Late last year the U.S. announced further funding for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. It has already given hundreds of millions of dollars to the project. The stipulations that come with U.S. funding and the relations between the U.S. weapons industry and Israel demonstrate Israel’s client state relationship with the U.S.
Israel began funding Iron Dome production in 2007. At its own expense – more or less, Israel’s receives so many donations from Christian and Jewish Zionists and aid from the U.S. and Germany that virtually everything it does is partially underwritten. Israel produced the first two Iron Dome batteries with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems as the prime contractor. These first two batteries were deployed in March 2011. By this time the U.S. Congress had already budgeted $205 million dollars towards further Iron Dome batteries for Israel though the funds did not arrive until later in 2011. A year later the U.S. House of Representatives allocated a further $680 million dollars towards several more batteries. In separate 2014 actions in January and August, Congress added a further $235 million and $225 million for Iron Dome.
The original 2011 funding came without significant conditions. The 2012 funding began the process of U.S. control of the technology, participation in research and development and co-production, primarily through the U.S. arms firm Raytheon. The early 2014 funding came with a condition to increase the U.S. share of production to 55%.
Increasing U.S. participation does two things simultaneously. It increases U.S. investment in Israel’s defense posturing thus ingratiating the client state (and its supporters in the U.S) to the U.S. It also makes the Israeli project more and more a U.S. one or, alternately put, it re-centers Israeli nationalist defense posturing as an imperial project. U.S. production means relatively high-wage jobs for workers in Raytheon’s congressional districts. This pairs Israeli defense posturing to imperial unionism and arms companies in the U.S., including participation in the electoral process. More U.S. participation also restricts Israel’s ability to export Iron Dome without U.S. permission. This also means there are less middle-class manufacturing jobs available in Israel for producing Iron Dome batteries (assuming Israel would pursue these batteries without U.S. funding which is far from certain). But this is probably considered a worthy trade-off for the access to U.S. funding despite Israel being as economically unequal as the U.S..
Despite somewhat of a convergence of interests this, like most U.S.-Israeli arms arrangements, works to the U.S.’s favor. It brings Israeli technology more directly under U.S. control while reinforcing the dependency relationship between the U.S. and Israel. There are several examples in the U.S.-Israeli relationship where this dynamic has been exploited to decided U.S. advantage, some involving Israeli-developed technology (which in some cases stemmed from U.S. technology) and some with significant U.S. technology or components.
In the summer of 2014 the U.S. blocked the sale of decommissioned Cobra helicopters from Israel to Nigeria, ostensibly on the grounds of Nigerian military human rights abuses but just as or more likely due to the Nigerian military not playing well with the U.S. African Command. Israel had been building closer relationships with the Jonathan and Yar’Adua Administrations over the past decade and arms sales were a key part of the relationship.
In 2006 the U.S. effectively disqualified Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) from a South Korean early warning radar tender. IAI’s only competitor for the bid was Boeing, on whose behalf the U.S. interceded. The U.S. refused to guarantee export permits for parts of IAI’s Phalcon system, effectively giving Boeing the $1.5 billion contract.
China bought Harpy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from IAI in 1994. China returned them in 2004 for an upgrade but the U.S. interceded and prevented Israel from upgrading the drones and, initially, even returning the unmodified machines. The U.S. deployed considerable pressure during this period led by two of the most high-profile pro-Israel figures in the Bush Administration, Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz.
IAI won $1 billion contract in 1998 to sell four Phalcon systems to China. Several high profile pro-Israel partisans including Senators Trent Lott and Jesse Helms and President Bill Clinton moved toward conditioning part of U.S. aid on Israel revoking the contract. Under heavy U.S. pressure, Israel not only pulled out of its contract but ended up paying China $350 million dollars for canceling. This, combined with the canceled Harpy project, dramatically cooled Sino-Israeli relations which had been warming for the previous two decades, effectively costing Israel a decade of bidding for major Chinese arms tenders. Only recently have relations begun warming again.
Most famously, a few months after Ronald Reagan came into office in 1981 he announced the sale of five AWACS systems to Saudi Arabia in what was at the time the largest arms sales in U.S. history. The Associated Press reported at the time that “Israel defense experts say the AWACS planes could monitor every move of the Israeli air force, depriving it of its ability to launch a surprise first strike, the basis of Israeli defense doctrine.” The Israeli government and its supporting lobbies in the U.S. unsuccessfully pressured the Reagan Administration to cancel the sale. Reagan and Secretary of State Alexander Haig pushed ahead with the sale and, in the end, even took away much of the pro-Israel position in public debate by positioning the sale as essential to regional stability in Southwest Asia.
The U.S. interceded in two of those examples on behalf of its arms industry. The South Korean example was simply to award a major contract to Boeing instead of IAI. In the Saudi example, it was to make the largest arms sale in U.S. history up to that point while simultaneously shoring up relations with another client state, Saudi Arabia. In the latter case not even largely sincere* Israeli protests about its defense posture mattered in the end.
The two examples about Israeli arms sales to China locate U.S. opposition in its imperial military posture. The U.S. intervened in both instances on behalf of Taiwan, another client state. The contracts would not have gone to U.S. arms firms but China’s acquisition of the platforms was seen as untenable in preserving the balance the U.S. prefers between China and Taiwan and too useful for China’s ability to monitor U.S. maneuvers in eastern Asia.
The U.S. intervened in the Nigerian case in order to bring to heel another client state.
The above are high profile examples of where the U.S. arms industry and imperial interests circumscribed the Israeli arms industry and national defense posture, including examples where dedicated proponents of Zionist settler colonialism like Feith, Wolfowitz, Helms and others mobilized pressure from Washington to bring Israel to heel. When the U.S. feels its core industries, national interests or imperial relations conflict with Israeli policies and actions, it successfully asserts its power.
So what about Palestinian liberation? For all the discussions and analyses about the Israel lobby, unsaid is that the Israel lobby is so successful in large part because it’s swimming along with the current. There are small disagreements between the U.S. and Israel about how many settlements and where they should be, whether administrative house demolitions are appropriate and exactly how little sovereignty a prospective Palestinian Bantustan should have. But there is little to no disagreement about anything fundamental and has not been ever since the U.S. figured out it did not have to choose between Israel and the other governments in Southwest Asia and North Africa. Both declare Zionist colonization of Palestine to be right and just. Both support brutal repression of resistance to Zionism. Both support permanent Israeli military authority over any Palestinian government. Both support some or all Israeli colonization of the Jerusalem and the West Bank. Both reject Palestinian refugee rights. Ad infinitum. Even the minority view amongst State Department and Pentagon officials and political science Realists that supports Palestine does so only to the limited degree of the 1949 Armistice lines (‘1967 borders’) while continuing to reject Right of Return and Palestinian rights inside Israel. Palestinian liberation on anything close to Palestinian terms is absent from U.S. policy-making.
The actual material relations between the U.S. and Israel via their military-industrial complexes portray a distinctly hierarchic relationship. U.S. interventions on behalf of Israel vis-à-vis Palestinian liberation and Zionist settler colonialism are on behalf of a client state, not an influential ally. Were the U.S. seriously concerned with Palestinian liberation there is little doubt it could bring Israel to heel as it has done over and again when Israeli actions conflicted with significant U.S. interests just as when the U.S. eventually opposed, albeit only partially, settler rule in South Africa.
There are many reasons for U.S. support for Israel including solidarity between White settler societies (the Israel lobby being one example thereof or, alternately put, settler colonialism as foreign policy), positive relations between the U.S. and Israeli military industrial complexes, Israel’s role in U.S. empire and more. But on the uncommon occasions when Israeli policies or actions conflict with U.S. interests the power relationship and the limits of the Israel lobby are made clear.
* So much of public discourse about Israel defense needs is nonsensical and outrageous, i.e; “Holocaust borders”, that sincere Israeli claims about defense are a little surprising when they turn up. The AWACS is primarily a defensive weapon and posed no threat in an of itself to Israel. But Israel’s military posture is one of first-strike and while good AWACS systems do not guarantee a successful defense they can dramatically complicate any regional Israeli military attacks.