Is the US-Israeli 'special relationship' in danger?

If one were to believe the almost breathless reports coming from the Israeli, US and other corporate media, a major ruction in US-Israeli dealings had occurred and the demise of their “special relationship” was imminent. According to the media, this was triggered by the announcement on March 9, by Israel’s interior minister, Eli Yishai, that Israel would build 1600 new Jewish-only homes on occupied Palestinian land. The announcement was made just as US Vice-President Joe Biden began a four-day “good will” tour of Israel.

The visit by Biden, a staunch Zionist, was widely seen in both the US and Israel, as well as internationally, as an attempt to boost the stalled Middle East “peace” process. Biden’s visit coincided with the March 8 announcement of George Mitchell, US envoy to the Middle East, that the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel had agreed to resume “indirect” negotiations or “proximity talks”. Yishai’s announcement, which diplomatically embarrassed Biden and the Obama administration, exposed the sham nature of the US-led “peace process”, revealing that Israel has no genuine interest in pursuing peace. It also exposed the weakness of the Palestinian leadership headed by Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas, whose electoral mandate as Palestinian president expired in January 2009, had previously stated that the Palestinian Authority would not engage with Israel until Netanyahu froze settlements. On March 3, Abbas sought political cover for his capitulation to US and Israeli pressure by seeking approval from the Arab League to engage in the indirect talks. However, the Syrian representative, Yousef al-Ahmed, pointed out that Abbas was simply seeking “political cover” for a decision that had already been taken. The announcement of the building of 1600 new Jewish-only housing units on Palestinian land exposed the weakness and capitulation to US and Israeli dictates of Abbas and the leadership of Fatah and the PLO.

No policy changes

Despite the media claims, there was no crisis in the US-Israel relationship. As long-time Middle East commentator Graham Usher noted in the March 25-31 edition of the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram, “Rage is not policy”, and the so-called ruction did not translate into any change in Israeli-US policies. Usher noted: “... on 19 March Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Israeli bridging proposals were ‘useful and productive’. By 21 March US Envoy George Mitchell was back in the region to urge so-called proximity talks: indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians which the Jerusalem settlement scuttled but which Mitchell now wants ‘under way in full course’. And Binyamin Netanyahu accepted an invitation to meet Barack Obama in Washington on 23 March ...”

The clearest sign that the media speculation about a “crisis in US-Israeli relations” was hokum came a little more than two weeks after the Netanyahu government publicly embarrassed Biden. On March 25, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported that the US and Israel were in the process of sealing a new arms deal.

According to journalist Amos Harel, the deal would be “covered by American foreign assistance funds” and would involve Israel purchasing three new Hercules C130J warplanes “manufactured specifically for Israeli needs”, each plane carrying a $70 million price tag. Haaretz went on to note that a further arms deal, worth $3 billion, was still pending. It would have Israel purchase Lockheed F-35 warplanes, receiving them by 2014. United Press International noted that the deal revealed that the “U.S. commitment [to Israel] seems to be untouchable” and that the Pentagon was prepared to maintain Israel’s military dominance in the region. UPI added that the relationship was not a one-way street, pointing out that “much of the military aid [to Israel] is recycled back into the U.S. economy anyway”, and the C130 deal would be a major boost for the US arms industry.

Billions in arms aid

A report by Amnesty International on February 23 examined US military aid to Israel, making a link between foreign arms supplies and Israeli human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories, particularly Gaza. The report, Fuelling Conflict, noted: “Weaponry, munitions and other military equipment supplied to Israel have been used by Israeli armed forces to carry out direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects in Gaza, and attacks which were disproportionate or indiscriminate”.

While also looking at arms supply to the Palestinian resistance, the primary focus of the report was on the supply of weaponry to Israel by successive US governments. It noted: “Since 2001, the USA has been by far the major supplier of conventional arms to Israel”, bilateral trade agreements between Israel and the US from 2004 to 2007 including $1.3 billion in “arms and ammunition”. This figure, however, excludes US “gifts” of military equipment or “dual use” equipment and technologies. Furthermore, US administrations (both Democrat and Republican) have provided Israel with billions of dollars with which to procure arms.

According to Amnesty International, US governments, including Obama’s, have supplied arms to Israel despite this being a direct violation of the US Foreign Assistance Act, which states, “No security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights”, which includes “acts of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges and trial, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons, and other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of person”.

Common interests

In her March 22 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Hillary Clinton also clearly revealed that the supposed imminent collapse of US-Israeli relations was just wild speculation. Clinton spent much of her speech reiterating that the Obama administration was committed to continuing the US-Israel “special relationship”, saying that Obama “has supported Israel in word and in deed”.

Clinton pointed out: “Under President Obama’s leadership, we have reinvigorated defence consultations, redoubled our efforts to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge and provided nearly $3 billion in annual military assistance”. Clinton noted that US military aid to Israeli increased in 2010 and that Obama was looking to increase it even further in 2011.

Clinton candidly stated that the reason the Obama administration was displeased with Israel’s continued settlement construction in occupied Jerusalem, was not because it wanted to stop Israel’s settlement expansion or the stealing of Palestinian land or to ensure a just peace agreement and resolution. Clinton frankly pointed out that settlement construction exposed a tactical difference in the US-Israel imperialist alliance: It “exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region hope to exploit”.Clinton went on that the United States has long supported Israel, not because of the efforts of the US pro-Israel lobby, but because “the United States has long recognised that a strong and secure Israel is vital to our own strategic interests”. Clinton did not mention that these “strategic interests” revolve around US imperialism’s attempts to dominate the Middle East economically and politically in order to control the massive oil reserves in the region. Ensuring control of the energy reserves of the Middle East has been the primary objective of US foreign policy in the region since the end of World War II, the US State Department in 1945 identifying these reserves as “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history”. Israel is US imperialism’s chief ally in the region, playing a strategic role in helping to ensure US dominance. The alliance is based on shared political interests — opposition to any form of Arab radicalism that would threaten Western economic domination. This is why Clinton went on to state in her speech: “... for President Obama and for me, and for this entire administration, our commitment to Israel’s security and Israel’s future is rock solid, unwavering, enduring and forever”.