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Should America Guarantee Israel's Safety?

Irving Moskowitz
Policy Paper No. 80, from the book,
Israel and a Palestinian State: Zero Sum Game?, 2001


Then US Secretary of State Warren Christopher declared in June 1993 that the United States would consider offering Israel some kind of "security guarantees" in conjunction with an Israeli surrender of the Golan Heights. Such "guarantees" might include American troops being stationed between the Israeli and Syrian lines. Unlike America's other allies around the world, Israel has never requested that US soldiers risk their lives to protect itself from its Arab attackers.

Would the US be prepared to activate those troops and risk their lives if a Syrian-Israeli crisis develops? Is it possible to be confident that five or ten years from now, US public opinion will support such military action? How will Americans react when US troops in the Golan are attacked by the same fanatical anti-American Hizbullah terrorists who attacked them in nearby Lebanon not so long ago? What is at stake is not the sincerity of America's intentions but the inevitability of America's ever-shifting agenda. Political and social circumstances often produce sharp changes in public and congressional perceptions of US military interests abroad.

Just as American promises did not hold solid for South Vietnam and Taiwan, so they did not for Israel.

After the withdrawal (demanded by the US) following the 1956 Sinai campaign, there was a guarantee, in the form of an Aide Memoire, handed to Israeli Ambassador Abba Eban (on February 11, 1957), by Secretary of State Dulles. It promised that the US would "use its best efforts to help assure" that a United Nations Emergency Force, placed in Gaza, would prevent that region from continuing to serve as "a source of armed infiltration" of Israel, and that the US would "secure general recognition" of Israel's right to free passage through the Straits of Tiran. In spring 1967, Egypt began preparing for war. In May, Nasser ordered the UN Emergency Force to vacate Gaza and Sinai. Within hours it had, "destroying in a single stroke, the most central hopes and expectations on which we had relied upon withdrawing from Sinai in 1957" (Abba Eban). Stung by the failure of US allies to support American policy in Vietnam, the Johnson administration was not prepared to act unilaterally to stymie the Egyptian aggression. An official US statement (May 22) declared that America would "support" UN action -- not "adopt" action against Egypt on its own.

The military and political circumstances that prevailed when the Eisenhower administration offered its guarantee to Israel in 1957 were no longer relevant in 1967. The apparent guarantee concerning the Strait of Tiran was proven ineffective.

The Nixon administration created an August 1970 cease-fire agreement whereby Egypt promised not to place any missiles within an area extending twenty miles westward from the canal. America gave "assurances" to Israel "that the US would use all its influence to maintain the cease-fire." Within days of the cease-fire, however, Israeli military intelligence reported to the government that "the Egyptians had begun to move their missiles forward as soon as the ink was dry on the cease-fire agreement." The US prevaricated, dissembled, and despite Israeli protests, the missiles remained.

Henry Kissinger, in order to persuade Israel to surrender strategic mountain passes and oil fields in the Sinai (1975), committed the US to sign a joint Memorandum of Agreement pledging that the US would "not recognize or negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization so long as the PLO does not recognize Israel's right to exist and does not accept Security Council resolutions 242 and 338." The PLO actions, proven to be "terrorist", were effectively not so categorized by the US. Equivocation and avoidance of this undermined the American promise absolutely. The long and lamentable list of UNIFIL failures to prevent terrorist actions against Israel from south Lebanon adds further evidence of the unsuitability of anyone but Israel to guarantee its safety.

The America-Israel alliance is best served by ensuring that Israel has the territory and military wherewithal to defend itself, not by weakening Israel and forcing it into a dependency relationship which ultimately will serve neither American nor Israeli interests.

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