Israel: Rebel with a cause

Jewish State has acted without US approval before and shouldn't be afraid to do so again.

rabinovich and paratroopers six day war (photo credit: Courtesy)
rabinovich and paratroopers six day war
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The somewhat troubling relationship between the White House and Jerusalem over the past few years has given rise to grim predictions of further eroded trust should Israel decide to strike against Iran's nuclear facilities without prior permission from Washington.  These are, however, false calculations. 
History shows us that the Israeli-US relationship would not only endure Jerusalem's defiance, but that such bold action would likely bolster American respect for the Jewish State.  When it comes to Israeli military action against Iran, the illusion of US opposition is a dangerous distraction. If need be, Israel must go it alone.
The truth is that although the historic relationship between Israel and the United States is unusually close, it is also pockmarked with instances of Israeli defiance.  After all, the Truman administration worked hard to dissuade the board of the Jewish Agency from declaring independence in 1948, going beyond mere rebuke by imposing a regional military embargo.  As we know, former prime minister David Ben Gurion stood firm and ushered in the first independent Jewish State for two millennia.  Significantly, he firmly told the first US Ambassador to Israel, James McDonald, that "Israel could not yield at any point which, in its judgment, would threaten its independence or its security."
The disagreement was soon forgotten and a friendly bond eventually developed between Ben Gurion and Truman. Ben Gurion's doctrine rightly became a hallmark of Israeli national defence ever since.   
Nineteen years later in 1967, Israel once again found itself on the verge of catastrophe.  With Arab armies poised to overrun the Jewish State, US Defence Secretary Robert McNamara bluntly warned Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban that the United States "cannot undertake to support Israel if Israel launches an attack."  The Eshkol government of course ignored the warning and far from being diplomatically damaging, the Six Day War that followed ushered in a new era of unprecedented international support and sympathy for Israel.  Importantly, Israel's military determination in the face of American opposition also sent a notable message to its enemies.  By demonstrating that Israel is not simply a lapdog obeying Washington's every command, it was understood that pressuring America will not dictate Israel's singular approach.  In short, disagreement with the US boosted Israel's deterrence.
Perhaps the most pertinent comparison to today's impasse over Iran is Israel's devastating air strike against Iraq's nascent nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981.  US President Ronald Reagan initially condemned the Israeli operation, which Prime Minister Menachem Begin described as a "supreme act of self-defence." The US supported a UN resolution censuring Israel, and then it suspended military sales.  By the end of the year, however, the storm had cleared and  Israel and the US signed a strategic cooperation agreement. 
Ten years later, then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney publicly acknowledged the wisdom of Israel's destruction of Osirak.  Speaking just after the Gulf War, Cheney said "There were many times during the course of the build-up in the Gulf and the subsequent conflict that I gave thanks for the bold and dramatic action taken [by Israel] some 10 years before." 
Indeed, there is every reason to believe that such bold and dramatic Israeli action today, in pursuit of a similarly worthy cause, would be met over time with a similarly enthusiastic American response. Osirak reminds us that any initial tactical disagreement is dwarfed by the overwhelming sense of a shared Israeli-American vision of the world.
The bombing, according to foreign reports, of an embryonic Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007 is the most recent example of the benefits of Israel's disobedient behaviour. In his memoirs, former US president George W. Bush recalls his conversation with former prime minister Ehud Olmert on the eve of the reported Israeli air strike, telling Olmert "I cannot justify an attack on a sovereign nation unless my intelligence agencies stand up and say it's a weapons program." Bush goes on to describe Olmert's disappointment at America's "disturbing" attitude. 
The strike apparently went ahead regardless, totally destroying the nuclear facility.  On reflection, Bush tellingly reveals "Prime minister Olmert's execution of the strike made up for the confidence I had lost in the Israelis during the Lebanon War... the bombing demonstrated Israel’s willingness to act alone." And herein lies another reason why Israel should not fear US opposition to a strike on Iran.  The knowledge that Israel can take care of itself is reassuring for a US that is wary of having to constantly bail out one of its closest allies at a potentially high cost.  
It is precisely Israel's willingness to act alone, even if it means offending American sensibilities, which has allowed the Jewish State to prosper. Unilateral action has not only guaranteed Israeli security, but has consistently won the respect of the US, albeit grudgingly on occasion.  Ultimately, the US-Israel relationship is based firmly on shared values and interests.
Therefore, although Israeli action may not always suit American timing, it is always mutually beneficial, strengthening the common cause of freedom and democracy.
Both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama agree that a nuclear Iran is a grave threat to the free world.  They may disagree on tactics and timing in dealing with the danger posed by Tehran.  But, should Israel choose to go it alone and take military action, we should have every confidence that it will eventually be applauded in Washington.                  The writer served as Bureau Chief to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and is currently President of 3H Global Enterprise.