In 1948, the CIA opposed the re-establishment of the Jewish state, contending that it would be a feeble entity unable to withstand an all-out Arab war, which would yield a second Holocaust in less than 10 years. Such a state would be fully dependent on U.S. soldiers for its survival, jeopardize U.S. ties with the Arab world, imperil U.S. access to Persian Gulf oil and probably join the Soviet Bloc.
The U.S. State Department and the Pentagon, along with The New York Times and The Washington Post, seconded the CIA assessment.
On the other hand, Clark Clifford, President Truman’s trusted adviser, who dedicated much time to studying the track record of Jewish sovereignty in Middle East history, impressed upon the president that an independent Jewish state would be a most effective military power, reliable, stable and inherently pro-America.
Clifford was absolutely right, while the State Department, Pentagon, CIA, New York Times and Washington Post were resoundingly wrong.
Following Israel’s impressive military performance in the 1948 War of Independence, Gen. Omar Bradley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recommended that Israel be considered a favored strategic ally since “the Israeli army would be the most effective force south of Turkey, which could be utilized to delaying action [in the case of a Soviet invasion].”
The 1967 Six-Day War
Following the 1967 Israeli victory over Egypt, Syria and Jordan, the U.S. national security establishment has recognized the potency of Israel to advance regional and global U.S. national security interests, which supersede the Palestinian issue.
Unlike NATO, South Korea and Japan, Israel had extended the strategic arm of the United States without the need for U.S. military personnel.
Thus, Israel had been transformed from a misperceived geo-strategic hindrance to a proven geo-strategic force multiplier for the United States.
The June 1967 military victory dramatically transformed Israel from a strategic liability into a strategic asset for the United States. The Israeli victory devastated the Egyptian military, at a time when the pro-Soviet Egyptian President Nasser was on his way to becoming the pan-Arab leader. Nasser actively attempted to topple the highly vulnerable regimes in Saudi Arabia and all other pro-U.S. Arab oil-producing countries, at a time when the United States was heavily dependent upon the importation of Persian Gulf oil.
Moreover, 70,000 Egyptian soldiers were involved in a civil war in Yemen, attempting to employ Yemen as a springboard to topple the House of Saud in Riyadh. The resounding Israeli victory aborted Nasser’s anti-U.S. plan and led the way to the demise of the anti-U.S. Nasser era. It spared the United States a huge economic and national security setback, and denied the USSR a climactic geo-strategic gold mine.
Twenty-five U.S. military experts went to Israel for three months to study the lessons of the Six-Day War, as well as captured Soviet military systems, returning to the United States with top-heavy information that upgraded the performance of the U.S. armed forces and defense industries.
As a result of the benefits derived by the United States, a team of 50 experts arrived in Israel for six months following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, collecting thicker volumes of information, which benefited the United States militarily and industrially, and bolstered the U.S. defense of Europe in the face of Soviet threats.
The December 1969 “Operation Rooster 53”—during the War of Attrition between Egypt and Israel—highlighted Israel’s unique intelligence and battle tactic capabilities, which have been shared with the United States. An Israeli commando unit snatched from Egypt a game-changing Soviet P-12 radar system, which was superior to similar U.S. systems and was deployed throughout the world. The Soviet radar was studied by Israel and transferred to the United States, as was the case with additional Soviet military systems, enhancing the capabilities of the U.S. intelligence, armed forces and defense industries.
According to the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who was a chairman of the appropriations and intelligence committees, the value of the Soviet radar to the U.S. defense industries and armed forces was around $3 billion.
In 1966 and 1989, Israel acquired Mig-21 and Mig-23 Soviet fighter jets through the defection of Iraqi and Syrian pilots. The planes were shared with the United States, impacting the global balance of power and the performance of the United States Air Force.
In 1970, Israel manifested its posture of deterrence, when buttressing its military presence on the Syria-Israel-Jordan border (Golan Heights) in response to a pro-Soviet Syrian invasion of the pro-U.S. Jordan. The Israeli deployment convinced Syria to pull back from militarily inferior Jordan. The Israeli show of force spared the U.S. either a loss of an Arab ally (the late King Hussein), or the need to get involved militarily in an intra-Arab war. The potential toppling of the Hashemite regime in Jordan could have triggered ripple effects into the neighboring Arabian Peninsula, threatening the existence of the pro-U.S. Arab oil-producing regimes, handing the USSR a geo-strategic bonanza.
The lessons of the 1976 Entebbe operation, which underscored Israel as a role model for counter-terrorism, were shared with U.S. intelligence and special operations forces.
The 1978-79 toppling of the Shah of Iran (“the U.S. policeman of the Gulf”) and the 2003 rise of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the presidency of Turkey—two countries that were transformed from key U.S. allies to key U.S. adversaries—reflected the inherently transient allegiance of Middle East regimes, unlike the uniquely reliable, effective and democratic nature of Israel.
The 1981 Israeli destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor—in defiance of fierce U.S. opposition—spared the United States the potential devastation of a nuclear confrontation during the 1991 Gulf War. It saved the pro-U.S. oil-producing Arab regimes from the jaws of Saddam Hussein.
The 2007 Israeli destruction of the Syria-North Korea-Iran nuclear reactor spared the region and the globe the potential of a nuclearized civil war in Syria
The 1982 Israeli destruction of 29 Soviet surface-to-air missile batteries operated by Syria—stationed in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and perceived to be impregnable—along with the downing of 82 Soviet Migs, reinforced Israel’s role as a unique force-multiplier for the United States in the areas of critical intelligence, game-changing battle tactics and jamming technologies.
The 1990 disintegration of the USSR transformed the bipolar world into a multipolar world. While the Israeli military and technological capabilities well served the United States during the Cold War, they have become much more significant in the emerging multipolar world, with the proliferation of many rogue terror regimes and organizations, threatening the United States and the free world.
The 2010 eruption of violence on the Arab Street (aka, the “Arab Spring”), which is still raging, has exposed the intrinsic intra-Arab violence and the inherently unstable, unpredictable and tenuous nature of Arab regimes, contrary to the stable, reliable, effective and democratic Israel.
Israel’s 2021 posture of deterrence has constrained the military maneuverability of Iran and Russia in Syria, and bolstered the stability of the pro-U.S. Hashemite regime in Jordan in the face of existential threats by Palestinian, the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic State terrorism. It has buttressed the national security of the pro-U.S. Arab regimes in the Arabian Peninsula; served as the first line of defense of Western democracies in the face of Islamic terrorism; and spared the United States the need to deploy to the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean additional aircraft carriers and ground divisions.
If there were an Israel-like entity in the Persian Gulf, the United States could terminate its military presence in the region.
In 2021, U.S.-Israel relations are a mutually beneficial two-way street. The United States makes an annual investment in—rather than extending foreign aid to—Israel, which yields to the U.S. taxpayer an annual return of several hundred percent.
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.