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I was recently at a dinner party in mixed company. The political views of my fellow diners ranged across the spectrum from archconservative to radically liberal. I prefer the sort of arrangement. I’m a bit of a contrarian and I find nothing more tedious than agreement. This is particularly so when, as in this case, everyone at the table is intelligent and articulate.
Because we were a politically minded group, the topics focused mostly on current events, including Ukraine, the Obamacare rollout, and the latest Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. Eventually conversation turned toward the recently failed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and, inevitably, to a discussion of settlements and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute generally.
Opinion at the table was fairly evenly divided, with conservatives taking a staunchly pro-Israeli stance and the liberals (with the exception of one of my friends who is Jewish) taking a more sympathetic view of the Palestinian position. I tend to side with Israel because I admire its liberal democratic values and military prowess, and I consider the Palestinian leadership to be at best corrupt and disingenuous and at worst genocidal terrorists. On settlements I’m fairly agnostic, as I have not taken the time to delve into the intricacies of the subject. To the extent that I care about the specific issue of settlements or even the larger Israeli-Palestinian dispute, it is through the lens of how it affects America and its interests.
In the course of arguing that Israel was justified in breaking off negotiation with the Palestinian Authority, my friend said that America needs to support Israel, not merely because it is the morally just thing to do, but because Israel is America’s closest and most valuable ally in the Middle East. This is a commonly held opinion, particularly on the Right, and usually goes without question.
As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an issue that I do not feel strongly about, I had been largely a passive observer of the conversation, a position to which I am unaccustomed. Feeling the urge to participate, as well as desiring to divert a conversation which showed signs of degenerating into charges of apartheid and anti-Semitism, I asked my friend what made Israel a particularly valuable ally to America. Specifically, I asked him to explain why, setting aside the moral case for doing so, it was in America’s strategic interest to be closely allied with the State of Israel.
This was not meant to be a gotcha question and I had every expectation that my friend would provide a convincing answer since up to this point he had demonstrated a knowledge of subjects relating to Israel which was masterful, bordering on encyclopedic. However, to my considerable surprise and mild disappointment, the question seemed to stump my friend. Aside from saying that Israel shares intelligence with United States regarding Islamic terrorists and Arab states, and that we conduct some joint military technology research, he didn’t have much of a response. Even these reasons were presented in the most general terms, contrasting sharply with the level of detail and specificity with which he had made his previous points.
I was actually a bit shaken by his lack of a robust answer. So, I submit it to you Ricochet members, what does America gain strategically from its close alliance with Israel and why, from the perspective of someone who is solely concerned with American interests, is America’s close alliance with Israel a net-benefit?
Dean Rusk, former Secretary of State, stated in the 1960s that America’s alliance with Israel was based more on sentiment then on strategy. Was he wrong? If so, why?