By Gil Elan
I’m writing this column Monday, March 2. By the time you read it, Bibi Netanyahu will have given his March 3 presentation to Congress on the dangers of a bad nuclear deal with Iran. Many of you probably saw it live on C-Span or the Internet or in rebroadcasts with “talking head” experts parsing his every word, together with commentary from administration officials.
I may deal with specifics of the speech in a future column or briefing, but today I want to focus on the “storm before the quiet” — the crescendo of articles and comments by politicians, journalists, analysts, self-defined experts, ex-military and ex-intelligence officials from both countries, and pundits of all stripes who, for the past month, have weighed in assertively that either:
1. Bibi should give the speech
2. Bibi should cancel the speech.
The arguments on both sides are compelling.
Those who favor the speech claim that the upcoming “deal” between the U.S. and Iran will enable the fanatic Shiite republic to have nuclear weapons within less than a year, enabling it to literally incinerate Israel, and most of its densely packed population, with just one or two bombs. They hope that once the U.S. legislators and public know the details, they may be able to prevent it.
Adding to the urgency are recent statements by the chairman of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, who confirmed that Iran has not been cooperating with his inspectors, despite having promised to do so, and that therefore he cannot say what Iran already has and what it is planning. Remember — the “deal” that Secretary of State John Kerry is proposing relies heavily on Iran agreeing to unrestricted, frequent, intrusive and robust inspections by the IAEA.
Those calling to cancel the speech claim that the negatives relating to U.S.-Israel relations, already (according to some of them) at the “lowest point in history,” will just get worse and Israel may lose the only superpower that supports it. They also claim that Bibi is doing this as an election stunt.
To both sides I say: Step back, take a deep breath, and focus on the facts:
1. Deal or no deal, Iran will not have nuclear weapons anytime in the foreseeable future. Remember, the U.S. is not the only country that drew a “red line.” The Israeli “red line” is indelible, regardless of who is the prime minister after the March 17 elections.
2. Historically, this is not anywhere near being the “lowest point” in U.S.-Israel relations. Sure, Bibi and Obama don’t like each other personally — to say the least — but judging from the turnout at AIPAC this week, large majorities in both houses of Congress support Israel and are committed to Israel’s safety, security and economic success.
3. But this is only since 1967…:
During the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, the Departments of War and State recognized the possibility of a Soviet-Arab connection and the potential Arab restriction on oil supplies. They advised against U.S. support of the Jewish State.
In 1948, as the end of the mandate approached, the decision to recognize the Jewish state remained contentious. There was significant disagreement between President Truman, his domestic and campaign adviser, Clark Clifford, and both the State and Defense Departments.
Secretary of State George Marshall feared U.S. backing of a Jewish state would harm relations with the Muslim world, limit access to Middle Eastern oil, and destabilize the region. Clifford argued in favor of recognizing the new Jewish state. Marshall opposed Clifford’s arguments, contending they were based on domestic political considerations in the election year.
Marshall said that if Truman followed Clifford’s advice and recognized the Jewish state, then he would vote against Truman in the election.
Two days later, May 14, 1948, the United States, under Truman, became the first country to extend any form of recognition.
But at that time U.S. policy in the Middle East was geared toward:
- Supporting Arab states’ independence
- Developing oil-producing countries
- Preventing Soviet influence from gaining a foothold in Greece, Turkey and Iran, as well as preventing an arms race, and…
- Maintaining a neutral stance in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
During these years of austerity, the U.S. provided Israel no military aid, and very moderate amounts of economic aid, mostly as loans for basic foodstuffs.
France became Israel’s main arms supplier. This support was seen by Israel as needed to counter the perceived threat from Egypt under President Nasser.
During the 1956 Suez Crisis, France, Israel and Britain colluded to topple Nasser by regaining control of the Suez Canal, and to occupy parts of western Sinai. In response, Eisenhower, with support from the Soviet Union at the U.N., intervened on behalf of Egypt.
When Nasser expressed a desire to establish closer relations with America, the U.S., eager to increase its influence in the region and prevent Nasser from going over to the Soviet Bloc, made a point to distance itself from Israel. The only assistance the U.S. provided Israel was food aid.
Only in the early 1960s did the U.S. begin to sell advanced, defensive weapons to Israel, Egypt and Jordan, including Hawk anti-aircraft missiles.
Prior to 1967, U.S. administrations had taken considerable care to avoid giving the appearance of favoritism.
During LBJ’s presidency America’s policy took a sharp turn in the pro-Israeli direction. Before the 1967 war the administration was the first to be sympathetic to Israel’s need to defend itself. After the Six-Day War, the U.S. became, and is still to this day, Israel’s strongest ally, partner and supporter…despite “disagreements within the family” as Bibi noted in his AIPAC speech Monday
As you can see, U.S.-Israel relations today are not “at their lowest”; on the contrary, the “worst” or “lowest” relations were during the Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations (though JFK started a slight change).
The warm relations between the U.S. and Israel at least since 1967 have survived numerous arguments, crises and “disagreements within the family.” This is not the first, nor will it be the last.
Unfortunately, neither will it be the end of the storm-before-the-quiet chorus of prophets of doom.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is President and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org. DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.