Israel and the U.S.: A Unique Relationship
Professor James Petras
U.S.-Israel relations have been described in a variety of ways. Politicians refer to Israel as the U.S.'s most reliable ally in the Middle East, if not the world. Others speak of Israel as a strategic ally. Some speak of Israel and the U.S. sharing common democratic values in the war against terrorism. On the Left, critics speak of Israel as a tool of U.S. imperialism for undermining Arab nationalism, and a bulwark against fundamentalist Islamic terrorism. A few writers point to the "excess influence" which the Israeli governments exercise on U.S. government policy via powerful Jewish lobbies and individuals in media, financial and governmental circles.
While there is a grain of truth in much of the above there is a unique aspect in this relationship between an imperial power like the U.S. and regional power such as Israel. Unlike Washington's relation with the EU, Japan and Oceana, it is Israel which pressures and secures vast transfer of financial resources ($2.8 billion per year, $84 billion over 30 years). Israel secures the latest arms and technology transfers, unrestrictive entry into U.S. markets, free entry of immigrants, unconditional commitment of U.S. support in case of war and repression of colonized people and guaranteed U.S. vetoes against any UN resolutions.
From the angle of inter-state relations, it is the lesser regional power which exacts a tribute from the Empire, a seeming unique or paradoxical outcome. The explanation for this paradox is found in the powerful and influential role of pro-Israeli Jews in strategic sectors of the U.S. economy, political parties, Congress and Executive Branch. The closest equivalent to past empires is that of influential white settlers in the colonies, who through their overseas linkages were able to secure subsidies and special trading relations.
The Israeli "colons" in the U.S. have invested and donated billions of dollars to Israel, in some cases diverting funds from union dues of low paid workers to purchase Israel bonds used to finance new colonial settlements in the occupied territories. In other cases Jewish fugitives from the U.S. justice system have been protected by the Israeli state, especially super rich financial swindlers like Mark Rich and even gangsters and murderers. Occasional official demands of extradition from the U.S. Justice Department have been pointedly ignored.
The colonized Empire has gone out of its way to cover up its subservience to its supposed ally, but in fact hegemonic power.
The U.S.-Israeli relationship is the first in modern history in which the imperial country covers up a deliberate major military assault by a supposed ally. In 1967, the U.S. Liberty a communications and reconnaissance ship was bombed and strafed by Israeli fighter planes in international waters for nearly an hour, killing and wounding hundreds of seaman and officers. Intercepted Israeli messages as well as the clearly displayed U.S. flag demonstrates that this was a deliberate act of aggression. Washington acted as any Third World leader would faced with an embarrassing attack by its hegemon: it silenced its naval officers who witnessed the attack and quietly received a compensation and pro-forma apology. Apart from the fact this was an unprecedented action in U.S. military and diplomatic relations with an ally, there is no case in record of an imperial country covering up for an assault by a regional ally. On the contrary, similar circumstances have been followed by diplomatic and bellicose responses. This apparent anomaly cannot in any way be explained by military weakness or diplomatic failures: Washington has far superior armaments and its diplomats are capable of forceful representation to allies or adversaries, when the political will is present. The Jewish-American lobby, Congress people, media and Wall Street moguls strategically located in the U.S. political economic system ensured that President Johnson would act as a docile subject. No direct pressures were necessary, for a hegemonized political leadership, acts, seemingly on its own beliefs, having learned the rules of the political game. Israel-U.S. is a unique relationship, that not even an unprovoked military attack should call into question. Like all hegemonized powers, Washington threatened the U.S. Naval witnesses with a court marital if they spoke out, while they coddled their attackers in Tel Aviv.
Another illustration of the asymmetrical relation is found in one of the most important espionage cases during the Cold War involving an Israeli agent, Jonathan Pollard and the Pentagon. Over several years Pollard stole and duplicated bagfuls of top secret documents about U.S. Intelligence, counter-intelligence, strategic plans, military weaponry and turned them over to his Israeli handlers. This was the biggest case of espionage carried out against the U.S. by any ally in recent history. Pollard and his wife were convicted. The U.S. Government privately protested to the Israeli government. The Israeli's on the other hand, through their Jewish-American allies organized a lobby to propagandize in his favor. Eventually all top Israeli leaders and Jewish-American lobbyists campaigned for his pardon, and almost succeeded with President Clinton.
The unequal relation is clearly evident in the case of a major fugitive from justice, Marc Rich. A financier and trader, he was indicted in the U.S. federal court on several counts of swindling and defrauding clients. He fled to Switzerland and subsequently obtained an Israeli passport and citizenship, investing hefty sums of his ill begotten wealth into Israeli industries and charities. Despite the seriousness of his offense, Rich hobnobbed with top political leaders in Israel and its economic elite. In the year 2000, the Prime Minister of Israel and numerous pro- Israeli Jewish personalities, including Rich's ex-wife convinced Clinton to pardon him. While an outcry was raised about a linkup between the Rich pardon, and his wife's $100,000 plus contribution to the Democratic Party, the underlying relationship of subordination to Israeli influence and the power of the Israeli lobby in the U.S. was clearly more important. It is worth noting that it is extraordinarily unusual for a U.S. President to consult with a foreign ruler (as Clinton consulted with Barak) in dealing with an accused swindler. It is unprecedented to pardon an indicted fugitive who fled his trial and never served any sentence.
The power of Israel is manifested in the numerous annual pilgrimages which influential U.S. politicians make to Israel to declare their loyalty to the Israeli state, even during periods of intensive repression of rebellious subject people. On the contrary, U.S. satraps of the Israeli's mini-empire applauded the Jewish state's invasion of Lebanon, its bloody repression of the Intifada I and II and opposed any international mediation to prevent further Israeli massacres, sacrificing any credibility in the United Nations.
In votes in the United Nations, even in the Security Council, despite overwhelming evidence of human rights violations presented by EU allies, Washington has toiled in the service of its hegemon. Sacrificing international credibility and deliberately alienating 150 other nations Washington labeled criticisms of Israeli racism as "anti-Semitism". This does not mark the high point of Washington's servility to Israel.
The most recent and perhaps the most important instance of U.S. servility occurred in the months preceding and following the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. On December 12, 2001 Fox news learned from U.S. Intelligence sources and federal investigators that 60 Israelis engaged in a long-running effort to spy on U.S. government officials were detained since 9/11. Many of those arrested are active Israeli military or intelligence operatives. They were arrested under the Patriot Anti-Terrorism Law. Many failed polygraph questions dealing with surveillance activities against and in the United States. More seriously federal investigators have reason to believe that the Israeli operatives gathered intelligence about the September 11 attacks in advance and did not share it with its Washington ally. The degree of Israeli involvement in September 11 is a tightly guarded secret. A highly placed federal investigator told Fox news there are "tie-ins". When asked to provide details, the federal investigator refused "Evidence linking these Israelis to 9/11 is classified. I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered. It is classified information."
Nothing exemplifies the power of Israel over Washington as this case of Israeli espionage. Even in the case of the worse bombing in U.S. history, Washington suppresses federally collected evidence linking known Israeli spies to possible evidence about prior knowledge. Clearly this evidence might raise questions about the links and ties between political and economic elites as well as undermining strategic relations in the Middle East. More important it would pit the Bush Administration against the Jewish American lobby and its powerful informal and formal networks in the media, finance, and in government. Fox News obtained numerous classified documents from federal investigators probably frustrated by the coverups of Israeli espionage by political leaders in Washington. These documents reveal that even before September 11, as many as 140 other Israelis had been detained or arrested in a secret investigation of large scale, long term Israeli espionage in the United States. Not one of the major print or electronic media reported on these arrests. Neither the President nor any Congressional leaders spoke out on Israeli's pervasive and sustained effort to obtain key U.S. military and intelligence.
The classified documents detail "hundreds of incidents in cities and towns across the country," that investigators claim could be an Israeli organized intelligence gathering activity. Israeli agents targeted and penetrated military bases, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and dozens of government facilities and even secret office and unlisted private homes of law enforcement and intelligence personnel according to the Federal documents, cited by Fox News. The General Accounting Office (an investigatory arm of the U.S. Congress) document referred to Israel as "Country A"; it said "the government of Country A conducts the most aggressive espionage operation against the U.S. of any U.S. ally." A Defense Intelligence report said Israel has "voracious appetite for information...It aggressively collects military and industrial technology and the U.S. is a high priority."
The Fox News Report written by Carl Cameron appeared on the inter-net one day (Dec. 12, 2001) and then disappeared - there was no follow up. None of the other mass media picked up on this major espionage report. No doubt the powerful pro-Israeli influentials in the mass media played a role. More significantly than direct "pressure" Israeli hegemony "persuades", "intimidates", the media establishment and political leaders to operate with maximum discretion in limiting Israel's appropriation of strategic information.
While the web of Israeli agents are sometimes subject to arrest, interrogation and expulsion, the Israeli state and the ministers in charge are never publically condemned, nor are there any official diplomatic riposte such as the symbolic temporary withdrawal of the U.S. Ambassador.
The closest parallel to U.S. behavior toward Israeli spies is the response of poor, dependant Third World countries to U.S. espionage. In that context docile rulers quietly ask the Ambassador to rein in some of the more aggressive agents.
Unanswered Question: September 11 and the Israelis
Following September rumors circulated throughout the Arab East that the bombing was an Israeli plot to incite Washington to attack Muslim-Arab adversaries. These stories and their authors provided nothing more than circumstantial evidence, namely that Bush's anti-terrorism campaign legitimated Sharon's "anti-terrorist" repression of Palestinians. The stories implicating Israel were completely dismissed by all the media and political leaders across the spectrum. Now U.S. federal investigators reveals that the Israeli's may have known about the attack before it occurred and not shared it.
This raises the question of the relationships between the Arab terrorists and the Israeli secret police. Did the Israelis penetrate the group or pick up information about them? Federal investigators' confidential information could probably clarify these vital questions. But will the confidential information ever become public? Most likely not. For the very reason that it would expose Israeli influence in the U.S. via its secret agents and more importantly via its powerful overseas lobby and allies in government and finance. The lack of any public statement concerning Israel's possible knowledge of 9/11 is indicative of the vast, ubiquitous and aggressive nature of its powerful diaspora supporters. Given the enormous political and economic importance which the mass media have given to 9/11, and the sweeping powers, funding and institutions created around the issue of national security, it is astonishing that no mention has been made about Israel's spy networks operating in the U.S.'s most delicate spheres of counter-terrorism.
Of course it is not astonishing if we understand properly the "unique relationship" between the U.S. empire and Israel, a regional power.
The relationship between the U.S. - a global imperial power - and Israel, a regional power provides us with a unique model of inter-state relations. In this case the regional power exacts tribute ($2.8 billion annually in direct contributions from the U.S. Congress), free access to U.S. markets, protection overseas felonious Jews from prosecution or extradition to the U.S., while engaging in pervasive espionage and money laundering. Moreover Israel establishes limits on U.S.-Middle Eastern policy, in the international forums. Israel's hegemonic position has endured under both Democratic and Republican presidencies for almost half a century. In other words it is a structural historical relation, not one based on personalities, or particular transitory policymaking configurations.
Several hypothesis emerge from an examination of this unique relationship.
The first stems from the fact that the territorial Israeli state has little power of persuasion, economic reach or military clout in comparison to the major powers (Europe and the U.S.). The power of Israel is based on the diaspora, the highly structured and politically and economically powerful Jewish networks which have direct and indirect access to the centers of power and propaganda in the most powerful imperial country in the world. Tribute is exacted via the influence of these "internal colonialists" who operate at the level of mass media opinion makers and via Congress and the Presidency. Close to 50% of the funding of the Democratic Party comes from pro-Israeli Jews. For every dollar spent by the Jewish networks in influencing voting outcomes, the Israeli state receives $50 in aid to finance the building and arming of colonial settlement in the Occupied Territories complete with swimming pools, Rumanian gardeners and Filipino maids.
Through the overseas networks the Israeli state can directly intervene and set the parameters to U.S. foreign aid in the Middle East.
The overseas networks play a major role in shaping the internal debate on U.S. policy toward Israel. Propaganda associating Israeli repression of Palestinians as the righteous response of the victims of the Holocaust has been repeated and circulated throughout the mass media. From the heights of the network to the lawyers boardroom, and the doctor's lounge the supporters of the network aggressively attack as "anti-Semites" any critical voices. Through local intimidation and malicious intervention in the professions, the zealots defend Israeli policy and leaders and contribute money, organize voters and run for office. Once in office they tune in to Israeli policy needs.
The phenomena of overseas expatriates attempting to influence an imperial power is not an exclusively Jewish phenomena. But in no other case has linkage led to the establishment of an enduring hegemonic relationship: empire colonized by a regional power, the U.S. paying tribute to Israel and subject to the ideological blinders of its overseas colons.
Many questions remain to be answered as the Empire aggressively pursues its military expansion and the internal voices of repression narrow the terms of public debate.
As the colons extend their influence throughout the political and intellectual spheres, they feel more confident in asserting Israel's superiority to the U.S. particularly in the areas of political coercion and war. They brazenly boast of Israel's superior security system, its methods of interrogation including its techniques of torture and demand the U.S. follow Israel's war agenda in the Middle East.
Seymour Hersch urges the U.S. FBI and Intelligence Agencies to follow the Israeli secret police's use or threat of torture of relatives including parents of terror suspects. Richard Perle, highly influential in Rumsfeld's Defense Department, advocates the Israeli tactics of offensive bombing of adversaries. "In 1981 the Israelis faced an urgent choice: should they allow Saddam Hussein to fuel a French built nuclear reactor near Baghdad or destroy it?. The Israelis decided to strike pre-emptively. Everything we know (SIC) about Saddam Hussein forces (SIC) President Bush to make a similar choice: to take a pre-emptive action or wait, possibly until it is too late." (NY Times, December 28, 2001, p. 19).
Another prominent colon, Senator Joseph Lieberman called on the U.S. to bomb Syria, Iraq and Iran after 9/11, echoing Primes Minister Sharon's policy advice to President Bush. Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law professor, publically endorsed repressive legislation in the U.S. - modeled on the Israeli system of unlimited detention of Palestinians.
The colon's subordinate U.S. policy to Israel's foreign policy needs, independent of circumstances and the extremities to which Israel's colonial policies push it. Moreover as representatives of the hegemonic power in the U.S., they even try to micro manage security measures - torture in interrogation - as well as becoming vociferous advocates of a generalized Middle East war. The colons have successfully influenced the U.S. government to block any EU initiatives toward international mediation, as well as the U.S. sponsored Mitchell Plan, advocating peace observers. In a word, the U.S., despite its occasional inconsequential criticism of Israel's excesses, has not only been an unconditional supporter of Israel, but it has done so, in the context of a prolonged bloody, repression and occupation of Palestinian territories, to which Washington is a party to securing. Israeli hegemony over the U.S. via its colons is a formidable weapon for neutralizing the U.S.'s NATO allies. Arab petroleum clients, the vast majority of the general Assembly in the United Nations and even its own public on certain Middle Eastern issues.
Even more dangerous is the irrational paranoia which the colons transfer from Israeli politics to the U.S. All Arabs are suspect. Middle Eastern adversaries should be threatened if not bombed. Secret military tribunals and summary justice should be meted out to suspected terrorists. The mass media is especially tuned to pick up the Israeli paranoid syndrome: magnifying every threat, featuring Israeli resolution and efficiency against Arab terrorists. The paranoid style of politics had led to Israel's attacks on Arab countries in the Middle East, espionage on the U.S., illegal purchase of nuclear devices in the U.S. and unremitting violence against Palestinians and Lebanese. The danger is that the assimilation of the paranoid style by the U.S. has vast consequences not only for the Mid-East but for the rest of the world and to democratic freedom in the U.S.
What the intellectual colons and other Israeli publicists forget to mention is that Israeli security policy is a total disaster: bus stations, public malls, five star hotels, pizzerias and all of its frontiers have been attacked and hundreds of Israeli citizens have been killed and injured. Tens of thousands of educated Israelis flee the country precisely because of insecurity and the proximity of violence, which neither the Shin Ben, the Army or the settlers are capable of preventing.
Blind to Israel's security failure, the colons insist on creating conditions for internal repression and external war. Given their influential role in the mass media, their prominence in the editorial and opinion pages of the most prestigious newspapers, the colons message reaches far beyond their limited numbers and the mediocrity of their intellect. Location and money can make up for their psychological and political pathologies as well as override any qualms about dual loyalties.