The United States and Israel: A Vital Alliance

by: Israel Abitbol & Kristin Williams
Senior, Political Science; Senior, Political Science and History
Raleigh, NC; Clayton, NC
abitbol@kenan-flagler.unc.edu; williakj@live.unc.edu

In May 1948, the United States was the first county to recognize the new State of Israel. President Harry Truman recognized the Jewish state only eleven minutes after David Ben-Gurion announced its establishment. During the course of the next six decades, American presidents and lawmakers from both parties built and strengthened the U.S.-Israel bond. This relationship was rooted in the shared value of democracy, freedom of religion and press, and human rights. In a 2011 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama stated that “America’s commitment to Israel’s security also flows from a deeper place—and that’s the values we share…As two people who struggled to win our freedom against overwhelming odds, we understand that preserving the security for which our forefathers fought must be constantly nurtured. And as the nation that recognized the State of Israel moments after its independence, we have a profound commitment to its survival as a strong, secure homeland of the Jewish people.”

An independent group called Freedom House recognizes Israel each year as a “Free” nation, in contrast to all the other countries in the Middle East. Israel has also repeatedly shown a commitment to peace. In 1979, Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty—the first between Israel and an Arab country. In 1994, Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan. Israel attempted to make peace with Lebanon and Gaza by withdrawing from those regions in 2000 and 2005, respectively. But the withdrawal resulted in the strengthening of regional terrorism: Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Again demonstrating its commitment to peace, Israel has made efforts to dramatically bolster the Palestinian economy. Israel has shown its dedication to preserving human rights by complying with international laws to minimize the number of casualties of its opponent as it seeks to achieve its military objective. Accordingly, Israel uses pinpoint targeting to achieve its goals, as it did when it eliminated top Hamas military leader Ahmad Jabari and destroyed launching sites.

The strong relationship between Israel and the U.S. has been made manifest in their stable military alliance. In a world of great uncertainty and shifting allegiances, Israel has been a key partner, ally, and friend of the United States. Long-standing US-Israel strategic cooperation allows the two allies to face common threats, including terrorism and weapons proliferation. In 2010, President Obama wrote to the Chairman of the Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations that “many of the same forces that threaten Israel also threaten the United States and our efforts to secure peace and stability in the Middle East. Our alliance with Israel serves our security interests.” The two countries have set up a complex and cost-effective network of strategic cooperation programs, which include sharing cutting-edge technology and valuable intelligence, conducted combined military exercises, and researching and developing new weapons. U.S. support has helped prevent war, because Arab states contemplating attacks on Israel know that they will face a U.S. ally defending itself with the world’s best weapons systems. But cooperation is also beneficial to Americans. Strategic cooperation has made a number of important Israeli military innovations available to the U.S. Recent examples include the Israeli developed Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS), which is used by the U.S. Air Force and Navy in several aircrafts, including the F-35 aircraft. The JHMCS gives the pilot a targeting device that can be used to aim sensors and weapons wherever the pilot is looking.

Beyond military cooperation, America and Israel also have a robust economic partnership. In 1985, Israel became the first country to sign a Free-Trade Agreement with the U.S. Today, 20% of American jobs are linked to U.S. exports. Foreign markets, then, offer the best opportunities to expand the American economy. Former Treasury Secretary under President Obama, Tim Geithner, said that, “If the emerging markets and developing nations grow, we can export more…We can expand our businesses. We can hire more workers. That is why U.S. leadership in global development matters—because if we are going to benefit from global growth, we need to support it.” In today’s global economy, U.S. foreign aid to Israel helps American companies grow markets; create stable business environments in developing countries; and bring education, health care and transportation to hundreds of millions of potential customers. Foreign aid plays a critical role in establishing new economic opportunities for American businesses and jobs for American workers. Israel spends 75% of U.S. security assistance in the U.S., buying vital defense products. U.S. aid has deterred major conflict by making clear to potential foes that they cannot defeat Israel on the battlefield. This support has provided Israel with the confidence to make dramatic concessions in peace talks and has enabled it to take risks for peace through far-reaching offers to Syria and the Palestinians. Foreign aid, about one percent of federal spending, is a cost-effective tool for keeping America strong, safe, and prosperous by strengthening our allies abroad.

Support for Israel has historically been bipartisan. Even during periods of partisan divisions in Washington and during the frequent fluctuations between peace and violence in the Middle East, the U.S. Congress has been a bastion of support for Israel. Both major parties’ platforms have featured strong planks affirming the values of the U.S.-Israel relationship for the past half-century. Since 1992, the U.S. has made available more than $10 billion in loan guarantees to help Israel absorb a million refugees from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. Congress has approved key cooperative defense programs, such as sophisticated tank protection and aviation security. In 2010, resounding majorities of the House and the Senate signed letters to President Obama urging him to reaffirm the strength of the relationship. The letters stated that “the United States and Israel are close allies whose people share a deep and abiding friendship based on a shared commitment to core values including democracy, human rights, and freedom of the press and religion.” The bipartisan nature of support for Israel assures that this vital relationship maintains its strength.

In the future, Congress should continue to support U.S. diplomatic efforts to bring Israelis and Palestinians into direct negotiations. The only way to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict is through such direct negotiations. America must recognize that no outside party can impose a durable Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Instead, the U.S. must assist Israelis and Palestinians in negotiating a peace agreement in which they will be invested. The U.S. can take actions that help the parties in a fair-minded way and urge them to maintain their commitments. With respect to Palestinians, America can support moderate leaders, without abandoning its insistence that the Palestinian Authority decisively act to halt violence, incitement, and terror. President Obama has stated, regarding the pursuit of peace in the Middle East, that the “United States will put our full weight behind this effort.” Ultimately, however, he acknowledged our limitations, reiterating that the “United States cannot impose a solution.” It is critical for the U.S. to strongly reassert its support for its ally Israel, including its right to live in peace and to defend itself. No other country in the world faces daily rocket attacks against its civilians, nor would any other country tolerate such violence. The U.S. should continue efforts to ensure that Israel has the necessary resources to meet the growing rocket and missile threat in the region.