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Archive for August, 1996

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald and Barre Times-Argus.]

One of the most enduring and uncritical international partnerships that the United States has had since World War II has been that which we have enjoyed with Israel.  It is very clear that the US has been and continues to be Israel’s primary international backer.

The single most important element in our continuing support has been the nearly total identity of American and Israeli national interests.  What was good for Israel was good for the United States.  We all knew it.

The recent visit of the newly- and narrowly-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to America has provided a rather unsettling focus on the goals and policies of his Likud Party.  As a result, we must seriously question whether American and Israeli national interests remain identical in all matters concerning the Middle East.

Israeli withdrawal from the peace process which was initiated under Shimon Peres will bring the Middle East again to the brink of hostility.  Although Netanyahu (with less than 51% of the vote in the recent national election) gives lip service to the peace process, enough evidence has come from the Prime Minister and the Likud camp to make any American observer concerned about their true intentions.

How can the appointment of Ariel Sharon, the quintessential Israeli expansionist hawk, to an important security role in the Netanyahu cabinet reassure America?  We have recently learned that the Likud government has decided to postpone implementation of Israel’s previous commitment to pull out of Hebron, the last city in the West bank under Israeli control.  In addition, the Likud have announced their intention to expand Jewish settlements on the West bank, that they will not further consider exchanging the Golan Heights for peace with Syria, and never agree to any partition of Jerusalem.

All of these issues were left either open or undefined during the negotiations of the Peres Labor Government with its Arab neighbors under  the peace process. They are now apparently foreclosed.  Should we be concerned about this?  You bet we should!

Other than assuring the continuing existence and viability of the Israeli State, America has only one overriding interest in the Middle East and that is achieving a lasting peace between the Arabs and the Israelis.  Without such a lasting peace, a level of instability will return to the area and create nothing but problems for us.

In the absence of a lasting peace, we can expect a return to the turmoil that characterized the Middle East before the peace process was begun.  In response to these new Likud policies, we can and should expect a resurgence of aggressive Muslim fundamentalism led by Islamic militants in Iran and elsewhere in the Arab world against the more moderate or pro-western Arab states like Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Kuwait and even Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates.

This will likely be supported by states in the region that hold grudges against America – Libya, Syria, Iran and Iraq – and will almost certainly lead to a resurgence of anti-American and anti-western (as opposed to anti-Israeli) terrorism and to increasing Muslim fundamentalism, none of which is in our interest.

Ultimately, Gulf oil supplies may be threatened as they were during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and we will again be placed in a position of choosing between oil shortages and intervention.  And don’t kid yourselves about American altruism, alongside Israel’s well-being, our primary interest in the Middle East is continuing easy access to oil!

The key element here is our commitment to the “continuing existence and viability of the Israeli state”.  It is not in our national interest to support either actively or passively the aggressive intentions of the Likud and its allies to turn back the clock on the peace process and pursue Israeli territorial expansion at the expense of the Arabs.  Such actions will unquestionably lead to Arab-Israeli conflict in the region.  This is no time for America to procrastinate or to humor the Likud.  It is time to be clear in our rejection of those policies.  America must never have to choose between Oil and Israel.

We need to recognize that our American national interests are increasingly different from those of the Likud and its allies.  We cannot afford to support or in any way condone the aggressive expansionism that is creeping back into Israeli foreign policy under the Likud government.  We have to say very clearly that such regression is not acceptable to us.

What right do we Americans have to try to dictate to the Israeli government?  Perhaps the fact that America contributes 8-10% of the $40-odd billion Israeli budget, over $3.3 billion annually, gives us the right to say that peace is more important than Israeli expansion and that we will not support an Israeli withdrawal from the peace process.   That fact may underlie Netanyahu’s clear policy, which just lead to a serious strike in Israel, to make the Israeli economy less dependent on foreign resources.

It is important that the Likud government understand that American interests are fundamentally different from their own.  If that means the withdrawal of our financial support to the Israelis for quitting the peace process and pursuing expansionism, then so be it.  It is in America’s vital interest to do everything possible to see the Middle East peace process successfully concluded and a lasting peace established.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief.  He served in Lebanon and Iran in the sixties and seventies and lives in Brookfield.

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