November/December 2000
An Israeli tank advances near Beit Jala

Washington Needs to Buck Up Israel

[And So Should CANADA - CFICEJ]

The short-term goal is to enhance Israeli deterrence capability

by Daniel Pipes

Since about 1967, the United States has pursued a fairly consistent policy toward Israel in its conflict with the Arabs: Help Israel be strong while pressuring it to make concessions to the Arabs. So ingrained has this dual approach become, it is barely even noticed.

But it has not worked. Those concessions -- mainly the handing over of territory -- were supposed to win a reciprocal goodwill from the Arabs, thereby ending the Arab-Israeli conflict; in fact, they have been seen as a sign of Israeli weakness.

Not only have Israel's concessions not achieved for it the expected harmonious peace, but they have actually harmed Israel, making it less scary to its neighbours. The result has been a spike in Palestinian and Arab ambitions that culminated in the round of violence that began in September.

If Israel's concessions have had precisely the wrong effect on Arab attitudes toward the Jewish state, they have won goodwill for the United States. The Oslo process softened some of the anti-Americanism endemic to the Middle East, thereby rendering oil sources slightly more secure, terrorism a bit less likely, and political harangues less long and impassioned.

It would therefore be convenient for the United States if the burgeoning hostility toward Israel were Israel's problem alone. But the point has now been reached where Israeli concessions entail greater dangers to American interests than they bring benefits. Israel's perceived weakness is now an American problem: The aggressive anti-Zionist euphoria being expressed by Arabs poses a direct danger to the United States.

Were the excitement of the Arab street and its fury at Israel to lead to war, the United States could experience enormously harmful repercussions in terms of the oil market, relations with Muslim-majority states, and terrorism against American institutions and individuals.

Worse, were that war to go badly for Israel, implications for the United States could become truly dire. Like it or not, the United States serves as the informal but real ultimate security guarantor of Israel.

It is hard to conjure up a prospect that American policy planners would relish less than coming to the aid of Israel. What is Washington's best course, given that concessions by Israel increase the prospects of an Arab-Israeli war that it urgently does not want?

It should take steps that discourage Israel's potential enemies from starting a conflict with it, something best done by helping rebuild Israel's deterrent capabilities. Washington should urgently adopt four policies:

- No more Israeli territorial concessions. This shift is needed, at least for some years, to staunch the Arab perception that Israel is a weak state pleading for terms. The short-term goal is not to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, but to enhance Israeli deterrence capability;

- Encourage Israel to appear fearsome. It would have a huge impact were American leaders to call on Jerusalem to reinstate its tough old policies, whereby it punished enemies for assaults on its persons and its property. The goal, again, is to prove that it is not demoralized;

- Maintain Israel's military edge. While U.S. politicians glibly repeat this mantra, their willingness to sell arms to some of Israel's potential enemies (notably Egypt but also Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and several Persian Gulf emirates) vastly enhances the latters' military capabilities and so makes war more likely;

- Bind Israel more tightly and consistently to the United States. Washington from time to time permits an ugly, one-sided resolution to pass the Security Council; most recently, it abstained from resolution 1322 on Oct. 7. Another problem concerns the U.S. government's sometime treatment of Israel and its opponents as moral equals. These send a signal of Israeli isolation that might encourage warmongers.

This approach of bucking up the Jewish state may sound like an unlikely one for Washington to pursue, but a dramatic reversal in policy usually seems unimaginable before it actually happens. It also bears note that some important American politicians (notably Senators Charles Schumer of New York and Jesse Helms of North Carolina) already have expressed their wish for such a change.

Israel's unwillingness to protect its own interests presents its principal ally, the United States, with an urgent and unusual burden: the need to firm up its partner's will. Never before has a democratic state presented an ally with quite the dilemma that Israel does.

Daniel Pipes is director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum.

©2000 National Post

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