Gates, Ingrates and Israel: America’s Indispensable Ally

Last week, a zinger landed in Jerusalem from Washington, DC, the land of the leakers.  Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg News reported that former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates had denounced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to President Barack Obama, as “ungrateful.” Gates reportedly “stated bluntly that the US has received nothing” from Israel, despite “the many steps the administration has taken to guarantee Israel’s security” – and no one present on Obama’s National Security team disagreed. If a “gaffe” means a politician caught in the act of telling the truth, such “leaks” are more like precision guided missiles, with specific targets and exact timing.
The message was clear: the Obama Administration resents squandering so much political capital by opposing the Palestinian play for statehood. In return, Obama and his team expect payback from Israel – while also wishing to humiliate their nemesis, Bibi Netanyahu. Unfortunately, once again the Obama Administration misread the power dynamics in today’s world, unfairly impugned Netanyahu, inaccurately maligned Israel itself, and gave Israel’s enemies a gift they do not deserve. Throughout years of distinguished public service, Robert Gates never uttered a memorable phrase. But the anti-Israel crowd will be crowing about Israel, the supposedly “ungrateful ally,” for decades to come.
Legend incorrectly credits President Harry Truman with saying: “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog,” while foreign policy’s defining cliché has long been that “nations have no friends or enemies, only interests.” Although rooted in common values and a deep friendship, the Israeli-American alliance flourishes thanks to common interests and mutual need. The United States will abandon allies when convenient – as the Shah of Iran and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt learned, painfully. The US is resisting the Palestinian attempt to dodge negotiations by prematurely declaring independence because Washington fears more Middle East tumult. With Egypt teetering, Turkey acting out, Saudi Arabia untrustworthy, Iran ascendant, America needs a strong, stable Israel. The dangers of Palestinian chaos or a Hamas takeover are too great to trust inflammatory gestures at the biased, ineffectual UN.
While Secretary Gates is correct that Bibi Netanyahu should have handled his last visit to Washington more diplomatically, Bibiphobia – irrational, obsessive hatred of Israel’s Prime Minister – is now epidemic, in Washington, among American Jewish elites, and in world capitals. This Monday’s New York Times editorial defied rules of logic and good writing by claiming “Both sides share the blame [for a stalled peace process] with Mr. Obama and Arab leaders” but immediately added: “(we put the greater onus on Mr. Netanyahu, who has used any excuse to thwart peace efforts).” If a student wrote this I would X it in red and write: “CONTRADICTORY -- do you want to blame Netanyahu or everyone, be clear!”
Moreover, Elliott Abrams, Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy under President George W. Bush, deftly debunked the Gates critique, remembering Gates using similar language, blasting Israel as “ungrateful,” in 2007, when then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was peace processing actively.  This recollection derails the Blame Bibi forces. Gates’s complaints, Abrams notes, “are not new and should not, in fairness, be attributed to recent developments or blamed on Prime Minister Netanyahu.”
As we commemorate 9/11, it is shocking to hear an American leader deem Israel ungrateful – rather than an indispensable ally nurturing a mutual friendship, which has entailed occasional sacrifice too.  If Gates sought to chide ungrateful allies, America certainly has its share. Most Third World nations, like Egypt, have long cashed American checks, but trashed American values. Saudi Arabia spawned and bankrolled the 9/11 Islamist ideology. And Europeans have embraced anti-Americanism (along with anti-Zionism) as one of the few acceptable prejudices in the PC EU.
 By contrast:
In the 1960s, Israel humiliated Soviet allies and thwarted Soviet foreign policy in the Six Day War – when America badly needed a big Cold War win like that to balance out its own Vietnam failure.
In the 1970s, after the Yom Kippur War, Israel taught the American military invaluable, real-time lessons for countering Soviet weaponry, then shared captured equipment – after having sustained devastating losses when the war began by not attacking pre-emptively because America requested restraint.
In the 1980s, Israel destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, initially infuriating Ronald Reagan’s Administration – but ultimately earning gratitude worldwide for keeping Saddam Hussein nuke free.
In the 1990s, Israel refrained from retaliating after Saddam bombed Tel Aviv with Scud missiles – again sacrificing strategic interests to advance American interests, in this case preserving President George H.W. Bush’s broad coalition against Saddam to free Kuwait in the first Gulf War.
Most recently, since September 11, Israel has been a steadfast partner, coach, guinea pig, friend, helping America fight its multifront war against shadowy Islamist terrorists – who, unlike some Western elites, see the harmony of values and convergence of interests linking two great friends, the State of Israel, and the United States of America. Israeli anti-terror techniques have saved the lives of many soldiers formerly under Secretary Gates’s command, as they trained in urban warfare techniques and learned how to defuse roadside bombs with Israeli colleagues. And Israelis are among the most pro-American people in the world.   
Last Friday night, as Egyptian mobs menaced six Israeli security guards, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called President Barack Obama – and Obama demanded the Egyptians avert a tragedy. Israel should, of course, be grateful for Obama’s intervention, which was, characteristically, another noble gesture that also served America’s interest. A Cairo bloodbath would have roiled the world. This is the model Americans and Israelis have followed for decades – looking out for each other and building an ideal friendship, forged in core ideals sustained by a unity of purpose and mutual payoffs, a perpetual win-win. For that, both Americans and Israelis should be … grateful.  
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” he is currently completing his sixth book about American history.
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