For 75 years, Americans and Israelis have shared fruitful trade relations, cultural affinities, political similarities, and values. And over the past 40 years, since the 1983 announcement by President Ronald Reagan of “US-Israel Security Cooperation,” a strong alliance has been built on a foundation of mutual national security interests, strengthening both countries and their allies as well as maintaining regional stability in a part of the world susceptible to chaos and disorder.
It wasn’t always smooth. President Barack Obama’s Mideast policy reduced America’s regional security role, inserting daylight into the relationship and empowering America’s enemies including Iran and Russia. But then, President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel policies centered on the recognition that a strong Israel, supported by a strong America, would enhance peace in the region. And it did – in the form of the Abraham Accords.
President Joe Biden has reverted to Obama-era Mideast policy, enabling a drumbeat of threats of long-term damage to the US-Israel alliance from many powerful Democrats. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), a Democrat member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, went so far as to describe Iranian-aligned, terrorism-financier, Qatar, as America’s “best partner in the region.” Members of the congressional Progressive Caucus have threatened to restrict military aid to Israel and/or cut-off funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system.
It is therefore imperative to revisit the multi-faceted strategic significance of Israel to American national security interests and ensure the alliance continues to maintain bipartisan support for the well-being and long-term survival of both of countries and the West more broadly.
US ‘Onshore Balancer’
Former Secretary State Alexander Haig once described Israel as the “largest, most battle-tested and cost-effective US aircraft carrier, which does not require a single US personnel, cannot be sunk and is located at a most critical area for US national security interests.” General George Keegan, former head of US Air Force Intelligence, declared that “Israel is worth five CIAs.” And former Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HA) recognized that “Israel’s contribution to US military intelligence is greater than all NATO countries combined.”
On a 2010 visit to Israel, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen discussed a series of mutual threats to America and Israel:
Iran’s nuclearization, global Islamic terrorism, domestic and regional war in Iraq, escalation of the ballistic threat, Iran’s subversion of the Gulf and the Middle East, al-Qaeda’s entrenchment in Yemen which controls key sea lanes for oil tankers, the war on the Saudi-Yemen border, the intensification of Iranian-Syrian cooperation, the enhanced Middle Eastern profile of Russian and China, Turkey’s Islamization, etc.
Thirteen years on, those threats have only grown and there is no question that Israel is the most reliable US ally in the region and the only country with the strength, capability, and commitment to the survival of democratic principles, to assist the United States as it confronts these challenges.
Supporting Israel has enabled order in the region, managed by the United States from offshore, without the commitment of US forces; not a single American soldier has risked his or her life for Israel. In fact, unlike other allies located in strategic arenas across the globe, not one GI has ever been stationed in Israel, with the exception of 100 American soldiers managing the US X-Band Radar monitoring Iran from the Negev Desert since 2012. So, while the US benefits from the commonality of threats, it is Israel that exists on the front lines of the war against radical Islam and terror, and often suffers the resulting casualties.
Israel and the US are about to mark two years since the announcement of Israel’s move from the US European Command (EUCOM) to the US Central Command (CENTCOM) with responsibilities for the Middle East and Persian Gulf, eastward to Afghanistan. Officially, the move took place in November 2021, although regional exercises in the Red Sea began well before that.
Last December, the two countries participated in combined air exercises designed to build readiness to face Iran and other regional threats. This was followed in January 2023 by the historic Juniper Oaks 23 exercises, the largest joint military exercise between the United States and Israel involving naval, land, air, space, and cyber warfare elements. While American politicians may fret over Israeli domestic policies, US military personnel recognize the strategic importance of a strong alliance with Israel.
Israel’s Gulf and Red Sea neighbors recognize it as well, fearing both an aggressive conventionally armed Iran as well as the potential for a nuclear Iran. These concerns which helped lead to the Abraham Accords. They see that a strong Israel is necessary to keep their enemies at bay, and also to enhance peace in the region.
CENTCOM Commander Gen. Eric Kurilla said on his November 2022 visit to Israel, his fourth in seven months:
Our strategic partnerships within the region – to include our longstanding, ironclad partnership with the IDF – are critical to regional security and stability. All these trips to the region inform my understanding of the threats and challenges faced by each country and the capabilities available. This visit… reinforced the importance of this relationship and the many opportunities ahead of us for the Middle East.
Furthermore, Israel is the only US regional ally with a democratic government remaining a constant American partner. The governments of America’s other allies in the Mideast are totalitarian or authoritarian and their inherent instability poses the possibility of internal political and military challenges. Those countries, including Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia continuously face threats posed by radical Islam and have inconsistent records when it comes to providing America reliable military support.
Consequences of ‘Daylight’
While historically, support for a strong US-Israel alliance has been bipartisan, Democrat support has become unreliable. President Obama’s policies were filled with contentious and public conflicts with Israel on issues from the Palestinians to the Iranian nuclear program and demonstrated a lack of understanding of the value of America’s relationships with our regional allies. They also showed a fundamental misunderstanding of the history of the Middle East, confusion as to the motivations of its relevant players and the true causes of a lack of peace in the region.
President Biden is continuing down the same path.
When Israel’s enemies see the alliance weaken, they become bolder. If the US is perceived as abandoning Israel, the Arabs will have every reason to assume that when befitting, America will also abandon them leaving them to turn to our enemies. As Dennis Prager stated,
You cannot weaken the protection [of Israel] without weakening America’s moral values, which form the basis of America’s greatness. Even aside from compromising America’s moral essence, weakening American support of Israel will only strengthen the America-hating Islamists. The notion that the primitive monsters of the Taliban, Hamas, al-Qaeda, and the like will become pro-American – or just stop attacking America – if America weakens its support of Israel, betrays an ignorance of evil that is frightening.
Similar Interests, Enemies
The common argument that American support for Israel inflames Muslim hatred of the US, generating terrorism, is backward. Islamists hate both countries because of who we are, what we do, and what we represent. Islamists view the United States and Israel as fundamentally the same, two countries joined together in similar pursuits – “the Little Satan” and “the Great Satan.” In a 2008 speech, Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders said:
The war against Israel is not a war against Israel. It is a war against the West. It is jihad. Israel is simply receiving the blows that are meant for all of us. If there would have been no Israel, Islamic imperialism would have found other venues to release its energy and its desire for conquest…
As such, it is natural and beneficial that the two countries cooperate across a range of endeavors.
With regard to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel provided America with invaluable knowledge in asymmetric warfare against suicide bombers, car bombs, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), booby traps, anti-tank missiles, and interrogation of terrorists. Israel provided the US with continuous, real-time intelligence; US soldiers who faced IEDs and other terrorist weapons benefited from Israeli strategic and tactical information. American soldiers trained in IDF facilities, and Israeli-made drones were used in reconnaissance and attack missions. Soldiers fighting in Iraq benefited from Israel’s intensive military experience specifically designed for the situations facing combat personnel there.
Domestic terror attacks also underscore the importance of the US-Israel relationship for Americans at home who benefit from the lessons of an Israeli population that has faced domestic terrorism since Israel’s inception. Israel shares with the US military, intelligence, and local crime fighting communities vital intelligence information, counter-terrorism techniques, airport security procedures, first-response to terror attacks, and national security knowledge that only decades of battle-tested experience can produce. It is impossible to put a price – in terms of lives and treasure – on the intelligence, expertise, and homeland defense lessons that Israel has provided to the United States.
Washington and Jerusalem have worked together on research and development of numerous weapons systems including artificial intelligence, directed energy, counter-unmanned aerial systems, biotechnology, and hypersonic capabilities. The Stuxnet virus used to thwart Iranian nuclear development, the Iron Dome missile defense system and other joint projects have saved an untold number of lives.
General Dynamics, which produces F-16 fighters, attributes hundreds of improvements to the jets’ systems to Israeli technology, estimated to be worth billions of dollars and to have saved years of R&D that would have otherwise been required. Israel’s purchase of military equipment produced in the United States provides an economic boon to the military industry as well as providing thousands of American jobs.
Moreover, America’s superpower status has consistently been boosted by Israel’s military achievements as the US reaps direct benefits from Israel’s military credibility. While Iran moves closer to attaining nuclear power status, the US can be perceived as weak on the international stage. On the other hand, when Israel states that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable, the world believes the threat and understands Israel’s existential challenges and will to follow through on that threat.
Finally, Israeli advancements in technology and science are not limited to military application. Israeli civilian innovations include Waze, cell phone technology, various Windows operating systems, voicemail improvements, airline security systems, non-radiological breast cancer diagnostic equipment, computerized systems for medication administration, ingestible video cameras for diagnosing cancer and digestive disorders, heart pump devices, and Parkinson’s, cancer, and acne treatments – benefitting people across the globe.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reassertion of Moscow’s power in the Mideast and Europe, the dangers posed by radical Islamic forces, and a dangerously aggressive and militarily advanced China (which is now allying with America’s enemies including Iran) reinforce the necessity of the United States maintaining a strong partnership with Israel. Israel’s strategic location in the heart of the Mideast; democratically elected government; growing and stable economy; technological, scientific, medical, intelligence-gathering, and military advancements; and common threat assessment ensure that it remains a paramount national security asset to the United States.
Israel has proven to be a strategic ally to the US in military, political, and ideologically driven confrontations for the past 30 years. It will continue to play a vital role in ensuring America’s success in thwarting Iran’s hegemonic intentions and the threat of radical Islam and imminent terror attacks at home and abroad for decades to come. In fact, Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer recently said:
Just as Britain was the most important ally of the US in the 20th century, Israel will become the most important ally in the 21st century.
Lauri B. Regan is the vice chair of the executive board and chair of the advisory board of the Endowment for Middle East Truth and the vice president, treasurer and board member of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.