Freeman: Israel is useless to US power projection

Israel/Palestine
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The other day Stephen Maher published a piece on Electronic Intifada saying that American thirst for hegemony in the region, and not the Israel lobby, is the prime motivator of US policy in Israel and Palestine. What follows is an excerpt of a private email exchange responding to Maher’s post, reprinted by permission of the author, Chas Freeman, a former assistant secretary of defense. 

Maher’s account is far from novel on any score but he is describing Japan’s, the UK’s, or Qatar’s role in US strategy, not Israel’s. A few facts to ponder when considering his assertion that Israel is a huge and essential asset for US global and regional strategy: 

— the US has no bases or troop presence in Israel and stores only minimal military supplies in the country (and these under terms that allow these supplies to be used essentially at will by the IDF). 

— Israeli bases are not available for US use.

— none of Israel’s neighbors will facilitate overflight for military aircraft transiting Israeli territory, let alone taking off from there. Israel is useless for purposes of strategic logistics or power projection.

— Israel is worse than irrelevant to the defense of Middle Eastern energy supplies; the US relationship with Israel has jeopardized these supplies (as in 1973), not contributed to securing them.

— US relations with Israel do not bolster US prestige in Middle Eastern oil-producing countries or assist the US to "dominate" them, they complicate and weaken US influence; they have at times resulted in the suspension of US relations with such countries. 

— Israel does not have the diplomatic prestige or capacity to marshal support for US interests or policies globally or in its own region and does not do so; on the contrary, it requires constant American defense against political condemnation and sanctions by the international community.

— Israel does not fund aid programs in third countries to complement and support US foreign or military policy as other allies and strategic partners do.

Japan provides multiple bases and pays "host nation support" for the US presence (though that presence as well as the fact that Japan is paying for a good deal of it are growing political issues in Japan). The air base in Qatar from which the US directs air operations throughout the region (including in both Iraq and Afghanistan) was built and is maintained at host nation expense. So too the ground force and naval facilities we use elsewhere in the Gulf. The US is paid for the weapons and military services it provides to its European and Asian allies as well as its Arab strategic partners. Washington has never had to exercise a veto or pay a similar political price to protect any of them from condemnation or sanctions by the international community. Japan and various Arab countries, as well as European nations, have often paid for US foreign assistance and military programs in third countries or designed their own programs specifically to supplement US activities. 

Washington has made Israel our largest recipient of foreign aid, encouraged private transfers to it through unique tax breaks, transferred huge quantities of weapons and munitions to it gratis, directly and indirectly subsidized the Israeli defense industry, allocated military R&D to Israeli rather than US institutions, offered Israeli armaments manufacturers the same status as US manufacturers for purposes of US defense procurement, etc.. Almost all US vetoes at the United Nations and decisions to boycott international conferences and meetings have been on behalf of Israel. Israel treats its ability to command support from Washington as a major tool of diplomatic influence in third countries; it does not exercise its very limited influence abroad in support of US as opposed to its own objectives.

As others have said with greater indirection than I have here, one must look elsewhere than Israel’s strategic utility to the United States for the explanation of its privileged status in US foreign policy, iniquitous as Maher considers that policy to be. 

About Chas Freeman

Chas Freeman is a former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, co-chair of the U.S. China Policy Foundation, and a past president of the Middle East Policy Council. He is also the author of two books on foreign policy, "Interesting Times" and "America's Misadventures in the Middle East," published by Just World Books.

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