TLR 179: Interests and values, friends and allies: Israeli relations with Russia and America
October 6, 2016
This issue is focused on the very wide and multi-faceted topic of Israel-US relations. Always a valid topic, it is especially germane now after the recent signing of a new, ten-year agreement regarding US military aid to Israel — and ahead of the election of a new president.
But even these major events are overshadowed by the rapidly-changing reality in the Middle East itself, where it is increasingly Russia that is the pro-active outside power, while the US has become reactive and distant, almost detached. The changes in US foreign policy initiated and pursued by the Obama Administrations have had a significant impact on America’s “special relationship” with Israel, although the size and scope of the new military aid agreement on the one hand, and the rhetoric accompanying the presidential campaign on the other, both seek to promote the perception that it is business as usual.
How deeply flawed that perception has become is the main theme of this analysis. With Russian power and influence in the region vying openly — and in many cases successfully — with that of the US, while Israel moves with alacrity to adapt to this new reality, nothing can be considered “as usual”. Israel-Russia and, at the personal level, Netanyahu-Putin, have been the most important developments in Israeli foreign and security policy over the past year.
Yet the new “aid package” would seem to prove that, at bottom, all is well in US-Israel relations and that America truly remains what it consistently proclaims itself to be — Israel’s pre-eminent ally in every important area. Closer examination of the structure and content of the package, as well as the identity and motivation of its designers and recipients, suggests that the reality is more complex and less idealistic than the rhetoric would have us believe. I also present some critiques of the theory and practice of American aid to Israel, arguing that the structure and mechanism is obsolete and inefficient — and suggesting an alternative approach to this aspect of the relationship.
All that is futuristic, however, if not entirely fantastic. Meanwhile, the elections, the candidates and the campaign itself highlight the problems of the American political system — and the problems, actual and potential, that the changes underway in American politics and culture pose to the US-Israel relationship. However, every review of the challenges must also note the very deep and powerful common interests and shared values that bond the seemingly “odd couple” of America and Israel — and identifying what these are and even where they flourish is the final point in the analysis.
The introduction itself must end on a different note, albeit in the context of the same overall theme. During the preparation of this issue, Shimon Peres passed away and was buried in Jerusalem, after an impressive state funeral attended by many foreign leaders.
The eulogies covered many aspects of Peres’ long and remarkable life and career — but one element of his political thought, traceable directly to his mentor, David Ben-Gurion, must be highlighted here. It is that while Israel should and must align itself with the West, it should never become reliant upon or beholden to a single foreign country, however powerful. To this end, Peres almost single-handedly created the alliance with France in the 1950’s and was instrumental in developing and broadening the alliance with the US, from the mid-1970’s onwards — but he never viewed these relationships as exclusive or all-encompassing.
This legacy is alive and well today and remains a guiding light for the conduct of foreign and security policy by all Israeli governments, of every stripe.
A: Regional Developments
a) Putin rules, OK
b) Bush, Obama and the ‘New Middle East’
c) Israel-US relations (1): the ‘aid package’
d) Israel-US relations (2): the ‘aid package’…warts and all
e) Israel-US relations (3): the election, the parties and the candidates