Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2899

The pull and push of US-Israel relations

There's a convergence of interests between the United States and Israel. But their interests aren’t identical
Issue 2899
US Secretary of state Anthony Blinken with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netenyahu (Picture: US embassy Jerusalem on Flickr)

US Secretary of state Anthony Blinken with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netenyahu (Picture: US embassy Jerusalem on Flickr)

The tensions between the United States and Israel have become very visible since Joe Biden’s administration failed to veto the latest United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. 
 
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu cancelled a delegation that was due to fly to Washington.
 
He was set to discuss another sore point—how his armed forces can mount their planned offensive in Gaza without causing yet more carnage.
 
The conflict seems puzzling to many who see the two states as essentially identical—either because Israel is a US puppet or because the powerful Israel lobby dominates US foreign policy.
 
But neither explanation is true. What we have is a convergence of interests between two states, one much more powerful than the other. But their interests aren’t identical. 
 
Israel is a settler colonial state, the product of the Zionist political project.
 
Its founding figures were quite clear that establishing an exclusively Jewish state in Palestine would mean dispossessing and expelling the local population.
 
And they knew that achieving this required the support of the dominant power in the region.
 
The Ottoman Empire ruling Palestine until 1917 wasn’t interested. But Britain, which grabbed it and other parts of the Arab East at the end of the First World War, decided to back the Zionists.
 
Ronald Storrs, the British governor of Jerusalem, cynically explained that “the enterprise was one which blessed him that gave as well as him that took, by forming for England ‘a little loyal Jewish Ulster’ in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism.” 
 
This didn’t stop Zionist armed groups from waging terrorist campaigns to force Britain to pull out of Palestine after the Second World War. 
 
In 1951 the editor of the “liberal” Zionist daily Ha’aretz wrote, “Strengthening Israel helps the Western powers to maintain equilibrium and stability in the Middle East Israel is to become the watchdog … if for any reason the Western powers should sometimes prefer to close their eyes, Israel could be relied on to punish one or several neighbouring states whose discourtesy toward the West went beyond the bounds of the permissible.”
 
This was the basis on which Israel attacked Egypt in October 1956 in cahoots with the declining British and French colonial empires. 
 
But the emergence of the US as the new dominant imperial power in the Middle East was announced when president Dwight Eisenhower forced them to withdraw for fear “we lose the whole Arab world”. 
 
Nevertheless, in the June 1967 war between Israel, Egypt, and Syria, Washington became Israel’s main supplier of arms, allowing it to consolidate its position as the biggest military power in the region. 
 
This didn’t stop clashes. In August 1982 president Ronald Reagan rang Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin to express his “outrage” at Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment of Beirut in Lebanon.
 
He called the slaughter of civilians a “holocaust”. Begin rang back half an hour later to say that he’d ordered a complete ceasefire.
 
Reagan was worried Israel’s siege of Beirut was destabilising the entire region. But the genocide in Gaza is worse.
 
The magazine Foreign Policy has run an article headlined “Israel is a Strategic Liability for the United States.” But all Biden’s rebukes have been symbolic.
 
He’s just approved yet another arms package for Israel including more than 1,800 of the MK84 2,000-pound bombs that have caused such carnage in Gaza.
 
Probably the main factor is the relative weakening of US imperialism, Israel—thanks to US aid—has a much stronger economy now.
 
Netanyahu feels confident enough publicly to defy Washington—intervening in US politics to appeal for the support of the Christian right.
 
US imperialism is on the defensive. Its managers seem to feel that they have no choice but to shore up their exposed bridgeheads—Ukraine in Europe, Taiwan in the Pacific, and Israel in the Middle East. More disasters lie ahead.
 

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