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Israel – a strategic asset for the US… and Australia

Nov 3, 2011 | Sharyn Mittelman

Israel – a strategic asset for the US... and Australia
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The US-Israel alliance has come under increasing strain in recent time with both academics and US policy makers suggesting that the alliance has become more of a liability than an asset for US national interests. For instance, the infamous Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer based their whole “Israel Lobby” slander on the assumption that being associated with Israel was obviously and unequivocally bad for the US, and only some undemocratic and vaguely nefarious lobby could possible explain the continuing US alliance with Israel, as noted Middle East scholar report released by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy “Israel: A Strategic Asset for the United States” (‘the report’), does even more to refute this trend in analysis and instead argues that US policy makers should acknowledge that the US-Israel alliance strongly serves US national interests in several important ways.

The report was written by Robert D. Blackwill and Walter B. Slocombe who served under Democratic and Republican administrations. Slocombe was the under Secretary of Defense for Policy in the Clinton Administration, while Blackwill was US ambassador to India the United States National Security Council Deputy for Iraq in the second Bush Administration, and is currently a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The report argues that while US support for Israel over the years has been explained as based on “shared values” – democracy, fighting for freedom, Judeo-Christian culture and civilisation as well a ‘moral responsibility to protect the small nation-state of the Jewish people, these arguments “fails to capture a third crucial aspect: common national interests and collaborative action to advance those interests.”

The report highlights the following US national interests and notes that Israel shares many of the same interests:

  • preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons;
  • combating terrorism and the radical Islamist ideology from which it spawned;
  • promoting an orderly process of democratic change and economic development in the region;
  • opposing the spread of Iranian influence and that of Iran’s partners and proxies;
  • ensuring the free flow of oil and gas at reasonable prices;
  • resolving the Arab-Israeli dispute through a process of negotiations; and
  • protecting the security of Israel.

The report states “indeed, there is no other Middle East country whose definition of national interests is so closely aligned with the United States.”

The report highlights Israel’s contribution to US national interests which include:

  • missile defence cooperation;
  • joint training and exercises as well as exchanges on military doctrine, the US has benefited in the areas of counterterrorism cooperation, tactical intelligence and experience in urban warfare;
  • Israeli technology promotes US interests including airport security techniques to tactical radar system to enhance force protection;
  • missile defence cooperation;
  • counterterrorism and intelligence cooperation to defeat Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and affiliate group;
  • Israel being a full partner in intelligence operations that benefit both countries such as efforts to interdict the supply of parts to Iran’s nuclear program;
  • Israel’s military – the most powerful in the region – plays an important role in supporting US interests by countering regional threats from Iran, Syria and Hezbollah; and
  • Israeli experience in cyber defence and national resilience planning and implementation will benefit the US.

The report acknowledges that the US-Israel relationship has at times cost the US in the Arab world but argues that the pros far outweigh the cons, and, to date, the US-Israel relationship has “not prevented the development of close ties with Arab nations who understand that however much they disagree with US support for Israel, they benefit from a good relationship with the United States on other issues.”

The authors write:

“would Saudi Arabia’s policies towards the United State be markedly different in practice if Washington entered into a sustained crisis with Israel over Palestine issue…? Would Riyadh lower the price of oil? Would it stop hedging its regional bets concerning US attempts to coerce Iran into freezing its nuclear weapons programs? Would it regard current US policy towards Afghanistan more positively?…We judge positive answers to all these questions as ‘doubtful’ at the very least.”

The report recommends that:

  • US political leaders expand the discussion to include the role of the US Israel relationship as a strategic asset to US interests;
  • the US should maximise the advantages it can derive from cooperation wth Israel to expand it partnerships in traditional and new areas;
  • the US should do more to engage in the strategic aspects of the US-Israel relationship to further bilateral ties and leverage the relationship to advance broader US national interests.

The report does a good job of highlighting the shared interests and cooperation in the US-Israel relationship. In light of the fact that Australia shares many interests with the US, it is also worth considering how the Israel-Australia relationship is also a strategic asset in terms of Australia’s national interest.

To read the full report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy “Israel: A Strategic Asset for the United States” click here

Sharyn Mittelman

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