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Grand Strategy

Contrary to Washington wisdom, Israel is a clear strategic asset to the United States, says a new study by a bipartisan pair of veteran diplomats

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Then-U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and then-Israeli Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi meeting in Tel Aviv last year. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Many foreign-policy experts, even as they acknowledge that the United States has a moral responsibility to stand with the sole democracy in the Middle East, argue that Israel is a strategic liability. Robert Blackwill, a high-level diplomat in Republican administrations and a self-described Kissingerian realist, is someone who you’d safely assume shares that view. But Blackwill wanted to see if that way of looking at things was actually true.

Along with Walter B. Slocombe, who served as undersecretary of Defense for Policy under President Bill Clinton, Blackwill detailed his findings in a paper just published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Israel: A Strategic Asset for the United States” argues that the United States not only shares national interests with the Jewish state—like preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and combating terrorism—but also reaps numerous advantages from the alliance.

The paper offers chapter and verse on Israeli contributions to the U.S. national interest. They include: Israeli counter-proliferation efforts, such as the 1981 bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility and the 2007 attack on Syria’s secret nuclear facility at al-Kibar; joint military training exercises, as well as exchanges on military doctrine; Israeli technology, like unmanned aerial systems, armored vehicle protection, defense against short-range rocket threats, and robotics; missile defense cooperation; counterterrorism and intelligence cooperation; and cyber defense. Blackwill and Slocombe conclude that the alliance is in fact so central to U.S. national interests that U.S. policymakers should find ways to further enhance cooperation with Jerusalem.

Blackwill and Slocombe’s detailed list is a unique event in the ongoing U.S. policy debate over the advisability of this bilateral relationship. Blackwill says that for all the media attention devoted to Israel, he and Slocombe were surprised to find no comprehensive account of Israel’s contribution to the U.S. national interest existed previously. “I figured I’ll just Google it,” he told me this week over the phone. “But there was no existing encompassing list. So, we went item by item, making sure we had the facts straight. We didn’t exaggerate or overstate the contribution.”

The fact that Slocombe is a Democrat and Blackwill is a pillar of the Republican policy establishment is meant to drive home the strategic nature of their argument. According to Blackwill, the alliance has nothing to do with who’s in the White House, whether the Israeli prime minister is Labor or Likud, or how much movement there is on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. “It is meant to be a grander argument,” he says. “National interests don’t change, except over the very long term.”

What has changed—in a positive way—is Israel’s ability to advance U.S. national interests. The national-interest case for Israel would have been harder to make 20 years ago, argues Blackwill. That shifted as “defense cooperation in the ’90s began to be enhanced,” he told me. “It’s increased greatly over the last few decades.”

Though Blackwill served as Condeleezza Rice’s National Security Council deputy for Iraq during 2003 and 2004—in Rice’s recently published memoir she calls him “one of the best policy engineers I had ever known”—it would be a mistake to identify him with the famously pro-Israel neoconservative camp of Republican policymakers. Rather, Blackwill traces his intellectual roots to Henry Kissinger, for whom he worked as a staffer during the 1973 Arab-Israeli crisis. And it was Kissinger, President Richard Nixon’s secretary of State during that crisis, who was perhaps the first Republican policymaker to understand Israel’s strategic value.

Where President Harry Truman felt a moral responsibility and emotional attachment to Israel, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first Republican commander-in-chief to deal with the newly formed Jewish state, saw Israel is a strategic liability. He believed the Arabs were offended and alienated by America’s closeness to Israel. Eisenhower eventually came to a different understanding—Arabs’ hostility to Israel was far less crucial to the region’s dynamics than he previously thought—but, more significantly, he recognized that the Middle East was a key venue to defeat the Soviet Union.

This was Kissinger’s starting point. With the 1973 war, Kissinger saw that Soviet arms in the hands of Egypt and Syria could not be allowed to triumph over Israel, Washington’s client. During the course of the war, Kissinger came to understand that Cairo could no longer afford the cost of being Moscow’s ally. In order to enable Sadat to jump sides and join the American camp, Kissinger had to prevent the Egyptians from being humiliated and give Sadat a defeat that he could sell to his people as a victory. A peace treaty between Israel and the largest Arab state would both neutralize Moscow’s role in the Middle East and establish Washington as the undisputed power broker in the region. With Israel backed unconditionally by the United States, the Arabs could no longer afford to wage war against the Jewish state, he believed. And if they wanted anything from Israel, then only Washington, as Kissinger understood, could deliver those concessions.

As Martin Kramer explained in his 2006 essay “The American Interest,” the Pax Americana in the eastern Mediterranean was a tremendous accomplishment for U.S. policymakers. At $3 billion in aid annually, Israel’s friendship is a bargain. If the United States had an Israel in the Persian Gulf, another powerful ally it could count on to do its heavy lifting and keep the United States from having to land troops, Washington might well have avoided three decades worth of trouble in that part of the Middle East, from Saddan Hussein to al-Qaida to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The fact that Israel’s strategic value is lost on so many American journalists, analysts, and policymakers is largely a function of dogma, Blackwill argues. Given that so many American groups, from Christian evangelicals and the American Jewish community to the oil lobby, have a position on the U.S.-Israel relationship, it’s hardly surprising the issue generates heated emotions that tend to make the subject impervious to analysis. This affects American decision-making and public diplomacy. For instance, the U.S. Department of State, Blackwill’s home shop, is certainly not known for sending its foreign-service officers out to the Middle East to challenge Arab officials and journalists every time they say something negative about the Jewish state. The U.S.-Israel relationship really does make it harder for American diplomats to do their job—and so they just keep their mouths shut and internalize the Arab argument against the alliance.

But the hazards of the diplomatic profession shouldn’t obscure the facts of the matter for U.S. policymakers. If the alliance with Israel really is a liability to U.S. national interests, there should be concrete evidence to back it up. “We tried to identify episodes when you could plausibly argue that Arab governments exacted a price from the U.S. for its alliance with Israel.” Blackwill said. He and Slocombe found only one example: the Arab oil embargo after the 1973 war.

“Without doubt that embargo was related to the U.S. re-supply during the ’73 Arab-Israeli war,” Blackwill said. “We thought, ‘Well, there have to be other examples. We’re just not looking hard enough.’ But to our surprise, we couldn’t find another example from that instance to today.”

Why, then, is the notion that the United States pays a price for its alliance with Israel such a prevalent theme? “People confuse what Arabs say and what Arab governments do,” Blackwill explained. “No doubt Arabs complain very genuinely about our relationship with Israel. They don’t like it. And it’s not surprising then that U.S. ambassadors send these negative Arab views back to Washington. However, our piece doesn’t argue that the American relationship with Israel is popular in the Arab world. Our approach was to gauge the question analytically, and ask, what action have Arab governments taken? And it turns out that the policies of Arab governments toward the United States are dominated by their overall perceptions of their national interests, not by the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

For instance, as Blackwill and Slocombe speculate in their paper, would the Saudis lower their oil prices “if Washington entered into a sustained crisis with Israel over the Palestine issue during which the bilateral relationship went into steep systemic decline?” The answer, of course, is no. As is the case with all rational actors, what matters most to the Arabs are their own national interests. Yet Blackwill acknowledges that the Arab Spring may change the equation insofar as it empowers potential populist movements that look at the U.S.-Israel relationship from a very different perspective than their governments have.

In any case, the core of Blackwill and Slocombe’s argument is that the alliance with Israel is vital to U.S. interests regardless of how the Arabs see it, or how it’s interpreted by any given American administration or Israeli government. “Israel’s people and politicians have a deeply entrenched pro-American outlook that is uniformly popular with the Israeli people,” they write in their paper. “Thus, Israel’s support of U.S. national interests is woven tightly into the fabric of Israeli democratic political culture, a crucial characteristic that is presently not found in any other nation in the greater Middle East.”

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Rather than asset, Israel is the greatest threat to world peace, ahead of North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran.

Alan Finkelstein says:

On the contrary Ezra, Israel’s continued existence is hope for mankind. How can you cite a fatally flawed survey when no country has contibuted more per capita in the fields or medicince, agriculture, technology, etc. than the state of Israel? Even though Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador and now limits trade with Israel, they allowed Israel to fly in emergency aid after a devastating earthquake. What has North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran done lately for mankind?

Ezra, the 8 or 9 year old quote from your link is:

‘This shocking result that Israel is the greatest threat to world peace, bigger than North Korea and Iran, defies logic and is a racist flight of fantasy that only shows that anti-semitism is deeply embedded within European society, more then at any other period since the end of the war,’ he added.

was a statement from Rabbi Marvin Hier who said the idea (you list) “defies logic” read it as it was a discussion on virulent European anti-semitism and why such haters should not be part of any peace process.

Alan, perhaps you have overlooked North Korea’s contribution of nuclear proliferation to terrorist states such as IRan. Let’s skip the list of
North Korean Nobel Prize winners or simple patent holders. And think about the value the Taliban has added to civilization, promoting the prohibition of women’s rights (except that pesky procreation of future Taliban), destruction of centuries old Buddhist religious shrines and other monuments that are not Islamic.Their prolific homicidal bomber corps on the other hand….

J Lane says:

Strategic asset or allie would depend on your definition. Perhaps the Liberty incident, or maybe the sale of US defense technology (top secret) to China may qualify. No, maybe the theft of nuclear materials from the US or the possesion of 400 to 500 warheads.
Our only true and reliable allie would be Canada. An American who understands his history and does not have some perverse fondness for any group of non-americans would do well to understand George Washington when he said, “alliances with none, trade with all”.

We in the USA pay the price for an arrogant, increasingly racist and fundamentalist Isreal. A country that costs us billions in aid and yet considers itself the Isreali tail that wags the American dog. Gone are the high ideals of Ben-Gurion, Dayan, Meir, Eban and Rabat. Instead we have an increasingly colonialist mentality to deny Israeli Arabs equal rights and colonize the West Bank to squeeze the Palestinian Arabs into a smaller and smaller space. Americans have little to lose and much to gain by casting Israel adrift based on it’s current stance.

Time for all patriotic Americans to remind Israel that compromise is essential to it’s survival and put some real muscle behind it, no matter what the DC lobbyists say.

And no, it isn’t anti-semetic to say these things, it is patriotic. Israel looks more and more like it’s so called fundamentalist enemies as each day goes by.

to Jlayne…..someone pleae tell this to our Prime Minister..he just loves Israel and obviously doesn’t see anything wrong with Israeli killing, home destructions, orchard destructions et. et. I almost forgot to tell you our PM is Harper and he cradles Israel in his lap. Can’t wait to vote him out..but we have a long wait and heaven knows what damage he can do in the meantime. Good Luck Palestine. I was sorry to read about your failure to the UN. It looks as if Israel garbaged a whole lot of nations to vote against them.

Binyamin in Orangeburg says:

Once gas prices triple after an Israeli attack on Natanz, lets see how much love there is for our strategic ally.

JUST SO!!! And what an excellent paper it was.
These two gentlemen have to be about the last remaining people to appreciate what Israel does for the U.S.
BLACKWELL & SLOCUM should be hoisted on the the shoulders of the world for the truth they speak.
And of course LEE SMITH, who has to be the finest gentlemen and journalist of the modern age.

andrew r says:

Having a look at Slocomb and Blackwill’s paper…

“preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction” – So long as the weapons are not possessed by Israel.

“combating terrorism and the radical Islamist ideology” – The US is only interested in combating radical Islamists that kill US citizens or soldiers or if they can be pushed as a threat to the Gulf regimes that award western corporations their contracts. Iraq is already run by long-time followers of Khomeini yet no one says the Iraqi govt. is a threat to US strategic interests.

“promoting an orderly process of democratic change and economic development in the region;” – So incredibly risible I almost hyperventilate at the thought of someone having the stones to spout this nonsense.

“ensuring the free flow of oil and gas at reasonable prices;” – This is also risible but not readily apparent without some deeper research. Two Israeli economists, Nitzan and Bichler, found that for the major oil companies (BP, Chevron, XOM, Shell, etc.) their rate of return rose above the Fortune 500 average following the wars/upheavals in 67, 73, 79-early 80’s, 91, 01, 03, and 06. Because of speculation on oil prices due to the perceived danger to the flow of oil. Search for their paper ‘Cheap Wars’.

However, when they get into linkage of the US and Israeli defense industries, things come back down to earth. Any sort of discourse on ‘national interest’ is going to illuminate and obfuscate at varying levels simply because the term itself is used to obfuscate the differing interests of people based on economic background.

JamesPhiladelphia says:

Some of the anti Israel gang got out from their caves. The alliance oF USA and Israel is here and strong indeed. Where do you think the drone technology has come from? Maybe Obama does not like Nethanyauh but surely likes the drones and uses them with gusto. And whatever happened of that enormous Israeli drone capable of use against Iran nuclear installation.


Don’t you know that the WINEP was founded by AIPAC as a propaganda arm?

I knew it was.

JamesPhiladelphia says:

John here are figures of the canard it costs the USA billions of aidtoIsrael.USA aid to Israel : 3 billion USD

Israel GDP: 240 billion USD

Israel military expenditures: 16 billion USD

All Israeli expenditures are with USA companies.

Source : Wikipedia, CIA fact finding.

John here are figures of the canard it costs the USA billions of aidtoIsrael.USA aid to Israel : 3 billion USD

Israel GDP: 240 billion USD

Israel military expenditures: 16 billion USD

All Israeli expenditures are with USA companies.

Source : Wikipedia, CIA fact finding.

John here are figures of the canard it costs the USA billions of aid to Israel

.USA aid to Israel : 3 billion USD

Israel GDP: 240 billion USD

Israel military expenditures: 16 billion USD

All Israeli expenditures are with USA companies.

Source : Wikipedia, CIA fact finding.

JamesPhiladelphia says:

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andrew r says:

“All Israeli expenditures are with USA companies.”

Actually, the FMF is an expenditure that goes one way to the defense contractors and never back to the tax payer. Especially that the DC’s pay little to no income tax (Boeing and Honeywell receive tax benefits).

Israel is part and parcel of the Mideast system of weapon-dollars for petro-dollars: Buy oil from Gulf dictatorships, sell them weapons. Israeli companies such as Elbit and Rafael are subcontractors to Boeing, General Dynamics, et. al. The only merit to that silly pamphlet is hinting at the links between the US and Israeli defense industries.

This study, and the article, seems to be in preparation for the scrutiny the US aid to Israel is going to receive in the near future (remember Perry’s comment at the last debate about starting the discussion about the Israel aid with zero dollar?)How else one would justify 3 billion dollars a year cost. If we gave 3 billion dollars to every country that may be a strategic asset to America, we would be broke yesterday. Let’s us help Israel because we want to (for political and religious reasons) but let us not pretend the cost-benefit analysis justifies it.

arcaneone says:

The famous $3billion in annual American aid to Israel is not some pathological generosity. This was one of the terms of Jimmy Carter’s Sinai Accords,which resulted in the “cold peace” between Israel and Egypt.

That is where the obligation comes from. I opposed the Sinai Accords at the time(late1970s), and you can see that most
people simply ignore the history of this issue.

Utter non sense, simply a zionist propaganda, infact Israel is anunwanted parasite which sucks America. The terorist attacks on US is becoz of its immoral support to Israel;s occupation of Palistine.3 billion dollars per means a lot, give half to Pakistan they will rule the Asia. Isreal is sucking America, it’s the vote bank of evangical christians and election funding from Zionist looby that American politician feel helpless to fairly do justice to what America stands for – freedom for all.

Alan Perlman says:

There is no doubt that Israelis a strategic asset to the U.S. If is unfortunate, however, that the authors stated that it would have been harder to make that case over 20 years ago. In fact, well before 20 years ago, Israel was a major strategic asset. They consistently battle-tested U.S. aircraft and weapons against Soviet aircraft and weapons, risking Israeli pilots and soldiers, not American pilots and soldiers. And they captured the most advanced Soviet weaponry intact, including aircraft and missile batteries, and transferred them to the U.S. This far outweighed the costs of the military aid that the U.S. provided to Israel.

Neil Murphy says:

What a bizarre argument. Israel is important because the US military and the Israeli military cooperate? Apart from that,. Israel causes enormous problems for the west due to its intransigence and dishonesty. Israel was useful in the Cold War, but now its a national liability.

As to Israel’s attacks on Osirak and Al-Kibar the US could have carried out those attacks itself if it was bothered. Those places were a threat to Israel not to the US.

I certainly don’t believe Israel should be fed to the wolves, but Israel has to be brought to heel and remove the open sore of the Palestinian problem.

cinthia says:

The US has become a servant of the Zionists!! We do not want Zionists´ banks and we do not need Zionists´war bussiness. We need to reconstruct our own country from the roots.

sherif says:

If Israel is the sole democracy in the Middle East, then what do you call Turkey? Not a democracy or not in the Middle East?

Stephanie says:

In 1985, Jonathan Pollard was arrested for espionage. He revealed CIA intel and codes to Israel, which in turn sold those codes to the Soviets in exchange for Israeli prisoners. This resulted in the capture and execution of CIA operatives in Soviet jurisdiction.

Then Israel stole the information to create nuclear weapons yet remains just as secretive and defiant as Iran regarding them.

With allies like these . . .

Richard Smith says:

You can’t find examples of Israel’s harm to the USA?? 9/11 is the best example. The support of an apartheid state is the primary reason the USA was attacked. The Iraq war, the Afghanistan war, and innumerable other disasters are the inevitable result to the USA’s Israel policy. Yes, the USA’s support of Israel, which is NOT a democracy (over 50% of the native born residents of the land are denied the right to vote), is the key problem in the region, and certainly the core issue which harms the USA’s interests.

Your post can be boiled down to, “Israel does some of the USA’s dirty work”, while leaving out “Most problems for the USA in the region are a direct result of Israel.”

Green Khan says:

Israel adds “nuisance value” only and the future is all about collaboration. Those military technologies have not helped in the United States financial meltdown and fall from grace as a world power

How peculiar that the importance of the US-Israel alliance to the US can fail to note the most important element: Almighty Allah.
Perhaps the writer is among those who have yet to see “Raiders of the Lost Ark” ?


“no country has contibuted more per capita in the fields or medicince, agriculture, technology, etc. than the state of Israel”

See, its exactly that attitude, that goes over so well in tel aviv , but comes across to the rest of the world for what it is, unrepentant chauvinistic nationalism, with just enough religious doom-saying, to REALLY make it dangerous.

” What has North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran done lately for mankind?”

Every war criminal in this century should have a t-shirt that says this. Factually true, but hardly the standard a literate society would dare hold itself to.

And FYI, i support Israel’s right to exist, as well as thier right to kill, maim, and imprison anyone who threatens its civillians, but the over the top infalliable mayrtr routine is realling getting abnoxious.

Make a deal with the devil and lose your own soul. Israel is using us like a $2 whore for it’s own ends and means while it continues to violate Palestinians humans rights every minute of everyday by labeling anyone who tries to promote positive change a “terrorist”. The US & Israel need a spiritual awakening and stop playing all of us people as zombies to their media full of lies. Everyone everywhere wants a safe place for their families to live. It’s the politicians and big government that mess it all up as they oink like pigs in their own greedy agendas. How much money and power is enough?

Donald Berrian says:

This article is a pretty good demonstration of the meddling of a foreign government, Israel, in the government of the US. Anyone who pays attention to the political campaign in the US can see the clear relationship between support for Israel and support for unprovoked attacks against other countries, torture, religious bigotry, etc. Thousands of American lives have been lost because of policies supported by AIPAC and our reputation as a civilized country is in ruins. The influence of Israel in the US is absolutely insidious. The same people that are involved in witch hunts against Muslims in this country are also advocating denying citizens their rights. Congress just voted to allow the military to hold Americans without trial. The last time that was tried was by Lincoln during the civil war and he was stopped by the courts. As a veteran I swore to uphold the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. It looks like the foreign one is Israel and the domestic ones are Israel’s supporters.


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Grand Strategy

Contrary to Washington wisdom, Israel is a clear strategic asset to the United States, says a new study by a bipartisan pair of veteran diplomats

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