A balanced analysis of the security interests of the United States vis-a-vis Israel requires a careful review of their security interests and the history of their interaction.
That review demonstrates that Israel will always put its interest before any other nation, including the United States, if its leadership believes Israel’s existence is at risk.
One should not expect anything different, given the experience of the Jewish people in Europe during World War II; however, that experience does not give Israel the right to dictate the foreign policy of United States, whose interest may diverge from Israel when all risks are evaluated.
The people of the United States, and those who make international policy on their behalf, must be mindful that the interests of the two countries have not always coincided.
Several examples from the history of the past 60 years are instructive.
Baghdad and Egypt Bombings. Following independence, the Israeli government encouraged the immigration of Jews from other countries to quickly increase its population. This was known as making Aliyah (Hebrew: ascent).
In 1948, more than 140,000 Jews lived in Iraq, making up one-sixth of Baghdad’s population. These were the descendants of the Jews who chose to remain in 536 B.C., when the Tribes of Israel were freed from their captivity by the Persian king Cyrus the Great.
Israeli Zionists encouraged the Iraqi-Jewish population to leave Iraq; however, the Iraqi government declared Zionism to be a capital offense, required registration, a renouncing of citizenship and a forfeiture of property to leave. Many Iraqi-Jews were able to escape through Iran to Israel; however, many were afraid or unwilling to disturb the status quo.
Commencing in March 1950, a series of bombings occurred in Baghdad at the American Cultural Center and Library, the U.S. legation’s information office, and other locations where Jews gathered. The Jewish population was seized with panic, and ultimately all but a few thousand left the country.
The Mossad denied it was involved in the bombings; however, the acts served to sour American-Iraqi relations and the rapid emigration of the population did in fact take place. The British embassy in Baghdad concluded that the bombings were done by Zionists, and a former CIA senior officer wrote that they were done by Zionists to "portray the Iraqis as anti-American and to terrorize the Jews."
The Mossad also recruited a group of Zionist Egyptian Jews in 1954 to plant bombs in the U.S. Information Service library and other American targets in Cairo and Alexandria. The Mossad intended to blame the Muslim Brotherhood for the attacks; however, the plot failed and the conspirators were arrested and convicted.
The conspiracy was code named "Operation Susannah," and the failed attempt became known as the "Lavon Affair" after Israeli defense minister Pinhas Lavon, who was forced to resign as a result. After denying complicity for 50 years, the surviving agents were provided with a certificate of appreciation by Israeli President Moshe Katzav in 2005.
All of these acts of terrorism were denied by Israel, and historians are divided as to responsibility; however, the adage Cui bono (Latin: to whose benefit?) often correctly identifies the party that had the most to gain or the least to lose.
Suez Crisis. In 1956, acting in conspiracy with England and France, Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula without warning. The purpose of the invasion was for England and France to regain control of the Suez Canal, which had been nationalized, and to remove President Gamal Abdel Nasser from power in Egypt.
Israel considered Nasser to be a genocidal maniac, who was intent upon exterminating the Israeli people. Israel also viewed with alarm the large amounts of Soviet weapons being accumulated by Egypt and Nasser’s denial of Israeli shipping through the Suez Canal.
France and England began to bomb Cairo and northern Egypt, and Israel seized the Gaza Strip and large portions of the Sinai. English and French commandos attacked Port Said and Port Fouad at the Canal entrance; however, Nasser effectively blocked it to all shipping by sinking 40 ships that were in transit when the invasion started.
Failing to obtain a Security Council resolution due to vetoes by France and England, the United Nations General Assembly acted under the 1950 "United for Peace" resolution to recommend appropriate steps to end the fighting.
The General Assembly resolution was proposed by the United States. President Eisenhower believed that U.S. support of the invasion would cause a backlash in the Middle East, which would allow the USSR greater influence in the region.
President Eisenhower received Congressional authorization to use military force to stop aggression in the Middle East, if requested by any nation (The Eisenhower Doctrine). He also supported economic sanctions against Israel, including all private support, until it withdrew from Egyptian territory.
Under threats to be ejected from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, England and France withdrew their troops within a week; however, Israel threatened to annex the portions of the Sinai Peninsula it had captured. Succumbing to international pressure, Israel withdrew to its borders in 1957; however, there was no peace settlement with Egypt.
Attack on USS Liberty. In 1967, following earlier reprisal raids into the Jordanian occupied West Bank, which were condemned by the United Nations, Israel launched a surprise air and armor invasion of the West Bank, Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. Fearing an Egyptian military buildup, the preemptive war by Israel lasted six days and resulted in the defeat of Egypt.
On June 8, 1967, the third day of the war, the USSLiberty, a United States spy ship, was on duty in international waters north of the Sinai Peninsula monitoring the electronic communications of the warring parties. The Liberty was attacked, without warning, by Israeli Air Force fighter planes and Israeli Navy torpedo boats. Thirty-four Americans were killed, 170 were wounded and the ship was severely damaged.
Officially, both governments labeled the attack a mistake due to confusion about the ship’s identity; however, all of the ship survivors and the U.S. Secretary of State at the time, Dean Rusk, have always maintained the attack was deliberate. Israel subsequently paid compensation for the deaths, injuries and damage to the ship.
Secretary Rusk stated: “At the time of the attack, the USS Liberty was flying the American flag and its identification was clearly indicated in large white letters and numerals on its hull. … Experience demonstrates that both the flag and the identification number of the vessel were readily visible from the air…. Accordingly, there is every reason to believe that the USS Liberty was identified, or at least her nationality determined, by Israeli aircraft approximately one hour before the attack. … The subsequent attack by the torpedo boats, substantially after the vessel was or should have been identified by Israeli military forces, manifests the same reckless disregard for human life.”
Spying on the United States. Israel is not included in the "Five Eyes," a designation that allows the U.S., Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand to share top secret information. It is understood that the Five Eyes do not spy on each other.
Israel is a member of "Friends on Friends," which is supposed to mean that friends don’t spy on their friends. That supposition is not supported by the facts in the case of Israel, dating back to the beginning of the relationship.
Israel was able to jumpstart its nuclear program in the 1960s by establishing an undercover company in the United States to penetrate another company that provided weapons-grade uranium to the Department of Defense. Israeli agents were able to misappropriate 200 pounds of high-grade uranium for its secret atomic bomb program.
After being denied access by the U.S. government, Israel secretly obtained high-speed krytron switches used to trigger nuclear explosions by going through another intermediary company in California. Fifteen shipments of 800 krytrons were delivered to the Israeli Ministry of Defense between 1979 and 1984. The owner of the company was indicted, and he and his wife fled to Israel. They were captured in Spain in 2001, extradited to the U.S., where the owner pled guilty to violating the Arms Export Control Act. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison, but was released after four years.
Commencing in 1984, Jonathan Pollard, who was born in the United States, began to serve as a spy for Israel while working for U.S. Naval Intelligence. Pollard received $10,000 cash, a diamond ring and $1,500 a month for passing highly-classified intelligence to his Israeli controller, including nuclear targeting information for the Soviet Union and detailed information about the U.S. global electronic surveillance network.
Pollard’s activities were discovered and reported by a coworker. His wife and his Israeli controller fled to Israel. Pollard was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1987. Israel refused to turn over most of the documents that Pollard had stolen and treated the investigation with hostility. It refused to allow the controller to be interviewed and promoted him to the command of an Air Force base.
Israel granted citizenship to Pollard in 1995 and has acknowledged that he spied for the country. He was visited by Benjamin Netanyahu in prison in 2002. Pollard’s request for presidential clemency is presently being considered by the Obama administration.
Following Pollard’s conviction, Israel swore to the U.S. that it would cease its espionage activities against the United States. Since then, the spying has continued unabated, as has been the flow of U.S. assistance in the amount of $60 billion, mostly in military hardware.
Stewart Nozette, a former White House National Space Council planetary scientist, pled guilty to attempted espionage against the United States in 2011, after attempting to sell missile defense and nuclear secrets to an undercover FBI agent pretending to be a Mossad agent. Nozette bragged that the material he had for sale had cost the United States between $200 million and $1 billion to develop."
Nozette later admitted he had already received $225,000 in "consulting fees" between 1998 and 2008 from (state-owned) Israel Aerospace Industries for obtaining and turning over secret "technical data." Nozette was sentenced to 13 years in prison; however, the Israeli government and its company were shielded from the investigation.
An employee of the U.S. Department of Defense pled guilty in 2005 to passing classified documents to two officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In the plea negotiation, he stated he handed over classified information because he thought U.S. policy was not sufficiently pro-Israel.
The two AIPAC employees were indicted for illegally conspiring to gather and disclose classified national security information to Israel. After almost five years of court proceedings, the case against the two was dismissed as a result of "graymail" in which the defense would require the disclosure of classified information and because of doubts the government would be able to prevail at trial.
A CIA report confirms that U.S. officials in Israel assume that all of their political conversations are monitored. The report stated that in addition to political espionage, Israel targets "a considerable portion of their covert operations to obtaining scientific and technical intelligence."
Since 9-11, the U.S. National Security Agency sweeps up massive amounts of electronic communications within the United States, including email messages, Internet activity and telephone conversations. The telecommunication companies Verizon and AT&T handle 90 percent of U.S. electronic communications.
Inasmuch as they are required by law to allow access to the government, these companies have formed business relationships with Israeli companies, such as Narius Inc. and Verint, to filter and organize the communications. These connections provide Israeli with a real-time mirror of all such communications.
Verint is a subsidiary of Comverse Technology, which is an extension of the Israeli Ministry of Industry and Trade, which provides 50 percent of its research and development costs. Both Comverse and Narius have close connections with Israeli intelligence agencies. These connections allow Israel to have direct, or "trojan horse" access to most U.S. communications, and U.S. companies are too dependent upon the technology to deny access.
Today, the CIA considers Israel to be the primary counterintelligence threat to its operations in the Middle East. In other words, U.S. secrets are more vulnerable to Israeli spying, than any other government in the area, including Iran.
In its annual report to Congress on "Foreign Economic Collection and Industrial Espionage," Israel shares top billing with China as maintaining "an active program to gather proprietary information in the United States."
A ranking of foreign intelligence agencies by the CIA during the Bush administration, placed Israel below Libya in its willingness to help the United States to fight terrorism.
Celebrating 9-11. The most disturbing example of policy differences between the United States and Israel took place during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
There is a convincing body of circumstantial evidence that Israel was aware of the impending attacks and allowed them to go forth in order to achieve solidarity with the United States.
Shortly before the 9-11 attacks, then former, and present, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was secretly videotaped while making "candid" observations about United States’ support of and world opinion about Israel’s policies. Speaking about the "war of terror," he says that Israel should hit the "Arabs": "Not just one hit, so many painful hits that the price will be too heavy to be borne." A woman said, "but then the world will say, ‘how come you’re conquering again?’" Netanyahu responds, "The world won’t say a thing. The world will say we’re defending." The woman asks if he is afraid of the world, and Netanyahu replies, "Especially today with America. I know what America is. America is something that can easily be moved. Moved to the right correction….They won’t get in our way."
During the same conversation, Netanyahu brags about having deceived President Clinton into believing he was supporting the Oslo accords, when in fact he boasts that he destroyed the Oslo process.
On the day of the attack, Netanyahu responded to the question about what the attacks portended for relations between the two countries, "It’s very good….Well, it’s not good, but it will generate immediate sympathy (for Israel)." He predicted it would "strengthen the bond between our two peoples…."
An Israeli Mossad surveillance team was present and excitedly videotaped the World Trade Center attacks while dancing in celebration. An FBI report documents that "the Israelis are visibly happy on nearly all of the photographs" and "all of the males appeared to be jovial. The[y] smiled, they hugged each other and they appeared to ‘high five’ one another."
Five of the cheering Israelis were arrested by East Rutherford, New Jersey police officers while driving a van that tested positive for the presence of explosives.
The Israeli owner of the moving company that owned the van fled the country for Israel. The Mossad agents were held in custody for 71 days before being released and the investigation was closed. One later appeared on Israeli television and stated their purpose there was to "document the event."
Current Crisis. In the current "crisis" regarding the enrichment of uranium by Iran, the Israeli government’s position is that Iran should be prevented from even "mastering the technology of enrichment." That "red line" was crossed six years ago by Iran and, even if destroyed, the technology cannot be unlearned.
The current "red line" drawn by the Israelis is a "zone of immunity" in which the Iranian program becomes nearly invulnerable to attack. The bottom line is that Israel will not tolerate any refinement of nuclear materials at a location that is invulnerable to Israeli attack.
Israel believes that Iran is delaying negotiations until it has accumulated a sufficient quantity of highly-enriched uranium to quickly produce a bomb.
Since a single atomic blast could virtually destroy the entire nation of Israel, which occupies only 8,000 square miles, the one-sided threat of Israel’s nuclear arsenal of 200 weapons would be greatly reduced, if not eliminated by the reality of "mutually assured destruction."
Just as Israel bombed the Iraqi reactor at Osirak in 1981 and the Syrian reactor at al-Kibar in 2007, it is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent the continuing enrichment of uranium by Iran.
The Obama administration believes there is still "time and space for diplomacy." For Obama, the "red line" is the "weaponization of nuclear material." In other words, if Iran kicks out the UN inspectors and begins to enrich uranium beyond 20 percent, there would be clear evidence of an intent to create nuclear weapons.
The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Iran had halted its nuclear weapon design and weaponization work in 2003. A more recent and unpublished Estimate has concluded that Iran’s advancements in its gas centrifuge uranium enrichment program has improved its capacity to "restart" its weapons program and to quickly produce highly-enriched uranium.
Ex-CIA chief Michael Hayden who supervised production of the 2007 Estimate states, "That estimate was based not on the absence of evidence that such work was ongoing but rather on evidence that it was not. And despite some suspicious and troubling Iranian activity since then, the estimate has survived largely intact, under three subsequent heads of national intelligence and of the CIA."
Prime Minister Netanyahu is trying to force President Obama to draw yet another "red line" defining exactly what it would take for him to take military action against Iran. Obama is trying to avoid being bullied by Netanyahu. At the same time Obama states that he does not "bluff" when he says "all options are on the table" and that "when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say."
Obama’s Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta has stated that if the United States receives "intelligence that they’re proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon, then we will take whatever steps are necessary to stop it."
Recently, the Obama administration has used several formal and informal channels to issue a series of warnings to Israel regarding its threats to go it alone in attacking Iran. Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel stated, "The U.S. has done everything it could to reassure Israel and doesn’t have anything more in its quiver, no other arrow to shoot to reassure them. So, it thinks [when it hears talk of an Israeli strike on Iran], ‘Here we go again. There’s nothing else we can do. We’ll learn to live with it.’"
More explicitly, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey recently stated that an Israeli attack on Iran would "clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear program." Specifically, he warned, "I don’t want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it." He conceded the policy differences between the U.S. and Israel, "They are living with an existential concern that we are not living with."
In the first week of September, General Hayden shared with an Israeli newspaper his belief that Israel is incapable of successfully carrying out military action against Iran without U.S. support. He stated: "I do not underestimate the Israeli talent, but geometry and physics tell us that Iran’s nuclear program would pose a difficult challenge to any military….There is no absolute certainty that all targets are known." Hayden believes that an Israeli strike "will only set the Iranians back some time and actually push them to do that which it is supposed to prevent, getting nuclear weapons."
There is little doubt that Israel would prefer to deal with a President Romney over the next four years. Romney and Netanyahu are old friends, and Romney has stated that he would never agree to allow Iran to enrich uranium at any level. He has called Israel "one of our fondest friends" and he called out President Obama for his "shabby treatment" of Israel.
Israel is not allowed to directly participate in U.S. electoral politics; however, its policies provide a powerful direction for the political activity of its supporters in the United States. Israel’s influence is demonstrated by a recent 30-second anti-Obama television advertisement by the Emergency Committee for Israel. Misleadingly, the ad states that, "Iran has enough fuel for five nuclear bombs."
AIPAC is the most powerful supporter of Israel in the United States. With more than 100,000 members and 300 paid staffers, its ability to harness the power of the U.S. government was demonstrated in June 2012 by a letter it drafted, which was signed by 44 of the 60 U.S. senators. It urged Obama "to reevaluate the utility of further talks at this time and instead focus on significantly increasing the pressure on the Iranian government through sanctions and making clear that a credible military option exists."
Without further negotiations and with the most extreme sanctions already in place, what does the future hold for the relationships between the United States, Israel and Iran?