August 3, 2000

Israel & America: Bound at the Hip

That the United States identified itself almost completely with Israel's position at the recent Camp David talks should not have come as a surprise. Israel today is an integral part of American global strategy. The Palestinians, on the other hand, are of importance only in so far as a number of Arab states continue to take an interest in their plight. Should the Caspian Sea replace the Persian Gulf as primary energy source for the United States – as our elites want – then the views of the Palestinians' Arab patrons will count for almost nothing.

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has sought to maintain its hegemony over Europe by arguing that NATO is all that separates the continent from chaos. In the Middle East, the argument was a little different. There the United States claimed that an American presence was necessary to counter the so-called "rogue states" – now known as "states of concern" – and their weapons of mass destruction. Washington assigned to Israel the task of being its chief adjutant in the region. The United States and Israel set about creating an anti-missile defense system. As a result, Israel obtained access to the most up-to-date US antimissile technology. And it deployed the Arrow antimissile system.

Last November, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak exulted over the US-Israeli strategic partnership: "The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the nuclear programs of extremist regimes and the spread of state-sponsored terrorism are threats directed at Israel, at the United States, indeed at all democracies around the world. It is therefore the responsibility of the international community to develop effective security cooperation to confront these threats together. There is no finer example than the close strategic ties and intelligence cooperation that flourishes between the United States and Israel. The Arrow was developed by our two countries to counter the ground-to-ground missiles that are in the hands of rogue and extremist regimes. Our friends in Washington know that support for Israel is in the American national interest. Ours is a partnership united by a common understanding of the existing threats and dangers to our way of life."

Contrary to the claims of Israel's ardent champions, the Arrow system was never a joint American-Israeli project. Though the official story holds that the United States underwrote two-thirds of the estimated $1.6 billion cost while Israel picked up the tab for the remainder, the truth is the Arrow-2 missile defense project was, from start to finish, a US-financed venture. The Arrow project began in 1988 when the Israeli government signed a memorandum of agreement with the United States Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, renamed the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization in 1993. According to a 1993 General Accounting Office (GAO) report, the United States had paid $553.4 million of the Arrow project's $579.5 million cost as of the end of fiscal year 1995 – a sum considerably in excess of two-thirds. What is often overlooked is that the US "share" comes directly from the Pentagon budget, while $97.9 million of Israel's $124 million "share" comes from Israel's annual $1.8 billion military aid grant from the United States. Thus as of 1995 Israel had only put in $26.1 million of its own money, or five percent of the cost. In effect, the Arrow system has been turned over to Israel virtually for free. Israel is the only country in the world with a deployed Arrow system. The United States has no plans of its own to deploy Arrow. US taxpayers have thus funded a military program that the United States has no intention of using.

To be sure, the Arrow system may well turn out to be a dud. Decoys and counter-measures can easily confuse missile defenses. Moreover, nuclear, chemical and biological warheads are capable of causing enormous damage even if they are destroyed high in the atmosphere. Warheads can easily be made to disintegrate into innumerable small warheads. A Missile defense system like Arrow can be overwhelmed with a barrage of cheap, unsophisticated Scud-class missiles.

More important, however, is the overt American-Israeli strategic partnership. Following the 1998 meeting at Wye, President Clinton and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed a memorandum of agreement "on the potential threat to Israel posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction in the region." The agreement includes a "new mechanism for enhancing cooperation in dealing with this potential threat." The agreement reaffirmed the "long term commitment of the US to maintain Israel's qualitative edge" and committed the United States to strengthening Israel's "defensive and deterrent capabilities." When, some months later, a reporter asked Netanyahu about the supposedly poor relations between Tel Aviv and Washington that marked his years in power, Netanyahu countered: "For the first time, the United States committed itself to assist Israel in finding answers to ballistic and other dangers that threaten us. Also, the United States is committed to enhancing Israel's deterrence. That was never said in the past." Netanyahu's comment was revealing. The United States was now on board helping to develop Israel's deterrent capability – in effect its nuclear program. The United States in the past has turned a blind eye to Israel's nuclear program. Now, for the first time ever, the United States is committing itself to modernizing Israel's strategic deterrent.

In addition to developing Israel's strategic deterrence capabilities, the United States has been busy promoting something called the Cooperative Defense Initiative (CDI) – a region-wide early-warning system against missile threats based on a rapid exchange of information between the countries of the Persian Gulf and the Pentagon. The CDI includes the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman – in addition to Egypt and Jordan. Recently, Washington managed to persuade a reluctant Egypt to buy two improved Patriot batteries to defend itself against incoming missiles. "Shared early warning, the development of active and passive defenses to deal with chemical and biological weapons, and methods for dealing with the potential consequences of a chemical or biological attack, are all very important parts of the Cooperative Defense Initiative," Defense Secretary Cohen explained following a visit to the Persian Gulf last November.

The Cooperative Defense Initiative involves the creation of a seamless network of surveillance systems, from the Gulf through the Middle East to Turkey, supervised by the United States, against Iran and Iraq and anyone else who will not tow the US line. The CDI depends on shared early warning among the countries in the region and the use of common weapon platforms for a coordinated response in a crisis. It is said to have five pillars: active defense, passive defense, shared early warning, consequence management and medical countermeasures.

Shared early warning involves multilateral cooperation. The United States is setting up a system to warn of a missile launch. This requires an interoperable communications network. Active defense means intercepting and destroying missiles. Israel has the Arrow. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have the Patriot. Passive defense includes the provision of protective gear and medical stockpiles. It also entails making sure that armed forces are prepared to work in a contaminated environment, and determining how a contaminated environment would be cleaned up. US and regional medical experts have been meeting to discuss the problems associated with an attack by a weapon of mass destruction. Consequence management happens once a weapon explodes or an accident occurs. The Pentagon has already been helping to train first responders in 120 US cities how to recognize what is happening and what to do.

Text-only printable version of this article

George Szamuely was born in Budapest, Hungary, educated in England, and has worked as an editorial writer for The Times (London), The Spectator (London), and the Times Literary Supplement (London). In America, he has been equally busy: as an associate at the Manhattan Institute, editor at Freedom House, film critic for Insight, research consultant at the Hudson Institute, and as a weekly columnist for the New York Press. Szamuely has contributed to innumerable publications including Commentary, American Spectator, National Review, the Wall Street Journal, National Interest, American Scholar, Orbis, Daily Telegraph, the Times of London, the Sunday Telegraph, and The New Criterion. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com appears every Wednesday.

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Clearly then the United States is developing a vast military and intelligence infrastructure in the Middle East as an integral part of its global strategy. The rationale is the supposed missile threat from Iran and Iraq. Of the Middle Eastern states Israel is very much America's senior partner. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are on board but they have been assigned subordinate roles. Indeed, Israel's military is now increasingly integrated with that of the United States. It is likely that this alliance will develop into something far more substantial with military bases, integrated commands, streamlined procurement and eventually a regional armed force. No doubt other countries will be encouraged to participate. Turkey, Pakistan and Taiwan are obvious candidates. Japan will be bludgeoned into joining. If, as seems increasingly likely, NATO will quietly fade away, this will be a nice alternative for the United States. The Palestinians are of very little importance in all of this. Which is why, an impatient Bill Clinton told them at Camp David to take the deal on the table and be glad that they can still do so.

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