Israel and the US: Shared values and interests

The relationship with the United States is an inseparable part of Israeli deterrence.

Livni 311 reuters (photo credit: Reuters)
Livni 311 reuters
(photo credit: Reuters)
As a minister in various Israeli governments, I witnessed disputes with the American administration.
At times, particularly as foreign minister, I even played an active part in them. However, we always knew how to keep disagreements within the room; we always knew that the relationship between Israel and the United States was critical to the State of Israel and that the relationship had to be kept strong and bipartisan. Now, more than ever, we must keep this relationship strong, close, intimate and bipartisan, especially given the changing Middle East, seen by some as an Arab Spring and by others as an Islamic Winter.
The fact that Israel appears as an issue in the American elections is bad for Israel, and could even be destructive in the long run. We must make an effort to keep that from happening. Any Israeli government will have to work together with any American administration, and vice versa. Too much hangs in the balance for us all for that not to happen.
Since its establishment, Israel has been in a state of war with radical Islamic forces unwilling to accept the fact of its existence in this part of the world. For them, Israel and the United States are one and the same. When they burn the Israeli and American flags, they feel they are burning the system of values shared by the United States and Israel. Indeed, herein lies the crux of the matter: here, in the changing Middle East, Israel, with its Jewish and democratic values alike, represents the same values embodied and defended by the United States. Because of these values, Israel will always be a part of the free world, led by the United States. When one looks at the changing leaderships in the region, it is important to emphasize that Israel will never change sides.
The relationship with the United States is an inseparable part of Israel’s deterrence, thanks in part to American economic support and in part to weapon systems that allow the IDF to be the strongest army in the region.
But these two factors are only part of the picture. Israel’s deterrence is based on the knowledge that our most radical enemies in the region understand that if they lift a hand against Israel, Israel will not stand alone, because the United States will be there alongside it.
In this tough neighborhood, the bullies must know that it is not worth their while to start up with Israel. Even at first glance if the country seems small, it is strong and, more important, its big brother – the United States – will stand with it.
IN ORDER to maintain this critical US-Israel relationship, let us change the discourse. Let us lower the volume. Let us switch modes and adopt the words of the President Kennedy in his inaugural speech – not only his famous call to Americans to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” – but also his call to the world: “My fellow citizens of the world: Ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
This ought to be the writing on the wall in the room where the American president and the Israeli prime minister meet. Let the talk be about how together the two nations can tackle the challenges they share, rather than how America helps Israel. When this is the underlying theme, it is clear that Israel and the United States have shared values and interests that need to be defended, and it is necessary to agree on the required course of action given the region’s changes and threats.
When this is the writing on the wall, it is clear that Iran is a problem for the entire free world, and American action will be taken not because Israel needs it or asks for it but because American interests are in jeopardy. In the tough neighborhood in which we live, one either has to knock out the bully or join him. If other nations in the region understand that Iran is on its way to becoming a nuclear power, the parade of nations and leaders we saw last week in Iran will be only the beginning. This is a situation the United States cannot afford with regard to some members of the pragmatic camp that represent American interests (if not values) in the region.
Just as it is obvious that we must work jointly against the threats, it is high time that it becomes obvious that a political settlement with the Palestinians is a shared Israeli-American interest, rather than a favor Israel is doing for the United States.
This fundamental understanding about US-Israel relations must serve as a signpost for any American president and any Israeli prime minister and be completely unrelated to the election process in either country.The writer is a former foreign minister and vice prime minister of Israel, and currently a Senior Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies.