The United States, Israel, and
the Lobby - Part 1
excerpted from the book
The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign
by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2007,
Now that the Cold War is over, Israel has become a strategic liability
for the United States. Yet no aspiring politician is going to
say so in public, or even raise the possibility.
The real reason why American politicians are so deferential [to
Israel] is the political power of the Israel lobby. The lobby
is a loose coalition of individuals and organizations that actively
works to move U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel directions we
will describe in detail)it s not a single, unified movement with
a central leadership, and it is certainly not a cabal or conspiracy
that "controls" U.S. foreign policy. It is simply a
powerful interest group, made up of both Jews and gentiles, whose
acknowledged purpose is to press Israel's case within the United
States and influence American foreign policy in ways that its
members believe will benefit the Jewish state.
[Israel lobby groups] want U.S. leaders to treat Israel as if
it were the fifty-first state. Democrats and Republicans alike
fear the lobby's clout. They all know that any politician who
challenges its policies stands little chance of becoming president.
For the past four decades the United States has provided Israel
with a level of material and diplomatic support that dwarfs what
it provides to other countries. That aid is largely unconditional:
no matter what Israel does, the level of support remains for the
most part unchanged. In particular, the United States consistently
favors Israel over the Palestinians and rarely puts pressure on
the Jewish state to stop building settlements and roads in the
Since the early 1990s, American policy toward Iran has been heavily
influenced by the wishes of successive Israeli governments. Tehran
has made several attempts in recent years to improve relations
with Washington and settle outstanding differences, but Israel
and its American supporters have been able to stymie any détente
between Iran and the United States, and to keep the two countries
far apart. Another example is the Bush administration's behavior
during Israel's war against Lebanon in the summer of 2006. Almost
every country in the world harshly criticized Israel's bombing
campaign-a campaign that killed more than one thousand Lebanese,
most of them civilians-but the United States did not. Instead,
'it helped Israel prosecute the war, with prominent members of
both political parties openly defending Israel's behavior. This
unequivocal support for Israel undermined the pro-American government
in Beirut, strengthened Hezbollah, and drove Iran, Syria, and
Hezbollah closer together, results that were hardly good for either
Washington or Jerusalem.
While other special interest groups - including ethnic lobbies
representing Cuban Americans, Irish Americans, Armenian Americans,
and Indian Americans - have managed to skew U.S. foreign policy
in directions that they favored, no ethnic lobby has diverted
that policy as far from what the American national interest would
otherwise suggest. The Israel lobby has successfully convinced
many Americans that American and Israeli interests are essentially
identical. In fact, they are not.
It is difficult to talk about the [Israel] lobby's influence on
American foreign policy, at least in the mainstream media in the
United States, without being accused of anti-Semitism or labeled
a self-hating Jew.
a congressional staffer sympathetic to Israel to journalist Michael
We can count on well over half the House
- 250-300 members - to do, reflexively whatever AIPAC wants.
American taxpayers' money has subsidized Israel's economic development
and rescued it during periods of financial crisis. American military
assistance has strengthened Israel in wartime and helped preserve
its military dominance in the Middle East. Washington has given
Israel extensive diplomatic support in war and peace, and has
helped insulate it from some of the adverse consequences of its
own actions. U.S. aid has also been a key ingredient in the protracted
Arab-Israeli peace process, with agreements such as the Camp David
Accords or the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan resting on
explicit promises of increased American assistance. More than
any other country, the United States has been Israel's great benefactor.
As of 2005, direct U.S. economic and military assistance to Israel
amounted to nearly $154 billion (in 2005 dollars), the bulk of
it comprising direct grants rather than loans... the actual total
is significantly higher, because direct U.S. aid is given under
unusually favorable terms and the United States provides Israel
with other forms of material assistance that are not included
in the foreign assistance budget.
Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion saw the war [1956 Suez
Canal] as an opportunity for territorial expansion, and he began
the prewar discussions with Britain and France by suggesting that
Jordan be divided between Israel and Iraq and that Israel be given
portions of Lebanon and control over the Straits of Tiran.
[John] Kennedy told Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir that the
United States "has a special relationship with Israel in
the Middle East really comparable only to that which it has with
Britain over a wide range of world affairs.... I think it is quite
clear that in case of an invasion the United States would come
to the support of Israel. We have that capacity and it is growing."
Israel became the largest annual recipient of U.S. foreign assistance
in 1976, a position it has retained ever since.
Israel now receives on average about $3 billion in direct foreign
assistance each year, an amount that is roughly one-sixth of America's
direct foreign assistance budget and equal to about 2 percent
of Israel's GDP. In recent years, about 75 percent of U.S. assistance
has been military aid, with the remainder broken down into various
forms of economic aids in per capita terms, this level of direct
foreign assistance amounts to a direct subsidy of more than $500
per year for each Israeli. By comparison, the number two recipient
of American foreign aid, Egypt, receives only $20 per person.
Three billion dollars per year is generous, but it is hardly the
whole story. The canonical $3 billion figure omits a substantial
number of other benefits and thus significantly understates the
actual level of U.S. support. Indeed, in 1991, Representative
Lee Hamilton (D-IN) told reporters that Israel was one of three
countries whose aid "substantially exceeds the popularly
quoted figures" and said the annual figure was in fact more
than $4.3 billion.
Israel receives an estimated $2 billion annually in private donations
from American citizens, roughly half in direct payments and half
via the purchase of State of Israel Bonds. These bonds receive
favorable treatment in U.S. law; although the interest paid on
them is not tax-exempt, Congress specifically exempted them from
the provisions of the 1984 Deficit Reduction Act, which imposed
additional tax penalties on other bonds with yields below the
federal rate. Similarly, private donations to charities in most
foreign countries are not tax deductible, but many private donations
to Israel are, due to a special clause in the U.S.-Israel income
Because Israeli charities operate beyond the reach of U.S. tax
authorities, donations from Jewish and Christian evangelical organizations
are hard to monitor once they are transferred to Israel. In practice,
therefore, the U.S. government cannot easily determine the extent
to which tax-exempt private donations are being diverted for unauthorized
Israel is not a poor or devastated country like Afghanistan, Niger,
Burma, or Sierra Leone. On the contrary, Israel is now a modern
industrial power. Its per capita income in 2006 was twenty-ninth
in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund, and
is nearly double that of Hungary and the Czech Republic, substantially
higher than Portugal's, South Korea's, or Taiwan's, and far outstrips
every country in Latin America and Africa. It ranks twenty-third
in the United Nations' 2006 Human Development Report and thirty-eighth
in the Economist Intelligence Unit's 2005 "quality of life"
rankings. Yet this comparatively prosperous state is America's
biggest aid recipient, each year receiving sums that dwarf U.S.
support for impoverished states
In 1997, Mitchell Bard, the former editor of AIPAC's Near East
Report, and Daniel Pipes, the hawkish founder of the pro-Israel
Middle East Forum, wrote that "Israel has become an affluent
country with a personal income rivaling Great Britain's, so the
American willingness to provide aid to Israel is no longer based
purely on need.
The bulk of U.S. support is now committed to preserving Israel's
military supremacy in the Middle East. Not only does Israel receive
access to top-drawer U.S. weaponry (F- 15 and F-16 aircraft, Blackhawk
helicopters, cluster munitions, "smart bombs," etc.),
it has also become linked to the U.S. defense and intelligence
establishments through a diverse array of formal agreements and
informal links. According to the Congressional Research Service,
"U.S. military aid has helped transform Israel's armed forces
into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries
in the world.
The United States has tacitly supported Israel's effort to maintain
regional military superiority by turning a blind eye toward its
various clandestine WMD programs, including its possession of
upward of two hundred nuclear weapons .
The United States has pressured many other states to join the
NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty], imposed sanctions on countries
that have defied U.S. wishes and acquired nuclear weapons anyway,
gone to war in 2003 to prevent Iraq from pursuing WMD, and contemplated
attacking Iran and North Korea for the same reason. Yet Washington
has long subsidized an ally whose clandestine WMD activities are
well-known and whose nuclear arsenal has given several of its
neighbors a powerful incentive to seek WMD themselves.
The most singular feature of U.S. support for Israelis its increasingly
conditional nature. President Eisenhower could credibly threaten
to withhold aid after the Suez War, but those days are long past.
Since the mid-1960s, Israel has continued receiving generous support
even when it took actions American leaders thought were unwise
and contrary to U.S. interests. Israel gets its aid despite its
refusal to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its various WMD
programs. It gets its aid when it builds settlements in the Occupied
Territories, even though the U.S. government opposes this policy.
It also gets its aid when it annexes territory it has conquered
(as it did on the Golan Heights and in Jerusalem), sells U.S.
military technology to potential enemies like China, conducts
espionage operations on U.S. soil, or uses U.S. weapons in ways
that violate U.S. law (such as the use of cluster munitions in
civilian areas in Lebanon). It gets additional aid when it makes
concessions for peace, but it rarely loses American support when
it takes actions that make peace more elusive.
Between 1972 and 2006, Washington vetoed forty-two UN Security
Council resolutions that were critical of Israel. That number
is greater than the combined total of all the vetoes cast by all
the other Security Council members for the same period and amounts
to slightly more than half of all American vetoes during these
Backing Israel may have yielded strategic benefits in the past,
but the benefits have declined sharply in recent years while the
economic and diplomatic costs have increased. Instead of being
a strategic asset, in fact, Israel has become a strategic liability
for the United States. Backing Israel so strongly is making Americans
more vulnerable-not less-and making it harder for the United States
to achieve important and urgent foreign policy goals.
By serving as America's proxy in the Middle East, Israel helped
the United States contain Soviet expansion in that important region
and occasionally helped the United States handle other regional
crises. By inflicting humiliating military defeats on Soviet clients
like Egypt and Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and 1973 October
War, Israel also damaged Moscow's reputation as an ally while
enhancing U.S. prestige. This was a key element of Nixon and Kissinger's
Cold War strategy: backing Israel to the hilt would make it impossible
for Egypt or Syria to regain the territory lost in 1967 and thus
demonstrate the limited value of Soviet support. This strategy
bore fruit in the 1970s, when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat severed
ties with Moscow and realigned with the United States, a breakthrough
that paved the way to e Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979.
Israel's repeated victories also forced the Soviets to expend
precious resources rearming their clients after each defeat, a
task that the overstretched Soviet economy could ill afford.
By providing the United States with intelligence
about Soviet capabilities, Soviet client states, and the Middle
East more generally, Israel also facilitated the broader American
campaign against the Soviet Union. In 1956, for example, an Israeli
spy obtained a copy of Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev's "secret
speech" denouncing Stalin, which Israel promptly passed on
to the United States. In the 1960s, Israel gave U.S. defense experts
access to a Soviet MiG-2 1 aircraft obtained from an Iraqi defector
and provided similar access to Soviet equipment captured in the
1967 and 1973 wars. Finally, the United States benefited from
access to Israeli training facilities, advanced technology developed
by Israeli defense companies, and consultations with Israeli experts
on counterterrorism and other security problems.
This justification for supporting Israel
is factually correct, and Israel may well have been a net strategic
asset during this period.
a former Pentagon official
Israel's strategic value to the United
States was always grotesquely exaggerated. When we were drafting
contingency plans for the Middle East in the 1980s, we found that
the Israelis were of little value to us in 95 percent of the cases
Harry Shaw in 1986
The notion of using Israel as a platform
for projecting U. S. forces into Arab states ... is not widely
supported outside Israel. Arab analysts argue that an Arab regime
that accepted American help funneled through Israel would be discredited
with its own people and therefore would be more likely to fall.
Henry Kissinger, in a private conversation
Israeli strength does not prevent the
spread of communism in the Arab world ... So it is difficult to
claim that a strong Israel serves American interests because it
prevents the spread of communism in the Arab world. It does not.
It provides for the survival of Israel .
Israeli strategic expert Shai Feldman, former head of Tel Aviv
University's Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies, in his own study
of U.S.-Israeli security cooperation
The strategic dimension of America's motivation
for supporting Israel never comprised the core of these relations.
Rather, this dimension received growing emphasis in the 1980s
as Israel's American supporters sought to base U.S.-Israel relations
on grounds that would be more appealing to Republican administrations.
Yet, the significance of U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation and
the extent to which Israel is perceived as a strategic asset to
the United States never approached that of the other elements
in the U.S.-Israel relationship... post-Holocaust sympathy, shared
political values, Israel's underdog image, common cultural linkages,
an "the role of the Jewish community in American politics."
Brandeis University defense expert Robert Art in 2003
Israel has little strategic value to the
United States and is in many ways a strategic liability.
The United States has a terrorism problem in good part because
it has long been so supportive of Israel. It is hardly headline
news to observe that U.S. backing for Israel is unpopular elsewhere
in the Middle East-that has been true for several decades-but
many people may not realize how much America's one-sided policies
have cost it over the years. Not only have these policies helped
inspire al Qaeda, but they have a facilitated its recruitment
efforts and contributed to growing anti-Americanism throughout
There is abundant evidence that U.S. support for Israel encourages
anti-Americanism throughout the Arab and Islamic world and has
fueled the rage of anti-American terrorists. It is not their only
grievance, of course, but it is a central one. While some Islamic
radicals are genuinely upset by what they regard as the West's
materialism and venality, its alleged "theft" of Arab
oil, its support for corrupt Arab monarchies, its repeated military
interventions in the region, etc., they are also angered by U.S.
support for Israel and Israel's harsh treatment of the Palestinians.
Muhammed Husayn Fadlallah, spiritual leader of Hezbollah, 2002
I believe that America bears responsibility
for all of Israel, both in its occupation of the lands of 48
or in all its settlement policies [in the lands occupied since
1967], despite the occasional utterance of a few timid and embarrassed
words which disapprove of the settlements ... America is a hypocritical
nation... for it gives solid support and lethal weapons to the
Israelis, but gives the Arabs and the Palestinians [only] words.
Middle East expert Shibley Teihami
No other issue resonates with the public
in the Arab world, and other parts of the Muslim world, more deeply
On no issue is Arab anger at the United
States more widely and acutely felt than that of Palestine ...
For it is over Palestine that otherwise antithetical Arab secularist
and Islamist interpretations of history converge in their common
perception of an immense gulf separating official American avowals
of support for freedom from actual American policies.
a 2004 report by the Pentagon's Defense Science Board
Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather
they hate our policies.
Israel looks first and foremost to own interests, and it has been
willing to do things contrary to American interests when it believed
(rightly or wrongly) that doing so would advance its own national
goals. In the notorious "Lavon affair" in 1954, for
example, Israeli agents tried to bomb several U.S. government
offices in Egypt, in a bungled attempt to sow discord between
Washington and Cairo. Israel sold military supplies to Iran while
U.S. diplomats were being held hostage there in 1979-80, and it
was one of Iran's main military suppliers during the Iran-Iraq
War, even though the United States was worried about Iran and
tacitly backing Iraq. Israel later purchased $36 million worth
of Iranian oil in 1989 in an attempt to obtain the release of
Israeli hostages in Lebanon. All of these acts made sense from
Israel's point of view, but they were contrary to American policy
and harmful to overall U.S. interests.
In addition to selling weapons to America's
enemies, Israel has transferred American technology to third countries,
including potential U.S. adversaries like China, actions that
violated U.S. laws and threatened American interests. In 1992,
the State Department's inspector general reported that starting
in 1983 there was evidence of a "systematic and growing pattern
of unauthorized transfers" by Israel." At about the
same time, the General Accounting Office officials looking into
the "Dotan affair" (the embezzlement and illegal diversion
of millions of dollars of U.S. military aid by the former head
of Israeli Air Force procurement) made repeated efforts to meet
with Israeli officials to discuss the matter. According to the
GAO, "The Government of Israel declined to discuss the issues
or allow [U.S.] investigators to question Israeli personnel."
Little has changed in recent years. Indeed,
even Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense and a
consistent supporter of Israel, was reportedly angry when Israel
agreed in 2004 to upgrade a killer drone it had sold to China
in 1994. "Something is going badly wrong in the [U.S.-Israeli]
military relationship," said another senior Bush administration
Amplifying these tensions is the extensive
espionage that Israel engages in against the United States. According
to the GAO, the Jewish state "conducts the most aggressive
espionage operations against the United States of any ally."
Stealing economic secrets gives Israeli firms important advantages
ever American businesses in the global marketplace and thus imposes
additional costs on U.S. citizens.
More worrying, however, are Israel's continued
efforts to steal America's military secrets. This problem is highlighted
by the infamous case of Jonathan Pollard, an American intelligence
analyst who gave Israel large quantities of highly classified
material between 1984 and 1985. After Pollard was caught, the
Israelis refused to tell the United States what Pollard gave them.
The Pollard case is but the most visible tip of a larger iceberg.
Israeli agents tried to steal spy-camera technology from a U.S.
firm in 1986, and an arbitration panel later accused Israel of
"perfidious," "unlawful," and "surreptitious"
conduct and ordered it to pay the firm, Recon/Optical Inc., some
$3 million in damages. Israeli spies also gained access to confidential
U.S. information about a Pentagon electronic intelligence program
and tried unsuccessfully to recruit Noel Koch, a senior counterterrorism
official in the Defense Department. The Wall Street Journal quoted
John Davitt, former head of the Justice Department's internal
security section, saying that "those of us who worked in
the espionage area regarded Israel as being the second most active
foreign intelligence service in the United States."
A new controversy erupted in 2004 when
a key Pentagon official, Larry Franklin, was arrested on charges
of passing classified information regarding U.S. policy toward
Iran to an Israeli diplomat, allegedly with the assistance of
two senior AIPAC officials, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman. Franklin
eventually accepted a plea bargain and was sentenced to twelve
years in prison for his role in the affair, and Rosen and Weissman
are scheduled to go on trial in the fall of 2007.
Israel is of course not the only country
that spies on the United States, and Washington conducts extensive
espionage against both allies and adversaries as well. Such behavior
is neither surprising nor particularly reprehensible, because
international politics is a rough business and states often do
unscrupulous things in their efforts to gain an edge over other
countries. Nonetheless, the close relationship between Washington
and Jerusalem has made it easier for Israel to steal American
secrets, and it has not hesitated to do just that. At the very
least, Israel's willingness to spy on its principal patron casts
further doubt on its overall strategic value, especially now that
the Cold War is over.
Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy