May 28, 2024
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A Look Back at US-Israel Relations

Much has been made in recent weeks about the Biden administration “putting pressure” on Israel, as if this was some kind of anomaly in U.S.-Israel relations. A brief review of the historical record on this point is in order. U.S. policy towards Israel—including from Republican administrations—has often included sticks along with carrots. These tactics are not novel, and readers should be aware that Republican and Democratic administrations have acted similarly.

For example, in 1957 Republican President Dwight Eisenhower sought to pressure Israel into unconditionally withdrawing from the Sinai following the Suez crisis and threatened to suspend vital U.S. financial aid to Israel. In his own words, Eisenhower preferred “a resolution which would call on all United Nations members to suspend not just governmental but private assistance to Israel.”

Henry Kissinger, the Jewish Secretary of State in the administration of Republican President Gerald Ford, grew frustrated with what he perceived as Israeli intransigence in talks with Egypt following the Yom Kippur War. President Ford shared this view and wrote to Prime Minister Rabin in 1975, “I have given instructions for a reassessment of United States policy in the region, including our relations with Israel.” Ford put a hold on critical arms sales for six months.

Republican President Ronald Reagan was furious when Israel bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, and, rather than simply abstaining, the U.S. actually supported a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel. Reagan also suspended the delivery of F-16 fighter jets to Israel. Moreover, after Israel annexed the Golan Heights, Reagan suspended a strategic cooperation agreement with Israel. In 1982, Reagan expressed “outrage” over Israeli bombing raids in Beirut and pressured Prime Minister Begin into a ceasefire.

After a 1990 incident on the Temple Mount in which Israeli forces killed 21 Palestinians, the administration of Republican President George Bush, Sr. joined a UN resolution condemning Israel (again, rather than simply abstaining). Bush, Sr. pressured Israel to cooperate with a UN investigation into the incident. In 1991, after Saddam Hussein launched Scud missiles that hit Tel Aviv and Haifa, U.S. pressure dissuaded Israel from retaliating. Later, Bush, Sr. withheld $10 billion in loan guarantees unless Israel froze settlement-building in territories captured in the 1967 war.

In 2001, during the administration of Republican President George Bush, Jr.,
Israeli forces entered Gaza in response to Palestinian bombardment of Sderot. Secretary of State Colin Powell termed the Israeli response “excessive and disproportionate,” and the Israeli forces soon withdrew, seemingly under U.S. pressure. In a 2002 speech outlining his vision for a future Palestinian state, Bush stated flatly that “Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories must stop.” In 2006, less than one month into Israel’s war with Hezbollah, Bush was working with Condoleeza Rice on a UN resolution that required Israel “to immediately stop all offensive military operations,” while leaving the Lebanese terror group largely intact. Later, the Bush administration helped draft a UN ceasefire resolution in early 2009, calling for a “full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza,” a mere three weeks into its battle against Hamas.

Meanwhile, ex-President Trump recently told an Israeli newspaper that “you’re losing a lot of the world, you’re losing a lot of support, you have to finish up [the war]” and “you have to get on to peace.” He told a radio host that Israel should “get it over with,” and that “I’m not sure that I’m loving the way they’re doing it.”

Finally, for all its supposed “distancing,” the Biden administration is still sending arms shipments to Israel seven months into its current war against Hamas. Despite a delay in one shipment, according to an Israeli official, “Even now, a continued series of defense shipments are being sent from the U.S. to Israel.” In the words of chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, coordination between Israel and the United States has reached “a scope without precedent, I think, in Israel’s history.” Moreover, President Biden proved without any shadow of a doubt last month that he stands ready to come to Israel’s defense. I would note the words of Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, the day after successfully repelling Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel: “Bless the coalition of nations led by the U.S. and @ POTUS.”

Noah Liben
Teaneck
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