Oren pens essay challenging stance Israel is US liability

Envoy tells ‘Post’ that people urged him to make case, saying "there was no more important piece" to write.

April 27, 2011 02:28
Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren.

mihael oren flag 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

In the May/June issue of Foreign Policy magazine, Israel’s ambassador to Washington Michael Oren writes an essay aimed at debunking US foreign policy wonks who claim Israel is a US liability, arguing instead that Israel is America’s “partner par excellence.”

“What is the definition of an American ally?” Oren asks at the outset of his piece entitled “The Ultimate Ally.”

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“On an ideological level, an ally is a country that shares America’s values, reflects its founding spirit, and resonates with its people’s beliefs,” he writes. “Tactically, an ally stands with the United States through multiple conflicts and promotes its global vision.”

An ally enhances American intelligence and defense capabilities, provides ports and training for US forces, helps secure America’s borders and assists in saving American lives on and off the battlefield.

And, he added, “an ally stimulates the US economy through trade, technological innovation, and job creation.”

Few countries fit that description, Oren writes, but Israel “is certainly one of them.”

Oren told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that he wrote the piece, which spells out some of the benefits the US accrues from its relationship with Israel, after being approached a year ago by a number of prominent intellectuals who said “there was no more important piece that I can write.”

The appeal to write the piece came at a time when a number of key US officials were saying both publicly and privately that Israel was costing the US both “blood and treasure.”

Oren said that while public support for Israel in the US was at almost an all-time high – a February Gallup poll showed that 63 percent of the US public sympathized more with Israel than with the Palestinians, and only 17% said their sentiments were more for the Palestinians – the notion put forward by a circle of foreign policy thinkers called the “realists” saying that Israel is a strategic liability was gaining currency.

“Someone had to take issue with this,” Oren said, adding that his job was not to convince anti-Israel academics like Stephen Walt (who writes a rebuttal to Oren on Foreign Policy’s website), but rather to convince those who might read Walt and start to rethink their notions about Israel.

Walt, together with John Mearsheimer, wrote the anti-Israel book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy in 2007.

Oren said that while the American public and their representatives in Congress were strongly pro-Israel, the “professional policy world” is more open to the argument that Israel is a liability and that the US derives little strategic benefit from the relationship.

According to this school of thought, Washington’s ties with Israel are the primary source of anti-US feeling in the Muslim world, and the relationship is the product of an assertive lobby that places Israel’s interests before America’s.

But, Oren argued in his essay, surveys in the US “prove that most Americans do not accept the argument that US support for Israel provokes Islamic radicals, or do not especially care even if it does.”

Furthermore, he writes, “As Iran’s malignant influence spreads and Turkey turns away from the West, Israel’s strategic value in the region, both to the United States and to pro-Western Arab governments, will surely increase. Following Hezbollah’s recent takeover of Lebanon and the political turmoil in Egypt, Jordan, and the Persian Gulf, Israel is the only Middle Eastern country that is certain to remain stable and unequivocally pro-American. In Israel alone, the United States will not have to choose between upholding its democratic principles and pursuing its vital interests.”

Among Oren’s key points are the following:

• The pilgrims who arrived at Plymouth Rock considered themselves founders of a “New Israel,” and a spiritual sympathy for restoring Jews to their ancestral homeland influenced America’s leaders from the founding fathers, through Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson to Harry Truman.

• Israel is a democracy that cherishes the same values enshrined in the US Constitution – free speech and assembly, respect for individual rights, an independent judiciary – and this has created another level of affinity with the US. Withstanding pressures that have crushed many liberal societies, Israel is one of only a handful of states that has never experienced an interruption in democratic rule.

• Israel has always sided with the United States on major global issues, and in times of danger responded to US needs, such as intervening to save Jordan from Syrian invasion in 1970, and not retaliating to Scud missile attacks from Iraq in 1991 when asked not to do so by president George H.W. Bush.

• Israel’s location on the eastern Mediterranean littoral means the US can minimize its military development in this strategically vital area.

• Israel-US intelligence cooperation is vast, with the two countries’ intelligence agencies trading valuable information, analyses and operational experience in counterterrorism and counter-proliferation.

• Israeli technology – from a kibbutz factory in the Galilee that provides armor for US military vehicles to a coagulating bandage created in Jerusalem and distributed widely among the US military – saves US lives.

Oren also documented the humanitarian, scientific and commercial cooperation between the two countries, stressing that Israel, with its 7.7 million people, is the 20th largest consumer of US goods in the world, surpassing Russia and Spain.

And, he writes, “at a time when American corporations are outsourcing to Asia, Israel is outsourcing to the United States: Tens of thousands of Americans are employed by Teva, the world’s leading generic-drug producer, and by dozens of Israeli high-tech, textile, and defense plants throughout the United States.”

This contribution to the US is real, Oren writes, and “requires no lobbyists to fabricate it.”

He says that pro-Israel groups neither determine America’s course in the region “nor derail it.”

He quotes US President Barack Obama’s Middle East advisor Dennis Ross as saying that in all the time he has been involved in peace negotiations, “never did we take a step because ‘the lobby’ wanted us to. Nor did we shy away from one because ‘the lobby’ opposed it.” (Walt ridicules this argument in his rebuttal to Oren, implying that Ross is part of the lobby. Since he is Obama’s central Mideast advisor, Oren told the Post, what Walt is doing with that argument is essentially slamming Obama.)

Regarding the realists’ argument that the gaps between Israel and the US on the peace process are unbridgeable, Oren – pointing to the Anglo-American relationship during World War II – writes that even the warmest ties are not disagreement-free.

“Ultimately,” he writes, “the litmus test of any alliance is not whether the partners agree on every issue, but rather the ways they deal with discord. During World War II, the United States and Britain bridged their differences and achieved victory.

America and Israel have similarly worked through their differences and are together striving for a different triumph – peace.”

Israel, among the nations of the Middle East, is the only country that has not vacillated in its support of the US or adopted anti- American positions, the ambassador writes.

And in wake of the changes roiling the region, he points out that “even elected representatives can be profoundly hostile to the United States,” presenting Iran, Lebanon and Gaza as prime examples.

“For the price of annual military aid equaling roughly half the cost of one Zumwalt-class destroyer,” Oren writes, “the United States helps maintain the military might of one of the few nations actively contributing to America’s defense. It reinforces the only country capable of deterring Hamas and Hezbollah and impeding the spread of Iranian hegemony.”

Plus, he writes, the IDF – which according to published sources is larger than the French and British armies combined – is “superbly trained and, when summoned, capable of mobilizing within hours.”

He concludes that “these benefits of the US-Israel relationship are of incalculable value to the United States, far outweighing any price.”

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