According to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, “reality testing” means the ability to distinguish between the situation as it truly is, and what one hopes or fears it might be.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is pressuring Israel to refrain from sharing with the co-equal U.S. Congress its concerns about the adverse impact of the U.S. policy toward Iran on the national security of the United States and Israel. Blinken is also pressuring Israel to refrain from acting unilaterally against the Islamic Republic.
In addition, the chief architect of President Joe Biden’s foreign and national security policy is pressuring Israel to freeze Jewish construction—while encouraging Arab construction—in Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem, re-divide Jerusalem and withdraw to the pre-1967 ceasefire lines, defined as “The Auschwitz Lines” by Abba Eban, Israel’s former foreign minister and a leading dove.
Israel’s prime minister is advised to follow in the footsteps of Israel’s founding fathers—from David Ben-Gurion through Yitzhak Shamir—who considered defiance of U.S. pressure to make reckless concessions to be a central factor in their national security policy. While it triggered short-term confrontations, it produced strategic long-term U.S. respect for Israel. The U.S. appreciates principle-driven allies, who do not sacrifice their national security and the cradle of their history on the altar of diplomatic and economic convenience—even when that entails defiance of U.S. pressure.
In 1948/49, the United States, Britain and the United Nations threatened Israel with severe economic and diplomatic sanctions, in at attempt to coerce the newly-born Jewish state to end the “occupation” of areas in the Galilee, coastal plain, the Negev and western Jerusalem; and to absorb Arab refugees, who joined in the failed intra-Arab military attempt to annihilate Israel. Prime Minister Ben-Gurion fended off the overwhelming pressure, even though Israel only had a population of 650,000 Jews and hardly any military and economic infrastructure.
According to James McDonald, the first U.S. ambassador to Israel, Ben-Gurion responded to the U.S. pressure in the following manner (“My Mission in Israel,” 1948-1951, pp. 49, 55, 182, 241, 242, 247):
“The United States is a powerful country; Israel is a small and weak one. We can be crushed, but we will not commit suicide….
“Ben Gurion warned President Truman and the Department of State 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…. If tiny Israel were convinced that its independence or national security were at stake it would resist a UN decision even if that resistance threatened to bring down overwhelming economic sanctions….
“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….
“The more I studied and observed the manner in which he [Ben Gurion] 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 Israeli 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….”
Reality testing the U.S. pressure on Israel
Israel’s prime minister should be aware that notwithstanding the systematic U.S. pressure from 1948-2017, U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation was enhanced dramatically during that period. This happened due to the principle-driven conduct of Israel’s leadership, Israel’s unique technological and military capabilities and Israel’s growing contribution to America’s economy and national security.
Israel’s premiers during this period demonstrated that historic and national security concerns supersede diplomatic convenience. They understood the difference between popularity and strategic respect; the latter required defiance of both pressure and the odds.
They recognized the fact that repelling U.S. pressure was an integral part of U.S.-Israel relations, which tested Israel’s effectiveness as a strategic partner.
They knew that there are no free lunches; that a failure to fend off U.S. pressure would generate intensified pressure, coupled with eroded strategic respect, a reduced posture of deterrence and emboldened enemies.
They were aware that simultaneously with pressure from the U.S. executive branch, Israel has enjoyed—since 1948—the support of both the co-equal and co-determining legislature and most of the American public. They concluded that succumbing to pressure would severely injure Israel’s stature among its allies on Capitol Hill and among the U.S. population.
Defiance of U.S. pressure—milestones
The methodical U.S. pressure from 1948-2017 reflected the worldview of the State Department establishment, which has been systematically wrong on the Middle East. That worldview was characterized by brutal opposition to the establishment of the Jewish state; the embrace of Ayatollah Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, the “Muslim Brotherhood,” Hamas and the Palestinian Authority; and pressure on Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, etc.
• In 1948, Prime Minister Ben-Gurion declared independence in defiance of a brutal campaign by the State Department, the Pentagon, the CIA, The New York Times and The Washington Post, while President Truman was hesitant until the last minute.
• In 1949, Ben-Gurion rebuffed U.S. and global pressure to withdraw to the suicidal 1947 “Partition Plan.”
• Between 1967 and 1974, prime ministers Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir repulsed U.S. pressure to desist from construction of Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria, the Jordan Valley, the Golan Heights and eastern Jerusalem.
• In 1981, Prime Minister Menachem Begin ordered the bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in defiance of the most brutal U.S. pressure (followed by severe punishment).
• In 1981, Begin applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights, notwithstanding severe threats by the U.S. administration.
• In 1982, Begin rejected the “Reagan Plan,” which stipulated Israel’s withdrawal to the pre-1967 ceasefire lines. He sent the following message to President Reagan:
“What some call the ‘West Bank’ is Judea and Samaria; and this simple historic truth will never change. There are cynics who deride history. They may continue their derision as they wish, but I will stand by the truth…. The matter of security is of paramount importance. Geography and history have ordained that Judea and Samaria be a mountainous country and that two-thirds of our population dwell in the coastal plain dominated by those mountains. From them you can hit every city, every town, each township and village and, last but not least, our principal airport in the plain below….
“Under no circumstances shall we accept such a possibility [returning to the pre-1967 lines] ever arising, which would endanger our very existence…. A friend does not weaken his friend, an ally does not put his ally in jeopardy. This would be the inevitable consequence were the ‘positions’ transmitted to me on August 31, 1982, to become reality. I believe they won’t. ‘For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest’ (Isaiah, 62).”
• From 1983 to 1992, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir substantially expanded construction in Judea and Samaria Jewish communities, irrespective of vehement opposition by the U.S. executive.
These well-documented facts illustrate that defiance of U.S. pressure enhances Israel’s posture of deterrence, minimizes regional instability, reduces the prospects of war and bolsters the US strategic respect toward Israel.
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.