Israel and the American interest

Now, of course, the threat of Soviet expansion into the Middle East is greatly diminished.

'Israel," US president Richard Nixon told senior legislators 35 years ago, "is the current most effective stopper to the Mideast power of the Soviet Union. I am supporting Israel because it is in the American interest to do so." Now, of course, the threat of Soviet expansion into the Middle East is greatly diminished. Meanwhile, the war on Islamic terrorism threatens the United States' relations with countries throughout the Middle East. So is it reasonable to assume that Americans will always believe that it is in their best interests to support Israel? No, according to Bar-Ilan University political science professor Eytan Gilboa, an expert in US-Israeli relations. "Sure, the United States could eventually sacrifice Israel in favor of the Middle East," he suggests. "Just look at how many books are out now claiming that supporting Israel is against America's interests. It's very worrying. Maybe someone will buy that, even though it has no connection to reality. I'm very concerned about that." In the long term, Gilboa says, America could withdraw from the region to such an extent as to give Israel's enemies dangerous room to act against it. "This is for the future, I should stress, not right now. But already, people are saying an Iranian nuke is inevitable - and, worse, they are asking, 'What's the big deal?' If you're Israeli, and you see this happening amongst Americans, you have to ask yourself, 'Can we depend on them?'" If past is prologue, as Shakespeare wrote, then Israel has reason to worry. On two occasions in Turkey, while it attempted to balance its sense of virtue and concern for freedom with its drive to gain power and influence in the Middle East, the United States chose power and influence. In the 1820s, when Greeks rebelled against the oppression of the Ottomans, America chose to maintain its ties with the Turks. In one sense, at least, the investment paid off: by 1877, Turkey was buying $4.5 million worth of oil and arms from the US. In the early 1900s, overwhelming evidence of the Armenian genocide again pitted American ideals against American political and financial interests - and again, those interests won out. William Nesbitt Chambers, a missionary in Turkey then, openly wished that "such a power as the United States should become so strong on land and sea that... Turkey would never dare to commit such a horrible crime," and that America would come to the rescue with "a great gun.. in one hand [and] the Gospel in the other." Also John H. Finley, then head of the Red Cross in Palestine, fumed, "America! You must send not only the Red Cross to this front. You must send that which Christ said he came to bring - the sword... and make common cause with the forces of justice against the demons of cruelty." Despite the horrible atrocities documented almost daily, however, president Woodrow Wilson did not "make common cause with the forces of justice," refusing to go to war with Turkey.