Whither Israel?

I listen to a bit of talk radio, and I’ve acknowledged before that I’m a bit of a Zionist (as much of one as an agnostic WASP can be) as well. So every now and then some goober will call in to a talk show discussing the Middle East will toss out “the reason they hate us is our support of Israel, and we really ought to look at that.”

After being run through my BS filter, it usually comes out to “if it wasn’t for those goddamned Jews, everything would be fine.”

So let’s play my favorite game, “give the morons what they ask for.”

So let’s pretend the United States does decide to cut its support for Israel. What comes next?

First, there will be a great hue and cry from the Democratic Party, possibly even resulting in a schism. The Jews have traditionally been great supporters of the Democratic Party, but that has seen an erosion in recent years as more and more prominent Democrats move away from Israel and closer to groups that are less Jewish-friendly. Meanwhile, the Republicans have been more and more staunch supporters of Israel. And the political clout — the fundraising and organizational ability of these Jewish activists is remarkable — vastly outweighs their raw numbers. I’ve been waiting for years for a significant number of Jews to realize that their best interests lie not with the Democrats, but the Republicans, and such a move might just trigger it.

(That is presuming, of course, that Bush isn’t directly credited with the change. I fully expect the Democrats — as led and emblemized by Howard Dean — to rush right in and take full credit for this move.)

Secondly, it very well could cause a major schism in the Republicans, as well. The Neocons are very pro-Israel, while the Old Guard (as represented by Pat Buchanan) are not — in many cases, bordering on anti-Semitism. The fight could get bloody there, too.

Next, we could see another case of politics making odd bedfellows. One of the hallmarks of the Cold War was that the US allied itself with some truly despicable regimes that often had as their sole redeeming feature a staunch anti-Communist stance. Liberals decried such moves, while conservatives declared that “he may be an SOB, but he’s OUR SOB.” The neocons will find themselves echoing those long-discredited liberals as they denounce the sacrifice of idealism for realpolitik.

OK, that’s enough about domestic politics. Let’s look at the people who will have to deal with the consequences of that decision up close and personally.

Israel, of course, will find itself as even more of a pariah than at any other time in its history — more so than even in the 70’s and 80’s, when it collaborated with South Africa on weapons development. It will start casting around for allies wherever it can, and meanwhile go from being a technical non-nuclear power (rumor has it it has parts for about 100 nuclear weapons just one step away from final assembly, so it can say honestly that it has “no nuclear weapons”) to a full-blown member of the Nuke Club.

Meanwhile, the Arab nations surrounding Israel will start girding up for yet another war. This time, though, they know that Israel will truly be on her own. That’s not to denigrate the Israeli Defense Forces — some of the finest and best-equipped in the world — but they will be woefully outnumbered and will have no “backup” this time. It will boil down to a fight between quantity versus quality, and has been noted, some times quantity has a quality all its own. That war will come soon, and it won’t be a pretty one.

But now that we’re no longer backing Israel, the Muslim world will love us, right?

I think not. There’s an old joke about Irish or Italian Alzheimer’s — you forget everything but the grudge. But they’re pikers compared to the Muslims. Osama Bin Laden cited among his grievances the driving out of the Moors from Spain in 1492 and the Crusades. Our support of Israel covers its entire modern existence, and it has been essential to Israel’s survival. We have a LONG time to wait for them to “get over” that — if ever.

So, what exactly, will we have achieved? We would have sacrificed Israel for no benefit whatsoever.

And let’s look at exactly what we would have sacrificed. There’s a lot of criticism of Israel — it discriminates woefully against its Arab citizens, it oppresses the Palestinians, it’s not always been the best ally, it’s a drain on our resources, and so on.

I think it’s time to fall back on another of my favorite techniques — quote Winston Churchill. But where he said “Democracy is the worst form of government — except for all the others,” I’ll paraphrase it into “Israel is the worst government in the Middle East — except for all the others.”

Israel is a democracy, an island in an ocean of tyrannies and dictatorships under a variety of different names. And while the Arab minority isn’t treated exceptionally well, they’re not exactly “voting with their feet” to get the hell out of Dodge. There are Arab members of the Knesset, and the Muslim population makes up about 14.6%. Further, they’re the fastest-growing segment of their population — a fact that gives great consternation to several groups within Israel.

It’s also true that Israel gets a great deal of foreign aid from us, but we also get a hell of a lot back. A lot of US high-tech companies have subsidiaries in Israel, and they do a hell of a lot of work. I believe that most of the instant-messaging programs got their start in Israel, and Microsoft gets a lot out of its development centers there. I think Intel and, possibly, AMD have facilities there, too.

That aid comes back to us in some other ways, too. Israel has been the front lines in the war on terror for almost her entire life, and a LOT of terrorist tactics were tried out and perfected there. For example, Hamas invented the bus bombing technique. (That, strangely, didn’t come up when Reuters asked a Hamas representative for a comment on the London bombings, and Hamas “condemned” them.) And when 9/11 happened, Israel immediately offered to send rescue teams to New York to assist in rescuing victims — teams that have all too much sad experience at such tasks.

In contrast, the Palestinians were dancing and cheering in the streets.

Yes, there have been a few bumps in the road on our relationship. Israel’s critics often bring up the USS Liberty, a Navy Intelligence ship attacked, mauled, and nearly sunk by Israeli forces during the Six-Day War. 34 sailors were killed, and 173 were wounded. Israel immediately apologized and paid restitution, and the United States formally accepted both.

(I’m not interested in re-arguing the merits of the various explanations. Officially, both governments consider the matter closed, and that’s good enough for the purpose of this discussion.)

And there is the Jonathan Pollard case. Pollard is an American who, while serving in the Navy as an intelligence officer, was caught passing classified information to Israel. He was arrested and convicted of espionage. Pollard is currently serving a life sentence for his offense. His supporters point out that the median sentence for the particular charge for which he was convicted (“passing non-injurious classified information to an ally”) is 2-4 years, while life is usually reserved for traitors like Aldrich Ames and John Walker, who delivered highly-classified information to the Soviet Union and, in Ames’ case, indisputably led to the deaths of several US agents.

Israel has also been a great source of intelligence in the War On Terror. And that’s only to be expected, considering how long they’ve been fighting it, and how the stakes for them are ultimately high.

And what the hell does the Arab world have to offer us? Beyond raw numbers of people, a single resource. And I would gladly recycle a bunch of current anti-war signs in case we do dump Israel. With just a few strokes of a paint brush, they can easily read “No Israeli Blood For Oil” — and that would have a hell of a lot more justification than their current use has.

Yeah, Israel has a few warts. Yeah, they haven’t always been the best of allies. Yeah, the price of supporting them is kind of high.

But the cost of letting them fall would be higher still. Financially, politically, and morally, it would cost us most dearly.

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16 Comments

  1. Les Nessman July 9, 2005
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