President Obama often refers to the “unshakable” US commitment to Israel, generally in the context of financial and military support provided by the United States. Funding for Israel’s missile defense, foreign aid, and support for Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME), are often touted by the President as evidence of US support for Israel’s security.
The President has also taken credit for initiatives of the Bush Administration –- including the annual level of foreign aid, the Juniper Cobra joint exercises and the X-Band Radar –- in an attempt to tie himself to Israel’s security.
But is what Washington gives Jerusalem really a mirror on the state of US-Israel relations, or is it a cover for the President’s public criticism?
Either way, the Obama Administration’s cuts to funding for Israeli missile defense programs for two years running –- a cumulative reduction of more than $20 million -– belie the President’s protestations of friendship.
Israel’s security is, in fact, tied to the United States in the following, crucial ways:
- The understanding by Israel’s adversaries that the United States views Israel as a partner in addressing threats to their shared interest in democratic norms, rule of law and tolerant government.
- Post-9-11, the IDF willingly shared its hard-won counter-terrorism and urban-warfare experiences with the US military. US-Israel joint training and exercises – benefiting the United States – made Israel a partner in the American fight, not a supplicant or a liability.
- The belief of Israel’s adversaries that the US is strong enough to protect itself, its allies and its interests. When the US is perceived to be less strong and less confident about its interests, Israel’s enemies are emboldened.
None are a function of money. Money, arms and security cooperation are manifestations of shared Israeli-American understandings.
Mixed messages –- pronouncements of friendship coupled with unfriendly actions –- undermine Israel’s security. Whether the United States treats Israel’s prime minister as a liability, or fails to support the opposition in Iran, or calls the inclusion of Hamas in a PA-led unity government an “internal matter” for Palestinians, Israel’s adversaries cannot help noticing the widening gulf. They notice the budget cuts as well.
The Gulf Arab States –- most of which share Israel’s apprehension about a nuclear Iran –- also share Israel’s belief that a strong United States is essential to regional security, and they see America’s attitude toward Israel as a bellwether for their own security.
Barry Rubin of the Gloria Center quotes the police chief of Dubai: “Experience has taught us that the Americans do not have friends. On the contrary, they are quick to wash their hands of their friends.” Rubin continues, “American behavior… shows how it treats allies. As a Saudi said privately not long ago, ‘If you treat Israel, part of your family, like this, how are you going to treat us?'”
Congress will likely, as it has done before, ensure funding for Israel’s essential missile defense programs –- in FY 2012, Congress more than doubled the President’s request.
But it is in the larger context that the Administration’s significant reduction for Israel should be understood.
If the Obama Administration treats Israel as an ally, an asset, a partner and a bulwark against aggression in the Middle East, it provides not only security for Israel and for the US, but it furnishes a necessary touchstone for Arab understanding that the United States stands by its friends. When the Administration reduces its financial commitment to Israel and separates itself from Jerusalem, it weakens Israel and correspondingly weakens itself.
 “Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable… But precisely because of our friendship, it’s important that we tell the truth: The status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.”