In 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken has pressured Israel to refrain from unilateral military actions against the rogue Iranian regime, halt construction in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and eastern Jerusalem (while tolerating and encouraging expanded Arab construction), re-divide Jerusalem and retreat to the pre-1967 ceasefire lines. The lines which dovish Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban termed the “Auschwitz Lines.”
Defiance of U.S. and global pressure was a critical attribute of Israel’s pro-U.S. founding fathers—from David Ben-Gurion in 1948 through Yitzhak Shamir in 1992. This defiance triggered a series of short-term frictions between the two countries, but earned long-term respect for Israel, while providing the United States with a unique force-multiplier in the Middle East. On a rainy day, the United States prefers a principle-driven ally, one that does not retreat in the face of pressure and refuses to sacrifice its own independent national security on the altar of diplomatic and economic convenience.
In 1948/49, the United States, United Nations and Britain threatened Israel with economic and diplomatic sanctions unless the newly-born Jewish state ended its “occupation” of areas in the Galilee, coastal plain, Negev and western Jerusalem, and absorbed Palestinian refugees. Prime Minister Ben-Gurion rejected each of these demands, stating (with a meager population of 650,000 Jews and insignificant economic and military infrastructure):
“‘Much as Israel desired friendship with the United States and full cooperation with it and the UN, there were limits beyond which it could not go. Israel could not yield at any point which, in its judgment, would threaten its independence or its security. The very fact that Israel was a small state made more necessary the scrupulous defense of its own interests; otherwise, it would be lost'” (“My Mission in Israel 1948-1951,” James McDonald, first U.S. ambassador to Israel, p. 49).
“‘The United States is a powerful country; Israel is a small and weak one. We can be crushed, but we will not commit suicide'” (ibid, p. 182).
“Ben Gurion warned President Truman and the Department of State through me [US Ambassador McDonald] that they would be gravely mistaken if they assumed that the threat or even the use of UN sanctions would force Israel to yield on issues considered vital to its independence and security” (ibid, p. 55).
“The more I studied and observed the manner in which he met the burdens placed upon him, the more convinced I became that he was one of the few great statesmen of our day…. The comparison [to Winston Churchill] did not exaggerate the Israel Prime Minister’s natural qualities of leadership…. Small in stature [5 feet], he was big in spirit…. He had unfaltering faith in the future of Israel…. The Prime Minister had no fear” (ibid, pp. 241, 242, 247).
It was Ben-Gurion’s defiance of pressure which laid the foundations of Israel as an independent force-multiplier for the United States, rather than a compliant ally whose survival depends upon the presence of U.S. soldiers.
Irrespective of U.S. pressure, U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation has expanded dramatically as a result of Israel’s unique qualities (technologically, scientifically, militarily, agriculturally and medically), Israel’s unique contributions to the U.S. economy and national security and Israel’s conviction-driven prime ministers.
Israel’s pro-U.S., conviction-driven prime ministers demonstrated that neither the United States, nor the United Nations, nor Europe could force Israel’s hand when it came to Israel’s deep roots in the Land of Israel and critical national security issues.
These premiers were aware of the crucial difference between easily attained short-term popularity and the tough and costly challenge of earning long-term strategic respect.
They recognized that U.S. pressure is an integral feature of the bilateral relations between the two countries, testing Israel’s resolve and reliability as an ally in the face of mutual threats. They knew that there were no “free lunches”; that bowing to pressure would yield rougher pressure, undermining Israel’s posture of deterrence and stature as a worthy strategic ally, embolden Israel’s enemies and severely damage its national security.
They were aware that simultaneously with pressure by the U.S. executive branch, there was systematic support (since 1948) from the co-equal legislature and most of the American people (which persists until today), and that submission to pressure undermines the position of Israel’s supporters on Capitol Hill and in the United States at large.
They concluded that principle-driven defiance of pressure bolstered Israel’s standing as a reliable and effective U.S. ally, upgraded Israel’s posture of deterrence in the Middle East in the face of rogue regimes and Islamic terrorists and enhanced Israel’s national security.
U.S. pressure: track record
The documentation of U.S. pressure on Israel from 1948-2017 demonstrates that it was driven by the worldview of the State Department, which has systematically misread the Middle East (e.g., opposing Israel’s establishment, as well as embracing Ayatollah Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, while pressuring Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates).
Moreover, Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s and Syria’s nuclear reactors in 1981 and 2007—in defiance of U.S. pressure—spared the United States, and the world, a potential nuclear confrontation in 1991 and a potential nuclearized civil war in Syria.
From 1961 to 1969, prime ministers Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir rebuffed severe U.S. pressure to allow inspection of Israel’s nuclear installations. Israel’s steadfastness has dramatically bolstered its posture of deterrence, which plays a key role in minimizing regional instability and alleviating lethal threats to every pro-U.S. Arab regime.
In response to the September 1982 Reagan Plan, which pressured Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 ceasefire lines—which would have transformed Israel into a nine- to 15-mile sliver along the Mediterranean, denying the United States a proven ally—Prime Minister Menachem Begin wrote the U.S. President:
“What some call the ‘West Bank’, Mr. President, is Judea and Samaria, and this simple historic truth will never change…. Geography and history have ordained that Judea and Samaria be a mountainous country and that 2/3 of our population dwell in the coastal plain, dominated by those mountains…. Such being the case, a friend does not weaken a friend, an ally does not put his ally in jeopardy. This would be the inevitable consequence were [the Reagan Plan] to become reality. I believe it will not….”
As evidenced by these and additional examples, Israel’s defiance of U.S. pressure has advanced U.S. national security interests, bolstered Israel’s posture of deterrence, enhanced its role as a unique force-multiplier for the United States, constrained the capabilities of anti-U.S. Sunni and Shi’ite Islamic terrorists, and therefore, reduced the scope of war and terrorism in the stormy Middle East.
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.
This article was first published by The Ettinger Report.