Hazem Saghieh

America - Israel: A Few Signs of Our Times

Many major developments that are not necessarily totally harmonious come together to form “the history of American-Israeli relations.” From the very start, in May 1948, Secretary of State George Marshall opposed recognizing the nascent Jewish state, and there was a lot of talk about a split within the Harry Truman administration at that time. Indeed, the Secretary of State whose name was associated with the famous plan to rebuild Europe after World War II, strongly favored the British view of placing Palestine under the stewardship of the United Nations to avert a major war there and across the Middle East.

Then, in 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower sided with Egypt over Britain, France, and Israel during the Suez Crisis, prioritizing the interests of the United States with its traditional allies in the Arab and Muslim worlds over its support for the state of Israel. Thus, Eisenhower forced Israel to withdraw from the territories it had occupied and brandished a serious threat to the British, warning them that their invasion risked punitive measures that would undermine the value of the British pound.

As for 1967, it marked the qualitative shift towards a fully-fledged alliance and partnership between Washington and Tel Aviv. The prevailing impression in the West had been that Gamal Abdel Nasser, a Soviet ally at the time, sought to annihilate Israel once and for all. His decision to expel the United Nations Emergency Forces from Gaza and Sinai, and then to shut the maritime straits, were seen as confirmation of their worst suspicions regarding his intentions.

When the Six-Day War erupted, the Lyndon Johnson administration became convinced that Israel was its only Cold War ally in the Middle East; not only was it on the same side, it had also achieved a stunning victory, in six days, that created a major shift in the strategic balances of power.

Thus, in 1973, what came to be known as the American air bridge between the US and Israel was established just four days after the war broke out on October 6. This air bridge supplied the Israelis with weapons and ammunition that allowed them to recapture territory that they had been driven out of by the Egyptian and Syrian armies, and then to occupy new territory that they had not taken in 1967.

We know that, in turn, the 1982 invasion of Lebanon sparked serious disputes that were reflected in the fraught relationship between Philip Habib, Ronald Reagan's representative, and his Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, who soon resigned. These disputes also reflected on the manner in which fighters from the Palestine Liberation Organization were expelled from Beirut, then in the competition between the two countries over the paternity of Bashir Gemayel, and then their significant divergences regarding the subsequent negotiations that led to the Israeli-Lebanese agreement of May 17, 1983...

Naturally, caution against interpreting the present through the lens of the past is always justified. This bilateral history, some of whose major junctures have been mentioned here, was significantly impacted by circumstances in the two concerned parties and the broader global context. Other factors include the implications of which party had held power in the two countries, their economic conditions, and whether either of the two was in election mode, as is currently the case.

Given all of these variables, not every development is a reiteration of a previous event. Nonetheless, some of the seeds of current developments can be identified in historical events. Indeed, this past could inspire the future, just as the future could consult the past after a process of adoption to facilitate this task.

In this sense, we find elements of all those events in how the Gaza war is shaping their relationship, though that does not imply that this war can be equated to those events.

We see parallels with the events of 1956, in which Israel was the invading party, in the current emphasis on protecting civilians and the pressure being exerted to avoid broader conflicts, be it an assault on Rafah, a war on Lebanon, or an open confrontation with Iran. We can also include the punitive measures taken against Jewish settlers, even if they are part of the armed forces.

From the events of 1967 and 1973, we have the conviction that Israel is a rival that creates a counterbalance with Iran. Although the US and Israel disagree on how to handle this issue, and these disputes are clear, US reliance on Israel to avoid the worst in the event that the situation deteriorates remains a key consideration.

The genocidal intent reflected by the October 7 operation, along with the participation of Arab factions in the fight against a "besieged" Israel, allowed for complicity in Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza, as well as pushing the Americans and the West in general to portray the of Israeli war as one of self-defense. Accordingly, they provided openhand military and non-military support, which was crowned by the recent aid package of over 26 billion dollars that was passed a few days ago and the idiocy of vetoing the resolution to recognize the state of Palestine at the United Nations.

Two conclusions can be drawn with certainty here: first, outcomes diverge according to US assessments of Israel’s action. If Israel seems like the aggressor, as it did in 1956 and 1982, the US is stringent with the Jewish state; if Israel appears to be the victim, as it did in 1967, 1973, and October 7, the US endorses actions that are difficult to endorse.

As for the second conclusion, it is that boiling the US-Israeli alliance down to a single, definitive, and unchanging formula, is an oversimplification that closes the door to politics and kills the prospect of influencing events outside this closed equation.

In any case, the days ahead are likely to provide us with more lessons and insights as things develop in theaters stretching from Rafah to Tehran to include South Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and the Red Sea.