An “Arabist” View of The Pro-Israeli Establishment and its Impact on American Middle East Policy

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Through no fault of my own I first went to the Middle East in 1952 as a young Air Force recruit.  My posting was to Wheelus AFB in newly independent, pre-oil Libya.  It was desperately poor and offered little to capture the imagination of a 21-year old except some fine Roman ruins.  After I joined the Foreign Service four years later, I was posted – again not by choice – to Aleppo, Syria.  From then on it seems my fate was sealed and Middle Eastern affairs have preoccupied or intruded on my life for the past 40 odd years.  Even in semi-retirement in Florida I can’t escape.  During and after the Gulf War in 1990-91, I, as an adjunct professor at the University of South Florida, was called upon frequently for TV appearances and public speeches in the Tampa Bay area.  My two most frequent themes were that the United States would be able to facilitate peace in the region only if (1) we came to understand and deal effectively with the growing Islamic revivalist movements; and (2) curtailed the excessive influence of the pro-Israeli establishment on American Middle East policy.   Following one speech, an elderly woman approached me and said she agreed with my conclusions, but asked if I wasn’t concerned that my words would be used by anti-Semites for their own ends?  I responded that indeed, I was, and for that reason I was scrupulous with my facts and documentation, but I thought it necessary to raise these issues for public discussion.   My concern about the excessive influence of the Zionists increased during the Clinton administration.  This article attempts to document why.  It examines four significant cases in which Zionist activism has, in my view, harmed American interests and had a corrosive impact on our society.

I am admirer of Judaism and the Jewish people.  I would not advocate any action that would threaten the security of the state of Israel or the fundamental American-Israeli relationship.  I admit to having problems with people like Itshak Shamir, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Ariel Sharon and extremist groups like Gush Emunim but they are none of my business.  It is up to Israelis to choose their leaders.  My concern is solely how best to promote and protect American interests.  I realize that there are honest differences among Americans about how this can best be achieved and what the Israeli role should be.  But there are also those Americans who automatically equate Israeli interests with American interests.  And there are too many politicians, journalists, and academics who allow themselves to be influenced by the lure of money, power, or ambition to do or say things (or worse yet, be silent) and the result can be damaging to American interests and stifle domestic debate.  

In the 1950’s the Department of State strongly encouraged foreign service officers to learn the “exotic” languages of the countries of the Third World.  The programs varied from three months to two years of full time study.  Only two languages, Arabic and Chinese, were thought to require two years to achieve a working knowledge. A main attraction of studying Arabic was that, unlike most “exotic” languages, the Arabic-speaking FSO’s would have an opportunity to serve in some 20 different countries and not just one or two. The officers that went through this program tended to know each other, to serve in the same “hardship” posts, and to develop a camaraderie not always found among officers in other geographic areas.  I went through State’s Arabic Language and Area Training course in Beirut in 1961-63.

In the November 7, 1971 New York Times Magazine, a prominent columnist, the late Joseph Kraft,  wrote an article which, in effect, labeled the State Department “Arabists” as pro-Arab and anti-Israeli.

The main portent of the article was how Assistant Secretary Joseph Sisco was weeding out the “Arabists” to better suit the political climate of Washington, or as one writer put it: “the relationship between the American president and the American Jewish community now loomed larger than the relationship between Arabists and their personal connection in the Levant.”   Most Arabic-speaking officers took great exception to the article since they considered themselves neither pro-Arab nor anti-Israeli, but Americans sent abroad to promote and protect the interests of the United States.  Nevertheless, from that time on, the word “Arabist” because a Zionist synonym for someone not fully committed to Israel, and possibly an anti-Semite.

Twenty-two years later, in 1993, another Jewish writer, with the support of a well known pro-Israeli academic, Daniel Pipes, wrote a book that seemed designed to give the death knell to any remaining “Arabist” influence in Department of State.  The book was The Arabists:  The Romance of an American Elite. by Robert D. Kaplan. 

The subject of this book appeared to be of such limited interest that one wondered why it was written and why a major publisher would publish it.  It has some interesting chapters on 19th century British explorers and American missionaries, some entertaining portraits of top, but heretofore obscure, FSO’s, and what purported to be the inside story of the rescue of the Falasha Jews from Ethiopia.  For the rest, it is filled with half-truths, generalizations, and lots of damning by faint praise.  

Kaplan describes the “traditional Arabist views” as a deep respect for British Arabists of yore, a belief that “Israel’s displacement of the Palestinian people is the core problem of the Middle East and responsible in large part for the region’s violence and instability”, and that a strong President can override a domestic lobby in the pursuit of U.S. national interests.  Kaplan’s litmus test for “Arabists” seemed to be  whether they are pro- or anti-Israeli.  In fact, most of my “Arabist” colleagues were neither.  They viewed  Israel as a country with special ties to the U.S. and for whose security the U.S. had a moral and realpolitik responsiblity.  They did not, however, favor giving Israel carte blanche to pursue its policies regardless of their impact on the extensive U.S. interests throughout the region.  Kaplan did not discuss these extensive American economic, strategic, and political interests.  He also omitted any mention of events that might have caused “Arabists” (or any other American) to question the extent of Israel’s commitment to the “special relationship” with the U.S. (e.g. the Lavon affair, the deception over the Dimona nuclear reactor, the sinking of the USS Liberty, Begin’s duplicity at Camp David over a moratorium on settlements, the Sharon-Begin deception about the purpose of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and the Jonathan Pollard spy case).  

Kaplan’s most exaggerated claim was that “Arabists”. . . “have been the secret drivers of America’s Middle East policy since the end of World War II”, an allegation that brought resigned chuckles from “Arabists” who for decades bemoaned their lack of influence over policy.  If  this statement were true, American policy would have been different in some important respects.  Israel’s well-being and security would certainly have been guaranteed, but the U.S. government would not have financed – directly or indirectly – the post-1977 Likud policy of establishing “facts on the ground” in the form of settlements throughout the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.  The annexation and expansion of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights would not have been tacitly condoned.  The U.S. would  most decidedly not have accepted and indirectly financed the Israeli nuclear arsenal that has predictably led the Muslim states to seek weapons of mass destruction rather than accept a permanent Israeli nuclear monopoly over the region.

The truth is that “Arabists” had only a marginal impact on American policy.  The real power was and remains with the Congress which has a record of increasing aid to Israel regardless of events or recommendations from the national security bureaucracy.   One prominent Arabist and then Assistant Secretary of State described his job to a former commander-in-chief of the U.S. Central Command as “damage limitation, not policy making.”  Another former Assistant Secretary and Ambassador to Egypt, Roy Atherton, is described by Kaplan as the “most successful and influential of his generation of Middle East specialists”, in part because of “his personal growth regarding the Arab-Israeli problem”.  In the view of many “Arabists”, however, Atherton, along with Sisco, whatever their private opinions may have been, devised and articulated rationales  for a one-sided policy that was becoming increasingly dictated by the pro-Israeli establishment through pliant or intimidated members of congress.

They came up with such rationalizations as “the Israelis have to feel secure before they will make the necessary concessions for peace”, or “we have to bring the Israelis along through persuasion because pressure will only make them harden their positions” (neglecting the historic experience that the only major concessions Israel ever made were the result of American pressure, such as withdrawal from Suez in 1956, or more recently the quick withdrawal from Gaza after Colin Powellés condemnation).  The result was that the State Department justified  American acquiescence in Israeli policies such as annexation of Arab territory and the  expansion of settlements which even today are still the principal obstacles to real peace.  As for making Israel “feel secure”, compare today with 25 years ago:  the arms-supplying patron of the radical Arabs, the Soviet Union, has withdrawn from the area, Israel has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, Iraq is a prostrate nation, Israel enjoys a nuclear monopoly and military superiority over all its neighbors combined, and it has the full backing of the world’s only superpower.  Yet it does not “feel secure” enough to grant the Palestinians a demilitarized, truncated state.  Yet for the past 30 years  the State Department urged United Nations members to take no action critical of Israel because it will “upset the peace process at this delicate stage”, a mantra that is met with incredulity by anyone with a memory.

In any case, the role of “Arabists” in the Foreign Service is no longer an issue.  When it comes to Middle East affairs they have been replaced in the national security bureaucracy by the “Israelists”, most of whom are also Jewish and have the backing of the pro-Israeli establishment.

The “lobby” or  pro-Israeli establishment

A recognized consequence of the end of the Cold War is the enhanced influence on American foreign policy of single-issue lobbies witness the Cubans of Florida.  This is true for at least two reasons:  Americans in general are much less concerned with foreign affairs, thus the field is open for determined, well-organized advocacy groups.

Secondly, since geo-strategic considerations figure less in  policy decisions, domestic political considerations are more likely to carry the day.  In the past, the executive branch could deflect special interests by appealing to patriotism and the worldwide battle against Communism.  This is no longer the case and it partly explains the excessive influence Israel’s well-organized and dedicated supporters have come to exert over Middle Eastern policy.

In 1998, Fortune magazine rated the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)  as the second most influential lobby, after AARP.   A typical example of this power took place in May 1998. 

Just as the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations reached a crucial stage, AIPAC obtained, virtually overnight, the signatures of 81 Senators and 220 members of the House of Representatives on letters urging President Clinton not to pressure Israel to accept some modest American proposals that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and her team had laboriously constructed over the previous year.  It worked.  As Steven Erlanger put it in The New York Times (9/1/98) “the White House failed to support her (Albright) in the face of a lobbying firestorm stoked by AIPAC.”    

The pro-Israel establishment is, however, much larger than AIPAC. It includes innumerable Jewish religious and non-religious organizations, and Jewish and non-Jewish politicians, academics, bureaucrats, celebrities, journalists, corporate leaders, scientists, and students, and a particularly powerful Washington think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.  The vast majority of American Jews, and many non-Jews, especially among  Evangelical Christians, are not activist, but are uncritically supportive of Israel for religious, historical, or cultural reasons.  This tacit support gives the activist leaders additional clout.   In the face of such formidable groups, many non-Jewish politicians, journalists, and bureaucrats realize early in their careers  —  some out of conviction, some not — that criticism of Israel may result in their being left out “of the loop”, being labeled anti-Semitic or a self-hating Jew.   The pro-Israeli establishment is aided too by the authoritarian nature and corruption of most Arab governments, the ineffectual leadership and lack of unity among Arab-American organizations, and the ignorance and apathy of the general American public about the Middle East.   Not only are the Arab states incapable of concerted action, but they have rarely come up with spokespersons who could convey their message to the American public.  The one great exception was Anwar Sadat who, not only pursued realistic policies but was able to convey his message convincingly to Americans..   His strategy was not to  disrupt the close American-Israeli relationship, but to make it a menage-a-trois.

The leadership of the Palestinians has shown no such dexterity, and has squandered much of its post-Oslo support through incompetence and corruption.  In the absence of any organized counter-force to the pro-Israeli establishment, it is a zero-sum game for members of Congress to continuing supporting Israel.  Then there is always the memory of the election defeats of  Senators Fulbright and Percy and Congressmen Findley which were partly a result of their public criticism of Israel.

The vast majority of American supporters of Israel are deeply committed and absolutely sincere in their conviction that Israel is America’s best ally in the region, that our alliance with Israel enhances the American position in the Middle East, and that the relationship is mutually advantageous, all of which are partially true. These supporters range from organizations such as Hadassah, which claims to have some 300,000 members and to be the largest women’s organization in America and the largest Zionist organization (NYT 1-22-99), to small Hillel chapters on university campuses throughout the country, and to individuals such as Rahm Emanuel, former President Clinton’s senior political advisor until January 1999,  who took time off in 1991 to volunteer at an Israeli Army supply base during the Persian Gulf war. (NYT 2/3/99)   Most Americans Jews have an understandable emotional attachment to Israel,  many have lived, visited or have relatives there.  A fascinating case that illustrates the symbiotic American-Israeli relationship is that of the late Sanford Charles Berstein, a highly successful New York broker, who late in life became interested in his heritage, converted to Orthodox Judaism, moved to Jerusalem and established dual American-Israeli citizenship. He gave hundreds of millions of dollars to Israeli causes and other charities. His family continues to reside in the U.S.  (NYT 1-9-99) 

The close political relationship was also  demonstrated in late 1998 when Israel was gearing up for new elections.  Three senior Democratic political operatives – –  Clinton confidant James Carville, pollster Stan Greenberg, and consultant Robert Shrum – – signed on to develop a strategy for the Labor party against GOP consultant Arthur Finkelstein, who was credited with crafting Netanyahu’s 1996 campaign. (US News & WR 12-14-98)

My experience with Jewish students during my ten years as an adjunct professor, taught me that most of them had been indoctrinated with Zionism, were dogmatic in the correctness of their views, and had little or no knowledge or interest in the other countries of the Middle East.  There are a large number of persons, many very prominent, who possess dual Israeli-American citizenship (some estimates as high a one million).  Many  supporters tend to think of Israel as virtually the 51st state and bristle at any hint of  “dual loyalty” (a taboo subject).   However, for most foreign policy professionals, Israel, despite the “strategic alliance”, is a foreign country with its own national imperatives and interests which frequently coincide with those of the United States, but sometimes conflict.   It is this fundamentally different view of Israel that is at the root of strong differences of opinion over Middle Eastern policy.  

Unfortunately, these differences are usually not debated because of the domestic political power of the pro-Israel establishment and its automatic response to critics.  A Jewish scholar, Norman Finkelstein of New York University, recently wrote that the theory that the Nazi genocide was the climax of a millennial gentile hatred of Jews, appealed to “defenders of Israel” because it holds that “at all times and for no reason, gentiles harbor homicidal anti-Jewish animus, while Jews always enjoy a priori moral impunity:.  In other words, “all critiques of Zionism are simply disguised forms of anti-Semitism.” (NYT  6/28/98 – italics added)  It is perhaps for this reason that major news organizations routinely omit or tone down stories critical of Israel or that tenured university professors fear expressing opinions on the Middle East. This stifling of debate not only affects our Middle East policy, but – more seriously – it has a corrosive effect on our civil society.

J.J. Goldberg’s  Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment, is a sympathetic and well-documented account of how this power grew and how it is exercised, including over Middle Eastern policy.  Goldberg asserts, for example, that George Bush effectively lost the 1992 election on September 12, 1991, when in a press conference he appealed to the American people for support against the “powerful political forces” undermining his policies regarding Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.  He was referring to AIPAC- sponsored lobbying on Capitol Hill, and he appealed for support for “one lonely little guy down here” in the White House battling against “a thousand lobbyists on the Hill working the other side of the question”.  The remarks were seen in Jewish organizations around the country as anti-Semitic.  It became known as the “day of the great betrayal”.  The pro-Israel establishment began mobilizing against Bush and played a significant role in his 1992 defeat, according to Goldberg.   

Other American presidents and foreign policy officials have complained at one time or another of Zionist influence and the willingness of Israeli leaders to use it against them.  To cite a few examples:           

In an October 4, 1977, meeting between Carter and (then Foreign Minister) Dayan : “Dayan in effect blackmailed the President by saying that unless he had assurances that we would oppose an independent West Bank and that we would give the economic and military aid, he would have to indicate our unwillingness in his public statements in the U.S.  . . .  At one instance Dayan said, ‘We need to have some agreed formula, but I can go to Israel and to the American Jews.'” (Power and Principles by Zbigniew Brzezinski, p 108-09)

President Carter “told me in late April that it was striking the degree to which some senators are afraid to stand up for the American national interest and will simply do the bidding of a powerful lobby.” (Power and Principles by Zbigniew Brzezinski p 248)

“I was beginning . . . to feel … personally vulnerable, since I had been the person espousing the notion of elevating Israel to the level of ally and promoting the program of strategic partnership.  My assertions had been based on the belief that Israel would engage in such a relationship in good faith, take our interests into account, and share with us their larger vision.  Instead, we were being exploited by a PM and minister of defense who seemed to believe that Israelés vital interest had to be secured without taking the President of the US into account, and that whatever they needed from the US could be secured through the exercise of their influence on the U.S. Congress.”  (Special Trust by Reagan’s National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane – p 209)

Israel claims to speak for all Jews and to represent Jewish interests throughout the world.  While many American Jews may not accept this , they rarely say so publicly.   Leonard Fein, a columnist for the New York Jewish paper The Forward has written that American Judaism has become idolatrous, placing the State of Israel and the “Jewish people” above faith in God and the covenant entered into at Sinai.  For Zionists, Israel, the state, has become an end in itself, Fein points out, replacing God and the ancient Jewish mission of repairing the world. (WRMEA, June 1998, p 52)

Victor Ostrosky, the former Mossad agent, states that Mossad routinely requests help from Jews around the world with the irresistible appeal to “save the life of a Jew”.  This may involve anything from allowing one’s home or business to be used as a front to answering phone calls.  According to Ostrovsky, 85% of the American so-called “sa-ayon” (a Hebrew word for an unpaid supporter of intelligence operations) refuse to cooperate with Mossad, but none of them turn Mossad in to law enforcement agencies.  The most startling recent case was that of Marc Rich whom former President Clinton pardoned as he left office.   According to The New York Times (4/11/01) Israeli officials revealed in interviews that Mr Rich was a “sa-ayon” who “financed sensitive operations and allowed agents to use his offices around the world as cover.”

Until about 20 years ago the Department of State did not assign hyphenated Americans to serve in the country of their parentage.  This was done, not because their loyalty was suspect, but to avoid putting them in embarrassing or compromising situations where they risked being seen by their own relatives or community as less than supportive, particularly if conflict arose between the U.S. and the said country.  Without belaboring the point, there are certainly cases where Zionists have attacked American Jewish officials as self-hating Jews or traitors to their people.   Even such sympathetic journalists as the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman has been subjected to such attacks, with zealots digging back into his student days at Brandeis University.  A few other examples:

“One thing the Israelis have is good intelligence.  If any other country ever penetrated the American government the way they did, we would probably break relations with them.”  (As I Saw It by former Secretary of State Dean Rusk p. 385)

“It is gratifying that most of the five or six million American Jews identify with Zionism and the state of Israel.  In good days and bad, Israel largely depends on the economic, political and moral fortitude of U.S. Jewry.  . . . One of my main disagreements with the Prime Minister (Begin) was over my warning that U.S. Jews would reject any attempt to make use of them as a means of forcing their administration to consent to a settlement program that had no clear military purpose.  I saw no point in placing them in such a dilemma over their support for Israel.  Begin, of course, thought otherwise.  Sometimes he seemed to see American Jews as an integral part of the state of Israel.”  (The Battle for Peace by Ezer Weizman p 287)

“Israel’s powerful and experienced American friends rose up in wrath against the media, especially television, and most especially NBC.  (John) Chancellor, seated on a pile of rubble in Beirut referring in his commentary to ‘imperial Israel . . . not the Israel we knew,’ remained for years a special target.  Israel’s supporters, who once to brilliant effect promoted to American journalism a country that was different, ethical, and democratic, now berated us for our ‘double standard.’  A Jerusalem Post reporter came by to ask me if I was a self-hating Jew;  in Rockefeller Plaza pickets denounced me by name, their leaflets saying my father would have been horrified;  the head of NBC’s little security force offered to escort me out a back door so I could go to lunch.”   ( Former President of NBC News Reuven Frank’s “Out of Thin Air”. pages 382-83)

At a 1980 dinner hosted by the Israeli Foreign Ministry for a delegation from the Washington Post:  “…dinner degenerated into a savage attack on the Post in general and its editorial policy in particular.  At one point, Meg (Greenfield) spoke up to rebut these attacks . . .  The Israelis were especially vicious to Meg, who, being Jewish, was someone they thought ought to espouse their views uncritically.”  (Katharine Graham’s Personal History.  p 607)

It is, however,  one of America’s leading  novelist who dares to pose the question of dual loyalty in its most unvarnished form:

“The majority of Jews don’t choose Israel.  Its existence only confuses everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike.  I repeat:  Israel only endangers everyone.  Look at what happened to Pollard.  I am haunted by Jonathan Pollard.  An American Jew paid by Israeli intelligence to spy against his own country’s military establishment.  I’m frightened by Jonathan Pollard.  I’m frightened because if I’d been in his job with U.S. naval intelligence, I would have done exactly the same thing. . . . It must be said.  Pollard is just another Jewish victim of the existence of Israel–because Pollard enacted no more, really, than the Israelis demand of Diaspora Jews all the time.  I don’t hold Pollard responsible, I hold Israel responsible” (Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock: A Confession page 81)

“What happens  when American Jews discover that they have been duped, that they have constructed an allegiance to Israel on the basis of irrational guilt, of vengeful fantasies, above all, above all,  based on the most naive delusions about the moral identify of this state?  Because this state has no moral identity:  It has forfeited its moral identity, if it ever had any to begin with.  By relentlessly institutionalizing the Holocaust it has even forfeited its claim to the Holocaust!”  (Operation Shylock: A Confession  page 135)  

Dual citizenship, which the U.S. laws prohibited until recent times, can also contribute to allegations of dual loyalty.  How could it be otherwise?  American-Israeli dual citizens are believed to number in the hundreds of thousand, and include some extremely high ranking officials.  Moshe Ahrens, the former Ambassador to the United States, reportedly did not renounce his American citizenship until he was appointed Minister of Defense.  UN Ambassador Dore Gold is, or until recently was, an American citizen although the UN Mission and Israeli Foreign Ministry refused the author’s requests for confirmation.  One wonders why?   Prime Minister Netanyahu was educated in America, and his father a renowned professor in an American University.   

Rahm Emanuel, Clinton’s former senior political advisor, was, according to Mid-East Realities of Washington,  a dual citizen until he was 18 and, as noted above, during the 1991 Gulf War he volunteered for the Israeli Army in a support role.   While perhaps not dual citizens, there are many  cases of former AIPAC officials who later served in sensitive foreign policy positions in the American government.

The pro-Israeli  establishment exerts its influence in many  ways, most of which are perfectly normal in our democratic society and used by other special interests groups.  They include such practices as bloc voting, financing of favored political candidates, working against unfriendly candidates, lobbying congress and the White House, responding to critics, writing articles, etc.  However, the activist Zionists enforce a kind of political correctness on Middle East debate by resorting to intimidation against organizations or individuals who criticize Israel or give a platform to whose who do.   Such actions may take the form of a threat to withdraw donations to a university or political group to labeling individuals as anti-Semitic or a self-hating Jew.  This not only stifles public debate, but has a particularly damaging affect on the mainstream media which tends to avoid criticizing Israel or even reporting negative news. Those Americans who are truly interested in what is going on in Israel read the vibrant Israeli press where differing views are more freely expressed.  

The Jonathan Pollard spy case is one of the rare occasions that led to some public discussion of  dual American-Israeli loyalty.  Pollard was arrested in 1985 and convicted to life in prison in 1987 for spying for Israel.  After many years of denial, the Israeli Government admitted Pollard was their spy and lobbied for his release from prison. Peter Beinart, a senior editor of the New Republic, wrote in January 1999, that Jewish groups arguing that Pollard’s spying for Israel is a lesser offense than spying for other countries, have strayed from their traditional position that their sole national allegiance is to the United States.(NYT 1/16/99) Top law enforcement and intelligence officials during the Clinton Administration strongly opposed clemency for Pollard, arguing that he had betrayed more secret documents than almost any other spy in recent American history and that some of it had ended up in Russia.  American officials also complain that they never received full cooperation from Israel and Israel has never agreed to return all of the documents, thereby making a full damage assessment analysis impossible.(Seymour Hersch in 1/18/99 New Yorker)    Nevertheless, some American Jewish organizations and prominent individuals such as Edgar Bronfman, Sr., Elie Wiesel, and Alan Derkowitz have lobbied on Pollard’s behalf.

The “Strategic Alliance”

The U.S.-Israel “strategic alliance”, which was formalized under President Reagan, has been perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the pro-Israeli establishment, together with the continuing large amounts of American economic and military aid.  This concept was from its inception driven by the organized Zionists, not the national security bureaucracy.  It began in earnest with a series of papers published in the early 1980’s by JINSA, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a Washington-based organization.  JINSA’s activities and personnel were devoted to “educate the American public on the geopolitical importance of Israel to the United States as an outpost of Western interests in the Middle East” . . . and to promote U.S.-Israeli “joint effort to block moves in the Middle East by the Soviet Union and its proxies, including the PLO.”  (Michael Saba, The Armageddon Network, pp 40-41)   JINSA’s Board of Directors included former head of AIPAC Morris Amitay, Senator Rudy Boschwitz, Eugene Rostow, and Michael Ledeen, (later of Iran-Contra fame).  Its first executive director in 1979 was Steven Bryen who, at the time was under investigation by the Department of Justice for passing classified documents to the Israelis while serving as a congressional staffer. 

The investigation was dropped when Richard Perle, another neo-conservative Israeli supporter, became Reagan’s Assistant Secretary of Defense and named Bryen as his deputy.  This story is fully documented in the difficult-to-find Saba book published in 1984. 

The portent of the JINSA papers was that, as the U.S. moved to implement the Carter Doctrine to defend the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf in the face of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the overthrow of the Shah, Israel was the logical choice for pre-positioning of military equipment, joint exercises and planning, medical facilities, military airfields and ports, and joint intelligence exchanges.  In short, all of those things that would be required from the Persian Gulf states by the U.S. Central Command, which came into being on January 1, 1983, at MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida.   I served from 1982-85 as Political Advisor to the first Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Central Command, General Robert Kingston.  General Kingston and his staff were anxious to establish military-to-military relations with the states of the Persian Gulf and other key states such as Egypt and Pakistan and to establish a headquarters in the region.  It was not surprising, therefore, that there was little enthusiasm for seeking military facilities and assistance from Israel since it risked undermining a budding relationship with these Muslim, mainly Arab, states.  It was partly for political reasons too that Israel, Lebanon, and Syria were not included in the Area of Operations (AOR) of CENTCOM since the Persian Gulf  was the central focus of the Command.  It was thought that the establishment of a military presence in these states would be difficult enough without having the same command responsible for developing military-to-military relations with Israel.  More surprising, was the reluctance of the European Command (EUCOM) which would have responsibility for implementing any joint security arrangements with Israel.  Conversations with senior EUCOM officers at the time (1983-85) indicated their concern was that involvement with Israel would be a distraction and  degrade the command’s capability to perform its principal mission, fighting  the Soviet Union.     

Back in Washington, the concept of strategic cooperation with Israel was so controversial within the national security bureaucracy (State, Defense, NSC) that negotiations were restricted to a tiny group which received its marching orders not through the normal chain of command, but from political appointees of the Reagan Administration.

Those most affected, such as the Central Command, were kept largely in the dark. An effort was made to pretend that the “strategic relationship” was not directed against the states of the Middle East, but at the Soviet Union.  No one really believed that this was the case and the emptiness of this was demonstrated in the 1990’s when the alliance became even more formalized despite the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The “strategic relationship”  was from the beginning, and remains, politically driven.  Israel has benefited enormously in terms of military grants, transfer of technology, joint weapons development financed largely by U.S. grants, and through close working relations between intelligence agencies.  It has, of course, also brought some benefits to the U.S, in the form of training, weapons development, and assuring American military hegemony over the region since Israel is the dominant military power.   

In the intelligence field, the benefits to the U.S. have been questionable in view of the Israeli role in the Iran Contra scandal, the Pollard spy case, and the alleged ability of Mossad to manipulate American law enforcement agencies, particularly on matters relating to Palestinians and Muslims in the U.S.  (and the Marc Rich pardon). 

The question of whether Israel is a strategic asset or liability to the U.S. has, in any case, never received the serious study and debate that it deserves within the Congress or any other public forum.   It would seem reasonable to assume that since our elected leaders have supported the “strategic alliance”, those in the national security bureaucracy should support it.  In fact they have and the “alliance” has widened and deepened in recent years. The pro-Israeli establishment constantly puts forward the case for the strategic alliance, the opponents within the national security bureaucracy have been largely silenced, and the  decisions to expand it have come from the White House with strong backing from the Congress.

Few would dispute that the influence of the pro-Israeli establishment grew significantly during the Clinton Administration. This was particularly true of our (a) toward the modern  Islamic movements;  (b) on the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict;  and (c)  the containment of Iran.  In all three cases, Clinton’s policies emerged as virtually identical to those of Israel.  While the case could be made that, since Israel is our ally, this is only natural and these policies will serve American regional interests. Unfortunately, this conclusion ignores the fact that America has global responsibilities and interests far beyond those of Israel.  Of Clintonés many appointments of Jewish officials to high level jobs dealing with the Middle East, the most egregious was Martin Indyk, who served first as Clinton’s National Security advisor for the Middle East, then as Ambassador to Israel, and then as Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East before returning as Ambassador to Israel.   Before entering the Clinton Administration Indyk had been head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an official of AIPAC, a former resident of Israel, and, until months before his first appointment, an Australian citizen. 

Despite the friendliness, Secretary of State Albright spent the first half of 1998 setting deadlines for the next Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and threatening to go public with an American plan but then Prime Minister Netanyahu countered, in the words of the New York Times’  Serge Schmemann, “by mobilizing support in the Congress and among American Jews.”

The conquest of the foreign policy bureaucracy by the pro-Israeli establishment  has had a corrosive effect on American Middle East policies.  The wealth and military power of the United States and Israel have enabled us to dominate events for the time being, but there is growing anti-American sentiment in the region.  This anti-Americanism has in turn increased the attraction of the extremist Islamic movements for the politically aware.  It has also expanded the percentage of the Middle Eastern populations who, while not terrorists themselves, will do nothing to stem violent attacks against Israeli and American targets.  President Clinton seemed to recognize this in his September 21, 1998, speech to the UNGA when he made very clear that we needed collectively to reject terror in all of its forms, but also recognize that we have to deal with the conditions in which frustration and desperation are bred.  This statement is more true today than it was then.

Mr. Arthur L. Laurie is a retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer.

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