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The US and Israel – Allies Forever?

June 21, 2007

The US and Israel – Allies Forever?

That (the above title) is what one of the email letters to Haaretz asked in response to the news that the United States has agreed to increase military aid to Israel – as if that were physically possible – over the next ten years `to assure a qualitative [Israeli] edge that would permit Israel to replenish Israeli arms used last summer in Israel’s second war against Lebanon and to deal with `the new challenges’ it faces – a rather vague and ominous suggestion that the region is – as it seems – heading more in the direction of war than peace.

Consider it George Bush’s gift to some of his most faithful supporters – AIPAC and the like. It is a not-especially-subtle attempt to put to rest many questions that have arisen over the past years about the US-Israeli relationship (Mearsheimer-Walt paper, Jimmy Carter’s book, a CIA classified report to the Senate Intelligence Committee in February) all of which in one way or another question both the strategic value of the relationship as well as criticizing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

According to a June 20 Haaretz article by Aluf Benn and Shmuel Rosner, President Bush announced that `the United States will increase its military assistance to Israel and sign a new agreement securing American aid to the country for the next decade’. The agreement basically locks in the US-Israeli strategic relationship for the next decade and commits the next president, be she/he Republican or Democrat to the policy (or makes it very difficult to stray from it). It is also a not very subtle Bush-Rove bid for Jewish support in the upcoming 2008 presidential elections.

The day after Bush vetoed legislation that would have legalized stem cell research (thus throwing a bone to his Christian fundamentalist base), he threw out another one to AIPAC et al. The message could not be clearer: We (Bush and Cheney) have stood by you (Israel and its US supporters) – now it’s your turn. For an Israeli prime minister whose popularity in Israel is even less than that of Bush in the USA, the announcement came as a rare political victory for Ehud Olmert who will milk it for what it’s worth.

On another level, the promise of long term military aid is a rather strong signal of the Bush Administration’s approval and support for Israel’s war in Lebanon last summer, its policies of building settlements in the West Bank, completing the construction of the wall and supporting Israel’s stranglehold and battering of Gaza more than this announcement. It suggests that there is a green light given to Israel for future military action – be it against Iran, Syria, Lebanon or the Palestinians.

According to the Haaretz article (June 20, 2007) economic aid to Israel will be gradually decreased and eliminated by military aid would correspondingly increase. In the past, most of the grants of military aid to Israel are conditional on Israel spending that money buying arms from US defense contractors with Israel being permitted to spend about 25% of that aid on purchases from its own military industries.

If I am reading the article accurately, it appears that Bush pressured Defense Secretary Robert Gates to approve the proposal bypassing Congressional approval.

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