Israel’s military power and to see in it, a strategic ally. Thus during this conflict, caused amongst other things by Israel’s proclamation that is was going to divert the Jordan River in order to build an aqueduct, the Jews had impressively defeated the Arab coalition’s troops, allowing them to expand their territory to the Golan Heights, the West Bank (including Eastern Jerusalem), the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula.

In an article published in 2009 on the website, Adrienne Weller summarises the mindset which Americans had towards their ally on the Middle East border.

“Alexander Haig, U.S. Secretary of State for the Reagan government, is one of the many officials who has recognised Israel’s value to the U.S. as a military power”, according to Haig himself: “It is the largest American aircraft in the world’, one which cannot be destroyed, and which carries not one U.S. soldier.”

However the U.S. knew that it could not cut all ties with the Middle East for two reasons: firstly the demand for petrol and secondly, the threat that a possible alliance between the Middle East and the Soviet Union would represent; a possibility which explains the United States’ civil behaviour towards Arab countries in the second half of the twentieth century.

Therefore, they opted to become a mediator between Egypt and Israel in order to reduce the tension between them, caused by the six-day war. Firstly, they ensured that any land which had been seized during the 1967 war was returned. “The greatest success of this (American) policy was the peace caused by Camp David’s accords between Israel and Egypt”, Ferran Izquierdo Brichs claimed in his essay: United States and Israel, from alliance to symbiosis.

But perhaps the greatest achievement of their intervention in the country was to make a large part of the Middle East ‘speak the same language’, especially during the Persian Gulf War, which aimed to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. The settlement of American troops in Saudi Arabia exemplified the country’s stability.

American leadership in the country had also been secured due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent end of the cold war, which allowed them to stop moderating their support for Israel. “With the global adversary disappearing, the United States can afford to be selective in its objectives and future commitments, abandoning large projects and instead focusing on specific interests in the country”, Ferran Izquierdo Brichs said.

Meanwhile, Israel won a diplomatic victory against the Palestinians with regards to the Persian Gulf War when Yasir Arafat, leader of Palestinian national authority, decided to support Saddam, and thus his support from Arab allies was stripped. That support had already begun to weaken in 1981 when Muḥammad Anwar as-Sādāt, President of Egypt, was assassinated by Muslim extremists after signing the peace treaty between Palestine and Israel.

The unconditional support from the United States towards Israel became clearer during Bill Clinton and George W. Bush’s government due to military and economic aid, which was provided regardless of the development of peace in the Middle East. For example, the Clinton government was not so closely affiliated to oil interests like Bush’s government was, but instead, it was focused on the relationship between the democratic party and a Jewish pressure group, and their donations during the election campaign for the Presidency. According to Izquierdo Brichs, “Around 60% of non-institutional contributions came from Jewish supporters.”

The attacks on September 11th, during Bush’s administration, again convinced the American conservative sector that their alliances with the Arabs were fleeting and unstable, even amongst their most loyal allies, such as as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. However, they had a solid and lasting relationship with Israel.

It can be concluded that the U.S.-Israel alliance has brought mutual benefits over the years. On one hand Israel has became a protector of U.S. interests in the Middle East, and on the other hand, the United States has shielded the Jews away from any international condemnation from the United Nations for violating the human rights of Palestinians.


(Translated by Emma O’Toole)

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